Rummanah Aasi
  I remember a really bad movie called The Island of Dr Moreau which featured Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer back in the 1990s as a kid and always thought it was so weird, but I didn't realize it was an adaptation of a book. It's not until hearing lots of publicity of Megan Shepherd's debut novel, The Madman's Daughter, a loosely adapted YA retelling of Well's original story did I decide to pick it up. The Island of Dr. Moreau is well worth picking up and reading, especially if you enjoy science fiction and Gothic horror.

Description: In The Island of Dr. Moreau a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life. 

Review: Unsettling, bizarre, and most definitely ahead of his time, H.G. Well's lesser known novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, is a very slim novel that tackles a variety of themes along with giving its readers a full dose of suspense, horror, and science fiction. Edward Prendick finds himself shipwrecked on an island with Doctors Montgomery and Moreau. Montgomery is the protege and follower of the Moreau, mad scientist and vivisectionist. A vivisectionist is someone who cuts and injures living animals for the purpose of scientific research. Beyond these scientists, Prendick finds himself intensely frightened (that's an understatement) by these creatures roaming around the island. 
  Prendick discovers that Moreau captures the island's animals and painfully turns them into half-men, then forces them to live by strict standards that he believes will overcome their bestial natures. These creatures of treated as subservient slaves, obligated to follow Moreau's commandments much like the Ten Commandments in which the number one rule is to not eat meat. It doesn't take a mad scientist to know that all of this is a recipe for disaster with horrible consequences. I really like how Wells juxtaposed the notion of bestial behavior by pitting the natural craving for meat against the humans conducting so-called 'experiments' just to see if things can be done. 
  Prendick finds himself in a predicament. Though appalled by Moreau's plan, he actually becomes a participant in Moreau's society of vivisection. Prendick is drawn to Moreau's brilliance and is enchanted by  the notion that Moreau could actually be right but that haze of illusion is cleared when the animals inevitably rebel and he becomes the last man on the island, watching the tortured animals return to their natures and throw off Moreau's pseudo-society. The true horror of the book isn't just the creatures no matter how strange they look, but rather the human monster who creates in the name of advancement.
 Though overlooked by other more popular horror novels such as Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Dr. Moreau is relevant more now than ever with our outstanding and always progressing technology. Genetics, animal experimentation, psychology, colonization, imperialism, patriarchy, scientific chauvinism, religion, and ethical imposition are seriously and intelligently explored within the layers of the story. Wells' implied conclusions may be unsettling at times, but that is the point.

Curriculum Connection: Ethics, Science, and Debate

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The violence in the novel is quite tame compared to today's books, but I would still recommend this book to older readers due to the book's themes.

If you like this book try: Dr Franklin's Island by Ann Halm, The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Rummanah Aasi
  I have been eagerly waiting for the release of The House of Hades ever since I read the last page and major cliffhanger of The Mark of Athena. I've done my best avoiding spoilers online and devoured the book within a few days. Be rest assured that this review of The House of Hades is spoiler free. If you're curious about picking up the Heroes of Olympus series, I highly recommend reading the Percy Jackson series first as it builds upon that series.

Description: At the conclusion of The Mark of Athena, Annabeth and Percy tumble into a pit leading straight to the Underworld. The other five demigods have to put aside their grief and follow Percy’s instructions to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death. If they can fight their way through the Gaea’s forces, and Percy and Annabeth can survive the House of Hades, then the Seven will be able to seal the Doors both sides and prevent the giants from raising Gaea. But, Leo wonders, if the Doors are sealed, how will Percy and Annabeth be able to escape?
  They have no choice. If the demigods don’t succeed, Gaea’s armies will never die. They have no time. In about a month, the Romans will march on Camp Half-Blood. The stakes are higher than ever in this adventure that dives into the depths of Tartarus.

Review: What can I say about Rick Riordan that I haven't already said? The House of Hades is quite possibly my favorite book in the Heroes of Olympus series. The book begins at the horrible cliffhanger of The Mark of Athena as Annabeth and Percy plunge into the dark pit of the Underworld. Leaving their friends, both in and out of the side of the book, stunned and on edge for the fear of their safety. Riordan splits his novel by the on-goings of the mortal world and those of the Underworld and continues to have his book narrated from multiple point of views.
   In many cases writing effective multiple points of views is a challenge that can either make or break a book, but in the case of The House of Hades it enhances it as each main character is faced with making touch decisions, both individually and collectively as a group, never resorting to brooding and angst. Each of the seven demigods we have met in the Heroes of Olympus series battle their own demons of doubt, insecurity, and vulnerabilities and are forced out of their comfort zone in several mini journeys as they find their ways to achieve their over arching goal: help Percy and Annabeth to keep the doors of Hell closed and sealed from the mortal world. Despite being a demigod, Riordan strips them of their godly powers for most of the book and reminding his characters of their humanity which sets these children of the gods apart from their selfish, manipulative parents and allows them to grow, evolve. I loved Riordan's message of self confidence and that power, success of an individual comes from within first and foremost. I also loved how I got to know some of the characters a lot better particularly Nico, Frank, and even Piper.
  Though the book is close to 600 pages, I was never bored with reading The House of Hades. Actually, there is really no time to get bored while reading the book as it is filled with plenty of battle scenes as our crew fights mythological monsters, giants, titans, and outwit lesser gods. There are lots of moments of comic relief too to balance the dark mood of the story along with lots of cute moments of romance (some new, others building, and a really nice surprise). I'm being intentionally vague to avoid spoiling the book for passionate fans of the series. All in all The House of Hades has once again raised the bar of what readers can expect from Rick Riordan and thankfully, the conclusion to the series is just one year away. However the title, The Blood of Olympus, has me worried that some of our heroes may not survive.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are plenty of battle scenes in the book, however, they are not graphically described. Recommended for strong Grades 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Seven Wonders series by Peter Lerangis, Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver, Loki's Wolves by Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm really enjoying 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 and discover new authors that I've haven't read yet.

Description (from book's panel): Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
  Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Review: The Madman's Daughter is a retelling of H.G. Wells's often overlooked science fiction/horror novel The Island of Dr. Moreau and is told from the point of view of the mad doctor's teenage daughter. While Shepherd takes many liberties with the original story, this dark novel blends the basic premise of the original with new insights, characters, and terror. despite some flaws, it succeeds as a horror novel. 
   In an excellent rendition of the dark, desolate Victorian England, we meet Juliet who has a taint on her reputation. Her father, Dr. Moreau, an infamous scientist who has been banished out of London due to his outlandish and shocking experiments, has left his wife and daughter destitute. When her mother dies, Juliet has just enough money to survive until she is fired from her hospital cleaning job for rebuffing the advances of one of the doctors. Terrified that she has to resort to prostitution as a means for survival, she runs into her old friend, childhood crush, and her father's assistant, Montgomery, and learns that her father is actually alive on an remote island. Montgomery fails to deter Juliet from seeing her father after several logical explanations, Juliet convinces Montgomery to take her to her father's island. The perilous trip on a pirate ship and the rescue of Edward, a castaway, naturally foreshadows the dangers and horrors that they will all see once they reach to their destination.
  I liked how Shepherd tries to give contexts to a very bizarre story. Dr. Moreau, while thoroughly detestable and selfish, comes off as a charismatic madman who in his twisted ways make his horrific experiments of mixing genes of animals and human a rather brilliant experiment. By making him a father (both literally and figuratively) to his subservient human-like creatures who obey him as if he was god, we get to see Dr. Moreau as a human which cleverly touches upon the colonial mindset of the times and brings up a really interesting issue of religion. Unlike her father, Juliet comes off as a character who is inconsistent; her mannerisms are thoroughly Victorian though her dialogue seems to be too forthright to be a Victorian girl. She is incredibly uptight and prissy, but I did welcome her take charge personality though her indecisiveness and impulsive nature irritated me, it didn't deter me from enjoying the disturbing aspects of the story. 
  The pace of the story reflects upon the traditional Gothic horror stories by always having something lurking in the background. The tapping of windows, the screams coming far away yet somehow close to the characters all build suspense quite well. I even liked the slow discovery of the Moreau's experiments. Though we are horrified to see what these creatures are, we do grow a relationship to some of them and sympathize with them.
   While Shepherd does a good job in evoking the settings and giving a new spin of the characters, the love triangle in The Madman's Daughter is the weakest point of the story and drags the book down. While Montgomery and Juliet have a natural chemistry that has been built over time, Juliet's attraction to Edward is just too convenient and contrived. Though we are expected to pit our affections for Montgomery and Edward against each other, only one of them comes out as a clear winner and makes us wonder if the other love interest was a superfluous invention. Though Montgomery and Edward are equally charismatic characters, I would have liked to learn more about them as individuals without Juliet swooning about their good looks. I do, however, have a theory about Edward and I'm waiting to see if I'm right or wrong in the next book of this series. 
 Though I read The Island of Dr. Moreau before reading this book, there were a few surprises that were a welcoming addition to the story such as how the book ends. While knowledge of Wells's novel would perhaps lead to a more satisfying reading experience, The Madman's Daughter whets the appetite for the original story and tackles some of the essential themes with some good old fashion scares. I'm looking forward to where Shepherd takes her characters next as the series continues.

 Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of attempted rape, some gore, and violence which mostly takes place off the page. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, His Dark Endeavors series by Kenneth Oppel, The Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Rummanah Aasi
    I've read nothing but rave reviews for Saga, the latest graphic novel series by Brian K Vaughan. I was interested to see if all the hype of what many call "Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet meets Games of Thrones" upholds for the novel. While I can't officially say if these statements are true, I do see how the connections are made. I enjoyed the first volume of Saga and I'm curious to see where this series goes.

Description: When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. 

Review: The first volume of Brian K. Vaughan's award winning, Saga, clever combination of science fiction and traditional fantasy. Filled with witty dialogue, action, suspense, and amazing art Saga is a graphic novel that I haven't encountered before. Saga has a very simple story: Marko and Alana, a pair of star-crossed lovers who have abandoned their own warring planets and just want to settle down to peacefully raise their newly born daughter, Hazel.
Within a few panels we  have come to understand where are characters are coming from and care for them. Alana is from the planet Landfall, a place of great technological advancement, and their planet is in constant conflict with the magic-wielders of that planet's moon Wreath, where Marko is from. Despite being from opposite sides of the war, Marko and Alana have a lot in common as both were disgraced in their military services. Several months have gone by and a pregnant Alana is giving birth to their child, Hazel, the actual narrator of the series. The moment is intimate, funny, and fragile as their happy moment quickly vanishes as all three lives are put in danger since they are being pursued from both sides of this galaxy-wide conflict. 
  While trying to escape from their pursuers, Marko and Alana are in search of a legendary Rocketship Forest so that they might get off the planet with their new baby, we are introduced to all sorts of new, strange, frightening and wonderfully rich characters. We meet Prince Robot IV, a humanoid being with what appears to be an old-fashioned TV set for a head, who is the one primarily tasked with the elimination of Marko and Alana. Prince, just like Marko and Alana, want the war over so he too can start a family. We also meet two of the bounty hunters and ex-lovers that have are in a bidding war to get the fugitives, The Will and The Stalk. The Stalk is a terrifying looking spider-like alien- an armless, naked woman on top and spider on the bottom- who carries weapons in all of her additional appendages, and The Will is humanoid, but has with him a very helpful sidekick named the Lying Cat, a talking cat that can tell when someone is lying. Also characters in their own right are a legendary group of terrifying killers called The Horrors, which, like all characters in this book aren't quite what they seem. All of our secondary characters are fully realized and they each have their own motives, which is what makes them interesting. As the volume progresses, we learn about the character's frailty and their limits that will not cross as they are put to the test in many ways. 
  Vaughan's writing is as strong and despite the characters being alien, there is quite a lot of English speaking slang and idioms used which actually feels natural. I am guessing though as we delve deeper into the other planets Vaughan has created will see see many other languages spoken by a wide range of races. The pace of the graphic novel moves along quickly, allowing for the character to flex its muscles as well as allowing for moments of great suspense and violence. Fiona Staples' art is brilliant and excellent balance of extreme detail to abstract lines and shading. I don't think Saga would be as great without her wonderful and detailed illustrations.   
  Readers unfamiliar with science fiction or fantasy graphic novels may be a bit disorientated with Saga at first glance, but I think the overall plot arc has a wide appeal. Saga is written for adults and contains adult content.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong sexual content, nudity, graphic violence, and language. Rated M for Mature. Recommended for mature teens (Grades 11 and 12) and adults only.

If you like this book try: Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Sandman graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi
  I don't read legal thrillers very often but the premise of Reconstructing Amelia caught my eye. The idea of reconstructing an identity works well in the novel and on many layers. The question of how well do we really know a person is once again asked and the answer is not always clear.

Description: When Kate, single mother and law firm partner, gets a phone call summoning her to her daughter's exclusive private school, she's shocked. Amelia has been suspended for cheating, completely out of character for her over-achieving, well-behaved daughter. Kate rushes to Grace Hall to pick up Amelia, but what she finds when she arrives is beyond comprehension. Amelia has jumped from the school's roof in an act of impulsive suicide. At least that's the story Kate believes until she gets an anonymous text: Amelia didn't jump.
  Determined to learn the truth about what really happened on that roof, Kate searches through Amelia's e-mails, texts, and Facebook updates, piecing together the last troubled days of her daughter's life.

Review: Reconstructing Amelia is a multi-layered legal thriller/mystery that works quite well despite some flaws. Kate Baron is a single mom who is trying to overcompensate a one night stand that led to the bird of her daughter, Amelia, by becoming a workaholic associate at a high-powered New York City law firm. Amelia doesn't know who her father is, and Kate, for some reason that never really becomes clear, fails to share this information with her. I got conflicting impressions about the Kate's refusal to tell Amelia the truth: a) she is ashamed who the father is due to his social class since Kate comes from an affluent family or b) She simply doesn't know the identity of Amelia's father. I really wish the author made this clear.
  While curious about her dad's identity, Amelia has other, more pressing issues about which to worry. For one thing, she has been tapped for membership in her ritzy private school's illicit all-girls club (think Mean Girls on steroids), a fact she's hiding from her best friend, Sylvia, as well as her mother. The club hazes their inductees by having them do horrible things such as posing in next-to-nothing close for a porn site. As the "dares" get worse and worse, Amelia wants to drop out but can't since the club will blackmail her and she has developed feelings toward one of the club's members. Amelia keeps these hidden away from Kate though inside she wishes Kate would pick up on the signals of Amelia's distress and out of character behavior. 
  Amelia's distress signals come to a head when Kate receives a call from the school that she must leave a meeting and come pick up her daughter because Amelia has been suspended for cheating, Kate's world completely crumbles. Running late to collect her daughter, Kate doesn't arrive until pretty, smart, blonde Amelia has fallen from the school roof, a victim of her own failure. Everyone including the high profile police detective believes Amelia committed suicide due to pressure and depression, but Kate knows her daughter and she doesn't believe Amelia killed herself. When she receives an anonymous text message, it prompts her to prove that Amelia was murdered. 
  I really liked how the author structured her book, telling her story in flashbacks, alternating between Kate's and Amelia's point of view, leading up to the day Amelia died. This allowed the reader to conjure up two versions of both characters, one through the eyes of secondary characters and who Kate and Amelia are "suppose to be" and a second with the actual flawed versions of our two protagonists. Although the expensive and exclusive school comes across as an over-the-top sorority  it does manage to address the issues surrounding teens today particularly with the sensitive issue of bullying. The author also makes good use of adding social media such as Facebook posts, email, and text messages to break up the prose and give Amelia an authentic teen voice. The suspense doesn't drag and the pages go by quickly and comes to a seamless and unanticipated conclusion. There are moments, however, that you have to suspend your disbelief but otherwise Reconstructing Amelia is a solid read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, underage drinking, and some sexual situations. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke, Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
Rummanah Aasi
  I attended a graphic novel panel featuring Jarrett Krosoczka, Raina Telegeimer, and Doug TenNapel at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference this past July. I loved hearing how graphic novelists create their works, which in many ways isn't very different than writing your traditional book. While at the panel, I suddenly realized that I've read Telegeimer and TenNapel before but I haven't read anything by Krosoczka yet though I did have his Lunch Lady series on my to be read pile for quite sometime. I decided that I needed to fix that right away. There are currently 10 volumes of the Lunch Lady out.

Description: Serving justice . . . and lunch!
Hector, Terrence, and Dee have always wondered about their school lunch lady. What does she do when she isn't dishing out the daily special? Where does she live? Does she have a lot of cats at home? Little do they know, Lunch Lady doesn't just serve sloppy joes—she serves justice! Whatever danger lies ahead, it’s no match for Lunch Lady!

Review: Superheroes have been all the rage. The idea of what seem to be ordinary people with extraordinary powers is what appeals to most about superheroes. Krosoczka picks the most unlikely person to be a superhero/undercover agent: a lunch lady. You're probably thinking "Really? Out of everyone that he could have possibly picked, he picked her?" but trust me it works and it works very well. If I may grab a quote from one of my all time favorite movies, The Breakfast Club, the Lunch Lady is "the eyes and hears of the institution" and picks up on any weirdness that surrounds the school, especially when one of the most popular math teachers who is always present is suddenly had a serious sickness and had to call in for a substitute who acts a lot like a robot.
  With her gadgets of a lunch tray laptop and her helicopter spork, the Lunch Lady uncovers a conspiracy and saves the school children from evil cyborg substitutes. I had a blast reading the first volume of this graphic novel series. The Lunch Lady's gadgets were so creative and I couldn't stop chuckling throughout the book. The panels and texts are large enough and easy to read. I finished it very quickly and immediately wanted to pick up the next volumes in the series. This series can easily attract both male and female readers. It has plenty of actions, punchlines, and above all characters that you can easily root for and want to see again and again. I definitely recommended picking up this series if you're interested in children graphic novels.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3

If you like this book try: Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians (Lunch Lady #2), Knights of the Lunch Table series by Frank Cammuso
Rummanah Aasi
  As many of you already know I'm a huge fan of Greek Mythology. I can never get enough of mythological retellings and learning about lesser known deities, which is what drew me to Sarah McCarry's debut novel, All Our Pretty Songs. This review is based on the advanced reader's copy that I received from the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying. And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can.

Review: An enigmatic, nameless narrator and her best friend, Aurora, have known each other since birth and are close like sisters though they may not share the same bloodline. Their mothers lived together, were best friends, carrying on their intoxicated party lifestyle full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Their mother's friendship ended when Cass, the narrator’s mother, decided to give it all up when the girls were young and raise her daughter soberly, making a small living as a fortune-telling witch and taking in Aurora whenever the teen’s junkie mom wasn't sober enough to keep her safe. 
  As teens, the narrator and Aurora mirror and compliment each other. Aurora is flighty, sweet, life of the party compared to the narrator's dark, unwelcoming, and goth style. Aurora is trying to fill the void of her dead father who use to be a rock star by taking enough drugs to see if she can feel him on the "other side". The narrator has always assumed the role of Aurora's caretaker, being her rock to anchor her and stabilize her as much as she can. The narrator and Aurora have a unique relationship, one that fringes on familial love and quite possibly something else which is brought to the spotlight when Jack, a mysterious adult guitarist, comes into their lives and the girls' differences come to a head. 
  Before you groan and say "not another love triangle?!" let me assure you that this triangle is not the type we have generally seen thus far. Yes, Jack and the narrator fall in to lust and then eventually love within a matter of days, Aurora doesn't have any interest in Jack but rather is jealousy of the narrator's devoted attention towards him. Aurora has her eye son Jack’s scary boss, a man named Minos, who has an otherworldly air about him that the narrator immediately recognizes. Minos convinces Aurora and Jack that can pursue their dreams and desires if they the small Northwest town for fame in California. 
  For the longest time, I wasn't not sure where the mythology kicked in until about three fourths into the story where Minos is introduced. The myth that McCarry alludes to is not loosely based and hard to grasp. In contrast her narrative is smooth and seductive, peppered with references from authors and philosophers from Rousseau to Block. Though I did have issues with the insta-lust/love between the unnamed narrator and Jack, I do see a running theme of impulsion throughout the story. I wish I got to know Jack a bit more as a character, he never really solidified for me. All Our Pretty Songs is the first book in a planned trilogy which will tell the outcomes of the girls, Jack, and the other secondary characters in this usual paranormal romance story. I would recommend this book to readers who like dark stories featuring the fey, fans of Greek mythology, and those who are looking for a more sophisticated paranormal romance story.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong sexual content, drug use, and language throughout the novel. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Dirty Wings (All Our Pretty Songs #2) *Released in 2014, Tithe by Holly Black, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, or Everneath by Brodi Ashton (Everneath #1)
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. Melodrama, angst, and humor are blended quite nicely Volume 7 of Boys Over Flowers.

Description: Just as Tsukushi thinks she can attend school unnoticed, the entire school starts bullying her and she finds herself in a love triangle with the two most popular boys, that's when the real trouble begins Mysterious men have knocked out Tsukushi and her on-and-off boyfriend Tsukasa. The two awake to find themselves alone on a boat, a situation that reeks of the diabolical handiwork of Tuskasa's maniacal mother Kaede. Will the two of them survive this insane twist of fate?

Review: Volume 7 of Boys over Flowers is a wild emotional ride for Tsukushi. She is wrecked with guilt after she "accidentally" kisses Rui while the group was on vacation and was caught by Tsukasa. I felt horrible for Tsukasa as his heart broke into little pieces. He assumed that Tsukushi liked him as much as he liked her but that was clearly not the case. Enraged Tsukasa vows never to speak to Tsukushi again and kicks Rui out of the F4 which shocks everyone since they've all have been friends since childhood. The only person who isn't shocked by the news is Rui, who kind of shrugs his shoulder and is blase about it all. He asks out Tsukushi on a date which in my opinion would get the award for the most awkward date ever as the two misread signals the other gives throughout the entire time. 
  I like how the mangaka gives the reader and her heroine an opportunity to be with each love interest separately. While Tsukasa can be a jerk most of the time, deep down he can be sweet and caring which makes him a character that has great potential to grow and change. Rui just comes off as disinterested, emo, and robot-like. I'm not completely convinced that Rui is going out with Tsukushi because he likes her, but is trying to rebound from his rejection from Shizua. I'm hoping he too develops a personality. The cute and quiet appeal can only go for long.  
  In this volume we are also introduce to a new character, Tsubaki, who is Tsukasa's older sister. When the two appear side by side, you can see where Tsukasa's harshness comes from. Since they both have absentee parents who are more concerned with their business, Tsubaki raised Tsukasa up all by herself. Tsubaki gave the book some much needed comic relief from the book's heavy doses of melodrama and teen angst. Again we are reminded to not cast Tsukasa as a jerk too quickly as he does have some great characteristics too. I thought it was interesting that after this was said to make Tsukasa look good and then the next heartbeat he is declaring that Rui has been replaced in the F4 and he will anything in his means to get Tsukushi and Rui expelled. Hmm... I guess we'll see if Tsukasa is all bark and no bite in the next volume. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude humor and minor language in the volume. Recommended for teens.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 8 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
  Are you looking for a book that you can't put down? Were you a huge fan of Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken, the best selling nonfiction book that stayed on the New York Bestsellers List for over 80 weeks? If so, be sure to check out Mitchell Zuckoff's Frozen in Time for another pulse pounding adventure of true heroism and survival.

Description: In Nov. 1942 a cargo plane crashed into the Greenland ice cap, the B-17 sent on the search-and-rescue mission got caught in a storm and also crashed, miraculously all nine men aboard survived. A second rescue operation was launched, but the plane, the Grumman Duck, flew into a storm and vanished. The survivors of the B-17 spent 148 days fighting to stay alive while waiting for rescue by famed explorer Bernt Balchen. Then in 2012 the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar mount an expedition to solve the mystery of the vanished plane and recover the remains of the lost plane's crew.

Review: Hollywood seems to be running of ideas fast and should consider turning to exciting nonfiction narratives such as Frozen in Time for inspiration or adaptation. The plot of Frozen in Time seems completely implausible. Many times while this cinematic book, I thought it was fiction and not nonfiction.  Zuckoff's complex and nail biting narrative involves the fates of three downed missions to Greenland in late 1942, juxtaposed with the events of the modern-day search effort, led by an exploration company in August 2012 and joined by the author. 
  The narrative though incredibly well detailed and researched can be confusing at times, particularly when referring to their location and the numerous characters involved in the story. Thankfully there are maps and a list of character names that I found helpful to refer back to when I got lost. I found the two different timelines of the rescue, the original and the present equally fascinating. The book starts off in an adrenaline pumping retelling of the crash of the original lost cargo plane, which contained five American servicemen, was part of the wartime Operation BOLERO's so-called Snowball Route from the U.S. to Britain; on November 5, 1942 and crashed on an ice cap near the southeast coast of Greenland. Due to terrible winter storms, the plane's radio messages grew increasingly weak, making it impossible to locate the plane for the subsequent B-17 bomber that took off days later on a rescue mission. Carrying nine crew members, the B-17 hit a whiteout and crashed into a glacier. Our hearts continue to pound as the broken-off tail section remained intact, allowing the survivors to take shelter, but one man had already fallen through an ice bridge, another grew delusional and another had his feet frozen. The details of their physical state while trying to survive are a bit graphic and gory as Zuckoff doesn't flinch from giving this information. 
  Despite rescuing some of the survivors, the Duck vanished in a storm, remaining unclaimed until Lou Sapienza's expedition of 2012. A Grumman "Duck" plane was launched, carrying pilot John Pritchard and radioman Benjamin Bottoms. Zuckoff gives a play by play narrative concerns the plight of the crews, as well as the elaborate outfitting for the Duck Hunt. I was lost many times with the military jargon and the specifics when it come to the planes, but I completely captivated by this story. As a result, you feel as you have personally gone through the same ordeal as these characters. Frozen in Time is a multi-layered at times confusing but nonetheless exciting account involving characters of enormous courage and stamina. I really wouldn't be surprised if the book rights have already been bought by a major movie production powerhouse.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language as well as graphic and gory images of wounded soldiers. Recommended for teens and adults who love nonfiction narratives of survival stories.

If you like this book try: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Lost in Shangrila by Mitchell Zuckoff
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm almost at the end of my Monarch Award reading list. I love how these reading lists offer a wide range of subjects and genres. Today I'll be reviewing 11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill, I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff, and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.

Description: Is it possible to eat snowballs doused in ketchup—and nothing else—all winter? Can a washing machine wash dishes? By reading the step-by-step instructions, kids can discover the answers to such all-important questions along with the book's curious narrator. Here are 12 "hypotheses," as well as lists of "what you need," "what to do," and "what happened" that are sure to make young readers laugh out loud as they learn how to conduct science experiments (really!).

Review: This was an unusual picture book as it didn't have your traditional narrative along with the text, but rather follows the scientific method of a curious child who comes up with bizarre and funny "What if?" experiments such as "What if you could eat snow and ketchup for an entire year?" Our little scientist follows through the failed experiment every time. Some of the experiments will require the reader to suspend disbelief, but I don't think they are meant to be taken seriously. I really do think there needs to be a tag line of "You should not try this at home" for any kids who might think these ideas are great. Overall a fun read but not the best picture book that I've read.

Rating: 3 stars

Curriculum Connection: Science

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

If you like this book try: 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill

Description: Ever since their baby sister came along, Alex has been forced to share a room with his little brother, Ethan, and it's a nightmare. Ethan always breaks stuff, snores like a walrus, and sticks crayons up his nose. No hardworking, well-behaved, practically grown-up boy like Alex should have to put up with that! Writing letters to his mom convinced her to let him get his pet iguana, so Alex puts pencil to paper again, this time determined to get his own room. Though all of his powers of persuasion can't get his dad to expand the house, he does come through with a fun alternative-a tree house!

Review: Anyone who has a sibling can definitely empathize with Alex. Alex has to share his room with his impossible, irritating younger brother Ethan in the wake of his new sister. Cleverly, Alex decides the best way to convince his parents is through a series of letters stating why he should have his own room and suggestions of how to improve it. His poor, exhausted mother defers the room debacle to her husband. The slapstick humor as seen through the colorful and zany watercolor images show Ethan turns into various loud and obnoxious creatures really captures Alex's wild imagination perfectly. Alex's persuasion letters are hilarious. The sibling anger and the final resolution are spot-on and give a gentle lesson on how to live together peacefully adds a nice touch. A definite child pleasing read and a good choice for a read-aloud.

Rating: 4 stars

Curriculum Connection: Language Arts- How to write a letter

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume

Description: A bear almost gives up his search for his missing hat until he remembers something important.

Review: Who says picture books are only for kids? I Want My Hat Back is a wonderful humorous read that can easily be enjoyed by adults and children. It reminded me of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons that I use to love as a kid. A very polite yet oblivious bear goes on a search in the forest for his hat. He asks every animal that he meets and they all come up with the same question "No, I've not seen it" until a very suspicious rabbit seems to be a bit nervous and agitated when our bear asks him about his hat. With a hint of irony and youthful humor, Klassen has hit this book out of the ball park. The images are soft and incredibly cute and simple. You will definitely be laughing from the beginning to the end.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, Beware of the Frog by William Bee, Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems, Oh, No! by Candice Fleming
Rummanah Aasi
  I've had Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, on my reading list for quite sometime. I moved it up my list this year after it was awarded the Printz Honor, Stonewall Book Award, and the Pura Belpre Award. I'm so glad that I didn't delay any longer in picking up the book. It is an excellent and thought provoking read.

Description: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Review: Brilliant, simple, poetic, and profound, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is no doubt one of the best books I've read all year. Most of the reviews I've read on this book focus on the character's exploration of their sexual identity, which in my opinion is just the tip of the iceberg. I think it would be more accurate to say that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe encompasses all aspects of our identity from our socially constructed roles of being a man or a woman to our cultural identity which we may embrace or ignore. What is astonishing is that all of these huge epiphanies sneak up on us subtly as we are swept away by fantastic characters and an engaging plot.
  The summer of 1987 is going to be a banal summer for Ari, short for Aristotle, filled with the usual disconnect from his family who refuses to talk about their family secrets and spending most of his time alone. Ari doesn't know why his older brother is incarcerated, since his parents and adult sisters refuse to talk about it. His father, a Vietnam veteran, is always aloof and keeps his war experience in Vietnam locked up inside. On a whim, Ari heads to the town swimming pool, where he meets Dante, a boy he's never met offers to teach him to swim. This single moment will redefine both characters though they might not be aware of it. 
  Dante is the exact opposite of Ari. He is self-assured, open in expressing his emotions, and artistic. Unlike Ari, Dante knows what he wants from life. The two develop an easy yet deep friendship, ribbing each other about who is more Mexican, discussing life's big questions, and wondering when they'll be old enough to take on the world. They are the type of friends who can sit comfortably in a moment of silence without the need for someone to fill it. The friendship between Ari and Dante is my favorite part of the book. It grows and evolves naturally to love and brings their families closer. Two events in Ari's and Dante's lives makes them, especially Ari, look at their world and themselves differently. Things come nicely together as Ari, adding up the parts of his life, begins to define himself. There were many moments that made me teary eyed in this book, many happy than sad. I could easily picture these characters, even the secondary ones that are finely nuanced and fleshed out. In the end I finished this book with a huge grin on my face. I highly recommend Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe if you are in the mood for an excellent realistic fiction read.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, and drug usage. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Vast Field of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Getting It by Alex Sanchez
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. Melodrama comes full force in Volume 6 of Boys Over Flowers.

Description: Could Tsukushi really fall under Tsukasa Domyoji's spell? Desire and jealousy collide as the crazed Tsukasa seeks revenge on behalf of Tsukushi. Rui Hanazawa surprises everyone with his return from France. Just when you think Tsukasa's mixture of cruelty and compassion is as perplexing as ever, something even stranger happens.

Review: The running theme through the sixth volume of Boys Over Flowers is confusion. Domyoji alternates between being really sweet by taking care of Tsukushi's scrapes and bruises and extremely smothering by self declaring they are a couple. Unfortunately Tsukushi doesn't a get a moment to catch her breath and process the huge, three words that Domyoji drops on her. She is not sure how she feels about Domyoji, sure he came to her rescue when everyone was against her but he is also the one who practically started everything in the first place? I can understand Tsukushi's conflicted emotions. I too see-sawed between liking Domyoji and yelling at him to back off. Thankfully Tsukushi voices her opinion on not being required to follow Domyjoi around like a puppy.
  To matters even more complicated Rui is back from France. His quiet, loner demeanor has completely changed. He flirts freely now and can easily talk to people around him, especially girls. Later in this volume we find out what truly happened in France. While I do feel sorry for Rui I wonder why he has taken an interest in Tsukushi now? Is she just a rebound girl for him? Many more questions are asked when Rui and Tsukushi are found in compromising positions. What's next for our feisty heroine? Who will win her heart? Can you still cheat on someone even though you are not technically linked to another person? I hope to get more answers in the next volume!

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some sexual innuendo and minor language. Recommended for teens.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 7 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to the Family Magic Birthday Bash Extravaganza! Family Magic, the first book in Patti Larsen’s epic 20-book Hayle Coven young adult series, is having its second anniversary–and we’re bringing the magic, fun, and awesomeness to this birthday celebration!
Join author Patti Larsen and Badass Marketing for a week of fun, contests, giveaways, never-before-shared deleted scenes, and a kick-ass scavenger hunt that will have you looking for magic in unexpected places!

What's the deal with the magic in Family Magic? Patti Larsen, award-winning young adult author of the Hayle Coven Novels, gives us the scoop.

When she begins her story in Family Magic (and the prequel novella, Dreams and Echoes, Syd has access to witch magic thanks to her mother and demon power through her father, the Seventh Plane Lord, Haralthazar. As the Hayle Coven Novels progress through the twenty volumes, Syd adds to her growing magic arsenal until she has access to all of the particular magicks of her Universe. Let’s begin with witches. They access the elements through mental, physical and emotional connections to the world around them: emerald green for earth, white for spirit, amber for fire, pale blue for air, pale green for water, plus the deeper blue for the combination of the magicks into the family power all covens possess. Not all witches can access all of the elements, Syd’s family being an exceptional standout thanks to her great-grandmother’s aggressive recruitment program years before, making the Hayles the strongest family in North America. Next, let’s examine the demons. Tied to fire, their power is pure amber, and much stronger than our plane’s element, due to millennia of focus on honing their control as well as constant battling to increase their personal magic. Being half demon, Syd has access not only to extra oomph when it comes to that element, but a hair-trigger temper, fed by the demon soul she carries. The Sidhe, or Fey folk, are tied to earth and the green power of the deep underground. With control over the environment, the Sidhe can manipulate not only the stability of the earth beneath them, but use their magic to cast glamour over the physical and can make one see what they choose. The vampires are a bit of an oddity. Instead of using magic, they are magic, their undead forms animated by pure spirit energy. Without the spirit magic, vampires would pass over, though due to a flaw in their makeup, they require blood—and the magic within it—to maintain their power. Which leads us to blood magic—creation magic. Though witches possess the ability to use it, blood magic is illegal in the witching communities. Old prejudices going back to the Inquisition and the dark days of witch burnings has led to racial rejection on a physical level for all witches, to the point they are unable to even consider using it. Fearing the incredible power that comes from blood magic, any witch who actually manages to break through the geas against it and is caught using blood power is immediately sent to the stake. This is an oddity only shared by witches as demons also use blood magic—as the vampires do—in their initial crossings to our plane. The werewolves are as much an anomaly as the vampires. Unable to control their magic beyond altering their bodies into wolf form from human, there is untapped power within the weres controlled and manipulated by the sorcerers whose power infuses their very cells. Because of this, no one knows where their base of magic comes from, masked by the emptiness of sorcery. Which leads us to the next race and their terrible power. The magic of the sorcerers isn’t so much a magic in itself as it is a siphon, a black and hungry hole devouring the power of objects and magic users to feed the energy of the sorcerer. Though each sorcerer has their own specialty—whether organics, inorganics, liquids, etc.—some, like the witches, have access to all types of matter and can suck dry the innate life force from what surrounds them to support their power. Magickless on their own, sorcerers aren’t trusted due to the very nature of their need. And, finally, the last race—the maji. Though there are some blood-born maji—part human and part pure—living on our plane, the true maji live apart. As the hands of the Creator, they were the first people and helped shape all planes and all magic races. Their power is an iridescent shimmer combining every discipline: witch, demon, vampire, Sidhe, sorcery and blood magic coming together to create an all-powerful being. Okay. That’s it. Clear as mud trampled by a herd of irritated demons, right? If you want to know more about Syd’s world and the power she possesses, check out the first book, Family Magic. But don’t say I didn’t warn you—power can be addictive…

About Family Magic

Family Magic by Patti LarsenHer mom's a witch. Her dad's a demon. And she just wants to be ordinary. I batted at the curl of smoke drifting off the tip of my candle and tried not to sneeze. My heavy velvet cloak fell in oppressive, suffocating folds in the closed space of the ceremony chamber, the cowl trapping the annoying bits of puff I missed. I hated the way my eyes burned and teared, an almost constant distraction. Not that I didn't welcome the distraction, to be honest. Anything to take my mind from what went on around me. Being part of a demon raising is way less exciting than it sounds. Sydlynn Hayle's life couldn't be more complicated. Trying to please her coven, starting over in a new town, and fending off a bully cheerleader who hates her are just the beginning of her troubles. What to do when delicious football hero Brad Peters--boyfriend of her cheer nemesis--shows interest? If only the darkly yummy witch, Quaid Moromond, didn't make it so difficult for her to focus on fitting in with the normal kids. Add to that her crazy grandmother's constant escapes driving her family to the brink and Syd's between a rock and a coven site. Forced to take on power she doesn't want to protect a coven who blames her for everything, only she can save her family's magic. If her family's distrust doesn't destroy her first.

  Find Family Magic on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Connect with Patti Larsen on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Rummanah Aasi
  For those of you who are thinking about dipping your toes in the vast water of the urban fantasy genre, I would suggest starting with the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. The characters and world building are excellent. There are currently 7 books in the series with book 8 coming soon next year. I highly recommended reading the series in order before Frost Burned to really see the character growth arc and prevent any big spoilers.

Description: Mercy Thompson’s life has undergone a seismic change. Becoming the mate of Adam Hauptman—the charismatic Alpha of the local werewolf pack—has made her a stepmother to his daughter Jesse, a relationship that brings moments of blissful normalcy to Mercy’s life. But on the edges of humanity, what passes for a minor mishap on an ordinary day can turn into so much more.…
  After an accident in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Mercy and Jesse can’t reach Adam—or anyone else in the pack for that matter. They’ve all been abducted. Through their mating bond, all Mercy knows is that Adam is angry and in pain. With the werewolves fighting a political battle to gain acceptance from the public, Mercy fears Adam’s disappearance may be related—and that he and the pack are in serious danger. Outclassed and on her own, Mercy may be forced to seek assistance from any ally she can get, no matter how unlikely.

Review: With the entirely forgettable and disappointing, River Marked, Frost Burned returns the action and great characterizations to the Mercy Thompson novels. Mercy is now adjusting to her new life, being the mate of an incredible alpha male in a wolf pack. She is liked, wholly accepted by some and others can't wrap the idea of a coyote being in charge of them. Briggs does an excellent job in creating both main and secondary characters who you care for just like your own family. The absence of the secondary characters was largely and immediately felt in River Marked and though present in Frost Burned they are remote.
  The story starts off with a bang as Adam and virtually his entirely pack are kidnapped and interrogated. The fey have declared a basically all out war and any one who is associate with the fey are in danger. The action is constant which made the pages fly by, however, we didn't get a chance to catch our breaths and really process all the changes that were going on. Mercy has to act the part of second in command, find help from unlikely allies, and move beyond her comfort zone to protect the man she loves and the pack.
  I loved being back with Mercy and company, but I couldn't shake off a nagging feeling that something was missing in this book. I couldn't really pin point it, but the story just seemed a bit too tame and easily solved despite the huge odds that the pack faces. While I like the romance between Adam and Mercy, I just think the couple has lost its spark and chemistry. I hope that spark returns in the next book. I did like, however, the exploration of the significance of being a pack in this book. I also liked that we got a chance to get better acquainted with a special character that we met in Silver Borne, but I really missed Sam in this book. Where was he? Overall, Frost Burned is an enjoyable read and a good addition to the Mercy Thompson series but I think the author could do better.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong violence and language. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thomspon #8) due out March 2014, Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Chicago Vampire series by Chloe Neil
Rummanah Aasi
  Looking for a good picture book to read to your child or class? I've got two for you today! The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and One More Candle by Merry Susiarjo will entertain and amuse young readers. Many thanks to Sourcbooks Jabberwocky and Merry Susiarjo for the copies of the books. The reviews are my own, honest opinions.

Description: Where have all the bedtime stories gone?
One dark, dark night in Burrow Down, a rabbit named Eliza Brown found a book and settled down...when a Snatchabook flew into town.
   It's bedtime in the woods of Burrow Down, and all the animals are ready for their bedtime story. But books are mysteriously disappearing. Eliza Brown decides to stay awake and catch the book thief. It turns out to be a little creature called the Snatchabook who has no one to read him a bedtime story. All turns out well when the books are returned and the animals take turns reading bedtime stories to the Snatchabook.

Review: The Snatchabook is a delightful, heartwarming read that explains the magic of reading and enjoying a good story. With rhyming text reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's work, this book refuses to be read silently. A tiny village where every family in every nook and cranny reads a book before bedtime is invaded by a creature called Snatchabook who steals books during the night when everyone is sleeping. Eliza Brown who leaves her story at a cliffhanger (how we all hate that!) when her book gets stolen is determined to solve the mystery. She plans one night to gather all the books she can find and stays awake long into the night to catch the thief. Eliza meets a small creature called Snatchabook who confesses his crime and tells her that he is not a malicious character who hates reading but rather he loves books but has no one to read to him at night. Eliza quickly hatches a plan, resulting in a satisfying ending. The gorgeous illustrations are a perfect match for the lively text. The rhyming sounds misses a beat but I had so much fun reading this book that I didn't mind so much. This book is a fabulous fit for both storytime and one-on-one reading. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for PreK-Grade 1

If you like this book try: The Wonderful Book by Lenoid Gore, Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, Story for Bear by Dennis Haseley, How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

Description: Nola is just over a year younger than her sister Betty, and they decide to have one big, shared birthday party every year rather than each having a smaller one. But poor Nola gets upset that Betty always has one more candle than her, and fruitlessly seeks help from all the light-giving things she finds in the world outside. But just as she begins to accept the reality of their different ages, the solution comes as an enchantingly simple surprise. Emmeline Pidgen's authentic and imaginative illustrations bring this sweet and gentle picture book story magically to life.

Review: One More Candle is a story of sibling rivalry, but not in the usual catty, antagonistic kind of a way which was refreshing to see and read. Sisters Nola and Betty celebrate their birthday on the same day, except Nola always has one more candle than Betty. Betty finds this completely unfair and tries different ways to ask for one more candle- from her parents to pets to the environment around her. A whole year passes and finally Betty gets what she wishes for as a parent and learns a valuable lesson of patience. The childlike curiosity and worries of Betty are handled well. The book moves along at a nice pace and the pictures with its pastel colors and drawings are good match to the book's gentle tone. My only small criticism is that the text is a bit too heavy and awkward at times. I think clearer and short sentences would have worked better than trying to add dialogue. Other than that, I would definitely recommend One More Candle to show kids how nicely siblings can work together and get along.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for PreK-1

If you like this book try: Betty Bunny Wants Everything by Michael Kaplan
Rummanah Aasi
 I have always enjoyed reading books by Lauren Myracle. Her sense of humor and portrayal of adolescence are pertinent in her novels and ring true with young adults. Her latest book, The Infinite Moment of Us, is no exception. This review is based on the advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now... not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?
  Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be. And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them.

Review: The Infinite Moment of Us is a sweet, sizzling, and mature summer love story. Wren and Charlie are just about to graduate from their Atlanta high school and embark on their journey to adulthood. At graduation their eyes lock and bright sparks of chemistry changes everything. I liked how Wren and Charlie knew of each other from their classes and their relationship allows them to gradually become closer and learn more about each other.
  Wren and Charlie are likable characters and come from the opposite side of the tracks. Wren is a single child who is trying to make her own independent decisions from her loving yet smothering parents. Wren's biggest decision is to defer her admission to Emory for a gap year in Guatemala with a service organization. Wren is a rule follower and wants to appease her parents, but realizes that she has to live her life not the life her parents want her to have. I could easily relate to Wren.
  Unlike Wren, Charlie is a foster-child who is also struggling to separate himself from a long-standing toxic relationship, built from his own painful past. He has an incredible supportive foster family who he tries not to become close to in fear of letting them down. Charlie also has plans beyond high school and he's got a scholarship to Georgia Tech. Compared to Wren, Charlie life has not been easy and through little bits of information, we begin to see how his defensive walls were built.
 The story is told in alternating chapters that move between Wren's and Charlie's third-person perspectives as they describe their gorgeous summer romance, from the butterflies of approaching one another, the highs of a beginning relationship as well as the bumps of the road, capturing each as they work to define themselves as individuals and as part of a couple. There are many times where the book could have easily turned into melodrama based on Charlie's past with his biological parents, but Myracle applies a light touch even with the heavy issues. As readers we get to discover the characters even as they get to know each other. The characters and the reader are constantly reminded that the romance has just started and is no where complete.
  Sex plays a large role in book. Though it may be dealt with honestly and frankly, but the focus is more on emotional intimacy as these characters begin to realize what makes a healthy and stable relationship. The steaminess of the relationship doesn't overshadow the depth of the characters nor the themes of the book thus making The Infinite Moment of Us an enjoyable romance. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong sexual context, language, and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Forever by Judy Blume, This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen, Love and the Other Four-Letter Words by Carolyn Mackler
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. If you are looking for a spooky with a good dash of comedy to read for Halloween, I suggest picking up the Black Butler manga series or watching the anime.

Description: The decks of the Campania run red with blood when the corpses brought back to a semblance of life by the Aurora Society's "absolute salvation" turn on the ship's passengers in a ghoulish farce. With their investigation waylaid by this primitive struggle for survival, Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his exceptional butler, Sebastian, are trapped at the mercy of both the unnatural and Mother Nature herself. For even as dead feet shuffle along the opulent decks of the luxury liner in search of living prey, in the distance there looms before the cursed vessel a massive iceberg that glows and crackles eerily in the gloom of night...

Review: Vol 12 of Black Butler is filled with lots of action and gore as Ciel and Sebastian make a terrifying discovery of zombies on the ship. This volume is very well-paced and executed brilliantly. Toboso's artwork is always great, but really does draw engaging fight scenes which are easy to follow and understand. Often when reading action scenes in manga, I have a bit of difficulty to follow where the movement begins and ends but I didn't have an issue at all in this volume. 
  We see a more softer side of Ciel as he defends Elizabeth, his fiancee, and sees to make sure her family is safe on the ship. Ciel and Elizabeth have a strange relationship, more of a one-sided romance. Ciel doesn't seem to have much concept of how to make her happy. For instance, Elizabeth wants to spend time with him, but he just attempts to placate her by purchasing things such as dresses for her. I like them as close friends, but I can't really see them as a couple. 
  On the topic of Elizabeth, I really don't have strong feelings for her, but in this volume I'm alternating between wanting to strangle her and begrudgingly admitting that she can be cute and surprisingly awesome. Elizabeth is ordinarily used for comic relief, but in this volume she did have some great action scenes towards the end of the volume.  
  Like in the other volumes of Black Butler, there is a historical nod to the Titantic disaster as well as mentioning the Marconi device. Sebastian was notably violent and somewhat disturbing. He showed his demonic side and dropped all pretence of humanity, which is always interesting to watch. There are many times while reading this manga that you forget who Sebastian really is due to the slapstick humor and his type A personality of being the perfect butler. Snake was also fun to watch and it was nice to finally see Elizabeth's family who are usually talked about off the page. Volume 12 ends abruptly only to pick up in Volume 13. Will Ciel and crew be able to survive a ship full of zombies? I guess we'll find out and see!

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Strong violence and gore. Rated T+ for older teens.

If you like this book try: Black Butler Vol 13 by Yana Toboso, Blue Exorcist manga series by Kazue Kato, Soul Eater manga series by Atsushi Ohkubo
Rummanah Aasi
   Gated by Amy Christine Parker is a good choice if you are in the mood for a psychological thriller that is somewhat rooted in real life events, the bizarre world of religious cults. This review is based on the advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: Do the gates keep the unchosen out or the chosen in?
In Mandrodage Meadows, life seems perfect. The members of this isolated suburban community have thrived under Pioneer, the charismatic leader who saved them from their sad, damaged lives. Lyla Hamilton and her parents are original members of the flock. They moved here following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, looking to escape the evil in the world. Now seventeen, Lyla knows certain facts are not to be questioned:  Pioneer is her leader. Will is her Intended. The end of the world is near.
   Like Noah before him, Pioneer has been told of the imminent destruction of humanity. He says his chosen must arm themselves to fight off the unchosen people, who will surely seek refuge in the compound's underground fortress--the Silo.
   Lyla loves her family and friends, but given the choice, she prefers painting to target practice. And lately she'd rather think about a certain boy outside the compound than plan for married life in the Silo with Will. But with the end of days drawing near, she will have to pick up a gun, take a side, and let everyone know where she stands.

Review: Gated is an absorbing, chilling, and extremely disturbing read that examines a religious cult through the eyes of a teenage girl who begins to doubt their leader. Lyla's little sister was kidnapped in New York City twelve years ago. Her inconsolable parents fell prey to a charismatic man calling himself Pioneer, who promised to keep them safe in the coming apocalypse thanks to knowledge received from aliens. The Pioneer receives messages from up above and delivers them to his followers. He relentlessly shows movies that has the apocalypse as its themes such as The Day After Tomorrow, Terminator, 2012, etc. The members are the community are told how to dress, eat, and socialize. Pioneer controls his people with an iron fists, assigning the adolescents into marriages (Will is Lyla's Intended) and insisting that everyone in the Community learn to shoot to kill, as he's sure Outsiders will eventually attack them. Comprised of about 20 other families in a walled-in agricultural community, they hide a secret: They have dug a five-story-deep silo into the ground in which they intend to live for five years before the aliens come to rescue them.
   Parker convincingly portrays the dynamics of a cult from the inside out, quoting from the Pioneer's bible along with real cult leaders such as Jim Jones and Charles Manson that gave me goosebumps. The contriving events that will allow Lyla to learn the truth about Pioneer fits nicely with Lyla's adolescent rebellion. I only had wished the the author didn't include a flat love interest to let Lyla open her eyes. I think she was on the road to discovery love before the "cute boy" showed up. 
  Though the pacing of the book is quite slow, the suspense increases the further you read. Parker doesn't pull punches, indicating a level of brutality that will appropriately disturb even as it successfully conveys Lyla's complete entrapment in the Community. There are moments that shocked me particularly during the book's climax. The quick chapters and gritty subject matter might attract reluctant readers. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Due to strong violence, including the harm of animals, and the book's subject matter,  I would feel comfortable in recommending this book to teens who are Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano, Chosen Ones by Tiffany Truitt
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