Rummanah Aasi
   The Incorrigible Children of Ashton place is a tongue-in cheek, clever, and highly entertaining children series that can be enjoyed by both younger readers and adults alike. I definitely recommend picking up this series if you are looking for a fun read.

Description: Since returning from London, the three Incorrigible children and their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, have been exceedingly busy. Despite their wolfish upbringing, the children have taken up bird-watching, with no unfortunate consequences—yet. And a perplexing gift raises hard questions about how Penelope came to be left at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females and why her parents never bothered to return for her.
   But hers is not the only family mystery to solve. When Lord Fredrick's long-absent mother arrives with the noted explorer Admiral Faucet, gruesome secrets tumble out of the Ashton family tree. And when the admiral's prized racing ostrich gets loose in the forest, it will take all the Incorrigibles' skills to find her.
  The hunt for the runaway ostrich is on. But Penelope is worried. Once back in the wild, will the children forget about books and poetry and go back to their howling, wolfish ways? What if they never want to come back to Ashton Place at all?

Review: The Incorrigible children of Ashton Place are back! The third book is in this highly entertaining series is filled with colorful characters, witty humor, adventure, and a touch of mystery. In order to fully enjoy the Unseen Guest, I highly recommended reading the first two books first in the series as Wood doesn't fully recap her story thus far. Readers are given tantalizing pieces of the puzzle concerning the children's origins and their connection to Miss Lumley and Ashton Place which continue to be cleverly revealed and well plotted throughout the story, creating just the right balance of light and dark aspects of the story.
  The Unseen Guest begins with the appearance of a stray ostrich, soon followed by the Widow Ashton and Admiral Faucet (pronounced Faw-say) who plans on raising, racing, and marketing ostrich as a means to a fortune. Faucet believes he has hit the jackpot with this brilliant new idea but just to be on the safe side he also has plans to marry wealthy Widow Ashton. Unlike the other adults who have adverse reactions to the Inccorigibles, Faucet is fascinated by them and believes they could be profitable to him if they were used as exhibitions in a traveling show. When Bertha the ostrich goes missing, he is mollified to have them lead the search in the nearby forest.
  Once back in the forest in which they were originally found, the children revert to many of their wolfish ways, much to Miss Lumley's chagrin. Though Miss Lumley and I loved seeing the Inccorigibles comfortably back home, it was painful to see them so cut-off from the rest of the world. Wood proves once again that she can cleverly use animals to highlight the great aspects of humanity when she has some awful characters. When Bertha is found and the Inccorigibles unharmed, all of Faucet's schemes come crumbling down with the appearance of Judge Quinzy. Or is it really the Widow Ashton's late husband? Quinzy/Ashton doesn't stick around long enough for a definitive answer, but his widow is convinced of his identity and cancels her engagement to Faucet. He departs, and readers are left with an epilogue that only whets the appetite for the next installment in this wonderful series. Good thing book 4 is only a few months away!

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #4), Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Rummanah Aasi
  Shakespeare in Love is one of my all time favorite movies. I've seen it at least ten times, each time discovering new connections to his wonderful plays. When I first heard of Love Disguised by Lisa Klein, I thought the book had a similar vibe to my favorite movie. I was really excited to read it and while I did enjoy it, it wasn't as satisfying as the movie.

Description: Will Shakespeare is about to meet the girl who will change his life forever. After a mixed-up courtship with the Hathaway sisters ends badly, Will jumps at the chance to go to London, where he can pursue his dream of becoming an actor. There, Will meets the unusually tall (and strong) Meg who has earned the nickname "Long Meg" for her height. She's also fleeing her own past as an orphan turned thief.    
  Disguised as "Mack," Meg was once a member of a band of boy thieves who betrayed her. When Will is robbed by those same villains, Meg disguises herself as "Mack" again--telling Will that Mack is her twin brother--in order to help Will recover his money. As Mack, she finds true friendship with Will. But is there more? And who is Meg really fooling with her disguise? What ensues is a tale involving love triangles, mistaken identities, and the pursuit of hapless villains, as Shakespeare becomes a key player in a lively drama that could have sprung from his own pen.

Review: Love Disguised is an innovative and ambitious imagining of young Will Shakespeare's life. Assisting his spendthrift father, a Stratford glover, Will dreams of escaping to become an actor. He gets his wish when his courtship with one of the Hathaway sisters goes awry, and his father sends him to London to negotiate a debt. Will is a hard character to like, but you can detect many similarities with the male leads in his play such as the fickle Romeo and the ambitious Macbeth. While we do see the conflicts in the Will's family, I would have to liked the author to dig deeper. Shakepeare's plays are rich in dysfunctional families and it would have been great to see where those seeds for his plays might have originated from.
  Along with Will, the other major character is Meg. Left to fend for herself after her father's death in prison and her mother's suicide, young Londoner Meg survives by disguising herself as a boy and becoming a petty thief until she's offered employment by kindly innkeepers at a bar. Unlike Will, I liked Meg right away and rooted for her throughout the story. I admired Klein for describing Meg as an average yet attractive, androgynous woman who is also admired for her wits and skills. She is well aware of the restraints on her freedom due to her gender and the double standards of being a male in her society. Meg clearly wants to break out and be independent, but realizes these dreams are futile because her society refuses to see her as anything but a woman- weak, subservient, and passive. Through Meg we get the vivid portrayal of the harsh Elizabethan world. 
  Will and Meg eventually meet at the Inn, but Meg is too late to rescue him from thieves who prey on rubes. While Will frets about repairing his fortunes, Meg concocts schemes to make it happen. Soon, Will's career as playwright and actor takes off, and Meg, thanks to her quick wit and acting chops, serves as his muse. I'm not truly convinced that Will had any romantic feelings for Meg or vice versa. I believed they admired each other but were also envious of one another, Meg of Will's freedom as a man and Will of Meg's confidence and strength. Readers looking for a swoon inducing romance between these two characters will be disappointed. 
  Labored subplots based on mistaken identity and cross-dressing slow the action, but ring true to the time period and are fascinating if you are a fan of the Bard. Like some of Shakepeare's problematic and famous comedies, things aren't so easily tied together in the end and leaves the reader with many questions to think about after they begin to deconstruct it. 
  Overall I would recommend Love Disguised to readers who enjoy historical fiction with light romance. Fans of the Bard will definitely pick up lots of allusions to famous works while readers who are meeting Shakespeare for the first time will get a better idea of the context of his plays.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some fade-to-black sex scenes and allusions to physical abuse. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Loving Will Shakespeare by Carolyn Meyer, Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper, Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle
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. Things get more serious in Volume 9 of Boys Over Flowers.

Description (from the back of the Volume): Tsukasa is headed for New York to break away from his Tokyo life, but just before leaving Rui whispers something to him. When this news finally sinks in Tsukasa goes into another one of his frenzies.
  Financial troubles weigh heavy on the Makino family as Tsukushi's father is out of a job. It becomes clear that they are completely dependent on her marrying a rich boy from Eitoku Academy.
 A new boy enters the scene! He is a bit of a nut, but is determined to help Tsukushi.

Review: Vol 9 brings tones down the silliness of the manga and takes time to focus on serious issues. Tsukushi gets a reality check. She has been so caught up on her "relationships" with the F4 and dealing with the bullying at her school that she hasn't had the chance to think of anything else. She is stunned to find out that her father has been laid off and they must move to a poorer neighborhood. In order to ease her family's financial anxiety, Tsukushi decides to look for a job that will help pay for home expenses.
  What I love about Tsukushi is that she always rises up to the challenge, is responsible for her actions and how they affect her family. With her desperation so apparent, she is lured by a shady photographer who tells her that he'll pay a million yen to take some pictures but to Tsukushi's horror she realizes that he was to take porn photos of her. Tsukushi nearly escapes sexual assault and gets her first job with the help of a stranger named Amakusa.
  This plot point allows an introduction to a new character named Amakusa who seems to a be well-off, trustworthy, and take-charge type of person who is very different from the hot/cold Tsukasa and the quiet Rui who is always in his la-la land. I really like seeming Tsukushi with Amakusa and I'm curious to learn more about him. Unlike the people she knows at school, Amakusa isn't preoccupied by spending money and on material things which makes him easier to connect and talk to. We aren't told much about Amakusa which adds to his mysterious air.
  While Tsukushi is wrapping her head around her own financial issues, her love life is still in shambles. She seems drawn to Amakusa, still has feelings for Rui, but also has a strong reaction when she finds out that Tsukasa is going to New York! What's a girl to do? Though she denies having any feelings toward Tsukasa, it's apparent that there is a tension between them. They bicker and banter as a couple. Tsukushi is even more stunned and confused when she sees Tsukasa return from Japan for her and to reveal Amakusa's real identity.
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude sexual humor and Tsukushi is saved from sexual assault. Recommended for teens and up.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 10 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
  Today I have the pleasure in introducing you to author H.L. Le Roy to the blog to reveal the cover of The Fountain of the Earth, which is the first book in his YA dystopian series of the same name as well as a chat with H.L. The Fountain of the Earth seems to be a promising series and it was published today by Tranquille Press!

Cover & Description

Terra Vonn is fighting to survive in a destroyed world,
surrounded by unspeakable horror . . .
and things are about to get much worse.

After witnessing the horrific murder of her mother, fifteen-year-old Terra Vonn has a singular focus—exacting revenge on the killers. But before she can complete her plan, savagery intervenes, and she is cast alone into a brutal post-apocalyptic world. As she trails the murderers south—through a land filled with cannibalistic criminals, slave traders, and lunatics—the hunter becomes the hunted. Terra quickly learns that she is not as tough or as brave as she thought she was. Worse, she may be the only one who stands between what little remains of civilization and destruction.

More Information at: Amazon / Goodreads

Author Interview with H.L.

Can you describe your book in ten words or less?

Only Terra Vonn can save what little remains of civilization.
How would you persuade readers who are a bit burnout on the dystopian genre to pick up your book?
It was important to me that this book be plausible. Everything in it could happen. In fact, many scientists warn that a Carrington class, or worse, solar storm could destroy civilization as we know it. You'll find no mysterious virus causing zombies, or vampires, just a frightening glimpse of a possible future.

Why did you decide to write from a female's point of view rather an a male's?
As I laid out the plot, I quickly discovered that the voice for The Fountain of the Earth needed to be a female who was easy to relate to, as well as easy to root for.  Ursula K. Le Guin once said, “that men and women can and do speak both to and for one another, if they have bothered to learn how.” So I find no dichotomy in writing from a female's point of view.
How would you describe Terra Vonn? What sets her apart from other heroines we might have seen before?
She is just fifteen but has seen terrible things in her brief life. And although she's subjected to casual cruelty in the beginning of the book, she quickly finds her strength. She knows she is likely to die if she doesn't find a way to adapt and survive.
What can we look forward to seeing in the second book of this series?

I've written nearly a third of book two, tentatively titled The Heralds of Juno. In it, war is coming, and Terra and all she loves with be deeply affected.
About H.L. Le Roy

H. L. (Holly) LeRoy is an American short story writer and novelist, author of the award winning Street Crimes anthology and the novel The Fountain of the Earth (Nov. 22, 2013), first in a series of young adult adventures. Born in San Jose, California, LeRoy currently resides in Pioneer, California with his family.

Learn more about H.L.: Blog, Twitter

Rummanah Aasi
 Has anyone had a day, month, or a even a year in which they wished for a do-over? I know I have and this very feeling is what drew me to Kate Atkinson's much talked about novel, Life After Life, in which she explores the possibility of living again and again until you got it right.

Description: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?

Review: Life After Life reminded me a lot of the old children series Choose Your Own Adventure in which it was up to the reader to decide where to take the story. As a child I hated those books because the ending I always chose no matter what either ended abruptly or the main character had died (which now thinking back on it- what does that say about me? Hmm..), but Atkinson thankfully takes a more interesting and ambitious route to explore in her latest novel. Her protagonist, Ursula, makes all the decisions: she can die at birth, or she can flourish and blossom; she can be wealthy, or she can be a fugitive; she can be the victim of rape, or she can choose her sexual destiny. 
  What makes Life After Life work as an engaging story is that all these possibilities arise, and all take the story in different directions, making us wonder if we would make the same decisions as she knowing the outcomes that has lead up to this critical point. As they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but we all know that the choices we make do have consequences some of which we can predict and others we can't. As you may suspect that all of these possibilities sometimes entwine, near to the point of confusion as characters take up more than one role but that is what's expected of in alternate realities. Atkinson suggests that all of these lifetime events can be folded up into one lifetime so that all are equally real. 
  My reactions to Ursula varied which each of her lives. There were times that I admired her for her tenacity, other times where I grew frustrated with her when she making a horrible, obvious mistake. Each life of Ursula added a new layer of complexity to her character and those surrounding her. I really enjoyed getting to know her family from various points of views. I also think I had an advantage in not getting disoriented by the book's nonlinear storytelling by reading other reviews. I knew when to expect Ursula to die and come back so I was more engaged as to what happened in each lifetime. I grew bored during Ursula's adolescence but I was immediately sucked right back in to the story during the beginnings of World War II and Ursula's journey to Nazi Germany. I will be honest and say that the book does become tedious after a while and I'm not sure if it needed to be over 500 pages but I'm glad I stuck with it. 
Provocative, entertaining, and beautifully written. Life After Life is a speculative fiction that would be enjoyed by fans of historical fiction and literary fiction alike. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, sexual situations including rape, and war violence. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, The Returned by Jason Mott, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, Blackout by Connie Willis, for a YA book try Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, Memoirs of a  Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Rummanah Aasi
  The Mysterious Howling was an entertaining read and I couldn't wait to read more of this series. The second book, The Hidden Gallery, does not disappoint. Questions about the Incorrigible’s backgrounds, Penelope’s connections to them, and Lord Ashton’s own wolfish behavior set the stage for the next act of this most excellent adventure.

Description: Thanks to their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf cubs now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees.
  Yet the Incorrigibles are not entirely civilized, and still managed to ruin Lady Constance's Christmas ball, nearly destroying the grand house. So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. As they explore the city, Penelope and the Incorrigibles discover more about themselves as clues about the children's--and Penelope's own--mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways.

Review: The fun and chaos continues in this enjoyable sequel to The Mysterious Howling. Transplanted to London while repairs are being made to manorial Ashton Place in the wake of the last episode's disastrous and hilarious climax of introducing the Incorrigibles at the Ashton Place's Christmas ball, inexperienced but resourceful governess Penelope Lumley looks forward to taking care of her charges in London. Though the Incorrigibles have the veneer of civilization, they still retain their wolf-like characteristics but Penelope is determined to make sure everyone has a good time and is in one piece. 
   Of course to much of Penelope's dismay and to the delight of the reader, events quickly get out of hand. The plot of the second book moves slowly compared to the first book as we are introduced to new characters with ambiguous identities, astonishing apparent coincidences and take a moment to sight-see 19th century London (which I didn't mind at all. I loved my visit to London and want to go back!) as the plot thickens.
  The plot and suspense escalates when Penelope and the Incorrgibles attend a play with pirates (who are also possibly real)- you can only imagine the trouble they get into! We also meet a dashing, helpful, unemployed playwright who I'm really hoping would be a love interest for Penelope as sparks of chemistry fly between them. More questions arise as vague warnings, references to a prophecy, and a strange guidebook emerges that might hold all the clues to Penelope and the Incorrigibles' past. I couldn't wait to jump into the third book to find out more. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Unseen Guest (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #3), Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Rummanah Aasi
  Sorry for the lack of posts last week, I've been out of town for a much needed mini-vacation. I've really enjoyed reading Leila Sale's This Song Will Save Your Life, a novel that is an insightful celebration of individuality. Please note this review is based on an advanced readers copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley. 

Description (from the Publisher): Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski's strong suit. All throughout her life, she's been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Review: There has been a slew of books about bullying written for YA, but Leila Sale's This Song Will Save Your Life stands out for its unflinchingly real and honest portrayal without the contrived makeover mise-en-scène. 
  Being cool has eluded Elise Dembowski for years. She has been socially isolated and relentlessly bullied by her peers for no apparent reason. Her project for sophomore year is to finally fit in. She studies pop culture, noting what is and isn't fashionable in clothing, and all the other so-called important things in a teen's life during summer break. With renewed confidence she goes to school only to realize that all that she studied for was not on the test. Elise fails miserably and another drop falls into the ocean of self doubt, insecurity, and the hurtful truth that no matter how much she tries Elise will still be the same as she's always been. In a rash and heartbreaking moment, she makes a desperate decision--a suicide attempt--that ostracizes her even further. 
    Sales veers her story from doom and gloom by shining a ray of hope in Elise's darkest times, as she strolls alone at night and stumbles across Start, an underground dance party, that changes her life. At Start finally finds solace, her calling as a DJ, and meets a cast of characters who help her begin to see a light at the end of the crushingly dark and seemingly endless tunnel that is high school. Elise begins living a double life, returning each week to Start and learning to DJ. Being a DJ gives Elise confidence, happiness, and assurance that there is indeed nothing wrong with her. What I love most about This Song Will Save Your Life is that the transformation of Elise is not external but internal. Elise is responsible for her own development not a romance fling (which I appreciated for its realistic brief, confusing, exhilarating moments) nor a best friend in the wings. It is this epiphany for Elise and her journey of acceptance, of others and herself, that makes this book stand out for me. 
  Elise is a remarkably self-aware character and a person that I would be friends with in high school. She is unabashedly passionate about music and looks beyond the superfluous crises of high school. I understand why she kept her pain inside though I don't condone it, but I was thrilled when she finally found the courage to open up and speak out especially when the bullying gets even uglier. Like Elise, the supporting characters are equally well-developed, with the strengths and flaws of real people. Sales' narrative is rich with diverse music references and reverberates with resilience. Elise's story pulsates with hope for everyone who is just trying to belong. I really look forward to whatever Sales writes next.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking, a scene of attempted suicide, and some sexual situations. Recommended for strong Grades 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak,
Rummanah Aasi
I thought I would do some mini-reviews of books that were a bit of a mixed bag. Please note that all of these reviews are based on an advanced reader's copy provided by the publishers via Netgalley.

Description: Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia--a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she's been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?
  As June approaches--when Laura must return to the United States--Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She's only nineteen and doesn't think she's ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn't she take it?

Review: When I read the description of this book, I had expected a similar version of Stephanie Perkin's fabulous Anna and the French Kiss except the story is set in Cold War Russia, but The Boy on the Bridge did not meet my expectation at all. The relationship between Laura and Alexei felt contrived and lacked chemistry. As a result, I thought they were really boring characters.The setting of Russia makes up for a lot of the book, however, I wanted some background to the Cold War. My history lessons of the Cold War a bit fuzzy at best so I was hoping this book would introduce teens to this time period but it does not. We do get the sense of hysteria and the lack of privacy, but we don't get the full impact on why people like Alexei want to leave Russia and immigrant to other countries. Overall The Boy on the Bridge is a very disappointing teen romance that has a lot of potential to become a stronger story.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of underage drinking, and allusions to sexual situations.

If you like this book try: Eva Underground by Dandi Daley Mackall, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Pardon My French by Cathy Hapka

Description: After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Deveaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance to get back to her friends. But Rory's brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she's become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades--the city's secret ghost-fighting police--are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it's too late.

Review: I was really disappointed with The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson's first venture into the paranormal/mystery genre after setting up very high expectations but I enjoyed this sequel much more. In this book I got a better understanding of Rory's quirky personality and her witty internal monologues. Her voice, in my opinion, is much stronger in the book and I began to care for her much more. The plot is relatively slow, which is common for a middle book but Johnson does pick it up when she add a new mystery angle in addition to the Jack the Ripper case: Rory is much more than a girl who can see ghosts, but now she has become a human "terminus," meaning that when she touches a ghost, it disappears for good. Hailing from a Louisiana family peppered with eccentric alleged mystics, Rory was, from the beginning, aware of the spirit world. Now she hesitates when her comrades try to persuade her to put her power to civic use, even as other suspicious deaths crop up to suggest that the Ripper's destruction may have simply unleashed more mayhem. The book ends with a lot of questions in the air especially when one of Rory's Shade comrades is in serious condition. I'm definitely hanging on to this series and am really curious to see how everything ends.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of underage drinking and drug use, and mysterious deaths that may be a bit too much for younger readers. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington, Past World by Ian Beck, The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

Description: They Said It Was An Accident...

Sawyer Dodd is a star athlete, a straight-A student, and the envy of every other girl who wants to date Kevin Anderson. When Kevin dies in a tragic car crash, Sawyer is stunned. Then she opens her locker to find a note: You're welcome.

Someone saw what he did to her. Someone knows that Sawyer and Kevin weren't the perfect couple they seemed to be. And that someone—a killer—is now shadowing Sawyer's every move.

Review: Truly, Madly, Deadly is a great premise that grabbed my attention right away, however, the execution of the story was a bit shaky. Jayne has a good sense of creating teasers, but I would have liked a bit more development leading up to suspense. The death of Sawyer's boyfriend isn't used to its full potential. I was confused as to why Sawyer didn't grieve enough for her boyfriend or why she didn't seem to share the same popular opinion of Kevin like her peers. There are hints of a possible abusive relationship but it is rushed and put in the story as a check mark for plot events just like a scene where a teacher takes things too far with a student. There is also a budding romance that I would have liked to see more of in the story.
  You need to suspend a lot of disbelief when reading Truly, Madly, Deadly such the delay in going to police, not sharing important information of a potential stalker with parents, but this is common for teen suspense novels. Overall Truly, Madly, Deadly is a good popcorn book that I would recommend to reluctant readers but I would suggest something more complex to my advanced teen readers.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is language, underage drinking, a scene of sexual advances from a teacher, and PG-13 violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Acceleration by Graham McNamee, Killing Mr. Griffin or I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
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 8 of Boys Over Flowers.

Description: Rui and Tsukushi are finally dating, but it's not all smooth sailing for the couple. In a jealous fury, Tsukasa challenges Rui and Tsukushi to a basketball game. And if they lose, they are going to be expelled from Eitoku Academy!

Review: In volume 8 of Boys Over Flowers, Kamio takes a closer look at the themes of being true to yourself and listening to your heart. Though we don't see a major plot development occur in this volume, we do continue to see the different layers of the characters.
 Heartbroken, humiliated, and betrayed by his best friend Rui, Tsukasa is determined to get Rui and Tsukushi kicked out of school. Tsukasa's family is a big money donor to the school and he's convinced that if he stopped the donations, the headmaster of Eitoku Academy will have no choice but to comply to his commands.    Tsukasa is a hot head, but it is clear from his strong emotions that he feels deeply about Tsukushi. The expulsion of Rui and Tsukushi is more than shock value, but more of a sign of Tsukasa's pride and status. Education and social structure are important in Japanese culture. Being kicked out of school will tarnish Tsukushi's family reputation and you can read Tsukushi's terror of this potentially occurring on her face as well as see the scenarios of how her parents will interact in her head. 
   While his friends fail to convince him that he is being irrational, Tsukasa's sister offers a more civilized resolution: a challenge to a three on three basketball game. The loser of the game has to submit to the demands of the winner. The game was my favorite part of this volume. It demonstrated how each character interacted with the other. The drawings for this portion of the manga worked well. The panel arrangement and the close-ups of the characters faces illustrated the pacing and importance of the game. 
  The volume ends with some important reflections. Rui confesses to Tsukushi about his feelings which once again sends mixed messages. Tsukasa seems to show everyone that he has come to terms that Tsukushi doesn't share his feelings, but I can see him turning wheels in his head for another plan to win her heart. I curious to see what Tsukasa has up his sleeves.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, crude sexual humor, and scenes of underage drinking.

If you like this book try: Boys Over Flowers Vol. 9 by Yoko Kamio, Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances by Masami Tsuda, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo
Rummanah Aasi
  If you are looking for a provocative page-turner, read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. With delicious moral complexity and great writing, Stedman creates a world where there is no right answer and where justice for one person is another person's tragic loss. 

Description: After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. 
   Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

Review: The Light Between Oceans is a haunting tale that can only end in heart break. It is a story of moral dilemmas centered around two couples, a desperate attempt at happiness, and a life forever changed. Tom Sherbourne is an emotionally scarred World War I war veteran who returns to Australia looking for the comfort of solitude as a lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock island. While others complain of being far removed from other locals, Tom finds peace and unexpectedly falls in love with the vibrant and spirited Isabel. Their romance is sweet and progresses naturally. They marry and hope to start a family, but Isabel suffers miscarriages then loses a premature baby. Stedman effectively describes their gut wrenching pain, the slow fractures in Tom and Isabel's relationship. Tom desperately wants things to go back to normal, the pain reminding him of the war he can not shake off while Isabel sees a cold man and feeling along in her own personal war. My heart ached for both of the characters and I really hoped that they would get some ray of sunshine after some really rough months. 
  The sunshine does indeed come after two weeks after their last catastrophe. Miraculously a dinghy washes ashore containing a man's body and a crying infant. Isabel wants to keep the child, which she sees as a gift from God; Tom wants to act correctly and tell the authorities. Isabel's joy and attachment to the baby is so immense and the prospect of giving her up so destructive, that Tom gives way. 
  Like many things in life, all good things must come to an end. Years later the identity of the baby and her real family history resurface. Once again Isabel and Tom are faced with another moral dilemma: to admit to their mistake or to hide? As a reader I became so absorbed in this story not because of its plot but for the way Stedman puts her characters through the moral wringer. The plot as if almost ready made for a movie is so cleverly constructed and precise in providing character development that makes even the reader struggle for a resolution. Normally in stories of similar cases you could easily identify who is being selfish and clearly in the wrong, but with knowing the context of the situation things aren't easily black and white. The suspense leading to the resolution is fantastic and makes you turn the page quickly. With lush descriptions of Austrailia and vivid characters, this is a great debut novel and a perfect choice for a book club selection.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and gory descriptions of a miscarriage and delivery of a baby.

If you like this book try: The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shrieve, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarity
Rummanah Aasi
  What do you get when you mix the sensibility of Jane Eyre with the tongue in cheek humor of Lemony Snicket? A thoroughly enjoyable series called The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. Currently there are four books in the series, which can be enjoyed by a wide audience. The Mysterious Howling is the first book in the series.

Description: Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.
   Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.
  But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

Review: The Mysterious Howling has all the check-marks for a Lemony Snicket ripoff: three unfortunate orphans, a series of unexplained events, and a droll offstage narrator but those similarities stop there as Wood takes a refreshing look at these old conventions in children's literature. You see the children of Ashton place were raised literally by wolves and they really aren't the protagonists of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. The main character is actually a Mary Poppins like teen governess named Miss Penelope Lumley who has recently graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females.     
  Penelope is an adorable, naive, fresh-off-from-school graduate who is ready for her first job. When she sees a job posting for a governess, she applies and gets the offer right away despite the fact that so many people have tried to convince her not to take the job. Understanding commitment, Penelope accepts the offer and believes there is nothing that can deter her from being a successful governess that is until she meets the children- three near-naked bodies, so dirty that you can barely see their eyes, and who are growling like wolves. 
  Instead of running out of the household like any ordinary governess, Penelope takes the time to understand the children by learning about how wolves behave in nature and thus using those skills to get the attention of her charges. Penelope is sweet and patient with the Incorrigibles and soon they gain her trust and loyalty. The Incorigibles make large strides in their learning as Penelope actually has them listening to poetry, playing about with Latin, and forming almost complete sentences. Named after various characters in history and literature, the Incorrigibles are delightful and their training session with Penelope was my favorite part of the book, which had me chuckling and smiling. 
  While Penelope has been able to manage the Incorigibles thus far, there is a sense of foreboding at Ashton Place. There are a lot questions raised and mysteries to be solved such as how did Lord Fredrick came upon these children? Who wants them out of Ashton Place and why? Is there someone living behind the staircase wall who is making all the weird noises at the manor? There are also questions surrounding Penelope herself: Why was the job post specifically targeted to her? Why does she have the same hair color and type as the Incorrigibles? While nothing of these questions are addressed, I didn't mind it so much because it is just a starter of a really promising series. Smartly written with good understanding of its middle-grade audience as well as adult humor that may fall under the young readers radar, The Mysterious Howling, is both fun and funny. I enjoyed it so much that I've already have the next two books up for review soon. The series gets better and better and I can't wait to see what lies ahead for Penelope and the Incorrigibles.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4-6.

If you like this book try: The Hidden Gallery (The Incorrigible Children of Aston Place #2), Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Rummanah Aasi
  I had a very lukewarm reaction to Divergent. For me to enjoy a dystopian novel, I need a book with a strong world-building. I need to be convinced that there is something indeed wrong with the society in order to understand the main character's plights and motivations. The world building, in my opinion, gives the book not only structure but a foundation to a good story. For me the Divergent series has lacked this essential ingredient and it has tried unsuccessfully to incorporate it into the story. What had the potential to be a really good story turned to out to be mediocre at best.

Description: Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Review: Insurgent has a very strong case of middle book syndrome despite a great opening left by the cliffhanger of DivergentRocked by the recent simulation war, the five factions engage in increasingly dangerous power plays to pick up the pieces. Instead of filling in some back stories of the characters and the world as I had hoped, Roth fills her 500 pages book with plot that is filled with lots of twists and turns that is suppose to make your heart pump. Unfortunately the plot doesn't move very much nor very quickly as we try to make some sense of who is really pulling the strings in this faction world. I found a lot of the plot twists to be too predictable and I couldn't keep track of all the characters that are virtually exactly alike come and go in this volume. I still can't muster up any emotions for any of these characters including the central characters and couple, Tris and Tobias.
  The relationship between Tris and Tobias was fun to watch as they began to trust one another and grow as a couple in Divergent. In Insurgent the couple has mutated into a bizarre parent-child relationship where one patronizes the other by giving them rules to follow while the other stamps their feet as a petulant child in resistance. Tris's reckless behavior and cry-wolf type of self sacrifice takes out the importance of her role in whatever she is suppose to do in this 'mysterious' world Roth has created. There is a decent commentary about grief and forgiveness, but that quickly veered into preachy mode and eventually tumbled into whine mode a la "I don't want to do this anymore. Wah!" The only thing that kept me from chucking this book across the room was a slither of hope that explanations will come in the final installment as we learn little clues about the outside, but then again I could have just skipped the entire 450 pages of this book and went straight to the ending in order to save time and avoid my frustration.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: The violence in Insurgent is much stronger and there is a large body count and there are some heavy make-out scenes featuring Tris and Tobias. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

Description: The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.
  But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Review: I really hoped Allegiant would redeem itself after a flimsy middle book, but alas it continues the downward spiral of Insurgent. Though we do finally get answers to why Tris's world is separated into factions, the reasons behind Roth's post-apocalyptic world is a half baked concept of racism that is based on a highly oversimplified examination of human personality and genes. Instead of spending time to explain what it means to have 'pure' genes versus 'defected' genes, we are once again plunged into a boring and rehash plot of Insurgent where Tris and the gang run from one megalomaniac trying to rule the world to another. The grand revealing of the outside was completely anti-climatic and the fact that the setting was post-apocalyptic Chicago was completely irrelevant.
  Once again we are introduced to a new large cast of transient characters that had virtually no impact on the story besides moving a limping plot along, which is completely unlike the pace of Roth's earlier installments that move almost lightening fast. In fact there were many times I had to put the book down because I got so bored and I gave up hope in trying to come to terms with the huge plot holes and the scientific nonsense.
  Tris becomes a bit more tolerable in this one after she let all her angst out in Insurgent, but her recklessness is what mars her reputation as a strong heroine for me. Must she always be right and the only one undergoing dangerous situations? Tobias, in contrast, is stuck on "woe is me" island and though I understand he has been scarred by his rough life, but can we get past that when the end of the world is here? Tris and Tobias have rocky moments in Allegiant, more of the patronizing type though there are a few sweet moments.
  I know there has been many heated discussions about the ending of Allegiant, but for me I saw it coming a long time ago. It was the neon-flashing-in cap letters obvious especially with a lot of the red herrings featured both in Divergent and Insurgent. I can see what type of book that Allegiant was suppose to be-one full of emotion and intensity, but regrettably it completely missed the mark. If this series was not popular with the teens that I work with, I would have definitely taken a pass on this series, but I wanted to make sure that that I knew about the series in order to help them with reader advisory questions.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, an ambiguous scene of sensuality, and some language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like these book try: Candor by Pam Bachorz, Maze Runner series by James Dashner
Rummanah Aasi
 It's Monday and time for Manga Mondays! 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.

Description: Going home for his grandfather's funeral, thirty-year-old bachelor Daikichi is floored to discover that the old man had an illegitimate child with a younger lover! The rest of his family is equally shocked and embarrassed by this surprise development, and not one of them wants anything to do with the silent little girl, Rin. In a fit of angry spontaneity, Daikichi decides to take her in himself! But will living with this overgrown teenager of man help Rin come out of her shell? And hang on, won't this turn of events spell doom for Daikichi's love life?!

Review: Bunny Drop is unlike any manga I've read before. The story is centered on a very strange relationship: thirty year old bachelor named Daikichi who takes responsibility of raising his six year old aunt named Rin (Yes, you read that correctly. Daikichi's grandfather had an affair and had an illegitimate daughter) after no one in his family wanted to take care of nor to be reminded of Grandpa's dirty little secret. Daikichi is completely out of his depth and has no idea of what it takes to become a parent. As a result, both Rin and Daikichi form a familial bond though they no absolutely nothing about one another. The story in this volume is really adorable, warm and funny without being saccharine. 
  The chapters in this manga are appropriately labeled episodes Daikichi and Rin overcome common obstacles facing parents today such as buying appropriate clothing and food, finding a daycare for Rin while Diakichi works, and bed wetting. I love the bond of  Daikichi and Rin which comes across more of a brother and sister relationship than father and daughter. They argue and pout but in the end begin to understand one another's quirks and get along. Rin maybe your typical six year old but she does have an aura of an old soul. Normally, these awkward types of relationships are generally depicted as overly cute and reserved for comic relief but it comes off as very natural in this story. Daikichi will faces tough questions from Rin including about it means to die and when do people die. I'm sure other tough questions about Rin finding her deadbeat mother and what to label Daikichi and Rin's relationship.
  Like the story, the artwork of Bunny Drop is very simple yet elegantly drawn. The author spends much more time and detailed in drawing the characters rather than the setting, which reflect on the character driven story. Compared to the other mangas that I've read the panels are large which is nice because the dialog and the artwork don't have to fight for room. All in all an enjoyable series starter and I definitely look forward to continuing the series.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Despite the fact that Rin is Daikichi's grandfather's love child, there isn't anything else inappropriate in the story. Though you will find this manga in most libraries's adult manga/graphic novel collections, I wouldn't have any problems recommending this volume to teen readers.

If you like this book try: Bunny Drop Vol. 2 by Yumi Unita, Yotsuba&! manga series by Kiyohiko Azuma 
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