Rummanah Aasi
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Sorry for the white noise on the blog. I'm wrapping up a few left over reads for this year and will be participating in a few reading challenges for next year. As promised here are my top 14 books of 2014 in no particular order. I still have to write a couple of reviews for a couple of them and hope to do that in the next few days.

 We Were Liars by E. Lockhart- Riveting, brutal and beautifully told, We Were Liars is hard to put down and much harder to forget. Cloaked in secrets, greed, and deception, it is best to read We Were Liars without knowing anything about the book. After a jaw dropping ending, I wished the book was a little bit longer.

 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion-  The Rosie Project reminded me of one my favorite sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory, and I think it would be enjoyed by fans of the tv show as well as others looking for a quick, cute read.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (League of Princes #1) by Christopher Healy-  Inventive and hilarious, this book should come with a warning to not read in public if you don't what to get weird stares every time you irrupt in giggles. I highly recommend this book if you are fans of the animated movies Shrek and Tangled, if you enjoy reading about fairy tales, or if you are looking for a fun read.

 These Broken Stars (Starbound #1)- Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner- A near perfect science fiction romance read. I can't wait to pick up the second book which was released just last week.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell- I discovered Rowell quite late last year, but became quite a fan after reading Eleanor and Park. Attachments is the perfect read in a dreary, cold day. When I finished it I had a big smile on my face and if you're in the mood for an incredibly sweet and quirky romance then this book is for you.

 Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld- This is the most original book that I have read this year. I loved the combination of two narratives and getting an insiders look at publishing.

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios- This is my favorite paranormal romance that I have read this year. The world building, characters, and romance were outstanding. I can't wait to dive back into this world with book 2!

 Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater- While the paranormal elements take a back seat in this companion novel to the Wolves of Mercy series, I loved watching Isabel and Cole come to terms with their own metaphorical demons and come together.

Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool- To be honest, I wasn't sure what to think of this book when I started it, but the author's beautiful writing and her skillful yet subtle exploration of themes such as friendship, loss, and self discovery really made me love it. 

 The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters- I'm a big fan of how Winters combines the touch of paranormal along with historical facts to not only create an eerie environment, but an intriguing way to look at history. This book made me angry for all of the right reasons.

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs- Unlike the previous books, Night Broken is filled with nonstop action, few unexpected surprises, and fascinating new characters. I'm really curious to see how the new developments in the Mercyverse will work out.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd- A delightful, inspiring, and heartwarming book. I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy books that have magical realism or those who are a bit reluctant to try a fantasy read. This book is guaranteed to make you smile the all the way through and feel great. This is my favorite book by a debut author.

 Almost Home by Joan Bauer- Almost Home is a moving and powerful story of a young girl who overcomes adversity. Sugar's optimism and strength is very admirable. 

 Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin- I am not a big fan of nonfiction in general, but I found this book riveting. Weaving scientific and historical facts this is not your textbook read. It actually reads very much like a spy thriller with its excellent storytelling and how the famous and infamous cast of characters such as Robert Oppenheimer and spy Harry Gold are brought to life in this book.

Rummanah Aasi

 Wishing all of my readers and fellow bloggers a very happy holiday season! The blog will be quiet for a few days as I try to wrap up my last few readers of 2014. I'll be back next week to post my top 14 reads of 2014.
Rummanah Aasi
 I was a big fan of Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, especially with its exploration of melding two cultures and finding your identity. I expected something similar with its sequel, Bombay Blues, but unfortunately I will had to add this one to my growing list of disappointing reads of 2014. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book.

Description: In Born Confused, Indian-American just-turned-17-year-old Dimple Rohit bhai Lala found love, friendship, art, and home where she least expected it. But a lot's gone on in the years that have followed. And what happens if what you thought you wanted wasn't what you wanted after all? As she learns during adventures that take her from India to New York to London and back, with a little luck and a lot of vision, the journey home might prove just as magical as what you left behind to make it.

Review:  Bombaby Blues had a lot of potential, but with its experimental narrative filled with characters once loved and now unfamiliar made this a very disappointing read. American born and of Indian descent, Dimple Lala travels to Bombay with her Indian parents and her longtime DJ boyfriend, Karsh Kapoor, to attend the wedding of a cousin, Sangita. Both Dimple and Karsh believed their trip to India will bring them closer as a couple, however, the trip puts a strain on their relationship. Dimple immerses herself in family, culture, photography, music, love, and a search for self; while Karsh embarks on his own spiritual journey.
  There are many, many pages filled with the sights and sounds of India that bring this book alive, however, many of the Hindi words included in the narrative are haphazardly translated. While I can understand having the 'lost in translation' feel to the story considering Dimple's hindi isn't very strong, I wish the author made a choice in translation and stuck to it. Since I was familiar with the Hindi language I didn't have any problems with the book, but I can definitely see where many readers get stumped.
  For majority of the book there is not a whole lot that happens, but then there is a rush of melodrama that takes up space. We see Sangita abruptly announces she is not marrying but instead pursuing a burgeoning art career. Sangita's sister, Kavita, opens up to the family about her homosexuality. Dimple struggles to understand her unraveling relationship with Karsh, but out of characteristic of her, has a spontaneous sexual affair with a random boy she dubbed as the "Cowboy" she just met. There is also the unveiling of a long kept secret of why Dimple's mother and her aunt don't get along well also tacked on.
   I was hoping a bit more of introspection from Dimple while we do get some, it is mostly in the form of stream of consciousness. The inclusion of the "Cowboy" completely threw me and I didn't understand his purpose at all since we know virtually nothing about him. I felt bored with this book and skimmed a lot of it in hopes that I was see a sliver of the characters that I loved in the previous book. Unfortunately, they were not found.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, brief discussions of sex, and a small sex scene. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Shine, coconut, moon by Neesha Meminger, Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
Rummanah Aasi
 Students at my high school are required to do summer reading as part of their English assignments. I found Brain on Fire on their list and the title caught my eye. Brain on Fire is a engrossing read, giving us an insight into a rare autoimmune disease called Anti-NMDA Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis, which causes the body to attack itself and in the author's case the brain.

Description: When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she'd gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

Review: Part medical mystery and part memoir, Brain on Fire is a fascinating and harrowing true story of a healthy young woman descent into madness and the struggle to find out answers to her mental disorder. Susannah Cahalan is a bright, ambitious young reporter for the New York Post. She describes how she wasn't feeling well one day. Her physical discomfort grew to paranoia, hearing voices, and even attempts to jump out of a moving car. As Cahalan's condition deteriorated she sought medical advice from several doctors who repeatedly misdiagnosed her with either having bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and even perhaps linking it to alcoholism. Still unsatisfied with not having answers, Cahalan and her family pursued other opinions. Her divorced parents put aside their differences and rose to the occasion, sitting by her during the month she was confined to the hospital, about which she remembers nothing. Her boyfriend stayed with her, and one wonderful doctor was determined to get to the bottom of her medical mystery.   It turns out that Cahalan has a very rare autoimmune disease in which an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia, and seizures.  Luckily, she was insured, since her medical costs were about $1 million.
 Cahalan expertly weaves together her own story and relevant scientific and medical information about autoimmune diseases, which are about two-thirds environmental and one-third genetic in origin. I was fascinated with the medical mystery aspect of the story. It was truly horrifying reliving her hallucinations and paranoia. She is very upfront in telling the reader that she doesn't remember everything about her story, but I don't think this hinders the book at all. Actually the lack of information is very telling on how far behind we are in understanding the brain and on mental illness. This is a very important story to remind us to fight for our own health and seeking answers when you instinctively know that there is something wrong with you.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language. Recommended for strong Grade 9 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Welcome to My Country by Lauren Slater, Madness by Marya Hornbacher, Falling Into the Fire by Christine Montross
Rummanah Aasi
 Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I'm eagerly awaiting the release of two books: Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally and Rivals in the City by Y.S. Lee.

Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally
Publish date: July 1st, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks

 I have thoroughly enjoyed every book that Miranda Kenneally has released and I always look forward to reading more from her Hundred Oaks series. Here's hoping we see some cameos of characters from the previous books!

Practice Makes Perfect.

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?


Rivals in the City (Agency #4)
Publish Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Candlewick

Last year I participated in the Victorian mystery challenge which was a lot of fun and I discovered the Agency series. I devoured each book and was hoping a final book in this series would come out. If you are looking for a fun, historical mystery with fantastic characters do give the Agency a try. 

Mary Quinn has a lot on her mind. James Easton, her longtime love interest, wants to marry her; but despite her feelings, independent-minded Mary hesitates. Meanwhile, the Agency has asked Mary to take on a dangerous case: convicted fraudster Henry Thorold is dying in prison, and Mary must watch for the return of his estranged wife, an accomplished criminal herself who has a potentially deadly grudge against James. Finally, a Chinese prizefighter has arrived in town, and Mary can’t shake a feeling that he is somehow familiar. With the stakes higher than ever, can Mary balance family secrets, conflicting loyalties, and professional expertise to bring a criminal to justice and find her own happiness?
Rummanah Aasi
 Exquisite Captive is my favorite YA paranormal romance thus far this year. It was very hard to put this book down once you get sucked into Nalia's world of magic, politics, and romance. Inspired by the Arabian folklore, Exquisite Captive is a wholly original and enthralling story.

Description: Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.
   Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?

Review: Nalia, a powerful jinni from the world of Arjinna, has been on the dark caravan of the jinni slave trade for three years. After a deadly coup almost wiped out her entire clan, Nalia was captured by a slave trader who sells jinn to humans. Now she is trapped in Hollywood and bound to a handsome master, Malek, who is as ruthless as he is powerful. Malek showers Nalia with gifts, but refuses to give her what she wants most: her freedom. Nalia is desperate for the chance to return to Arjinna and rescue her captive brother-something that seems impossible while bound to her master and the bottle that can hold her prisoner. When Nalia agrees to a dangerous bargain with the leader of Arjinna's revolution, she will have to decide if any price can be too high for her freedom.
  I absolutely loved Nalia. She is unlike many heroines that we encounter in ordinary paranormal romances in that she doesn't run headlong and make impulsive decisions. Her goals are simple and focused: free herself so she can save her brother. She is very aware of her surroundings and threats that revolve around her, knowing that just one wrong move can place her in bottle that will slowly suck the life out of her. She uses her strengths to her advantage and delicately walks the tightrope of interacting with her master Malek. I was constantly on pins and needles as Nalia tried to get her hands on her bottle and her freedom from Malek within her grasp.
  Malek is a fascinating character who at once repulses you but also draws you in. His moods are violent and unpredictable. While you can never forget that he owns Nalia like an object, there is a light flicker of what could be "love". There is no way that Nalia can see him as a viable love interest, you can't deny that there is a very strong sexual tension between them.
  In addition to Nalia and Malek, Raif, the leader of the revolution is also a very compelling character. He bears the burdens the responsibility of the revolution from a very young age. Like Nalia he doesn't waste time dithering about but is very focused on saving his people and the world of Arjinna. I had a great time watching his relationship with Nalia shift from prejudice and wariness to a slow burn romance. I only wished we got to see him and Nalia have more quiet moments.
  The world building in Exquisite Captive is done very well. With nods to the jinni folklore as well as the blend of modern urban fantasy works very well in the novel.  I loved learning about the various jinns as well as their realm of magic, politics, spirituality, and history. Needless to say that it didn't take very long for me to get sucked into this story and world that the author created. The story unfolds at a fast and even pace. I really wish I could already have the second book in the series especially with how the book ends.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution:  There is some strong language, sensuality, disturbing images, and violence. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, Everneath series by Brodi Ashton, The Fire Wish by Amber Lough
Rummanah Aasi
The Olympians graphic novel series combines Greek mythology retelling along with superhero action and pacing in a graphic novel format will appeal to many readers. Knowledge of the myths are not required to enjoy the graphic novel and it would serve as a really good introduction to those who are curious about Greek myths.

Description: A fictionalized retelling, in graphic novel format, of the Greek myth that details the story of Zeus, describing his boyhood through the beginning of his reign as the ruler of the Olympian Pantheon.

Review: The Greek Myths get the superhero makeover in this new series by George O'Connor. The first volume of this series focuses on Zeus from his miraculous birth to his journey of destroying his father and freeing his siblings. What I really liked about his volume was how O'Connor took his time to visualize the creation myth that establishes Gaea, the Titans, and other important Olympian entities that are often neglected or quickly glossed over. O'Connor introduces Zeus once his stage is set. His godly powers slowly develop along with his flirtatious manner.  The extended, earth-shattering battle he wages with his father, Kronos, takes up the bulk of the story, delivering page after page of action packed panels that keep the pages turning much like those found in a superhero comic. The artwork and coloring are stunning and the panels leap off the page. Before you know it, the graphic novel ends, but the good news is that there many volumes of this series are already out and ready to be read. I would definitely read this graphic novel to fans of Greek mythology.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some violence though not too graphic. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Lightning Thief Graphic Novel Adaptation by Robert Venditti, Olympians Vol 2: Athena by George O'Connor
Rummanah Aasi
 I rarely read books written by celebrities, but since I liked what Lena Dunham has done with her smart tv show Girls I wanted to read her memoir aptly titled Not That Kind of Girl. Instead of focusing on what it means to be a celebrity, Dunham focuses on the more personal, embarrassing moments that might not shine a good light upon us.

Description: "There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told," writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her first book, Not That Kind of Girl. These are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20. Stories about travel, both successful and less so, and about having the kind of sex where you feel like keeping your sneakers on in case you have to run away during the act. Stories about proving yourself to a room of 50-year-old men in Hollywood and showing up to "an outlandishly high-fashion event with the crustiest red nose you ever saw." Fearless, smart, and as heartbreakingly honest as ever, Not That Kind of Girl establishes Lena Dunham as more than a hugely talented director, actress and producer-it announces her as a fresh and vibrant new literary voice.

Review: Lena Dunham's memoir is written in the same vein as her hit tv show Girls, in which she explores the confusing state of trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in your 20s and 30s. Her scenarios are raw, real, and painfully naked in exposing blatant vulnerability. What I enjoyed most about this book is the fact that Dunham is very straightforward on what many would call horror stories-events in our lives that we swear to ourselves that we will never tell anyone. The memoir is broken into different parts highlighting stupid jobs, bad boyfriends, upsetting sex, psychological struggles, and other hypothetical scenarios that shaped her life. What I love most about the show beside the great characters is the the introspection and the epiphanies that the characters have throughout the season. I just wished there was more of that in Dunham's memoir than a list of events that she recounts. The book does shine, however, during the wistful imaginations of a young girl who imagines various monumental steps leading to adulthood that either come as anticlimactic at the time these events occur or not really understanding them until you had some distance to reflect on them. Not That Kind of a Girl is like reading someone's achingly self-aware diary.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: Strong language and sexual content throughout the book. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Girl Walks into a Bar by Strawberry Saroyan, Cherry by Mary Karr
Rummanah Aasi
 I really wanted to like The Iron Trial and was really looking forward to seeing what Holly Black and Cassandra Clare would bring with their joint effort in a middle grade read. Unfortunately, I didn't like this one as much as I had hoped. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy of the book.

Description: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.  All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing. Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

Review: The Iron Trial was a difficult read not due to the authors' writing, but rather the numerous parallel connections that I was making with Harry Potter throughout the book from the set up of three main characters one of which was not suppose to be alive, a sage magician who are the children's mentor, to a magic school where the students are sorted into groups. I know that there are books written about magicians and boarding magic schools written before Harry Potter, but there were so many connections that it was difficult to look beyond the similarities. In fact I ended up skimming a lot of the book because the similarities were so distracting.
  Once you get past the similarities, you can start to appreciate the positive aspects about the book. It was nice to see a diverse cast of characters in the book where each character had depth and avoided one dimensional characterizations. Callum is nothing like Harry Potter though you do feel kinship towards him as he struggles to fit in with his peers at the Magisterium. Similarly, the Magisterium is much darker and sinister than the homely Hogwarts. I also enjoyed the new take on the good versus evil in the book where people struggled with their addiction to power. There is also a nice twist albeit a bit predictable one in the story that would keep readers' attention in this series, but I sadly I don't think this series is for me. I will, however, look forward to other titles released by Black and Clare. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: Most of the violence takes place off page, but there might be disturbing images for some readers. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium #2) expected to be released in 2015,
Rummanah Aasi
After a doppelganger filled fifth season of Vampire Diaries last year I was really hoping I wouldn't see or hear the word for a very long time. Once the word popped up in descriptions and reviews of Josephine Angelini's latest book Trial by Fire, I was equally worried and intrigued. I hoped for the best and by lowering my expectations of this book I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed it.

Description: This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.
  Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.
  What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

Review: Trial by Fire has a unique premise that mixes magic, parallel universe with some really cool elements of science fiction and romance. Lily Proctor is virtually allergic to everything. Her very existence on Earth seems to be killing her. She always seems to be running on a very high fever, sometimes severe fever-induced seizures, and breaks out into hives very easily. Lily's hope of being a normal teen is dashed when not only does she catch her best friend turned boyfriend cheating on her, but also has a fever-induced coma when vodka is slipped into her soda. Soon Lily is transported into an alternative Salem that is ruled with an iron fist by an evil version of herself. 
   Lily is a likable character. She is kind, caring, and smart but not always wise when it comes to relationships. I never understood what she saw in Tristan, her philandering jerk of a boyfriend and thankfully she didn't take long to decide that relationship was not worth the heartache nor drama. What I found really interesting in this book is Lily's transformation throughout the book. When we first met her, we are immediately struck by how physically fragile she is but also meek and self conscious. As she journeys through alternative Salem, Lily becomes a more solid character, one who isn't afraid to take risks, know when to stand down, voice her own opinion, and adapt to her surroudings. I loved how Lily's weaknesses in one world became her biggest strength in the other world. 
  The world building in Trial by Fire was also done really well. The alternative Salem features Crucibles, witches who control technology, and monsters that haunt the shadows. I was intrigued by the constant push and pull of science versus magic. For instance the cruel Lillian is doing everything she possibly can to stop any scientific advantages even if that means killing innocent people. 
  In addition to the world building, I also loved the secondary characters that we meet in alternative Salem, particularly Rowan Fall. Rowan is the complete opposite of Earth Tristan. Like Lily, he too was once seen as weak and seemed to be preyed upon Lillian at one point.  I loved the slow burn romance between Rowan and Lily which unfolded at the perfect pace as both try to win each others trust and respect.
  There is plenty of action in Trial by Fire that kept the pages moving. I wanted to know more of Lillian's plan and why was Lily in particularly picked to travel to alternative Salem. I also want to know more about the downcast Outlanders that pose a threat to Lillian. There is plenty to enjoy in Trial by Fire and I am really looking forward to seeing what will happen next to Lily and Rowan.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is underage drinking at a party, allusion to sex, and some language. Recommended for Grade 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi, Weather Witch by Shannon Delaney, Tandem by Anna Jarzab
Rummanah Aasi
 While I struck out with my last read, I thoroughly enjoyed Julie Berry's The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place a tongue in cheek Victorian boarding school mystery. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced readers copy of the book.

Description: The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. 

Review: An immensely entertaining, smart, and frothy in the best possible way, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a lot like Clue only it's set in a Victorian boarding school where seven young women find themselves free from adult supervision when their judgmental, penny-pinching headmistress and her odious brother die suddenly during dinner. Rather than alert the authorities and risk having the school shut down and all the students sent to unwelcoming home, the girls decide to keep things under wraps and proceed as if the late headmistress and her brother were still alive. The girls bond together to bury the bodies in the garden while dodging questions from their noisy neighbors, potential suitors, a suspicious housekeeper, and a host of charmingly annoying villagers with a penchant for showing up at the worst possible moment. While juggling mounting debts and increasingly precarious fabrications in order to keep up their charade, the students also try to discover who poisoned the deceased and what was the murderer's motive.
 Berry's prose is very much like the classic Victorian detective novels. Though there are a lot of girls to keep track of in this story, all of them are identified largely by an adjective that precede their name such as Disgraceful Mary Jane or Dour Elinor. I liked how these names are used ironically, rather than highlighting a weakness it it often comes across as a girl's strength. The girls avoid the stereotypical cliques or cat fight and work together as a team. The pacing slows a bit in the middle of the book, but I continued reading because I wanted to see how the girls solved the mystery and avoid obstacles thrown in their way.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Murder Most Unlady Like by Robin Stevens, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Rummanah Aasi
 After reading the description of Evidence of Things Not Seen, I was really looking forward to reading this mystery with a touch of science fiction. As I opened the book, I quickly discovered that the book blurb describing a coming different book.

Description: When high school junior Tommy Smythe goes missing, everyone has a theory about what happened to him. Tommy was adopted, so maybe he ran away to find his birth parents. He was an odd kid, often deeply involved in his own thoughts about particle physics, so maybe he just got distracted and wandered off. He was last seen at a pull-out off the highway, so maybe someone drove up and snatched him. Or maybe he slipped into a parallel universe. Tommy believes that everything is possible, and that until something can be proven false, it is possibly true. So as long as Tommy’s whereabouts are undetermined, he could literally be anywhere.

Review: Sometimes readers get duped by a great description. This is one of those times. Evidence of Things Not Seen is composed of disjointed, confusing, and rather bizarre novellas told from a different point of view that are strung together with only one connection in that at least one character knew or even heard of Tommy. You don't revisit any of these narrators again nor do you get an answer regarding to Tommy's disappearance and by the end of the book you really don't care about any of these characters. You are actually upset that you took the time to go on this weird journey and finished without any resolution. While some of the novellas were interesting and vary in topics from hard to read topics such as a mother drugging and forcing her daughter into prostitution in order to make a living at a very young age or the very odd where a girl who sees sex and losing her virginity in a completely scientific nature and practically forces herself upon her best friend in hopes of understand what the fuss is all about. 
  Though the book itself was well written and had a stream of consciousness feel to to the narrative, I had no clue how these stories and topics such as abuse and rape added to the overall plot arc. In fact there were many times where I completely forgot about Tommy at all. I was completely lost with all the quantum physics talk too, perhaps that's where the answer lay. Overall I didn't understand Evidence of Things Not Seen and I can't really recommend it anyone.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, allusions to sex, physical abuse, and rape as well as drug use and alcohol. Recommended for strong Grades 9 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Rummanah Aasi
 It has been a while since I did a post 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. Instead of reviewing each volume separately, I'm going to review the entire series of Sand Chronicles since it is complete at 10 volumes. I hope you like this review format!

Description (of the first volume): After her parents get divorced, Ann Uekusa and her mother move from Tokyo to rural Shimane. Accustomed to the anonymity of city living, Ann can't get used to the almost overbearing kindness of the people in her mother's hometown. But when personal tragedy strikes, Ann discovers how much she needs that kindness.

Review: Sand Chronicles is a standout shojo (i.e. romance) manga that tackles series issues as such suicide, depression, betrayal, and infidelity although at times it tends to veer close to melodrama. In each volume there are series topics that are discussed and a nice character growth arcs for its cast of characters which gives this manga series more depth unlike the many silly, typical shojo mangas. The series is framed by the seasons and time a running theme throughout the manga. In the first volume 12 year old Ann Uekusa and her mother have been abandoned by Ann's debt-ridden father and forced to move from Tokyo to Ann's grandparents' home in Shimane. At first, Ann feels both oppressed by her mean, strict, conservative grandmother and totally out of place in a small town, but once she makes some friends she adapts quickly. When her disillusioned, depressed, and demoralized mother commits suicide, Ann leans on Daigo, the first boy her own age that she met in Shimane, and their budding romance becomes the series's focus. Ann and Daigo's romance is sweet and develops at a realistic speed. Though there is a necessary love triangle in this manga, it thankfully doesn't hold much weight. The real obstacles that Ann and Daigo's relationship faces are Ann's nightmare of becoming her mother and her failure to grieve her mother's death.
   Ann is an extremely likable character. An every girl who is forced to grow up faster and become an adult. She deals with normal every day situations from a rival girl who is scheming for Daigo's affections, stumbling through the mysteries of a relationship, both romantic and friendships. Daigo is the perfect boyfriend whose only fault is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. What impressed me with this series is that the fact that the secondary characters were also strong and dynamic pushing the plot forward and not making it stale.
 I like the artwork in this series with its delicate lines and the beautiful scenery which also becomes a landmark on these characters' rite of passage. I highly recommend reading this manga series if you prefer reading true to life scenarios with a sweet romance. A great pick for Sarah Dessen fans and a really good primer for reading Nana by Ai Yazawa (a manga series that nearly broke me).

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Due to mature themes, a few scenes of sexual situations, some nudity. I would recommend Sand Chronicles for high school readers and up.

If you like this series try: We Were There by , Nana by Ai Yazawa, Kimi Ni Todoke by
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