Rummanah Aasi
  Besides being the most famous and recognized female superhero, I knew very little about Wonder Woman. Last year I've seen many positive review of Jill Lepore's book called The Secret History of Wonder Woman and thought I would give it a try. I found it very interesting and I think readers who like popular culture and their influence on society would find a lot to enjoy in this book. I also thought it fitting to review this book during Women's History Month.

Description: A cultural history of Wonder Woman traces the character's creation and enduring popularity, drawing on interviews and archival research to reveal the pivotal role of feminism in shaping her seven-decade story.

Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an absorbing read about the evolution of the most popular female superhero and the fight for women's rights. Since her inception Wonder Woman has became an ever-changing symbol that represented many things for many time periods: a suffragist, a feminist, or as some would call it an androgynous woman who has the physical strength of a man yet the sensibilities and beauty of a woman. Long-legged, wearing short shorts and knee-high red boots, Wonder Woman burst into comics in 1941, the creation of William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-educated psychologist. Marston, who also coincidentally was the creator of the lie detector.
  Marston created Wonder Woman as his attempt to demonstrate women power. He oddly believed that submission and bondage were intrinsic to women's happiness. He pushed the envelope several times in changing the appearance of Wonder Woman and having her chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled in several scenes.
 The creation, publishing history and eventual demise of Wonder Woman are only part of Lepore's story. The other half of the story uncovers the secret of Marston's startlingly unconventional family. For instance Marston didn't believe in monogamy and had an open marriage. Married to Elizabeth "Betty" Holloway, who often provided the family's sole support, Marston brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger. Byrne had been his student, became his mistress, and had two of his children, who were brought up thinking their father had died. Marston had two children with Holloway, as well, whom Byrne raised, freeing Holloway to go to work. After Marston's death in 1947, the two women spent the rest of their lives together.
  Watching how Wonder Woman has evolved through many transformations was fascinating especially how many times it paralleled to Marston's own personality and view points as well as her image slowly changing when some of the comics were written by women. The book rises lots of questions such as: can Wonder Woman be truly unique and not seen as a 'female version of Captain America'? and what does it mean that there have been many, many failed attempts to bring Wonder Woman to the movie screens? Also how can one lonely figure represent an entire gender and should she? The Secret History of Wonder Woman is thought provoking and an irresistible story. It's clear that the author is very much intrigued in her topic and that shines through the book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some discussion of sexualizing Wonder Woman from her costume to the various scenes where she is bonded. There are also discussion on Marston's open marriage but nothing too graphic or detailed. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid
Rummanah Aasi
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero might be a hard sell to readers because of its unusual cover, but I think readers will gravitate to this book because of the fantastic and authentic voice of Gabi Hernandez.

Description: Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, the cute boys, her father's meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is a breath of fresh air and a book that you won't easily forget. Written in a diary format, Gabi chronicles and reflects upon all her moments during her final year of high school. The slice of life diary format style can be tricky to write because the author can easily slip into telling the story rather than showing it. In this case Gabi's fresh voice and interesting commentary on her family, friends, and her future is what makes the format work.
  Gabi's voice is fresh and funny. She is upbeat even even amid the exceptionally tough things going on in her life such as her drug addicted father, her pregnant best friend, and her best guy friend who just came out to her and is now homeless because of his sexual orientation. In the midst of the chaos, Gabi is interested in creating a future for herself. She wants to go to college and works hard to achieve her goal even though she hates Algebra 2 with a fiery passion. She gets frustrated with her traditional mother who insists on instilling Mexican tradition in her daughter's life. Gabi would also like to find the right boyfriend and have a nice romance in her senior year of high school.
  The reason I loved Gabi so much is that she became an universal voice despite of her physical appearance, her ethnicity, and even her gender. Yes, Gabi struggles with her weight, self perception and could be easily labeled as "a fat girl", but she doesn't obsess about it. Gabi loves to eat and she's not ashamed of being a person who loves to eat. More, though, Gabi isn't self-deprecating and doesn't believe a weight loss fundamentally changes her. In fact, there's no weight loss in here at all. Gabi comes to own who she is as she is and says that nothing else matters in terms of other people's perspectives about it. It's wholly refreshing. Instead of bowing to others perception of her, Gabi remains true to herself which is very hard to do when your 17/18 years old.
  Gabi's honesty is not only appealing but I also loved how strong and empowered Gabi was at the beginning and how much more she grows in the book. The weaving of Mexican culture into the story was also done quite well and adds a flavor to the story. While we may not agree with what Gabi's mother enforces or how her Tia consistently shaming Gabi, we are given a context to understand their point of view. I also appreciated that each supporting character is also nuanced and flawed which also made the story believable.
 I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I loved Gabi.  I really hope we get books that have characters like her. I cannot wait to see what Quintero writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, drug use mentioned, and frank discussion of sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass by Meg Medina, Drown by Junot Diaz
Rummanah Aasi
Everything I Never Told You is a subtle, nuanced book. Its full impact and complexity is only evident after you have put all the pieces together and see the full picture. The book begins with the death of a teenage girl and then uses the mysterious circumstances of her drowning as way to examine the tensions and conflicts hidden beneath the calm surface of her Chinese-American family. While the premise of the book is something that we've already heard before, Ng addresses both racial and gender prejudices in her story to separate her books from the previous 'grief' books that came before. 

Description: Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.
  When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

Review: The Lee family do not quite fit in their Ohio college town and most likely never will. Their biracial identity (Caucasian and Chinese) has left people uneasy and has been a barrier for them to live happily. Always seen as outsiders, we see each member of the family strive to reach their individual dreams, deal with their own insecurities, as well as betrayals and yearnings. The life and death of Lydia mirrors how other family members are living their lives: under the mirage of contentment and pretending that everything is fine when things are clearly not. The Lees have failed to understand one another and maybe even themselves.  
 The mystery of Lydia unfolds in flashbacks as we see a teen who is not fitting in her school because of her "otherness" which leads her to pretend she has friends and become depressed; however, her parents see a promising student who could often be heard chatting happily on the phone; her siblings saw how she was doted on by her parents. Lydia also had a close relationship to her brother, Nath, but he was too focused on leaving their provincial college town and looking forward to a new start at college. The ripple effects of Lydia's disappearance and perhaps the glaring failures of the rest of the Lee family occur in the present day. I enjoyed reading this style of narrative that ebbed and flowed in both timelines quite seamlessly. I grew frustrated with the family particularly since effective communication could have solved a lot of their problems and saved a lot of heart ache. Reading this book was a lot like waiting for a tea pot to whistle as it reached its boiling point. I think this book would be a great choice for a book club discussion as there is a lot of different themes and topics to talk about. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and small sex scenes. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings… 
  Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most. 
Review: Afterworlds is the most original novel that I read last year. Westerfeld gives us two story lines to follow in his latest and ambitious work. Eighteen-year-old Darcy is an aspiring writer and has completed her book for National Writing Month. She signs with an agent, drops her college plans and moves to New York to revise her soon-to-be-published novel as well as start the sequel to her book. Meanwhile, in chapters that alternate with Darcy’s NYC adventures, her fictional protagonist, Lizzie, survives a near-death experience to find she has become a ferryman, responsible for guiding souls to the afterlife. 
  Westerfeld effectively creates and meshes two divergent reading experiences (a coming of age story and YA paranormal romance) with two distinct yet believable voices in Darcy and Lizzie. I found myself immersed in both stories. In Darcy's tale we get a sneak peak behind the scenes look at what it means to become a writer and the YA publishing world. Darcy needs to deal with her own insecurities and come to terms with her own identity, which may contradict her traditional Indian culture. Watching how Darcy's emotions as well as the influence of her culture bleed into her novel is a really cool way in transitioning to Lizzie's story line. Readers have pointed out that there are some underdeveloped parts in the book, however, I see that as a metaphor for Darcy's immature authorial voice. 
  Though the book is close to 600 pages, I read through it in a matter of days. Afterworlds has something for everyone. Fans of paranormal romance would be drawn to Lizzie's story where as fans of coming of age novel as well as aspiring writers will find Darcy's story to be fascinating. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Rummanah Aasi
  Last year I completely adored The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and have recommended it to many people who are looking for a cute, uplifting read. It has not stayed very long on the library's shelves which is always a good sign. When I heard about a sequel, I was very excited and couldn't wait to see what happened next in Don and Rosie's lives. Many thanks to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for the advanced readers copy of this book. Please note that there is no way to write a proper review of this book without spoiling The Rosie Project.

Description: Greetings. My name is Don Tillman. I am forty-one years old. I have been married to Rosie Jarman, world's most perfect woman, for ten months and ten days.
  Marriage added significant complexity to my life. When we relocated to New York City, Rosie brought three maximum-size suitcases. We abandoned the Standardised Meal System and agreed that sex should not be scheduled in advance.
 Then Rosie told me we had 'something to celebrate', and I was faced with a challenge even greater than finding a partner. I have attempted to follow traditional protocols and have sourced advice from all six of my friends, plus a therapist and the internet. The result has been a web of deceit. I am now in danger of prosecution, deportation, professional disgrace, and of losing Rosie forever.

Review: The Rosie Effect is an enjoyable sequel full of heart and humor but also quite serious than its predecessor, The Rosie Project. Our lovable genetics professor Don Tillman did the impossible in finding the perfect wife for himself, but he is unsure of how to proceed when Rosie announces that she is expecting. Don is uncertain on how to react to Rosie's news and his mixed signals starts a chain reaction of events that leads him to the brink of losing his freedom, his job, and his new life. 
  Don excels in logic and having a set plan. It is his way to cope with all the chaos in his world. He has a very hard time understanding people's emotions and is aware that he has Asperger tendencies, but Don is never the butt of the joke and the humor is actually how exceptionally observant Don sees the world. As a reader we understand what Don’s family and friends are thinking better than he does. The awkwardness that results, labeled by Don with such monikers as the Playground Incident or the Antenatal Uproar, is both hilarious in its execution and striking when seen through Don’s eyes. My favorite moments of the book is how Don solves his own problems in his unique way though it might not be socially correct. 
 Unlike Don, I did have several issues with Rosie in this book. She is a lot less likable, but I think that is because she is struggling to keep the wall that she built as a young girl who is terrified of making the same mistake as her parents. She is much more defensive and incapable of compromise. As a result, it takes Don and Rosie time to sit down and effectively communicate with one another. Nonetheless The Rosie Effect addresses all of the excitement, confusion, and fears we all face when reaching a new milestone in our lives. If you liked The Rosie Project, I'm sure you will enjoy this book too. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Rummanah Aasi
 I initially picked up The Accidental Highway Man because it was recommended for fans of The Princess Bride, which happens to be one of my many favorite movies. While both feature assumed identities, swashbuckling, unbelievable feats, colorful characters, and of course a princess, The Accidental Highway Man is much slower, lacks humor, and is frankly quite boring. 

Description: In eighteenth-century England, young Christopher "Kit" Bristol is the unwitting servant of notorious highwayman Whistling Jack. One dark night, Kit finds his master bleeding from a mortal wound, dons the man's riding cloak to seek help, and changes the course of his life forever. Mistaken for Whistling Jack and on the run from redcoats, Kit is catapulted into a world of magic and wonders he thought the stuff of fairy tales.
  Bound by magical law, Kit takes up his master's quest to rescue a rebellious fairy princess from an arranged marriage to King George III of England. But his task is not an easy one, for Kit must contend with the feisty Princess Morgana, gobling attacks, and a magical map that portends his destiny: as a hanged man upon the gallows….

Review: The Accidental Highway Man has the aura and literary style of the old classical adventures written a long time ago such as Treasure Island written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Readers of that time would not mind a slow start up with bursts of action and humor, but it does not bode well for majority of young readers today who like their books to be fast paced and more streamlined.
  Kit Bristol, formerly a circus trick rider, is the manservant to Master Rattle, an odd gentleman who is rumored to be a highway bandit. One night, after Rattle returns home fatally wounded, with the authorities on his case, Kit escapes on his employer’s horse. In a flash, Kit is mistaken for Whistling Jack, Rattle’s criminal alias, and recruited to finish Rattle’s last mission which is to rescue a fairy princess from her arranged marriage to King George III of England. Kit's mission seems pretty straightforward, but it is far from the truth as Kit finds out that his boss was involved in far more than highway robbery. Soon, Kit rescues a fairy princess, uncovers a scheme to link human and fairy worlds, and finds himself pursued by pixies. 
  Kit's fantasy world is vibrant and richly imagined as we are introduced to different fantastical creatures and worlds. It just takes a lot of patience for the creativity to shine through and to be appreciated. Kit is your typical classical hero: dashing, charming, and a bit clueless. His dry, witty first-person narrative offers a few chuckles along the way. My attention waned as Kit went on his many adventures and ended up skimming a lot of the book. I was a bit annoyed with the large does of info-dump in his narrative which slowed the plot down to almost a crawl. I also didn't care for the stock characterizations of the female characters. The book doesn't leave off in a cliffhanger, but it is clear that are plenty more adventures with Kit ahead. Since I didn't enjoy this book, I will not be continuing with this series. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some scenes that take place in a tavern where drinking is used as a scenery than actual behavior. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston, The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima
Rummanah Aasi
 To All the Boys I've Loved Before highlights all the reasons why I'm a big fan of Jenny Han's books: wonderful characters, an interesting plot, and the right balance between romance and an coming of age novel. Once I started reading this book, I found it very hard to put it down.

Description: What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren't love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she's written. One for every boy she's ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

Review: Lara Jean Song has always loved from a distance and writes never-to-be-mailed letters to every boy she's ever liked. In those letters she writes the reasons why she fell for her crushes and it is her way of purging them out of her system in order for her to move on. Lara Jean's easy system and carefree life goes out of control when her letters are accidentally sent out. On her list is Josh, the boy next door, her best friend, and most recently her older sister, Margot's ex-boyfriend. Lara Jean's relationship with Josh is complicated. She loved him before he got together with her sister, but stopped her feelings when Josh and Margot got together. Now Margot has left for college, Lara Jean wonders if she has a chance with Josh, but immediately feels guilty for even thinking this could even happen. She makes a decision to not come in between her sister and Josh and concocts a plan to date someone in order to desperately convince Josh that she's over her crush. Peter, the popular jock at school, also received one of Lara Jean's love letters, and-hoping to make his ex-girlfriend jealous-agrees to be her "pretend" beau. 
  I loved Lara Jean right from the moment she appeared on the page. I could very easily relate to her. She lives in her own world, having more fun creating activities in her mind than actually doing them, an unabashed homebody who adores her family. Unlike typical teen romances, this is as much the story of a family as it is about falling in love. Family traditions are skillfully woven into the first-person narrative, including some from the mother's Korean heritage, which felt natural and welcoming and not at all forced. Since her mother died, Margot has taken up the role as a parent to Lara Jean and their kid sister, the ever adorable and feisty Kitty, but that role is soon passed on when Margot goes off to college and gives the parental torch to Lara Jean. Though the three sisters are very close, they also have conflicts to resolve, and Lara Jean's perspective as a middle child suddenly left in charge is compelling. We slowly watch Lara Jean come out of her shell and gain self confidence as well as independence as the story progresses. 
  The romance is very cute in the book too as Lara Jean tries to sort out her feelings. With Josh there is a natural comfort level where she can easily talk to him without feeling stupid, but I didn't really feel any spark between them but more along the lines of a brother-sister relationship. Peter, however, is much more complicated. Easily dismissed as a cute, self absorbed jock, Peter kept surprising Lara Jean and myself with his hidden layers of sensitivity and vulnerability. Peter also helps Lara Jean to take risks and be herself. 
  The only downfall for this book is that it ends abruptly, but thankfully there is another book on the way that will continue Lara Jean's confusion and adventures. So while there are indications of a love triangle, I really don't think there is a strong case for it for this book, but we shall see what happens in the next book as we see how Lara Jean's other crushes handle her letters. I really can't wait to be back in the Song house and catch up with these characters! 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of caution: There is some language, teen party scene with underage drinking, sex is mentioned but not discussed in detail. Recommended to Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, On the Fence by Kasie West, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
  I have thoroughly enjoyed every book in the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs so far and Dead Heat does not disappoint. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read an advanced reader's copy of this book.

Description: For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal, as Charles plans to buy Anna a horse for her birthday. Or at least it starts out that way...
  Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire. 

Review: The Alpha and Omega series has a different feel than the Mercy Thompson series. While both are fantastic urban fantasy series, the Alpha and Omega series feels more intimate as it focuses on the main relationship of Anna and Charles rather than a large cast of relationships featured in the Mercy Thompson series. Instead of adding superfluous drama in the paring of Anna and Charles, we observe how these two characters come together and wonderfully complement each other. In Dead Heat, Anna wants to have children and Charles is reluctant to appease her. Anna doesn't hold a grudge against Charles' opposing view, but rather tries to understand his point of view which nicely ties in to the central mystery of the book.
 The mystery and hunt of the powerful and evil fae who has been using children as a power source kept me turning the pages as the suspense build and the clues were spread evenly throughout the story. An additional bonus was the inclusion of strong secondary characters such as the Sani family, which not only made the mystery even more pressing to solve but also showed us the vulnerable and sensitive side of Charles which we don't really see or sometimes have a hard believing he has one due to his rough exterior and his position as the executioner in his father's pack. The inclusion of horse breeding and riding didn't personally appeal to me but I do see its purpose in the story. Overall, Dead Heat is thoroughly enjoyable and a wonderful read with characters who seem more like friends. It is going to be hard waiting for the next time we see Anna and Charles or Mercy and her crew.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some disturbing scenes, strong violence, and a couple fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for mature teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Other series by Anne Bishop
Rummanah Aasi
  Anyone who has ever been nervous about the first day of school can easily relate to Maggie's dilemma in Faith Erin Hick's graphic novel, Friends with Boys. While I did enjoy the graphic novel, it felt unfinished and left me wanting more.

Description: Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it's time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn't one of her brothers.

Review: Friends with Boys is an easy to read slice of life graphic novel that centers around Maggie's first entry into a public school after being home-schooled her whole life,. Hicks does a good job in displaying her anxiety and fears. She seeks comfort in her older brothers, who are a nice group of characters and eventually makes a few friends of her own that others might consider weird because of how they look, but they turn out to be good companions.  
 There is also a light supernatural element in the book which I wished had been more developed. Maggie is being haunted by a female ghost who died about 200 years ago. We really don't know much about the ghost per se, perhaps it represents Maggie's feeling of overcoming her fears about school and perhaps getting over the fact that her mother left. Interestingly enough, the graphic novel doesn't steer into the genre with the presence of the ghost (it's unclear if anyone else besides Maggie can she the ghost or since when she's be haunted by it), it remains in reality. And while the book starts out strongly, it left me unsatisfied and I did have quite a few unanswered questions such why did Maggie's mother leave or what does the ghost want, leading to a somewhat abrupt ending. As for the illustrations, I did enjoy Hicks's black and white art which I thought is sharp and expressive.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of caution: There is some language and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
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