Rummanah Aasi

 The blog will be quiet for the next few days while I attend the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco. I'm excited to attend awesome programs, meet authors, and so much more. The blog will be back to schedule after the July 4th holiday.
Rummanah Aasi
 If you have younger readers who are a fan of mysteries, be sure to steer them to Sheila Tunage's Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky. This is the first book in the Tupelo Landing series and if the other books are just as good as the first we are in for a treat.

Description: Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Review: Three Times Lucky is a thoroughly engaging and humorous book despite some of the tough issues that the author subtlety addresses. The star of the book is the quick-thinking, precocious, sassy, and incredibly lovable Mo LoBeau along with fabulous cast of secondary characters in this modern-day mystery set in a small North Carolina town. Mo has an unique childhood. As a baby, she was found washed ashore during a hurricane and has led a quiet life with the Colonel, a cafe owner with a hidden past, and Miss Lana, the fun and colorful cafe hostess. Mo has always been on the search for her real mother as dubs her "Upstream Mother" and writes messages to her mysterious mother in a bottle that she throws in the water in hopes for a response. Along with this ongoing mystery, this Southern idyllic town is turned upside down by a murder investigation. The twists and turns in the plot kept me on my tones and the humorous interactions between Mo and her quirky neighbors held my attention throughout the book. As I mentioned earlier, the book does skillfully touches on tough issues such as alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, and underage drinking at appropriate times in the story, which shed light on contemporary issues and makes this book unfortunately realistic. Despite these issues, however, the mood of the book stays light and makes the readers root enthusiastically for Mo in all of her adventurous endeavors while also eliciting empathy for the secondary characters as they endure and conquer challenging circumstances. The book ends with a resolution to the murder mystery as well as teaching Mo the meaning of family. I'm so glad we get to visit these characters again in the other books in the Tupelo Landing again and I look forward to reading them.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is discussion of serious topics such as domestic abuse, underage drinking, and alcoholism. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Holes by Louis Sachar
Rummanah Aasi
 I have dystopian burnout. It is not that I dislike this subgenre, but I have read a slew of dystopian books that in someway or in another is Hunger Games deja vu promising another blockbuster. As a result I have become bored and weary of the category of  dystopian. When I read about Holly Bodger's debut novel I didn't know what to expect and lowered my expectations. I'm relieved to find 5 to 1 to be an engaging dystopian novel set in India that poignantly explores gender politics. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.
  Sudasa doesn’t want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. Sudasa’s family wants nothing more than for their daughter to do the right thing and pick a husband who will keep her comfortable—and caged. Kiran’s family wants him to escape by failing the tests. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.

Review: In order to enjoy 5 to 1 there are few things you have to keep in mind. First 5 to 1 is what I call a soft dystopian, there is not an emphasis on the world that Bodger created which ironically  works in the author's favor because the book's basis is steeped in reality of gender politics. Second, the book is not your average heart pounding action book, the book moves steadily yet slowly focusing more on character development. Third, there is no romance in the book which allows the author to show how the gender selection effects each gender without any rose tinted glasses placed upon the characters. Additionally this debut novel is told in alternating points of view, one in poetry and one in prose. Once you settle and acknowledge these differences from the usual dystopian tropes, you can enjoy the book for its uniqueness and see where it shines.
  Bodger explores a dystopian India in which gender selection has led to there being five boys for every girl. In generations past boys were the favored gender of infants and as a result female infant population dramatically decreased as they were aborted and disposed of, signaling debt and burden for families (sadly, this is really happening in several parts of Asia). A revolution took place and a matriarchal government is now in power. Now female babies are prized possessions and men's value are determined if they can help their wives produce girls. The subversion of the gender roles and expectations is exceptionally well done in 5 to 1 from the characters to the various Tests that the boys have to pass. 
  Throughout her novel Bodger doesn't support just one gender, but rather shows how the gender selection has negatively effected both genders equally. Neither men nor women benefited from their society. Nor is one more in control than the other.  Interestingly they are equally oppressed, which can be seen in the narrative style of the novel. Kiran, the male narrative, is written in captivating prose, which allows much wordier passages however he is limited in expressing his own desires outside of winning the Tests which he is forced to participate due to his gender and age. Similarly the beautiful poetry of Sudasa is appropriately jarring and nuanced, showing how on the outside she  may seem as if she is in control because she is a girl, but her voice is also reduced in how she expresses herself and her limited freedom. Bodger does well in infusing the Indian culture and lifestyle in her work, but I would have liked to have seen more particularly within Sudasa's family dynamics. A glossary of Hindi terms would also be a great addition particularly those who are unfamiliar with the language.
 While the lack of romance in 5 to 1 may disappoint readers, I think it is one of the strong aspects of the book. The Tests are suppose to be pointless and unromantic. The more appropriate importance is placed on personal freedom and choice. During the Tests both Sudasa and Kiran have an epiphany of their own desires and both shamelessly pursue their dreams, which I would have loved to see in a more flushed out epilogue. Despite these minor flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed 5 to 1 and I look forward to see what Bodger has in stored for us in future books.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some mild crude humor in the book and minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Matched series by Ally Condie
Rummanah Aasi
  I thoroughly enjoyed Liz Prince's graphic memoir titled Tomboy. I found it to be a very enjoyable, funny and thought-provoking story. I definitely recommend checking it out if you are on the lookout for a graphic novel read.

Description: Growing up, Liz Prince wasn't a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn't exactly one of the guys, either. She was somewhere in between. But with the forces of middle school, high school, parents, friendship, and romance pulling her this way and that, "the middle" wasn't exactly an easy place to be.

Review: Tomboy is the tale of Liz Prince's childhood and adolescence along with examining the societal expectations of gender. From an early age, Liz didn't like all of the things people consider "girly" such as wearing frilly dresses and playing with dolls. She felt comfortable in boys' clothes and playing "boy" toys. As she grew older, she her interests didn't conform to what was expected for her gender. Although she got crushes on boys all of them wanted the "normal" girls, which made Liz ponder where exactly did she fit in the closed, tight boxes that we labeled as male and female.
  Tomboy is a refreshing, funny, and at times a heartbreaking look at what it means to be male or female. Liz is candor about her insecurities and it is very easy to root and align with her. The book ultimately challenges the notion that there is only one way to be either gender. We watch as Liz grows from a child who is rebellious and who would rather be mistaken for a boy and claims to "hate girls", into someone who recognizes that she doesn't hate women but rather the expectation that are placed upon them by society. Along with the social commentary on examining genders, there is also a discussion on conformity and non-conformity, bullying and the rites of coming of age. 
  The artwork is simplistic, which enhances the "everyman" narrative of the graphic novel. I think this would be a great graphic novel discussion for students and a great pick for reluctant readers. It is a fast, easy read, but also has a lot of material to discuss and will provoke discussion. 
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language sprinkled throughout the graphic memoir. Scenes of underage smoking and drug use are also depicted. There is also some discussion of sex though nothing in graphic detail. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, Drama by Raina Telegeimer
Rummanah Aasi
 With the rise of the popularity of Sherlock Holmes on the big and little screen, I have gotten more student requests for good mystery novels. I trying to beef up my mystery collection with adding some current mystery titles. I came across positive reviews of Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk and thought I would give it a shot.

Description: In freezing London, November 1890, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson receive a man unnerved by a scarred-face stalker with piercing eyes. A conspiracy reaches to the Boston criminal underworld. The whispered phrase 'the House of Silk' hints at a deadly foe.

Review: The House of Silk is a story that features Sherlock Holmes and his famous sidekick Dr. John Watson and has been officially authorized by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. I've always been weary of reading books and short stories that feature Holmes other than the original tales, but I actually really liked The House of Silk as it kept my attention throughout the story.
  The story has a melancholy atmosphere which is perfectly suited to the rainy, cold Victorian London which we associate with the beloved Baker Street characters. This case, like the original stories, is narrated by Dr. John Watson and takes place a year after Sherlock Holmes's death (from natural causes). Watson recounts a case they shared in 1890 that was too grotesque and too shocking to appear in print. 
  The game is afoot when London art dealer Edmund Carstairs asks for the great detective's help after a shadowy figure in a flat cap, apparently an Irish-American thug bent on revenge, surfaces near Carstairs's Wimbledon home. When a murder follows Holmes getting involved, the trail leads him and Dr. Watson to a powerful secret society known as the House of Silk. There is plenty of action in the plot with nice plot twists and surprises. I intentionally didn't want to try to solve the case with Holmes, but rather took the passive approach and see how it all unfolded. Horowitz stays true to the famous characters from their narrative voices, presence, and actions. Watson has a prominent role in solving the case, becoming a true partner in the case rather than the comedic effect he is known to be in several adaptations. Horowitz also adds a bonus layer to the well done mystery by tackling the social and economic issues in Victorian England.
  While I wasn't a fan of Horowitz's Alex Rider series for young adults, I was definitely impressed by this book. I highly recommend it for readers who love mysteries or Sherlock fans who need something to fill in the gap between the next Sherlock tv season to read this book. I will be looking forward to reading Moriarty by Horowitz and am curious to see what he does with Holmes arch-nemesis. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, at times gruesome, along with slurs and language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye, Sherlockian by Graham Moore
Rummanah Aasi
 With the school year coming to a close in a couple of days, I thought I would catch up on some reviews of books that I read earlier this year.

Description: Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is. She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along.

Review: I thought Emerald Green was a solid ending to a great time traveling series. We get a lot of our answers regarding Gwen's birth and a shocking revelation that the other characters have been dancing around but haven't officially addressed it. Gwen is still a delight, full of sass, wit, and handles her problems with ingenuity. It was lovely watching her grow throughout the series. The romance is still prevalent as Gideon sorts out his own issues and feelings for Gwen. I liked Gideon though I wanted to smack him upside the head for being an idiot for most of this book. Overall, I definitely felt satisfied with this ending though I'm sad the story is over and I have to say goodbye to these characters.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Paranormalcy series by Kiersten White, Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray,

Description: Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
  Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.
  Being a Keeper isn't just dangerous—it's a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da's death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall.

Review: I loved the premise of this book and intrigued me right away, however, much of the book felt unfinished. I had many questions that weren't addressed such as why does the Archive need the actual bodies and what happens when the Archive gets full? Though these unanswered questions didn't stop me from reading and enjoying the book, they did nag and bother me. While we are taken to the various layers of the Archive, but I didn't really have a firm grasp on the image in my head.
  Mackenzie is an interesting character, who is forced to lead a double life due to her role in serving the Archive. In order to make her approachable and human, we watch as she wrestles with how to grieve the death of her little brother, which was fine but I'm a bit surprised that she didn't mourn heavily for her grandfather as they had a very close relationship. Though I liked seeing the vulnerable side to Mackenzie, I thought it took too much page time and slowed down the book's pace for me. I wanted to get to the action, which finally happens when Mackenzie stumbles upon an old murder mystery and befriends a dead boy named Owen who shouldn't exist outside of the Archive. There is also plenty of humor provided by the a great secondary character named Wes that also works for the Archive and is Mackenzie's peer. I would have loved to get to know Wes better as his personality and stories intrigued me. Though the action moves the plot along, more questions keep popping up which makes me wonder if the author intended this to be a series. I know there is a companion book to The Archive which I'm interested in reading in hopes that some of my questions will be answered. Overall, I do recommend picking up The Archive if you are looking for an unique fantasy with a mystery that discusses the afterlife without any supernatural forces and beings.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and minor language. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: The Unbound by Victoria Schwab, In the Shadows by Kiersten White

Description: An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.
 Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP. For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Review: Ashes is a book that I wanted to DNF after I made the 100 pages mark, but I continued because this was my student book club's pick for our dystopian read. While the book had an okay start with an adventure/survival story as an electromagnetic pulse that may have taken out the entire world and have solved Alex's brain tumor that was deemed incurable by her doctors. Alex soon meets new companions- an obstinate eight-year-old orphan named Ellie and a young soldier named Tom-as they try to make sense of things. While I was getting interested in watching how this group interacts with one another and find out what had caused the electromagnetic impulse, the book then takes a horror turn with the appearance of zombies that are soon called the Changed. I'm not a zombie fan so this part of the "action" and gore was not my cup of tea.This is why I wanted to DNF the book, fortunately this portion of the book didn't last long. Soon the book morphs yet again into a weird cult novel leaving the questions and plot threads in the first two sections of the book unanswered and/or completely ignored. Overall, this was my least favorite book club pick and I can definitely see why I was hesitant to pick it up. I honestly can't recommend this one nor am I interested in continuing this series. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some gruesome and gory scenes along with some strong language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Maze Runner series by James Dashner, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Matt Pin would like to forget: war torn Vietnam, bombs that fell like dead crows, and the terrible secret he left behind. But now that he is living with a caring adoptive family in the United States, he finds himself forced to confront his past. And that means choosing between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.

Review: All the Broken Pieces is a quick and effective novel in verse about a war refugee coming to terms with his past and his future. In 1977, Matt Pin lives a fractured life. He is the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American soldier and was airlifted to safety from the war zone. Adopted by a caring American couple, he has vivid and horrific memories of the war and worries about the fates of his mother and badly injured little brother. Matt is adored by his adoptive family and he realizes he has a gift for pitching, but he is constantly faced with prejudice by those around him who hold him responsible for the deaths of the young men they lost in the war. The fractured theme runs effectively throughout the book from his biological family, the bodies and hearts of the Vietnam vets, as well as the state of the United States who is broken up due to political beliefs. Unlike the other novel in verse books that I've read before, the individual poems aren't strong enough to be read independently, but that's only issue I had with this book. I think this book would be a great read for those who are looking for a refugee point of view about war and assimilating in a new country. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Matt's nightmares are filled with disturbing images of war. There are also some racial slurs sprinkled throughout the book too.

If you like this book try: Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

Description: If you ask Simon Sharp how his parents died, the 14-year-old New Yorker will tell you King Arthur killed them. Obsessed with Camelot, the two scholars perished in a plane crash en route to an archaeological dig in England.
  Simon spends two awful years in an orphanage before his uncle surfaces. He offers Simon residence at a creepy mansion in Scotland where every shadow hides a surprise— including a girl, Maille Rose, who flickers in and out of view like a ghost. Maille warns Simon he’s in danger and, oh yes, he’s a descendant of King Arthur’s powerful knight, Lancelot. Uh. What?

Review: Camelot Kids contains 4 parts to this story, you can buy them individually or all in one book. The first part of this story kicks off on a good foot by introducing us to Simon and his adventure to the world of Camelot. I like how the author used the Camelot story as a jumping off point and created a new story of its own. Orphaned at a young age, bounced around foster homes and finally ending up with a rather odd uncle. Soon Simon finds out that the Camelot stories are indeed real and that he is a descendant of the famed knight Lancelot. This is where the story gets interesting and starts to really unfold. We also get introduced to a different time of Merlin, an old shadowy figure that has different plans rolling around his head. In addition to a nice solid read the illustrations in The Camelot Kids Part 1 are also great and eye catching. Overall, I found The Camelot Kids Part 1 to be an enjoyable fast paced book full of adventure, mystery and suspense, sure to grab the attention of middle grade aged kids (adults too) who are a big fan of Rick Riordan and is looking for something to read while waiting for The Sword of Summer to be released.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Knights of the Lunch Table series by Frank Cammuso, Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
Rummanah Aasi
 Jandy Nelson's critically acclaimed sophomore novel, I'll Give You the Sun, was the last book that I discussed with my student book club. It garnered a great discussion and it was overall enjoyable, but it didn't wow us.

Description: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Review: Noah and Jude used to be inseparable twins until betrayal and tragedy ripped them apart. The book has a unique narrative structure in which Nelson tells her tale of grief and healing in separate story lines and time periods, Noah's point of view and thread takes place before the betrayal and Jude's point of view and thread takes three years after the betrayal. 
 Out of the two story lines, I absolutely loved Noah's the best. He is an immensely talented painter, who sees the world in paintings and vibrant colors. He wears his heart on his sleeve and like many of us as teens was frustrated by how our parents couldn't understand us or we somehow couldn't meet our parents expectation of us. The only person who he could honestly be himself around is his twin sister Jude. In his own thread, Noah discovers  an all consuming first love with a closeted baseball player named Brian, who moves in next door to Noah's coastal Northern California home. Their romance is sweet and confusing as both boys are navigating and coming to terms with their own sexuality.
  I felt Noah's sections were much easier and more interesting to read unlike Jude's. Unlike Noah's storyline, Jude is 16 in hers, observing a "boy boycott" since a tragic accident two years earlier. I found Jude a very hard person to like. She is abrasive and rebellious for the sake of rebelling. Her chapters are much more guarded as she keeps to herself and communicates only with the ghosts in her head. She bottles up guilt and disappointment until she no longer can and turns to an eccentric sculptor for mentoring and meets his protege, a dangerously charismatic British college student. 
  The novel's narrative structure allows for Noah and Jude to grow as individuals. Nelson does a great job in showing the complexities of familial love, both from a brother and sister aspect as well as a child and parent. While there are romantic love at work, it doesn't overshadow Noah's and Jude's own personal growth. I also loved the symbolism throughout the book, especially Noah's "invisible museum" in which he beautifully explained his inner thoughts and turmoil in portraits. Jude's 'bible' didn't have the same oomph but it worked well as her own private journal.
 My biggest issue with the book lies in the revelation of the big betrayal and how it was dealt in the epilogue. We spent pages trying to puzzle out what caused this huge rift between inseparable siblings only to find out how trite it is and I actually figured it out before the characters did, but that didn't matter. The big reveal is one of my hot points, which I find to be unforgivable (I'm trying to be vague on purpose so I don't spoil the book) and the characters acted as if "well, the past is the past so it's okay" and it seemed to say that it doesn't matter what mistakes you make as long as you are true to yourself, which I find to be a conflicting message. There is also another issue that nagged me throughout the book about whether or not Jude's first sexual experience was consensual or not and what did the author mean when she placed this huge lifetime event right before the tragedy. Overall, I thought I'll Give You the Sun was well written, but loses its power in my opinion when the ending was wrapped too neatly and tightly in a bow.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is language, crude humor, a small sex scene, as well as underage drinking and partying. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
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