Rummanah Aasi
 Gotham Academy is a fun graphic novel that will suit fans of the superhero comics as well as old school mysteries. It is also a great start to a brand new series.

Description: Welcome to Gotham Academy, the most prestigious school in Gotham City. Only the best and brightest students may enter its halls, study in its classrooms, explore its secret passages, summon its terrifying spirits.
  Okay, so Gotham Academy isn't like other schools. But Olive Silverlock isn't like other students. After a mysterious incident over summer break, she's back at school with a bad case of amnesia, an even worse attitude...and an unexplained fear of bats.
  Olive's supposed to show new student Maps Mizoguchi the ropes. Problem: Maps is the kid sister of Kyle, Olive's ex. Then there's the ghost haunting the campus...and the secret society conducting bizarre rituals. Can Olive and Maps ace the biggest challenge of their lives? Or are they about to get schooled?

Review:  There are many graphic novels written about Batman, but Gotham Academy has a new conceit. In this series, Bruce Wayne is the benefactor to Gotham Academy. While does have a presence in the graphic novel, he is regulated to the background and pops in at very interesting times throughout the novel. The students take center stage, particularly Olive Silverlock who has had a traumatic summer. She struggles to get back into her school routine while showing around new student Maps Mizoguchi and trying to avoid her ex, Kyle, Maps's older brother. With a possible ghost knocking on the walls and secret societies roaming the halls, Olive isn't coping well with the knowledge of her mother's precarious health condition, her studies, and her classmates' bullying. On top of all the school drama, Olive begins to remember bits and pieces about a fire and keeps running into a mysterious stranger with glowing eyes who seems to know her more than she knows him, she bands with other school misfits to uncover some of Gotham Academy's dark secrets. 
  I loved that the cast of the characters are quirky, full of energy, and are extremely diverse. I like how all the characters took time to get together and build their friendships at a natural pace. I'm not really sure how Bruce Wayne is figured into Olive's mother's illness or why Olive has such a great disliking to the Dark Knight, but I definitely want to know more. The art is vibrant and captures the gloomy and creepy atmosphere of the academy. The text has the right amount of campy dialogue and humor to off set the darker undertones of the overall story. While we do solve the bigger mystery of the mysterious person lurking in the halls of the academy, we are left with plenty of questions. I definitely will continue to this series.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Batman: Lil Gotham by Dustin Nguyen
Rummanah Aasi
 Victorian England is one of my favorite literary periods to read about. When I was approached by publisher Head of Zeus to review The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse, it didn't take me long to be captivated by the subject. Below is my honest review of the book.

Description: The extraordinary story of the Druce-Portland affair, one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. In 1897 an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, made a strange request of the London Ecclesiastical Court: it was for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce.
  Behind her application lay a sensational claim: that Druce had been none other than the eccentric and massively wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that the - now dead - Duke had faked the death of his alter ego. When opened, Anna Maria contended, Druce's coffin would be found to be empty. And her children, therefore, were heirs to the Portland millions.
The extraordinary legal case that followed would last for ten years. Its eventual outcome revealed a dark underbelly of lies lurking beneath the genteel facade of late Victorian England.

Review: There is probably no period in history that has been immune to and captivated by scandal. The Druce-Portland affair is a sensational trial that riveted Edwardian England for more than a decade. The Dead Duke, the Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse is an engrossing tale of mystery, lies, and intrigue. Eatwell brings her talents as a researcher and knowledge of the law in trying to make sense of a case filled with riddles.
  At the heart of the book is the discovering the real identity of the Fifth Duke of Portland and his real heir. The first candidate is a very eccentric man who possibly suffered from a skin disease, lived as a recluse who refused to be seen by his servants and household staff, only communicating with them by letters. This candidate built a huge labyrinth of underground tunnels to enable him to travel through his property without detection. When he died in 1879, his cousin inherited not only the title stature, but the mansion as well as a large sum of money.
  Before he could refurbish the house, the sixth duke was startled when a second candidate claimed to be the Fifth Duke of Portland. The second candidate was made known when a widow came forth, petitioning the court to exhume the grave of her father-in-law, T.C. Druce, a London department store owner with a checkered past (an understatement as I lost count of how many women he slept with and married,  not to mention how many children, illegitimate and legitimate, he had) was the real fifth Duke of Portland and lived a double life. The widow claimed T.C. Druce was alive and who reverted to his real identity after a coffin was buried, filled not with the remains of her father-in-law but with lead. Her son, therefore, was his real heir.
 The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse delves into the duplicitous nature that fascinated the Victorians and Edwardians alike. Each character (there are more than 40 to keep track of) are distinct and have their own motives and motivations of being involved with the case. It is clear to see why this case took so many years to straighten out. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger bringing new questions to ponder or a discovery that made me gasp in utter disbelief. Eatwell beautifully captures the deception, media hype, greed, and fraud of the time period as well as shining a critical light on the dark side of the Victorian and Edwardian society such as the air of aristocratic entitlement and power, numbing poverty, and political corruption.
 I was very glad that the book contained a list of the characters and their connection to the Druce-Portland case to which I could refer back to in the book as it was hard to keep track of so many characters. Though the book is nonfiction it very much reads as a narrative true crime thriller. I loved how the story was formatted as a play, where the characters entered and exited after playing their "role" in court and the story. It actually made me want to see this case acted out. My only minor complaint is that Eatwell goes off on tangents that last for quite a few pages that could have been edited out and distract from the case, but it does show her enthusiasm for her subject. I would definitely recommend picking up The Dead Duke, The Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse if you are interested in learning more about the Victorian and Edwardian time period and enjoy reading about true crime that has many twists.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some graphic descriptions of potential diseases that the Fifth Duke may have had, but other than that none. Recommended for adults though suitable for teens interested in the time period.

If you like this book try: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, London 1849 by Michael Alpert, The Art of English Murder by Lucy Worsley
Rummanah Aasi
 Every year I try to read some of the books that are listed on the Monarch Book Award, a reader choice award for picture books in Illinois. I always discover great reads from these lists. I am happy to see a lot more diverse titles this year.

Description: A girl of the Sahara who wants to wear a malafa, the veiled dress worn by her mother and older sister, learns that the garment represents beauty, mystery, tradition, belonging, and faith.

Review: Deep in the Sahara is a treat for readers who want to know more about the culture of Mauritania as well as the Islamic faith without being heavy handed. Lalla lives in Mauritania where the sun burns, the sands shift, and all answer the call to prayer. She wants to wear a malafa, an airy, colorful cloth worn over clothes and covers her head like her mother and other women around her. At first Lalla is consumed with the superficial beauty of the malafa, but doesn't quite understand its significance. Throughout the story, she learns more and transitions from a girl to a woman. She will certainly make readers think about their preconceived notions about the malafa and the Mauritanian culture thanks to the thoughtful and delightful text. The illustrations are also appeal with a whimsical quality. The artwork looks as if it was made from paper collages. Also included is the author's note which indicates her inspiration for the story. Overall, a really good multicultural picture book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 and up.

If you like this book try: King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, Gold Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan, Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw,

Description: Imagine that when you hear a bell you see silver or when a dog barks you see red. That’s what it’s like for Jillian—when she hears sounds she sees colors. At first the kids at school make fun of Jillian. Jillian worries about being different until her music teacher shows her that having synesthesia is an amazing thing. This lively, informative picture book makes synesthesia easy to understand and celebrates each person’s unique way of experiencing the world.

Review: The Girl Who Heard Colors is about a little girl with synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two or more senses are attached. Jillian is thoroughly in touch with all of her senses. She can enjoy the exquisite taste of maple syrup on waffles and the smell of wet grass, but what she loves most are the colors that all the sounds she hears make. To Jillian the bark of a dog is red, the tinkle of her bicycle bell is silver, and at school her teacher's voice is green. Jillian feels all of these things are normal, but when a lunchbox crashes to the floor at school and she calls it yellow, all the children begin to laugh at her, making a sad, black sound.
  When Music Day rolls around and all the children play, Jillian is overwhelmed by all the colors she hears. Fortunately the visiting musician is also a synesthete, so he understands exactly what she means and explains it to everybody. While the resolution in the book is a bit unrealistic, I did like exploring Jillian's unusual perception. I have not read too many books with people who have synesthesia. The illustrations are nicely done giving Jillian a spunky attitude and making the text manipulate according to Jillian's perception. A brief author's note gives a little bit more information about synesthesia, grounding it in the experiences of children the author has encountered on school visits. I learned a lot from this book and I think younger readers will too.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 and up.

If you like this book try: Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

Description: Two bears awaken from hibernation and go to town—literally. During their visit, they eat at a diner, dress up at a department store, and stop a couple of bank robbers, all the while mistaking the townspeople’s terror for friendliness.

Review: Breaking News: Bear Alert is a delightful, humorous picture book that made me laugh at multiple times. The text is minimal, only appearing as the recognizable ticker that runs at the bottom of the television screen during cable news programming or in speech balloons over the heads of citizens being interviewed by reporters. The real story, however, is occurring in the background illustration as a robbery is taking place. The once "dangerous" bears actually become heroes for their actions that only coincidentally save the day. Kids will love the silly adults, round-bellied cute bears, and the sprinkle of bear jokes in the story such as a diner sign advertising porridge "too hot, too cold, or just right"-embedded in the artwork. Breaking  News Bears could be used as a readaloud, however, I think it would be more fun for the younger readers to read this one on their own and enjoy putting together all the laugh out loud pieces of the story on their own. I know I did. The illustrations are great and really mind me of a Pixar movie.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown, Night Animals by Gianna Mariano
Rummanah Aasi
 When I went to the Annual ALA Conference in San Francisco this past summer, librarians were clamoring about Laura Ruby's Bone Gap and The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. I had not heard of these titles at the time, but their buzz piqued my interest. Both titles have a great deal of magical realism, which is why I'm reviewing them together.

Description: Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?
  Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

Review: Bone Gap is a genre defying novel that incorporates a little bit of everything into the story giving it a fable-like quality. The book examines complex themes of feminine beauty, love, loss, abandonment, power, and family duty against the backdrop of a small Illinois farming town that's a gateway to a mysterious world called Bone Gap. Mysterious things happen in Bone Gap without any explanation and the townspeople accept it without any question.
  Finn is the only witness to the kidnapping of a beautiful immigrant girl named Roza, however; his vague description of the man who took her leaves just about everyone in the small town of Bone Gap question his reliability and his involvement. The book has a ambiguous atmosphere as we really don't really know what is going on, however, our confusion slowly ebbs away through a complex interweaving of chapters, mostly told from Finn and Roza's points of view. The author slowly reveals Rosa's story from Rosa's caretaker warning Rosa about leaving her country and being too ambitious to the lecherous men who are trying to possess her and that of Finn's fragile relationship with his brother and his own insecurities. Magic is subtle in the book, and the fantasy world isn't well built, but I think readers will be more captivated by the characters and book's theme to be okay with the minor flaw. Overall Bone Gap made me think and it stayed with me quite sometime I finished it. While I don't see teens flocking to this title on their own, but with booktalking it and giving it to readers who like books that make them think, Bone Gap will do well.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a small sex scene, allusions to sex, crude humor, attempted rape, language, and disturbing images. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Description: The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara's life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara's family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items - but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

Review: The Accident Season is a story of friendship, family, and long-buried secrets. The last week of October is called the "accident season" where Cara's family are prone to disaster ranging from sprains, broken bones, and other injury-inducing accidents. We don't know why or how the accident season started. Another mystery is a strange discovery that involves Cara's family's photos where a girl Cara vaguely remembers keeps appearing. While trying to solve these mysteries, Cara is also trying to be a regular teen, grappling her confusing romantic feelings for Sam, her ex-stepbrother.
  Though I was able to figure out the twist and how the two mysteries combine early on, the book's strongest aspect are its characters. I liked spending time with Cara and her family and thought the concept of the accident season was quite clever. The book's pacing does falter a bit with lull moments of day to day details of Cara's life and its slow start. I found myself a bit bored with the book. Overall it was an okay read, but it was not as weird as I was hoping it to be.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is language, allusion to sex which may or may not be consensual, allusion to sex abuse. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Rummanah Aasi
 The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue graphic novel series is a great way for children to get a taste of Shakespeare without being overwhelmed by the Bard's language, bawdy jokes, sex, and violence. This may sound boring or too sanitized, but creators Lender and Giallongo make it not only work but an entertaining read.

Description: The Stratford Zoo looks like a normal zoo... until the gates shut at night. That's when the animals come out of their cages to stage elaborate performances of Shakespeare's greatest works. They might not be the most accomplished thespians, but they've got what counts: heart. Also fangs, feathers, scales, and tails, in The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth.

Review: Known for its gruesome murders among other things, Macbeth might not seem to be the most kid friendly play, but placing the classic play within a story makes it palatable. The animals of Stratford Zoo are putting on a show- specifically Macbeth -starring the lion as the play's titular hero and featuring a hyena and a cast of other animals to fill out the ranks. I really liked how the casting of different animals in the roles makes a nod to the character's personality traits of the play but also of the animals themselves. To contrast the dark play, the animal audience provides humor while making quips, providing commentary, and hiding from the zookeeper.  
  The play adaptation is different from the original given the graphic novel's audience. For instance Macbeth eats the various characters with large amounts of ketchup gets the point across of Macbeth's blinded ambition and his wavering moral compass without being graphic. All of the violence is offstage and only hinted at, not depicted, in keeping with the younger audience envisioned for this book.
  The artwork is bright and cartoonish, with an appealing mix of panel sizes to keep the story moving, emphasize key points, and allow for amusing little details for readers to find. I did notice a few times where the animals actually quote direct lines from the play, but I didn't find that distracting. I'm actually really looking forward to see which play the Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue perform next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Violence does page off screen, however; all of the characters "eaten" pop out of the King's belly with no harm done to them. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo, Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield, Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
 Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Review: Crenshaw is a bittersweet tale about a family going through economic hardship. Jackson is a scientist, a skeptic, and nobody’s fool. He may not know the exact details of his family's strife, but he knows that his parents are overwhelmed and that they had to live in their car for sometime. Jackson knows that his parents need help, but they keep in arm's length away from their problems and keep reassuring him and his sister that "everything is fine", but he knows this isn't true.  When Jackson’s family faces homelessness once again, his former imaginary friend, a giant cat named Crenshaw who’s visible only to Jackson, makes a reappearance.
  Crenshaw is neither cute nor obviously supportive. He appears at odd times, takes bubble baths, constantly asks for purple jelly beans, and gives him enigmatic pithy advice. Jackson tries to banish him, but Crenshaw insists that he has been summoned. At first I wasn't sure what to think of having an imaginary friend as a plot device and metaphor, but somehow Applegate makes it work. Crenshaw is both real and imaginary; a symbol of Jackson's faint strands of innocence, but also Jackson's growing confidence that he is old enough to be told the harsh truths about his reality.
  Jackson’s family is loving, optimistic, and functional in its way, but the tenuousness of the family’s situation and Jackson’s lack of control over his own fate are stressful and sadly realistic. The tone is warm and occasionally funny, but Applegate doesn't sugarcoat the hardships of Jackson's family, the effects of hunger and the uncertainty of the future. The story does end on a hopeful note.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, Hope is like a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera, Almost Home by Joan Bauer
Rummanah Aasi
  While I did enjoy the swoon-worthy romance of Huntley Fitzpatrick's debut novel, My Life Next Door, I thought the serious aspect of the book was a bit rushed. We revisit the Garrets and Tim Mason in the companion novel, The Boy Most Likely To, which I thought had a nice balance of real issues and romance.

Description: Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To find the liquor cabinet blindfolded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house
  Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To . . . well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.
  For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.
  Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have. And Alice is caught in the middle.

Review: While readers met Alice Garrett and Tim Mason in My Life Next Door, it is not essential to read that book in order to enjoy The Boy Most Likely To which stands quite well on its own. The Boy Most Likely To has a much mature and serious tone than its breezy companion. Fitpatrick does a good job in discussing the serious issues without being didactic and letting her characters sort out their own problems. Unlike her debut novel, The Boy Most Likely To is told in dual narratives.
   Tim struggles with staying sober. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has been kicked out of his privileged house. Despite his carefree nature, Tim knows he needs to change and has essentially hit rock bottom. A rude awakening forces him to "man up" and take responsibility of his actions. 
  Unlike Tim, Alice has always been serious and never given the luxury of being a blithe teen. She has taken the responsibility to be the substitute parent while her father recovers from his horrible accident in the hospital and help out her yet again pregnant mother. Alice tries her best to keep things under control but secretly she suffers from panic attacks and worries about her family's future along with her own visions of being a nurse. As always it is a delight to see the Garrett family in action.
  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Tim and Alice. I originally thought the couple was a bit strange, but I do see how these two opposite characters would attract one another. Their romance is a nice slow burn, but where the book truly shines is Tim's incredible character growth. While I never believed the big revelation he received was true (I'm being vague on purpose to avoid spoilers), I really appreciated how Tim approached the issue and worked through it instead of just giving up entirely. The Boy Most Likely To is about changing yourself into becoming a better person, moving beyond what people expect you to be. This book and Tim's journey will speak to anyone who has ever had to make a hard decision.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, crude humor, sexual innuendo, mention of underage drinking and drug use. There are also allusions to sex. Recommended for Readers

If you like this book try: Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Waiting for You by
Rummanah Aasi
 This One Summer has received many starred reviews. It was listed as an Caldecott Honor as well as a Printz Honor book last year. This One Summer is about the rough transition between idyllic childhood to skeptical young adulthood.

Description: Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

Review: Every summer, Rose and her parents vacation at a lakeside cottage. The problems of everyday life are put on pause as Rose is reunited with her friend Windy and relishes in the leisure offerings of playing games of MASH, swimming, and the joy of digging giant holes in the sand, but this summer is different. Rose's parents are fighting. Her mother is distant and isolating herself, while her father struggles to maintain his carefree persona. Rose, herself, is on the cusp of adolescence; not quite ready to leave the comforts of childhood behind but drawn and fascinated by the older teens who are caught up in their own dramas fueled by alcohol and having fun. Rose and Windy are voyeurs into the older teen's universe, toeing the mysterious line of teen life by experimenting with new vocabulary and renting R rated horror movies.
 This One Summer offers a slice of life of lazy summer days, but it gradually unfolds into a complex narrative of a fragile family trying to overcome a loss and Rose's ambivalence toward growing up. The two world are told separately for most of the graphic novel, but soon connect. I really wanted Rose to know what was going on with her parents, because it would clear up a lot of her confusion and make a bigger impact on the big reveal of the story but that doesn't happen. Like life, there are no happy endings tied in a perfect bow, but hope is lingering. The mood throughout the graphic novel is thoughtful, quiet, almost meditative. The artwork is visually stunning. The muted tones of the monochromatic blue-on-white illustrations are perfectly suited to the story's ambiance. This is not a graphic novel that you should read quickly, but rather a close read of the dialogue and panels will allow you to pick up the subtleties of the story. The incompleteness of the book may be deliberate as we watch a young girl enjoy her confusing in-between time filled with curiosity, yearning, and insecurity.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is language, underage drinking, crude humor, allusions to sex, and adult situations. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, Chiggers by Hope Larson
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