Rummanah Aasi

 Although I'm still wrapping up a few left over reads for this year I wanted to list my favorite books of 2016.  I had a great reading year and interestingly enough, a good running streak in series. I hope it continues in 2017. I have listed the books in alphabetical order by the title of the book and provided a link to my review if it is available. I still have to write a few reviews for a few of them, which I hope to do so in the next few days.

Blood Passage by Heather Demetrios (Dark Caravan Cycle #2):  Blood Passage deftly avoids the middle book syndrome by providing a complex, winding journey full of unexpected twists and turns that delivers more action, romance, and world building than its predecessor.

A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas: Maas broadens her world building and thoroughly examines the Night Court. I was mesmerized by its descriptions, character, and warmth. We are also introduced to more political intrigue, romance, and wonderful, memorable secondary characters.

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #9): Fire Touched is another great installment in the Mercy Thompson series with plenty of action, tender and sad moments with just the right amount of humor.

March: Book 2 and March: Book 3 by John Lewis: A fabulous graphic novel series that depicts the highlights of the Civil Rights Movement.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez: Reading Out of Darkness is an unforgettable and uncomfortable experience, but a necessary one. This book is not for everyone nor will it appeal to readers who crave for escapism when reading. Out of Darkness is historical fiction at its finest in which Perez highlights an unknown American tragedy along with examining the marginal lives of the time period as well as addressing issues that we are, unfortunately, facing today.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: The Serpent King is a lyrical coming-of-age novel about three teens who are trying to escape poverty, abuse, and prejudice that follow them like shadows in their rural Tennessee town. The book is told in three, distinct, and unforgettable point of views. All of the main characters are outcasts in their own rights, but their alienation made them best friends and an incredible support group. This is my favorite debut novel of 2016.

The Sinner by Amanda Stevens (The Graveyard Queen #5): The Sinner is my second favorite book in the fabulously creepy and spooky Graveyard Queen series. While this book gave me disturbing dreams, it was compulsively readable and I just had to know what happens. Stevens has upped her game in every regard in this latest installment.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows #1): In my opinion, Six of Crows surpasses the Grisha trilogy. The writing is so much better, the characters are fantastic, layered, and multi-layered, and the plot is a pager-turner filled with action, humor, intrigue, and even some romance.

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord: The Start of Me and You is a terrific pick for Valentines Day or any day you are in the mood for a second chance story with a sweet romance and a great cast of characters.

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner (Starbound #3): Their Fractured Light is a great series finale to the wonderful Starbound series. The book did a great job in introducing and fleshing out new characters while completing the overarching story. There is also a nice balance between the romance, action, and science fiction that made the reading experience thoroughly enjoyable and the pages fly by.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson:  If you only have time to read just one YA book this year, then I would highly recommend picking up We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. This book was exquisitely written and left me thinking about it long after I closed the last page. It is my only 5 star read of 2016.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk: A well written middle grade book that reminded me a lot of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Rummanah Aasi

Description: A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn’s a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck—now, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world’s gaze.
Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker—a whiz kid and an urban warrior. He’ll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don’t dare touch.
  Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you’re done noticing it, she’s got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost.
  When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia’s separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they’re forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide.

Review: Their Fractured Light is a great series finale to the wonderful Starbound series. The book did a great job in introducing and fleshing out new characters while completing the overarching story. There is also a nice balance between the romance, action, and science fiction that made the reading experience thoroughly enjoyable and the pages fly by.
  In this book we are introduced to charming hacker Gideon (aka The Knave) and con artist Sofia Quinn who are trying to infiltrate LaRoux Industries headquarters. Like the previous cast of characters in the first two books, they too have scores to settle with powerful CEO Roderick LaRoux, I really liked Gideon and Sofia as characters. Since they both have been betrayed trust is something that they both have to earn and sometimes risk in order to survive. Both are keeping secrets from each other and as their slow burn romance develops they slowly reveal their vulnerabilities and their walls begin to crumble.
  The plot of the book is interesting and all six characters have a pivotal role in the story. Each of the six has lost loved ones as the result of LaRoux’s misguided quest to bring about world peace by conquering all the intergalactic countries, and each faces the threat of losing his or her own life as the Whispers take control and power in a plot twist that I didn't see coming. The strong duality of voiced chapters, the tension-filled climax, and the sweet, satisfying conclusion made me extremely happy. I'm so sad to leave these characters behind, but I guess that's what rereading is for, right?

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. There is also a fade to black sex scene in the book. Recommended to Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Illuminae Files series, Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more. Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.
  From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home, a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner is a sweet and charming story. It is the perfect cozy read on a wintry, snowy day. Nina is a young librarian who works in the reader's advisory department of her library. She absolutely loves her job and finding the right book for the right person. When the library is downsized with a new focus on social media and technology, she is out of job and has absolutely no idea what to do. She does, however, want to save all the library discards and find them new homes. 
 Nina always had a fanciful idea of opening a small bookshop, but she has zero experience in business and not a whole lot of money for real estate. She thinks of the next best idea of buying a van and traveling around a mobile bookstore. She locates the perfect vehicle in Kirrinfief, Scotland, where her real adventures begin. Nina realizes that the real world is not always easy to navigate like her books. After a few hiccups she finds herself relocated from the urban London to the remote Highlands, and her life is newly populated with delightfully quirky characters. Nina begins to live her life while helping others including Marek, a Latvian train engineer and romantic hero, who begins exchanging love letters and books of poetry with Nina on a tree at a railway crossing; Ainslee, a mercurial teenage girl eager for a job yet wary of revealing anything about her home life; and Lennox, Nina’s grumpy landlord, who’s separated from his posh wife. I loved all of the secondary characters and I admired Nina for following through on her dream even when everyone including herself doubted her. 
  There is also a sweet romance in the book, which took its time to develop. The clever dialogue and connections between books and readers is delightful. The ending does end in happily ever after though I do hope we get to see more of Nina and company in the future. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, crude sexual humor, and allusions to sex. Suitable for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Story of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they're both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL. Joe's lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. Ravi's family just moved to America from India, and he's finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don't think they have anything in common -- but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

Review: Save Me a Seat is a story about fitting in and overcoming obstacles. The story is told from two different points of view: Ravi, who just moved from India, is adjusting to his new American life, and Joe, who has long been a student at Albert Einstein Elementary and is acclimating to a new grade without his best friends. Both Ravi and Joe are subject of bullying by the popular and cunning Dillon Samreen. While Ravi is made fun of because of thick accent, weird lunches, and his appearance, Joe is deemed stupid because of his auditory processing disorder which makes school challenging.  
  As the only Indian students in the class, Ravi assumes that he and Dillon will be best friends, but Joe knows better. Readers watch Dillon bully Ravi and Joe in silence. That feeling of helplessness and gathering up the courage to say something and stand up for one another will be a powerful topic for young readers to discuss. I liked how Ravi and Joe come to the realizations of what they must do on their own. Ravi's own epiphany that he too once was a bully in his old school is eye opening and refreshing. I also enjoyed the incorporation of Indian culture and anecdotes from Ravi's grandfather worked well in the story. There is even extras included in the book such as glossaries and recipes from both characters. Save Me a Seat is a great middle school read that will foster a lively book discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some scenes of bullying. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

Review: Six of Crows is a heist story set in Bardugo's Grisha universe. This is a standalone duology that can be read even if you haven't read the Grisha trilogy. In my opinion, Six of Crows surpasses the Grisha trilogy. The writing is so much better, the characters are fantastic, layered, and multi-layered, and the plot is a pager-turner filled with action, humor, intrigue, and even some romance. Six of Crows takes place in Ketterdam, a city inspired by the Dutch mercantile setting, is a rich, complex, and dangerous city ruled by gangs who run the gambling dens and brothels. The people who survive in Ketterdam are not easily put in neat boxes of good and evil, but who can bend their morals out of desperation or in many cases when the situation calls for it.
  There are six diverse characters in the book and each chapter is told from the character's point of view. While this may sound confusing, but since each character has a distinct personality I did not have any trouble switching between characters. The ring leader and the underworld's rising star is Kaz Brekker, known as Dirtyhands for his brutal amorality. Kaz walks with chronic pain from an old injury, but that doesn't stop him from utterly destroying any rivals. He is very cunning, attuned to people's skills, talents, and vulnerabilities. He also has a secret agenda and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. When a councilman offers him an unimaginable reward to rescue a kidnapped foreign chemist Kaz knows just the team he needs to assemble. 
  I loved Kaz, but I also loved the other members of the Crows just as much. There is Inej, a stealthy and itinerant acrobat who was once captured by slavers and sold to a brothel and now works as a spy for Kaz. Inej still believes in right and wrong. She is always morally conflicted with what she has to do though she admits she really has no choice if she wants to survive in Ketterdam. The Grisha Nina has the magical ability to calm and heal. Matthias is the brawny zealot, hunter of Grishas and caught in a hopeless spiral of love and vengeance with Nina. Wylan, the privileged boy with an engineer's skills and Jesper is a sharpshooting, gambling addict and the comedy relief.  Like Kaz, each of them has their own reasons for wanting to be involved in the heist. The multiple point of views allows the reader to be inside of the character's heads though I wished I knew more about Wyland and Jesper a little better. Bardugo keeps the reader vested in her large cast by interweaving interesting backstories and dilemmas for each of them. 
 The plot is full of action, twists and turns, and moves at a feverish pace because once the heist starts nothing goes according to plan. There are subtle romances in the mix and various potential couples, but the romances do not overshadow the plot. Once the book ends you will want the sequel immediately in your hands.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and language in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo and for non-fantasy heist check out Ally Carter's Heist Society series.

Rummanah Aasi

Description: March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

Review: March: Book 1 is told in the backdrop of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration, a monumental moment in U. S. History and a well suited time to reflect upon the Civil Rights Movement. In the first of three volumes, we get a quick introduction into the childhood of Senator Lewis and how he got involved in the non-violent activism. This volume is centered on the desegregation of lunchroom counters in the south. Lewis recounts his involvement in the peaceful protest from its inception to how the protestors prepared themselves for any and all types of reactions from the white southerners by having the protestors role playing and acting out verbal and physical abuse they might foresee and finally to the actual protest. While this volume doesn't add much to what I already knew about the protest from my history classes, it is a startling how non-violence resistance worked especially in today's world where violence, and in many cases ultra-violence, is a knee jerk reaction. It makes us stop and think if non-violence can/will work once again.  
  The artwork is solid and makes the people in the story come alive. There were a few panels in which I couldn't read the text as characters seem to be mumbling or whispering things, which may have been intentional by the artist. Overall, I can definitely see March: Book 1 and the rest of this trilogy be used as part of the classroom curriculum and if it's not, it definitely should be. In my opinion there is a detachment when we read about history in textbooks. We get caught up in learning facts to pass a test and don't necessarily take the time to digest the information and really learn from it. It certainly does not have the sense of immediacy and significance when it is told by a person who lived through the actual real life events. I will definitely finish this important trilogy.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies and English

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the graphic novel and the "n" word appears quite frequently. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: March: Book Two by John Lewis, Strange Fruit by Joel Christian Gill, The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two debut books, one adult and one YA: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Publish date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey

I have been reading some great reviews for The Bear and the Nightingale. From the book's description it seems to have elements of fantasy and historical fiction woven into the story. I believe it was inspired by Russian fairy tales and the first book in a trilogy. 

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift - a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Publish Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

 This is a timely read as it is inspired by the Blacks Matter Movement and has received raved reviews from several review journals. 

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Rummanah Aasi
  After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Rose Society, the second book in the Young Elites series by Marie Lu, I had high expectations for The Midnight Star, the series finale, but unfortunately my expectations were not met.

Description: Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained.
  When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

Review: The Midnight Star is just an okay conclusion to the Young Elites trilogy. While there is plenty of emotion and action, it still feels underwhelming and rushed. Adelina Amouteru, once a hated malfetto, is now rapidly becoming the queen of the known world. Her Kenettran army has conquered many lands from Domacca to Dumor. Her inquisitors enforce her harsh rule, and malfettos have free rein to mistreat their former tormentors. It has become clear that Adelina's abilities have been affecting her with invisible voices fueling her paranoia of enemies and distrust among her allies. Meanwhile the Young Elites are all struggling with their powers gone awry. There is an imbalance in the world, and it can only be fixed if the Young Elites and the Rose Society can work together.
  I really liked the overall plot of the book. I found the inclusion of religion and the gods in the world that Lu created to be fascinating and I wanted to know more. I appreciated that the series held on to the strong female relationship between Adelina and her sister Violetta though I wished Violetta had a stronger role in this book. I was disappointed that we didn't see Adelina further descend into darkness since this book is ultimately about her redemption, which I felt she achieved too easily and quickly. I was also hoping for more character development for Magiano and Enzo, but there was hardly any and at times it seemed like Lu didn't know what to do with them. Overall, The Midnight Star was a decent conclusion but in my opinion it is the weakest book in the entire trilogy.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes and violence. There is also an allusion to sex in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken, Control series by Lydia Kang, Steelheart series by Brandon Sanderson
Rummanah Aasi
 Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of The Other Einstein which I received from Sourcebooks publishers (thank you!). The Other Einstein is now published and can be found in libraries and bookstores near you.

Description: What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

Review:  I picked up The Other Einstein due to my limited knowledge of Albert Einstein. I know that he was a renown and brilliant scientist, famous for E=mcsquared equation, the theory of relativity, and had unruly curly hair as depicted by his numerous photos. I did not know anything about his personal life so I knew nothing about his first wife Mileva Maric who was also a brilliant scientist in her own right. I had hoped that this book would shed some light on Einstein the man and Mileva, but it is hard to judge whether this book is successful on that account because it is based on a lot of speculation rather than actual facts.
 While I admire the author for highlighting a lesser known individual, The Other Einstein did not rise above a superficial, melodramatic re-imagining of the marriage of two intellectuals. The book suffers from the lack of character development and a plot that dragged quite a bit. In fact the actual conflict felt rushed and finally appears in the last half of the book.
  The book revolves around the relationship between Albert and Mileva, but I didn't feel any chemistry between the couple nor did I think it was a true partnership. Their relationship felt very much one-side from Mileva's perspective and Albert came across as a person who took advantage of his wife's intelligence. I often found myself frustrated with Mileva, who easily allowed herself to be marginalized for so little emotional and/or professional return. It is no doubt that Mileva was a victim of her own society in where a woman's ambition to have a career much less get an education with a degree was looked down upon, but I got the impression that she was pushed into education not because of how intelligent she is but because she was deemed un-marriageable due to her leg and that inferiority complex lead her to be with Albert. Otherwise I couldn’t understand what Mileva saw in Albert.  Though the author clearly states she does not intend to stain Albert's legacy, he does come across as cold, calculating, manipulative, and difficult individual.
 In addition to the issues I have about the marriage, I also struggled with was the science behind the story. Both Albert and Mileva are highly accomplished scientists, but we don't see this in the book besides the author telling us they are in a cafe chatting about other scientists and studies. Benedict shies away from the intricacies of their studies and profession. You simply can't write a book about Einstein's accomplishment and fame without talking about physics. This is especially important when the crux of the book is the possibility of Mileva being a co-author of the theory of relativity. In the book it appears that Mileva is the person who came up with the theory and Albert took her theory and plagiarized it.
  The Other Einstein is an ambitious story and asks an interesting question particularly when sexism in the workplace is a very lively topic today. I would recommend picking up the book if you are interested in the subject, but be aware that the book is heavy on the fiction and less on the historical.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of sexual situations but nothing graphic. Suitable for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Albert Einstein/Mileva Maric: The Love Letters edited by Jurgen Renn,
In Albert's Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Maric, Einstein's First Wife by Milan Popovic,
Secret Traces of the Soul of Mileva Maric-Einstein by Alter and Svetlana
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.
  Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn't possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she's starting to fall for the girl. Even if there's a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is a thoughtful exploration of the complexity surrounding faith and sexuality. Jo Gordon is a proud lesbian. Due to her father's remarriage she has been uprooted from her home in Atlanta to a more rural part of the state during her senior year of high school. Her father is a man of faith and hosts a very popular Christian radio show. Since Jo's new stepfamily are very conservative in their religious beliefs, Jo's father has asked her to keep her sexuality hidden from the greater community, emphasizing that it will help her "blend in better" and make their transition to their new family less stressful. Jo reluctantly agrees and strikes a deal with her father that if she can keep her sexuality a secret then she can have her own radio show for teens that will address faith and coming of age issues including sexuality.
  We follow Jo as she remakes herself from a new wardrobe to less Gothic makeup. She also manages to make friends by attending a youth group at her stepmother's church and discovers an unexpected romance. This is one of those books where I liked the secondary characters a lot more than the protagonist. I liked Jo for the most part. She is bold, candid, and thoughtful but she could also be very bratty when she throws tantrums at the beginning of the book. She does grow as she knocks down her own presumptions of people around her. The rest of the book is about Jo's torn decision between love and the commitment she made to her father.
  I really appreciated how the characters attempt to navigate unfamiliar terrain that challenges ideals surrounding faith and sexuality. The author does not have any heavy handed messages of her own but rather lets her characters decide for themselves on this complex topic. Themes such as deception, trust, and sexuality are present throughout. Sex is discussed in candid terms as some of the characters are sexually active though I would have liked it if the topic of slut shaming had been addressed more. I also liked the inclusion of the different variations of diversity included in the book too.
 The romance between Jo and Mary Carlson is cute, but I wished there was more an emotional development between the two girls. They seem to skip getting to know one another part of the relationship and jump into lust which is realistic but it feels superficial. I was unclear as to Mary Carlson's romantic experience as she seemed to take charge. I would have also liked to see Mary Carlson talk about her own revelation on her sexuality and spent more time on her coming out. Overall I liked the book and thought it was different than your typical coming out book, but it loses a bit focus with the melodrama towards the end.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude sexual humor, and a scene of underage drinking. Sex is discussed in candid terms as some of the characters are sexually active. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Stealing Parker by Miranda Keneally
Rummanah Aasi
A Silent Voice is a very short manga series that is complete with seven volumes.  The series gives us a glimpse of what bullying is like in Japanese schools. If you enjoy books that tackle difficult subjects along with slice of life moments that are not too long, I suggest picking up this series.

Description: Shoya is a bully. When Shoko, a girl who can’t hear, enters his elementary school class, she becomes their favorite target, and Shoya and his friends goad each other into devising new tortures for her. But the children’s cruelty goes too far. Shoko is forced to leave the school, and Shoya ends up shouldering all the blame. Six years later, the two meet again. Can Shoya make up for his past mistakes, or is it too late?

Review: A Silent Voice takes an interesting look at bullying and its consequences. Nishimiya Shouko is a new transferee and a deaf student to the middle school. She is the target of relentless bullying by one of her classmates Ishida Shouya. Shouko's bullying escalates rapidly from name calling to physical violence. It got so bad that Shouko transferred to another school. Shouya then became the bully target of his own classmates. He lost all of his friends and was simply isolated. Now a few years later, Shouko and Shouya's paths have rejoined once again. Shouya has realized what harm he has done and is now on the mission for repentance and forgiveness.
  I loved the overall message of the manga in which friendship, unconditional love, understanding, and empathy are explored, however, there is a lot of things that are underdeveloped. For example Shouko doesn't emote her emotions at all. At times she is unrealistic, blaming herself for the bullying that is done to her and then in a short amount of time develops a crush on Shouya which left a bad taste in my mouth. Shouya is a hard person to like. He was so despicable and unlovable in the beginning volumes that I found it hard to embrace him though he does seem to grow. It is not clear why Shouya turned into a bully, was he insecure or was it a result of how he was raised?
  After finishing the series, I still had a lot of questions that were left unanswered such as the absence of Shouya's father, Shouya's sister who seems to have a revolving door of guys coming in and going, and what happens to Shouko in the future. I also can't really make out Naoka Ueno's and Miki Kawai's roles either.
  There are great moments in the series in which we get to step inside Shouko's shoes and see her world through her eyes. Despite my issues with this series, I do think it has a valuable message and would recommend it to my teens. I think it will provoke interesting discussions among readers.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of violence and bullying, and allusions to sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this series try: El Deafo by Cece Bell
Rummanah Aasi

 I would like to wish all of my US readers a very happy and safe holiday! To my international readers have a great rest of the week. I will be taking a blogging break this week. Along with enjoying a wonderful meal and catching up with family and friends, I hope to relax and work through my tbr pile. I will be back next week with more posts!  

Rummanah Aasi

Description: An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government.
  Three young people who learn everything they've been taught is a lie knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and cold-hearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn't clear.

Review: Smoke has a fantastic premise and a wonderful blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and dystopian elements. Set in an alternative Victorian England, sin is a physical substance and appears in the form of an ugly smoke that leaks directly from a person's body. Any immoral thought, however small, is easily detected. The concept of the smoke is what pulled me into this book. The moral questions surrounding sin are captivating and innumerable such as: are humans naturally inclined to sin or think "bad" thoughts and if so, does that make sinning a normal behavior? Do people behave morally for the sake of true goodness or is it to prove to others how much better they are?
  Smoke is mainly told in third person although there are short chapters told from the character's first person point of view which can be jarring at first. The plot is slow burning and at times drags as the author takes his time expounding on the atmospheric setting and establishing the three main characters in the story. Thomas Argyle and Charlie Copper are two young, upper-class best friends, who attend a boarding school where students are cleansed from the Smoke. Thomas, due to his upbringing and past, is naturally drawn to the Smoke whereas Charlie can mostly escape from it. Both boys build a natural friendship, mostly our their mutual dislike of one their classmates. Over Christmas holidays, Thomas and Charlie meet a girl named Livia, a prefect at another school, the attractive daughter of Baron and Lady Naylor. Naturally both boys are drawn to Livia for different reasons and a love triangle is formed. While the love triangle was annoying, it didn't overwhelm the plot and I was more engrossed in finding more about the Smoke.
  The story picks up pace and action when Thomas learns a shocking secret that sets up the characters for a quest to learn about the origins of Smoke and the maleficence behind it. This aspect of the book reminded me a lot of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Like many quests there are plenty of twists and turns in the story. The ending doesn't end in a cliffhanger but it is left open suggesting there is a sequel in the works. I really hope there is one because there is so much left to explore in the world that the author created and the questions about the Smoke go unanswered. I mostly enjoyed it and I would be willing to read more about this world should the author chose to write more. Overall, there are a lot of things in Smoke that will interest a wide range of readers, especially those who enjoy a cerebral fantasy.
Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images including a live execution scene and some minor language. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream. For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down. But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?

Review: I absolutely loved and adored Natalie Lloyd's debut middle grade novel, A Snicker of Magic, and I could not wait to read another book by her. The Key to Extraordinary also contains the same elements that I loved in A Snicker of Magic: a wonderful cast of characters, magical realism, and an uplifting story.
  In The Key to Extraordinary a young girl from a long line of special women fights to save her home. Like all of the women in her family, Emma is a wildflower. A wildflower is a woman destined to live an extraordinary life, experiencing a Destiny Dream that reveals her unique path and talent. Emma is worried that she has not received her dream yet. She is also struggling with what she calls "the big empty", grieving the loss of her ex-rocker mom. Luckily Emma has a wonderful support system from her family and friends who help ease the big empty from encroaching upon her life. She also keeps busy by helping out in the Boneyard Cafe, the family business situated on the edge of a cemetery, and giving tours of the cemetery to tourists. The café has fallen on hard times, and when it looks like Granny Blue, her tough, tattooed, ex-boxer grandmother, might sell the place to a developer, Emma looks for answers within the local folklore about a hidden treasure and a ghost.
  With the help of a small cast of quirky characters including a boy who is traumatized into muteness and magical flora, Emma finds her true destiny and eases her troubles through the journey. When she finally has her own Destiny Dream, it seems to point to the treasure, but the clues are frustratingly vague. The prose is bubbly and light, with a cheerful, optimistic tone despite some of darker subjects alluded in the story. I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery behind the treasure hunt and the message of everyone is extraordinary in their uniqueness. Readers who enjoy mysteries with a good dose of magic, whimsical setting, and an uplifting message will enjoy this book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The book touches upon death and grieving as Emma's mother died of cancer. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Savvy by Ingrid Law, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Signed, sealed, delivered...  While spacing out in chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk and added a message to her. Intrigue!
  Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters—sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only, who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out.

Review: P.S. I Like You is the perfect comfort read. While you may figure out the story ahead of time, it is a joy watching the main characters play it all out. This book made me nostalgic and reminded me of the popular Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedies, especially You've Got Mail which is actually a remake of a 1940s movie, The Shop Around the Corner, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.
  Cade and Lily have never gotten along for years. Cade has always made snide comments about Lily. Lily thinks Cade is a snotty, stuck-up rich kid, and only cares about himself. Both keep a count of how many jabs they can give one another. When Cade rains on her parade, Lily looks to shaggy hipster Lucas, who is a ray of sunshine and romantic potential. Things take a turn when Lily scribbles some graffiti on top of the desk to combat her boredom in chemistry class and is surprised to find a reply the next day. She is even more surprised when the answers continue. Soon the scribbles graduate to hidden notes and before she knows it, Lily is bonding and falling for her secret pen pal over mutual interests in indie music and about life. Who is her mysterious new friend? Could it be Lucas or some other stranger?
 The notes are my favorite thing about P.S. I Like You. It allowed the characters to develop and become unvarnished where they exposed their vulnerabilities and anxieties. Both characters reexamine themselves in believable ways, especially in the way they treated each other before. Another aspect that I loved about this story is Lily's large family that were full of vibrant characters. If you are a fan of antagonistic romances and like finishing a book with a smile on your face, do pick this one up. It's super cute without being sachrine.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language that would be rated PG if it were a movie. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: On the Fence by Kasie West, To All the Boys I Loved Before series by Jenny Han, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Rummanah Aasi

Description: I am a living ghost, a wanderer in search of my purpose and place… 
  I'm a cemetery restorer by trade, but my calling has evolved from that of ghost seer to death walker to detective of lost souls. I solve the riddles of the dead so the dead will leave me alone.
   I've come to Seven Gates Cemetery nursing a broken heart, but peace is hard to come by…for the ghosts here and for me. When the body of a young woman is discovered in a caged grave, I know that I've been summoned for a reason. Only I can unmask her killer. I want to trust the detective assigned to the case for he is a ghost seer like me. But how can I put my faith in anyone when supernatural forces are manipulating my every thought? When reality is ever-changing? And when the one person I thought I could trust above all others has turned into a diabolical stranger?

Review: The Sinner is my second favorite book in the fabulously creepy and spooky Graveyard Queen series. While this book gave me disturbing dreams, it was compulsively readable and I just had to know what happens. Stevens has upped her game in every regard in this latest installment.
  Amelia is harboring a broken heart after she and Devlin seem to drift further apart. She takes solace in her work, but that short lived peace throws her into the middle of a murder mystery, conspiracy, and secret societies when she spots mortsafes and a pair of hands from a body that was buried alive. Soon she is revisited by Darius Goodwine who tells her to not trust anyone and she is the only person to stop the evil that has been reawakened.
 The suspense and mystery is very well done in The Sinner. I had no idea where the story was going and it had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Like Amelia I didn't trust anyone and kept wondering what were the motives for all of the secondary characters. I was particularly suspicious of the handsome and eerily attentive Detective Kendrick who seems to have actually a lot in common with Amelia. Luckily, there is no love triangle since Amelia still carries the torch for Devlin.
  While we are given a few details behind the secret societies mentioned in the series thus far, there is still a lot we don't know. Devlin does make an appearance in the book and his actions makes me wonder if he is just playing a role or has an ulterior motive. The ending was great in that while it resolved the murder mystery in this book, it left me wanting more without a painful cliffhanger. I will definitely be counting down the days until next March as we sadly reach the conclusion to one of my favorite adult series. I would highly recommend this series to readers who enjoy romantic suspense with a side of paranormal and mystery. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence which mostly occur off the page. There is also gory and disturbing images and some language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Awakening by Amanda Stevens (coming March 2017), Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, and or a paranormal romance with a mystery and humor try the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones
Rummanah Aasi

Description: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
  Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.
  But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Review: And I Darken is a historical re-imaging of what would have happened if Vlad the Impaler was a woman. Readers who are open to a well researched and thoughtful exploration of mid-15th century will find a lot to learn and absorb. The book tells the story of Lada and Radu, the children of Vlad Dracul, prince of Wallachia (modern-day Romania). From a very young age Lada has learned that being female equals weakness as she witness her mother crawl and beg her father for mercy. Lada wants to be like her father who is strong, cunning, and cold but she will never get his adoration or love. Instead she will always be cursed as girl and have the unrelenting burden of protecting her beautiful, sensitive, and physically inept brother, Radu.
  My feelings for Lada ran the entire emotional spectrum. She is the antithesis of our typical female heroines. She is feral, brutal, cold, selfish, and arrogant. Despite these characteristics, there were at times when I felt bad for her as she realizes that she and her brother are mere pawns to her father and can be easily given away as parcels in order to secure his throne. The moment where Lada has her period is both striking and heart wrenching. The realization that the only possible future Lada can have is to be a man's property and give birth enraged me. 
  Unlike Lada who is all about physical strength and aggression, Radu is the complete opposite. Radu is much more human and when looking from the perspective of the traditional male roles he comes across as effeminate. Where Lada is first to cut you and ask questions later if she feels like it, Radu is more willing to get to know you and use this personal connection to gain political allies. It was very interesting to see how both Lada and Radu overlap when it comes to befriending Mehmet and desiring him in different ways. Thankfully, Mehmet is also a complex character who wears many faces including those of a friend, lover, and an ambitious ruler.
  Though the plot moves slowly, it is apparent that White did a lot of research for this book. Attention has been given to the culture and setting of the Ottoman Empire, a period that is rarely seen in historical fiction. Religion, gender roles, sexuality, various display of power and familial duties are woven well into the story.  Much of the story is about Lada and Radu finding a way to survive and thrive in a world where no one cares if they live or die.The pace does pick up with various sword fights, assassination plots, and palace intrigues, but it is a slow build up to this point as White wants you to first understand the world her characters are living in which is brutal, unforgiving, and where might is always right. Readers expecting fantastical elements and a fast read will be disappointed in this one, but those who are looking for a well written historical fiction with a strong female character will find a lot to love in this book. I really look forward to the sequel coming this summer. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and allusions to sex. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Now I Rise by Kiersten White (June 2017), for a similar feel set in a fantasy world try Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst or Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir
Rummanah Aasi

Description: A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.
Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys is an anthology of horror stories written by fourteen popular YA authors. Each author draws inspiration from a mix of literature, film, television, and music to create a new, fresh, and unsettling stories. Like in most cases in which I read a collection of short stories, there are a number of standouts in which I loved and would love to check out some of the writer's other works and there are others that didn't work for me.
 I absolutely loved the Daphne Du Maurier inspired The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma which beautifully captured the gothic horror and creepy men. I also thoroughly enjoyed Megan Shepard's Hide and Seek which is a suspenseful and fast paced story of a girl who is trying to cheat death. Jay Kristoff's alarming tale of online dating gone horribly, horribly wrong in Sleepless was a chilling read. 
 The diverse stories in this anthology is sure to have something for everyone. I would recommend checking it out if you are looking for a quick read or are interested in reading horror or supernatural stories.   

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and disturbing images in most of these stories. There is also some strong language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Monstress Affections by Kelly Link, The Restless Dead edited by Deborah Noyes
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

Review: Reading the first volume of Monstress is much like being in a surreal nightmare that is initially very confusing yet mesmerizing. Things being to clear up the further you read along. In the aftermath of a brutal, terrible war, tension still exists between the humans and the animal-hybrids, Arcanics. Surviving Arcanics are sold as slaves by the Federation of Man and even experimented on by the Cumaea, powerful human witch-nuns who mine the precious life-giving Lilium produced from the bodies of captured Arcanics. I'm still not quite sure what Lilium exactly is but it's pretty close to a bloodlike substance. 
 Our protagonist is Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic teen who has survived the war but at a devastating cost. She is an orphan and has lost one of her arms. Looking for revenge for her mother's death and seeking answers about her past, Maika allows herself to be sold as a slave to infiltrate the Cumaean stronghold in Zamora. Maika is far from a damsel in distress. She is skillful, logical to the extent of being cold and distant yet she is also vulnerable and lost. Maika holds a terrible power that is threatening to consume her and change her into a monster. She is constantly fighting it within herself but she is also isn't afraid to unleash it as she does to escape and free the captured Arcanics, and brutally attack the witch-nuns in Zamora. Maika also steals a fragment of an ancient and powerful mask and murders a Cumaean elder who knows secrets from Maika's past. A running theme throughout the graphic novel is what makes a monster and can anyone escape from the darkness within themselves?
  Now on the run from the Cumaea, the humans, and her own people, Maika must rely on herself and very few allies if she is to discover the secret of why her mother was murdered and, more important, who she is and what awful power she possesses. Monstress blends the genres of horror, steampunk, and epic fantasy seamlessly. The world is complex, harsh, and grim. There are interludes to help fill in the blank for readers. The work is filled with strong and deadly female characters. The artwork is intricate, detailed, and beautiful. It is clear that there is a definite manga influence in the artwork. I'm definitely intrigued by the first volume of this graphic novel series and I look forward to reading more.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This graphic novel is rated M for Mature due to strong, graphic violence, nudity, and strong language. I would recommend this graphic novel to older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Sandman series by Neil Gaiman,  The Wicked and the Divine by Kieron Gillen
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of The Sun Is Also a Star by 

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Publish date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press

 Even though I had some issues with Yoon's debut novel, Everything Everything, I did like her writing style. Her latest book has been getting glowing reviews including one of 2017 National Book Award Finalist for Young Adults. 

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Rummanah Aasi
 While I enjoyed the fairy tale retelling, A Court of Thorns and Roses, I have to admit I felt underwhelmed for majority of the book. I did enjoy the world building and the clever blend of retelling the classic Beauty and the Beast story and faerie folklore, but I couldn't help but feel something was missing and if it was not for the solid last 100 pages or so I would not have bothered picking up the sequel. I'm thrilled to report that the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury, surpassed my expectations and now I can not wait to finish this series! Please be aware that the review of this book does contain spoilers from A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Description: Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.
  Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury reads like a coming of age story. Feyre is still reeling in the months after defeating Amarantha and escaping hellish captivity in Under the Mountain. She has post traumatic syndrome and is drowning in guilt over the prices she paid and unable to escape the feeling that she's trapped. Though her heart is human, Feyre has been transformed into a powerful fey. She is still coming to terms to who she is all the while keeping her nightmares a secret from Tamlin and pretending all is well. Like Feyre, Tamlin is also consumed by fear of failing to protect Feyre and in denial.
   I thought it was very clever of Maas to alter the power balance in Feyre and Tamlin's relationship in this book. In the first book, Feyre is a damsel in distress who sought protection from Tamlin until the very end when she takes a new, active, powerful role. Now in order to prove his masculinity Tamlin overcompensates to the extreme with the 'admirable' intention of protecting Feyre. When Tamlin becomes too constrictive, she is taken by Rhysand, the feared High Lord of the Night Court, with whom she struck a deal and to whom she has been bonded ever since in ways she can't explain.
  I was never a fan of Tamlin, but Rhysand is so much more interesting and complex. Though I'm still  not thrilled of the bargain he forced Feyre into, I actually felt and believed in his and Feyre's chemistry. I really owe that to Maas's characterization of him. In this book we learn more of his backstory and why he and Tamlin have a strenuous relationship. Though Rhysand shows Feyre a new life and tells her that she has powers, he never holds her hand nor babysits her. He gives her space and through their banter and fights, Feyre taps into the strength, survival skills, and drive she forgot she had. While Tamlin acted like she was porcelain, Rhysand let her stumble, fall and get back up again. He has always been honest with her about his selfish (or selfless?) decisions when it comes to saving his Night Court and saving Prythian from the evil King of Hybern. Rhysand and Feyre's relationship didn't feel forced but natural and they acted as equals. Above all else, I did not feel like there was a love triangle in this book at all. In fact Feyre comes to a point where she makes a decision of who she will love and sticks by it. There is no waffling and while there is definitely sexual tension between Rhysand and Feyre, nothing happens until Feyre is one hundred percent certain of how she feels.
  A Court of Mist and Fury is a very large book, clocking over 600 pages, but I never felt bored. Maas broadens her world building and thoroughly examines the Night Court. I was mesmerized by its descriptions, character, and warmth. I don't think I would mind living there. We are also introduced to more political intrigue and wonderful, memorable secondary characters that work along with Rhysand. My favorite was Amren, but I also loved Cassian and Azriel. The Bone Carver and the Weaver both freaked me out but they were also fascinating too. There were a lot of great surprises and twists and turns in this book. Just be aware of the cliffhanger in the end. Once I finished this book, I wanted the next one now. It's going to be a hard, long wait for the series finale.
  The only reason why I gave this book a 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars is because I found the sex scenes a bit jarring and it disrupted the flow of the book. While I definitely understand why they are added and I appreciate that it a sex positive book, as a school librarian it is hard to decide whether or not to recommend this book to every teen, especially with conservative readers. A Court of Mist and Fury does straddle the line between YA and adult romance. Despite this issue, it is a fabulous read and not to be missed, especially if you enjoyed the first book.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and strong violence in the book. There is also strong sexual content, including some graphic sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Daughter of Smoke and Bones series by Laini Taylor, Study series by Maria V. Snyder
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer. At first she thought Florida might be fun -- it is the home of Disney World, after all. But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park. It’s full of . . . old people. Really old people.
   Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors. But the question remains -- why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place? The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer.

Review: Sunny Side Up is a graphic novel that is inspired by the sister and brother Holms' life. Set largely during the summer of 1976, ten year old Sunshine “Sunny” Lewin had been looking forward to spending her summer at the shore, but her parents have decided to ship her off to Florida so she can stay with her "Gramps" at his retirement community. The retirement community is the last place Sunny ever thought of spending her time off, but things improve after she befriends the groundskeeper’s son, comics-obsessed Buzz. The two spend their time doing odd jobs such as finding lost pets for spending money and discussing classic superhero dilemmas particularly about their limits and short comings when it comes to saving the people they love. This simple question leads us to a series of flashbacks that slowly reveal the truth surrounding Sunny's sudden visit to her grandfather. Her teenage brother, who she has always viewed as a superhero, is struggling with substance abuse, and Sunny is convinced that she made the problem worse—a misconception Gramps lovingly corrects.
 Sunny Side Up is not about a discussion of drug abuse, but rather the awkward situation when kids stumble upon or suddenly made aware of a tough topic without any answers or context of the situation from the adults. Sunny's parents don't talk to her about her brother, but she knows something is wrong because she can read their facial features and body language in the wordless panels. You can see how the guilt that Sunny carries with her grows and hangs over her like a cloud until it finally dissipates when Gramps finally sits down and talks to her.
  The illustrations are easy to read and expressive. Straightforward dialogue and clear panels make it easy to follow and read. An author's note at the end of the graphic novel explains the author's and illustrator's motivation for writing Sunny Side Up. This graphic novel would be a good discussion starter when parents need to discuss a serious topic with their child.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are allusions to drug usage though not explicit but enough clues are given to get the point across in the graphic novel. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Ghosts by Raina Telgeimer
Rummanah Aasi

Description: At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Review: Modern Romance is a hilarious and surprisingly insightful exploration on how the concept of dating has evolved throughout the years. Armed with stats and teaming up with noted sociologists, and focus groups, Ansari and team explore the varied dating cultures of Tokyo, Paris, and Buenos Aires. Where some cultures are lax about love, sex, and romance others such as the Southeast Asian culture where arranged marriages are still prominent. I laughed and learned a lot from this book especially when Ansari examines real-time text exchanges between singles in the United States such as the anxiety of awaiting for someone to return your text or being too afraid to picking up the phone and calling someone directly. There is also a closer look at the myriad of dating apps and websites that many people use today that did not exist for many of the older generations. Modern Romance is completely readable with out being dry. Not only does it discuss the history, evolution, and pitfalls of dating, but the book also offers sound advice on how to actually win today's constantly shifting game of love.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is very strong language and frank discussions of sex throughout the book. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: It's Not You by Sara Eckel
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of  Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham.

Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
Publish date: November 29, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Random House

I am a huge fan of Gilmore Girls. In order to prepare for the Gilmore Girl revival on Netflix, I'm currently re-watching the entire series. I've just started season four where Rory starts college. I love Lauren Graham's sense of humor and also enjoyed her debut novel Someday, Someday, Maybe which is about an actress starting her film career.

This book contains some stories from my life: the awkward growing up years, the confusing dating years, the fulfilling working years, and what it was like to be asked to play one of my favorite characters again. You probably think I’m talking about my incredible achievement as Dolly in Hello, Dolly! as a Langley High School junior, a performance my dad called “you’re so much taller than the other kids.” But no! I’m talking about Lorelai Gilmore, who, back in 2008, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again. Also included: tales of living on a houseboat, meeting guys at awards shows, and that time I was asked to be a butt model. A hint: all three made me seasick.
Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to my new feature called Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating our freedom to read. My goal for this feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was challenged/banned. Today I'll be reviewing one of the top 10 books most challenged books in 2015, Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin.

Description: Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

Review: Beyond Magenta is an eye-opening, informative, revealing, and powerful book that must be read, especially in our political climate where transgendered rights are spotlighted. This book is created with an intimate, compassionate and respectful way to tell the stories of six, diverse transgender young people. The author allows the teens to tell their stories verbally and when she has been given permission, allowed to use visual profiles.
  The book has a very much documentary feel to it and the teens never come across as 'subjects' but real people with all aspects of their lives with warts and all. Readers meet transgender teens with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. They hear from teens who identify fully as female or male, teens who identify as neither male nor female, and one teen who is intersex. While the teens tell their story, there are only a few times where the author interjects in italicized sentences to offer clarity whether it is giving context to a point or describing how the stories are told from the teens' facial expressions or tone. Each of these stories confirm our beliefs that there is no way to generalize the transgender experience. The photographs often include the teens before they transition, but it is not emphasized but part of the journey in finding their true identity. Beyond Magenta opens the door on the discussion of gender and sexual identity. While some maybe taken aback by its frankness, I think many readers will benefit from reading and discussing this book.

Rating: 4 stars

Why it was challenged: According to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, Beyond Magenta was challenged for the following reasons: Religious viewpoint, sex education, homosexuality, offensive, and anti-family.

Words of Caution: Sex and genitalia are discussed frankly in the teens' stories but are rarely what matters most. The hormonal changes of the body are also talked about when some of teens that undergo transition. A lot of these stories include parents who are supportive of their child though some take a lot of time to understand what being transgendered means, however there are stories where the teen and his/her/their parents are not supportive or have an active role in his/her/their lives. There is also strong language including homophobic slurs that are taunted at the teens when they were bullied in schools.

If you like this book try: Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill, Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews, and Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings
Rummanah Aasi
Description: At the beginning of the term, Olive Silverlock returned to Gotham Academy a shadow of her former self. But thanks to her new friendships and their Detective Club sleuthing, Olive was finally starting to feel whole again. But now, Olive is seeing ghosts. A spectral, robed figure is haunting the Academy, and haunting Olive in particular, appearing to her and giving sinister instructions. Could this spirit be the key to unlocking the secrets of her family's dark past? Or is Olive simply losing her grip on reality?"

Review: Gotham Academy is a fun mash up of Scooby Doo meets the gothic, gloomy Gotham City. While I didn't like this volume as much as I did the first, mainly because it did not flow very well and felt choppy as there were no logical transitions between the scenes. Maps takes up much of the first half of this volume. Her partnering up with the grumpy and wiser than his years Damian Wayne was fun to witness. I adore Maps, the energetic and adorable girl whose eyes light up when a new mystery surfaces, but she felt like the energizer bunny who bounced off the walls and was just too much for me in this volume. I do hope that we see more of Damian Wayne has he was the yin to Map's peppy yang. 
  The second half of the volume is where the real story begins as Olive learns more about her mother and her past. Olive's story is what keeps me curious about the Gotham Academy series. Olive is your quintessential angsty teen but her story also gives the series some depth by addressing the themes of acceptance and loss. While not a great volume, we do get some answers that moves the story forward. Here's hoping the next volume picks up.

Rating: 3 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
Related Posts with Thumbnails