Rummanah Aasi

Spring Break will start this afternoon for me, but it sure doesn't feel like it outside. The weather is chilly, rainy (with a possibility of snow) , and grey with temperatures in the lower 40s in the Chicagoland area. I really hope it warms up! I am always asked by students and other readers what they should pick and up read for Spring Break so I thought I would make a blog post about it. Below are some of my suggestions of books that I loved for children, young adult, and adult readers. I hope I can find something for everyone!

My Childrens/Middle Grade Picks:

Realistic Fiction:  George by Alex Gino -  George is a book about a transgender fourth-grader who increasingly learns to be herself and to tell others about her secret. Young readers will rejoice in the message of being true to themselves and to be tolerant of others.

Crossover by Kwame Alexander-  A delightful novel in verse book about family and basketball.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead- A book that explores the various forms of love and friendship, particularly female tween friendships in a positive light.

Historical Fiction: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool - Navigating Early is a story about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness, and the power of stories. On its surface, it is a tale of two outcast boys from a boarding school developing a friendship and overcoming loss; however, if you dig deeper you will realize that the book in fact is composed of three stories that beautifully weave together by the last page.

The Evolution of Culpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kennedy- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a delightful book that crosses a wide variety of genres: coming of age, historical fiction, and even feminism.

Fantasy: League of Princes series by Christopher Healy - The first book is called The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom- this is a wonderful, slapstick fantasy series that cleverly uses fractured fairy tales to tell a completely different story.

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands- A nice blend of magic and mystery.

Mystery: Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood- This is a series that has a similar tone to the Lemony Snicket's Unfortunate Events, but with an emphasis on the mystery. The first book is called The Mysterious Howling. I would highly recommend getting the audiobooks as they are fabulous.

Graphic Novels: There are so many great graphic novels out. I would highly recommend checking out Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, and the Olympian series by George O'Connor just to name a few.

Picture Books: Breaking News: Bear Alert by David Biedrzycki, Wait by Antoinette Portis, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, and The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

My YA Picks:

Realistic Fiction: Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli, To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Fantasy: The Young Elites and The Rose Society by Marie Lu, Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Paranormal Romance: Exquisite Captive and Blood Passage by Heather Demetrios

Science Fiction: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, These Broken Stars by Amie Kauffman and Megan Spooner

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: All Fall Down by Ally Carter, I am the Weapon aka Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

Historical Fiction: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters, A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Walker Briggs

Graphic Novels: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Tomboy by Liz Prince, Nana manga series by Ai Yazawa 

My Adult Picks:

Thriller/Suspense/Mystery: Confessions by Kanae Minato, Dinner by Herman Koch, Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Fantasy: Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Mercy Thomspon series by Patricia Briggs, Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Contemporary Literature: Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber

Historical Fiction: Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Graphic Novels: Saga series by Brian K. Vaughan, Fables by Bill Willingham

What are your Spring Break recommendations? 
Rummanah Aasi

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree. The book was first released in the U.K. on May 7th, 2015 but it will be released in the U.S. on April 19, 2016.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge 
Publish date: April 19, 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books

 This is one of those genre bending books. It seems to have a bit of mystery, historical fiction, and paranormal undertones with a dark Victorian setting. I have read numerous glowing reviews for this book so I am really looking forward to it. 

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy—a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree only bears fruit when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder—or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.
Rummanah Aasi
  A number of my trusted blogger friends are huge fans of Sarah Fine's books in particular her young adult series. Since I have been meaning to read a book by this author, I thought I would try Marked, the first book in her adult series. While I enjoyed Marked for the most part, it left me unsatisfied.

Description: In a broken landscape carved by environmental collapse, Boston paramedic Cacia Ferry risks life and limb on the front lines of a fragile and dangerous city. What most don’t know—including her sexy new partner, Eli Margolis—is that while Cacy works to save lives, she has another job ferrying the dead to the Afterlife. Once humans are “Marked” by Fate, the powerful Ferrys are called to escort the vulnerable souls to either eternal bliss or unending fire and pain.
  Unaware of Cacy’s other life, Eli finds himself as mesmerized by his fierce and beautiful partner as he is mistrustful of the influential Ferry clan led by the Charon—who happens to be Cacy’s father. Cacy, in turn, can no longer deny her intense attraction to the mysterious ex-Ranger with a haunted past. But just as their relationship heats up, an apparent hit takes the Charon before his time. Shaken to the core, Cacy pursues the rogue element who has seized the reins of Fate, only to discover that Eli has a devastating secret of his own. Not knowing whom to trust, what will Cacy have to sacrifice to protect Eli—and to make sure humanity’s future is secure?

Review: Marked has a really intriguing premise that uses elements of Greek mythology with a post-apocalyptic Boston setting. There are two factions who are seen to be fighting for human souls. On the one hand you have the ferrys who deliver the human souls to the afterlife. On the other hand there are the Kere who work with the Sisters of Fate and mark people to die. Both the Ferry and the Kere are rewarded by a gold coin after they perform their duties. Unfortunately due to the very weak world building, I had a very difficult time trying to figure out how everything came together. How were the Ferrys and Keres created? Why and how long have they been battling for human souls? What do they do with the rewards they received? What exactly happened to Boston that made it a city submersed in disease infested waters? There came a point in my reading where I had to stop myself from asking questions just so that I could roll with the story, but I was very disappointed as I had heard from the author's fans that her world building skills were very good.
  In addition to the weak world building, I also thought the book had a hard time deciding if it belong to the paranormal romance genre or to urban fantasy. The plot see-sawed between a murder mystery featuring Cacy's family and her romantic relationship with Eli. Neither of these plot points were well developed. The murder mystery is very much in the background, characters involved in the case are briefly mentioned and there is no suspense in finding out the perpetrators contrary to the victim's significance in the story. I was surprised to find that the murder mystery was very much in the background and then brought to light in the last three chapters. Similarly, while it was fun watching Cacy and Eli dance around their desires for each other, I didn't feel that there was any emotional connection between them besides their sizzling physical one. Their romance was insta-love which is a bit jarring since they were together for a very short period of time and towards the end of the book began a bit repetitive as they separated and came back together.
  Overall I liked the different cast of characters that Fine introduced in this series. I just wished they were a bit more complex. There were several opportunities to elaborate on Cacy and Eli's back stories, but it was summarized in a few quick sentences. If the characters were much stronger, I could have enjoyed this book much more and would be more forgiving of its flaws. I am not sure if I will continue this series, but I would try a young adult book by this author as those seem to have better reviews.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and explicit sex scenes in the book. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Claimed (Servants of Fate #2), Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Rummanah Aasi
 Neal Shusterman's Challenger Deep has been on my reading list since it was published. It moved up higher on my priority reads when it won the National Book Award last year. The book does a wonderful job in depicting mental illness in its bare bones without the frills, romanticism, and stigma.

Description: Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

Review: Challenger Deep is a harrowing, haunting, disturbing, but most importantly an enlightening story of Caden Bosch's slow decent into mental illness. Caden is an ordinary teen. He is artistic and comes from a loving home. His routine of school, family, and friends slowly unravels as he becomes paranoid and thinks there is somebody at his high school who wants to kill him. Soon Caden finds himself on a ship with a large crew consisting of a one-eyed captain and a parrot among many others going on a voyage in the deep blue ocean. Caden is disorientated and unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. He feels at once all-powerful in one minute and frighteningly powerless the next. We watch in horror as Caden exhibits erratic behavior and slowly drifts away from friends and family and deeper into his mind, until his parents admit him to a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. 
  Challenger Deep is not an easy read. There is no transition between the dual narratives, which is jarring and off putting at first, but it does expertly allow the reader to feel Caden's own confusion. What I loved about Challenger Deep is that the reader is never distant from Caden. We are with him every step of the way from the start of his illness to his on-going treatment. The hallucinations at first seem completely separate from the story, but they slowly begin to mirror the real-world as all of these characters on Caden's ship eventually match real-world people in the hospital and beyond. I would have much preferred that the connection be made early on the book, but I can understand why the author chose to do this stylistically.
  While I don't have first hand experience with mental illness, thanks to this book I can empathize with those who have. I can not recall any book that has accurately portrayed mental illness without society's preconceived notions or with a magic wand that makes it disappear at the end of the story. Caden is not a specific type prone to mental illness nor does any of the other teens who are seeking treatment like him, which makes his journey all the more scary. Shusterman also makes an important note indicating that mental illness does not have a cure, but it is an on going battle for many in a very personal end-note of the book in which he discusses the book's inspiration from his own son's struggles and losing a very close friend with mental illness. Challenger Deep is a powerful read that will captivate readers and generate discussion. I would highly recommend it.

Curriculum Connection: Psychology/Health

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing scenes. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: Inside Out by Terry Trueman, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork, Calvin by Martine Leavitt,
Rummanah Aasi
  I have several books that I need to finish, but I set those all aside when I got my hands on an advanced copy of Fire Touched, the latest book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, many thanks to Penguin and Netgalley. If you have been thinking of taking a dive into the urban fantasy subgenre or just looking for a fantastic series with wonderful world building and amazing characters be sure to pick up the Mercy Thompson series. You should definitely start at the beginning. Each book in this series gets better and better.

Description: Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head. And when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.
  Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?

Review: An impending conflict with the fae has been hinted at in the last few books in the Mercy Thompson series and in its spinoff series, Alpha and Omega. In Fire Touched we finally see the strife between fae and the rest of the world escalate. The book begins with a heart-pounding, epic battle scene as Mercy and the pack are called in for reinforcement to handle a troll that is wreaking havoc on a bridge and threatening the lives of everyone in its vicinity. The battle scene made me nervous watching favorite characters get injured. After all of the debris settles, a young boy who is fire touched and has been a captive of the fae for many years appears and seeks sanctuary. Mercy stands tall with her unpredictable walking stick, claims the Tri-Cities to be the pack's territory, and gives the boy asylum as long he agrees not to hurt anyone in the pack for 24 hours.
 With this powerful declaration, Mercy has inevitably shifted the politics of her world. As the fae and werewolves fight for dominance (in the case of the fae) and protection of humankind (werewolves), we finally get a better understanding of the various motives of the fae and their desires. I thoroughly enjoyed watching both competing species play their game and move their pieces after much consideration. Mercy's announcement has strong repercussions for her pack too. The pack is still divided in accepting her as their alpha's mate. In a very alpha-like move, Adam sets an ultimatum for his pack in regards to Mercy much to her ire, but I felt the move was very much necessary in order to move the pack beyond the pettiness that we saw in Night Broken.
 The relationship between Mercy and Adam is a perfect balance of both of their strengths and weaknesses. Mercy once again proves why millions of readers are her ardent fans. She is fiercely independent, resilient, brave, and recklessly loyal. In Fire Touched we get to see her vulnerability, particularly her ability to reach out and ask for help, without being a damsel in distress.  I was really pleased how she proved to the pack that she is a leader, not a leader by default, by being assertive and making quick yet important decisions. Like Mercy, Adam retains his position as one of the best book boyfriends ever who strives to listen to Mercy and reigns his desire to be overly protective of her.
  In addition to an already strong cast of main and secondary characters, Briggs continues to increase her world by adding new characters. We are introduced to new characters such as Aiden, the fire touched, the very powerful fae Margaret, and the vampire Thomas Hao. While we learn a good amount of detail about each of them, I am confident that they will become much stronger as the series progresses as Briggs adds characters that add value and purpose to her worlds. I would very much like to see what Bran, Samuel, and Arianna are up to as they continue to be mentioned in the books. I also am curious to see what Gary and Coyote have been up to.
  While the book does not end with a cliffhanger, we are left with lingering questions and wondering when we will meet these wonderful characters that Briggs created again. 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.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, some language, and implied sex scenes which take place off screen. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Others series by Anne Bishop
Rummanah Aasi
 Blood Passage by Heather Demetrios is one of my most anticipated reads for this year. I am happy to report that this book did not disappoint me and it was just as engaging as the first book, Exquisite Captive. I am, however, still disappointed with the publisher's decision to change the cover, which does not resemble the book at all. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of book that I received from HarperTeen.

Description: A jinni who's lost everything. A master with nothing to lose. A revolutionary with everything to gain.

When Nalia arrives in Morocco to fulfill Malek's third and final wish she's not expecting it to be easy. Though Nalia is free from the shackles that once bound her to Malek as his slave, she's in more danger than ever before.

Meanwhile, Malek's past returns with a vengeance as he confronts the darkness within himself, and Raif must decide what's more important: his love for Nalia, or his devotion to the cause of Arjinnan freedom.

Set upon by powerful forces that threaten to break her, Nalia encounters unexpected allies and discovers that her survival depends on the very things she thought made her weak. From the souks of Marrakech to the dunes of the Sahara, The Arabian Nights come to life in this dazzling second installment of the Dark Passage Cycle.

Review: 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. The book opens right where Exquisite Captive left off, an almost free Nalia is forced to complete Malek's, her previous owner, last wish which is leading him to the location of Solomon's sigil, an item that will allow its wearer to rule every jinni on Earth. Once she fulfills this wish, Nalia will be free from Malek's cruel hand. Raif, the Arjinnan revolutionary leader is also interested in finding the sigil in hopes that it will aid him in freeing his people from the iron first of the Ifrit.  
  The book's plot arc is devoted to the Nali and company in search of the Solomon sigil. Of course the mission is not easy, moving from the crowded streets of Morocco to the vastness of the Sahara dessert, caves, and a lost city. Demetrios does a wonderful job in capturing and bringing the Moroccan culture to life from the details of clothes, setting, and the inclusion of Islamic tradition and mythology. It is clear that the author has done her research thoroughly and used it wisely in her book.
  Unlike the previous book which was mostly told from Nalia's point of view, Blood Passage is exclusively told in third person which allows the reader to get inside the heads of the major and secondary characters alike. For example Malek's past history brings a lot to his character arc as well as to the book's plot. We are now able to understand his obsession with power as well as the decisions that he regrettably made. While it didn't change my feelings towards Malek, I was able to understand him and his choices much more. In addition to Malek we also get to hear Zanari, Raif's sister's voice, in particular her inner conflicts of participating in the revolutionary war with her brother and her own personal desires of living her own life.
  Blood Passage also manages to explore familial love along side romantic love in the book that felt natural and real. The various siblings spar with one another, separate based on their personal beliefs and in some cases come back together to a stronger bond. Nali's and Raif's relationship follows a similar path. Though they are separated for quite sometime, their separation is legitimate and makes them question themselves. I appreciated how they took their time and slowly worked out their problems and got back together. I am curious, however, how their relationship will change in the next step toward their freedom in Arjinnna. I would like to note that I didn't have an issue with the romance at all since I never saw a love triangle in the story at all.
 In addition to the various relationships in the book, what I loved about this book (and series thus far) is the slow evolution of Nalia that began with a dire situation of being a slave to now a woman of agency and control. Nalia suffers a lot through this book, emotionally and physically, and I would have supported her if she decided to give up, but she is a real fighter who is always brave, resilient, and has a pure heart. I am very appreciative that Nalia's transformation is of her own doing and she reluctantly becomes a leader that people around her admire despite of the legacy of her jinni clan. I still have a lot of questions as to what will happen next, but I am happy that the book ends at a great place with no cliffhanger.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, violence, disturbing scenes, and scenes of strong sensuality. There is also a fade to black sex scene that is alluded to in the story. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
Rummanah Aasi
 Today I have the pleasure in introducing Leyla Kader Dahm to you. Her latestest book, Annabeth Neverending, is a paranormal romance that is set in Ancient Egypt. I thought it would be fun to ask Leyla the top ten things she learned about Ancient Egypt while she wrote her book.


In my YA romance novel, Annabeth Neverending, Annabeth Prescott discovers that she’s a reincarnated princess from ancient Egypt. The minute I started writing, it became clear that some serious research on the era would be necessary to anchor the paranormal elements in reality.

I wanted the historical components to be as accurate as possible without sounding text-booky. To me, a blend of fact and fiction always makes for the most interesting of reads. At first it was a daunting task, but the ancient Egyptian factoids not only enriched the story, they fascinated me!

1) Ramses the II, also known as Ramses the Great, is considered to have been the most powerful pharaoh of all time. While many purport that he was the pharaoh of the Exodus, no conclusive evidence supporting that claim has come to light. He was responsible, however, for many of the greatest landmarks still standing in Egypt (the temple at Abu Simbel and the hall at Karnak, to name a few).

2) While Nefertari is thought to have been his principal/most prized wife, that didn’t stop Ramses from playing the field. Ramses had a harem of some 200 wives/concubines and sired well over 100 children. He did not mess around. Wait, I mean that he was always messing around!

3) Boundaries weren’t quite the same for the royals. After all, it recently came out that King Tut was most likely breasted by his sister. It doesn’t get much grosser than that. Or does it? After all, incest in the royal house was fairly routine. It’s said that Ramses married his own daughters from his marriage to Isetnophret (I don’t even go there in Annabeth). I mean…ew.

4) The ancient Egyptians thought that dead mice made for a dandy toothache cure, and held the tiny carcasses to trouble areas in their mouths to treat dental pain. I think I would’ve preferred the discomfort!

5) Stick fighting was a popular form of combat that I talk about rather extensively in my book. While it’s no longer a martial art that’s practiced in that region, you can find a stick dance performed during Ramadan called “tahtib,” in which the stick signifies a phallus. Um, okay...(on a side note, a more removed version of the dance—Egyptian cane dancing—is something that I performed back when I was a professional belly dancer!).

6) Beer was a cornerstone of ancient Egypt, as it was a major part of their diet. Rich and poor, young and old alike imbibed it. For the less affluent, most meals consisted of a thick beer and bread combination. Yum? Beer was so important that wages were even paid in the stuff.

7) There’s a lot of controversy about what role slaves played in ancient Egyptian culture. It’s hard to say just what constituted a slave in their society, but there does seem to be a consensus that there were slaves in the royal houses and that these poor individuals were most likely prisoners of war (as with Sethe in Annabeth Neverending).

8) Blue shabti were tiny glazed clay figures buried with the dead so that they’d have manual labor to assist them in the afterlife. One thing can be said for the ancient Egyptians: they always thought ahead!

9) During the mummification process, the ancient Egyptians pulled the brain out through the nasal cavity with the help of a long hook and disposed of it, even though they carefully embalmed other internal organs (ironically, they thought the brain was useless and served no purpose in the afterlife).

10) The ancient Egyptians used mud and crocodile dung for birth control (you can imagine where this was inserted). I think I would’ve taken my chances with the rhythm method!

I hope you find what I learned about ancient Egypt to be as riveting as I did!

Annabeth Neverending

At first, teenager Annabeth Prescott thinks she’s found quite a deal when she talks down the price of an ankh pendant she discovers at a flea market. She soon wonders if the bauble is more than she's bargained for when she faints and glimpses images from a past life in ancient Egypt.

The discovery coincides with another new find: Gabriel, a handsome young man who takes an interest in her. When she meets his twin brother C. J. at a Halloween party, she realizes they look exactly like two boys who figure prominently into her memories.

Does C. J. share the heroic qualities held by his past incarnation Sethe, her bodyguard when she was Princess Ana? Does Gabriel possess the same evil powers he wielded as Kha, the black sorcerer who sought her affection?

Love meets the supernatural in this gripping young adult paranormal romance. Readers with an interest in reincarnation, as well as ancient Egypt, will be drawn to its mystical mixture of history and hesitation as Annabeth sways between the two brothers.

Will her reincarnated soulmate win out? Or will Kha finally find the way to her heart?

Purchase the book at: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

About the Author

Wisconsin native Leyla Kader Dahm popped popcorn and dreamt of a career in show business when working in a movie theater while in high school. The small-town Midwestern girl went another route and studied communications at Carroll College and Cornell University, but still found herself drawn to the big screen when a temp agency placed her in a production and development gig at Miramax/Dimension Films.
   Dahm went on to work as a script consultant for numerous production companies. She appeared in the acclaimed spoken word show Sit ‘N Spin and had her comedy feature spec, Due North, optioned by Michael Levy Enterprises. She sold her pitch, Survival Instinct, to Nickelodeon Original Movies.  
Dahm lives with her husband and children in Los Angeles, where she focuses on writing quality material for families and young adults.
 Find Leyla at her website and on Goodreads.
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I'm eagerly awaiting the release of E.K. Johnson's Exit, Pursued by a Bear. The book will be released on March 15, 2016.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnson 
Publish date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Dutton's Children Books (Penguin)

 This book is being billed as Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare. After reading the book's description, it does seem like a loose retelling of A Winter's Tale. I have already read numerous glowering reviews for this book so I have high expectations for it. 

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.
Rummanah Aasi
 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.

Description: “This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Review: Out of Darkness begins with a prologue set hours after an actual deadly and horrific school explosion in New London, Texas in March 1937 that took the lives of 300 people and then flashes back to the events leading to the explosion. It initially confusing that Perez began her book with the school explosion rather build up to it, however, looking back on the book now, I think she made the right choice in placing the school disaster first and then setting up the characters and building tension in the community of New London. The book is also written in multiple point of views, bouncing from Naomi, her stepfather Henry, Wash, Naomi's half brother Benito, and the ominous, racist voices of the sheep-like herd called the gang. The multiple view points were done well in the book, allowing for the character's arc to grow as well as placing symbolism, metaphors, and foreshadowing in the right spots. The chapters were also short, moving the story at a steady pace and I was soon engrossed in the book.
  Like the written structure of the book, the characters have a wide range of complexity. Naomi, the book's protagonist, I would argue is intentionally one-dimensional. Due to her "dark Mexican" complexion she is objectified racially and sexually by almost ever character with the exception of her African American love interest, Wash, and her half siblings. Similarly, Wash is also limited in his character development and he may come across as a too perfect character, which is why the love story between these two characters is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time because we know their love will and can not last. The heart of the book is their pure love story that counterbalances unhealthy relationships as well as bring some light in this very dark book.
  Unlike Naomi and Wash, Henry is a much more complex and deplorable character. I applaud Perez in allowing us a glimpse into his warped psyche in order to understand his actions and mentality while being emotionally withdrawn from him. Henry believes he has been cursed as people around him tend to die. He deeply feels that someone or something can save him. He turns to religion as he struggles to atone for his sins and bargains with God that he would observe his faith as long as he gets what he wants. At the same time Henry feels because he is white and a man, he is entitled to have authority, control, and have his demands (financially, sexually, societal expectations) met no matter the cost. 
 The book's ending is much more shocking and gut wrenching than the school explosion. After finishing the book two weeks ago, I still feel conflicted about it. I knew before starting this book that there would be no happy ending, but I had no idea it would be this brutal. I'm not sure if you can prepare yourself for it and maybe that was the point. Regardless, Out of Darkness is an outstanding read and it would make a great book club discussion for teens and adults alike.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language including racial slurs and the 'n' word. There is also a scene of molestation of a minor, rape, allusions to masturbation, a small oral sex scene, and strong violence. Recommended for older and mature teens and up.

If you like this book try: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
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