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 Midnight Star, the third and final book in the Young Elites series.

The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
Publish date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (subdivision of Penguin Random House)

 For some reason Marie Lu's Legend series didn't click for me, but her Young Elites series surprised me and won me over. In the Young Elites series, we are going on a journey of an anti-heroine. This series is dark, gripping, and full of twists and turns. You can read my review for The Young Elites and The Rose Society

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 that she’s achieved.

Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds when a new danger appears, putting not only Adelina at risk, but every Elite and the very world they live in. In order to save herself and 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.
Rummanah Aasi
  I'm thrilled that there are more and more books being published about mental health. This is a topic that we need to destigmatize and talk freely about, especially when it concerns seeking help, building empathy, and understanding.

Description: Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive.That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had. Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know.

Review: After a failed attempt to commit suicide in her bedroom, Vicky Cruz wakes up in the psychiatric wing of the hospital. Exhausted and nearly catatonic, Vicky goes through the motions asked of her by the quiet but firm Dr. Desai. Vicky knows that if she just stays at the hospital for the mandatory time, she will try again to harm herself so she agrees to stay as long as needed for her own safety and joins a group therapy with other three young people on the ward. All of the teens in the group therapy have some form of mental illness which Vicky learns as we progress through the book.
   Unlike many books that feature teens and suicide, Memory of Light is solely about the recovery process. Vicky takes her time in understanding depression. She has always felt sad though it was exasperated by the loss of her mother. Through her interactions with a supporting doctor and her group therapy which features teens in similar situations and from all walks of life, Vicky evolves from someone who lacks emotions and has a bleak worldview to someone who is warm, strong, and able to fight for her needs. I loved the interactions between Vicky and her domineering father. Vicky's father has very high expectations and adds stress to Vicky's life. Though he means well, he has a very hard time understanding that depression is not an excuse for 'misbehaving' or 'being lazy', but an actual, legitimate disease that needs to be addressed.
  While the book excels on many levels, there are two incidents where HIPPA Privacy laws were violated that took me completely out of the story. I do understand that the reason to break the rules was made as a plot device, however, it is not realistic. Despite this flaw, Memory of Light is an important read because Stork's depiction of depression is not preachy nor romantic, but accurate, heartbreaking, and hopeful.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, allusions to sex, and underage drug use. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Breath by Jackie Kessler, It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Rummanah Aasi
 Noelle Stevenson's graphic novel series, Lumberjanes, is a fast and fun read that highlights female empowerment and friendship. Each volume is filled with humor, adventure, and a nod to a developing romance. I highly recommend picking up this wonderful series for both younger and older readers alike.

Description: Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

Review: Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley, aka. the Lumberjanes, continue their adventures at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types with as much energy, excitement, and wonder as in the first volume of the series. The first volume had bizarre things happening without much explanation, but thankfully this volume clears up those unanswered questions while adding crazed dinosaurs, possessed insects, and competitive Greek deities to the mix. I love how this series manages to blend and balance the fantastical elements to the story with the everyday, slice of life moments of camp where they struggle with first crushes, friendship troubles, and self-doubt. The addition of sibling rivalry between two Greek deities was an added bonus. The Lumberjanes have their own lingo and substitute words for swearing which adds humor and is infectious. The illustrations, like the story and its characters, are also bursting with energy and vivid colors such as the forest greens in outdoor daylight scenes and grays and dark blues of nighttime scenes. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

Description: Trying to take advantage of the first quiet day at camp in a while, Mal and Molly's date takes a bizarre turn with the appearance of the Bear Woman! Back at camp, Jo, April, and Ripley must stay on their toes as they try and earn every badge possible, which ends up being a lot harder than any of them planned.

Review: While there may not be as much as action in this third volume of Lumberjanes, this was still a very enjoyable read. There are two subplots in this volume as Jo, Mal, Ripley, April, and Molly focus on earning badges. We follow the girls in hilarious mishaps as they conceive and execute a plan that will guarantee them to a badge. Meanwhile, Mal and Molly are looking for some quiet time to see where their potential romantic relationship will take them, but they are soon transported to a dangerous, dinosaur-infested alternate universe. The romance between Mal and Molly is very chaste and sweet. Even though there isn't a lot of story in this volume, the humor, adventure, and enthusiasm carries and holds the reader's attention through the volume.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like these books try: Lumberjanes Vol. 4 by Noelle Stevenson, Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley, Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson, Foiled by Jane Yolen
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Flight attendant Summer Benson lives by two rules: Don’t stay with the same man for too long and never stay in one place. She’s about to break rule number one by considering accepting her boyfriend’s proposal—then disaster strikes and her world is shattered in an instant.

Summer heads to Black Dog Bay, where the locals welcome her. Even Hattie Huntington, the town’s oldest, richest, and meanest resident, likes her enough to give her a job. Then there’s Dutch Jansen, the rugged, stoic mayor, who’s the opposite of her type. She probably shouldn't be kissing him. She definitely shouldn't be falling in love.

After a lifetime of globe-trotting, Summer has finally found a home. But Hattie has old scores to settle and a hidden agenda for her newest employee. Summer finds herself faced with an impossible choice: Leave Black Dog Bay behind forever, or stay with the ones she loves and cost them everything.

Review: The Common Cure for Breakup is a light, breezy, beach read. I didn't have any expectations for this book except for it to be entertaining and it was for the most part in a Hallmark movie kind of way. Summer is the heroine of this whimsical story. She is a beautiful girl whose charm is loved by all even by the most grumpy character.
  We meet Summer as a flight attendant who is known for wearing stilettos. She has been going out with the incredibly famous and gorgeous pilot. Summer does not do serious relationships well and she starts to freak out when she hears that her boyfriend is about to propose. Before the actual proposal, the plane crashes and she is later dumped by her boyfriend. I had a really hard time buying into Summer's heart break. The relationship was doomed and it seemed as if the breakup would be okay if she was the dumper and not the dumpee. Summer escapes from reality to a resort called Black Dog Bay which is known as heartbreak central. People come here to get over a heartache and a fresh start. At Black Dog Bay, Summer finds love, friends, and a second chance.
 I liked Summer at first. She is witty and funny, but her novelty soon wore off and she became annoying. She didn't act her age of a woman who was in her thirty's but more like a popular teenager. Though I liked the chemistry between Summer and Dutch (who is almost a mirror of Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls minus the diner), their relationship moved too quickly. For a guy who hasn't dated or been in a relationship for ten years, he is sudden he's interested in Summer, and is proposing marriage to her within weeks of knowing her. 
 The rest of the book focused on how Summer saves the resort from a bitter, elderly woman named Hattie who has been holding a grudge for several years. There are fun secondary characters who are unfortunately one dimensional and none of them stood out to me. There are moments where things get serious such as showing a peek into Summer's past and explaining why she is so flighty about commitment, but other than that everything was just peachy keen. I actually wanted to know more about the plane crash. What happened to the passengers? Did anyone die?
 If you are looking for a book to relax and turn off your brain for a little while, then check out The Common Cure for Breakup. You will be entertained for a few hours and after a little while you will forget about it.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

Review: Raymie Clarke has a plan to reunite her broken family. Her father has run off with a dental hygienist without a word, but Raymie is certain that if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, her father will see her picture in the newspaper and return. With this goal in mind, she begins baton-twirling classes with two other girls, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Both Louisiana and Beverly have their own reasons for entering the competition. Louisiana needs the prize money, and Beverly wants to sabotage the event. 
  I really appreciated the female friendship that was formed by these three very different girls. All three have lost people close to them, and each girl deals with her loss in different ways. With each small adventure, whether it's finding a lost book or rescuing a beloved pet, their friendship grows into an undeniable bond. Though Raymie Nightingale is a quick read with its short, precisely crafted chapters, there is so much heart and emotions demonstrated by her unique characters. Raymie is memorable. She is observant, thoughtful, and sensitive as she struggles to make sense of the world around her. My heart broke for her many times throughout the book. 
 I appreciated how the story was told in simple, straightforward way without the author sacrificing and shying away from exploring complex themes which is very tricky especially if you are writing for younger readers. Expect this to be discussed and short-listed on several award lists.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Raymie's father has an affair and leaves her family. There are also allusions to physical abuse. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers ad up.

If you like this book try: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor,
Rummanah Aasi
 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 first 5 star read of 2016.

Description: There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.
Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button. But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

Review: The writing style of We Are the Ants is very reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five. While the book is categorized as science fiction, it is mostly science fiction in the allegorical sense. Henry Denton is a depressed, nihilistic teen who is having an existential crisis. He has been abducted by aliens and have been told by them that the world will end. Strangely, they give Henry a red button that he can press to save the world but is the world and humanity worthy enough to be saved? From Henry's point of view, humans are not the center of the world, we are actually as significant as the little ants crawling on the ground.
  All throughout the book Henry asks the same question over and over again: if you were given the chance to save the world, would you take it and why? For Henry, the answer is not an easy one. His life is in tatters in a town called Calypso where the flaws of the characters tether them down and prevent them from growing much like Odysseus and Calypso from Homer's epic The Odyssey. Henry's first love and boyfriend, Jessie, has committed suicide. His father left his home and some point to Henry's 'abductions' as a reason, his chain smoking, alcoholic mother is struggling to make ends meet while taking care of his dementia ridden grandmother. His older brother and fiance are expecting a child though neither of them are adults or capable of supporting themselves. On top of all this, Henry is bullied and used as a play toy for the closeted gay bully.
  It is hard to be Henry and be optimistic when there is so much negativity and sadness revolving around him. Henry blames himself for Jesse's death and further drives the nail in his self loathing coffin. I liked how Hutchinson uses Jesse as a symbol of Henry's self-worth because Jesse is the only person who made Henry feel loved and accept despite his quirks. Jesse was Henry's safety net, but when he is tragically ripped away due to Jesse's own mental health issues he helplessly watch Henry go in a similar downward spiral until he meets the charismatic Diego who shows up in town.
 Like Henry, Diego is also dealing with his own personal demons, which Hutchinson sprinkles throughout the story. Instead of turning to aliens to help him sort out the meaning of life, Diego uses art to express himself. I really appreciated that the book focuses on the friendship and connection between Henry and Diego while leaving the possibility of a romantic relationship open. Diego and Henry do not solve each others issues miraculously because they find each other, but they do form a supportive network that is immensely important. There is also Audrey, a mutual friend of Jesse and Henry, who gives us a more realistic account of Jesse instead of Henry's romanticized view of his boyfriend. Ultimately, we are all on the edge of our seats wondering if Henry does really have the freedom of choice he thinks he has or will push the button to save the world?
  We Are the Ants is an excellent novel that is much needed in our world that often seems uncaring and meaningless. Each character is complex, necessary, and most importantly true to life. There are both light and dark moments in the book much like real life. The novel is never didactic and perfect for readers who love character driven stories and it would make a fantastic book club discussion.

Some favorite quotes:

“Depression isn't a war you win. It's a battle you fight every day. You never stop, never get to rest.”
“We may not get to choose how we die, but we can chose how we live. The universe may forget us, but it doesn't matter. Because we are the ants, and we'll keep marching on.”
“Dreams are hopeful because they exist as pure possibility. Unlike memories, which are fossils, long dead and buried deep.” 
“We're not words, Henry, we're people.
Words are how others define us, but we can define ourselves any way we choose.” 
Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book, drug use and underage drinking, allusions to sex, and scenes of bullying. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday this pain will be useful to you by Peter Cameron, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, and for similar writing style definitely check out Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.

Review: Honor Girl is a poignant graphic memoir that explores first love, self discovery, and identity. Thrash zeroes in a pivotal bittersweet summer that changed her outlook on life. At age 15, Maggie returned to Camp Bellflower for Girls, a conservative Christian camp located in Kentucky that she'd been attending for years. Following traditions including Civil War re-enactments is expected and required. Maggie has aspired to be named Honor Girl, an award given each year to the girl who exemplified the camp's spirit, but this year is very different. Her normal fun-filled, carefree world is slowly shifting and becoming constrictive especially when she is being drawn to Erin, an older counselor. Now Maggie is focusing her attention to forging and expressing her own identity.
   The illustrations for Honor Girl are deceptively subdued and ordinary yet raw and have a sketchbook feeling to them. We see Maggie go through every day, slice-of-life moments such as handling conflicts with mean girls, gossip and rumors as well as confiding in confidants. These banal moments contain deeper meaning. Thrash effortlessly conveys the awkwardness of coming into one's own. The tone of the mercurial teen is spot-on, morphing from funny and quirky to quiet and contemplative especially when a romantic, chaste relationship is budding between Maggie and Erin. There are light moments that feature pop culture such as Maggie's unabashed love for the Backstreet Boys (who I also loved as a teen) along with darker historical references such as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which the camp abides. Maggie's reluctance to come out at camp rings true though it made me feel so sad that she could not be open about her romance like the other campers. Readers regardless of their own sexual identity will relate to the awkwardness and uncertainty of first love in Maggie's memoir. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and some crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Long Red Hair by Meags Fitzgerald
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of Magic Binds, the ninth book in the Kate Daniels series.

Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews
Publish date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Ace

The Kate Daniels series is one my favorite urban fantasy series. It has a great combination of wonderful characters, a complex world, humor, romance, and fantasy. If you haven't read this series yet you are missing out! 

Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules.
Rummanah Aasi
  I absolutely adore G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel graphic novel series. While the series may not be of the award winning quality of comics such as Alan Moore's Watchmen or Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, it is undoubtedly revolutionary. In Wilson's re-imaging of the famous female heroine, Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani, Muslim teen, which is revolutionary especially when our media only show oppressed Pakistani women. Ms. Marvel refreshingly blends cultural identity, religion, and the normal hijinks of a superhero.

Description: Who is the Inventor, and what does he want with the all-new Ms. Marvel and all her friends? Maybe Wolverine can help! If Kamala can stop fan-girling out about meeting her favorite super hero, that is. Then, Kamala crosses paths with Inhumanity -- by meeting the royal dog, Lockjaw! But why is Lockjaw really with Kamala? As Ms. Marvel discovers more about her past, the Inventor continues to threaten her future. Kamala bands together with some unlikely heroes to stop the maniacal villain before he does real damage, but has she taken on more than she can handle? And how much longer can Ms. Marvel's life take over Kamala Khan's? Kamala Khan continues to prove why she's the best (and most adorable) new super hero there is!

Review: In the second volume of Ms. Marvel, Kamala is still adjusting to her new role as a superhero. She is not quite comfortable with her powers, but she is trying. She is also trying to figure out her identity from her familial obligations of being a daughter, her obligations to her faith, and to her responsibilities of as a superhero. I love the inclusion of Kamala's traditional Pakistani family and Wilson not shying away from including religion in the graphic novel such as showing Kamala going to the mosque and asking her imam for guidance. These depictions may not seem like a big deal for me, a reader that shares these similarities with the protagonist, but those who are unfamiliar with the religion and culture it is a striking contrast of what they see in media. This banality is what I think makes the Ms. Marvel series powerful and necessary.
  Along with the character development of Kamala, we are treated with the special appearance of Wolverine and their shared adventure, which was a lot of fun to read. Wolverine knows a thing or two about being an outsider and gives Kamala reassurance that she will figure everything out. It was really cute seeing Kamala become a fangirl. I also adored Kamala's helper, a gigantic bull dog.
 This volume wraps up with Kamala saving the day from a villain called the Inventor, who is sucking the youth out of the teens and giving their life energy to the older generations, which is the graphic novel's weakest point. The villain is just not menacing enough and the ending does take a little dive into cheesy and preaching area, but it didn't deem my enjoyment when reading the graphic novel.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

Description: Love is in the air in Jersey City as Valentine’s Day arrives! Kamala Khan may not be allowed to go to the school dance, but Ms. Marvel is! Well sort of--by crashing it in an attempt to capture Asgard’s most annoying trickster! Yup, it’s a special Valentine’s Day story featuring Marvel’s favorite charlatan, Loki! And when a mysterious stranger arrives in Jersey City, Ms. Marvel must deal with...a crush! Because this new kid is really, really cute. What are these feelings, Kamala Khan? Prepare for drama! Intrigue! Romance! Suspense! Punching things! All this and more! The fan-favorite, critically acclaimed, amazing new series continues as Kamala Khan proves why she’s the best (and most adorable) new super hero there is! Plus, see what happens when S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jemma Simmons goes undercover at Kamala’s school!

Review: In the third volume of Ms. Marvel, Kamala is diving into the trouble waters of romance in the graphic novel's Valentine's Day theme. Bruno, Kamala’s buddy who works in the local store, is pining for Kamala but he can't seem to get out of the friend-zone. While I ship Bruno and Kamala together, there are a lot of obtacles in their way such as culture, race, and religion. I am really curious how Wilson will address these issues is she does decide to go this route. It is clear that Kamala is expected to marry someone Pakistani and then she is actually swept off her feet by a seemingly perfect Kamran who not only meets her parents' expectations but also match in Kamala's interests too. While the romance is cute, it was pretty easy to see that Kamran was just too perfect and when his real motives are revealed I wasn't too surprised. I was actually more interested to see how this romance will further develop Kamala's identity. My favorite part of the graphic novel is actually the introduction of Loki, who in my opinion stole the show. I really wanted to him to stay longer than his brief stint.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

Description: From the moment Kamala put on her costume, she's been challenged. But nothing has prepared her for this: the last days of the Marvel Universe. Lucky she's got the help of Carol "Captain Marvel" Danvers! Between teaming up with her personal hero to rescue her brother and trying to keep her city from falling into an all-out frenzy, Kamala has barely had time to come to terms with the fact that the world is literally collapsing around her. But the truth will catch up to her, and soon. When the world is about to end, do you still keep fighting? Kamala knows the answer. Let's do this, Jersey City.

Review: Compared to the first three volumes of Ms. Marvel, the fourth volume is much darker and serious in tone. Kamala is dealing with heartbreak, but she's got bigger problems when she sees New Jersey come under attack by a foreign intruder and everyone running for the hills. Kamala's self doubt is stronger than ever, but luckily Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel steps in as Kamala's mentor. I don't know much about Carol Danvers, but it was really fun having two female superheroes kick butt.
 There are lot of new surprises in this volume in regards to the different relationship dynamics. I won't go into details because of spoilers, but one of them took me by surprise and I'm really curious to see what happens next. Like the previous volumes, there is some crossover with the Marvel characters, which I'm not a big fan of because they take me completely out of Kamala's story.

Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution:There is some minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

If you like these books try: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Distraught that her academic career has stalled, Alba is walking through her hometown of Cambridge, England, when she finds herself in front of a house she’s never seen before, 11 Hope Street. A beautiful older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has ninety-nine nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.

She soon discovers that this is no ordinary house. Past residents have included George Eliot and Beatrix Potter, who, after receiving the assistance they needed, hung around to help newcomers—literally, in talking portraits on the wall. As she escapes into this new world, Alba begins a journey that will heal her wounds—and maybe even save her life.

Review: If you are in the mood for an uplifting read and don't mind delving into the magical realism genre then check out The House at the End of Hope Street. I really like the premise of the book in which a ] house at the end of Hope Street has served women in their time of need for many generations. Its magical walls have protected them and given them what they needed to heal emotionally and physically. There are many characters featured in this book, however, Alba's story is what held my attention the most.
  Alba finds herself on the doorstep of the house, her future crushed and with nowhere else to go, she receives a warm welcome and the usual 99 days to stay and to find a way to get back on her feet. Surrounded by the house’s comforting presence, and with help from such famous past residents as Virginia Woolf and Florence Nightingale, who speak to her from their wall portraits, Alba slowly begins to recover. Her journey of self-discovery is intertwined with those of other women staying at the house, and together their stories weave a beautiful narrative of redemption and hope.
  The pacing of the book is quite slow, but the author's great writing and engaging characters kept me reading when normally I would have dropped the book. Despite its whimsical atmosphere, there are dark topics such as loss and abuse are featured in the story but don't overwhelm its hopeful outlook.  Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable read and I would like to try another book by this author.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, allusion to abuse, and sexual situations. Recommended for adults.

If you like this book try: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

Review: Lily and Dunkin is a heartwarming story about two marginalized tweens. The story is told in alternating chapters between Lily and Dunkin. Lily's story is the focus for the first half of the book. We learn that she was born biologically as a boy, but identifies as a girl. Only Lily's family knows of her real identity though she still appears as a boy in school. Lily struggles with wanting to be true to herself while also being afraid how other people would react to her especially since she is already being bullied and called homophobic slurs by some of the boys on the school basketball team who she dubs as the Neanderthals. With the encouragement of Dare, her sister, and her mother, Lily slowly becomes comfortable in her own skin and expressing her true identity in small steps such as wearing nail polish to school. Readers can easily relate to Lily's internal struggle of being true to herself as well as gaining self-confidence and self-love. The author does point out some of the difficulties of Lily's father accepting her and the financial burden of getting hormonal drugs. I really liked Lily and though at times she did seem a little too perfect, I loved her optimism and her strength. 
 Along with Lily's journey of self-discovery and empowerment, there is her new friend Norbert, whom she has nicknamed Dunkin (chosen for his obsession for Dunkin Donuts). Dunkin also has a secret. He and his mother moved to Florida since the passing of his father. Dunkin clearly suffers from a mental illness, which we later find out that he is bipolar. Unlike Lily, Dunkin's journey is a lot subtle, builds up slowly, and is the focus of the second hand of the book. We watch him and feel his anxiety of starting a new school and not wanting to think of his father. Dunkin also has to deal with peer pressure of sitting and being friends with the popular basketball players who bully Lily and Dare. Though he knows bullying is wrong, he is much more afraid of being alone and he wants to be popular in school. Dunkin's popularity is interestingly not because of something he does, but simply because he is very tall and the basketball players at his school assume he is a great basketball player. Ironically, Dunkin is not. To ensure he has the energy to play, Dunkin goes off his meds. Both Lily and Dunkin's story converge at the end as they both realize how they are ostracized by their classmates, but they seek companionship with each other.
  The only thing that really bothered me in this book is that the bullying Lily endured always happened at school. I was disappointed to see that there were no adult supervisors were around when the bullying occurred and that Lily did not speak up about bullying with her parents. Overall, I did enjoy Lily and Dunkin and I think it would be great book discussion for middle schoolers. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying and the inclusion of homophobic slurs. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: George by Alex Gino, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks

Rummanah Aasi
 The Star-Touched Queen has been featured on several blogs for quite some time, generating a lot of buzz, hype, and very high expectations. I was very much looking forward to this standalone fantasy that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology, but sadly the book failed to meet my expectations.

Description: Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire.

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

Review: The Star-touched Queen has a great premise. The author has a very rich, descriptive writing style that is mesmerizing to the point of distraction, but the story's Achille's heel is its poor execution. The world building is hazy and weak. For example, many readers have commented that the story is a retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth, which would be incorrect as the Star-Touched Queen is very much influenced by a number of different Indian mythologies. This confusion is a telling mistake of how the author fails to set up and distinguish her different realms though we are taken to the Otherworld and the Underworld. Sprinkling Hindi words and detailed descriptions of clothing and jewelry does not count as efficient world building. 
  Though I liked the overall arching story of Maya, a young princess who lives in scorn because of the horoscope that decrees she will marry "death and destruction", there is too much packed into her story with hints of a former life, dormant magical abilities, love, betrayal, and redemption. The plot felt rushed and meandering, especially in the second half of the book. 
 Maya jumps from one place to the next with the author telling her story rather than showing it. As a result, I didn't really get to know Maya nor did I get the chance to care for her. The mythologies were so jumbled together that I really think this book would have been much better if there were more pages to spread the story out. There is a romance in the story, but it felt underdeveloped and inauthentic. 
 I would have loved to go on a journey to power and self-affirmation with Maya instead of being told how much she had changed. Character development is my favorite part of reading a book, but I was sad to see none of the characters fully fleshed out. While there is a companion novel coming out soon featuring a secondary character, I'm still not sure if I will pick it up anytime soon. The author has some great ideas, but she definitely needs to work on her craft and sharpen her writing skills more. 

Rating: This is a hard one to rate somewhere between 2 to 3 stars.

Words of Caution: There is strong violence that takes place mostly off the page, some language, and crude humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Wrath and the Dawn series by Renee Ahdieh, The Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
Rummanah Aasi
 I took a little break from reading manga last year. With the exception of reading the Fruits Basket manga series in bits and spurts, I didn't pick up any other series. I just wasn't excited about starting a new series so I turned my focus to graphic novels instead. This summer, however, I did want to return to manga and decided to take a break from the shoujo genre and go a different route so I picked up the No. 6 manga series. No. 6 is actually an adaptation based on the novel series of the same title and there is also an anime too that is available on Hulu. The series is complete with only nine volumes. If you enjoy action, science fiction/dystopia, and a little hint of romance, I would highly suggest picking up this series.

Description: For Shion, an elite student in the technologically sophisticated city No. 6, life is carefully choreographed. School, study, and the occasional visit with his friend and classmate Safu. One fateful day, however, he takes a misstep, sheltering an injured boy his age from a typhoon. Known only as Rat, this boy is a VC – a fugitive living outside the computerized tapestry of city control – and helping him will throw Shion’s life into chaos and start him down a path to discovering the appalling secrets behind the superficial perfection of No. 6.

Review: No. 6 follows the popular tropes of a dystopian novel. A society was devasted by a catastrophic disaster leaving nothing but rubble behind. With the vow and intention of preventing that disaster from happening again, a core group of people developed six societies to create six utopians. Eventually, over a period of time five societies were destroyed leaving No. 6 still standing. The world building is pretty standard in the manga series, but I did like that we are given small clues that something was amiss in No. 6 such as parasitic bugs start to appear and people infected by these bugs start to age rapidly and die. I also liked how the manga series kept you guessing as to what was the government's intention and why they would stealthily sneak up on its citizens when anyone began questioning No. 6.
  The main reason why you should pick up this manga series is because of its rich, complex characters and their relationships with one another. Our main character Shion has been born and raised in No. 6. He has the privilege of being well educated and affluent. He at first comes across as a day dreamer who is always wondering what lies beyond No. 6. It is not until Shion meets his complete opposite Rat, a poor boy,  and a criminal on the run who knows the dark truths about No. 6. Shion and Rat are drawn to one another yet have very different viewpoints. Shion is often called stupid, naive, and soft by Rat because he always manages to see the good in people and view things positively. In contrast, Rat is very rough around the edges, mistrusting, and manipulative all due to his upbringing and surviving on the streets. While Rat constantly belittles Shion, he secretly admires Shion's compassion and empathy. The relationship between Shion and Rat changes and morphs throughout the manga series. While there are subtle hints of romance between the two characters, I think their relationship can't really be labeled.
  In addition to Shion and Rat, there are other strong secondary characters that also have a prominent role in the story such as Dogkeeper, Shion's best friend Safu and his mother Karan, and the ex-journalist Rikiga. Each of these characters is influenced by Shion and Rat. It was fun to see how each of these characters viewed Shion and Rat throughout the series especially when they were tasked with helping to bring down No. 6. Since the manga is an adaptation of novels, the series did not go into more details as I would have liked. I wanted to know more about Shion's mother especially because she knew the founding members of No. 6. as well as taken a closer look at the juxtaposition between nature and technology which is a strong theme in the manga series. Overall, I would recommend reading No. 6 as there is a lot to discover and discuss. As of the moment, the No. 6 novels are not translated in English but I do hope they will be in the future as I would definitely pick it up.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, crude humor, and strong violence (especially in the later volumes). Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Alive: The Final Evolution series by Tadashi Kawashima, Afterschool Charisma by Kumiko Suekane
Related Posts with Thumbnails