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
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of My Sister Rosa by

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
Publish date: November 15, 2016
Publisher: Soho Teen

 The premise of this book promises for a disturbing psychological thriller. It reminds me a lot of the Jasper Dent series by Barry Lyga except for the ultra-creepy father we have a ten year old sister. If you haven't read the Jasper Dent series, I highly recommend it though it gave me really weird dreams while reading it. I'm hoping for a similar reaction with this one. 

What if the most terrifying person you know is your ten-year-old sister?
Seventeen-year-old Aussie Che Taylor loves his younger sister, Rosa. But he’s also certain that she’s a diagnosable psychopath—clinically, threateningly, dangerously. Recently Rosa has been making trouble, hurting things. Che is the only one who knows; he’s the only one his sister trusts. Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and very good at hiding what she is and the violence she’s capable of.

Their parents, whose business takes the family from place to place, brush off the warning signs as Rosa’s “acting out.” Now that they have moved again—from Bangkok to New York City—their new hometown provides far too many opportunities for Rosa to play her increasingly complex and disturbing games. Alone, Che must balance his desire to protect Rosa from the world with the desperate need to protect the world from her.

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