Rummanah Aasi

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

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

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

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

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

Rummanah Aasi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Monstress Affections by Kelly Link, The Restless Dead edited by Deborah Noyes
Related Posts with Thumbnails