Rummanah Aasi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rummanah Aasi

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

Rummanah Aasi

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

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

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

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

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies and English

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 stars

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

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