Rummanah Aasi

  I will be taking a blogging break for the next few days while I attend the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. I've finalized my schedule and tried to fit in as much as I could! I'm excited to attend awesome programs, learn new skills that I can bring to my school, meet authors, and so much more. The blog will be back to schedule after the July 4th holiday. If you are in the U.S., have a wonderful and safe July 4th!
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.      
  At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.
   After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not.

Review: Lilian Girvan is a young mother of two young girls and a widow who saw her husband die in a car crash not far from their home. This sentence alone might deter readers from picking up Waxman’s debut novel, but The Garden of Small Beginnings is not as sad and depressing as it sounds but actually full of laugh out loud, wry humor and an optimistic viewpoint of  how there is plenty of great things in life after the horrible, crappy, sucky moments pass. Yes, it is a story of grieving, but also about living life again.
 After Lilian lost her husband and sought help, she is back on her feet making her living as an illustrator and picking up after her adorable daughters. While she does have set backs and flashes of her loss, she does what she can to move forward along with the help of her devoted and spunky sister Rachel. What Lilian is adamant is not wanting to start a new relationship and feels she is not ready, but fate has other things in store for her.
 When Lilian's company is closing Lilian’s department, leaving her with one final assignment: to illustrate a series of vegetable gardening books for Bloem Company, obliging her to attend a six-week Saturday morning gardening class taught by Edward Bloem. Without her realizing it the Garden Club changes Lilian and it's my favorite part of the book. The group consists of diverse people from a variety of ages and backgrounds. Over their initial misunderstandings they quickly bond over the pleasure of planting seeds and the hope this inspires. And a tingle of interest begins between Lilian and Edward, which of course I wanted more of but I understood that Lilian needed to take baby steps before opening her heart. Though the plot is straightforward its characters brings it to life especially Lilian's precocious daughters who steal the show for me time and again.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene in a strip club. Due to mature themes I would recommend this to adults only.

If you like this book try: The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate, Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

Rummanah Aasi

Description: In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an enchanting adventure story woven with various Chinese folklore and mythology. Living in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain, Minli and her parents spend their days working in the rice fields, barely growing enough to feed themselves. Every night, Minli's father tells her stories about the Jade Dragon that keeps the mountain bare, the greedy and mean Magistrate Tiger, and the Old Man of the Moon who holds everyone's destiny. Minli's mother doesn't approve father telling stories and feels frustrated by their lack of food and needs.
  Determined to change her family's fortune, plucky Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon. Along the way, Minli makes new friends and meets magical beings including a flightless dragon and an orphan. Minli is not only curious but she also proves to be resourceful when she tricks a group of greedy monkeys and gets help from a king.
  Reading Where the Moon Meets the Moon is much like sitting around a fire and being told a story by a storyteller. It is very easy to get swept away in its pages. Everything seems to fade away except for Minli's quest and the various tales interwoven with Minli's quest as they are told by her father and by those she meets on the way. Readers who enjoy a fantasy with a diverse setting and characters along with a strong female character shouldn't miss Where the Moon Meets the Moon.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin, Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came. Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

  Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

Review: Words in Deep Blue is a realistic look at loss, grief, love, and the importance of words. Told in alternative points of view and packed with emotions, each of the characters go on a journey from hopelessness to second chances of living again. Rachel Sweetie's world changed forever the day her brother Cal drowned. Since his death, Rachel has failed to graduate from school and alienated most of her friends. She has become a zombie, feeling numb and unable to move on. Rachel's family seems to think returning to live with her aunt in their old hometown will help. She's up for the change of scenery, if only it didn't mean seeing her ex-best friend Henry. Before moving, Rachel mustered up her courage, became vulnerable and confessed she loved Henry in a love letter that she left in his family's bookstore. Henry never responded.
  Like Rachel, Henry is also dealing with a loss of his own. His girlfriend suddenly dumps him without any explanations and his refuge and his parents bookstore, Howling Books, may have to be sold due to abysmal sales.
 As a bibliophile myself it didn't take me long to get wrapped in this book. I liked Rachel right away. With moving back home, she is given another chance to live her life again. I enjoyed watching her grow as she accepts her failures and finally embraces her grief. I appreciated that the author didn't reduce her character to be Henry-centered. I also enjoyed how organic and authentic her friendship and later romance with Henry felt.
  I had a harder time liking Henry. Henry reminded me of John Cusack in Say Anything. I loved that he is a reader and a dreamer. What annoyed me most about him was his tunnel vision in getting his girlfriend back, a person that everyone can see is not good for him. There were many times I wanted to shake him and hit him upside the head to show him that Rachel is the one he needs. It's so obvious to everyone else but him. I did however love Henry's sister George who is rough on the outer edges but soft at heart. I loved watching her come out of her shell. She too has her  own journey in the book that broke my heart and eventually wove my broken pieces back together.
  I absolutely loved the setting of Howling Books. I wished there was a bookstore such as that near me. I would never leave. The bookstore also has a Letter Library in which customers communicate with one another by writing in and marking up a select set of books and by leaving letters in between the pages. I liked how these letters varying from funny, touching, and sad were interspersed throughout the book. Though the book doesn't end with a nicely tied bow and I would have liked a bit more of a resolution with some of the plot threads, it does make the story realistic. Words in Deep Blue is a love story, your traditional romance but also a love story to the written word.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try:

Rummanah Aasi

Description: On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one, Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny?

Review: I have heard great things about the manga series Orange for quite some time. I saw friends read it and enjoyed it. After it appeared on the Goodreads Choice for graphic novels and on the ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens I decided to pick it up. The series is complete in two omnibus volumes. Once I started the manga, I had a hard time putting it down.
 The premise of the manga series is not completely unique. Our main character Naho receives a letter from her future self warning her to look after a boy named Kakeru who will soon join her class. Ten years from now Kakeru will commit suicide and Naho and her group of friends can avoid this tragedy if they work together and change their choices. Though I had to suspend my disbelief and overlook the confusing science explanation of how the letter works, the characters and their friendship is what drew me into this story.
  Orange features a great group of friends that I have seen in manga. They show their unconditional love and support to each other without any strings attached. You won't find petty fights, angst or betrayal among these group of friends. They open their arms to Kakeru who is quiet and withdrawn on his first day and envelop him with their warmth without any questions asked. The group of friends are made up of varied personalities: Naho is shy, very sweet, and maternal. Takako is the outspoken protector of the group who first appears intimidating but she defends her friends and comes to their rescue in confrontations. Azusa is bubbly, optimistic and full of enthusiasm. Saku is the "serious" one but a manga nerd and totally has something for Azusa but denies it. Hiroto is the leader of the group, star soccer player, and my favorite member of all who is completely selfless throughout the entire series. Each member of the group affect Kakeru differently and they are very different from his old group of friends at his old school.
 Kakeru's past is slowly unveiled through the future letters and we really hear his voice in the second volume. I appreciated that the author did not shy away from talking about tough mental health issues such as depression, suicide, and guilt in the manga. I would have liked to see more of a discussion particularly of seeking help in the manga. While there is a small undercurrent of romance in the series, the main focus was helping Kakeru. Orange ends on a hopeful note, but I was still left wanting more. I would have liked an epilogue to see what happened to all of the characters. I would highly recommend reading this manga series for its message of being kind and supportive to everyone because you don't know what worries and hardships they carry.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the manga series and mention of suicide.

If you like this book try: Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara, We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Silent Voice series by Yoshitoki Ooima
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 books, one adult and one YA: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Publish date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Penguin

I really enjoyed the author's debut novel Everything I Never Told You and I'm looking forward to her new book. 

    In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
    Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
   When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little & Lion by Cath Crowley
Publish Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown

 I like how this book tackles both mental health issues and features diverse characters. 

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London's infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class.
   At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens' panic reached a fever pitch. Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders, and the crimes would expose what a newspaper described as "the most extensive and profound scandal ever known in Austin." And yes, when Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city.

Review: From time to time I like to dip into true crime stories although there are times when I will have difficulty sleeping after finishing them. The premise of The Midnight Assassin pulled me in quickly and it reminded me much of Erik Larson's blockbuster title The Devil in the White City which is soon to be a movie. The United States had its first serial killer in the 1880s in Austin, Texas which predates the Jack the Ripper killings in 1888 in London.
  There is a lot of unknown information about the Midnight Assassin which heightens the suspense, hysteria, and paranoia surrounding the perpetrator. Sometimes terrorizing without resorting to violence and sometimes brutally murdering the women with an ax, the culprit was never found. The women that were first attacked where the help of predominate wealthy families and so the authorities sought and tried black men, but all were able to provide their alibis and prove their innocence. Next the murderer went after notable socialites, but nothing but their family's dirty secrets were revealed. Suddenly the attacks stopped as just they abruptly started, and the city eventually got over their fears and moved on. Since the killings happened so close to those of the Ripper's many thought the killer moved to London, targeting prostitutes.
  The author does well in theorizing what may happened and subtly introduces it in such a way that it seems almost obvious that the killer has been pinpointed, but ultimately, there is no real resolution, which will annoy some readers but it kept me glued to the pages. It is amazing to see how far we have come with forensics and detecting techniques today and how frustrating it is for those of the era to not have it or even think of it. Clearly the killer had the advantage. Even with hindsight being 20/20 there is not a whole of lot evidence unearthed and the identity of the Midnight Assassin remains unknown.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and the bodies of the victim are described in graphic details. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The Killers of the Flower  Moon by David Grann
Rummanah Aasi

Description: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
  Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Review: The Inquisitor's Tale is a book with a niche audience among younger readers and it will probably be most appreciated by adults with its clever nod to the The Canterbury Tales while weaving his own story in medieval France about three gifted children, a holy greyhound, and the people whose lives they touch. Like most tales of the Middle Ages it includes miracles, saints, villains, and dragons. The narrative structure is similar to The Canterbury Tales, as travelers gathered at an inn share what they know of the children who they claim are saints and have performed miracles. The children are diverse and come from different social classes within the society. Jeanne is a peasant girl with visions of the future much like Joan of Arc. William, an African moor whose parentage is of Christian and Muslim faith and is trying to become a monk and has incredible strength; Jacob is a Jewish boy with healing powers. Interestingly Gwenforte is the children's guardian greyhound who also has powers.
  Religion and religious intolerance is the focus of the book along with other themes. The Abrahamic religions come into conflict and the children’s potential for sainthood is debated. The king executes an inquisition to apprehend these 'dangerous' children is what pushes the plot forward. Ten different narrators lend their voices to the tale—including a brewster, nun, butcher, librarian, and troubadour—while drinking a fair amount of ale, resulting in a loud, frank, conversational tone. There are some juvenile humor thrown in the book to lighten up the mood, but overall I think this book would be better suited for middle school readers who have a much better background and foundation of the Middle Ages in order to fully enjoy this tale.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a character mentioned that is burned alive though it is not depicted graphically. Due to mature themes I would recommend this book to strong Grade 6 graders and up.

If you like this book try: For another book focused on the Inquisition and religion I would suggest The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job. Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be. It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

Review: Lord takes a daring step in writing about religion and cancer, topics that is sensitive for many readers, but she mostly succeeds in her latest book The Names They Gave Us. For Lucy, daughter of a pastor, religion has been a cornerstone of her identity and something that she has unquestionably followed. Lucy's faith  and her world are shaken when she learns that her mother’s cancer has reoccurred. She reacts with anger that affects her relationship with her parents who try to protect her from the news, her boyfriend who keeps reassuring her that everything will be fine, and above all God who Lucy feels has betrayed her. Throughout the book we see Lucy struggle with her faith in the face of a tragedy and she slowly realizes that she isn't the one who has been on this crossroad.
  I was afraid that I would have a hard time connecting with Lucy but I didn't. She is your quintessential star teen: does extremely well in school, she competes on the swim team, has a perfectly mannered boyfriend, and gets along well with her parents, especially her mom who she actually likes. At first she does come across as judgmental and sheltered as she spends her summer at Daybreak, a camp for kids dealing with drama, at the request of her mother. At Daybreak, Lucy expands her world and her outlook at life. I really enjoyed watching Lucy grow and challenge herself as she meets a diverse cast of characters, including a trans girl and people of color. Lucy's problems and those of the Daybreak campers are dealt with sensitively and honestly without being heavy handed or preachy. Lucy begins to realize that the world isn't so simple in black and white, but there are lots of greys in between too. Along with Lucy's character development, she learns how to make friends, be vulnerable and open up with her feelings, and even allow romance to bloom. Throughout the story there are sprinkles of clues regarding Lucy's mother's mysterious past that come to a climax at the end of the story. While some of the connections are bit over-the-top and a bit melodramatic, it does emphasis how complex life is. All of the characters including the secondary characters are well written and though the ending is open and somber, we know that Lucy, with the help of her support group that she created, will be okay. The Names They Gave Us is a sweet story that occasionally dips into melodrama, but does tug at the heartstrings. Lord is quickly becoming one of my favorite realistic fiction writers and I continue to look forward to what she writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Things I Can't Forget by Miranda Kenneally (Hundred Oaks #2), Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
Description: My name is Amelia Gray, and I'm a cemetery restorer who lives with the dead. An anonymous donor has hired me to restore Woodbine Cemetery, a place where the rich and powerful bury their secrets. Forty years ago, a child disappeared without a trace and now her ghost has awakened, demanding that I find out the truth about her death. Only I know that she was murdered. Only I can bring her killer to justice. But the clues that I follow - a haunting melody and an unnamed baby's grave - lead me to a series of disturbing suspects.
  For generations, the Devlins have been members of Charleston's elite. John Devlin once turned his back on the traditions and expectations that came with his birthright, but now he has seemingly accepted his rightful place. His family's secrets make him a questionable ally. When my investigation brings me to the gates of his family's palatial home, I have to wonder if he is about to become my mortal enemy.

Review: While not my favorite in the Graveyard Queen series, The Awakening is a satisfying conclusion. It has been a pleasure watching Amelia grow as a character. She is much more self assured and owns her connection to the undead though she wants more than anything is to be left alone. Heartbroken over her relationship with the hot and cold John Devlin, a cop who has mesmerized her since the first book, Amelia has tried to move on but fate has other things in mind as they are thrust back together to solve a mystery of a murdered young girl. Like the other mysteries in this series it is developed quite well. There are plenty of clues sprinkled throughout the story and a good handful amount of red herrings. Of course it wouldn't be a Graveyard Queen novel without moments that would give you goosebumps or cause you to jump at the slightest noise while reading it.
 While I enjoyed the mystery and finally getting answers behind Devlin's strange behavior, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. I solved the mystery early on as big clues to the puzzles aligned themselves a bit too quickly in my mind. I was hoping for the romantic tension to build up between Amelia and Devlin, which the author has done tremendously in the last books, but this time it work for me. Amelia and Devlin's time together felt rushed especially with the info dumping in the last few chapters. Regardless of these flaws, I really enjoyed my time reading this series that I had once picked up on a whim. It has been a great journey and while the overall story arc has come to a close there is a small door open should the author decide to continue to write more from this world.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try:
Related Posts with Thumbnails