Rummanah Aasi

Description: When Poornima first meets Savitha, she feels something she thought she lost for good when her mother died: hope. Poornima's father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, and the two girls are quickly drawn to one another. Savitha is even more impoverished than Poornima, but she is full of passion and energy. She shows Poornima how to find beauty in a bolt of indigo cloth, a bowl of yogurt rice and bananas, the warmth of friendship. Suddenly their Indian village doesn't feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to lock down for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend again. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India's underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle.

Review: Girls Burn Brighter is a story of sacrifice, exploitation, and reclamation, but most of all it is a story of true and enduring friendship. Poornima and Savitha are two friends and talented weavers who navigate poverty, abuse, and the relentless pressure to find suitable husbands in contemporary South India. In Indravalli their paths cross when Poornima’s father hires Savitha to help him meet the demand for new cotton saris. Savitha is very skillful with the charkha, the spinning wheel, and weaving with Poornima is respite from searching garbage dumps for metal and plastic to sell to support her family. Savitha finds in Poornima a sister and friend. Mourning the recent death of her mother from cancer, Poornima finds in Savitha a mother figure, a gifted storyteller, and a confidante. Though weaving brings their world together, a horrific crime tears them apart. Out in the world alone, with no knowledge of each other’s whereabouts, they must find a way to maneuver the cruelties lobbed at women with no education, little money, and a desire to want more from life in both India and the United States.
  Girls Burn Brighter is a difficult read that gets bleaker as it continues. There is no glimmer of happiness for neither woman as they find themselves in brutal circumstances and a constant fury of abuse, almost entirely at the hands of men. It is telling that there is not one redeemable male character in the entire book and those who have the potential to be so are problematic. There were many times I had to put the book down because I could not endure Poornima's and Savitha's pain and suffering. The narration alternates between Poornima's and Savitha’s points of view. I had no problems distinguishing the two voices because they were each distinct characters. What kept me reading is how resilient and brave Poornima and Savitha are as women whose indefatigable courage it took to escape their circumstances and their undying hope to reunite. I hated the abrupt and ambiguous ending mainly because I wanted to see these women happy after all they have endured. Girls Burn Brighter will make you uncomfortable and rage against the many injustices against women, it will also make you think. A great choice for book clubs and book discussions. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: Domestic abuse, rape, violence, and human traffiking are heavily featured in the book. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi  
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Charlotte Lockard and Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana. Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.
  Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. You Go First reminds us that no matter how hard it is to keep our heads above troubled water, we never struggle alone.

Review: Erin Entrada Kelly's You Go First perfectly captures the insecurity, isolation, and fragile friendships in middle school. For most people online Scrabble game is just a game, but it is serves as a lifeline for middle schoolers Charlotte and Ben. Though they have  never met in person, Charlotte and Ben share many commonalities: both are incredible smart, lonely, and are suddenly coping with heartache in which they can't seem to solve on their own. Soon their online rivalry turns into real friendship as they communicate outside of the game. 
  The narrative is divided between Charlotte and Ben's point of view. Charlotte's father is hospitalized after experiencing a heart attack. Her best friend is drifting apart and moving towards a new social circle that is not inviting for Charlotte. Suddenly Charlotte's hobbies and interests are uncool. Ben is struggling to fit in a new school. He has a hard time finding peers who share his interests in encyclopedic knowledge of presidential history and reading. It is also not helping that his new project of finding friends by being a student council member has now placed a bully target on his back. His parents has also just announced their divorce.
  I loved both of these characters. The author knows her audience and uses key moments to elicit our heartaches and emotions along with these characters. I hated that they were struggling, but I also remember feeling the same way when I was a tween. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to reach inside the book and give both of them a hug. Foreshadowing facts lead each of Charlotte's chapters and information about sea stars is perfectly incorporated in a powerful scene about bullying. I loved the message of the book about resilience, how finding your people will take time, and things will be okay. Middle school is a rough time for many younger readers and I think this book will help them navigate all the unexpected challenges they will face.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying in the book. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancĂ©, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Review:  On her majority night, a coming of age ceremony, Amani is forcibly taken by Imperial droids and carted off her moon to the mother planet Andala, home of Vathek royalty. Amani grew up in an impoverished village, Cadiz, under Vathek occupation and knows their cruelty. She is shocked to discover that she is a doppelganger to the ruthless and hated half-Vathek Princess Maram. In response to increased rebel attacks, Amani is groomed as a body double and must navigate the complexities of court, including the charms of Maram’s fiance, Idris.
  Mirage has a slow burning plot. I felt the first half of the book was slow going for me as we are introduced to the Vathek court and key players. I was, however, fascinated by the Moroccan influence that has shaped Daud’s world. The book covertly addresses important issues such as colonialism, appropriation, suppression, and erasure. The cast of characters are diverse and people of color. I was also excited to learn about the Indigenous Amazigh of Northwest Africa, including the warrior queen Dihya, who serves as a symbol of feminism and anti-colonialism. I had never heard of her before nor this group of indigenous people of North Africa.
 I did not get invested into the story until the second half of the book as Amani becomes involved in the court politics, brewing rebellion, and becomes involved with Idris. I enjoyed their star-crossed romance, but was happy to see that it was not the focus of the story. I also really appreciated that Maram was not your token villain, but also had layers to her character. She reminded me a lot of Queen Levana from the Lunar Chronicles who evoked sympathy and hate in equal measures. Despite the uneven pacing issues, I still want to know more about this world and am looking forward to the next book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the book. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
  But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
  In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for...

Review: The City of Brass is a rich Middle Eastern fantasy series opener. The story is told from two points of view. Nahri is a young con woman who lives on the streets of 18th-century Cairo. She has the unique ability to diagnose and heal diseases without any proper training and uses this talent to swindle Ottoman nobles by pretending to wield supernatural powers she doesn’t believe in. During a exorcism con gone wrong, she accidentally summons a mysterious djinn warrior named Dara, whose magic is both real and incomprehensibly powerful. Dara insists that Nahri is no longer safe and they  must travel to Daevabad, a legendary eastern city protected by impervious magical brass walls. At Daevabad Nahri is astonished to learn that she is the daughter of a legendary healer of the Nahid family, a once powerful family who ruled Daevabad until it was overthrown by the Ghassan clan who stole Suleiman’s seal, which nullifies magic. It is very surprising and suspicious when the current Ghassan king welcomes her. The second point of view belongs to Prince Ali, the king's younger son, Prince Ali, who is caught in between fealty to his father and the throne and his moral duty to help the Shafit, the lower and oppressed class of djinn who are of mixed blood of djinn and humans.
  The City of Brass is a complex, multilayered story that centers on the kingdom's deeply divisive religious, political, and racial tensions. The world building is excellent as clues are sprinkled evenly throughout the story will leaving mysteries that need to be solved. I loved the inclusion and infusion of Middle Eastern culture throughout the novel. Though Daevabad is fictional, I can see how different Middle Eastern countries and cultures have influenced it, which is credited to the author's attention to detail and her research of this geographical region. The magic and terrifying creatures used in this book feel new. I am thrilled that this story is fresh and original and not a derivative of Game of Thrones with a dash of djinns instead of dragons. My only complaint is that I wish the glossary was a bit more fleshed out particularly with the various djinn tribes whose names can be confusing at times.
 The characters are flawed, three dimensional, and enigmatic. There are many times where the characters surprised me with their actions and unveiling a part of their backstories made my opinions of them change constantly. These characters are not kept in clean boxes of good and evil. Nahri is a cunning and fiercely independent woman. Though she can hold her own in Cairo, she is very much a novice in Daevabad and has to learn how to play the court's political game in order to outwit the king who would very much want her to be his pawn. Similarly, Prince Ali is constantly questioning how Daevabad should be ruled much to the chagrin of his father who rules with an iron fist. Dara’s emerging history and personality grow more and more bewildering and ambiguous.
  The story's pace is a bit slow going as we learn along with Nahri as she journeys to Daevabad, but once she is at court the story takes off. There are a few character inconsistencies (mostly new information about the characters that appear out of nowhere without any hints or allusions) and subplots that are not flushed out as I had hoped, especially with Prince Ali's older carefree brother, but they didn't take my enjoyment away from this story. I just wanted to know more and I hope we do because there were huge reveals in the end along with a shocking cliffhanger that has me on the edge of my seat. I can not wait for book two.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and language in the book. Recommended for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2) coming out 2019, Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Dark Carvan Cycle series by Heather Demetrios, Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Obayda’s family is in need of some good fortune. Her father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda’s father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda’s aunt has an idea to bring the family luck—dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Now Obayda is Obayd.
  Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes. The two of them can explore the village on their own, climbing trees, playing sports, and more. But their transformation won’t last forever—unless the two best friends can figure out a way to make it stick and make their newfound freedoms endure.

Review: After Obayda’s father loses his leg in a car-bomb attack, her family is forced to move in with extended family in a village far from Kabul. As her father lies housebound and despondent, an aunt advises Obayda’s mother to make Obayda a bacha posh in order to bring good luck to their homes. Bacha posh, or preteen girls dressed in boys’ clothing and treated like boys, are a tradition in some parts of Afghanistan. These disguised boys are allowed to leave their homes and hold jobs in order to help their families financially. Once Obayda becomes Obayd, she is excused from house chores and other female responsibilities. Now Obayd is frightened of facing the boys at school, especially Rahim, an older boy who singles her out. Brave, athletic, and brash, Rahim sees right through Obayda’s disguise—because Rahim, too, is a bacha posh. The two, now allies, share many free-spirited adventures, including searching for a waterfall they believe will turn them into boys permanently (notably because they enjoy the values attached to the male gender and  not because they identify as males), since the specter of their return to the female underclass is always present, horrifyingly so in Rahim’s case.
 The theme of gender inequality is very strong in the book, but it becomes repetitive and redundant due to the lack of plot in the book. We are told that girls and boys are treated differently, but I wish this was shown more in the story. Obayd is not so different from Obayda in terms of  character arc. To me she was not interesting enough as a main character. For the lack of a better world, this book felt too sanitized for a younger audience. I was more intrigued by Rahima and I later found out that the author did a whole book on on Rahima called The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. I was also disappointed that there is no movement to women's empowerment in the story and it is overshadowed by the arrival of a baby brother who will once again bring luck to the family in the future. Still One Half from the East allows readers a sneak peek into the traditional culture of Afghanistan that is not seen and represented in literature. 

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of suicide bomb, drug addicts, and child marriage. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish. Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Review: Lulu is ready to tackle junior year and any other obstacles as long as she has her three best friends by her side. After one hookup goes sour, her friendships start to tear apart. To make matters worse, she's on thin ice with her mom. Lulu struggles to put back the pieces of her life and find herself in the process. Not the Girls You're Looking For is a character-driven, coming-of-age story that explores relationships and identity in many forms, which is mostly done well.
  Lulu is an abrasive, "in-your-face" character that took me a long time to warm up to. She is smart, flawed, sexual, and vulnerable. Lulu is approachable when she opens up and lets her guards down. We learn that due to Islamophobic bullying, she has to develop a thick skin and become aggressive. Lulu is not particularly religious either. She drinks, smokes pot, and casually hooks up with boys though she does fast during Ramadan, which is when the story takes place. I wished the author would have explored more about the significance particularly of self awakening, spiritual aspect that is the core part of observing Ramadan. Once again an educating opportunity is slipped and what pained me about it most that it made Lulu ashamed to talk about it because she was afraid of being bullied.
  The exploration of female friendships takes the center stage in the book. Each girl brings something to the group, but it messy, mean, and uneven at times which makes it realistic. The discussion of slut shaming, a candid look at consent, and sexual assault is also an important aspect of the book, but it could have been fleshed out more. The inclusion of a healthy romance where consent is taken seriously plans a good contrast so readers can distinguish the two different behaviors. I do wish the author spent more time in tackling one character's alcoholism and having another character confide with an adult about sexual assault. I was unhappy about another character's sexuality and coming out just through into the story as a plot point to get to Lulu's light bulb moment. 
  Personally, I was more engaged in the book when Lulu explores her biracial and mixed culture identity (Lulu has a white mom and an Arab dad) in all its joys and struggles. Her frustrations of always being labeled as "other" and the feelings about being an impostor or having impostor syndrome is poignant and thought provoking. I would have much rather preferred if the book was just about unpacking her identity. The plot sometimes suffers from uneven pacing, but Lulu's voice is strong and I was curious to see where the story went.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, underage drinking and drug use, scenes of sexual harassment/assault, and a brief sex scene in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she's still uneasy at Khattak's tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton's death. Drayton's apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn't seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak's team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
  If that's true, any number of people might have had reason to help Drayton to his death, and a murder investigation could have far-reaching ripples throughout the community. But as Rachel and Khattak dig deeper into the life and death of Christopher Drayton, every question seems to lead only to more questions, with no easy answers. Had the specters of Srebrenica returned to haunt Drayton at the end, or had he been keeping secrets of an entirely different nature? Or, after all, did a man just fall to his death from the Bluffs?

Review: In Khan's debut mystery series opener two Toronto detectives are handed a politically sensitive case. Esa Khattak is a second-generation Canadian Muslim who heads the new Community Policing Section, created to deal with delicate cases involving minorities. When a call from Tom Paley, chief historian at the Canadian Department of Justice, drops Esa and his partner, Rachel Getty, into the mysterious death of Christopher Drayton, who may have fell or jumped or was pushed off a cliff. As they investigate Drayton's past, new information leads Esa and Rachel to believe Drayton has a connection to the Bosnian Genocide of 1995.
  I really like how this mystery is written. It is evident that the author did a lot of research into the Bosian Genocide. In alternating chapters, we get eyewitness accounts of the atrocities of the genocide. Slowly these pieces connect meaningfully to the overall mystery arc. As we learn more details of the past, the mystery goes beyond the simple "who killed Drayton?" as it first appears.
 There is also a wide and interesting cast of characters. Esa is a reserved character who has lost his wife in a car accident and still feels guilty about it. I didn't feel like I had a good grasp on his character, but since it's the first book in a series, I am hoping I will learn  more about him when I continue the series. I did get a good grasp on Rachel who also has personal issues regarding her family such as abusive, alcoholic famed ex-cop father, her meek mother, and her desire to reconnect with her estranged brother who left home at 15 and never looked back.
 The Unquiet Dead is a solid mystery that features complex characters and issues, which at times are hard to read about. I do plan on continuing this series and learning more about these characters.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong genocide violence including rape, suicide, and torture. This some language and crude sexual humor in the book. Due to the mature topics in the book, I would recommend it to mature teens and adult readers only.

If you like this book try: Language of Secrets by Ausma Zehanat Khan (Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak #2), Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Now that she is ten, Lailah is delighted that she can fast during the month of Ramadan like her family and her friends in Abu Dhabi, but finding a way to explain to her teacher and classmates in Atlanta is a challenge until she gets some good advice from the librarian, Mrs. Carman.

Review: Lailah recently moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia, and while she misses her friends back in the Middle East, she is very excited to be old enough to fast during Ramadan. Lailah is in a difficult situation. She is the new kid in school and also different from her classmates. How can she participate in Ramadan when no one in class knows what it is and what if she is the only one fasting? When her mother gives Lailah a note excusing her from lunch, Lailah hides the note when it is time to give it to her teacher Mrs. Penworth, and she has to endure the tempting smells of food and kind offers of her classmates to share lunch. After escaping to the library, the school librarian encourages Lailah to write down her feelings and share them with her teacher. After all, who knows what could come of sharing her culture?
 Lailah's Lunchbox is a story that will hit home to a lot of younger Muslims and it also reminded me of my own childhood explaining why I would not eat and drink for an entire month to my classmates and teachers in school. Lailah's is proud of her religion and culture, but is unable to express herself until a librarian advises her to explain her feelings. This picture book is a great introduction to Ramadan for both young Muslims and non-Muslims.The large, often full-page watercolor illustrations provide gentle details that add depth to the text. A note and glossary round out the story, giving context from the author's life and information about Islamic culture. A great addition to a growing number of books that educate about Islam without being preachy or heavy handed.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle by Reza Jalali,




Description: Yasmeen, a seven-year-old Pakistani-American girl, celebrates the Muslim holidays of Ramadan, "The Night of the Moon" (Chaand Raat), and Eid. With lush illustrations that evoke Islamic art, this beautiful story offers a window into modern Muslim culture—and into the ancient roots from within its traditions have grown.

Review:  Yasmeen's mother points out the little sliver of the crescent moon to remind her of the beginning of a new month of Ramadan. The significance of the moon is directly correlated to the lunar Islamic calendar. As Yasmeen moves through the month and the moon changes its shape, she learns the lessons of the celebration. Night of the Moon expertly captures the spirit of observing Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. I loved how the author weaves information about the cultural traditions of Ramadan and Eid along with Yasmeen's love of her family and growing understanding of her role in the outside world. The gentle and reflective text reflects the simple arc of the month focusing on the spirit rather than being bogged down to the minute details. The illustrations are colorful and stunning incorporating a lot of Islamic art. The Night of the Moon is a warm, lovely, educational read and highly recommended.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: It's Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There's the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: a good school, an arranged marriage. And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school, living in New York City, pursuing the boy she's liked for ages. But unbeknownst to Maya, there is a danger looming beyond her control. When a terrorist attack occurs in another Midwestern city, the prime suspect happens to share her last name. In an instant, Maya's community, consumed by fear and hatred, becomes unrecognizable, and her life changes forever.

Review: I was really looking forward to picking up Samira Ahmed's debut novel, Love, Hate & Other Filters because it featured a Muslim main character, took place in Illinois, and tackled Islamophobia. While I did like some aspects of the book and think it is worthwhile to read, I did have several issues with it.
Maya Aziz wants to go to film school and attend NYU to pursue her dreams of being a documentary filmmaker. She secretly applied to NYU and got accepted, but her parents think she will attend a local college. With her parents expectations combined with anti-Muslim backlash from a recent terror attack threatens to derail Maya's dream. 
  I have conflicting thoughts about Maya. I admire her tenacity and her ambitions of perusing a life that is not of a traditional Indian woman (i.e. going to the medical, engineering, law fields of study). I also respect her insistence of establishing her independence, however she has little to no pride of her Indian culture and blames almost everything she thinks she can’t have on her cultural constraints and on the fact that she’s different. There were many times where I pictured her as a petulant child who stomped her foot and yelled whenever she was refused something she wanted without giving any consideration to her parents' point of view. Her repetitive phrase of wanting to be "normal" got on my nerves because it implied being anything but a white, Christian girl is abnormal. I also found it very hard to believe that Maya never felt isolated being the only Indian American Muslim at her school.
  While her Indian American identity is discussed or rather ranted about throughout the novel, there is little to no discussion of her Muslim identity. If it was not for the references of the Quran or going to the mosque made by her parents or her common Muslim last name of Aziz, the reader would not know of her Muslim identity. There is a moment in the book where Kareem, a potential love interest, drinks wine though it is forbidden in Islam to drink alcohol. It is laughed off that Kareem observes Islam in other aspects except this one really rubbed me the wrong way. I understand that author might be showing readers that people observe religion in their own ways, but this was a missed teaching moment. While Maya is not a religious person, a lot of the "constraints" she feels is closely tied to her religion. Her issues are very relevant to Muslim teens today and I wished they were talked about in the book. The author instead zeroes in on the romance aspect of the book, which fell totally apart for me. Phil, Maya's very bland love interest, and their drama took me out of the book. I kept waiting for something meaningful to happen. It is not until half way of the book that we see Maya being affected by Islamophobia in the book, both from the backlash of the terror attack and her parent's tighter restrictions. 
  I know that not every #ownvoices Muslim novel will not mirror my life and it is only an indication that we need more stories, but you can't write a book where religion is a central theme of the book and not talk about it. Personally, I felt very disappointed with the book and I understand why so many of my students returned the book without finishing it. I'm not saying Maya's story is unimportant, it is, but it barely skims the surface.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene of physical assault in the book. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you want a book that does a better job explaining Islamophabia and having conflicts with ones Islamic culture try: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Civil War II is behind her, and a brand new chapter for Kamala Khan is about to begin! But it's lonely out there for a super hero when her loved ones no longer have her back. It's time for Kamala to find out exactly who she is when she is on her own. Plus: it's election time! Kamala gets out the vote!

Review: Volume 7 is the weakest volume of the otherwise fantastic Ms. Marvel graphic novel series. Though the first story focuses on an important issue of the importance of voting and how to register to vote, it comes across as a public service announcement instead of a story in a graphic novel. I also didn't care for the second story with its nod to the gaming culture and what happens when it goes too far. Out of the three stories, I did enjoy the last one where see Bruno in Wakanda and seeing how he is adjusting to his new school and environment. Definitely not my favorite in the Ms. Marvel series.

Rating: 3 stars

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


Description: The villains are at Kamala's door, and Ms. Marvel has to save a city that doesn't want saving. The malleable Ms. Marvel continues her hero's journey as an enemy from her past begins targeting those closest to her, a challenge that calls into question everything about her -- not just as a super hero, but as a human being! Who can Ms. Marvel trust when everyone in Jersey City is against her? As Kamala's life hangs in the balance, a new crime fighter moves in on her turf. Plus: Bruno may be far away at a prestigious school in Wakanda, but even thousands of miles from his former best friend, Kamala Khan, adventure still finds him!

Review: We are finally back on track with the latest volume in the Ms. Marvel graphic novel series! The inclusion of Pakistani and Islamic culture along with the fun action adventure of superheroes is what makes this graphic novel series stand out and a personal favorite of mine. I identify with Kamala on many levels though I sadly lack her super powers. This volume like the last one uses our contemporary political issues as a platform. Ms. Marvel is more than a superhero, she is a social activist who is ready to help her community, but she is demonized and targeted by right wing members who want to make New Jersey great again by removing people with super powers and placing stricter immigration policies which directly affects Kamala's own family. As Kamala tries to make sense of the situation, she is rejoined by her friend Kareem who she met while in Pakistan. Kareem is the Red Dagger who brings chemistry and intrigue to the series. I really like his banter with Kamala and I'm hoping he will be a continuing character/ possible new love interest. The dialogue in this volume is smart with the right amount of zing and humor, which matches the introspective and action panels alike. There were many times when I laughed out aloud. I'm really looking forward to the next volume.

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

Description: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.
With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn.

Review: I normally devour a Patricia Briggs' book whenever it releases, but I had a really hard time finishing Burn Bright, her latest in the Alpha and Omega series. Though I loved the world and the characters that Briggs created, Burn Bright is not the strongest book in the series and many things about this book felt off to me.
  Burn Bright takes place shortly after the events in Silence Fallen, the latest book in the Mercy Thompson series. Bran is away and has left Charles in charge and he is bumping heads with his stepmother Leah. When one of the Wildings (feral werewolves who are too dangerous to be in the pack and who Bran protects) calls warning of danger, Charles and Anna are dispatched to figure out what is going on.
Charles and Anna quickly realize that it looks like someone is out to take out the Wildings and potentially the other werewolves. Many characters from both the Mercy Thompson and the Alpha and Omega universe are either mentioned and/or play a vital role in this book. I would not recommend reading this if you haven't read the rest of any of the two series.
  My main issues with Burn Bright are the uneven pacing and the unbalance amount of information that we are and are not given in the book. My biggest hurdle (and I am not alone) is wrapping my head around the conversation about Bran and Mercy which taints how you see Bran's character as well as his interactions with Mercy. This conversation came out of nowhere and I really didn't feel like it was Anna's and Charle's place to comment on it given their own big elephant in the room conversation about their own futures.
  After that revelation, the story is topsy-turvey. We spend quite some time being acquainted with the Wildings. Anna deals with big issues of her past that is glossed over and never talked about. She is then trying to use her Omega powers on a wildling which leads us to another revelation and more info dumps that took me out of the story. After a promising start and a drawn out explanation in the first half of the book, the second half is rushed with quick reveals that felt inconsistent with what we know about the characters particularly with Leah. I find it very hard to believe that the big twist was not noticeable to the pack beforehand and the possible plan to undermine Bran. I wanted this to be further explained. I know Briggs had her own personal tragedy with the loss of her husband this year and I'm sure that this has affected the book somehow, but I am optimistic that Burn Bright is a fluke and we will get a much better story in the future.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, some language, and small sexual situations in the book. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Aliya already struggles with trying to fit in, feeling confident enough to talk to the cute boy or stand up to mean kids—the fact that she's Muslim is just another thing to deal with. When Marwa, a Moroccan girl who shares her faith if not her culture, comes to Aliya's school, Aliya wonders even more about who she is, what she believes, and where she fits in. Should she fast for Ramadan? Should she wear the hijab? She's old enough for both, but does she really want to call attention to herself?

Review: The Garden of My Imaan reminded me very much of Judy Blume's classic Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, but with an Islamic twist. Aliya is an Indian-American, Muslim tween who struggling with her own imaan, an Arabic word for faith, her religious identity, and dealing with Islamophobia.   With Ramadan fast approaching, Sister Khan asks Aliya's religion class to set Ramadan goals and write about what they learn. Like Margaret before her, Aliya pours out her worries from fretting over puberty, an unrequited crush at school, and the introduction to Marwa, a new girl at school who is from Morocco and wears the hijab. Asked to befriend Marwa at school, stirs up mixed emotions in Aliya. She is first annoyed and then intrigued at how Marwa finds a place for herself without sacrificing her religious principles. Marwa is a quiet leader who stands up for herself with educating others around her instead of insulting them. She is clearly a role model for Aliya, however, I would have loved if the author created her as a three dimensional character instead of a perfect girl. We don't see Marwa develop except at school and I wanted to know more about her.
  To be completely honest, I was afraid to read this book because the synopsis and the cover made me believe that the author has a certain bias, but I am so glad that I was wrong. The author makes clear of Islamophobic acts that Muslims face, from being called names and be told to go "back to your country", but she also includes the dangers of girl's being attacked by someone who rips their hijab off. The downside of open observance is clear to readers, but she also enlightens others about the beliefs and intentions underlying these religious observances, especially hijab. The hijab is worn proudly by Marwa and she doesn't feel weird about it. It is how she expresses her faith. For Aliya's mother, who doesn't wear it, "hijab is a symbol of modesty--a good symbol but a figurative one." Aliya's mother demonstrates modesty by the clothes that she wears. Zia points out that there is more than one way Muslims observe their religion and one is not more acceptable or right than the other.  Don't be afraid to pick up this book, it is a refreshing story that will serve as mirrors to Muslim readers and a window to others who want to know more about Islam without any heavy handedness.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.
When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil. Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Review: I absolutely adored Menon's debut novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, and I could not wait to read her latest novel, From Twinkle, With Love. Though I didn't love From Twinkle, With Love as much as I loved her debut novel, it was still thoroughly enjoyable and a delightfully sweet contemporary romance.
  Twinkle Mehra is a self pronounced wallflower and groundling, a social status that complements her family's working class financial situation. Tired of being overlooked by her former best friend, Maddie, who has recently elevated her social status by hanging out with the popular crowd, and ignored by her busy working parents, Twinkle wants to be noticed by someone else besides her lovable, unconditionally supportive, and eccentric Dadi (her paternal grandmother). She is also an aspiring filmmaker who dreams of going to film school and becoming a great woman of color director. Twinkle fills her journal, given by Dadi, with entries dedicated to sorting out her feels and frustrations, addressed to her favorite female movie directors, among them Mira Nair, Sofia Coppola, Nora Ephron, and Ava DuVernay. The repetitiveness of directors that Twinkle writes to is indicative of the necessity of more female directors in the film industry.
 Twinkle is a fun, flawed character who is also frustrating to read about because you want to shake her and tell her she is making big mistakes. She has tunnel vision of becoming a new shinier version of herself which features a confident girl who speaks up for herself and be in a relationship with Neil Roy, a biracial white-Indian golden boy, who can elevate her status. When an opportunity arises to make her mark for a local film festival with Sahil, Neil's awkward identical twin brother, she reluctantly accepts the challenge as a way to become close to Neil, realize her romantic ambitions, and thus improve her social standing at school. As she chronicles her journey on working with her film, Twinkle's relationship with Sahil changes which makes things complicated especially when she begins receiving admiring emails signed only “N,” she assumes her mystery fan to be Neil. Like any other romantic comedies, Sahil has had a crush on Twinkle for years and the true identity of her anonymous fan becomes a tantalizing mystery.
  Menon knows how to write a romantic comedy. The budding relationship with Twinkle and Sahil is beyond adorable and grows throughout the book. It is agonizing to wait for Twinkle's light bulb to go off and realize that Sahil is the right person for her. Both characters share a love for film and are able to be themselves around each other. I really appreciated that the characters were able to show each other their good sides and bad sides instead of characters who just wear rosy tinted glasses because they are in love. I felt frustrated for Sahil when Twinkle would not be honest with him and fully commit to be with him. The inclusion of Sahil's anonymous blog and his text messages between his two best friends provide his viewpoint of his complicated relationship with Twinkle and made me laugh out loud several times.
 The familial relationship is also done quite well, particularly with Twinkle and her Dadi. I loved  how Dadi played an important role and constant in Twinkle's life. She was her confidant and support network when her parents were away. I also understood Twinkle's own feeling of neglected from her parents. I just wished we explored a bit more of her mother's mental health issues which were hinted in the book. I would have also loved to have seen more of Sahil's own insecurity of constantly being compared to Neil.
 In addition to all the various relationships in the book, the theme of privilege is well handled in the book from the obvious comparing and contrasting the have and have-nots of Twinkle and her circle of friends, but also of Twinkle and the at-risk kids that her father works with is also highlighted in the book. Though this book covered a lot more themes than When Dimple Met Rishi, it read much younger to me which is not a bad thing just an observation. If you enjoyed Menon's debut novel you will really like From Twinkle, With Love. Menon is quickly becoming my auto-read author for romantic comedies and I can't wait to see what she writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some innuendo mentioned in the book. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, To All the Boys I Loved Before series by Jenny Han
Rummanah Aasi

Description:  The story spans six years in the lives of Walid, his wife Dalia, and their two children, Amina and Youssef. Forced to flee from Syria, they become asylum-seekers in Lebanon, and finally resettled refugees in the West. It is a story that has been replayed thousands of times by other families.
  When the family home in Aleppo is destroyed by a government-led bomb strike, Walid has no choice but to take his wife and children and flee their war-torn and much loved homeland. They struggle to survive in the wretched refugee camps of Lebanon, and when Youssef becomes fatally ill as a result of the poor hygienic conditions, his father is forced to take great personal risk to save his family.
  Walid's daughter, the young Amina, a whip-smart grade-A student, tells the story. As she witnesses firsthand the harsh realities that her family must endure if they are to survive -- swindling smugglers, treacherous ocean crossings, and jihadist militias -- she is forced to grow up very quickly in order to help her parents and brother.

Review: While the news coverage of the Syrian Civil War and the refugee crisis has graced the headlines of newspapers for many years now, it is hard to personalize the many tragedies and losses of those who are involved and/or affected by the war. Escape from Syria, successfully depicts a fictionalized account of a family caught in the middle of the war. The author has captured the refugees's plight by using her knowledge as a Lebanese journalist who has covered the civil war in the English-language Lebanese newspaper called the Daily Star.  
  Amina's ordinary life in Aleppo, Syria, is forever changed when a bomb destroys her neighborhood and her family joins the millions of refugees fleeing Syria. The graphic novel uses flashbacks and spare text to narrate her journey from living a happy life in Syria to resettling in Canada as a refugee. We follow Amina and her family as they make a series of heartbreaking decisions such as leaving their home and loved ones behind in order to flee for safety in Lebanon, where they end up in a refugee camp. Amina is lucky enough to go to school, but it is a challenge as the school teaches in three languages: Arabic, English, and French. Soon their savings run out and her brother becomes sick. Once again the family makes hard choices in order to pay for his lifesaving medications. When the stress of renewing expensive visas becomes too much and unethical smugglers make life impossible, Amina finally finds help with a resettling agency.
 The story is eye opening and unforgettable, but never pandering to their reader's sympathy. The hardships that Syrian refugees face are written in a very matter of fact way. The reader connects to them as fellow humans not as "the other". There are plenty of dark moments throughout the book, but it does end on a hopeful bittersweet note on Amina's family trying to re-establish their home in a foreign land where many other obstacles are in their future. There are extensive endnotes at the end of the graphic novel which highlight the true events and explain references in the book. Escaping from Syria is a timely graphic novel that provides context on an ongoing, devastating, and complex war for readers.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, English

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: War violence is depicted including images of heads of men impaled on sticks, sexual harassment is also alluded in the graphic novel. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Rummanah Aasi
It's that time of year again! As this post goes live, I will only have two days left of the school year before summer starts. Once again I am composing a summer reading list for myself to help me work through my TBR pile. I had great success with the list in the past. All of these books are in addition to the Ramadan Reading Challenge. Here is my list in no particular order.


Adult


Circe by Madeline Miller- I really enjoyed Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, and I can't wait to see how she retells Circe's story. 

Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao - A contemporary title that focuses on female friendship set in India and America.


The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden - I didn't get a chance to fit this in when it was released in January but I'm really looking forward to more adventures with Vasya.



YA


Again I had the hardest time with creating this portion of my list!

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon- I loved When Dimple Met Rishi and I'm really looking forward to see what Twinkle has to offer.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black- I waited until the hype died down but I'm excited to jump back in to the fae world.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan - I know this is not going to be an easy read but I have never heard nothing but rave review for this book.

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren- I can't count how many times people have asked if I read this book and I have seen it populate so many favorite lists from last year. I'm looking forward to reading it.


Middle Grade/Childrens


Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead- With two powerhouse middle grade writers, I have really high expectations for this one!

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore- A contemporary debut novel that won the Coretta Scott King Award and the movie rights have been sold to Michael B. Jordan's production company.

Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan - Of course summer would not be complete without a book by Rick Riordian!



This is just a small sampling of book that are on my reading list. Looking at my current spreadsheet, I have around 50 titles or so. I'm also catch up on my Netgalley queue too.  Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think of them? What is on your summer reading list? Let know in the comments below!
Rummanah Aasi


Ramadan is is the holy month of fasting and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month Muslims abstain from food and drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset. We break our fast when the sunsets. Many people tend to focus on the physical hardships of the month, but I like to view it as a spiritual reassessment. During this month I am always reminded of how fortunate I am, exercise my willpower, strengthen my empathy skills, and most importantly making my faith stronger.
  In past years I found a Ramadan Reading Challenge online, but I was always too late to join. I am not sure if there is an official reading challenge, but I am creating one on my own with a particular focus on reading and supporting Muslim #ownvoices authors. I've listed my tbr pile for this challenge. Check it out below:


Ramadan Reading Challenge TBR:

Children Picture Books


Time to Pray by Maha Addasi: Yasmin is visiting her grandmother, who lives in a country somewhere in the Middle East. On her first night, she's wakened by the muezzin at the nearby mosque calling the faithful to prayer, and Yasmin watches from her bed as her grandmother prepares to pray. A visit with Grandmother is always special, but this time it is even more so. Her grandmother makes Yasmin prayer clothes, buys her a prayer rug, and teaches her the five prayers that Muslims perform over the course of a day. When it's time for Yasmin to board a plane and return home, her grandmother gives her a present that her granddaughter opens when she arrives: a prayer clock in the shape of a mosque, with an alarm that sounds like a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

Lailah's Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi: Now that she is ten, Lailah is delighted that she can fast during the month of Ramadan like her family and her friends in Abu Dhabi, but finding a way to explain to her teacher and classmates in Atlanta is a challenge until she gets some good advice from the librarian, Mrs. Scrabble.

Yo Soy Muslim by Mark Gonzales: From Muslim and Latino poet Mark Gonzales comes a touching and lyrical picture book about a parent who encourages their child to find joy and pride in all aspects of their multicultural identity.

Night of the Moon by Hena Khan: Yasmeen, a seven-year-old Pakistani-American girl, celebrates the Muslim holidays of Ramadan, "The Night of the Moon" (Chaand Raat), and Eid. With lush illustrations that evoke Islamic art, this beautiful story offers a window into modern Muslim culture—and into the ancient roots from within its traditions have grown.

Middle Grade Fiction


One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi: Obayda's family is in need of some good fortune. Her father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda's father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda's aunt has an idea to bring the family luck -- dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Now Obayda is Obayd. Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes. The two of them can explore the village on their own, climbing trees, playing sports, and more. But their transformation won't last forever -- unless the two best friends can figure out a way to make it stick and make their newfound freedoms endure.

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai: After Nadia is separated from her family while fleeing the civil war, she spends the next four days with a mysterious old man who helps her navigate the checkpoints and snipers of the rebel, ISIS, and Syrian armies that are littering Aleppo on her way to meeting her father at the Turkish border.

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia: Aliya already struggles with trying to fit in, feeling confident enough to talk to the cute boy or stand up to mean kids — the fact that shes Muslim is just another thing to deal with. When Marwa, a Moroccan girl who shares her faith if not her culture, comes to Aliya's school, Aliya wonders even more about who she is, what she believes, and where she fits in. Should she fast for Ramadan? Should she wear the hijab? Shes old enough for both, but does she really want to call attention to herself?

YA Fiction


Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed: Maya Aziz, seventeen, is caught between her India-born parents world of college and marrying a suitable Muslim boy and her dream world of film school and dating her classmate, Phil, when a terrorist attack changes her life forever.

Not the Girls You're Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi: Lulu Saad doesn't need your advice, thank you very much. She's got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It's all under control. Ish. Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can't find her way out of this mess soon, she'll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She'll have to go looking for herself.

Mirage by Somaiya Daud: In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
 But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.
 As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancĂ©, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.


Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Graphic Novels





Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab: Escape from Syria is a fictionalized account that calls on real-life circumstances and true tales of refugee families to serve as a microcosm of the Syrian uprising and the war and refugee crisis that followed. The story spans six years in the lives of Walid, his wife Dalia, and their two children, Amina and Youssef. Forced to flee from Syria, they become asylum-seekers in Lebanon, and finally resettled refugees in the West.


Ms. Marvel, Vol. 8 by G. Willow Wilson: The villains are at Kamala's door, and Ms. Marvel has to save a city that doesn't want saving. The malleable Ms. Marvel continues her hero's journey as an enemy from her past begins targeting those closest to her, a challenge that calls into question everything about her -- not just as a super hero, but as a human being! Who can Ms. Marvel trust when everyone in Jersey City is against her? As Kamala's life hangs in the balance, a new crimefighter moves in on her turf.

Adult Fiction


The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty: A brilliantly imagined historical fantasy in which a young con artist in eighteenth century Cairo discovers she's the last descendant of a powerful family of djinn healers. With the help of an outcast immortal warrior and a rebellious prince, she must claim her magical birthright in order to prevent a war that threatens to destroy the entire djinn kingdom.
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan: Despite their many differences, Detective Rachel Getty trusts her boss, Esa Khattak, implicitly. But she's still uneasy at Khattak's tight-lipped secrecy when he asks her to look into Christopher Drayton's death. Drayton's apparently accidental fall from a cliff doesn't seem to warrant a police investigation, particularly not from Rachel and Khattak's team, which handles minority-sensitive cases. But when she learns that Drayton may have been living under an assumed name, Rachel begins to understand why Khattak is tip-toeing around this case. It soon comes to light that Drayton may have been a war criminal with ties to the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
  If that's true, any number of people might have had reason to help Drayton to his death, and a murder investigation could have far-reaching ripples throughout the community. But as Rachel and Khattak dig deeper into the life and death of Christopher Drayton, every question seems to lead only to more questions, with no easy answers. Had the specters of Srebrenica returned to haunt Drayton at the end, or had he been keeping secrets of an entirely different nature? Or, after all, did a man just fall to his death from the Bluffs?

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik: Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene. As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love? 

Nonfiction


Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story by Amani Al-Khatahbeh: A harrowing and candid memoir about coming of age as a Muslim American in the wake of 9/11, during the never-ending war on terror, and through the Trump era of casual racism.

Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash: In a series of personal letters to his sons, Omar Saif Ghobash offers a short and highly readable manifesto that tackles our current global crisis with the training of an experienced diplomat and the personal responsibility of a father. Today's young Muslims will be tomorrow's leaders, and yet too many are vulnerable to extremist propaganda that seems omnipresent in our technological age. The burning question, Ghobash argues, is how moderate Muslims can unite to find a voice that is true to Islam while actively and productively engaging in the modern world. What does it mean to be a good Muslim?
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.
But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together. What could go wrong?
  With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely. And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

Review: Starry Eyes is the perfect book to kick off your summer vacation. Zorie and Lennon are former best friends (and crushes) and now enemies, but they rediscover and fall for each other on a backpacking trip in in Jenn Bennett's latest sweet romance novel. Zorie and Lennon were once inseparable and potentially on the verge of becoming more during their junior year homecoming, but they haven't talk since Lennon stood Zorie up and broke her heart.
  Zorie and Lennon are completely different. Zorie becomes anxious when her day is not followed by a rigid schedule where everything is written down. She is fascinated by astronomy. Lennon is a horror fanboy, an amateur herpetologist, music aficionado, and a skilled hiker. These two characters collide when they discover they are both attending the same glamping vacation in northern California hosted by Reagan, the popular girl in school and sometimes friends with Zorie. Zorie Everhart uncharacteristically agrees to go, figuring she can still manage to meet up with fellow astronomers to witness a meteor shower on a nearby mountain.Whereas Lennon was invited by Instagram obsessed Brett who is always looking for the perfect selfie to post online. Like most YA dramas and romances, there is drama and misunderstanding between the groups of friends which leads Zorie and Lennon alone together to find their way home. I was actually thrilled to get away from the drama as Reagan and company got on my nerves.
   I have read quite a lot of books where friends turn to a couple, but you don't get to witness the romance. This is not true in Starry Eyes. You can actually see Zorie and Lennon interact and there is a lot of things to resolve and move past old hurts. I also liked that while these two were working out their problems figuratively, they were also doing it literally as they cover tough terrain and animal attacks.
  I appreciate the inclusion of diversity in Starry Eyes too. Zorie's stepmother is Korean-American. Lennon has two moms and an Egyptian-American biological father. It is so refreshing to see how both families have a positive and strong bond with their children. I also really enjoyed seeing some serious topics such as grief, betrayal, divorce, mental illness, and loss were also explored in the book along side humor which gives the book depth. While I didn't love it as much as Alex, Approximately, I still think it is a solid read and I would definitely recommend it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is discussion of sex as Lennon's mothers own an adult store and the characters openly discuss it themselves. There is also a small consensual sex scene but not too explicit. There is also mention of suicide, underage drinking, and some strong language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in helping the others out of theirs.

Review: Gayle Forman's If I Stay and Where She Went were both cathartic reads for me that left me emotionally spent. I expected to feel the same with her latest book, I Have Lost My Way but unfortunately I felt underwhelmed and disappointed.
   I Have Lost My Way takes place in a span of a day where a chance meeting leads to intimate connections for three struggling teens who are all reeling from loss and aimlessness.  Freya is an up-and-coming singer who has lost her voice, to her controlling manager’s chagrin. She sacrificed her family for a musical career that seems ephemeral. It was not clear to me whether or not Freya wanted a musical career at all or if it was just an opportunity to have felt desired and loved which is noted by the number of fans she has on social media. Compared to Harun and Nathaniel, Freya was the weakest character and her problem didn't seem as important.
  Harun is a closeted Pakistani Muslim gay teen who is terrified to come out to his conservative family and let his family down. Considering my own background as a Pakistani Muslim, I was immediately drawn to Harun and I wanted to know more of his heartbreaking story. There is an attempt to explain Islamophobia post-9/11 that completely fell flat for me. Harun's parents also felt very much like caricatures too.
 Nathaniel just flew into the city, and he’s hiding the true reason for his visit. Nathaniel was a complete mystery to me. There are mentions of mental health issues with his story, particularly with the way his father behaved and I wanted some clarification as to what Nathaniel and his father ailed from rather than a vague notion.
  The book's structure follows the slice of life, twenty-four hour setting trope which, in my opinion, hinders the emotional impact of the book. After colliding into each other in Central Park, the teens each privately are drawn to one another and begin to develop connections as they open up to each other and become vulnerable. The narration changes among the teens’ perspectives which keeps the pace quick and lively, but the transitions between narrators is jarring and abrupt; making the execution too choppy. There are intermittent flashback chapters that focus on each character which allows the reader to understand their backstories, however, I still felt disconnected to Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel. There are many important issues brought up in the book from abandonment, mental health, and sexual identity but none of these topics are fully discussed. I would have liked to spent more time with these characters and really understand them. It is clear that they provide an important community for one another, but I would have liked to have seen it as a participant rather than a viewer. I don't mind that there are no easy answers for these characters, but I do want to have an idea of what happened next.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, mentions of sex, underage drinking, and a suicide attempt. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.


If you like this book try: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Thanks to his relationship with the ancient Druid Atticus O'Sullivan, Oberon the Irish wolfhound knows trouble when he smells itand furthermore, he knows he can handle it.When he discovers that a prizewinning poodle has been abducted in Eugene, Oregon, he learns that it's part of a rash of hound abductions all over the Pacific Northwest. Since the police aren't too worried about dogs they assume have run away, Oberon knows it's up to him to track down those hounds and reunite them with their humans. For justice! And gravy! Engaging the services of his faithful Druid, Oberon must travel throughout Oregon and Washington to question a man with a huge salami, thwart the plans of diabolical squirrels, and avoid, at all costs, a fight with a great big bear.But if he's going to solve the case of the Purloined Poodle, Oberon will have to recruit the help of a Boston terrier named Starbuck, survive the vegetables in a hipster pot pie, and firmly refuse to be distracted by fire hydrants and rabbits hiding in the rose bushes.At the end of the day, will it be a sad bowl of dry kibble for the world's finest hound detective, or will everything be coming up sirloins?



Description: Oberon the Irish wolfhound is off to Portland to smell all the things with canine companions wolfhound Orlaith and Boston terrier Starbuck, and, of course, his human, ancient Druid Atticus O'Sullivan. The first complication is an unmistakable sign of sinister agendas afoot: a squirrel atop the train. But an even more ominous situation is in store when the trio plus Atticus stumble across a murder upon arrival at the station. They recognize Detective Gabriela Ibarra, who's there to investigate. But they also recognize the body--or rather that the body is a doppelganger for Atticus himself. The police, hampered by human senses of smell and a decided lack of canine intuition, obviously can't handle this alone. Not with Atticus likely in danger. Oberon knows it's time to investigate once more---for justice! For gravy! And possibly greasy tacos! Alongside his faithful Druid, Oberon and the other loyal hounds navigate by nose through Portland to find a bear-shifter friend with intel, delicious clues at the victim's home, and more squirrels. Always more squirrels! But will our hungry band of heroes be able to identify the culprit before someone else is murdered? Will there be mystery meat in gravy as a reward or tragedy in store for the world's (or at least the Pacific Northwest's) greatest dog detective?

Review: I picked up the Oberon's Meaty Mysteries novellas in order to softly re-enter the Iron Druid series after being behind a couple of books. They are quick, enjoyable, and humorous reads. These novellas can be read independently of the Iron Druid series though there are interesting tidbits for loyal reader's about Atticus's past. I would highly recommend them in case you are curious to see how Kevin Hearne writes his stories.
 The highlight of these novellas is Oberon's narration of the stories. Oberon is Atticus's prized Irish Wolfhound who is usually a lovable side character who can communicate with his human. This time Oberon is the lead character and Atticus takes a secondary but still important role. Both of these characters stumble upon mysteries that they need to solve; in the Purloined Poodle, show dogs have been suddenly vanishing and in Squirrel on the Train, a murderer eerily looks a lot like Atticus. These fantasy-mystery novellas are delightfully funny as Oberon tries to learn new vocabulary and idioms. I love how Oberon's and Atticus's banter plays off each other without being too much. Hearne balances the doggy humor, light touches of fantasy, and a good old fashioned mystery plot to entertain his readers. These novellas allowed me to comfortable get back to this action-packed series that wraps up this year.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the book and crude humor. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like mysteries featuring dogs try: Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn, Paw Enforcement series by Diane Kelly, Raine Stockton mysteries by Donna Ball
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