Rummanah Aasi


 Here are my favorite books of 2018. As a quick disclaimer, these books may not all be 2018 releases but I did read them in 2018. Currently, I am wrapping up my reading challenge and may go beyond my goal of 250 books. Without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2018 ranked according to the interest level. 

Favorite Adult Books


I read a quite a few adult titles that I enjoyed in 2018 and I am happy to report that I enjoyed quite a few titles.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: In eighteen poignant, humorous, and incisive essays, Noah takes the reader along a personal journey of life inside South Africa.

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraborty: 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. I loved this debut novel and I can't wait to read the next installment next month.

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden: A fantastic sequel that skillfully avoids the dreaded middle book syndrome. Arden expands her world with new characters and a new setting in Moscow. Some readers have complained that the pacing was slow in this book, but I did not find it slow at all. I was completely captivated with the story and its multiple moving parts. I am sad to see this series end.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews: The last book in the Kate Daniel series, one of my favorite urban fantasy series. 


Favorite Children Book


 I always try to fit in some children and middle grade reads into my yearly reading challenge. While I read quite a few children and middle grade books this year, I may have been extra picky this year as I only had one that I truly loved. 

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales: In this gorgeously illustrated memoir picture book, Morales recalls the time from her son's birth to their move to the United States from Mexico in the mid-1990s.

Favorite YA Books

Young Adult books dominate my reading pile because I work for teens as a high school librarian and I thoroughly enjoy reading and recommending them. I did not get to a lot of the big releases of 2018 and there were a few titles that didn't meet the hype. 
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren: A story of family, friendship, acceptance, and being true to yourself with a sweet romance.

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley created Frankenstein by Lita Judge: An exquistie novel in verse biography on Mary Shelley. 

Sadie by Courtney Summers: A powerful, timely, gut wrenching, thriller that will elicit strong emotions from you as you read it. Definitely check out the audiobook if you get a chance, it is fantastic.

Favorite Graphic Novels/Manga

I read several fantastic graphic novels in 2018. I still have to review a few of them.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: An intimate and heart wrenching memoir of growing up with family addiction and drug abuse. 
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll: A fabulous adaptation of a groundbreaking YA novel. Carroll's nightmarish illustrations highlight the horrors of rape culture.

The Divided Earth (The Nameless City #3) by Faith Erin Hicks: A fantastic ending to a solid fantasy series inspired by 13th century China. 

Honorable Mentions

The following books are the ones that left a lasting impression on me that I would also highly recommend reading:

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Circe by Madeline Miller
Us Against You by Fredrick Backman
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust 
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Review: Trevor Noah, the host for The Daily Show, brings his sharp wit and analysis when talking about his childhood as a mixed-race individual in South Africa under the tyranny of apartheid. Initially I thought the title of Noah's memoir was tongue in cheek, but then I discovered that he means it literally. Born from a black South African mother and a white Swiss German diplomat, where sex between races was strictly forbidden and a crime. Thus Noah is born of a crime.
  In eighteen poignant, humorous, and incisive essays, Noah takes the reader along a personal journey of life inside South Africa. Due to the color of his skin and fear of being taken away, Noah spent much of his childhood alone and inside though it did not stop him from being mischievous and causing havoc in his family. Noah also mentions the many times he had to endure hunger, homelessness, violence, and racism. Though he never felt like he belonged or found his group, Noah became a chameleon inside by learning many of the languages spoken of South Africa. He lovingly describes his religious, courageous, and rebellious mother who kept him grounded and instilled valuable lessons.
  While the tone of the book is humorous both from tales of Noah's own coming of age stories of embarrassment, it is leveled at the severity of institutionalized racism, domestic abuse, and deepens our understanding of social constructs such as race, gender, and class. I found Noah's book to be eye opening since many American social studies classes do not cover the apartheid in South Africa is their curriculum and if they do it is generally glossed over. Readers who have a firmer grasp on South African politics would get much more out of Noah's memoir, but it is a wonderful memoir to read independently too.

Rating: 4.5 stars


Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book, mentions of domestic abuse and attempted rape. Recommended for older teens and adults.


If you like this book try: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the US with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn't come empty-handed. She brought her strength, her work, her passion, her hopes and dreams...and her stories.

Review: In this gorgeously illustrated memoir picture book, Morales recalls the time from her son's birth to their move to the United States from Mexico in the mid-1990s. In the foreign land mother and son encounter many barriers, which are common to the many obstacles immigrants face while trying to survive in a new country that doesn't readily welcome non-English-speaking people of color. The pair encounters respite at the public library where, with the help of librarians, they find a home in the children's section.
  The text is sparse though poetic and dreamlike. The artwork, in my opinion, speaks louder by capturing the wonder of childhood, learning, and discovery through books; however together the text and the magical art beautifully come together to celebrate literacy, language, and Mexican culture.   . Morales explains in an author's note that she and her son are not "Dreamers" in the modern sense-"young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children"-but dreamers in the sense of all immigrants who come to a new country. Also appended are a thorough list of the books referenced in the artwork and a fascinating note on how Morales created her artwork. I read this picture book twice, once for the lyrical text and then a second closer reading taking in the artwork. I think this is a very strong contender for Caldecott award this year.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K and up.

If you like this book try: The Journey by Francesca Sanna, Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera



Description: Every kid in Lola's school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places. So when Lola's teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can't remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola's imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family's story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela's words: “Just because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it's not in you.”

Review: When Ms. Obi asks her diverse group of students to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, the children are excited except for Lola. Lola is adrift and does not know much about where she came from as she left the island as a child. As Lola talks to some of her neighbors from the Island to draw from their memories, she learns of bats as big as blankets, a place where people loved music and dancing, and amazing fruits. With all of these great things, Lola wonders, why did people leave? Reluctantly, Mr. Mir, the building superintendent, tells her of a Monster that fell upon their Island and did as he pleased for 30 years.
   The text is a bit heavy for a picture book, but it delightful to read. Lola's wonder and the author's humor shines. Though never mentioned by name, the country in question is the Dominican Republic, where Diaz was born. The Monster refers to the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Lola learns from her assignment that "Just because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it's not in you." Espinosa's engaging vibrant mixed-media illustrations portray a thriving community living under the shadow of a metropolitan city. I enjoyed watching how Lola learns more about her Island, the illustrations cleverly incorporate a plethora of tropical plants and color, bringing to life both Lola's neighborhood and La Isla. A great picture book highlighting and celebrating diversity and identity.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-3.


If you like this book try: Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mary Shelley first began penning Frankenstein as part of a dare to write a ghost story, but the seeds of that story were planted long before that night. Mary, just nineteen years old at the time, had been living on her own for three years and had already lost a baby days after birth. She was deeply in love with famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a mad man who both enthralled and terrified her, and her relationship with him was rife with scandal and ridicule. But rather than let it crush her, Mary fueled her grief, pain, and passion into a book that the world has still not forgotten 200 years later.

Review: 2018 marked the 200 year anniversary of Mary Shelley's masterpiece Frankenstein. I had originally wanted to do a reread of the horror classic, but ran out of time and instead picked up Mary's Monster after reading glowing reviews about it. Mary's Monster is a beautifully crafted fictionalized biography in first-person free verse and it unveils how Mary Shelley’s unusual life experiences shaped her imagination and inspired her to give the world the first “mad scientist” in science fiction. Drawn from extensive source material and thoroughly researched, Judge pieces together a timeline from 1812 until the anonymous publication of Frankenstein in 1817. Those familiar with Mary's Shelley's background will notice key life moments discussed from her childhood to her tumultuous romance with Romantic and libertine poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, which resulted a child out of wedlock and banishment by her father. Judge does not hold anything back from the dark moments of Mary's life. While some readers might think the text is overly melodramatic, I think it perfectly captures the emotions highlighted and exaggerated by the Romantics. Along with the engaging text, the book is also filled with black and white, charcoal illustrations which mirrors the text and emotions swirling in Mary. As a fan of Frankenstein, I was completely captivated by this book. Highly recommended for fans of Frankenstein or those who are curious about its author.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are adult themes such as feminism, open relationships, scenes of nudity and sex. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.


If you like this book try: Passion by Jude Morgan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: The Nameless City--held by the rogue Dao prince Erzi--is under siege by a coalition of Dao and Yisun forces who are determined to end the war once and for all... Rat and Kai must infiltrate Erzi's palace and steal back the ancient and deadly formula for napatha--the ancient weapon of mass destruction Erzi has unearthed--before he can use it to destroy everything they hold dear!

Review: The Divided Earth is the final book of The Nameless City trilogy, and wraps the narrative up in a thrilling and thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
  The story takes place in the fictional city Daidu, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city, inspired by China, sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages. The first two volumes of this series establish the various groups who plan to take control of The Nameless City for many reasons. This final conclusion shows how desperately one ruler tries to hold his power by an iron fist and justifies his heinous actions. All of the major characters are thoroughly fleshed out and are three dimensional.

 This volume is full of action as Kai and Rat play integral roles to prevent war in the Nameless City. We also learn some background information on Mura and realize how similar her story is from Rat though they had two different paths in life: one with love and support and the other the fight for survival by any means necessary. The Nameless trilogy is my favorite Hicks graphic novel series so far. It touches upon many themes such as friendship, the cost of war, and politics. Her artwork is inspired by 13th century China is appealing and her illustrations clearly captures the wide range of emotions experienced by her characters. The panels are fluid and easy to read. This captivating trilogy is a must read for readers who enjoy thought provoking and adventurous stories.

Rating: 4.5 stars


Words of Caution: There is some strong violence. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.


If you like this book try: 5 Worlds series by Mark Siegel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

Review: There are a plethora of fiction titles that are written about World War II and after a while all the books seem formulaic. I wanted to learn more of the inner workings of those who worked for spy agencies during the war so when I read the description of Kate Atkinson's latest Transciption I had high hopes considering I enjoyed her other title, Life after Life.
  Transcription is thriller-esque historical fiction that plunges the reader into the complex world of espisonage and the aftermath of World War II. The narrative jumps between two different timelines during the war and the current in which Juliet works for the BBC developing a children show in the 1980s. When she is given a death threat, we retrace her steps in the past and their consequences.
 At the tender age of 18 Juliet Armstrong is all alone in the world when she’s recruited by MI5. Her job is transcribing meetings of British citizens sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Soon, she’s pulled even deeper into the world of espionage, creating multiple identities and forging relationships that impact her life.
  It was fascinating watching Juliet make her way through the complex web of spying. She is very young and naive at the beginning but she soon realizes that she isn't playing a game but with people's actual lives. There are actual transcriptions in the book in which we over hear the British Fascists who think they’re passing secrets to the Third Reich but are actually giving them to an English spy; their crimes are both deadly serious, unfathomable yet funny at a dark level. There is intrigue in the book and even surprises that I didn't see coming and some I still yet to comprehend of the actions taken, but I think that is realistic given the extreme situation of war. With all of this in mind, readers who think this is a fast paced thriller will be disappointed. The plot moves at a leisurely pace, but it much more atmospheric and character driven that your standard thriller. I appreciate that the novel doesn't just end when the war concludes, but it shows its impact on those involved in it from fellow spies to war veterans who are dealing with PSTD. As one character states the line between nationalism and fascism is very thin, which unfortunately sounds very timely given our current political climate. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, allusions to sexual situations, Anti-Semitic comments, and war violence in the book. Recommended to mature teens interested in World War II and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, Trapeze by Simon Mawer
Rummanah Aasi

Description: New York City in the 1860s was a mess: crowded, disgusting, filled with garbage. You see, way back in 1860, there were no subways, just cobblestone streets. That is, until Alfred Ely Beach had the idea for a fan-powered train that would travel underground. On February 26, 1870, after fifty-eight days of drilling and painting and plastering, Beach unveiled his masterpiece—and throngs of visitors took turns swooshing down the track.

Review: The Secret Subway is an absorbing nonfiction picture book about the first creation of a subway in New York City. It is a story that I had never heard about. In the 1860s, Alfred Ely Beach found a solution to New York City's crowded streets and invented the first underground train which went back and forth in a 294 foot tunnel. He oversaw the building of a short tunnel, a single car, the machinery to make it move, and a luxurious underground waiting room, complete with a fountain.
  The creation of the subway was incredible and I loved the full page spread which shows spread shows the car traveling to the right of the page, then back to the left, its momentum causing the wide-eyed, elaborately dressed passengers to sway. Of course inevitable corruption derailed the project and the story was long forgotten until now. While the topic of trains may not thrill younger readers, the illustrations for this picture book by Chris Sickels are incredible. The images are made out of stylized clay figures and furnishings that are exquisite in details. The lightning and color choices makes the illustrations pop off the page as if the reader was watching a movie instead of reading a book.   

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: Sky High by Monica Kulling, Subway story by Sarcone-Roach, Julia.


Description: This picture book biography tells the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who bicycled across Ghana--nearly 400 miles--with only one leg. With that achievement he forever changed how his country treats people with disabilities, and he shows us all that one person is enough to change the world.

Review: Emmanuel's Dream is an inspirational picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, was born in rural Ghana in 1977 with only one functional leg and who grew up to become a national hero and disabilities activist. Readers learn of Emmanuel's challenges and achievements, both large and small. His mother had to carry him in order to attend school and once he became to heavy, he had to hop to and from school. In order to make friends, Emmanuel had to save money in order to buy a soccer ball and made a condition that others could play with the ball so long as he could play too while using crutches. He also learned how to ride a bike, which brought him national attention. As a young man, he embarked on an astounding 400-mile bicycle ride through Ghana, raising awareness and spreading his message that "being disabled does not mean being unable."
  The text is simple, well paced, and clearly written. Qualls's mixed-media art are quite nice and matches its upbeat tone. Soft blues and greens, bright oranges, and hot pinks are set against light-pastel painted backgrounds, effectively conveying mood and emotion. This story is sure to inspire many young readers and remind us that disabilities does not equate with restrictions.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz and My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Rummanah Aasi

Description: How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including, John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O'Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.
 In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

Review: Our current political climate has left many of us disillusioned and hopeless. How I Resist is a timely anthology that encourages teens to take charge and be agents of change. The book features 30 diverse voices from a wide range of ethnicities, religion, sexual orientations, professional achievements, and even a few familiar celebrities. Each contributor shares their own definition of resistance, their own experiences encountering, and countering, various forms of injustice, and encourage readers to speak out and act against the same. Along with the diverse voices, the compendium also features essays, poems, music, interviews, comics, and other formats to address the topic of resistance. While some entries offer a step by step guide on how teens can enact change even if they are not old enough to vote, others like Jacqueline Woodson's interview suggest that change can start by having an open and honest conversation at home. The strongest entry in this anthology is by Maya Rupert who muses the problematic representation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of feminist power and diverse representation in all forms of media.
 If read as an entire book, the anthology does become repetitive but it would work better if used in selection and excerpts for class discussion. It is clear that this work is driven by passion, honesty, and the yearn to do something instead of being a passive bystander.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Hope Nation edited by Rose Brock, Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage by In This Together Media
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen year old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.
Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.
  When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Review: I enjoyed reading Sheets by Brenna Thurmmler, but I could not help but feel like something was missing from the somber graphic novel. Sheets is centered on grief and dealing with death. Struggling to cope after the death of her mother, teen Marjorie is forced to become the adult. She has to look after her father, who is struggling with depression, and her little brother; attend high school; and run the family laundromat business, where they all live and work. At school, she is invisible to most and visible to bullies who make fun of her job. In addition an adult man threatens and tries to sabotage the laundromat in order to intimidate Majorie to relinquish the business for his own use. And as if this isn't enough, young Wendell, a ghost who is unhappy being dead and surrounded by other spirits, haunts Marjorie and her business and makes things worse.
  My problem with Sheets is that the narrative is imbalanced. Majorie's part of the story is solid and well fleshed out. I wanted to learn more about the Land of Ghosts and about Wendell which just skims the surface on the themes of grief and death. The characters are distinct, and the villain, Mr. Saubertuck, is self-absorbed and very easy to hate. The ghosts, who must wear sheets to be visible, are every bit as sympathetic as the humans and easily noted as a metaphor to how Majorie feels on a daily basis. The artwork is charming and makes a clear distinction between the graphic novel's two worlds, Marjorie's warm, colored world and Wendell's stark, monochrome Land of Ghosts adds life (and death) and dimension to the story. Panels also vary in size, which enriches the narrative. While I didn't love Sheets like I wanted to, I would recommend reading it and I look forward to reading more from Thrummler as she has a lot of potential as a graphic novelist.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Rummanah Aasi



Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all have a safe and wonderful holiday full of food, family, and friends. I will be taking a blogging break this week to unwind and enjoy the holiday. I will return to normal scheduling the following week.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

Review: The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the enchanting historical fantasy Winternight Trilogy. While you could pick up and read The Girl in the Tower without reading Arden's delightful debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, I would not recommend it as you might feel lost about the cast of characters and unclear on the great world building.
  The Girl in the Tower skillfully avoids the dreaded middle book syndrome. Arden expands her  world with new characters and a new setting in Moscow. Some readers have complained that the pacing was slow in this book, but I did not find it slow at all. I was completely captivated with the story and its multiple moving parts.
  Now that her fellow villagers believe she’s a witch and her protector is gone, Vasya is no longer safe in her village. She is struck with wanderlust and fully dismisses the only "accepted" roles of a woman: to be either a wife or a nun. With the help of the enigmatic frost-demon Morozko, who feels a fatally human attraction to Vasya, the young woman learns to wield a knife and make herself at home in the frozen forest. Disguised as a young man, she loads up her pack and rides her beloved magical steed, Solovey, into the winter wilderness, south toward Moscow. After rescuing several girls stolen from burned-out villages, she makes her way to Moscow, where she finds her sister Olga, now a royal matron who is very familiar with court politics, and her brother Sasha, a monk with a swashbuckling side.
   Vasya as a boy is welcomed with open arms, however, danger of her secret identity is lingering very close. Arden demonstrates society's double standards for gender very well throughout this story and the feminist themes are articulated very well without being heavy handed in the book. Despite Vasya's fervent desire to be more than just a girl is overturned in the novel, her frustrations with society's very rigid notions are highly relatable and real even in the 21st century.
  There are plenty of surprises in the book and lots of foreshadowing of what is to come in the third and final book. While this book wraps up neatly without a cliffhanger, I still have questions and I definitely want to see more of Morozko.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and strong violence is mentioned in the book but not depicted. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #3), The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson, Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Rummanah Aasi

Description: A picture book biography of José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Juxtaposing his own art with that of Lupe’s, author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man whose art is beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity.

Review: I learned a lot while reading Duncan Tonatiuh's fun and informative picture-book biography on Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913). I never heard of Posada before, but I am familiar of his portrayal of calaveras, the droll skeletons prominent in Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. Posada was a very talented artist who began drawing as a child and later learned lithography, engraving, etching, and finally printmaking. All of these art forms are clearly explained and illustrated in cartoonlike panels of drawings. Posada’s images of calaveras amused the public by poking fun at politicians, but we are asked to think deeper about the art and see if there were other meanings behind the illustrations. I really liked the inclusion of Posada's real work and that of the author himself in digital collages which were vibrant and eye catching.

Curriculum Connection: World Language, Art, Social/Global Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh




Description: When they piled into cars and drove through Durham, North Carolina, the members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team only knew that they were going somewhere to play basketball. They didn't know whom they would play against. But when they came face to face with their opponents, they quickly realized this secret game was going to make history.
  Discover the true story of how in 1944, Coach John McLendon orchestrated a secret game between the best players from a white college and his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes. At a time of widespread segregation and rampant racism, this illegal gathering changed the sport of basketball forever.

Review: Game Changer is a nonfiction picture book that depicts the ground breaking basketball game between a white and African American teams played in defiance of segregation in the Jim Crow South. Coach John McLendon of the North Carolina College of Negroes believed basketball could change people’s prejudices and invited players from the Duke University Medical School, an all-white team, to play a “secret game” in his college’s gym. The game opened the white players eyes to the new style of playing basketball by the McLendon’s players. Since the players on both teams enjoyed playing together, they played a “shirts and skins” game, with whites and African Americans on both teams.
  Game Changer is a lively and inspiring story. The illustrations are incredibly eye catching and look almost like real life photos. My only complaint about this book is that it is super short. I would have liked more pages, perhaps giving us background information on some of the players involved. At the back of the book there is more detail on Coach McLendon as well as a time line of integration in sports.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 and up.

If you like this book try: Jim Thorpe's Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.
   But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.
  It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

Review: Tanner's family moved from California to Provo, Utah, where they are one of the few non-Mormon families in town. Tanner's mother left the Mormon church in college after the church refused to acknowledge and accept her lesbian sister and Tanner's father is a nonpracticing Jew. Although Tanner's family is extremely supportive of his bisexuality, they all agree Tanner should keep his sexual identity under wraps in his ultra-conservative town. With only one semester until graduation, Tanner is prepared to coast his senior year with no drama. When his best friend Autumn dares him to sign up for a seminar where students must write a book in four months, Tanner's carefree plans come to a halt when Sebastian Brothers walks into his life.
  Sebastian is mentoring the school's legendary novel writing seminar, after having his own class novel bought for publication. Tanner is wrapped up in Sebastian, but Sebastian is the son of the Mormon bishop. Sebastian slowly opens up to Tanner and through Sebastian we get to learn about the Mormon church. Lauren does a great job in not painting members of the Mormon church as one dimensional villains but as complex people with their own individual strengths and flaws. It is very tricky to discuss the conflict between sexuality and religion, but Lauren takes a balance approach. While I can not comment on how accurate the Mormon depiction is represented in the book, I do have a little clearer understanding of the religion. 
    As Sebastian begins to return Tanner's flirtation, questions arise about how far he's willing to push his faith and how satisfied Tanner can be in the shadows. The romance between Sebastian and Tanner is incredibly sweet though I wished it was not insta-love. Regardless, all of the characters are highly relatable and the plot is thoroughly engaging. There are bittersweet moments along with the happy sighs of contentment. While sexual identity and faith are important themes in Autoboyography, the book is also about family, friendship, acceptance, and being true to yourself.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, homophobic slurs, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Kamala Khan has vanished! But where has she gone, and why? Jersey City still has a need for heroes, and in the wake of Ms. Marvel's disappearance, dozens have begun stepping up to the plate. The city's newest super hero Red Dagger and even ordinary citizens attempt to carry on the brave fight in Kamala's honor. Somehow, Ms. Marvel is nowhere...but also everywhere at once! Absent but not forgotten, Ms. Marvel has forged a heroic legacy to be proud of. But when an old enemy re-emerges, will anyone be powerful enough to truly carry the Ms. Marvel legacy - except Kamala herself?

Review: Volume 9 is another enjoyable addition to the Ms. Marvel graphic novel series. In this volume Kamala is pouting and self declared unnecessary since the media has caught Red Dagger mania. Now Kamala can not be found. While Kamala is sulking, her friends have taken turns to become Ms. Marvel without the superhero abilities. The spotlight is on the secondary characters for the first half of this graphic novel and I enjoyed watching them act as a team. There is a nice discussion of what makes a hero and how we should help ourselves.
  The story moves at a quick pace. The Inventor, the old villain from the second volume returns and I didn't care much for him or his scheme to harm senior citizens. I did, however, love the comments the Wakandian student abroad makes about visiting the U.S. Bruno has returned, which stirs up old feelings for Kamala. Now that she is placed in a love triangle with the Red Dagger, we will have to see how this pans out. I hope this part of the story is not dragged out. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 10 by G. Willow Wilson, 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: Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. Marcus knows what classmates and teachers see when they look at him: a monster. But appearances are deceiving. At home, Marcus is a devoted brother. And he finds ways to earn cash to contribute to his family’s rainy day fund. His mom works long hours and his dad walked out ten years ago—someone has to pick up the slack.
   After a fight at school leaves him facing suspension, Marcus and his family decide to hit the reset button and regroup for a week in Puerto Rico. Marcus is more interested in finding his father, though, who is somewhere on the island. Through a series of misadventures that take Marcus all over Puerto Rico in search of the elusive Mr. Vega, Marcus meets a colorful cast of characters who show him the many faces of fatherhood. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

Review: Pablo Cartaya delivers another compelling read about the meaning of family, identity, and culture, set in pre–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico in Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish. Marcus is an intimidating middle schooler due to his sheer size: six feet tall and 180 pounds, but he is gentle and devoted to his mom and younger brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome. He is aware of his mother's struggles in working long hours and being absent from home due to financial constraints. One of the ways he “helps out” is earning extra cash by charging schoolmates protection money to keep them safe from the real bullies. When one of those bullies insults Charlie, Marcus uses his immense strength to put the bully in his place. The fallout from Marcus’s violent act leads to his suspension from school and a family crisis. Marcus’s mother decides the family needs a week in Puerto Rico, where Marcus was born and where his absentee father’s relatives still live, to figure things out.
 Spending time with his extended family and traveling across the Puerto Rican countryside (pre-Hurricane Maria as noted in the author’s note) opens Marcus' eyes to his heritage. He learns about his Puerto Rican culture despite the re-occuring refrain that he doesn't speak Spanish. Eventually he learns that speaking a language does not prevent you from understanding family and familial love. As his cultural bonds tighten, Marcus gains a new understanding of his mother’s struggles and his own important roles as both son and older brother.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying and a derogatory word is mentioned for a special needs student. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.


If you like this book try: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez and Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Rummanah Aasi

Description: It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
  Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother. 
   But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.


Review: I have been eagerly anticipating Tahereh Mafi's latest contemporary novel centering on Islamophobia called A Very Large Expanse of Sea. A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a deeply personal read for me as a Muslim American and it mostly succeeds.
  Shirin has never settled at any school. She has been constantly moving due to her father's job being relocated. Being an Iranian Muslim who wears hijab and taking the brunt of repeated cruelty because of her hijab, has further alienated Shirin and made her extremely jaded and cynical. She has learned to protect herself from xenophobic threats and insults by being distant and guarded. She only plans to get through high school as quickly and fade into the background until she meets Ocean James, who sees more than just her headscarf and is charmingly persistent about learning who she is, from her love of music to her burgeoning skills on the break dancing team her brother starts. While Shirin is drawn to Ocean’s honesty, she is terrified of a possible future: Would a "tentative relationship" even succeed? What happens to him when he is confronted by the hate she receives? Would he stand by her at her utmost vulnerable state?
   I really liked Shirin’s sharp, crisp, and honest voice as she narrates her story. Constantly dealing with racist and Islamophobic threats has made her abrasive and standoffish. Mafi clearly demonstrates the common comments Muslims teens deal with daily. Mafi holds nothing back when she openly addresses many common misconceptions about Islam and what it means to be a woman of color in the face of racism. I admired how Shirin takes a stand on practicing her faith and makes the reader understand that it is her choice to wear the hijab. I would have loved if she discussed why she  wears the hijab as everyone has a different reason. I also enjoyed the warm and supportive relationship Shirin has with her older brother.
  My biggest issue with A Very Large Expanse of Sea is that there is a lot of telling and less of showing. For example, there is a small but important scene in which Shirin meets another Muslim girl who does not wear hijab at her school, who mentions that she is also dealing with Islamophobic comments. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to show this moment in the narrative and focus on a friendship between these two characters. I also was disappointed that we are told about Ocean instead of fleshing out his character. I did not have a good grasp on him as a character, which lead me to not really feel invested in his and Shirin's relationship.  
 A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a compelling and compulsive read. It is one of the strongest Muslim #ownvoices contemporary books that are out right now. While not every Muslim reader who picks up this book will agree with Shirin's decisions and/or actions, it will serve a mirror for many of them. While readers may be disappointed in the romance, it will certainly enlighten them. 

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Unchained from fate, the Norse gods Loki and Hel are ready to unleash Ragnarok, a.k.a. the Apocalypse, upon the earth. They’ve made allies on the darker side of many pantheons, and there’s a globe-spanning battle brewing that ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan will be hard-pressed to survive, much less win.
   Granuaile MacTiernan must join immortals Sun Wukong and Erlang Shen in a fight against the Yama Kings in Taiwan, but she discovers that the stakes are much higher than she thought. Meanwhile, Archdruid Owen Kennedy must put out both literal and metaphorical fires from Bavaria to Peru to keep the world safe for his apprentices and the future of Druidry. And Atticus recruits the aid of a tyromancer, an Indian witch, and a trickster god in hopes that they’ll give him just enough leverage to both save Gaia and see another sunrise. There is a hound named Oberon who deserves a snack, after all.

Review: Scourged is a very fitting series finale to the Iron Druid Chronicles. For eight books in this series we have watched Atticus dodge danger, widen his network of friends and enemies, and survived for centuries. The last few books, however, made me very frustrated with Atticus because his tunnel vision and stubbornness had essentially lead to the Apocalypse. It's not until he is standing at the very edge of the cliff does he realize all of his biggest mistakes. This character arc is a testament to Hearne's writing and makes Atticus a flawed hero who despite his mistakes still makes you want to root for him.
  Scourged is essentially Atticus's wake-up call. He has to correct his mistakes and form unlikely alliances all to preserve the world as we know it. His relationship with Granuaile was slowly fracturing in the last few books as she continued to disapprove Atticus's actions, but now it might be irreparably broken. I loved that Granualie has graduated from a secondary character to now a main character and especially in this book calls Atticus out on his mistakes.
  In Scourged we see a lot of favorite characters from the past books make a presence. The battle scenes were cinematic and well written. It felt as if I was witnessing it right before my eyes. There were difficult casualties to endure, but it had to be done with this epic war. Hearne does a nice job in balancing the lighter moments with humor without losing the serious and darker notes as we get closer to the big conflict. The ending was fitting though the door has been left open for new adventures. As I learned from Hearne's newsletter an Iron Druid Chronicles series is in the works and I'm definitely going to read it.
   
Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
   But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Review: Dread Nation is a very clever and subversive horror novel set in an alternative American Civil War. The North and South have set aside their differences and slavery has ended when the dead rise up, prowl the battlefields, and eat their compatriots. The horror has birthed a new nation and a different type of slavery disguised by the Native and Negro Reeducation Act which forces Native and African American boys and girls into combat schools. Graduates from these schools are a buffer between the living and the undead.
  Jane McKeen is a biracial girl sent to Ms. Preston's school of combat to obtain an attendant certificate. She is trained in combat, weaponry, and etiquette so she can protect her future white employers. Though not an ideal life, the life of an attendant provides an opportunity for education and a chance at a better life. Jane yearns for the chance to be reunited with her mother and return to her home in Kentucky. Jane is an admirable heroine who is above all a survivor. She is quick on her feet, incredibly intelligent, and outspoken which leads her into trouble multiple of times. We get glimpses of her past as she writes letters to her mother and reminisces about home.
 When she is about to graduate her friend, Red Jack, asks for help locating his sister Lily. Jane's attempts to discover Lily's whereabouts land her in a survivalist colony called Summerland, whose motto is restoring America's former glory. Survivalists advocate a disordered view of natural selection that places Jane on patrol from zombies because her skin color makes her expendable and she is firmly under the watchful eye of a vicious sheriff and his psychopathic family. Jane now has an insurmountable task of finding a way out of Summerland not only for herself, but also for those she loves. She must make some unlikely alliances of her own if she is to survive long enough to find her own path to freedom.
  I am not a fan of horror novels and particularly not of zombies, but Dread Nation drew me in as a reader. It is a smart, thought provoking novel that explores horror of the fictional and unfortunately real kind. Ireland skillfully works in the different forms of enslavement, mental and physical, into a complex and engaging story. It is absolutely horrifying to see characters justify oppression, racism, and slavery. Despite these heavy topics, the novel also has lighter moments too where it explores friendship, love, defying expectations, defiance, and resisting paths that are thrust upon you. I am happy to see that this is a beginning of a series, but there is so much more that I want to know about Jane and her friends. This is a solid horror novel for fans of the movie Get Out and the television show The Walking Dead.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence including a scene of torture. There is minor language and antiquated racial slurs. Drug use is also mentioned. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry, Devils Unto Dust by Emily Berquist
Bob
Rummanah Aasi

Description: It's been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy's grandmother in Australia. Now that she's back, Livy has the feeling she's forgotten something really, really important about Gran's house. It turns out she's right. Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn't forget Livy, or her promise. He's been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can't remember who--or what--he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it's time to keep that promise. Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Review: Bob is an uplifting story of friendship and magic co-written by two mega stars of the children literature world. Livy, now ten, doesn’t remember much about the last time she visited her grandmother in Australia five years before. When Livy rediscovers a weird, green, diminutive creature dressed in a chicken costume called Bob hiding in a closet, she  promises to help Bob figure out who he is and where he came from, and to solve the mystery of how she’d forgotten about him in the first place. The story alternate between Livy’s and Bob’s first-person perspectives. I enjoyed reading Bob's chapter the most as it was filled with warmth and humor. There are illustrations by Nicolas Gannon are sprinkled with illustrations, monochromatic and golden-brown, provide a nostalgic feel.
  Although I enjoyed the positive message in the book, I felt underwhelmed by the story. The book moves at a leisure pace even though the chapters are short. I had hoped we would find Livy and Bob actively searching for answers, but the climactic plot twist is rushed and the environmental message feels tacked on and unexplored. Unfortunately, Bob did not meet my high expectations, but I would still recommend it to younger readers who are looking for a feel good story.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Rummanah Aasi

Description: The Iron Druid Chronicles is a hilarious and action-packed urban fantasy set in a modern world in which all the gods of every pantheon are alive and well, as in American Gods; its hero is a smart-mouthed, buttkicking magician, like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. But it’s told in a smart, witty, unforgettable voice that’s all Kevin Hearne—a star in the fantasy world. This addictive and wildly imaginative series stars hero Atticus O’Sullivan: a handsome, tattooed Irishman who looks like a young rock star, but is in actuality a 2,000-year-old Druid with extraordinary magic powers. In Besieged, Atticus’ adventures throughout history are told in a collection of nine new and original short stories.

Review: Before you read Scourged, the final book in the Iron Druid Chronicles, I highly suggest picking up Besieged, the short story collection set in Hearne's creative and entertaining urban fantasy world. In this collection of nine original short stories we get backstory information of the past and hints of the future. In "The Eye of Horus," he hunts for scrolls underneath the Great Library of Alexandria, where he encounters two members of the Egyptian pantheon. I love how this series though heavily influenced in Celtic and Norse mythologies also features mythologies from around the world. "The Bogeyman of Boora Bog" is narrated by Archdruid Owen Kennedy in which he meets a young boy who will one day become Atticus O'Sullivan. This is my favorite story in this short stories collection. I loved getting more information about Atticus' childhood and his family. In "The Cuddle Dungeon" we follow an Irish goddess of the hunt and Slavic god of thunder walk into a sex dungeon and then strange things happen. This story was the weakest and too weird for me and I did not see how it added anything to the overall Iron Druid World. The last short story and a prequel to Scourged called "The End of Idylls," has Atticus reminiscing to his best friend wolfhound Oberon about companionship and traveling solo. This story sets up the uneasiness of the final book. I hate when characters have to ready themselves to say goodbye while going off to dangerous adventures.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and violence in the short story collection. There are sexual situations at times graphic in this short story collection. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Scourged by Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid Chronicles #9), The Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn, Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Robert Hoge was born with a tumor the size of a tennis ball in the middle of his face and short, twisted legs, but he refused to let what made him different stand in the way of leading a happy, successful life. This is the true story of how he embraced his circumstances and never let his 'ugly' stop him from focusing on what truly mattered.

Review: Ugly is a memoir, set in Australia, that grabbed my attention right away with its humor, honesty, compassion, and grace. It is an eye opening read about being born and living with severe physical deformities. As a child, Hoge was in general healthy, but his mother initially did not want to keep him because of his appearance. He was born with mangled legs and a large tumor in the middle of his face. Doctors predicted that surgery might kill him. Nevertheless, they proceeded with several operations to "fix" Hoge in the hopes they would help improve his life and make him "appear normal". As the years passed, Hoge experienced many ups and downs such as getting the right fit with his prosthetic and learning how to walk in them, wanting to play traditional and popular sports but is not able to because of his disability, and making loyal friends while also dealing with bullying.
  Despite his disability, the memoir also highlights a more traditional childhood from being mischievous at school, attends summer camp, unsuccessfully auditions for a junior choir, and performs in a talent show. While winning battles, Hodge always wished to belong and underwent multiple surgeries to "improve" his face. And despite wanting to look more "normal," Hoge later made a conscious decision not to have any more operations, which is really remarkable and emphasizes all of us to embrace our differences.
  Hodge's writing is very accessible and easy to read. He uses analogies to clarify complex themes and it had the right balance of humor and candidness that makes the story conversational and compelling rather than preachy and dry.

Rating: 4 stars


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


If you like this book try: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Gabe and Izzy by Gabrielle Ford
Dry
Rummanah Aasi

Description: The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers. Until the taps run dry.
  Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a war zone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Review: Shusterman's latest YA thriller is scarily realistic and plausible. In the near-future or alternate-present America, a prolonged drought called the Tap-Out results in the sudden depletion of Southern California's water supply. When their parents vanish while seeking desalinated water, Alyssa and her 10-year-old brother Garrett embark on a harrowing journey, searching for their parents and fending for themselves as society around them deteriorates. Along the way, the siblings pick up three teens: their survivalist neighbor Kelton, unpredictable lone wolf Jacqui, and calculating opportunist Henry.
  Dry alternates between the teens' distinct viewpoints and intersecting snapshots that supplement the backdrop of how others are dealing with the dire circumstances.The snap shots doesn't distract the reader and only enhances the hysteria, suspense, and time constraints on our characters until they die of dehydration. I liked Alyssa but she came across as your generic teen. I would have much rather preferred if the story was told by the spirited and impulsive Jacqui. I was intrigued by Kelton's family dynamic who were super prepared for any crisis and I wanted to learn more about them. Henry was well fleshed out despite the limited page time he appeared in the story.
  The story does have its share of bleak moments. I did have to suspend my disbelief in the lack of warning before the Tap-Out comes into full swing. I also had questions towards the ending that were not addressed and glossed over. While not my favorite Shusterman novel, Dry is a solid dystopian/survival thriller.

Rating: 4 stars


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


If you like this book try: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he's off to soccer camp for a month, and he's been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it's up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it's a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin's older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he's acting even weirder than when he left.

Review: I have a hit or miss relationship with Hope Larson's works, but I did enjoy All Summer Long which is her latest slice of life graphic novel. Bina and Austin have been best friends since they were babies. They are use to seeing and talking to each other all the time, but the summer before eighth grade, things start to get change and become weird. Austin’s leaving for a month-long soccer camp and leaving Bina alone for the entire summer. He rarely texts her while he's away at camp and he thinks their annual “summer fun index” tradition is dumb. During Austin's absence, Bina finds plenty to occupy herself, and  focuses on her passion for music.
  I was thrilled to see a female and male friendship with no romance tension between them, which is what I initially feared when I read the graphic novel's premise. I love the friends to lovers trope, but I also think it's really important for readers to see that there are strong friendships too. Larson perfectly captures the anxiety and relief that sometimes accompanies changing childhood friendships. Bina is initially adrift at the beginning of her summer, but she seems just as happy to find her own path while he’s gone. I also liked the diverse side characters found in the graphic novel too. Bina's ethnicity is vague, but it makes her story universal and approachable. I also liked the illustrations with bold, black outlines and a sunny yellow palette, which makes summer come alive for the characters and the reader.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.


If you like this book try: Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When a druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he's bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers—led by power-mad pain-in-the-neck Theophilus—have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It's time to make a stand.
  As always, Atticus wouldn't mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ornery archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: Turns out when you stiff a troll, it's not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki's mark and elude his powers of divination—a quest that will bring her face-to-face with several Slavic nightmares.
  As Atticus globe trots to stop his nemesis Theophilus, the journey leads to Rome. What better place to end an immortal than the Eternal City? But poetic justice won't come without a price: In order to defeat Theophilus, Atticus may have to lose an old friend.


Review: I completed the Iron Druid Chronicles earlier this year and enjoyed the ride. I am, however, behind on reviewing the last few books in this series. Staked is another great installment of the Iron Druid Chronicles. The plot becomes complicated as Atticus has tunnel vision on exacting revenge, which has consequences for everyone that we have met throughout this series thus far. As with the previous book, Staked is told in three different points of views: Atticus, Granuaile, and Owen. Each of these druids have separate story lines where he/she go on their individual adventure, but they all converge in the end. I enjoyed the three different points of views as it does not interfere with what I expect from this series, which is a ton of action and humor.
    Atticus is back in Toronto, a place he swore he would never visit again, but he has a purpose which is to steal a list of all the vampires in the world. His trip has several unexpected surprises and I enjoyed revisiting some of the past characters such as The Hammers of God and The Dark Elves, not to mention an intense and bitter encounter with Leif. Granuaile is in Asgard with Oden, working on a way to remove Loki’s mark. I love that she is independent and given actual obstacle to overcome. Hearne does not make things easy for her and I really appreciated it. It always irks me when female characters are given simple tasks because they are "delicate" or can not handle it. Owen's relationship with Greta continues to grow and Greta convinces him to six young, diverse humans to become Druids.
  Emotions get the best of Atticus in this book and he really digs himself a huge hole. His actions will have huge consequences as we speed to the conclusion of this series. I was surprised by the characters that we lost in this book and I am sure Hearne is trying to prep his readers by what is about to happen in the finale.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There is strong language and violence throughout the book. There are also sexual situations and crude humor in the book. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Besieged by Kevin Hearne (short stories in the Iron Druid Chronicles), Scourged by Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid Chronicles #9), The Age of Misrule trilogy by Mark Chadbourn
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ever since her near-fatal drowning, Cassidy has been able to pull back the "Veil" that separates the living from the dead and see ghosts, not that she wants to, and she was really looking forward to a ghost-free summer at the beach; however her parents are going to start filming a TV series about the world's most haunted places, starting with Edinburgh with its graveyards, castles, and restless phantoms--and Cass and her personal ghost companion, Jacob, are about to find out that a city of old ghosts can be a very dangerous place indeed.

Review: A near-death experience leaves Cassidy Blake altered and with a ghost named Jacob for a best friend. She can also sense other ghosts and when she chooses, she can pull back “the Veil” between the living world and the dead to visit spirits caught in a kind of limbo. When her parents, paranormal investigators who ironically can’t see ghosts, begin hosting a ghost-hunting TV show, the Blakes travel to Scotland to film in Edinburgh’s most haunted areas, which has an alarmingly strong pull on Cass.
 City of Ghost is a quick spooky read for younger readers. Schwab brings the creepy vibe behind Scotland's graveyard sites to life and it jumps off the page. The book, however, flounders when it tries to juggle with world building of what seems to be a new series and plot of the first book. The world building at times comes across as info dumping when Cassidy and Jacob meet the feisty, know it all Lara Jayne Chowdhury, a British-Indian girl who shares Cass’ ability. I was confused as to why only Lara and her dead uncle are the ones who know of the "purpose". The climax of the book comes at a break neck pace and is quickly resolved in a matter of pages. I also wanted to know more about Cassidy as a person and a backstory of Jacob which we sadly do not get in this story. Still I am intrigued enough to pick up the next book in the series but it will not be on the top of my reading pile.


Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and stories about some of the adult ghosts such as a serial killer. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.
  When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.


Review: Sadie is a powerful, gut wrenching, thriller that will elicit strong emotions from you as you read it. The book has a very simple plot, Sadie Hunter is going to kill the man who murdered her 13-year-old sister, Mattie, but its execution sets it apart from other thrillers. The story alternates between Sadie's first-person point of view as she makes her way across Colorado in search of Keith, who sexually abused her when he dated her mother and who she believes murdered Mattie, and the transcript of a serialized podcast called The Girls by a well established journalist West McCray who is both drawn and repelled by Sadie's and Maddie's story. His interviews with her family and those who crossed her path provide an outsider's perspective to Sadie's actions and interior monologue and always remains painstakingly close to Sadie's present story. The podcast makes the story come alive and expands on book's themes of revenge, ineffective policing, poverty, and addiction and its impact on parenting. 
  Sadie is a precocious survivor. Her mother, Claire, is a drug-addicted, single mother. When Mattie was born Sadie became a de facto parent at the age of 6. Though both sisters had different fathers, Sadie was determined to never let Mattie feel unloved. Her baby sister’s love filled a hole in Sadie’s fiercely protective heart and quickly became her world. Claire favored Mattie, who remained attached to her long after Claire disappeared from their grim, trailer-park home in rural Colorado. Sadie believes that Mattie’s determination to find Claire led to her brutal murder. Without Mattie Sadie has lost her anchor, but her drive for justice, revenge, and hope of preventing other girls like Mattie from abuse and murder propels her into action.
  Sadie is an extraordinary female heroine that I have not seen in a long time in YA thrillers. She is smart, observant, tough, and at times heartrendingly vulnerable. Sadie exempts no one, not even herself, from her unsparing judgment. It broke my heart several times when Sadie immediately questioned a person's kindness, though she was almost always right, but it made me feel incredibly uneasy.
  The book set me on edge and I had to put it aside a few times because of its intensity, but I did feel compelled to find out what happened next. Summers does a fantastic job in not reveling in shocking the reader with graphic and gratuitous detail of the abuse that Sadie encountered, but just the right amount that we can connect the dots. I am still unsure of how I feel about the open ending, perhaps it is selfish of me for wanting a glimmer of hope for Sadie but she really deserves one.
  Sadie is a very timely book especially at a time where female survivors of sexual assault and abuse are being silenced and doubted. This will make an excellent book club discussion and the format lends itself to also be a fantastic audiobook if done well. Unforgettable and one of the best thrillers I have read in a very long time.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, allusions to sexual abuse and attempted rape, pedophilia, drug abuse, and parental neglect. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess, All the Rage by Courtney Summers
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