Rummanah Aasi

Description: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times, and spying on her neighbors. Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare. What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control?

Review: When I attended the ALA Summer Conference in Chicago asked for an adult to teen crossover book, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn was highly recommended. I have been looking for a good thriller, but I keep coming up short with books that have lots of potential. This book is in some ways an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's most popular suspense movies as they are constantly referenced throughout the book whether it is playing on the TV in the background or the main character, Anna, quoting famous lines in her inner monologues. The book also attempts to be structured like a Hitchcock film and doesn't quite succeed.
  Although the book has incredibly short chapters, it takes a long while for it to get going. We spend a lot of time establishing the main character. Anna Fox was a proficient child psychologist. After a traumatic incident she becomes agoraphobic and has never left her house. She spends her time watching movies, drinking wine profusely (often times with her medication), and spying on her neighbors. Her behavior becomes repetitive and the book finally picks up when she witnesses a crime, we are unsure if it really happened because of her destructive behavior. This is a set up that we have seen numerous times now.
  The suspenseful moments are unevenly sprinkled and I wished the author took time to develop the supporting characters in order to allow us to come up with reasons why they may or may not have ulterior motives rather than just telling us. Overall, The Woman in the Window is a popcorn, plot driven thriller. It is not groundbreaking and in my opinion not worth the hype, but it an entertaining read on a cold, Chicago night. For teens and adults who can not get enough of thrillers like Gone Girl, this will work just fine. I would much rather watch an old Hitchcock film instead. Don't be surprised to see a movie trailer for this as the rights have been already sold before the book was published.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, strong alcohol usage, and prescription drugs. Sexual situations are implied but not graphically depicted. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rummanah Aasi

Description:  After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Review: Counting Thyme is a moving family story that relies less on melodrama and more on real, heartfelt emotions. When Thyme’s baby brother, Val, is accepted into a cancer treatment trial in New York, their family is uprooted from California with the hope of a cure. Thyme believes the move will be temporary and she can rejoin her best friend back home. As Val’s treatments go through series of improvements and set backs, her parents keep secrets, pay less attention to her, and her sister gets involved in school, Thyme begins to wonder if New York might be a more permanent arrangement. Thyme is torn between her own selfish desires as she collects "time" on a little sheets of paper for good behavior in hopes of purchasing a flight back home and wanting to provide love and support for her brother. When things begin to get complicated at school with new friends and a first crush, Thyme feels torn between two places—her family and making her own way. Conklin beautifully captures Thyme's emotional struggle. She is quite aware of the toll Val's treatment takes on all of her family members, but she also can not help but feel adrift when she is not included and tuned into what is going on. The family dynamics are well developed, especially Thyme and Val's relationship that often brought a lump to my throat is incredibly sweet. Counting Thyme showcases the stress and tension that can happen during a family crisis.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles, A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, Ida B: ... And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation, where her mother―a noted scriptologist―constantly alters and expands their reality. But when her home is attacked and her mother kidnapped, Elsa is forced to cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative Victorian Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of young scientists with a gift for mechanics, alchemy, or scriptology―and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.

Review: Gwendolyn Clare's debut steampunk-fantasy novel, Ink, Iron, and Glass has an intriguing premise. Elsa’s home world of Veldana was written into existence by her mother, Jumi. Jumi is a scriptologist, capable of creating new worlds through words alone. When Jumi is kidnapped, Elsa must put her own scriptology skills to work, traveling to a steampunk, alternative version of Victorian yet to be unified Italy, where she meets a group of pazzerellone, young people with an aptitude for one of three disciplines: mechanics, alchemy, or scriptology. Elsa is strong, brilliant, and fiercely independent young woman. I liked her right away. She does have a cold exterior as she has been taught from a very young age to not trust others, but she slowly opens up and reluctantly befriends Italians Leo and Porzia and Tunisian Faraz when she finally admits that her mission is far too big for a solo adventure. As the four get closer to finding Elsa’s mother and learning the reason for her capture, they discover an enemy who will stop at nothing to use scriptology as a weapon to “edit” the Earth according to their liking.
  I have read quite a few steampunk novels, but never has the novel fully embrace the technology and the world building like this book. From the clothes to transportation and to the Casa della Pazzia (translated to House of the Maddness) is essentially a smart house where Casa is very much like Siri, Alexa, or Ok Google. The author does a great job in bringing this engrossing world to life. In addition to the great world building, I also appreciated the deeper topics such as otherness or the troublesome use of the word "exotic" which apply to both Elsa and Faraz as people of color. The ethics of being a scriptologist is also discussed as Elsa's mother strives to give her people freedom where as another scriptologist scribed pregnancies of woman against their will in Veldana. Freedom and duties to country are also addressed by warring factions in Italy. I also found the idea of calling those who are scientifically inclined to be called "mad" not a comment on their mental health but rather the historical context of the ongoing conflict between science and the Church. 
  The book does have a couple of flaws, but it didn't hinder my reading enjoyment. The first few chapters were a bit slow and disorientating as I tried to make sense of what was happening. Once I got my bearings there was plenty of action to hold my interest. There is a romance that feels very much insta-love and there are quite a few corny lines that made me roll my eyes but I am hoping this will decrease as the series goes on. The book does not really end in a cliffhanger because the "twist" seemed obvious to me but I am definitely planning on continuing this series to see where it goes.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mention of women being pregnant against their will, and violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Book Jumper by
Rummanah Aasi
Description: One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn't add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister's return might just be the beginning of the crime.

Review: Emma in the Night is a tense thriller that explores the bond between sisters and family dynamics and epitomizes the word “dysfunctional.” Three years ago, teens Emma Tanner and her sister Cassandra, left home and disappeared into the night. Now Cass has returned without Emma. Dr. Abby Walker of the FBI, a forensic psychiatrist who’s been on the case from the beginning, is desperate to find out what happened and to find Emma before it’s too late. 
  Cass begins to recount the harrowing details of that night. Cass claims that she and Emma had been held captive by a couple conspiring to steal the baby Emma birthed a few months after they disappeared. Emma, she claims, is still being held and needs their help. As FBI psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter helps Cass unravel details that will lead them to Emma, she becomes convinced that the girls’ pathologically narcissistic mother, Judy, is somehow responsible for the disappearances. 
  The narrative alternates between Cass' first-person narrative ordeal and her family's disturbing history and Abby’s investigation. It is clear that Cass is an unreliable narrator as some of the events she tells the FBI are not consistent, but is she leaving clues for them to help solve the mystery or can she not be completely trusted at all? 
 The book is compulsively readable. Cass' mother, Judy Martin, is a narcissistic, self-involved mother who has always used her beauty and charm to manipulate her family, and her girls had to flatter her to win her affection. She was jealous of the attention given to her beautiful daughters, which threatened her fragile ego, and she was always scheming to get what she wanted even seducing her stepson, Hunter, who had an unhealthy obsession with Emma. Cass is a survivor, before and after the ordeal, who is forced to become an adult very quickly. I felt horrible for her and could understand how she felt conflicted of wanting attention and wanting to be invisible. These are the same feelings that Abby feels as a daughter who also suffered from a narcissistic mother that compels her to help Cass. The build to the ending is strong, however, the ending was anticlimactic as I figured out early on what had happened to Emma. The last three chapters of the book actually tell the real events and you could see how Cass blurred the lines of fiction and reality. I really liked the first half of the book as I was wrapped in the family drama and dysfunction, but in the end I found the book and the plot to be too convoluted to enjoy.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, sexual situations including rape, underage drinking and drug use. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

Review: Fish in a Tree is a great story of perseverance and grit. Ally is great at math. She is incredibly artistic and possesses an ability to visualize moving pictures in her mind. Reading for Ally is a complete torture and almost impossible for her as the letters will not stop moving enough for her to concentrate. By using her wits and becoming a "troublemaker, she's been able to keep her shameful secret hidden. Her new teacher at school, Mr. Daniels, is able to see right through the defenses she's built. 
  Mr. Daniels is an inspiring teacher who is able to lift Ally's self confidence and encourage her thinking outside of the box. He begins to identify Ally's learning disability of dyslexia and offers help. While Ally struggles to accept the help that Mr. Daniels offers, she also deals with a father deployed in the Middle East, her crushing loneliness of being an outsider with no friends, and an awful set of mean girls at school who look for any and every opportunity to humiliate her. Ally's voice leaps off the page and it was so uplifting to see her grow as a character. Not only is her pain and sadness authentic, but she learns to never give up and look beyond societal labels to make great friends. I also really appreciated how the ending was not an after school special but shows Ally following Mr. Daniels' footsteps in helping others.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands.
  But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.

Review: I loved A.C. Gaughen's Scarlet series and have been looking forward to reading her new series Elementae. Thankfully, this series opener does not disappoint. It has all the ingredients that I love in a fantasy: complex and flawed characters, intriguing world building, and a nice balance of politics and romance.
  After five years of bloody war and death, desert princess Shaila agrees to marry Calix, King of the Bone Lands, and make peace between their two peoples. Shaila hopes to usher in a new age of peace and prosperity, but her optimism quickly diminishes as she learns her husband's cruelty. As Calix's obsession of ridding the land of Elementae, a person capable of controlling the elements, and finding a way to manipulate their powers grows, Shaila discovers that she has the power of an Elementae which puts her life and her unborn daughter in great danger. In seeking security and shelter from her husband's abuse, Shaila grows dangerously close to Galen, Calix's brother and commander. She tries to reason with her husband and help her family, but Calix is unwilling. When Shaila learns of Calix's true intent in marrying her, she must decide whether she will continue to work for peace, or ally with the Resistance and fight her husband for those she loves. 
  This first book is very much a coming of age story of Shaila as she matures from a frightened and sheltered girl in a foreign land to a woman who owns her destiny and her desires. Shalia is a refreshingly strong heroine with a voice that leaps off the page. Her strength is yet not physical, however, but lies within her empathy and her strong moral compass. Her growth from performing actions that are expected of her as a wife to an independent woman who has a voice and power take time to build. She is able to identify Calix as an abuser as her personal freedoms diminish and see through his declarations of love while hurting her. Like Shalia, Galen is also a quiet character that while is regulated to the background, he is always present at important times. He is conflicted and torn between his fealty to his brother and overthrowing him. 
  There is a subtle, slow-burning romance between Shaila and Galen. The reader can easily distinguish an unhealthy relationship and a healthy one. Along with the romantic love, there is also a large focus on familial love or lack there of as we see Shaila interact with her siblings and how Calix orders and demands from his. The plot moves briskly with lots of action and twists and turns in the story, but I still had lots of questions regarding the Elementaes and their powers. The author is not afraid to pull punches in her story, especially with the last chapters. There is no cliffhanger ending, but I am eagerly awaiting to see what happens next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of torture, domestic violence, and there are allusions to sex. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Dark Caravan Cycle series by Heather Demetrios, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
Rummanah Aasi

 It will be a few quiet days here while I do a much needed Spring Cleaning on the blog. I need to update a few pages including the much neglected review index, fix some broken links, and review my tags among a long list of other things. Hopefully, after I am done the blog will be much smoother, faster, and better organized.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed, and we look at the world in an entirely new light. What if the power to hurt were in women's hands?

Review: I read The Power two weeks ago and I am still conflicted about it. There are a few things you should know about the book before deciding to read this book: Do not read this book for its world building and/or how the women get powers because it is very vague and unclear. Do not read this book for its characters. While there is a small cast of characters we follow throughout the book, they are not admirable, likable, or even have much character development. Do read The Power if you are interested in philosophy and gender politics. Reading this book is very much like watching a chess match, watching the players meticulously move their pieces after much thought.
  Sometime in the near future, young women discover they have within them the ability to unleash skeins of electrical current that can maim and kill. It is to believed that the power only affects people with the Y chromosome (mostly women but intersex individuals also have a very low form of power too) due to a substance dropped into the water during World War II. The power is triggered in flight or flight situations, but women quickly learn how to release it at will. Soon women begin to use this power to infiltrate and subvert all important institutions such as government and religion. Several women's revolts occur across the world. The first upheavals are in Saudi Arabia and Moldova, places where women have few rights. The woman who rules Bessapara, the first nation of the new world order, is unscrupulous and afraid, and she creates further instability by stripping men in her country of all rights and implicitly threatening world war. Men are now threatened and virtually have no rights. An underground terrorist group composed of men try to "revert back to the old times".
   The central question running throughout the book is: what would happen if women ruled the world? Alderman tests her female characters, from various backgrounds and classes, by giving them power and they all abuse it. The book does not have a linear narrative. It is actually told via a male historian with snippets from museums and other artifacts. There is a lot to unpack from this book from it's unique narrative structure to how we define power with male characteristics such as aggression. Along with power, the concept of freedom should also have been explored. I would have loved to learn more about the world building as we are not told when this story takes place, however social media such as Facebook and Reddit are constantly referenced. I would have also loved to see a wider, diverse cast of characters too. The author attempts to take her narrative globally but it only occurs on the book's periphery. What personally bothered me is the author's stereotypical assumptions of "oppressed" Muslim women who spontaneously go from cloaked individuals to being in a "Girls Gone Wild" video.
  The Power is a difficult book that will stick with you long after you read it. It is an intense read that I could only read in small snippets. It very much reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale with its shocking premise, but as it did with the other book, I was left cold and disconnected with its characters.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the novel, scenes of violence such as sexual abuse and graphic depictions of sexual assault. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Pat O'Toole has always idolized his older brother, Coop, right up until the day Coop ran away from their home just outside Washington, D.C. Now, a year later, he has received a package containing a digital voice recorder and a cryptic message from his brother, which will lead Pat on a strange and dangerous journey to the mysterious Community living beneath the streets of New York.

Review: Beneath is a fast-paced, action packed, and a tightly plotted mystery that incorporates themes of nonconformity and social rebellion. Pat is not surprised when his older brother and best friend, Coop, disappears. Coop has always been quirky: he is an avid tap dancer, collects flashlights, can't drive, won't email, and once dug a tunnel more than a mile long in their Virginia neighborhood before a gas line explosion nearly killed the two of them. After having a one-sided discussion with his parents about his future, Coop decides to leave without saying goodbye to Pat.
   Pat's parents are preoccupied with their breakup, careers, and new romances, so when Pat begins receiving digital voice recordings from Coop, he sneaks away to New York City to find his brother. Clues lead Pat to an alternative society that exists underground, but he soon discovers Coop has been drawn into an exclusive and dangerous group called the Pod. 
  Beneath is a great pick for reluctant readers. Short chapters and the unique narrative style of incorporating digital audio recordings drive both the plot and character development. I also really loved the relationship between Pat and Coop. There are hints of a romance between the charismatic Kate and Coop that is alluded to in the book. The book ends with lots of open ended questions, but I am glad to find out that is the first book in a duology. I do plan on finding on what happens to Pat and Coop in the next book since their safety is not guaranteed.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of murder and terrorist activities in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Above by Roland Smith, Downsiders by Neal Shusterman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright's It Ended Badlyguides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. In the throes of heartbreak, Emperor Nero had just about everyone he ever loved-from his old tutor to most of his friends-put to death. Oscar Wilde's lover, whom he went to jail for, abandoned him when faced with being cut off financially from his wealthy family and wrote several self-serving books denying the entire affair. And poor volatile Caroline Lamb sent Lord Byron one hell of a torch letter and enclosed a bloody lock of her own pubic hair. Your obsessive social media stalking of your ex isn't looking so bad now, is it?

Review: It Ended Badly is the perfect Adult to YA crossover narrative nonfiction. It is incredibly funny, entertaining, and educational. Heartache in life is inevitable and it even happens to famous people in history. There are 13 couples in this book that place from ancient Rome up to 1964. The stories depict how much we have and have not changed in our social mores  in regards to love, relationships, double standards, and gender expectations. In each story the author provides background on the couple as well as historical context of the time period and the events leading up to the breakup. Primary and secondary sources are included and used effectively to remind us that these couple are real people because these stories are so outlandish and hard to believe happened in real life.
   I already knew a few of the stories that were included in the book: King Henry VIII and wives Anne Boylen and Catherine Howard, Catherine Lamb and Lord Byron, and Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. I still read these stories with relish as I learned new tidbits about these powerful people. There many other stories that I did not know of and caused me to jump into many research rabbit holes to learn  more. Wright muses that heartbreak does not distinguish among the rich, poor, and eccentric. Whether their culture tolerated cruelty and murder that was not acceptable in many other time periods (Nero and Poppaea Sabina), condemned homosexuals to a prison sentence or worse (Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas), or even tolerated their bizarre behavior (Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler), each breakup left its mark on the individuals involved. It is odd too see that the ways people break up (i.e. ghosting, making the same mistake twice, body image issues, etc) are not so new and unique to our time period.
 It Ended Badly is the perfect anti-Valentine's Day book. It is also a great read for those who ever thought history is boring and for those that need a page-turner for a weekend read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This is not the sanitized history we read in history textbooks. There are mentions of sexual assault, domestic abuse, language, and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Modern Love by Aziz Ansari, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Before Stinkville, Alice didn't think albinism--or the blindness that goes with it--was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville. For the first time in her life, Alice feels different--like she's at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around.
  In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering--she can't even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She's going to show them--and herself--that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town's stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.

Review: Alice was born with albinism and has only 20/200 vision with glasses. When she was at home in Seattle, Washington, her disability was well known and accepted. She had her best friend to help guide her, she knew everyone and knew her way around. Now that her dad got a new job and the family had to move to Sinkville aka Stinkvile, South Carolina, Alice is struggling in her new setting. She has no friends, doesn't know her way around her neighborhood, and her family is too busy coping with their own problems to help her. Alice must find her own way and be self reliant. When a writing contest offers her a chance to prove she can do anything, Alice and her dog, Tooter, set out to find their own place in their new home.
  I really liked Alice's narrative voice. She is a realistic tween who felt very down to earth and self aware. I also enjoyed her slowly falling in love with Stinkville, particularly with its residents who she easily warmed up to and help her realize the city's goodness. Although some of the characters such as the waitress who knows everyone, the wise yet stubborn senior citizen that Alice befriends, and a bully that is covering up her own shortcoming feel one dimensional, but they all help Alice along the way. I also appreciated the inclusion and mixture of humor with serious topics like depression, disability, and old age. Alice is not confined to her disability, but rather on a journey of independence, compromise, and accepting help when it is needed. Blind Guide to Stinkville would be a good choice for young readers who enjoy reading realistic fiction with a touch of humor.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a sick pet in the story. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life. Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart. At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela. But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

Review: Release is a heartbreaking story that features a dual narrative that follows Adam, a gay teenager with homophobic parents, and the ghost of a classmate murdered by her meth-addicted boyfriend, over the course of one, defining day. I was immediately grabbed by Adam's story line. Normally, I do not care for books that take place in a day, but there were so many important things happening to Adam or that involved Adam that I often forgot this was all occurring at one time.
  Adam does not lead an easy life. His evangelical father constantly berates him and calls him a disappoint for being gay and not following his shoes into clergy. His first love, Enzo who he may or may not be still in love with, is having a going-away party. His job is also threatened by his lecherous boss who has been sexually harassing him. All of these events are heaped upon Adam's shoulders but he takes them in stride because of his support network and best friend Angela has always been on his side. Except Angela completely sidelines him in announcing that she's moving from Washington State to the Netherlands for senior year. Angela's departure serves as a catalyst that fractures Adam's complacency. Suddenly, he has to navigate and release all of his feelings that he has internalized for so long. Adam's story dominates the narrative and provides a honest, vulnerable, and riveting portrayal of a gay teenager's sexual awakening and rite of passage. There are plenty of nods to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever throughout the book from the book's structure, writing style, and themes. I can definitely see why he chose those particular books to influence his book. Release feels cathartic just as it is aptly titled and uncalcuated.
 What dampened by enjoyment of the book is the paranormal story line, which is not as affecting as Adam's. This magical realism story line weaves in and out of Adam's narrative, which disrupted the book's flow and intensity. While it was nicely written and conveys the sense of mystery that we encounter in our daily lives and I can make parallels to Adam's story, it made me bored and I ended up skimming most of it. The book would have been just fine if this story line was edited out of the book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language in the book, mentions of drug abuse, frank discussion on sex, sex scenes, and scenes of sexual harassment. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Long ago, in a small village in the middle of a deep, dark forest, there lived a lonely, deaf girl named Maggie. Shunned by her village because of her disability, her only comfort comes from her vivid imagination. Maggie has a gift for inventing stories and dreams of one day finding her fairy-tale love. When Maggie meets the mysterious Piper, it seems that all her wishes are coming true. Spellbound, Maggie falls hard for him and plunges headfirst into his magical world. But as she grows closer to the Piper, Maggie discovers that he has a dark side. The boy of Maggie's dreams might just turn out to be her worst nightmare.

Review: Piper is a graphic retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin fairy tale. The authors attempt to fill in some of the unanswered questions about the fairy tale such as where did the Piped Piper come from and how did he learn how to use music to control people and animals. The graphic novel centers around Maggie, a deaf teen who feels isolated and bullied in Hamelin. She speaks and reads lips to communicate and finds comfort in telling stories to her loving guardian, Agathe, based on the cruelty she receives from the townspeople and dreaming of romance. Hameln has a bigger problem: it is overrun with rats that destroy the village’s resources and rapidly spread disease. Piper stays pretty true to the original story, adding a few changes such as a budding romance between Maggie and Piper, which ends tragically but did not make feel anything. There is a twist on the familiar ending which is just as horrifying as the old one.
   While the art is nicely done, it did not represent Maggie's disability consistently. There are multiple panels in which a character is not in Maggie’s sight lines but Maggie responds as if she has read their lips. The text is also problematic with this representation too where only one or two words are misspoken by Maggie. While there is an attempt to answer unsolved questions about the mysterious Pied Piper, I felt disconnected to the cast characters and did not learn anything new with this fairy tale retelling. I think this story would have been more suitable to a short story instead of a graphic novel.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Breath by Donna Jo Napoli, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's rights.
  Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen goes through the papers, she notices something strange: all three have signed over their inheritance to a charity. What will they live on if they forefeit what their husband left them? Perveen is suspicious.
  The Farid widows live in purdah: strict seclusion, never leaving the women's quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate and realizes her instincts about the will were correct when tensions escalate to murder. It's her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that nobody is in further danger.

Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first installment of a new mystery series, set in Bombay in the 1920s. The book does a good job in establishing the diversity of colonial India particularly in class and religion. Perveen is a member of the Parsi community. She is extremely intelligent and is faced with constant obstacles for going against traditions, customs, and social mores of a being a professional woman. Perveen also belongs to an elite social class and is able to study law abroad at Oxford University. Though she is forbidden to become a lawyer because she is a woman, she still joins her father's law firm as a paralegal. I found the concept of studying law to be problematic considering there are many laws that are used in the book from Shariah, the Islamic law, the law of Paris, and the British law. So which law do you use to fight the case?   The mystery itself was okay though it took some time and patience to get it started. It allowed the reader to compare and contrast the various laws at play when it comes to marriage and family law. 
  There are two aspects of the book that did bother me. The first is the inclusion of religious slurs such as Mohammedian that are mentioned in the book. The term is offensive and inaccurate. I don't know why it was included in the book since the characters are educated enough to know that it is a wrong word to use. The second thing that also bothered me is the disjointed flashbacks that take place in 1917 that interrupt the flow of the present time. The transition between the two timelines are choppy at best and though it does provide backstory to Perveen's character, it comes across as a second story line in the book. After a while it becomes redundant and loses the book's focus. I really think the flashbacks could have been shorten and used more effectively and I hope this will be fixed in the later books. Due to the time period and the setting of the novel, I'm curious to see where this series will go.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some religious slurs towards Muslims and Islam, a scene of physical assault and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for adults.

If you like this book try: Rei Shimura mysteries by Sujata Massey
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she's eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she'll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind--she'll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it's not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don't) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family's unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

Review: Victoria Jamieson's sophomore graphic novel, All's Faire in Middle School, is another great read. After years of homeschooling, Imogene is excited and a little bit terrified to start public school for the first time. As an added bonus, she finally gets to perform in the Renaissance faire as a squire, where her mom has a shop and her dad plays a knight. Imogene doesn’t have much trouble adjusting to her new role at the faire, but she is very lost on how to navigate middle school. She is unfamiliar with the unspoken social rules of middle school such as how to dress, who to sit with, and how to fit in with her peers. Imogen stumbles her way through middle school by making mistakes in complying with bullying, lying to impress her "friends", and hiding her real self in order to belong, all of which are the rites of passage of junior high. 
  I really enjoyed the artwork which felt realistic and vibrant with lots of warm tones. The text and illustrations playfully incorporates medieval imagery that reflect her frustrations with school and as well as highlight the more boring aspect of Imogen's homelife. Using the fair as an allegory, Jamieson brings out the authentic concerns of middle schoolers with humor and warmth.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None.

If you like this book try: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful. But it's not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.
  Once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review: The description for Dhonielle Clayton’s latest series, The Belles, is deceptive and superficially appears to be quite similar to other books that offer a social commentary on our world's obsession with beauty and perfection. The Belles, however, manages to rise above those books by also tackling race issues, body diversity, socioeconomic inequalities, and slavery all without using these words to describe them. All of these important issues are timely, but powerfully lurk beneath the lush descriptions of beauty and fabrics that dominate the narrative. Clayton imagines a world in which the drive for perfection is also the greatest ruin. 
  In Camellia’s archipelago world of Orléans, the creation story begins when the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty but soon grew jealous of the attention she gave to their children, the first humans. In punishment, he cursed them with ugliness: “Skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” In retaliation, the Goddess of Beauty made the Belles, beautiful women who are born with non-gray skin and straw-like hair and who have the ability in their blood to temporarily transform the gray and ugly bodies of the citizens of Orléans into something beautiful.  
  Camellia and her five sisters are ready to debut in society as Belles and work for an exorbitant fee to work their magic upon the citizens of Orléans when the people’s beauty starts to fade. The favorite and most prized Belle will be selected to work for the royal family. Camellia yearns to chosen as the favorite, but her reluctance to follow directions may keep her from the ultimate prize. Once Camellia reaches her ultimate goal, she quickly realizes that world she was trained to live in and work for are nothing like she imagined. Beauty is a deception and a means of acquiring power. 
  Like the popular phrase, "Beauty is pain", the treatments are cringe-worthy and painful to imagine both for the customer whose bones and skin shuffle to the latest fads and also to the Belle who drains her own energy and have her blood purified by leeches. Along with these revelations, there is also many sinister things lurking around court such as unseen women heard crying at night in locked rooms, disfigured Belles, and sudden deaths that are swept under the carpet. The royal family is also facing terrible challenges: a crown princess who has been in a mysterious sleep for years and a second daughter whose ascension to the throne will be disastrous. Camellia is asked to use her Belle magic in ways it’s not intended. She quickly finds herself caught up in a political plot and faced with impossible choices. 
   Clayton is unafraid to tackle issues that are uncomfortable. She cleverly talks about beauty, especially when it comes to skin-tone, describing it with adjectives usually associated with food such as “the color of toasted walnuts,” “the rich color of honey bread,” “a sugared beignet fresh from the oil.” It’s a blatant response on how people of color are commonly described in literature and are in a way that fetishizes and commodifies them. Despite her status as a Belle who is revered in her society, she is often subjected to both. There are many other dualities that appear in the book too such as ugliness and shame. 
  While the book starts off slowly in the first few chapters are we get settled in the rich and rotting world of Orleans, the action and suspense gains traction. The horror which it cleverly veils slowly creeps up on you and once it clicks you can't unseen it. There is a cliff-hanger ending and some shocking reveals, but I'm okay with it because I know that means there is more to come in this eye-opening series. Don't be fooled or deterred from the pretty cover, The Belles is a thought provoking read that will foster great discussion.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of attempted sexual assault and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, North of Beautiful by Justina Ireland, The Fold by An Na, Such a Pretty Face edited by Ann Angel
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
  Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker is a charming graphic novel that focuses on self acceptance, identity, and fashion set in Paris, France. The story revolves around a lowly dressmaker named Frances who has a unique vision of fashion. After creating a scandalous dress as the devil's wench for a much delighted rebellious teenager, she catches the eye of a mysterious wealthy benefactor, for whom she is hired to work exclusively. Frances is stunned to find that her patron is the Prince Sebastian, who is secretly loves to wear gowns and crossdress at night. Frances encourages Sebastian to be himself, and together the two create Lady Crystallia, the most fabulous fashion icon Paris has ever seen. 
  Both Frances and Sebastian struggle to understand themselves and to embrace their identities. There's a hint of romance between Frances and Sebastian, but the emphasis is on their friendship. Unfortunately the book doesn't explore Sebastian's sexual or gender identity, which I had hoped but it does focus on the message of self-acceptance. The full-color artwork is gorgeous, featuring a variety of over-the-top dresses that highlight fashion trends and France's incredible creations. Though the ending is too romantic and idealized, it will warm reader's hearts. I look forward to reading more by Jen Wang.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some subtle crude humor in the book. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everyone has a story . . . but will they get the happy ending they deserve? Emilia has just returned to her idyllic Cotswold hometown to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren't just within the pages of the books she sells - Emilia's customers have their own tales to tell.
 There's the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn't quite what he seems; and the desperately shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush . . . And as for Emilia's story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?

Review: How to Find Love in a Book Shop had the perfect premise for fans of book lovers and love stories. I was really looking forward to picking this one up as a cozy read during the winter months. Unfortunately, I wish I loved this book more than I did. The book had the perfect premise and set up, but its execution felt choppy and I failed to connect to the large cast of characters.
  Emilia Nightingale is called back to her hometown of Peasebrook in Cotswold, England, where her father, Julius, is dying. After his death, she is determined to keep his beloved shop, Nightingale Books, open and thriving. Due to the lack of tracking finances and steep debt, Nightingale Books is on its last legs. Waiting in the wings is a developer ready to snap up the property if Emilia would give him an opening. As she struggles with her grief and to make sense of what her father left her, Emilia finds help from the townspeople. Julius was a beloved figure in the community, and many of the locals' lives are entwined with the fate and fortunes of the bookstore.
  How to Find Love in a Book Shop is a slice of life book where we get segments of different characters' lives as they visit Nightingale Books and have multiple happy endings. The author jumps too quickly between the large cast of characters that we don't fully get to see their love stories play out and their happy endings are anticlimactic. There were a few supporting characters that I did love such as the shy chef and the adorable fromager, the second chance love story of the single dad, and lastly the soon to be bride who was going to marry the wrong guy. The very fact that I can't recall any of these characters' names is a testament to how the story was unmemorable. It also annoyed me that there is no diversity in the book. All of the romances are those of heterosexuals and none of the characters are people of color. Overall, this was an okay read to past the time but the not of the top books that I read that featured a bookstore.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to drug usage, and fade to black sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Bookshop Around the Corner by Jenny Colgan, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Rummanah Aasi

Description: At sixteen, Mina's mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.
   Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a feminist fairy tale that borrows elements of Snow White and the Snow Queen stories to create a genuinely new tale that celebrates women claiming their own strengths and helping each other instead of tearing them apart. The story is told from two points of views into two alternating timelines that ultimately converge at the book's climax. 
  In the present story line, Lynet has grown up in the shadow of her mother, Emilia, who died during child birth. She is an exact physical replica of her mother and has been sheltered by her over protective father. Lynet is burdened by her father's expectations that she emulate the mother she's never known and become the rightful Queen of the Southern Territories; instead, she idolizes her stepmother, Mina, who's always treated Lynet with tenderness and has no aspirations to be queen at all.
  In the past story line, we follow Mina as a girl who is desperate to find love and affection from her domineering and wicked father Gregory, only to be told that she is incapable to love and have anyone love her. She welds her beauty as power and makes her way to the court of the Southern Territories. When the king dies, only one can claim the throne and the other must die.
  Through Lynet's and Mina's perspectives, we see how these two women share many similarities though their motives maybe entirely different. Lynet and Mina are three dimensional, flawed characters. Lynet is passive and has accepted her fate of following her father's life plan for her until she stops to asks herself of what she wants. It takes her a long time to identify her strengths and to view the throne as something else besides a ball and a chain. Unlike Lynet, Mina already knows her strengths but she has to learn self-love and acceptance. There were many times Mina that teetered off the cliff of being a villain that we all recognize as the evil queen, but her self awareness and conscious has always saved her. What I found exceptional and refreshing is that both women genuinely care and admire each other.
 The pacing of the story is slow burning that matches well with the character development and might deter some readers, but the characters are so worth it. Their epiphanies take time to occur as the characters stumble many times until they reach the satisfying and revolutionary conclusion. Magic is used in the right amounts in the story and their were times that I wished it was explained a bit more clearly. There is some romance subplots for each women, but the main focus of the story is the relationship between Lynet and Mina. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a character driven fairy tale that refuses to use common tropes and is filled with magic, adventure, and self discovery. 

 Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution:

If you like this book try: Hunted by Megan Spooner, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Rummanah Aasi
I have been looking forward to this morning and anxiously awaiting the announcement of several Children and Young Adult book awards. There were so many great books that were published last year and I don't envy the award committee to narrow their choices to just a few. The Young Media Awards are like the Oscars for me. It's one of my favorite times of the year. I usually discover new titles that I fall in love with and book talk to my students. The awards took place at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting at Denver, Colorado. Although there are many awards honored today, I was looking forward to finding out the winners for the CaldecottNewberyMorris, and of course the Michael L. Printz Award. You can find the other winners on the Association for Library Services to Children website and the Young Adult Library Services website (YALSA).

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of  Randolph Caldecott, who was a nineteenth-century English illustrator. The award is given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Winner of the 2018 Caldecott Medal is: 

Honorees of the 2018 Caldecott are:

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

The Newbery Medal was named in the honor of John Newbery, who was an eighteenth-century British bookseller. Like the Caldecott, it is also awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal is: 

Honorees of the 2018 Newbery are:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award was first awarded in 2009 by YALSA. The award is given to a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2018 Morris Award is: 

Honorees of the 2018 Morris Award are:

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Devils Within by S.F. Henson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone

 The Michael L. Printz Award was named in the honor of Michael L. Printz, a school librarian in Topeka, Kansas, who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. The Michael L. Printz Award is an award given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association to a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

Winner of the 2018 Michael Printz Award is: 

Honorees of the 2018 Printz Award are:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

 Congratulations to all of today's winners! The library associations have spoken. What do you think of these book awards? Will you read the books that have won and have been honored? Did any of the award-winning books surprise you? I know I was taken aback by the Newbery Honorees and the Printz Winner. 
Rummanah Aasi
  I read and absolutely loved Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier when I was a freshman in high school. It was the first book my school librarian recommended to me when I was looking for a book to capture my attention. Rebecca was my first foray into the romantic suspense genre and a book which I measured all other books in that genre. Du Maurier downplays the romance but takes a closer look into the human psyche. My Cousin Rachel does the same and the ending will leave you reeling.

Description: Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries - and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose's letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin's widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet... might she have had a hand in Ambrose's death?

Review: My Cousin Rachel is the story of obsession, independence, sexuality, and guilt. The story is seen through the eyes of a young gentleman named Philip who is grieving over the loss of his cousin and father figure named Ambrose. Shortly before his death, Ambrose married the notorious and so-called black widow Rachel. Ambrose has completely smitten by Rachel though his health quickly deteriorated and died. There is some speculation that Rachel may be responsible for Ambrose death as she mysteriously leaves a trail of dead men behind her. Now Rachel goes to Cornwall to return the belonging of Ambrose to Philip. Philip has decided to hate Rachel and wants nothing to do with her at all, but when these two characters meet Philip begins to change his mind.
 Rachel is unlike any woman that Philip has seen. She does not restrict herself to the social mores that surround her and has had male companions. She is extremely intelligent, refined, and very far from the damsel in distress that people expect her to be because she is a widow. Rachel does not appear to be concerned with money though financial security appears rather quickly for her. As Philip tries to understand Rachel, he falls in love with her and becomes obsessed. His inexperience and immaturity is clear, but are his actions his own or is he being influenced? Is Rachel evil or not? These are the central questions that come into play when Philip's large inheritance comes into question.
 There are many ways you can analyze My Cousin Rachel, which is the main reason why I really enjoyed this book. The story slowly reaches a climax as we get pieces of both Philip and Rachel's back stories. The ending is a shocker and open ended, which might annoy some readers who like clear cut resolutions but it also lends itself to discussion. Definitely pick this up if you enjoy romantic suspense with Gothic undertones. The recent movie adaptation featuring Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin is quite good and worth watching.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images but nothing too graphic. Recommended to older teen readers and adults.

If you like this book try: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The English Wife by Lauren Willig,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. So Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds up, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?

Review: Patina is another hit in the middle grade Track series by Jason Reynolds. Patina Jones is an ambitious young tween and a gifted athlete. She not only loves to run, she needs to run-and win. Since the death of her father and her mother's declining health problems, Patty's track team keeps her focused and an outlet to let out her frustrations. Patty and her younger sister, Maddy, are experiencing a lot of changes in their lives. They have left their urban neighborhood to live in a different part of the city with their uncle Tony (who is black like Patty and Maddy) and their aunt Emily (who is white), whom they affectionately call Momly, and attend a new, affluent school, Chester Academy. 
  What I love about the Track series is that Reynolds beautifully captures the authentic voice and issues of these middle schoolers. Patina does touch upon important issues such as socioeconomic disparities, forming erroneous assumptions, and success depends on teamwork, all without feeling like an issues book. The topics flow organically in the plot while Patty makes her observations and epiphanies on her own. I also really appreciate how the adult characters provide support and guidance as well as be a positive role model to the tweens in the book. Patty is a character whom you will easily love and will root for, especially endearing is how she fiercely love and care for her sister Maddy. Patina can easily be read as a standalone but after reading this book you really wouldn't want to miss out on the first book in this series, Ghost, either.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds coming in April 2018, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
Rummanah Aasi

 I wanted to post a book list of books from a variety of genres and reading levels in celebration of Black History Month. I've read quite a few of these titles and others are on my ever-growing to be read pile. This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are hundreds of titles out there to choose from. All of these titles are either feature Black and/or African characters and/or are written by own voices authors from these backgrounds. If I have reviewed the book, I will link my review.

Children's Picture Books

 Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices. A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall: Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He's finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he's a great jumper, so he's not scared at all. "Looks easy," says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board.

In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford: A black mother expresses the many hopes and dreams she has for her child in this powerful picture book.

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins: This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals.

Children/Middle Grade Reads

Ghost by Jason Reynolds: Running. That's all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race -- and wins -- the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson: The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur’s rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he’s coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac’s lyrics become more personal for all of them.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper: Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community - her world - is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.

Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley: Adrienne Ashe never wanted to be a princess. She hates fancy dinners, is uncomfortable in lavish dresses, and has never wanted to wait on someone else to save her. However, on the night of her 16th-birthday, her parents, the King and Queen, locked her away in a tower guarded by a dragon to await the rescue of some handsome prince. Now Adrienne has decided to take matters into her own hands!

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia: In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore: It's Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren't celebrating. They're still reeling from his older brother's death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly's mother's girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly's always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
    His path isn't clear--and the pressure to join a "crew," as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape--and an unexpected bridge back to the world.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
  Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone: Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
 Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?

The Belles by Dhonelle Clayton: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
  But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson: Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
  There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

American Street by Ibi Zoboi: On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
 Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi: In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.
Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family. When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

Noughts and Crosses by Majorie Blackman: Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina: Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.
  When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson: Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.
 But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore: Two kids with the same name lived in the same decaying city. One went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.

Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin: Five years after his tragic death, Travyon Martin's name is still evoked every day. He has become a symbol of social justice activism, as has his hauntingly familiar image: the photo of a child still in the process of becoming a young man, wearing a hoodie and gazing silently at the camera. But who was Trayvon Martin, before he became, in death, an icon? And how did one black child s death on a dark, rainy street in a small Florida town become the match that lit a civil rights crusade?
 Rest in Power, told through the compelling alternating narratives of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, answers, for the first time, those questions from the most intimate of sources. It s the story of the beautiful and complex child they lost, the cruel unresponsiveness of the police and the hostility of the legal system, and the inspiring journey they took from grief and pain to power, and from tragedy and senselessness to meaning.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison: Featuring forty trailblazing black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history.

March series by John Lewis: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Adult Fiction

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person -- no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesamyn Ward: An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future. However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.
 When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Home Going by Yaa Gyasi: Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Kindred by Octavia Butler: Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
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