Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ghosts are alive on the island of Nantucket. You can hear them in the wind and in the creaks of the old homes. They want to be remembered. And, even more, they want to protect what was once theirs.
  The ghosts have chosen a few local kids to save the island against the adults who would do it harm. But the kids can't be sure how the ghosts are going to act. Things tend to disappear when ghosts are around. People tend to get trapped - especially if they're up to no good. Only the kids can make things right if the ghosts will let them.

Review: Out of the Wild Night is a ghost story and mystery set on the shores of Nantucket. The book is narrated by ghost Mary W. Chase. One night mysterious footprints shuffle ashore and piques the interest of the children on the island, some of whom claim that they can see and communicate with ghosts. These ghosts have returned in response to renovations of historical island houses, an effort headed by the sneaky Eddy Nold. Phee, her grandfather Sal, and friend Gabe, along with the other members of the North End Gang, conspire to help the ghosts in preventing the renovations. Soon, the increasingly violent nature of the ghost's actions become alarming.
  Balliett's vivid descriptions brings the Nantucket shore alive and the setting soon becomes a character itself. I was drawn in by the mention of ghosts and a having a ghost narrator is appealing, however, it will not hold reader's attention with a meandering plot, multiple subplots, and a large cast of characters that was hard to keep track of and may seem unnecessary. I had a hard time staying focused in the story. While there are plenty of spooky moments with classic creaky stairs and doors that open for no reason, readers who are eager for a real ghost story will be disappointed to wait for quite some time before it happens. This book requires patience and the focused attention of its readers. There is a nice twist at the end story but I fear many will quit this book before reaching it. It is clear that Balliett has a strong connection to Nantucket and to history, but I can not see how this book will be appealing to younger readers.  

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn, The Hunt for the Seventh by Christine Morton-Shaw
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Maddie thought she and Logan would be friends forever. But when your dad is a Secret Service agent and your best friend is the president's son, sometimes life has other plans. Before she knows it, Maddie's dad is dragging her to a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. No phone.
No Internet. And not a single word from Logan.
  Maddie tells herself it's okay. After all, she's the most popular girl for twenty miles in any direction. (She’s also the only girl for twenty miles in any direction.) She has wood to cut and weapons to bedazzle. Her life is full. Until Logan shows up six years later and Maddie wants to kill him. But before that can happen, an assailant appears out of nowhere, knocking Maddie off a cliff and dragging Logan to some unknown fate. Maddie knows she could turn back- and get help. But the weather is turning and the terrain will only get more treacherous, the animals more deadly. Maddie still really wants to kill Logan. But she has to save him first.

Review: Not If I Save You First is another smart romantic thriller from Ally Carter. The book opens on a high adrenaline pace as Maddie Manchester's father, a secret service agent, averts a near fatal incident. Six years later best friends and once-inseparable Maddie and Logan, the son of the POTUS, have lost contact. Maddie has been relocated to the remote Alaskan wilderness. Aside from her father, Maddie interacts with no one and has left her easy life behind. She has learned to fend for herself, forcing her to become physically and mentally strong. Her old life has become a distant memory until Logan shows up at her door after he pushes his parents too far. Logan is very different from what Maddie remembered. The tension and anger that surrounds their friendship is palpable and real. Before discussing it, Logan is suddenly missing. Maddie is immediately thrust into a desperate hunt to save Logan from his kidnappers, armed with only her wits and skills.
  Carter knows how to write a fun, fast paced thriller that has a good balance of action, angst, humor, and a little romance to lighten the complex tale of revenge and loss. Maddie is an extremely capable and smart heroine who does not suddenly lose her wits because she is in front of a pretty boy. She applies her survival skills to be a few steps ahead of Logan's kidnappers. She even surprised me a few times with things that I would have never thought of doing. I definitely understood her anger towards Logan and his betrayal of turning his back on her. I enjoyed watching their strained friendship change with a possibility of potentially becoming more. Logan is your typical Carter love interest, a handsome boy with that oozes sarcasm and charm in equal measure and is of course, more preoccupied in keeping Maddie safe when she doesn't need it. I would have love to gotten to know Logan more, but I enjoyed his chemistry with Maddie. With short chapters and the focus of survival, this is a good pick for reluctant readers and anyone who wants to do some escape reading.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: On the Free by Coert Voorhees
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
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