Rummanah Aasi

Description: Macy Sorensen is settling into an ambitious if emotionally tepid routine: work hard as a new pediatrics resident, plan her wedding to an older, financially secure man, keep her head down and heart tucked away. But when she runs into Elliot Petropoulos—the first and only love of her life—the careful bubble she’s constructed begins to dissolve. Once upon a time, Elliot was Macy’s entire world—growing from her gangly bookish friend into the man who coaxed her heart open again after the loss of her mother...only to break it on the very night he declared his love for her.
  Told in alternating timelines between Then and Now, teenage Elliot and Macy grow from friends to much more—spending weekends and lazy summers together in a house outside of San Francisco devouring books, sharing favorite words, and talking through their growing pains and triumphs. As adults, they have become strangers to one another until their chance reunion. Although their memories are obscured by the agony of what happened that night so many years ago, Elliot will come to understand the truth behind Macy’s decade-long silence, and will have to overcome the past and himself to revive her faith in the possibility of an all-consuming love.

Review: Love and Other Words is a touching best friends to lovers romance story. The story is divided between the past and present, where Macy Sorenson and Elliot Petropoulos fall in love, lose each other, and have the possibility of a second chance. In the past we see how Macy and Elliott meet and fall in love with each other in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a pediatrics doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Can they ever go back to how close they once were? Does Macy even want to rebuild her relationship with Elliott which is separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance?
  While I enjoyed both story lines, I loved the past as we watched Macy and Elliott come together. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. She doesn't want to be pitied or known as the sad girl who lost her mom. With each other they both can just be Macy and Elliot.
  Whenever I read a book that features best friend romances, we are often cheated out of how the two characters became friends before moving on to lovers. It is just told that the two characters are close and I always felt cheated in that aspect of the story. This is definitely not the chance in Love and Other Words. We see how Macy and Elliot become everything to each other and their absolute honesty with one another is terrifying and at the same time admirable. For teen Macy, Elliot and her dad become her world and her home until one moment and bad decision changed everything.
 In the present day, Macy takes comfort in complacency in a relationship where she doesn't have to be emotionally invested and ready made. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future. I read this book fairly quickly as I got so wrapped up into the characters and story. While I understand why the book is written in two time periods, I am a greedy reader who wanted to know what happened to Macy and Elliot when they separated. Love and Other Words is an emotional rollercoaster, but it worth all of the bumps along the way.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, crude sexual humor, and a few sex scenes. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Family Tree by Susan Wiggs, The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han
Rummanah Aasi

Description: 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.

Review: Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul lives in the St. Nick projects at 127th street in Harlem, New York. While he loves his neighborhood, he is keenly aware of the poverty, gang violence, drugs, and the gentrification that plagues it. Lolly and his mother are grieving the loss of Jermaine, Lolly's older brother, who sold drugs and joined a gang in order to help his family and was killed due to “crew” violence. His mother has embraced her queer sexuality and his father has left. By making masterpieces with the LEGOs his mom’s girlfriend, Yvonne, brings him, Lolly is able to channel his grief into creativity and art, but he is having trouble with understanding his emotions surrounding Jermaine's death. Luckily, at the community center Mr. Ali is able to reach out and help Lolly though Lolly initially sees it as a punishment, but soon he is able to create his own utopia made out of Legos and befriends an outcast named Rose who has autism. Things seem manageable for Lolly until two gang members who are interested in recruiting Lolly to their side and his friend Vega thinks about joining a gang for protection. Lolly has to decide what steps to take next.
  Lolly has an incredibly strong voice. He is very observant of his neighborhood and though he is just twelve years old, he seems so much older. Lolly is well aware of "street life" and how his neighborhood crosses many intersections. These intersections are present in many thoughtful ways throughout the novel such as family relationships, particularly those who accepted Lolly's mom's queer sexuality and the friction it still causes with Lolly's father. For Lolly Jermaine was much more than a brother, but a role model and a father figure. Mr. Ali is also a male guardian who though strapped for financial resources, provides a place for black and brown youths to seek help and build a community away from gangs. The Stars Beneath Our Feet is very much a slice of life story where tweens have to make very adult life choices. In many ways it is heartbreaking, but also a powerful story of hope for a better future disguised by blocks of Legos.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, street violence, and mention of gangs and drug dealing. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they'll find seven months after the invasion?
   Meanwhile, Kady's cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza's ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha's past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

Review: Obsidio is the last and finale book in the action packed science fiction thriller Iluminae Files series. While the book may appear to be long reads due to its page size, it is actually a fast read due to its unique format. Like its previous installments, Obsidio is also written in a mixture of textual formats, which includes case files, emails, online text messages, and images of hand written notes. It is absolutely necessary to have read the first two books before picking this one up as characters, events and consequences from the previous series play a vital role in this book.
  Another countdown. Commercial giant BeiTech’s invading forces are trapped in a seven-month orbit around the politically unstable mining colony of Kerenza IV, pushing to restore their ship’s power so they can get home; meanwhile, the surviving Kerenza colonists are hanging onto their lives and families by a thread. Elsewhere, battered survivors of other BeiTech aggressions are aboard the gunship Mao, on a collision course with Kerenza that will either save or kill them all.
  Obsidio retains all of the elements that has made it so popular: unlikely heroes, star-crossed lovers, space opera tropes, and its unique storytelling format which grabs its readers' attention right away and does not let go until the very last page. The body count in this book is large and the strong violence allows the reader to explore the important issues such as responsibility, accountability, the reliance and/or danger of artificial intelligence, and the duality of right and wrong. I don't think I have ever been captivated by an AI like Aiden before who is able to quickly strip away all emotions in order to ask questions that plague humanity. Although the action goes on just a bit too long, the book does deliver a satisfying conclusion to a great series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language (though most of it is censored out), strong violence, and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Starbound trilogy by Amie Kauffman and Megan Spooner, Sky Chaser series by Amy Kathleen Ryan, 2001: Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, Lifelike series by Jay Kristoff
Rummanah Aasi

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

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

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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