Rummanah Aasi

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

Description: Only the very brave or the very desperate dare enter the Spill Zone—Addison Merritt is a little of both. In exchange for a suitcase full of cash, she made one last to the Zone. She survived the encounter, but came back changed. Addison is not alone. In a remote village in North Korea, a young man named Jae was touched by the unholy fire of the Spill Zone. He made it out alive—alive, but also changed.
  Now bestowed with uncanny powers, Addison and Jae may be the only ones strong enough to face a new threat that has risen in the Spill Zone. This deadly entity is searching for his runaway bride—and his hunt is bringing him closer and closer to Addison and her little sister.

Review: The Broken Vow immediately picks up where the first volume ended. Addison has returned from a quest in the Spill Zone and has new abilities while being in contact with dust in the danger zone. Soon is she able to hear the voice of her sister's doll, Vespertine, who is possessed by a being whose past is intertwined with the Spill's origins. Meanwhile, the North Korean Spill site has given a young man named Don Jae powers. When the sinister connection among Vespertine, the Spill, and Don Jae's abilities is revealed, Addison must fight for her sister's life and avenge their parents.
  The second (and maybe last volume?) of Spill Zone is full of non-stop action. We are given answers to our questions that were unresolved in the first volume. Many of the plot threads close and increase the speed of the climax of the graphic novel. The art is consistently bright and unsettling, perfectly matching the graphic novel's creepy atmosphere. Unfortunately, I found the climax anticlimactic and was left unsatisfied and rushed. Addison's story seems to have wrapped up but there are lots of opportunities for this author and artist duo to tell more stories in this world.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Junior Brave of the Apocalypse series by Greg Smith, Warrior Smart by Jonathan Maberry
Related Posts with Thumbnails