Rummanah Aasi

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

Favorite Adult Books

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

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

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraborty: The City of Brass is a complex, multilayered story that centers on the kingdom's deeply divisive religious, political, and racial tensions. The world building is excellent as clues are sprinkled evenly throughout the story will leaving mysteries that need to be solved. I loved the inclusion and infusion of Middle Eastern culture throughout the novel. I loved this debut novel and I can't wait to read the next installment next month.

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

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

Favorite Children Book

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

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

Favorite YA Books

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

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

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

Favorite Graphic Novels/Manga

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 stars

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

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

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

Review: When Ms. Obi asks her diverse group of students to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, the children are excited except for Lola. Lola is adrift and does not know much about where she came from as she left the island as a child. As Lola talks to some of her neighbors from the Island to draw from their memories, she learns of bats as big as blankets, a place where people loved music and dancing, and amazing fruits. With all of these great things, Lola wonders, why did people leave? Reluctantly, Mr. Mir, the building superintendent, tells her of a Monster that fell upon their Island and did as he pleased for 30 years.
   The text is a bit heavy for a picture book, but it delightful to read. Lola's wonder and the author's humor shines. Though never mentioned by name, the country in question is the Dominican Republic, where Diaz was born. The Monster refers to the dictator Rafael LeĆ³nidas Trujillo. Lola learns from her assignment that "Just because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it's not in you." Espinosa's engaging vibrant mixed-media illustrations portray a thriving community living under the shadow of a metropolitan city. I enjoyed watching how Lola learns more about her Island, the illustrations cleverly incorporate a plethora of tropical plants and color, bringing to life both Lola's neighborhood and La Isla. A great picture book highlighting and celebrating diversity and identity.

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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