Rummanah Aasi
While I read a lot of great books in 2021, I had terrible bout of a blogging slump. I could not motivate myself to post regularly. I think part of the blogging slump was attributed to switching jobs. In October I switched from working at a high school library to a public library. I really like my new job and I am glad that I made the switch as it allows me much more flexibility in terms of time. I think I finally figured out my new blogging schedule so hopefully you will be seeing new posts in 2022.  

Favorite Adult Books

I was actually surprised how many adults books that I have read in 2021. I read a lot more romantic comedies as they were my comfort reads when I am stressed. I did manage to read some great fantasy too as well as a memoir that I really enjoyed.  

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson: If you are looking for a literary fantasy book, then this book is for you. It has fantastic, complex, and morally gray characters. I still think about this book even though I finished it several months ago.

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs: Another solid fantasy in the Alpha and Omega series. Though I had a hard time with the previous book, I easily slipped into this book and could not put it down.

Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo: A beautiful retelling of The Great Gatsby narrated by Jo Baker. I loved that the fantastical elements not only elevated the book, but the critical look at race, class, gender, and sexuality allowed me to rediscover the classic.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark: A fun steampunk, alternative history mystery set in Cairo, Egypt. 

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev: One of the best Jane Austen inspiration books that I have read in a long time.

Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar: The most beautiful book that I have read this year and the one that I have recommended the most to people.

My Broken Language by Quiria Alegria Hudes: A joyful celebration of identity and culture by the creator of In the Heights.

The House in the Cerluean Sea by TJ Klune: Reading this book is like getting a warm, big hug. Absolutely delightful.

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade: I really don't care for celebrity and ordinary people romance, but this book was thoroughly enjoyable. It reminded me of a grown up version of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry: My first book by Emily Henry, but will certainly not be my last. A great pick if you love the friends to lovers trope.

Act Your Age, Evie Brown by Talia Hibbert: A great romance with flawed but self aware characters.

The Ex-Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon: A smart romance that features podcasting and discusses sexism in the office.

Favorite Children Books

I read quite a few good children/middle grade reads this year, but these books stood out to me this year.


I really enjoyed all of these diverse picture books that celebrated culture and identity. I learned a lot from the Native American titles, Fry Bread and We are Grateful. I also loved the middle grade titles Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, The Barren Grounds, and The Girl and the Ghost in which fantasy and real life issues blend beautifully together. Star Fish is a realistic fiction title in which the main character learns to stand up and speak for herself. 

Favorite YA Books

Young Adult books dominate my reading pile. As usual I had a hard time keeping up with all the new releases for 2021. Due to the beginning of the pandemic and not having access to the library for a few months I am still catching up with books that came out in 2020. 

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz: An incredible sequel in which all facets of love are explored.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer: A fantastic conclusion to the Cursebreaker series.

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zenter: A beautiful realistic fiction book that talks about class issues with predominately white characters.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen: What starts as a simple retelling swerves into court intrigue and a heist. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim: A beautiful, fast paced Asian inspired fantasy retelling with a slow burn romance with a twist.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli: A solid romance featuring a main character who trying to come out of her friends' shadows. 

Once Upon a Quincenera by Monica Gomez-Hira: Jane the Virgin was my comfort watch during the pandemic and this book delivered those vibes. Realistic and messy characters with a second chance romance.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kamp: A mature romance that has a nice balance between light and serious topics such as belonging and mental health.

Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter: All of the romantic tropes are mixed in in this book but down really well. I couldn't put it down and read way past my bedtime.

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: A Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai that completely blew me away.

Favorite Graphic Novels/Manga

I read several fantastic graphic novels this year and a few that I couldn't squeeze in at the last minute. 

Cheer Up
by Crystal Fraiser: If you are in a need for a uplifting read, pick this one up. I had a smile on  my face the entire time I read it.

The Montague Twins: The Witch's Hand by Nathan Page: My inner Nancy Drew was absolutely enthralled by this mystery graphic novel. I can't wait for book 2 next year!

Displacement by Kiki Hughes: A wonderful blend of magical realism and historical fiction that allows you to experience what life was like during the Japanese internment camps.

Heartstopper Vol. 3: Another wonderful addition in this heartwarming series. The characters and their relationships are maturing. A good balance between sweet romantic moments and some serious issues.

Honorable Mentions

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

Adult Titles

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
A Marvellous Light by Freyka Markse
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala
In the Country of Others by Leila Silmani
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne
Love at First by Kate Clayborn

Children/Middle Grade Titles

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi
Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

YA Titles

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera
Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds
The Gilded Wolves by Roshni Chokshi

Graphic Novels

Wake by Rebecca Hall
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
Rummanah Aasi
 Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? Rico Silva, that’s what.
Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster. FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn't too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he's definitely over her.
But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico. Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion?

Review: I have read a few Jane Austen adaptations, inspirations, and retellings. A lot of them are not very good and come across as fan fiction, but others who use Austen's framework lightly and tell their own story are usually successful. Recipe for Persuasion is one of the successful inspirations. Though this is the second book in the Rajes series, it can be read independently. 
In this powerful and nuanced second chance romance, we get the central romance as well as a strong story line featuring a contentious relationship between mother and daughter. Chef Ashna Raje fights to keep her late father's dream and his Palo Alto Indian restaurant afloat while clashing with her mother, who feels Ashna should pursue her own dream inside of clinging to her father's failing dream. In a fit of defiance, Ashna signs on to a reality TV cooking show, hoping the publicity and prize money will fend off her financial woes and reinvigorate the restaurant. This decision places Ashna squarely in the path of Brazilian football sensation Rico Silva, the man whose heart Ashna shattered in high school, who always lurks in the back of her mind, and her new partner on Cooking with the Stars. 
  I normally am not a fan of reality television featuring in books, but it works in this novel because it allows the characters to show their external and internal feelings. The chemistry between Ashna and Rico sizzles, mostly through silent eye communications that speak volumes when the right words can't be found. We are also given insight into Ashna's strained relationship with her mother in touching and at times difficult flashbacks to her parents' complicated past. As a reader I can understand both Ashna's and her mother's points of views and I don't fault them for their feelings, but of course things would have been a lot easier if they were able to communicate with one another. I was invested in both story lines and thought both were equally balanced. I did, however, wish we had a little more insight to Rico's parents and his unique upbringing. Overall, I really enjoyed this smart romance with depth and look forward to picking up the other two books in this series. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mentions of sexual abuse, and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults. 

If you like this book try: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors (Rajes #1) by Sonali Dev, Incense and Sensibility (Rajes #3) by Sonali Dev, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Rummanah Aasi
 Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

Review: Starfish is a gut punching yet ultimately affirming novel in verse about Ellie who seeks acceptance not judgement of her size. Ellie has no problem with her weight, but other people are not happy. Due to her weight, Ellie is constantly hounded and bullied by her classmates. At home Ellie is also not safe as her own mother makes endless stream of derogatory comments about her size, obsessively monitors what Ellie eats, and even signs Ellie up for bariatric surgery without her consent. Thankfully, Ellie does find some reprieve and has support in compassionate teachers, really friends who love her for her, her beloved pug, and her considerate father who helps Ellie find a therapist to work through her hurt and trauma of internalizing messages of being invisible.Ellie also takes charge of her own body and rejects the surgery option after finding out it is unsafe and talking with her doctor.
   For much of this novel, I wanted to shelter and hug Ellie. The keen observations of how Ellie is being treated because of fatphobia land hard and true. I was furious at her mother. When Ellie learns to stand up for herself, take up space like a starfish! and confront her mother for her awful behavior, I wanted to shout and cheer for her. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Bullying and fatphobic comments and jokes are made in the novel. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Chunky by Yehudi Mercado, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler (for older readers)
Rummanah Aasi
 Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.
  What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.
  Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is.

Review: Chasing Lucky is an underwhelming contemporary romance novel. While it aims to be reflective, it misses the mark by only skimming the surface level of the book's themes. Josie has spent half her life moving because of her mother's complicated relationships with everyone from boyfriends to her own mother. At times her mother does not seem capable of communicating or frankly being a responsible parent, but for Josie, who wants to be a photographer like the father she barely knows, it's all temporary; her future is in L.A., with him. When she and her mom head back to Beauty, the New England hometown they left when Josie was young, it's just another stop on the road. She doesn't expect to re-encounter Lucky, the childhood best friend who's now the town's resident bad boy and to become embroiled in town drama.
  I found Josie to be very irritating and really hard to connect to as she had tunnel vision in becoming 'worthy' to a parent who she has never known and met. She is also very passive by letting her friends and family make her choices for her instead of herself. I really wished Josie's character had more growth. I also had issues with the book's pacing in which there isn't much happening in the plot until the last half where big family secrets are uncovered and the necessary miscommunication that tears Josie and Lucky apart come quickly without much time given to its resolutions. Attempts at discussing the #MeToo movement and unhealthy relationships are not successful. The only thing that kept me reading this book is the character of Lucky, who is the only fully developed character in the whole book. He is seamlessly vulnerable and strong. The last two YA books by Jenn Bennett have not worked for me at all, but I'm hoping her new book, Always Jane, which comes out in March 2022 will turn it around for me.  

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, underage drinking, a nude photo is mentioned and circulated, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
 Real life isn't a fairytale. But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It's hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn't even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he's going through? Is there a way to tell them he's gay?

Review: The Magic Fish is an exquisite example of how storytelling, art, and language come beautifully together. There are three distinct story lines running through this graphic novel and each are told in different color palettes. The present is depicted in a red palette in which Tiến and his mother learn to communicate through fairy tales when they are not able to have difficult conversations since Tiến does not speak fluent Vietnamese and his mother is not fluent in English. The brown palette is the older past in which Tiến's mother reflects on her own journey from leaving war-torn Vietnam and becoming a U.S. citizen. The blue palette are the fairy tale stories that we tell to help make sense of our situation and express our own desires. For Tiến it is to urgently share his secret of his sexual identity to his mother, but his mother is suddenly called to Vietnam to say farewell to her dying mother. 
   As a daughter of immigrant parents who is not fluent in her parents' native tongue, I really responded to the concept of this graphic novel. I did not find the different plot lines hard to follow and I loved how the fairy tales mirrored the obstacles and joys that take place in Tiến's and his mother's lives. Some of the fairy tales may seem familiar such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, but there is a Vietnamese twist to them. I also thought the approach to using fairy tales to tell an immigrant story of identity and culture to be refreshing. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang
Rummanah Aasi
 Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her. Raised outside of Boston, she is taught how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops by her immigrant grandmother. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, where her dream instantly evaporates.
Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when she bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.
Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners and weekend getaways to the Cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.

Review: White Ivy is a captivating coming of story that has light elements of a thriller that takes a critical look at race, class, and privilege. First generation Chinese American Ivy Lin has learned from a very young age to fend for herself by any means necessary. She was trained by her grandmother to become a a prolific petty thief who used the model minority stereotype to her advantage. As Ivy grows up she has yearned to achieve whiteness and everything that comes with it: privilege, class, wealth, and reputation. No matter how hard she tried to assimilate to her white suburban environment, she never fit in. She fantasized about her future and the American Dream which to her meant married to a wealthy white man and by proxy be embraced in the 'acceptable society'. 
  Presently Ivy is a decidedly unfulfilled first grade teacher in Boston. When she happens to run into Sylvia Speyer, the sister of her childhood crush, Gideon, Ivy is given an opportunity to achieve her dream once again. She worms her way into the orbit of Gideon’s wealthy family and schemes her way into Gideon’s heart. Her dreams are coming to fruition though there is friction as Gideon begins to pull away from Ivy, but Ivy does not mind as long as she gets the happy ending that she wants. Her security is however threatened when a man from her past, Roux Roman, resurfaces and threatens to air her dirty secrets. 
   White Ivy grabbed my attention right from the start. Though far from a likable character, Ivy shatters the model minority stereotype and is unabashedly ambitious. Her tenacity to claw her way into Gideon's social circle is mesmerizing and in a way admirable. She really reminded me of a blend between Jay Gatsby and Becky Sharp. Like Gatsby, Ivy despised her impoverish upbringing and always aspired to become the upper class. Though Gatsby pursued a persona and fought his way to try to win back an old flame, Ivy really does not care about her actual relationship with Gideon, but rather she is obsessed with what he represents (one can argue that Gatsby does the same). Like Becky Sharp, she has no qualms about what actions she must take to secure her future and her moral compass is always askew. The discussion of the complexities of class and privilege will hold the reader's attention as will the array of secondary characters that come and go in the book, most notably Roux who presents as a foil to Ivy. There are also sly comments about race that are read in between the lines of the story, though I wished they were a bit more prominent. Readers intrigued by the promise of the thriller aspects mentioned in the plot may be slightly disappointed as the elements are light and not the main focus of the story, but if you love complex character driven coming of age stories definitely give this debut a try. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language and sexual situations. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan, The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Rummanah Aasi
Description: In this moving picture book, author Hena Khan shares her wishes for her children: With vibrant illustrations and prose inspired by the Qur'an, this charming picture book is a heartfelt and universal celebration of a parent's unconditional love.

Review: I have read and enjoyed several picture books and middle grades by Hena Khan. Her latest picture book, Like the Moon Loves the Sky, is equally enjoyable. The concept of this book is very simple: a mother's universal well wishing of happiness, security, love, and simply the best for her child. The book reads like a prayer with the repetitive word of "InshaAllah" an Arabic word that I have used all of my life. InshaAllah translates to "God Willing" and it is implied for the future. Although the specific word is in Arabic, many other languages and cultures have their own word to express this common theme. The book begins with the child as an infant and as the story progresses so does the child who is always surrounded by friends and family. 
  While the picture book's concept is simple, it manages to do so much more. It normalizes a word that all Muslims and non-Muslim Arabs use. It also showcases the universality of a parent's love for their child while also celebrating diversity and ones own culture. There is no hidden agenda. The palate of orange, blue, and yellow are bright and vivid, but also an extension of the character's skin tone and clothes. Familiar Arabic words are seen in the background. Like the Moon Loves the Sky is a beautiful, heartfelt story that will serve both as a mirror and a window.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for PreK-Grade 1.

If you like this book try: In My Anaana's Amautik by Nadia Sammurtok

 No matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone is welcome here. From grandmothers reading lines of the Qur’an and the imam telling stories of living as one, to meeting new friends and learning to help others, mosques are centers for friendship, community, and love. M. O. Yuksel’s beautiful text celebrates the joys and traditions found in every mosque around the world and is brought to life with stunning artwork by New York Times bestselling illustrator Hatem Aly.

Review: For Muslims around the world the mosque is much more than a place for worship. It is a place where a community is created, a gathering place for social and educational events, a place where issues are discussed and resolved, and where Muslim traditions are upheld and celebrated. No matter where the mosque is located in the world, it serves these purposes globally. 
  In My Mosque provides readers who are unfamiliar a peek into what is often and mistakenly perceived as mysterious and exclusive. In simple text and beautiful illustrations the author and the illustrator shows the diversity and commonalities of different mosques around the world. There are a variety of mosques that are used as inspiration for the book and the illustrator perfectly captures the gorgeous Islamic artwork and geometrical designs, highlighting its uniqueness along with similarities. A chorus of diverse abilities, age, skin tones, and sizes joyously describe their mosque and what it means to them.  Though the mosques aren't labeled in the book, they are identified in the back matter along with more information on mosques, a glossary, and an author's note. This book brought me so much joy and I'm so happy that it exists.   

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for PreK-Grade 1

If you like this book try: All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
Rummanah Aasi
Danyal Jilani doesn't lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he's funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn't approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal's longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.
   When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man--a school-wide academic championship--it's the perfect opportunity to show everyone he's smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her...the more he learns from her...the more he cooks for her...the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

Review: Syed M. Masood's debut novel More than a Pretty Face is an ambitious romantic comedy, coming of age story that bites more than it can chew. Danyal Jilani relies too much on his good looks and charms to breeze through high school by putting in as little effort as possible. He dreams of a future where he is a chef and having the school's most beautiful girl, Kaval Sabsvari, as his wife. Life instead has other plans for Danyal. His confidence is shaken when Danyal is forced to participate in an exclusive, extremely competitive school-wide academic competition called the Renaissance Man competition in which the winner receives $5,000. With his grades suffering and Kaval's attention wavering, Danyal seizes this opportunity to become worthy of her. Since Danyal is 19 years old, marriage is starting to become a consideration, he is introduced to Bisma, an intriguing bridal candidate with a deeply painful past that involves an impulsive decision and a tainted reputation. Danyal and Bisma progress from acquaintances to friends to possibly something more. Along the way Danyal finds out what is important to him including a history lesson that involves the atrocities of the 1943 Bengal Famine and provides a critique of his own community. 
  I mostly enjoyed More than a Pretty Face, but there are blunders that felt clunky and under developed. Some of the jokes in the book verge on insulting such as asking Bisma if she is a porn star when she unveils her painful past. I also found Bisma's extreme, impulsive decision hard to believe though I can try to see how Masood was trying to address how important reputation is a cornerstone in the Pakistani culture along with the hypocrisy within the community though it isn't quite successfully fleshed out in the book. Though it was admirable to showcase a variety of Pakistani Muslim teens who practice their religion on a spectrum, his portrayal of Sohrab veers dangerously and uncomfortably towards the caricature of a budding extremist instead of a teen who is a proudly devout Muslim teen. Similarly, there is a subplot which involves Danyal and his father's tumultuous relationship. Danyal's father is another caricature who has a scowl fixated on his face and disapproves of his culinary pursuits because of its lack of financial security. This plot line is wrapped up too quickly and the moment when Danyal's father shows he is proud of his son does not land as it intends. Despite these setbacks, I did find Danyal endearing and I liked watching his relationship with Bisma blossom. I look forward to reading more from Masood in the future and seeing more books with Pakistani characters in YA.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, mentions of underage drinking, sex, and a sex tape. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Frankly in Love by David Yoon, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Rummanah Aasi
 A covert team of young women--members of the Curie society, an elite organization dedicated to women in STEM--undertake high-stakes missions to save the world. Created by: Heather Einhorn & Adam Staffaroni; Writer: Janet Harvey; Artist: Sonia Liao; Editor: Joan Hilty An action-adventure original graphic novel, The Curie Society follows a team of young women recruited by an elite secret society--originally founded by Marie Curie--with the mission of supporting the most brilliant female scientists in the world. The heroines of the Curie Society use their smarts, gumption, and cutting-edge technology to protect the world from rogue scientists with nefarious plans. Readers can follow recruits Simone, Taj, and Maya as they decipher secret codes, clone extinct animals, develop autonomous robots, and go on high-stakes missions.

Review: The Curie Society is a fun graphic novel that reminds me of a STEM version of Charlie's Angels. The Curie Society is named after the brilliant Marie Curie who never got her full dues because of sexism. This secret society honors and uplifts women in the STEM fields. We are quickly introduced to our diverse main cast of characters: Simone, Taj, and Maya who are college roommates with distinct and clashing personalities. Overeager Simone, who is African American, started college at 15 and wants to prove she belongs. Rebellious, green-haired Taj, who is brown-skinned but racially ambiguous, prefers robots and circuits to people. Maya, who is cued as Indian American and queer, is math oriented and staggers under the weight of her parents' expectations and grapples with her entitlement. 
  Though the trio don't get along with one another, they must cooperate when they receive a strange invitation; deciphering the code, they find their way to an initiation test for the Curie Society. To succeed, the trio will need to use their scientific prowess, talents, and learn how to work together as a team. The requisite montage scenes of the trio attempting and failing to work together, especially when they find that society is not telling them the full truth are my favorite parts of the graphic novel. Taj and Maya also have their own possible love interests. Along the way cool scientific discoveries are discussed, but at times it feels a bit info-dumpy. The artwork is fun and the layout is easy to read and follow. The ending wraps up neatly while leaving the door open for a possible sequel. There is a useful glossary and a list of biographies of female scientists in the back-matter. Overall The Curie Society is a diverse, fun yet educational, well paced graphic novel that uplifts women. I do hope there is a sequel as I would love to see more female empowering graphic novels about the STEM field.
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene where a female character is getting harassed at a club in the book.  

If you like this book try: Woman Discovers by Marie Moinard
Rummanah Aasi
Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.
  Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Review: When his cousin Miguel is killed for refusing to join the Alphas, a notorious gang, Jaime and his cousin Ángela are targeted as the next recruits. With no other way out, their family decides to risk sending them alone to El Norte (i.e. United States) to live with Jaime’s brother, Tomás. The author does not shy away from the perilous journey from Guatemala; Jaime and Ángela face agonizingly real horrors: the fear of being discovered and deported; being locked in the sweltering heat of a rail car; running out of food and water; crossing paths with other even more dangerous gangs; and everything they might face in an unknown country. 
  The Only Road is a candid yet age appropriate tale about the plight of migrants that they may be hearing of from the news. The narrative is fast-paced with many moments accented by danger and uncertainty on Jaime and Ángela's journey. The story also incorporates Spanish words which lends authenticity to the story as well as remind readers that their is a distinction between how Spanish is spoken throughout Latin America. A glossary offers definitions, as well as pronunciation tips, for non-Spanish speakers. Diaz’s closing author’s note reminds readers that immigrants still endure journeys like Jaime and Ángela’s every day. This heartbreaking story will give readers a human face to an issue that is hotly debated in the news.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence in the book, however, it takes place off the page but the consequences and references to the violence are discussed in the book. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: Beast Rider by Tony Johnston 
Rummanah Aasi
Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn't think he has a chance. But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

Review: Heartstopper began as a webcomic featuring two side characters in Alice Oseman's debut novel Solitare. The webcomic became so popular and spawned a kickstarter project to be turned into a print graphic novel series. This series manages to beautifully capture the fragility of first love, discuss serious topics, while also managing to be uplifting and full of joy. It warms my heart that this series exists.
  In this first volume we meet Charlie and Nick who on the surface seem to be complete opposites. Charlie is the only openly gay boy in his British all-boys grammar school. Charlie was been relentlessly bullied when he came out, but things have settled down. He is now in a secret yet toxic relationship with Ben, who hooks up with Charlie when it's convenient for him. Ben is closeted and won't tell anyone about their relationship. Not wanting to draw further attention, Charlie goes along with Ben. 
  When Charlie is assigned to sit next to Nick for an assignment, he is apprehensive. Nick appears to be intimating due to athletic physique due to being one of the school's best rugby players and is very popular. To Charlie's surprise, Nick treats him just like anyone else. Nick is super kind, attentive, interesting, and supportive. Soon Charlie and Nick form a platonic friendship and become close. As the graphic novel progresses, both characters want to their friendship to be more. Charlie fears he is falling for Nick, who he believes is straight, and he is hurling towards heartbreak. Meanwhile Nick who has always assumed he was straight, begins to question his identity and realizes that Charlie is his first boy crush. Both Charlie and Nick realize how bewildering and wonderful love can be. 
   This graphic novel series is definitely an episodic, slice of life story. The sweet, two-color, manga-inspired art seems simplistic at first glance, but detailed expressions convey the boys' longing, uncertainty, and joy. Oseman doesn't overwork her story with too much dialogue and plot, but allows Charlie and Nick to develop organically. If you are looking for a series that is incredibly endearing from start to finish, be sure to check it out. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mild profanity and references to bullying and sexual harassment.

If you like this book try: Heartstopper Volume 2 by Alice Oseman, Bloom into You by Nio Nakatani, and Check, Please series by Ngozi Ukazu

 Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie's gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn't. But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family and himself.

Review: The second volume of Heartstopper picks up immediately where the first book ends as Nick and Charlie's platonic friendship develops to something more. Still things are quite complicated for the two boys. What is their relationship status? How does Nick feel about it? 
 While the relationship between Charlie and Nick is the core of the graphic novel, the focus has shifted more to character development, particularly as it concerns Nick. Nick must confront his own personal confusion and fear surrounding his sexuality. I really like how Oseman shows Nick doing research in finding out where he is on the sexuality spectrum and also demonstrates that the characters have an open and honest communication with one another., a key concept that is important but rarely shown in young adult romances. Charlie doesn't rush or give Nick an ultimatum to find an answer either but reassures Nick that sexuality is fluid. When Nick does find an sexual orientation that feels right, it is up to Nick to decide when and who to tell his truth. 
  Charlie also grows in this volume too. He gains confidence to push back against Ben and Ben's toxicity. He stands up for himself and realizes that he deserves love, not a conditional and unhealthy relationship that he felt once stuck in. In addition to Charlie and Nick, we also meet Charlie's circle of friends who are diverse in ethnicity as well as sexual identities. 
  The illustrations in this volume are lovely and subdued, allowing the characters to take up space and match the whimsical tone of the graphic novel series. Nick and Charlie’s lighthearted and tender romance is delightful, and the genuine heart present in the characters makes for an uplifting read from start to finish. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and homophobic taunts in the graphic novel.

If you like this book try: Bloom into You by Nio Nakatani, and Check, Please series by Ngozi Ukazu, Bloom by Kevin Panetta
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