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
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