Rummanah Aasi

Ramadan is is the holy month of fasting and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month Muslims abstain from food and drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset. We break our fast when the sunsets. Many people tend to focus on the physical hardships of the month, but I like to view it as a spiritual reassessment. During this month I am always reminded of how fortunate I am, exercise my willpower, strengthen my empathy skills, and most importantly making my faith stronger. This year Ramadan begins on April 2nd.
  In past years I found a Ramadan Reading Challenge online from Nadia's awesome blog Headscarves & Hardbacks, but I am not sure if there is an official reading challenge this year. I am creating one on my own with a particular focus on reading and supporting Muslim #ownvoices authors. I've listed my tbr pile for this challenge. Check it out below:

Ramadan Reading Challenge TBR:

Children Picture Books

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers by Lina Al-Hathloul: Loujain watches her beloved Baba attach his feather wings and fly each morning, but her own dreams of flying face a big obstacle: only boys, not girls, are allowed to fly in her country. Yet despite the taunts of her classmates, she is determined that some day, she too will learn to do it--especially because Loujain loves colors, and only by flying will she be able to see the color-filled field of sunflowers her baba has told her about. Eventually, he agrees to teach her, and Loujain's impossible dream becomes reality--inspiring other girls to dare to learn to fly. Inspired by co-author Lina al-Hathloul's sister, formerly imprisoned Saudi women's rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Loujain al-Hathloul, who led the successful campaign to lift Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. This gorgeously illustrated story is lyrical and moving.

One Wish by M.O. YukselFatima al-Fihri loved to learn. She wanted to know everything, like how birds flew, why the sky was blue, and how flowers grew. But more than anything, she wanted a school for all, where anyone could study and become whatever they wanted, like teachers, scientists, and doctors. As she grew older, Fatima carried her one wish inside her, through good times and bad. Fueled by her faith and her determination, she worked hard to make her one wish come true. For over a thousand years, Fatima’s one wish—her school—served students and scholars from around the globe, and it continues to do so today!

Amira's Picture Day by Reem Faruqi: Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can't wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There's just one hiccup: it's also school picture day. How can Amira be in two places at once?

One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan: From one sun to countless stars, this gentle introduction to numbers also celebrates the many diverse traditions of the Muslim world, encouraging readers young and old to reflect upon—and count—their many blessings.

Bilaal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed: Six-year-old Bilal is excited to help his dad make his favorite food of all-time: daal! The slow-cooked lentil dish from South Asia requires lots of ingredients and a whole lot of waiting. Bilal wants to introduce his friends to daal. They’ve never tried it! As the day goes on, the daal continues to simmer, and more kids join Bilal and his family, waiting to try the tasty dish. And as time passes, Bilal begins to wonder: Will his friends like it as much as he does?

Middle Grade Fiction

Samira and Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed: A genie informs twelve-year-old Amira and her younger brother Hamza that they are the chosen ones who must defeat a monstrous demon of Islamic folklore to save the Earth and a parallel dimension.

Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi: Yusuf is excited to start middle school in his small Texas town, but with the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks coming up, suddenly it feels like the country's same anger and grief is all focused on his Muslim community.

Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed: Omar must contend with being treated like a second-class citizen when he gets a scholarship to an elite boarding school.

Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz: After months of rebuilding a new life in Bangladesh with her family, Samira decides to become a Bengali surfer girl of Cox's Bazar, in this novel in verse about a young Rohingya girl's journey from isolation and persecution to sisterhood, and from fear to power.

Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi: When her father is accused of a crime he didn't commit, seventh grader Aafiyah, a Pakastani American girl who has a habit of "borrowing" glittery things, decides to use her bad habit to reunite her family.

Ahmed Aziz's Epic Year by Nina Hamza: A Indian American boy endures a family move from Hawaii to frigid Minnesota and, with the help of three life-changing books he reads in school, he learns to like reading, and ultimately, himself.

YA Fiction

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir: Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.
   Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah's health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle's liquor store while hiding the fact that she's applying to college so she can escape him--and Juniper--forever. When Sal's attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth--and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi: To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight. The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can't put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom--and the world.

The Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan: Dreaming of being the world's first Pakistani to be drafted into the NBA, fifteen-year-old Fawad Chaudhry must convince his mother to let him try out for the basketball team while dealing with the neighborhood bully.

You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen: Sabriya has her whole summer planned but those plans go out the window after a terrorist attack near her home. When the terrorist is assumed to be Muslim and Islamophobia grows, Sabriya turns to her online journal for comfort .Soon two more teens, Zakat and Farah, join Bri to run 'You Truly Assumed' and the three quickly form a strong friendship. When one of them is threatened, the search to find out who is behind it all begins, and their friendship is put to the test when all three must decide whether to shut down the blog and lose what they've worked for.

Adult Fiction

Good Intentions by Kasim Ali: It's the countdown to the New Year, and Nur is steeling himself to tell his parents that he's seeing someone. A young British Pakistani man, Nur has spent years omitting details about his personal life to maintain his image as the golden child. And it's come at a cost.
Once, Nur was a restless college student, struggling to fit in. At a party, he meets Yasmina, a beautiful and self-possessed aspiring journalist. They start a conversation--first awkward, then absorbing. And as their relationship develops, so too does Nur's self-destruction. He falls deeper into traps of his own making, attempting to please both Yasmina and his family until he must finally reveal the truth: Yasmina is Black, and he loves her.

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron: Reena Manji doesn't love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall - with hopes that Reena will marry him. But Nadim's not like the other Muslim bachelor-du-jours that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren't enough, the man appears to love eating her sourdough creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? When Reena's career takes a nosedive, she decides to follow her heart by entering a video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams. The one problem? It's couples only. Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter the contest, but as cooking at home together brings them closer and her family gets wind of the situation, Reena can't help thinking her faux fiancĂ© might just be the real deal.

Mismatch by Sara Jafri: After graduating from university, Soraya Nazari decides it’s time to get the life experience she is lacking due to her strict upbringing and distracts herself with Marcus Evans, with whom she could never fall in love, until she realizes there is more to him than she originally thought.

Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed: Raised in India, Seema is the beloved daughter of a commanding, erudite, Romantic-poetry-loving doctor father who cut her off when she came out to him as a lesbian. Now living alone in San Francisco, estranged from her African American ex-husband, Seema is one week away from delivering a baby boy, Ishraaq. Ishraaq's arrival has brought to Seema's side, for the first time in 15 years, her terminally ill mother, Nafeesa, and her devoutly religious, hijab-wearing sister Tahera, an ob/gyn living with her husband and two young children in Irving, Texas. But there is to be no easy reconciliation. Instead, this fateful week, narrated by the new-born Ishraaq, ends in an emergency delivery, revealing both a family and a country in distress.
Rummanah Aasi

 Love is already hard enough, but it becomes an unnavigable maze for unassuming high school student Taichi Ichinose and his shy classmate Futaba Kuze when they begin to fall for each other after their same-sex best friends have already fallen for them.

Review: Blue Flag is a relatively short manga series with a total of eight volumes. This manga is much more of a slice of life rather than a shoujo/romance, although readers may be immediately drawn to it for its love quadrangle. 
  Blue Flag is centered around four teenagers as they navigate through high school, their identity and their relationships. Despite having a love quadrangle in the story, the manga series is surprisingly low on the angst and melodrama. Kaito is much more interested in focusing on how our choices shape our identities, which caught my attention and drew me to this manga. All four characters are flushed out in the series and at times surprised me as they went beyond their cookie cutter box such as the jock, the awkward nerd, the ice queen, and the cute ditsy girl. Each character is frustrated with their label and want to become someone else, which is highly relateable and yet coming to this realization at a young age is actually quite profound. 
  While there are romantic elements in the series, they are downplayed. I think readers who are true romance fans will be a little disappointed in this series. Though two characters fall within the LGBTQ+ umbrella, the exact words are never actually uttered by the characters but inferred within context of the story. I am not sure if this choice is indicative on how sexuality is addressed in Japan or the creator's choice. I did love the character development and how the characters interacted with one another, especially during the vulnerable moments when they quietly voiced their doubts and fears. The silent panels and the zoom close up into the characters' facial features during these moments are exquisite. The first seven volumes of the manga flow naturally and remain consistent in terms of theme and character development.The final volume, however, was my least favorite and felt rushed with huge, confusing time jumps, and an underdeveloped ending which really hindered my enjoyment of the series. Overall, I mostly enjoyed this series and I think this is a good pick for manga readers who are drawn to character driven and slice of life stories.

Rating: 3.5 stars for the entire series

Words of Caution: There is mention of sexual abuse from a secondary character, partial nudity in a shower scene, and suggestive poses of female characters in negligee. Recommended for Grades 9 and up. 

If you like this book try: Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku, Sweet Blue Flowers by Takako Shimura, and Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani
Rummanah Aasi
 Ari Abrams has always been fascinated by the weather, and she loves almost everything about her job as a TV meteorologist. Her boss, legendary Seattle weather woman Torrance Hale, is too distracted by her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband, the station’s news director, to give Ari the mentorship she wants. Ari, who runs on sunshine and optimism, is at her wits’ end. The only person who seems to understand how she feels is sweet but reserved sports reporter Russell Barringer.
  In the aftermath of a disastrous holiday party, Ari and Russell decide to team up to solve their bosses’ relationship issues. Between secret gifts and double dates, they start nudging their bosses back together. But their well-meaning meddling backfires when the real chemistry builds between Ari and Russell. Working closely with Russell means allowing him to get to know parts of herself that Ari keeps hidden from everyone. Will he be able to embrace her dark clouds as well as her clear skies?

Review:  Ari Abrams loves her job and is passionate about weather. She has always looked up to Torrance Hale, the reigning queen of all things meteorological at KSEA 6, and hoped Torrance would be her mentor in guiding her career, but recently the nonstop hostility between Torrance and her ex-husband, the station’s news director, has made the workplace stressful. It’s particularly hard for Ari until one evening at an office holiday party she finally opens up and vents to the cute, sports anchor Russell Barringer. When Russell suggests he and Ari get their bosses back together to improve their dispositions, she thinks it’s worth a try and is glad to have made a friend who listens to her. As Ari and Russell spend more time with each other, their friendship blooms into something more. 
  I would not label Weather Girl as a romantic comedy though it has the setup for one. The hijinks and the romance is more subdued as Solomon is more concerned and focused on the exploration of mental health and its impact on relationships. I adored Ari right from the start. Her love for her career is genuine, but she is starting to get burnout. Ari has used her energy in masking her clinical depression with relentless cheeriness and a happy go-lucky attitude. She is afraid to show her true self because she would be misunderstood as a woman who is "too much to handle" as she witnessed her own mother say. Like Ari, her mother also battles with chronic depression and had her own roller coaster of failed relationships and neglected her own children before she sought out help. Luckily Ari does have help from a therapist and has a supportive, lovable brother and brother-in law, but the fear of allowing someone new see her bad days is what keeps her arms length from allowing Russell fully into her life. 
  I liked Russell and thought he was adorably shy and quiet. He also loves his job as a sportscaster and wants to advance in his career, but he also has his hangups. Russell is insecure about his physical appearance, which is nice to see because often times it is usually women who have that insecurity. Like Ari, Russell has not had a real relationship since he and his high school girlfriend had a baby. Forced to grow up really quickly and assume responsibility, Russell has not thought of a future for himself until Ari stepped into his world. Though I would have liked Russell's character to be developed and explored more, I did enjoy this mature romance. The often, irritating miscommunication trope doesn't really exist, but it's more like an aha! moment for Ari as she begins to realize that she is purposefully self-destructing and correct course. I thought the romance between Ari and Russell is sweet and is more of a slow burn type. I appreciated there is subplot of Ari trying to reconcile with her mother too. Overall, I enjoyed this substantial romance.   

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz, Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle 
Rummanah Aasi
 Since Gran died a few months ago, Molly has been navigating life's complexities all by herself. No matter--she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.
     But Molly's orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what's happening, Molly's unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black--but will they be able to find the real killer before it's too late?

Review: Nita Prose's debut novel, The Maid, has been one of the buzziest book of 2022. From webinars to review journals, this book was everywhere. Since I wanted to reignite my love for the mystery genres I thought I would give it a shot. 
  The Maid is a charming cozy, locked room mystery set in a hotel room. Our main protagonist is Molly Gray, a hotel maid whom few hotel guests acknowledge or really even see. She is focused on being the hotel's best maid and cleaning, neatness brings her utmost satisfaction. Raised by her beloved and now deceased grandmother and abandoned by her parents as a baby, Molly finds herself adrift and unexpectedly the main suspect of a murder of a very rich man named Mr. Black. 
  While the plot and pace moves swiftly, the overall mystery of the book is pretty underwhelming. The clues and problems are conveniently solved. Normally, I would have abandoned the book early on, however, I loved Molly as a character and the network that she created around her. Though not explicitly stated in the book, strong evidence seems to suggest that Molly is on the autism spectrum. She has a very hard time reading social clues which makes her come across as extremely naive and socially awkward to other characters. The real the real perpetrators of the crime, of course, take advantage of her. Prose does a fine job in not making Molly the butt of a joke, but allows Molly to take agency and develop friendships with genuinely good people such as Juan Manuel and Mr. Preston who help clear her name and support her through kindness. I would gladly read another book featuring Molly and crew should Prose decide to write another book.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, mentions of physical and drug abuse, and drug trafficking. Recommended for teens and adults. 

If you like this book try: Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandin
Rummanah Aasi
Description: When boys in her class start touching Mila and making her feel uncomfortable, she does not want to tell her friends or mother until she reaches her breaking point.

Review: Maybe He Just Likes You tackles sexual harassment and gaslighting in middle school. Mila is being targeted by a group of boys with unwanted attention. It began with a coerced hugging and then escalates to distressing incidents of lewd comments and touching. Mila's friend Zara seems envious of the boys' attention and tells her that she's overreacting while her quiet friend Omi doesn't like confrontation. Confused, frustrated, angry, and scared Mila tries different tactics to avoid being the boys' spotlight. She tries wearing bagging clothes and avoids being alone in the same room as them. Whenever she attempts to stick up for herself, Mila is effectively silenced by accusations of “overreacting.” She does not want to burden her mother with school issues because she can barely hold on financially to a toxic job. As Mila's anxiety and fears of sexual harassment grows she begins to find an outlet of karate classes which teach her to stand up for herself and empower her to speak the truth. She finally takes Max's advice and reports the harassment to her teachers. Max also faced discrimination on account of his sexuality. The group of boys are disciplined though the conclusion is a bit rushed.  This is a great discussion starter for parents and educators who want to teach their children and students about consent and harassment. The description of the harassment is not gratuitous but it does convey Mila's extreme discomfort. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of harassment. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: The Prettiest by Brigit Young
Rummanah Aasi
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Review: Unlike the rest of his family, Yadriel is kept from having a quinces, the traditional coming-of-age ceremony to become a brujo. Yadriel is trans and gay, but it is his gender identity that prevents him from participating in his family responsibility of guiding the dead to the afterlife. His family is reluctant to look deeper and see if Yadriel's gender identity actually has any affect his abilities. Yadriel grows tired and frustrated from being on the sidelines. He decides to hold his own ceremony with the help of a fellow "outcast" of the family, his best friend and cousin Maritza. Since magic requires a blood sacrifice, human and/or animal, Maritza refuses to use her healing magic based on her vegan principles thus making her an odd ball. When Yadriel calls on Lady Death to bestow her blessings upon him and make him a brujo, Yadriel and Martiza both feel an acute loss of their own when their cousin Miguel dies suddenly and a new spirit named Julian mysteriously appears. Are these two deaths connected? Why can't they find Miguel's body?  How can they guide Julian's spirit to the afterlife? Yadriel and Maritza begin their adventure and seek answers of their own as they team up with Julian.
   Cemetery Boys is a delightful adventure, mystery, and a slow burn romance. I loved the seamless integration of Spanish phrases and the Dia de los Muertos traditions from many different Latin countries such as Mexico and Cuba. There are no explanatory commas that drag the story down, but rather context clues to figure out what is being said. I also loved the ethnic diversity within the characters. Yadriel is Cuban and Mexican while Julian is Colombian. What really makes Cemetery Boys standout from other LGBTQ+ fantasy books is that Yadriel and Julian belong to this community unapologetically and that is only one part of their identity. Thomas is more focused on themes of what makes a family (both what you are born into and one that you create), death, loss, abandonment, and rejection as we unpack Yadriel and Julian's identities and learn of their backstories. While Yadriel's father has a hard time seeing and accepting his son, it is not because of being transphobic but I see it as his struggle between upholding traditions without question and striving for full self-acceptance. I think it is really important that we see Yadriel's father make mistakes but takes steps to fully understand and embrace his son.
  The mystery is not surprising and close readers can figure it out before Yadriel does, but I was more invested in the characters' journey. I also didn't quite feel the romance between Yadriel and Julian, but I enjoy seeing them together. While there is a central romance between Yadriel and Julian, the book does explore love in both familial and platonic terms too which I really appreciate. Overall this a joyful and enchanting story that will surely bring a smile to your face. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language both in English and in Spanish and scene of underage drinking and drug usage.

If you like this book try: The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon, Beyond the Black Door by A.M. Strickland
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