Rummanah Aasi
 Things are heating up for Lila Macapagal. Not in her love life, which she insists on keeping nonexistent despite the attention of two very eligible bachelors. Or her professional life, since she can't bring herself to open her new cafe after the unpleasantness that occurred a few months ago at her aunt's Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie's Kitchen. No, things are heating up quite literally, since summer, her least favorite season, has just started.
  To add to her feelings of sticky unease, Lila's little town of Shady Palms has resurrected the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago--a fact that serves as a wedge between Lila and her cousin slash rival, Bernadette. But when the head judge of the pageant is murdered and Bernadette becomes the main suspect, the two must put aside their differences and solve the case--because it looks like one of them might be next.

Review: One of my reading goals for this year is to rekindle my love of mysteries and thrillers. I read my first culinary cozy mystery, Arsenic and Adobo, and really enjoyed it. I was hoping to enjoy the second book in the series just as much, but unfortunately it didn't work for me.
  Lila Macapagal is an extremely likable character who suddenly found herself to be an amateur sleuth in order to protect her family's Filipino's restaurant and reputation. This time around she is reluctantly involved in a local beauty pageant, which had a history of souring her relationship with her cousin Bernadette. I enjoyed the set up for the mystery and getting to know more about Lila's past, however, the bulk of the book is really examining where Lila is mentally after being traumatized during her first murder case. I found the tonal shift quite jarring, not that I don't think this is an important topic to discuss. Due to the tonal shift, we don't get to see Lila do really any of the sleuthing, which becomes the subplot of the book. By the time the pieces to the mystery began to come together, I was taken out of the story and found myself not really caring all that much. I had expected the mystery to take center stage, but because I really enjoyed the series' cast of characters I hung around but was ultimately underwhelmed and disappointed. Still I do plan on reading the third book in the series and hope to see more sleuthing done by Lila and company. I would also continue to recommend it by its excellent diverse cast of characters, light humor, and warmth.  

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is discussion of post traumatic disorder and the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues. There is also some minor language.

If you like this book try: Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chen and A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette
Rummanah Aasi
 Aafiyah loves playing tennis, reading Weird but True facts, and hanging out with her best friend, Zaina. However, Aafiyah has a bad habit that troubles her--she's drawn to pretty things and can't help but occasionally "borrow" them.
  When her father is falsely accused of a crime he hasn't committed and gets taken in by authorities, Aafiyah knows she needs to do something to help. When she brainstorms a way to bring her father back, she turns to her Weird but True facts and devises the perfect plan, but what if her plan means giving in to her bad habit, the one she's been trying to stop? Aafiyah wants to reunite her family but finds that maybe her plan isn't so perfect after all.

Review: I picked up and read Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi as part of my Ramadan Reading Challenge and I really enjoyed it. Told in the format of a novel in verse, we meet out-going, Pakistani American Aafiyah who is has a bad habit of "borrowing" things that are shiny and new despite having sufficient things at home. Her 'once in a while' habit becomes uncontrollable as her father is detained in Pakistan for a crime he did not commit after a family trip. As Reem witnesses her mother's stress in juggling financial problems coupled with a grandfather who is undergoing chemo therapy, Aafiyah wants to help any way that she can. She concocts a plan to betray her best friend in order to save her own family. 
I    I enjoyed this nuanced and flawed portrait of a South Asian tween who is struggling to find a way to help her family. I appreciated that the narrative moves beyond the troubles with immigrant families, but focuses on how to deal with an invisible illness which the author revealed is actually based on a person she met in her life. Aafiyah's Muslim identity is woven nicely throughout the story without being didactic. I would recommend this quick read for readers who enjoyed Hena Khan's Amina Voice

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Mentions of a family member diagnosed with cancer and is receiving chemo treatment. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
Rummanah Aasi
 Serene dreams of making couture dresses even more stunning than her mom’s, but for now she’s an intern at her mom’s fashion label. When her mom receives a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, all that changes. Serene has to take over her mother’s business overnight while trying to figure out what happened with her dad in Beijing. He left before she was born, and Serene wants to find him, even if it means going against her mom’s one request—never look back.
   Lian Chen moved from China to Serene’s mostly white Southern California beach town a year ago. He doesn’t fit in at school, where kids mispronounce his name. His parents don’t care about what he wants to do--comedy--and push him toward going to MIT engineering early. Lian thinks there’s nothing to stick around for until one day he starts a Chinese Club after school and Serene walks in. Worlds apart in the high school hierarchy, Serene and Lian soon find refuge in each other, falling in love as they navigate life-changing storms.

Review: After reading and enjoying several of books by Kelly Yang, I have become a fan. I immediately added Private Label to my reading pile without paying much attention to the book's description. This is a heavy read, but despite its heaviness I did find it thought provoking and enjoyable. 
  Like her other books thus far, Yang explores the themes of gender, racism, class, and identity. Serene and Lian both identify as Chinese Americans though they express themselves very differently. Serene has more or less assimilated to her mostly white affluent community and school. Due to her mother's well known designer brand and the fact that she can give designer clothes to friends and has the most popular boy as a boyfriend, she is accepted at the top of her school's social circles. Lian comes from a traditional, middle class Chinese family in which he is pushed to succeed in the STEM field and get into a cutthroat early admissions engineering program at MIT though he dreams of being a stand-up comic. Where Serene is at the top, Lian is constantly ridiculed and singled out for his "Asian-ness". 
    Serene's and Lian's worlds collide when Serene receives the life altering news that her mother has been diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer and she wants to reach out to her elusive father who lives overseas. Serene seeks out Lian's help through his Chinese club at school by learning Chinese though his club is actually a ruse for him to carve out private space to practice his stand-up for a local competition. I really enjoyed watching Serene's and Lian's relationship grow. They find acceptance, solace, and support in one another. It is their romance that buoys the novel that would otherwise be too dark. I found their conversation surrounding assimilation to be enlightening and often mirroring that of my own experience.
  Fashion does play a prominent role in the book, though I would argue it is less of a slapstick like "Devil Wears Prada" which is what the book comparison calls for. I loved the idea of embracing ones culture and expressing that in the fashion. I did, however, have to suspended my disbelief that a teen would take over her mother's brand, but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. I thought it was a nice touch of Serene's journey of self discovery. If you are looking for a realistic fiction novel with vibrant characters and that balances the heaviness of coming of age with a romantic subplot do check this book out. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, scenes of racial microaggressions, sexting, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: This Place is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tan, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Rummanah Aasi
 It's the first day of sophomore year, and now that Winifred's two best (and only) friends have transferred to a private school, she must navigate high school on her own. But she isn't alone for long. In art class, she meets two offbeat students, Oscar and April. The three bond through clandestine sleepovers, thrift store shopping, and zine publishing. Winifred is finally breaking out of her shell, but there's one secret she can't bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself--and this lie is threatening to destroy her newfound friendships.

Review: Sarah Winifred Searle's semi-autobiographical graphic novel follows Winifred who is not looking forward to starting a new school year after her two closest friends move to a different school. Alone, introverted, Winifred is a talented artist who is filled with self doubt and self loathing. She loves and finds joy in her drawing and photography classes, but her low self esteem and insecurity about her weight bring her down. Though she is lactose intolerant, she eats foods that she knows will make her unwell. Luckily, she does make friends with fellow classmates April and Oscar who take note of her talent and share a sense of comradeship with their own issues and insecurities. April also has an eating disorder and identifies as nonbinary though it is not accepted by their emotionally absent parents. Oscar is identified as being pansexual and is struggling with a learning disability. The trio's friendship deepens as they open up to each other and collaborate on a zine together. 
  Despite all the heavy topics that this graphic novel covers from mental health to navigating gender and sexuality identities, I really like how introspective, poignant and quiet it is without losing its candor. The graphic novel within the graphic novel format is not only meta but it also allows Winifred to express herself through storytelling and gain self confidence. With the help of her friends and the zine she is able to reach out to her mom and ask for help. The book ends on a hopeful note with Winifred beginning to discover herself worth and being happy.    

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of self harm, characters with an eating disorder, emotionally absent parents, and some language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up. 

If you like this book try: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge and Slip by Marika McCoola
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