Rummanah Aasi
A memoir about food, body image, and growing up in a loving but sometimes oppressively concerned Pakistani immigrant family.

Review: Rabia Chaudry may be a familiar name to you if you follow the Undisclosed podcast or followed the Adnan Syed trial that was highlighted in the Serial podcast. In her candid and engaging memoir, she recounts how her life has been shaped and complicated by her relationship with food and culture.
   Born in Lahore, Pakistan, and raised in the U.S. by Muslim immigrant parents, Chaudry was subject to myths of American greatness and capitalism when it came to nutritional supremacy that favored processed foods (i.e. junk food, fast food restaurants, etc) as well as baby formula over breast milk. The foods that Rabia consumed reflected simultaneously high class from the lens of her Pakistani relatives, but also a low class from the lens of a U.S. viewer.  
    As Rabia grew up from a healthy chubby baby to the heaviest student in her grade, body image has always haunted her. After years of internalizing fatphobia and being told repeatedly by her family comments that her weight made her undesirable, Rabia married the first man who approached her. Unfortunately, this was not a healthy relationship as she endured an abusive husband and suffered years of disordered eating. 
   Rabia does go on a journey of self healing seeking therapy and constructs a healthy relationship with food, and spends time with relatives who support rather than shame her, becomes a turning point. The goal turns from being thin to one of being healthy. She wonders where she walks on the side of body positivity, fat acceptance, and weight loss. Overall, I really enjoyed her candidness and critique of Pakistani culture when it comes to body image which not only entails weight but also colorism and beauty standards. I applaud this realistic story of self acceptance. I also enjoyed looking at the various recipes that are found at the back of the book. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of fatphobia, disordered eating, colorism, and domestic abuse. 

If you like this book try: Shrill by Lindsey West, Hunger by Roxane Gay, Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Rummanah Aasi
 Starting a new school in the fall with her friend Shirley, everything is going well for Jamila until Shirley pulls her into a new assignment: stop Chuck Milton, a school bully who is using blackmail and intimidation to become school president--an assignment that will involve a bit of breaking and entering.

Review: The Shirley and Jamila graphic mystery series is utterly delightful. This is the second book in the series and I think you would have no problem if you started with this book. The author does a great job in summing up the first book so you can dive right into this new adventure. 
  The fall brings the start of a new school year. Jamila Waheed is attending a new school, but luckily her best friend, Shirley Bones, is right by her side. After solving their first case together over the summer, the school year has brought a new shift in their routine such as doing homework, attending lessons, sport practices, and possibly even new friends. While Jamila befriends, Seena who shares similar cultural and family dynanics and also loves playing basketball, Shirley is still working as detective. 
   The latest case has the Shirley and Jamila pitted against a formidable opponent: the notorious school bully Chuck Milton. Chuck trades in secrets and wields them against fellow students he extorts, including their recent client. 
  This Sherlock Holmes-inspired mystery series not only has a strong cast of characters and an intricately detailed plot, but it also addresses important questions. Can you justify breaking and entering to help solve a case? How about faking a friendship? I really appreciate how there is no clear cut answer and seeing the characters come to their own conclusions. The series continues to have a focus on friendship and  not the usual drama that surrounds middle grade reads. Jamila's struggle about building her friendship circle and finally finding someone who she can be her authentic self will resonate with a lot of readers. Overall this is a really fun series that I hope continues because I adore these characters. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying and also breaking and entering a house. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Enola Holmes Graphic Novels by Serena Blasco, Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson (for Grade 5 and up readers)
Rummanah Aasi
 Eight years have passed since the Battle of the Serpent. In the icy north, Lady Nore of the Court of Teeth has reclaimed the Ice Needle Cathedral. She has produced a monster of stick and snow who will do her bidding--and exact her revenge. Suren, child queen of the Court of Teeth, fled to the human world and lives in the woods. When she is chased through the streets by the hag Bogdana, Suren is saved by Prince Oak, the heir to Elfhame--and the boy she was once promised to in marriage. He wants Suren's help on a mission--but can she trust him?

Review: The Stolen Heir is a spin-off series to Holly Black's extremely popular fey centered series Folk of Air. While you can jump into reading this spin-off series, be aware that it does spoil the events of the Folk of Air series. There are returning and important characters from the first series.
  The Stolen Heir has a very different tone when it is compared to the first series. Our narrator, Wren (named in the human realm) or Suren (in the fey realm) is a changeling born to the Court of Teeth as a device for political machinations. She is taken from her human family when she is of age and dragged, abused by her fey parents. Enduring lots of trauma and betrayed several times over, Wren is an internal, highly suspicious character. When is she sought and saved by former friend Prince Oak, they begin a mysterious quest. Wren and Oak dance around one another as their loyalties and alliances shift throughout the story.  
  The plot of The Stolen Heir is much more slow burned and has a fairy tale quality. The ambiance of the book is much grimmer and grittier. Black takes her time in expanding her fey world. I really liked the character of Wren and watching her character grow from a skittish young woman to something much more sinister as the book progresses and her backstory is revealed. While I liked Wren's character arc, I did find myself a little lost about the purpose of the quest and I found the pacing to be slow at times, but things finally clicked in the second half of the story. The last few chapters unveiled some plot twists including one that shocked me. I'm definitely intrigued enough to pick up the second book in this duology. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Road of the Lost by Nafisa Azad, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Barshardoust
Rummanah Aasi
Hailey Sharp has a one-track mind. Get By the Cup salad shop off the ground. Do literally everything possible to make it a success. Repeat. With a head full of entrepreneurial ideas and a bad ex in her rearview, her one and only focus is living life the way she wants to. No distractions.
    Wes Jansen never did understand the fuss about relationships. With a string of lackluster first dates and the pain from his parents' angry divorce following him around, he'd much rather find someone who he likes, but won't love. Companionship, not passion, is the name of the game. 
   When Hailey and Wes find each other in a disastrous meet cute that wasn't even intended for them, they embarrassingly go their separate ways. But when Wes finds Hailey to apologize for his behavior, they strike a friendship. Because that's all this can be. Hailey doesn't want any distractions. Wes doesn't want to fall in love. What could possibly go wrong?

Review: A Guide to Being Just Friends is the third book in the Jansen Brothers series, but it can be read as a standalone. As you probably guessed from the title of the book, this romance plays on the friends to lovers trope and for the most part succeeds. 
   Hailey Sharp left Hollywood and a bad, unhealthy relationship to settle in the Southern California town of San Verde, where she opens a salad shop. She is determined to succeed and wants to it all on her own. I really liked Hailey as a character. She is completely down to earth and is a character that I found myself easily to root for.
    Wesley Jansen is a wealthy businessman and New York City transplant who heads the intriguingly named Squishy Cat Industries with his two brothers. Being the eldest, Wesley has always sheltered his younger brothers from his parents ugly divorce. His parents rocky relationship has left him weary about making commitments in the romance realm. 
  After getting off on the wrong foot, Hailey and Wesley strike up a fast friendship since both are not ready for a full blown relationship. I loved watching them together and help support one another, though I often felt that Wesley tended to go overboard several times. They of course struggle unsuccessfully to fight their growing attraction, which leads to the rocky road of relationship. While I enjoyed the first part of the story which took its time in establishing a friendship, the actual relationship part of the story went too fast for me. I also wished there was more showing than telling about Hailey's terrible relationship before she met Wesley and Wesley's background. There were moments that felt a bit too repetitive and the pacing kind of dragged for me.  There are, however, definitely some great moments that made smile and laugh out loud. I also liked some of the secondary characters too. This is a low steam romance where the physical moments were just limited to kissing. Overall this is a breezy, easy to read romance.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and sexual innuendo. The sexual situations take place behind closed doors so this would be an appropriate pick for teen romance readers. 

If you like this book try: Luck and Last Resorts by Sarah Ruiz Grunder, for a steamier read try Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren or Sleepless in Manhattan by Sarah Morgan
Rummanah Aasi
 Living in the penthouse suite of San Francisco's Hotel Coeur, matchmakers-in-training Rose and Cora learn how to use magic to bring about love connections and must perfect their charms and enchantments to pass a test that will determine their future.

Review: Harmony and Heartbreak is the first book in the charming, magical series called Suite Hearts. The story centers on two cousins, Rose and Cora, who come from a long line of matchmakers. The girls are also Matchmakers who have magical powers that allow them to forge love connections between people. As Fledglings or young Matchmakers in training, Rose and Cora practice their skills under the supervision of their guardians, but the time has come to take an exam to see if they can graduate to a higher Matchmaker level without the help of their guardians. 
  Rose, who is always confident and has an intuitive sense to her magic, is excited about this opportunity. Cora has the opposite reaction. Cora is much quieter and is used to being in her cousin’s shadow and has more challenges with her magic, is filled with doubt. They have two chances to pass the exam. If they fail, they could have their magic taken away. What makes the challenge even harder is that it will focus on their individual weaknesses. 
   Kann has created a delightful world filled with magic, but it is also rooted in reality as the girls navigate real life issues such as friendship troubles, crushes, and self confidence. This would be a great gateway book for younger readers who are hesitant to pick up a full-on fantasy story. The world building is easy to follow and there is a glossary provided for words that are specific to the world.The story is told in alternating perspectives by Ros and Cora, but I found myself more interested in the introverted Cora. While the story wraps up nicely in the first book, there are lingering questions left to be explored in the further books. I plan on continuing the series. Harmony and Heartbreak is a fun, Black Girl magic read.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano, Best Wishes by Sarah Mlynowski
Rummanah Aasi
Description: High-achieving Kavya Joshi has always been told she's a little too ambitious, a little too mouthy, and overall just a little too much. In one word: besharam. So, when her nemesis, Ian Jun, witnesses Kavya's very public breakup with her loser boyfriend on the last day of junior year, she decides to lay low. 
  Exhausted by Kavya and Ian's years-long feud, their friends hatch a plan to end their rivalry by convincing them to participate in a series of challenges. But as the competition heats up, so too does the romantic tension.

Review: Beauty and the Besharam is a delightful enemies to friends to lovers rom-com between two high achieving high school students. There is also a light fairy tale touch to the story in a gender swapped Beauty and the Beast.
  Indian American Kavya Joshi is aware that people in her orbit think that she's besharam. Besharam literally translates to shameless but it's also the umbrella term for being bossy, bold, rude, mouthy, and assertive among other things. Despite people's opinions, Kavya is proud of her devil may care attitude and refuses to change herself in order to fit into people's neat boxes, including the people she dates. And no one brings out her competitive spirit more than Ian Jun, her Korean American former friend–turned-rival, who not only excels with ease at everything, but infuriatingly looks great doing it. 
   The rivalry between Kavya and Ian is legendary, ranging from grades to club activities, and even the summer reading challenge at their public library. As junior year wraps up, their friends decide to settle the long-standing rivalry over the summer with three mystery challenges. Kavya is eager to win and be declared the undisputed victor, especially after Ian joins her in working as off-brand Disney character children’s entertainers. But as she spends more time with Ian, Kavya starts to wonder if she’s misjudged him all along. 
  Kavya is a fresh breath of air of a heroine and I really admire her for being assertive and not wanting to compromise who she is in order to be liked at such a young age. I would actually place her as the "Beast" in the fairy tale of the story. She can't actually see the beauty within herself and often times gets in her own way. I enjoyed watching her character grow throughout the book. 
  Ian is the definitely the "Beauty" in the story who sees the best in Kayva and admires her for being so confident in herself. Kayva actually pushes him to do better. I found Ian to be incredibly charming, considerate, sweet, and he genuinely likes Kayva for who she is. The chemistry between Ian and Kayva definitely sparkles and their witty banter made me smile and giggle out loud. 
  This is a smart rom-com in which there is an equal balance between discussing friendship, family relationships, and romance. There is some discussion of mental health and grief, as Ian deals with anxiety and the loss of his sister. There is great diversity in the ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation among the secondary characters who also get lots of page time.
 Beauty and the Besharam is an adorable rom-com perfect for fans of Netflix's Never Have I Ever and a joyful reminder to be true to yourself. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scene of underage drinking, and an allusion to behind doors hookup. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Today, Tonight,Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, If I'm Being Honest by Emily and Austen Wibberley, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Rummanah Aasi
 Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.
   But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Review: All of my Goodreads friends have given Lessons in Chemistry 4 or 5 stars and it has also landed on fellow blogger's favorite lists for 2022, so I am definitely an outlier when it comes to this popular book. If you are curious about this book even after reading my review, I would encourage you to take my review with a grain a salt and look up what other people thought.
  Lessons in Chemistry is set in the early 1960s in which our protagonist chemist Elizabeth Zott repeatedly reminds her colleagues and the reader that she is not the 'common woman' who is content on being a housewife and a mother, but a scientist who needs to be taken seriously. We follow her as she falls in love with a fellow scientist, has his child, is side-lined by double standards, sexually harassed, and finally ousted from her job. She then becomes an overnight sensation as a host of a 'radical' cooking show in which she can be candid to housewives and other female viewers of the show. 
  Lessons in Chemistry is the epitome of the first wave of feminism. I found Elizabeth to be less of a character and more of a talking piece for the author. She is cold and abrasive. Considering how much trauma Elizabeth has experienced in her life, which is alarmingly untouched or explored but rather used as 'part of her character', she has turned off all of her emotions. It is as if showing vulnerability displays weakness. 
  I also did not find this book to be funny at all. There is a quip in which Elizabeth is called into her daughter's school because her child was requesting the school library to have Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead so she could read it. While I understand how the author wants to display how smart the young child is, but why Norman Mailer, an author who is a well known reputation of being a domestic abuser? Why encourage her to ask for Nabakov, another writer who created a problematic female character Lolita, who by the way is also sexually objectified? Why not, I don't know, pick a female author?
  Elizabeth is constantly undermined because she is a woman, but in the end this so called 'feminist fairy tale' has a happy for now ending not because the patriarchy has been dismantled or someone's light bulb goes off and finally sees Elizabeth as a human being, but thanks to the favors of a rich, white, female benefactor who is equipped to strike back at everyone who has humiliated Elizabeth in the book. However, dear reader, let's not forget that there is this thing called racism that also exists and it's bad even though I can't recall a single character of color in this entire book. Considering how much this book rankled and infuriated me, I'd like to think that my 2 stars is actually very generous. 

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, including the use of the 'c' word, scene of sexual assault, homophobia, mention of suicide of a family member, death of a loved one, and sexual harassment. Recommended for adults only.

If you like this book try: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Rummanah Aasi
 Tired of going to the salon to have her curls straightened every weekend, Marlene slowly learns to embrace her natural curly hair with the help of her best friend and favorite aunt.

Review: Claribel Ortega's graphic novel Frizzy was recently awarded the Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award. The graphic novel follows Marlene who is constantly dragged to the salon by her mother in order to tame her curls and look presentable. She is repeatedly told that straight hair is "beautiful", but this beauty standard is taking a toll on Marlene. If straight hair is so great, then why does she have curly hair? Why can't she rock her curls like her favorite character or her favorite aunt? 

  With the help of her aunt Ruby, who has curly hair like Marlene, she learns that her hair can be beautiful, too. She learns to embrace her beauty and participate in self-care and self-love. Frizzy touches upon the impact that hurtful beauty standards can have on us, but in this case the profound impact on children and how they can be perpetuated across generations. I loved the candid and important conversation that Marlene and her aunt have on the connection between white beauty standards and anti-Blackness is neatly woven into the story. This is a lovely story about being confident in your individuality, culture, and self-love. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Inheritance by Elizabeth Acevedo
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