Rummanah Aasi

  I will be taking a blogging break for the next few days while I attend the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. I've finalized my schedule and tried to fit in as much as I could! I'm excited to attend awesome programs, learn new skills that I can bring to my school, meet authors, and so much more. The blog will be back to schedule after the July 4th holiday. If you are in the U.S., have a wonderful and safe July 4th!
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.      
  At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.
   After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not.

Review: Lilian Girvan is a young mother of two young girls and a widow who saw her husband die in a car crash not far from their home. This sentence alone might deter readers from picking up Waxman’s debut novel, but The Garden of Small Beginnings is not as sad and depressing as it sounds but actually full of laugh out loud, wry humor and an optimistic viewpoint of  how there is plenty of great things in life after the horrible, crappy, sucky moments pass. Yes, it is a story of grieving, but also about living life again.
 After Lilian lost her husband and sought help, she is back on her feet making her living as an illustrator and picking up after her adorable daughters. While she does have set backs and flashes of her loss, she does what she can to move forward along with the help of her devoted and spunky sister Rachel. What Lilian is adamant is not wanting to start a new relationship and feels she is not ready, but fate has other things in store for her.
 When Lilian's company is closing Lilian’s department, leaving her with one final assignment: to illustrate a series of vegetable gardening books for Bloem Company, obliging her to attend a six-week Saturday morning gardening class taught by Edward Bloem. Without her realizing it the Garden Club changes Lilian and it's my favorite part of the book. The group consists of diverse people from a variety of ages and backgrounds. Over their initial misunderstandings they quickly bond over the pleasure of planting seeds and the hope this inspires. And a tingle of interest begins between Lilian and Edward, which of course I wanted more of but I understood that Lilian needed to take baby steps before opening her heart. Though the plot is straightforward its characters brings it to life especially Lilian's precocious daughters who steal the show for me time and again.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene in a strip club. Due to mature themes I would recommend this to adults only.

If you like this book try: The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate, Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

Rummanah Aasi

Description: In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an enchanting adventure story woven with various Chinese folklore and mythology. Living in the shadow of the Fruitless Mountain, Minli and her parents spend their days working in the rice fields, barely growing enough to feed themselves. Every night, Minli's father tells her stories about the Jade Dragon that keeps the mountain bare, the greedy and mean Magistrate Tiger, and the Old Man of the Moon who holds everyone's destiny. Minli's mother doesn't approve father telling stories and feels frustrated by their lack of food and needs.
  Determined to change her family's fortune, plucky Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon. Along the way, Minli makes new friends and meets magical beings including a flightless dragon and an orphan. Minli is not only curious but she also proves to be resourceful when she tricks a group of greedy monkeys and gets help from a king.
  Reading Where the Moon Meets the Moon is much like sitting around a fire and being told a story by a storyteller. It is very easy to get swept away in its pages. Everything seems to fade away except for Minli's quest and the various tales interwoven with Minli's quest as they are told by her father and by those she meets on the way. Readers who enjoy a fantasy with a diverse setting and characters along with a strong female character shouldn't miss Where the Moon Meets the Moon.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin, Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Rummanah Aasi

Description: Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came. Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

  Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

Review: Words in Deep Blue is a realistic look at loss, grief, love, and the importance of words. Told in alternative points of view and packed with emotions, each of the characters go on a journey from hopelessness to second chances of living again. Rachel Sweetie's world changed forever the day her brother Cal drowned. Since his death, Rachel has failed to graduate from school and alienated most of her friends. She has become a zombie, feeling numb and unable to move on. Rachel's family seems to think returning to live with her aunt in their old hometown will help. She's up for the change of scenery, if only it didn't mean seeing her ex-best friend Henry. Before moving, Rachel mustered up her courage, became vulnerable and confessed she loved Henry in a love letter that she left in his family's bookstore. Henry never responded.
  Like Rachel, Henry is also dealing with a loss of his own. His girlfriend suddenly dumps him without any explanations and his refuge and his parents bookstore, Howling Books, may have to be sold due to abysmal sales.
 As a bibliophile myself it didn't take me long to get wrapped in this book. I liked Rachel right away. With moving back home, she is given another chance to live her life again. I enjoyed watching her grow as she accepts her failures and finally embraces her grief. I appreciated that the author didn't reduce her character to be Henry-centered. I also enjoyed how organic and authentic her friendship and later romance with Henry felt.
  I had a harder time liking Henry. Henry reminded me of John Cusack in Say Anything. I loved that he is a reader and a dreamer. What annoyed me most about him was his tunnel vision in getting his girlfriend back, a person that everyone can see is not good for him. There were many times I wanted to shake him and hit him upside the head to show him that Rachel is the one he needs. It's so obvious to everyone else but him. I did however love Henry's sister George who is rough on the outer edges but soft at heart. I loved watching her come out of her shell. She too has her  own journey in the book that broke my heart and eventually wove my broken pieces back together.
  I absolutely loved the setting of Howling Books. I wished there was a bookstore such as that near me. I would never leave. The bookstore also has a Letter Library in which customers communicate with one another by writing in and marking up a select set of books and by leaving letters in between the pages. I liked how these letters varying from funny, touching, and sad were interspersed throughout the book. Though the book doesn't end with a nicely tied bow and I would have liked a bit more of a resolution with some of the plot threads, it does make the story realistic. Words in Deep Blue is a love story, your traditional romance but also a love story to the written word.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, allusions to sex, and some nudity. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try:

Rummanah Aasi

Description: On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one, Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny?

Review: I have heard great things about the manga series Orange for quite some time. I saw friends read it and enjoyed it. After it appeared on the Goodreads Choice for graphic novels and on the ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens I decided to pick it up. The series is complete in two omnibus volumes. Once I started the manga, I had a hard time putting it down.
 The premise of the manga series is not completely unique. Our main character Naho receives a letter from her future self warning her to look after a boy named Kakeru who will soon join her class. Ten years from now Kakeru will commit suicide and Naho and her group of friends can avoid this tragedy if they work together and change their choices. Though I had to suspend my disbelief and overlook the confusing science explanation of how the letter works, the characters and their friendship is what drew me into this story.
  Orange features a great group of friends that I have seen in manga. They show their unconditional love and support to each other without any strings attached. You won't find petty fights, angst or betrayal among these group of friends. They open their arms to Kakeru who is quiet and withdrawn on his first day and envelop him with their warmth without any questions asked. The group of friends are made up of varied personalities: Naho is shy, very sweet, and maternal. Takako is the outspoken protector of the group who first appears intimidating but she defends her friends and comes to their rescue in confrontations. Azusa is bubbly, optimistic and full of enthusiasm. Saku is the "serious" one but a manga nerd and totally has something for Azusa but denies it. Hiroto is the leader of the group, star soccer player, and my favorite member of all who is completely selfless throughout the entire series. Each member of the group affect Kakeru differently and they are very different from his old group of friends at his old school.
 Kakeru's past is slowly unveiled through the future letters and we really hear his voice in the second volume. I appreciated that the author did not shy away from talking about tough mental health issues such as depression, suicide, and guilt in the manga. I would have liked to see more of a discussion particularly of seeking help in the manga. While there is a small undercurrent of romance in the series, the main focus was helping Kakeru. Orange ends on a hopeful note, but I was still left wanting more. I would have liked an epilogue to see what happened to all of the characters. I would highly recommend reading this manga series for its message of being kind and supportive to everyone because you don't know what worries and hardships they carry.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language in the manga series and mention of suicide.

If you like this book try: Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara, We Were There by Yuuki Obata, Silent Voice series by Yoshitoki Ooima
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two books, one adult and one YA: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Publish date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Penguin

I really enjoyed the author's debut novel Everything I Never Told You and I'm looking forward to her new book. 

    In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
    Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
   When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little & Lion by Cath Crowley
Publish Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown

 I like how this book tackles both mental health issues and features diverse characters. 

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London's infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class.
   At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens' panic reached a fever pitch. Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders, and the crimes would expose what a newspaper described as "the most extensive and profound scandal ever known in Austin." And yes, when Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city.

Review: From time to time I like to dip into true crime stories although there are times when I will have difficulty sleeping after finishing them. The premise of The Midnight Assassin pulled me in quickly and it reminded me much of Erik Larson's blockbuster title The Devil in the White City which is soon to be a movie. The United States had its first serial killer in the 1880s in Austin, Texas which predates the Jack the Ripper killings in 1888 in London.
  There is a lot of unknown information about the Midnight Assassin which heightens the suspense, hysteria, and paranoia surrounding the perpetrator. Sometimes terrorizing without resorting to violence and sometimes brutally murdering the women with an ax, the culprit was never found. The women that were first attacked where the help of predominate wealthy families and so the authorities sought and tried black men, but all were able to provide their alibis and prove their innocence. Next the murderer went after notable socialites, but nothing but their family's dirty secrets were revealed. Suddenly the attacks stopped as just they abruptly started, and the city eventually got over their fears and moved on. Since the killings happened so close to those of the Ripper's many thought the killer moved to London, targeting prostitutes.
  The author does well in theorizing what may happened and subtly introduces it in such a way that it seems almost obvious that the killer has been pinpointed, but ultimately, there is no real resolution, which will annoy some readers but it kept me glued to the pages. It is amazing to see how far we have come with forensics and detecting techniques today and how frustrating it is for those of the era to not have it or even think of it. Clearly the killer had the advantage. Even with hindsight being 20/20 there is not a whole of lot evidence unearthed and the identity of the Midnight Assassin remains unknown.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence and the bodies of the victim are described in graphic details. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The Killers of the Flower  Moon by David Grann
Rummanah Aasi

Description: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
  Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Review: The Inquisitor's Tale is a book with a niche audience among younger readers and it will probably be most appreciated by adults with its clever nod to the The Canterbury Tales while weaving his own story in medieval France about three gifted children, a holy greyhound, and the people whose lives they touch. Like most tales of the Middle Ages it includes miracles, saints, villains, and dragons. The narrative structure is similar to The Canterbury Tales, as travelers gathered at an inn share what they know of the children who they claim are saints and have performed miracles. The children are diverse and come from different social classes within the society. Jeanne is a peasant girl with visions of the future much like Joan of Arc. William, an African moor whose parentage is of Christian and Muslim faith and is trying to become a monk and has incredible strength; Jacob is a Jewish boy with healing powers. Interestingly Gwenforte is the children's guardian greyhound who also has powers.
  Religion and religious intolerance is the focus of the book along with other themes. The Abrahamic religions come into conflict and the children’s potential for sainthood is debated. The king executes an inquisition to apprehend these 'dangerous' children is what pushes the plot forward. Ten different narrators lend their voices to the tale—including a brewster, nun, butcher, librarian, and troubadour—while drinking a fair amount of ale, resulting in a loud, frank, conversational tone. There are some juvenile humor thrown in the book to lighten up the mood, but overall I think this book would be better suited for middle school readers who have a much better background and foundation of the Middle Ages in order to fully enjoy this tale.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a character mentioned that is burned alive though it is not depicted graphically. Due to mature themes I would recommend this book to strong Grade 6 graders and up.

If you like this book try: For another book focused on the Inquisition and religion I would suggest The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job. Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be. It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

Review: Lord takes a daring step in writing about religion and cancer, topics that is sensitive for many readers, but she mostly succeeds in her latest book The Names They Gave Us. For Lucy, daughter of a pastor, religion has been a cornerstone of her identity and something that she has unquestionably followed. Lucy's faith  and her world are shaken when she learns that her mother’s cancer has reoccurred. She reacts with anger that affects her relationship with her parents who try to protect her from the news, her boyfriend who keeps reassuring her that everything will be fine, and above all God who Lucy feels has betrayed her. Throughout the book we see Lucy struggle with her faith in the face of a tragedy and she slowly realizes that she isn't the one who has been on this crossroad.
  I was afraid that I would have a hard time connecting with Lucy but I didn't. She is your quintessential star teen: does extremely well in school, she competes on the swim team, has a perfectly mannered boyfriend, and gets along well with her parents, especially her mom who she actually likes. At first she does come across as judgmental and sheltered as she spends her summer at Daybreak, a camp for kids dealing with drama, at the request of her mother. At Daybreak, Lucy expands her world and her outlook at life. I really enjoyed watching Lucy grow and challenge herself as she meets a diverse cast of characters, including a trans girl and people of color. Lucy's problems and those of the Daybreak campers are dealt with sensitively and honestly without being heavy handed or preachy. Lucy begins to realize that the world isn't so simple in black and white, but there are lots of greys in between too. Along with Lucy's character development, she learns how to make friends, be vulnerable and open up with her feelings, and even allow romance to bloom. Throughout the story there are sprinkles of clues regarding Lucy's mother's mysterious past that come to a climax at the end of the story. While some of the connections are bit over-the-top and a bit melodramatic, it does emphasis how complex life is. All of the characters including the secondary characters are well written and though the ending is open and somber, we know that Lucy, with the help of her support group that she created, will be okay. The Names They Gave Us is a sweet story that occasionally dips into melodrama, but does tug at the heartstrings. Lord is quickly becoming one of my favorite realistic fiction writers and I continue to look forward to what she writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Things I Can't Forget by Miranda Kenneally (Hundred Oaks #2), Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
Description: My name is Amelia Gray, and I'm a cemetery restorer who lives with the dead. An anonymous donor has hired me to restore Woodbine Cemetery, a place where the rich and powerful bury their secrets. Forty years ago, a child disappeared without a trace and now her ghost has awakened, demanding that I find out the truth about her death. Only I know that she was murdered. Only I can bring her killer to justice. But the clues that I follow - a haunting melody and an unnamed baby's grave - lead me to a series of disturbing suspects.
  For generations, the Devlins have been members of Charleston's elite. John Devlin once turned his back on the traditions and expectations that came with his birthright, but now he has seemingly accepted his rightful place. His family's secrets make him a questionable ally. When my investigation brings me to the gates of his family's palatial home, I have to wonder if he is about to become my mortal enemy.

Review: While not my favorite in the Graveyard Queen series, The Awakening is a satisfying conclusion. It has been a pleasure watching Amelia grow as a character. She is much more self assured and owns her connection to the undead though she wants more than anything is to be left alone. Heartbroken over her relationship with the hot and cold John Devlin, a cop who has mesmerized her since the first book, Amelia has tried to move on but fate has other things in mind as they are thrust back together to solve a mystery of a murdered young girl. Like the other mysteries in this series it is developed quite well. There are plenty of clues sprinkled throughout the story and a good handful amount of red herrings. Of course it wouldn't be a Graveyard Queen novel without moments that would give you goosebumps or cause you to jump at the slightest noise while reading it.
 While I enjoyed the mystery and finally getting answers behind Devlin's strange behavior, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. I solved the mystery early on as big clues to the puzzles aligned themselves a bit too quickly in my mind. I was hoping for the romantic tension to build up between Amelia and Devlin, which the author has done tremendously in the last books, but this time it work for me. Amelia and Devlin's time together felt rushed especially with the info dumping in the last few chapters. Regardless of these flaws, I really enjoyed my time reading this series that I had once picked up on a whim. It has been a great journey and while the overall story arc has come to a close there is a small door open should the author decide to continue to write more from this world.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try:
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold's attackers make them their next target.

Review: If you like books and puzzles then Book Scavenger is right up your alley. Emily is an avid player of Book Scavenger, the hidden-book game masterminded by publishing legend Garrison Griswold. When her family moves to San Francisco, home of Griswold’s Bayside Press, she hopes it will position her favorably for the new game he’s about to launch. The new game's launch is halted, however, as Griswold is mugged and left in a coma, and the book he was carrying—a new edition of the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Gold-Bug”—is missing.
  While sight seeing the city with her new friend, fellow code-enthusiast James and her musically obsessed older brother Matthew find the book. Emily and James take the book home and read it to see if there is a new puzzle to solve. As Emily and James read the book, they discover typos in the text that spell out words: fort, wild, rat, home, open, belief. Emily and James start following the clues and are soon played in a dangerous cat and mouse pursuit by others who want the book, and they’ve already shown they’re willing to hurt people to get it.
  In this fun mystery, the codes and ciphers take center stage in the book. There are plenty of clues for the reader to try solve the puzzles by themselves but there are plenty of explanations for the answers as Emily and James solve the questions.While there isn't much character development as I would have liked in the book, I did like growth of Emily and Jame's new friendship as they wade through the waters of trust, support, and other characteristics of a good friendship. I also had a blast traveling all over San Francisco's landmarks as the duo go on the hunt for clues and answers. I also learned cool information that I didn't know before such as Poe's love of ciphers, the strange and true story of Rufus Griswold, and the outcome of a real book based scavenger hunt from 1979. I plan on reading other books in this promising mystery series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Grisworld is shot in the back and mugged though the details aren't graphic. Recommended for strong Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein, Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein, Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach, and Chasing Vermeer series by Blue Balliett
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
  There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Review: Allegedly is an intense, raw, and gritty suspense novel that will generate a lot of emotions, questions, and dialogue among its readers. Easily accessible to both teens and adults, Allegedly takes a critical look at the criminal justice system and addresses race, age, and mental illness through its complex characters. The lines between victim and perpetrator, right and wrong are blurry at best.      
    Mary Addison is a black teen from Brooklyn, has been locked up in "baby jail" for six years, after allegedly killing a three-month-old white child. Now living in a group home, Mary is selectively mute, extremely bright, and well behaved, which makes her the target of bullying from the more aggressive girls in the home. She dreams of surviving the group home and restarting a new life which includes going to college and getting a job. Her one escape is volunteering at a nursing home and having secret assignations with Ted, a fellow convict and volunteer also living in a group home.  
  When Mary becomes pregnant and faces losing custody of the baby, she begins thinking of her baby's future and comes forward with a startling confession after 6 years: she didn't kill the baby. Interspersed with Mary's current story are media accounts of Mary's trial. Police interviews with the then nine-year-old Mary, other people do character sketches including the baby's parents, and social workers. Startling revelations of the crime are unveiled, but the reliability of the evidence is unclear and the more Mary speaks the more unreliable she seems. In the end it is up to the reader to decide Mary's verdict in this twisty, well written debut novel.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is very strong language throughout the book. There are also allusions to sex, physical and sexual abuse. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: The Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, Monster by Walter Dean Myers, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Billy, Charlie, and Tom are inseparable, and for good reason. Filled with con men and scoundrels, London’s East End is not easily survived alone. Fortunately, the three friends—and their faithful feline companion—can count on the protection of Sherlock Holmes, for whom they sometimes act as spies.
  When Tom’s girlfriend is kidnapped, the Baker Street Irregulars must put their budding sleuthing skills to use. Then, when a Russian immigrant is framed for a Jack the Ripper–inspired crime, our heroes set out to discover the truth and uncover a conspiracy that may go deeper than they ever imagined. Armed with only their quick wit and street smarts, the Baker Street Irregulars must work together to solve mysteries in the nick of time. Make way for the youngest detective team of the Victorian era!

Review: The Baker Street Irregulars from Sir Arthuer Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories get their very own graphic novel series, Baker Street Four, from France. For those unfamiliar with the Baker Street Irregulars, they are a group of poor, usually homeless and orphaned, kids with incredible street smarts that assist the great detective by being his eyes and ears on the seedier side of London. The graphic novel focuses on three irregulars, Billy, Tom, and Charlie, and their two adventures. The first story Tom's girlfriend is kidnapped by a pimp and sold to a brothel. The trio spring action to rescue her with the help of a new teammate. In the second story, Holmes is decoyed out of England so that the Okhrána, the Tsar's secret police, can wipe out a nest of Russian revolutionaries escaped to London and the whispers of Jack the Ripper has begun a new string of killings. The Irregulars fill in Holmes's shoes to help Russian radical Katya uncover the informer and foil the Okhrána's dark plans.
  This was an okay graphic novel but it didn't stand out for me. I was hoping for more character development of the trio but we get bits and pieces about them but nothing is fleshed out. While the illustrations are nicely bright and colorful with lots of period detail and not mincing on the seedier underbelly of Victorian England, I had a hard time sometimes distinguishing the genders of the characters. They looked a lot alike. The illustrations took up too much room in the panels and dialogue box were placed above the characters and at times it was difficult to figure out who was speaking. I was also disappointed that we don't get to see much of Holmes and Watson. They only briefly appear in a few panels in each story. I don't think I will be continuing this series, but I will continue to look for Sherlock Holmes related graphic novels.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is mild language, allusions to prostitution, and scenes of a brothel in the book. Recommended for strong Grades 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Baker Street Four, Vol. 2 by J.B. Djian and if you are looking for graphic novels where Sherlock Holmes plays a prominent role try The Sign of Four by Ian Edington, On the case with Holmes and Watson series by Murray Shawn.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.
  Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the die hard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Review: Geekerella is a thoroughly enjoyable Cinderella retelling with a fandom/geek culture twist. Elle Wittimer is unhappy with her social climbing stepmother and her Kardashian-like stepsisters. Elle seeks solace in participating in the cult television show Starfield, which she shared with her deceased father. To Elle Starfield is more than just a show, it is a way of life. Disappointed that her beloved television show's film reboot will not do its fans justice, Elle anonymously blogs about the show and has expressed her lack of faith in Darien Freeman, the Hollywood heartthrob who's been cast as Prince Carmindor in an upcoming film adaptation.
 Meanwhile Darien is tired of playing the next Hollywood heart throb where his showing off his chiseled and insured abs get much more attention than his acting skills. Secretly, Darien grew up loving Darien grew up loving SF conventions and Starfield but has avoided them since his uncomfortable ascension to the "it list." When Darien is blindsided in participating in ExcelsiCon, a convention filled with Starfield fans, he tries to back out and begins texting an unknown number linked to the convention founder, which happens to be Elle.
  I adored both Elle's and Darien's point of views. Each character had their own distinct voices and their points of views allowed the characters to unveil their flaws and weaknesses. Their anonymous text-based romance was super cute and allowed them to be themselves before the big reveal. In addition to the main characters, I also loved Sage, Elle's first real friend/coworker at a vegan food truck who was unabashedly herself. I found Calliope, one of Elle's stepsister intriguing, but wished her character was more fleshed out. I appreciated that Elle's stepfamily is complex.
 The book hits on all the necessary fairy tale plot points from the pumpkin carriage to the dress and to finding out the real Elle. The author does a fabulous job in explaining the phenomenon of fan culture especially from the perspective of a fan as one trying to find their right niche and where everyone is welcomed. She also takes a critical view of fandom from looking at the actor's perspective and how far fans are willing to go to meet their favorite characters. Overall, Geekerella is the perfect book to kick off your summer. It's hip with today's social media, full of laughs and warmth, but most importantly it will give you feel good vibes when you are finished. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some minor language and scenes of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde, The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash, The Only Thing Worse than Me is You by Lily Anderson, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Jeremiah is the world’s biggest baseball fan. He really loves baseball and he knows just about everything there is to know about his favorite sport. So when he’s told he can’t play baseball following an operation on his heart, Jeremiah decides he’ll do the next best thing and become a coach.
  Hillcrest, where Jeremiah and his father Walt have just moved, is a town known for its championship baseball team. But Jeremiah finds the town caught up in a scandal and about ready to give up on baseball. It’s up to Jeremiah and his can-do spirit to get the town – and the team – back in the game.

Review: Soar is a fun book that combines sports, friendship, and hardships with a resilient and inspiration main character. Jeremiah has been through and continues to have obstacles in his way. He was abandoned as a baby, but adopted by a loving and adoring single father. Jeremiah lives and breathes baseball and dreams of one day to become a professional baseball player. His dreams, however, are shattered when he is diagnosed with a severe heart condition, had to get a heart implant at just 12 years old, and has to avoid any and all activities that requires his heart to pump faster. It is very easy to Jeremiah to pout and sulk about his limitations, but always takes things in stride. Soon after he and his single father move to a town that is something of a baseball capital, the entire community is shaken by the death of a beloved school baseball player-and a town scandal that is revealed in the aftermath.
 Jeremiah finds himself playing the sport that he loves-just not as a player but as a coach and instilling pride and motivation into bringing baseball back to the local middle school, reviving a lackluster team, and ends up stealing the hearts of the entire town. It is hard to not like Jeremiah as his enthusiasm and charm are contagious. I just would have liked to get to know more back story to the secondary characters such as Franny and her autistic brother. Overall, Soar is a great summer read with the baseball season underway and will be enjoyed by sports fans and non-sport fans alike.

Rating: 4 stars 

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: New Kid by Tim Green, The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochran
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.
  When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Review: If you are looking for a romance that has depth then I would highly suggest picking up Letters to the Lost. Despite its heavy topics and angst, what sets this book apart from other heavy issue driven romances are the great, full dimensional characters.
 Declan and Juliet are two teens that live in two separate social circles at school. Declan is the notorious bad boy with a "I hate the world and the world hates me" attitude. He is quick to lash out and act out, mainly because that is what people expect him to do and he uses his anger as a shield to protect himself. Declan is a prickly character at first glance but once we get to know his real side his actions become understandable. Like Declan, Juliet is also hot tempered and gives the air of a prima donna who seems to have everything at her finger tips. She is working her way through her loss of her famous mother who is a photographer and whom Juliet idolizes. The author does a fabulous job describing Juliet's grief by commenting on the photographs her mother took which revealed both devastation and hope in a single picture. What neither Declan nor Juliet knows is that they both share a connection of grief, guilt, and loss of a loved one and it is that connection that brings them together as they swamp anonymous letters and emails.
  I loved how the book used the pen pal narrative structure in this book. As Declan and Juliet exchange letters and emails, they allow each other to be vulnerable, honest, and most importantly flawed. It is through these various communications that we see their character and relationship grow whether it is each individual recognizing they are being judgemental or irrational or encouraging each other to step outside of their comfort zone and do something that scares them. Essentially, without realizing it Declan and Juliet become each others confidant and support network making their relationship more intimate. I know some readers have argued that there is hardly any romance in the book since there isn't a lot of physical contact between Decland and Juliet, but I would disagree. I liked how their relationship was built emotionally first and physically second. While Declan and Juliet could have found out a lot sooner about their pen pal identities I appreciated that they didn't reveal themselves until they were ready. 
 I also appreciated that the adults in the story also played an important role. Declan's mother and his stepfather shape Declan's behavior patterns. Declan's mother is passive and childlike yet is desperate to reconnect with her son and let go of guilt that also plagues her. Declan's stepfather also expects the worst of Declan, but he does truly care for his family. Similarly, Juliet's father seems to be the bubbling ordinary man but hides a quiet inner strength and her mother who in Juliet's eyes is perfect in every way imaginable is just human. In addition to the fleshed out adult characters, I absolutely loved Declan's best friend Rev who is always by his side and tells Declan frankly when he is being a jerk. Rev has a rough back story, but I'm sure he will also have a hopeful ending too in his own companion novel.
 Don't let the angst stop you from picking up this book. This book grabbed my attention right from its opening paragraph and I had a very hard time putting it down. As much as I loved Kemmerer's Elemental series and the Merrick brothers, Letters to the Lost is her best book so far. The book is very likely to be on my best book list for this year.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention of underage drinking and some strong language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Rummanah Aasi

  Last year I composed a summer reading list for myself to help me work through my TBR pile. I had great success with the list and ended up finishing about 80% of the books on the list! I am hoping that I will as successful or even more so this summer. Here is my list in no particular order.


A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab - I really enjoyed the first two books in the Darker Shade of Magic series (reviews coming soon!) and I can't wait to see how this series wraps up.

The Others series by Anne Bishop - An urban fantasy series that all of my trusted blogger friends have loved.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Brackman - A contemporary title that has been recommended to be by coworkers and students at my library.


Again I had the hardest time with creating this portion of my list!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas- I have read nothing but rave reviews for this book.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli- I loved Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda and I'm really looking forward to this companion novel.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas - I was completely sucked into this fantasy series especially with the epic cliffhanger in the second book. I have avoided reviews and spoilers of this book. I can't wait to dive in and see what happens next.

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah- This is timely contemporary that has been on my radar ever since it was a tiny blurb.

Middle Grade/Childrens

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh- A collection of diverse stories that has received awesome reviews.

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail- A contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac that sounds super cute.

Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan - Of course summer would not be complete without a book by Rick Riordian!

This is just a small sampling of book that are on my reading list. I'm hoping to tackle these before I attend the ALA Annual Conference in June where I'm sure I will get a ton of galleys that I will also add to the list. Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think of them? What is on your summer reading list? Let know in the comments below!
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe.
  Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise.

Review: With ten books in the series, the Mercy Thompson series is still going strong. Silence Fallen is different than the earlier books in the series but it still maintains it trademark action, humor, romance, and suspense. Unlike the other books in the series, Silence Fallen primarily takes place in Europe and it was fun to step outside the Tri-Cities. Briggs does a good job in providing enough details about the new setting's history and folklore to make the countries come alive. I'm being vague on purpose as to avoid spoilers.
 Silence Fallen refers to Mercy's removal from her pack and from Adam. While I missed several my favorite pack members, it was nice to get Mercy on her own. This book really examined Mercy's fear of abandonment and showed how incredibly resourceful she is as a survival. Where many of us would cry and given in to our fears, Mercy doesn't have many "woe is me" moments but rather keeps a cool head and thinks things through rationally although she may not necessarily have control as to what comes her way.
Silence Fallen also has a different narrative structure than the other Mercy books. The story is told in two different timelines and switches point of views between Mercy and Adam. Mercy is still written in the first person point of view whereas Adam's point of view is written in the third person. While I understood the rationale of having two timelines I felt it disrupted the story for me mainly because the chapters for Mercy were a bit too long and then it would quickly switch to Adam's timeline. Had the chapters been a bit shorter it might have flowed better. The other thing that was jarring for me was Adam's point of view being written in the third person, which made it less intimate. While his perspective was a nice surprise and added to the story, I would have liked to get inside his head a bit more. It was also nice to get back to the vampires. I forgot how tricky they can be! Overall, Silence Fallen is another great installment of the Mercy Thompson series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and some language. Suitable for mature teen readers and adults.

If you like this book try: Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs, Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews, Others series by Anne Bishop
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
  Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Review: The best way I could describe The Bone Witch would be a mash-up between fantasy and Memoirs of a Geisha. While an original concept, I had a really hard time getting into this book. It read as a very long prologue as this is clearly the first book in a series. 
 Tea is an asha, known for performing, fighting, and magic. Ashas are revered for their talents yet treated as outcasts and feared by their kingdoms. Tea stumbles upon being an asha when she accidentally raises her dead brother Fox. The narrative is split into two timelines. The past timeline details Tea’s early training as an asha and the future timeline shows a hardened, cynical Tea on a lonely beach raising monsters and planning war, relating her past to a nameless bard. I didn't mind the back and forth timelines as they were easily to distinguish the two and I also found the world building confusing but fascinating as the author combines several Asian influences into her book. I also liked the concept surrounding the heartglass which dictates a person's emotions and intentions. 
  The book is very slow pace and I mostly skimmed much of it as it could not hold my attention. We are told in the beginning about a dark force descending upon Tea's people, however, we don't hear of it until the last 100 pages in the story where all the action seemed to happen all at once. There is surprisingly very little magic performed in the book which I found disappointing. I also found some of the secondary characters such as Fox and Tea's mentor to be much more interesting than Tea herself. Tea was stubborn and headstrong and there were a few times she came across as very young. I really liked Chupeco's debut novel, The Girl from the Well, and I will keep an eye out for what she writes in the future, however, I struck out with this new series and don't plan to continue it.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen's #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on topeven if it means bullying others. Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Review: In this charming graphic memoir Hale reflects on her elementary school years and focuses on childhood friendship. As a child Shannon feels lost. She does not quite fit in at home, being the middle child between two older and two younger siblings. Shannon also feels a bit lost at school with not finding friends her own age until she meets her first friend Adrienne who Shannon attaches to pretty quickly. As we all have experienced, childhood friendships are mercurial and changes quite frequently. When Adrienne moves up on the social ladder and becomes more popular she leaves Shannon behind and joins the "the group"'s ringleader Jen. Shannon remains on the outer fringes of the "group" where mean girl Jenny is determined to keep Shannon there by spreading rumors and bullying her. Eventually Shannon does find friends in sixth graders Zara and Veronica who show Shannon that being yourself and being nice is the key to popularity.
 I like how the book is divided into sections titled with the name of a friend or frenemy: Adrienne, Jen, Jenny, Zara and Veronica, and Shannon's oldest sister Wendy, whom she imagines as an angry bear. It was very easy to empathize with Shannon’s painful experiences of being left out, teased, and bullied. While there are dark moments for Shannon, readers will rejoice whens he learns how to find real friends, avoid toxic ones, and stands up for herself. There is also a brief mention of Shannon developing mild OCD and undiscovered anxiety which contributed to her stress and frustration with making friends. Hale also does a good job in showing how Wendy also faced similar setbacks on finding friends too and eventually bonded with Shannon.  
   The illustrations are vibrant and the characters leap off the page. There is a nice balance between   humorous and sensitive depictions of the young characters’ wide-ranging emotions that work well with the text. Real Friends will be a hit with fans of Raina Telgemeier’s and Cece Bell’s graphic memoirs.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Rummanah Aasi
I didn't anticipate doing another WOW post this week but there so many great books coming out this summer and fall that I'm very excited about. Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two books, one adult and one YA: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Publish date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins

I found this book while attending a library webinar and after reading its description I knew I had to read it. 

“Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under snow? Or—is it possible—you are still alive?”

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight-years-old by now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as “the Child Finder,” Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl, too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

Told in the alternating voices of Naomi and a deeply imaginative girl, The Child Finder is a breathtaking, exquisitely rendered literary page-turner about redemption, the line between reality and memories and dreams, and the human capacity to survive.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Publish Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Random House/Knopf Books for Young Readers

 I really enjoyed Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon and would love to read more from her. Judging by the book's premise with letters and a second chance romance I think I will also really this book too. 

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Review: Though a slight book, Nina LaCour's We Are Okay is able to address all of the levels of grieving and a spot-on voice of Marin, a teen who is unable to face her past. After completing her first semester of college, Marin stays alone in the dorms over break. She would much rather be alone, isolated even with the threat of a snowstorm looming, rather than return to San Francisco, where bad memories and pain lurk. Marin's best friend Mabel comes to stay with her and over the next few days tries to coax Marin to return to San Francisco wither her. As Marin slowly opens up, we learn more about her life. Her mother, a surfer, drowned when Marin was just a toddler. She has an absentee father who she never knew. Marin was lovingly raised by her grandfather yet he also held up walls between them. After painful events where Marin felt loss and betrayal, Marin packs up and runs away.
 I really liked how LaCour took advantage of her settings and created distinct emotions associated with them. In San Francisco there is warmth, memories filled with people who held personal relationships with Marin. In New York there is isolation, cold temperatures, and loneliness. I also really liked Marin as a character too. She is introspective and introverted and the story reflects her personality as there is very little plot in the book and the narrative emphasizes Marin's internal dialogue and musings on literature and art. Along with coping with grief, Marin is also dealing with her complicated relationship with Mabel who may be more than just her confident and best friend. Though the book deals with loss it does thankfully end on a hopeful note as Marin begins to face her problems and let others help her instead of pushing them away.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and a scene of underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, The Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Rummanah Aasi
 I am so far behind in my reading! I have a long list of books that I need to read during Summer Break and I really hope I can finish all of them. Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two books, one adult and one YA: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry and Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
Publish date: May 19, 2017
Publisher: Orion Books

I first saw this book while attending a library webinar and I knew I had to read it. It sounds perfect for any bibliophile on a breezy summer day.  

Everyone has a story . . . but will they get the happy ending they deserve?

Emilia has just returned to her idyllic Cotswold hometown to rescue the family business. Nightingale Books is a dream come true for book-lovers, but the best stories aren't just within the pages of the books she sells - Emilia's customers have their own tales to tell.

There's the lady of the manor who is hiding a secret close to her heart; the single dad looking for books to share with his son but who isn't quite what he seems; and the desperately shy chef trying to find the courage to talk to her crush.

And as for Emilia's story, can she keep the promise she made to her father and save Nightingale Books?

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden
Publish Date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury

 This historical fiction book has been receiving stellar reviews. I am also curious to learn more about this little known Civil War tragedy.

When Mariah and her young brother Zeke are suddenly freed from slavery, they set out on Sherman’s long march through Georgia during the Civil War. Mariah wants to believe that the brutalities of slavery are behind them forever and that freedom lies ahead. When she meets Caleb, an enigmatic young black man also on the march, Mariah soon finds herself dreaming not only of a new life, but of true love as well. But even hope comes at a cost, and as the treacherous march continues toward the churning waters of Ebenezer Creek, Mariah’s dreams are as vulnerable as ever.
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe's vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat's own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn't always have to be neat or clean--and definitely not inside the lines--to be beautiful.

Review: Radiant Child won the prestigious Caldecott Award last year for the best picture book for children. In this vibrant, colorful, energetic picture book we learn about the biography of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist that I was not familiar with before picking up this book. We are introduced to the artist's childhood and early career. Born in Brooklyn with a mixed heritage of Puerto Rican and Haitian, Basquiat loved art at an early age and was encouraged to pursue his dream of being a famous artist by his equally artistic mother. The artwork mirror's Basquiat’s signature style of eclectic pieces that weirdly work together. At first glance the illustrations can be chaotic and too busy until you take your time and dissect the layers. The illustrations also highlight some of Basquiat's trademarks such as the golden cartoon crowns, eyeballs, and vehicles scattered everywhere. Though we do get a glimpse of his mother dealing with mental health issues, there are no mentions of the troubles with addiction and early death that I found out after doing some research after reading this book. Considering it's a book for children, I think the writer made a good decision in having the book end with Basquiat achieving his dream and quotes of people talking about his work. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention that Basquiat's mother was taken away to a facility in order to get treatment for her mental health issues. Recommended for Grades 1-5.

If you like this book try: A Splash of Red by Jennifer Bryant, Frida by Jonah Winter, Colors of the Wind by J.L. Powers

Description: Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read. Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. And so he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.

Review: Six Dots is a pictorial biography on the Louis Braille's life. As a child, Louis Braille was curious and energetic. Sadly, an accident blinded him in one eye and he lost his other due to a spread of infection. Though Louis learned to navigate daily life, he missed the knowledge gained through reading, and applied to the Royal School for the Blind, where books with raised letters provided a slow and unsatisfying alternative. When he was introduced to a French military code written in patterns of dots, Braille wondered if this would be a more suitable alternative to the raised letters and if it could be expanded into an actual language. Though I liked the way the book was written, I thought it was a bit too text heavy for young readers. I would have liked an inclusion of actual Braille in the book instead of the simple diagram of the Braille alphabet on the endpapers. Still, I think this is an important read based on the life of a very worthy inventor.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.

If you like this book try: Who was Louis Braille? by Margaret Frith

Description: Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr's stunning stone images illustrate the story.

Review: Stepping Stones is a heartbreaking and timely picture book depicting the plights of Syrian refugees who are forced to leave their homes and start their life over in a new country. The text is simple yet direct, written in blank verse and in dual English and Arabic. What steals the spotlight in this book is the the artwork, stone-collage illustrations created by Syrian artist Badr, who arranges the stunning, tactile creation of people formed entirely of rocks and pebbles (enlarge the book cover to get a sense of what I'm talking about). On every spread, a round pebble hovers over the refugees, providing light, like the moon or sun, as well as hope. I would highly recommend getting this book simply for the art itself. This is a unique picture book that I hope will open eyes, create empathy and understanding.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None, but young readers will need background information about what is happening in Syria and about refugees. Recommended for Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side. And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
  Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
  For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her. And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself. As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Review: The Crown's Game was one of the most hyped books of 2016. I kept seeing it everywhere on the blogosphere and on booktuber's channels. I did a pretty good job dodging these titles, but alas curiosity got the best of me again. The Crown's Game did not wow me at all and despite its cool premise, it left me wanting more. 
 In an alternate 19th-century Russia, the tsar can call upon the abilities of an enchanter. Normally, only one exists at a time. In the rare case that two are born, they must compete, because Russia's inherent magic will allow only one to remain alive. Vika is an expert at controlling the elements and has been training her whole life to serve her country, unaware that another enchanter exists. Nikolai, best friend to the tsar's son, Pasha, has been training with his mentor explicitly for the Crown's Game. When the game begins, Vika and Nikolai take turns showing off their magical prowess for the tsar, creating wonders that get more powerful with each turn until the Crown Game finally begins.
 I didn't care for any of the characters in the Crown's Game and I found them so bland, one dimensional for my tastes. Furthermore Nikolai and Pasha seemed interchangeable to me until the author would point out their different social statuses. I expected Vika and Nikolai to have some suspicions about one another, but to my dismay they quickly became friends and starting to fall for one another. The "magic show" felt like I was watching a Disney montage instead of both enchanters displaying their strengths. Also it was so obvious that Nikolai, Vika, and Pasha would form a love triangle. Overall I felt very bored for most of the book and was further disappointed when the author seems to find a loop hole into her own premise of how only one enchanter can survive. Needless to say I will not continue this series.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Infidelity and child born out of wedlock are mentioned in the story. There is also a scene at a bar. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Having no experience in romance, the vibrant Ninako curiously explores the meaning of what "love" really is, and is surprised to feel a colorful range of emotions as she grows closer to the school heartthrob, the quiet yet gentle Ren, who also happens to be involved in a longtime relationship. With every intention of keeping her head held high, Ninako prepares to face the mental pain of this one-sided love that she had allowed to take root, facing a series of trials that would either contribute to her growth as a headstrong woman, or break her as it did with other girls. However, is this really a one-sided love? Or had something been silently sown in the most hidden part of Ren's heart?

Review: Strobe Edge is a sweet, straight-forward shoujo manga. It is relatively short compared to standard manga series, completing at ten volumes. The focus of Strobe Edge is examining all the emotions that surround the concept of love, both familial and romantic. Readers familiar with shoujo manga will immediately recognize its familiar tropes: a budding romance between the dashing yet aloof hero, the sweet, flighty heroine who eventually wins the hero over by her quiet strength and generous heart, and large doses of unnecessary drama until the happily ever after ending. Unlike other shoujo mangas that I've read, Strobe Edge has surprisingly very little drama, but it is full of heart and emotions. 
   Ninako begins to develop a crush on Ren, one of the most popular and cutest boys in school, after he notices her when he accidentally breaks her cell-phone charm and then replaces it. This generosity from the school's otherwise silent "pop star" distracts Ninako from Daiki, the boy who's been there all along, and makes her start becoming more aware of what love should feel and look like. As the story progresses, Ninako evolves from being a stereotypical shoujo heroine into someone who gains maturity and clearly articulate her feelings with honesty and passion. Unlike her female classmates who fall for Ren because of his physical looks, Ninako falls for Ren for his acts of kindness, his quiet and shy personality that others claim is his arrogance. Of course happily ever after is a long road for Ninako, as she discovers that Ren has a girlfriend and is committed to her. Instead of finding ways to sabotage Ren's relationship, Ninako finds a way to turn her unrequited love into friendship and never wavers for her love for Ren until the opportunity presents itself. Through the secondary characters and their relationships, we see how love can be successful and disastrous as well as how they envisioned on what love is suppose to look like which I found to be interesting.
  The illustrations of Strobe Edge has the typical manga look with characters that have large eyes, crazy hair colors, and pointy hair, but the panels are filled with life and action. The best parts of the book are the closeup, wordless panels that the author creates that allow the physical features of the characters to emote and tell the story where words seem to fail them. Overall this manga is a sure winner for readers who seek a cute romance with very little drama and angst. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude sexual humor and minor language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this series try: L-DK series by Ayu Watanabe, Say I love You series by Kanae Hazuki

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