Rummanah Aasi
Description: Angoisse Ashe, the oft-forgotten middle sister of the Ashe royal family, is locked in a castle deep in the swamp. Not only is her castle guarded by zombies, but the swamp is full of dangerous hazards. Everything from quicksand to goblins to swamp monsters to VAMPIRES! But does that give Adrienne pause? Unfortunately not, as she and Bedelia dive head-first into their most dangerous adventure yet!

Review: The Princeless series continues to be an entertaining, thought provoking, and inspiring series. The stories continue to feature strong female characters, vibrant and colorful illustrations, and great messages that give it depth. In each volume Adrienne learns something about herself and about her relationships with her sisters and friends become stronger. This volume is no different as it tackles self worth, beauty, unhealthy relationships, and gender roles while having a fun plot to entertain you as you turn the pages.
  In a self reflecting prologue, Adrienne opens up about her insecurities. She is very different from her sisters and she never felt beautiful like them mainly due to her unruly hair. We watch as her hair stylist try to unsuccessfully try to tame her hair. It isn't until Adrienne cuts her hair and sees herself in a new light does she begin to understand that beauty isn't defined as one way and self worth isn't dependent on how you look but how you view yourself.
  The plot gains speed as Adrienne and Bedelia have to survive a cannibalistic tribe of goblins in a monster infested swamp in order to reach Angoisse's tower. On the way, they befriend unlikely allies and encounter a plant-like terror. In the meantime, Adrienne's brother, Devin, refuses to embrace traditional masculine gender roles and activities, which continues to infuriate his tyrannical father. Devlin has no interest in hunting and becoming king, but would rather pursue his passion for the arts. Devlin and his strained relationship with his father is the classic struggle of meeting parental expectations and following your own heart. I loved how Devlin wants to take the investigative approach to solving the mystery of what happened to his mother. 

  The unhealthy relationship portion is tactfully presented in the interactions between Angoisse and her fiance Raphael. It is clear that Raphael is a not a great example of a romantic interest as he peppers Angoisse with flowery comments in order for her to get what he wants. Angoisse is torn between her love for Angoisse and doing what she knows is wrong. Once again Whitely addresses the common misconception that having someone as a love interest equals your self worth. Angoisse learns this lesson as she, Adrienne, and Bedelia defeat the evil Raphael. Be Yourself is a great addition to the Princeless series and I'm looking forward to reading more from this series.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Ninja-rella by Joey Comeau, Princess Ugg by Ted Naifeh
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent, from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city, to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war.
The engine of Roy's story is a heejra (India's third gender) named Anjum, and the story begins with her unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. Anjum's charisma draws a vibrant assemblage of outcasts to join her--other hijras, Kashmiri freedom fighters, activists, orphans, low-caste Hindus and Muslims, and a host of animals. Anjum's home is a place where the formerly unwanted embrace each other's true selves.
  We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her, including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover. Their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul, and then we meet the two Miss Jebeens. The first is a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard. The second is found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

Review: I absolutely loved Roy's debut novel, A God of Small Things, and I have been anxiously awaiting the release of her next novel. Like many of her fans, I didn't realize that it would be twenty years until her next book. Roy has been and continues to be a social and political advocate in India which translates over to her new novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
  The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a dense yet beautifully written novel that gives a panoramic view of all the various conflicts and societal issues such as gender rights and war plaguing the Indian Subcontinent. While it does have a loose plot line, the characters are mainly used as anecdotes to explain the conflicts and their consequences. The pace is deliberating slow, allowing the reader time to absorb what he/she is reading. Readers anticipating a novel featuring a gripping family saga like Roy's debut novel might be disappointed.
  The book follows two central protagonists. Anjum is born intersex and raised as a male per her parents decision in order to avoid shame and embarrassment. Embracing her identity as a woman, she moves from her childhood home in Delhi to the nearby House of Dreams, where gender non-conforming individuals like herself live together, and then to a cemetery when that home too fails her. The home that tries to create herself becomes an enclave for the wounded, outcast, and odd. The other protagonist, the woman who calls herself S. Tilottama, fascinates three very different men for various reasons but she loves only one, the elusive Kashmiri activist Musa Yeswi. When an abandoned infant girl appears mysteriously amid urban litter and both Anjum and Tilo have reasons to try to claim her, all their lives converge. The unknown baby girl is much like the motherland India who is home to a vast number of people from different states, religions, and ethnicity. While the book turns a sympathetic eye to the victims of India's social and political turmoil, it also very critical particularly when it comes to Kashmir's long fight for self rule. The book shifts through various emotions, time periods, and even narrating style from first-person and omniscient narration with "found" documents to weave everything together to make a "novel".

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, some sexual content, and mature themes in the book.

If you like this book try: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, City on Fire by Garth Risk
Rummanah Aasi
Description: It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin's class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of--so she chose it. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one. That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

Review: I Will Always Write Back is an uplifting memoir that depicts a six year long pen-pal correspondence between Caitlin, an American girl, and Martin, a Zimbabwean boy, that blossoms into a lifelong friendship. In alternating chapters, Caitlin and Martin relate their story, which begins in 1997 when middle-schooler Caitlin chooses a boy in Zimbabwe for a pen-pal assignment because she thought Zimbabwe was an exotic sounding country.
 The difference between Caitlin's and Martin's life is stark and eye opening. Caitlin has a privileged life in Pennsylvania and her woes of friendships and crushes appear so superficial First World problems when compared to Martin's hardscrabble life in millworkers' housing, where his family shares one room with another one. The top student in his class, Martin dreams of studying at an American university, but even just continuing high school in Zimbabwe seems like a long shot.  
   Caitlin, not recognizing the extent of Martin's poverty, sends some of her babysitting money with her letters, and Martin's family uses it for food. Eventually, Caitlin and her parents become Martin's sponsors for his studies and help him obtain a scholarship to Villanova University in 2003.
  While I thoroughly enjoyed the book's sentiment of doing-good, being generous, and the power of making a change, I thought the story was dragged out for a full length novel and at times reads like an after school special. I think it would have worked better as a magazine article. There is some suspense as to whether or not Martin will be accepted to Villanova and come to the United States. Overall the book ends a positive note and this would be a good choice for readers looking for an inspirational memoir featuring teens making a difference.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a scene of underage drinking at a party and there drug use is mentioned. Recommend for strong Grade 6 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince, How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with, Abigail Pesta
Rummanah Aasi
Description: She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.
After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.
What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?
As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

Review: In White's captivating series opener, And I Darken, she introduces her reader to a dark alternate historical fiction set in the Ottoman Empire where espionage, passion, and conquest rule the story (although some people say it's a historical fantasy, there are no magical elements in the story) and Vlad the Impaler is a girl. Many readers pointed out that the pacing of And I Darken was too slow and there was not enough bloody action scenes as you would expect considering the fact of Vlad the Impaler's notoriety. Now I Rise addresses this criticism and rises above the dreaded middle book syndrome.
  The story's narrative is split into two different story lines as we witness the Dracul siblings' first taste of power and its consequence. Despite Sultan Mehmed's initial support and loyalty, Lada has made little progress in achieving her goal of securing the Wallachian throne. Feeling her acute lack of people and diplomacy skills like her brother Radu, she contacts her brother for his guidance but when she doesn't get a response that she likes she forges ahead and makes her own, violent decisions as well as taking sides in tough betrayals. Though I'm deathly afraid of Lada, there is a part of me that admires her assertiveness and for taking what she wants without feeling apologetic especially in a time where women were considered mere property and baby making factories.
  Unlike Lada who lets her anger guide her, Radu uses his heart. Even though he knows his love for Mehmed will go unrequited, Radu continues to put Mehmed's needs before his own to demonstrate his love and loyalty. Mehmed sends Radu away to Constantinople as a double agent right before launching a brutal siege. As the fall of Constantinople nears Radu's loyalty and opinions become conflicted as he begins to admire the people comes in contact with at the doomed city. The siege’s brutality and atrocities from both sides shake Radu at his core and will most likely alter him forever. I am curious as to how the events in this novel with shape his future.
  Now I Rise shows the best, worst, and nuanced side of human nature. The complex politics and drive for power allow great and good people to commit terrible acts. The book is bursting with diversity in its multi-ethnic cast, strong LGBTQ representation, and wide range of religious diversity. Though the different plot lines don't converge, they are both compelling, devastating, exciting, and grabbed my attention right away. I easily flew this sequel in a couple of days because I needed to know what happened next. Lada, Radu, and Mehmed will change the world though their souls may not survive. This is a bloody, terrific sequel and I can't wait for the series finale.   

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong and at times graphic violence throughout the book. There is also a small sex scene in the book. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Shecter, Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Camp is about more than just crafts and acquiring badges when you’re a Lumberjane. When April, Jo, Mal, Molly, and Ripley all decide to learn more about the mysterious Seafarin’ Karen, things take a turn for the strange. Shapeshifters, strange portals, and friendship to the max make for one summer camp that never gets boring!

Review: This volume has a similar plot as the previous volume in which the Lumberjanes are trying to acquire a knot making badge. We meet a new counselor named Seafarin' Karen who informs the girls that they need to earn their badges by working as a team which irritates the girls since they always work as a time. As usual April's curiosity to learn more about their new counselor's secrets gets out of hand and pretty soon the Lumberjanes and Seafarin' Karen are in a heated battle with a band of selkies who took over Karen's ship and refuse to return it.
   Ever since the Noelle Stevenson left as an illustrator to the series, the artwork has been inconsistent and oftentimes a game of hit or miss with me. Unlike the first three volumes which had a complete story arc, the last few volumes have more of an episodic feel. There is a potential for a new story arc as it is hinted that Molly might become Bear Lady's heir or assistant.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.

If you like this book then try: Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness.
  So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Review: A few of my coworkers and students recommended A Man Called Ove to me. I've seen this title circulate pretty heavily and thought I would check it out for the summer. It has been a long time where a book has made me laugh and fracture my heart in alternating chapters. Ove is a fifty-nine, curmudgeon widower who is upfront with his dislikes. As the book slowly reveals in episodes is that below the veneer of a grumpy old man is a man who has a heart of solid gold. The book's plot is not elaborate or hard to figure out, but its characters make it shine. Told in alternating time lines, we see Ove in the present day and his past slowly revealed in alternating chapters. Ove is naturally grumpy and pessimistic but his life is turned around when he meets and marries the love of his life, Sonja, who balances Ove's rough exterior with warmth, optimism, and light. When Sonja dies of cancer,  he's in a place of despair yet again and is making several attempts to reunite with Sonja again, except another woman who turns him around a second time: spirited, knowing, pregnant Parvaneh, who moves with her husband and children into the terraced house next door and forces Ove to engage with the world. The back story chapters have a simple, reflective quality that give reasons for Ove's personality, while the current-day chapters are episodic and often hysterically funny. There is a nice balance between light and dark moments of the book. The book has excellent pacing and I loved the Like the characters and the cat that repeatedly burst through Ove's doors, In both instances, the juxtaposition of Ove's grumpiness and his good deeds that prevent the book from being repetitive. After reading the book I can see why it is very popular and I would recommend it if you are looking for an uplifting, heartwarming story. I plan on watching the movie adaptation of this Swedish bestseller.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and mention of suicide attempts. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky.

Review: In this adorable picture book, Thunder Boy, a cute Native American boy, hates his name.  Not because it’s not a normal name or because he doesn’t like his father, whom he his named after; he wants a name that better reflects who he is. On energetic pages in bold, brassy color, Thunder Boy tries to pick a more suitable name. We watch him as he evaluates his hobbies such as climb mountains, go shopping at garage sales, and powwow dancing in order to find inspiration. Luckily, his dad catches on and offers the perfect suggestion: Lightning. Like the story, the illustrations are bursting with energy as Morales creates playful figures in thick brushstrokes and appealingly rounded shapes, fizz with movement against textured scenes with pops of neon, while fantastic background details enliven the atmosphere. Though Thunder and his father are main characters, the illustrator does not leave out the cool mom on a cool motorbike, and his pudgy sister exuberantly playing along. I really enjoyed the cultural significance of replacing a child's name which was unfamiliar to me. Thunder Boy Jr. would make a great readaloud during story time.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-2.

If you like this book try: Call Me Little Echo Hawk by Terry EchoHawk, The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe

Description: Little Maya has a special blanket that Grandma stitched with her own two hands. As Maya grows, her blanket becomes worn and frayed, so with Grandma s help, Maya makes it into a dress. Over time the dress is made into a skirt, a shawl, a scarf, a hair ribbon, and finally, a bookmark. Each item has special, magical, meaning for Maya; it animates her adventures, protects her, or helps her in some way. But when Maya loses her bookmark, she preserves her memories by creating a book about her adventures and love of these items. When Maya grows up, she shares her book Maya's Blanket/La manta de Maya with her own little daughter while snuggled under her own special blanket.

Review: Inspired by a traditional Yiddish folk song, Maya's Blanket/La manta de Maya tells the story of a child's most beloved possession: her blue and green handmade blanket with purple butterfly stitches. In this charming and heartwarming bilingual story, Maya's grandmother made it to protect her from bad dreams. Yet as time passes and the blanket becomes worn and frayed, it is remade into a dress, a skirt, a shawl, and more. As the blanket is recycled into new creations, we are reminded of its reusable value. This book is a great story time addition for school-aged children due to its sincere and simple writing that translates well in both Spanish and English, the representation of culturally diverse characters, and the underlying message of resourcefulness, imagination, and appreciation for family traditions. I also thoroughly enjoyed how each new rendition of the blanket transformed Maya's ordinary life into an extraordinary one. Created with mixed media, the graphics are illuminating with rich color and texture.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: The Pot that Juan Built by Nancy Andrews-Goebel,

Description: Bruce the bear likes to keep to himself. That, and eat eggs. But when his hard-boiled goose eggs turn out to be real, live goslings, he starts to lose his appetite. And even worse, the goslings are convinced he's their mother. Bruce tries to get the geese to go south, but he can't seem to rid himself of his new companions. What's a bear to do?

Review: I absolutely adored Mother Bruce! In this laugh out loud picture book we follow the curmudgeon bear named Bruce. He doesn’t like company, sunshine, nor rain. What he does like is eggs and finding new fancy ways of preparing them. Bruce is a very modern bear who uses the the Internet and stove to create his perfect dinner. I couldn't help but giggle as I watched Bruce push his shopping cart through the forest, his local store, to gather his necessary ingredients of honey, salmon, and goose eggs. After gathering all of his essentials, his is ready to cook except it all backfires! The eggs hatch! This results in the grumpiest Bruce yet, and hilarity escalates as he attempts to get the baby geese, who are convinced he is their mother, to leave him alone. Comic illustrations range from full-page paintings to spot illustrations and panels that combine to show Bruce’s schemes to rid himself of the geese result in several laugh out moments. The picture book ends on a silly and sweet conclusion in this picture book of mistaken identities. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: Bruce's Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins, Hotel Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.
   Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it's too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she's unable to escape. Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Review: Drawing from the author's own experience of a toxic relationship, Bad Romance is a rough and raw read that follows one teen's descent into an abusive relationship. Grace has a tough life and is waiting for someone to save her. Her stepfather is verbally abusive and any small trigger can set off her contrite, subservient mother. Grace has only known on how to be on survival mode. She just has to keep her head down at home, work hard to save money for college applications, and maintain high grades to qualify for scholarships. Grace wants an escape and a way to raise her depleted self esteem. Enter Gavin, the most talented, hottest, and charming senior in school. Grace feels like she is given a break when Gavin, the most talented and charming senior in school, notices her. 
  Written from hindsight after escaping her unhealthy relationship with Gavin, Grace reflects on how she worked herself in and out of a toxic situation. With searing honesty and no holds back, we are taken on a dark journey of Grace's relationships, both familial and romantic, until she has found the strength and confidence to get out of it. It is important to note that with the exception of her friends, Grace is consistently surrounded by negativity, emotionally unstable adults, and not shown what a healthy relationship entails, which may be the reason why she is so susceptible to a toxic relationship. She only knows the story-book kind of love. Grace savors the attention from Gavin and everyone who notices them together. She rides the high of her romantic relationship. There are plenty of red flashing neon signs of danger that Gavin gives off such as limiting who Grace can talk to and how much time she must spend with him, many of which her friends and her sister point out, but at first Grace chalks up to as "tiny details" that she is willing to give up in order to maintain her perfect relationship. Before Grace knows it, she is back again in survival mode when her relationship becomes too constricting and she has lost her identity. Now, all her dreams seem to be slipping out of her grasp as she realizes that the perfect relationship she dreamed of is twisting out of control. 
 It is clear that Gavin needs serious help, but he emotionally blackmails Grace into believing she is responsible for his mental health and being if she ever leaves him. Grace needs out of the relationship, but she also needs help in doing so. We cheer as she finds the power to do so. 
  Though hard to read because of its content, Bad Romance is a dark, realistic look at dating violence and abusive relationships, a story that is best suited for older high school readers. Demetrios expertly conveys the suffocating feeling of life in a dysfunctional family and the longing of teens to be on their own. It will serve as a great book for teens and their parents to discuss.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language, sexual content, and underage drinking. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Dreamland by Sarah Dessen, Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn
Rummanah Aasi
Description: In a thrilling adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe s best-known works, acclaimed artist-adapter Gareth Hinds translates Poe's dark genius into graphic-novel format. It is true that I am nervous. But why will you say that I am mad?
   In "The Cask of Amontillado," a man exacts revenge on a disloyal friend at carnival, luring him into catacombs below the city. In "The Masque of the Red Death," a prince shielding himself from plague hosts a doomed party inside his abbey stronghold. A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, faced with a swinging blade and swarming rats, can t see his tormentors in "The Pit and the Pendulum," and in "The Tell-Tale Heart," a milky eye and a deafening heartbeat reveal the effects of conscience and creeping madness. Alongside these tales are visual interpretations of three poems "The Raven," "The Bells," and Poe s poignant elegy to lost love, "Annabel Lee." The seven concise graphic narratives, keyed to thematic icons, amplify and honor the timeless legacy of a master of gothic horror."

Review: After tackling graphic novel adaptations of many classics such as Beowulf, The Odyssey, and various Shakespeare's plays, Gareth Hinds ambitiously takes on the challenge of reimagining the famous poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe. The short stories in the graphic novel includes "The Masque of Red Death", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Pit and the Pendulum", and the "The Tell-Tale Heart". Hinds also visualizes three of Poe's poems: Annabel Lee, The Raven, and The Bells.
 Before each story and poem, Hinds provides a legend with symbols that indicate the themes of the work such as death, disease, and scary sounds to set up the reader's anticipations. Hinds excels in creating a a dark canvas infused ominous shadows and striking reds that build up the suspense and madness throughout the graphic novel but especially in “The Cask of Amontillado,” where an unnamed narrator leads his enemy into being buried alive. My favorite short stories in this graphic novel adaptation and Poe's original work are both The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" where we watch the psychological horror and drama unfold in front of our very own eyes. Hinds conceptualizes the famously grisly details while playing with visually striking splashes of color and sound to further accentuate the terror. 
  It was a big risk to take on Poe's poems in a graphic novel since they stray from the typical format but Hinds uses his drawings as to fill the page with illustrations and set the original text against them which allow Poe's words to take control. Also included are historical notes about Poe and Hind's rationale for his adaptation, which I found to be very useful and valuable if both independent reading or used in a classroom.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are disturbing images and dark themes mentioned throughout the graphic novel. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe by Edgar Allen Poe, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The Balance of Power Has Finally Tipped...The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Who Will Crumble? Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

Who Will Rise? Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

Who Will Take Control? And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Review: After thoroughly enjoying the first two books in the Shades of Magic series, A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, I had very high expectations for the final book in the series. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met and I appear to be in the minority who felt that the series finale did not end on a strong note.
  There are three main reasons why I gave A Conjuring of Light a low rating: the lack of character development, pacing issues, and a weak villain. In the first two books of this series, we are introduced to a fantastic cast of characters with quirky personalities and watch how they interact with one another. I wanted more character development in this book. We get pieces of it sprinkled throughout the book such as Rhy's parents change of heart when it comes to Kell and his actions or Kell getting the chance to learn about his parents, both of which are great discussion points but Schwab barely scratches the surface with it. I also needed the answer as to what happened with Lila's eye that is constantly asked throughout the book by each character that she meets and never answered. I also wanted to dig deeper into Lila's past. The romances in the book also left me unsatisfied. While we get the romantic tension climax between Kell and Lila as they finally openly admit their attraction and affection for one another, I was actually more interested in Rhy and Alucard's romance that was quickly summed up.
  Another issue I had with the book is the inconsistency of pacing in the book. There were parts that I quickly read, particularly the beginning where we get answers to the cliffhanger of A Gathering of Shadows, and others that dragged on and on. I think my issues of pacing is that I did not feel threatened by the main villain in the story. While I do understand his threat to the Londons in the series, I didn't just find him compelling enough to read pages and pages about him. As a result my interest in the book embed and flowed and I certainly didn't enjoy it as much as I did the first two books. Despite my issues, this was still an okay read and I would still recommend this series. I guess I need to lower my expectations for series finales.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language and violence in the book. There are two small sex scene that isn't too graphic in the book.

If you like this book try: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift #1) by Kate Griffin
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can't breathe, can't walk, can't anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J. It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie's beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She's had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best. It s all good. Well, almost all. She's trying.

Review: Well, That Was Awkwardof a diverse group of middle schoolers embarking on their journey to high school. Gracie Grant, a tall eighth grader who has a prominent nose and hails from New York City, takes the lead as our Cyrano figure. She is bubbly, plucky, and optimistic. Gracie's best friend, Sienna Reyes, needs help texting the boy who likes her, the handsome AJ Rojanasopondist. Though nursing a broken heart, Gracie puts aside her feelings and is completely there for her best friend. Text messages are sent and their meanings are flustered over. Despite having feelings for AJ, Gracie has no idea that someone is actually interested in her. The romance in this book is adorable as the characters try to find their own voices and personalities as they come to terms with their own shortcomings. It made me thankful that I will never have to relive those awkward moments ever again.
  Along with a light, fun story line, Well, That Was Awkward also has depth with a subplot of Gracie confronting with the lost of her sister who died in a car accident before Gracie was born and Gracie's plight of always appearing to be happy and okay for her over-protective parents. This subplot weaves in and out throughout the story and doesn't overshadow the lighter moments. I actually think it enhances the story and gives Gracie a really nice character growth arc. I was really happy that the author prevents all of her characters from being one dimensional stereotypes though she does highlight the common cliques in middle school. I was also impressed that Gracie parents are
fully formed, not the typically clueless adults or worse absent parents who are featured in many books written for this audience. There is a nice twist in the Cyrano story that left me completely satisfied. Well, That Was Awkward is a perfect read for romance and realistic fiction fans of all ages and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

If you like this book try: Cici Reno by Kristina Springer, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Rummanah Aasi
Description: There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad. Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds. But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories. Like the monster at my mosque. People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask. Except me.

Review: S.K. Ali's debut novel, Saints and Misfits, is a welcoming addition to the growing and much needed collection of books written about and written by Muslim authors. In a smartly written novel Ali has been able to tap into universal themes and portray the various representation of faith and Muslim representation without being didactic.
  Janna Yusuf is an extremely smart Indian Arab American Muslim teen who, like all teens, is looking for a place to belong. She is caught between her Muslim faith and the parts of her life that clash with it. Janna identifies herself as a misfit and does not fit into the cookie cutter mold of a "saintly" Muslim teen. Her parents are divorced, a culture faux pas that many people do not discuss. While a practicing Muslim herself, her father is a secular business man who has since remarried and sends out motivational quotes in his newsletter. Her love life is complicated considering she has a crush on a non-Muslim boy named Jeremy who she can not date because of her religion though her crush might not be unrequited, but above all Janna's biggest obstacle is facing the monster: a "pious" boy from a respectable family and from her mosque who attempts to sexually assault her during a party.
   The different categories of people that Janna identifies throughout the story, with the exception of the monster, shift and change as Janna's preconceptions are constantly challenged. Janna's internal push and pull observations gives readers unfamiliar with Islam a deep understanding of Muslim practices, the wide range of how people observe or don't observe Islam as well as the representation of women who wear the hijab without limiting or changing the focus of the story. Teens will easily look past their superficial differences with Janna and instead will connect with her not fitting in, dealing with frustrations of rape culture, the difficulty of trusting others and truly connecting with others, and most of all finding the courage to speak out.
  Janna is a keen observer and all of her thoughts on the world and those around her are filtered through her lens. I loved the use of Janna's hobby of a photographer as a running conceit in the story. I also greatly appreciated that the author does not use stereotypes in her book but rather exposes not only their flaws, but also the flaws of the Muslim culture. Janna creates a strong support system with both Muslim and non-Muslim friends. I also adored her friendship with an elderly Indian man who shows her own shortcomings and the advice column that her uncle and imam has for her mosque that gives the reader a peek into what's like to be a Muslim teen. Saints and Misfits is another solid book published by Salaam Reads that illustrates a girl's attempt to find her place in a complicated world.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, a party where there is underage drinking, and a scene of attempted sexual assault in the book. Recommended for Grade 9 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah, and for a book that has similar themes minus religious elements try What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The students of Gotham's most prestigious prep school are back and they've just survived one heck of a year within the walls of Gotham Academy. Now it's time for everyone to look back and experience some of the lost adventures from the school year that was.

Review: It is hard to call Gotham Academy Volume 3 a "volume" since it contains six meandering short stories that are written and illustrated by different graphic novelists. There were only a handful of stories that I liked and many others I disliked. While I liked the concept of the yearbook I was surprised how early it released considering how many unanswered questions that surfaced with the first two volumes of this series. What made reading this volume difficult is the inconsistency with the narrative text and the artwork of different graphic novelists who take a crack at the Detective Club. Overall this volume felt disjointed and I did not enjoy it.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some PG-13 violence in the graphic novel. Recommended for Grade 7 and up.

Description: When you're Gotham Academy student Olive Silverlock, winter holidays can be a drag. Luckily, when a new student shows up at Gotham Academy to keep her company while the other students are away, Olive finds what could be a brand new friend...or a whole lot of trouble. And when Maps, Kyle, Colton, Pomeline and the rest of the students of Gotham's #1 prep school return for a new semester, the adventures are twice as mysterious and twice as dangerous!

Review: I am not sure if Gotham Academy Second Semester is a spin off series for Gotham Academy or a continuation of the overarching story. All of our main characters return to a new semester. I was a bit hesitant to read this one since I was really disappointed with Gotham Academy Vol. 3, but ended up really enjoying this one. The plot and tension of this volume is a slow burn. Olive has a new roommate that starts to have a negative effect on her. We also have a small mystery where students have been brainwashed and kidnapped by a disgruntled teacher. At first glance I thought the graphic novel was pretty average since I figured the mystery early on but as I read on I was glad to discover a twist in the last half of the story. We get more background information on Olive's family history, what fuels her dark side, and there is a new romance development that I'm very curious to see where it goes. Luckily, the romance is not a love triangle. The volume does end on a cliffhanger so it might be a while to read what happens next. Gotham Academy Second Semester returns to the dark, gothic mystery setting that first grabbed my attention and made me curious about this series. I am glad that it is back on track.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence in the book. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like these books try: The Nameless City series by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi
Description: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift--back into Black London.
   Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games--an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries--a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
  And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows is a great follow up to A Darker Shades of Magic. It takes place 4 months after Kell and Lila saved the world with big changes. Now Lila has wormed her way onto a pirate ship called the Night Spire and sailed away from Red London with an enigmatic and mesmerizing pirate named Alucard Emery in search of an adventure and a new beginning. Lila has been transfixed in learning all she can about magic and how to hold/manipulate it. Meanwhile Kell is still dealing with the consequences that nearly took his life and that of his adoptive brother Rhy.
  Like the previous installment, the plot is a slow build until the upcoming magical tournament called the Essen Tasch which reminded a lot of Goblet of Fire tournament except the adult version where magicians fight to the death. Of course there is a lot of treachery and deception that occur in the background as all of our characters meet together.  Schwab expands the world beyond Red London and we learn different facets to our characters.
   I have to say that I really fell for Alucard Emery who reminded me a lot of Sturmhond from Bardguo's Grisha Trilogy, a character that has many layers beyond the rakish captain facade. There is mention that Rhy and Alucard has a romantic history and Kell is not a big fan of Alucard so I'm really curious to learn more about this couple. There is also a slight undercurrent of romantic tension between Kell and Lila that continues to spill over in this book though both of them will vehemently deny their feelings for one another. Overall I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first book since it contained the tournament which was a lot of fun to read about. There is a nasty cliffhanger so be sure to have the third book, A Conjuring of Light, on hand when you are done to make sure all your favorite characters are safe. This is a really fascinating world where magic can both be a blessing and a curse depending on how the characters use it.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, crude humor, and some strong violence. Suitable for teens and adults.

If you like this book try: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi
Description: After losing out on a spot on the local deaf team, William practiced even harder—eventually earning a position on a professional team. But his struggle was far from over. In addition to the prejudice Hoy faced, he could not hear the umpires' calls. One day he asked the umpire to use hand signals: strike, ball, out. That day he not only got on base but also changed the way the game was played forever. William “Dummy" Hoy became one of the greatest and most beloved players of his time!

Review: I never heard of William Hoy before picking this book up. What a remarkable story! Born in 1862, William Hoy could neither hear nor speak, but he loved and breathed baseball. Despite his disabilities, he was incredibly athletically gifted and became an outstanding major league baseball player during the late nineteenth century. It is said that he and along with other players are credited in creating a system of hand gestures as signs that are still used in baseball today. The illustrations remind of the old Popeye cartoons that are fun to look at and share the book's uplifting vibe and feel good message. This is a great story for baseball and sports fan to read. It would also work as a good read-aloud with younger readers.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Preschools to Grade 3 readers.

If you like this book try: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick

Description: Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.

Review: I Dissent is an informative picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The book traces the Justice's achievements as an intelligent, ambitious young girl to her position on the Supreme Court with an emphasis on dissenting in the face of inequality that Gingsburg faced as a Jewish woman. While the book does talk briefly about Gingsburg's social life, the focus for the majority of the book is her law career. The text is easy to understand sentences intended for its audience. The whimsical illustrations make the subject approachable and the use of bold typography highlight words such as protest, object, and dissent make the text come alive.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Ruth Bader Gingsburg by Heather Moore Niver

Description: "Pinkalicious" meets National Geographic in this nonfiction picture book introducing the weirdest, wildest, pinkest critters in the animal kingdom! Some people think pink is a pretty color. A fluffy, sparkly, princess-y color. But it's so much more. Sure, pink is the color of princesses and bubblegum, but it's also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. Not to mention ultra-intelligent dolphins, naked mole rats and bizarre, bloated blobfish. Isn't it about time to rethink pink?

Review: Young readers who are fascinated by animals or weird things will absolutely love Pink is for Blobfish. Rather than focusing on a region or behavior, this book of weird creatures is uniquely organized by color. The color of choice is pink and the creatures featured in the book are from cute, cuddly, princessy and other adjectives associated with pink. Most of the creatures listed where foreign to me from the ugly, flesh-colored blobfish and the bristly hairy squat lobster to the delicate pink fairy armadillo, I mistook as feather duster. Each creature baffled me as I flipped through this book. A two page spread is dedicated to each animal which features a full-color, close-up photo of the creature with an approachable paragraph describing some of its key features, a fascinating fact, and an at-a-glance rundown of basic facts. The comical tone makes book inviting in case the book's title and cover doesn't grab your little reader instantly.

Curriculum Connection: Science

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for K-Grade 4 readers.

If you like this book try: What Makes a Monster? by Jess Keating
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not? Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Review: I finished When Dimple Met Rishi in one sitting, something that is very rare for me to do. This romantic debut novel wonderfully explores the culture of the sub Indian continent and more importantly what it means to be a first-generation teen from an immigrant family. Dimple and Rishi come from a similar background though they share clashing perspectives on their culture. Both teens are ready to embark on their adventure to college and being independent. In a traditional South Asian culture this is also a time to start thinking about marriage and settling down so it is not a big surprise to find Dimple's and Rishi's parents set an arranged-marriage plan in motion, but it backfires big time—or maybe not?
  In the alternating voices of her two protagonists, Menon explores themes of culture and identity with insight, humor, and warmth. I absolutely loved Dimple and Rishi for being unapologetically themselves. Too often I read about characters from my similar background who try to embrace another culture and dismiss their own without understanding it. Dimple and Rishi may not see eye to eye on certain aspects of their culture but accept it as part of themselves without sacrificing their life choices and expectations.
 Dimple loves coding and is so excited to win Insomina Con, a competitive six-week summer program at San Francisco State focused on app development, with her creative and lifesaving app. She dismisses her mother’s preoccupation with the Ideal Indian Husband and a concentration of being presented as an Indian beauty. Dimple wants to be respected for her intellect and talent. I love the fact that Dimple is described as an average teen who has unruly hair and wears glasses. Finally, a YA character that resembles regular teens! I could definitely relate with her frustrations of her mother constantly comparing her to others.
  Rishi is an obedient son who is responsible, a romantic and a dreamer who believes in destiny, tradition, and embraces his culture full on. He is perfectly fine with settling down and starting a family, which is why he brought his grandmother's ring to give to Dimple at Insomnia Con except she has no clue of his or both sets of their parents' intention. Rishi is on his father's path to study computer science and engineering at MIT even though his real passion for comic book art is a hidden one. When both attend the convention and are assigned to work together, things get tricky. It is so much fun watching Dimple and Rishi become friends, drop their walls of defense, and navigate their   swoonworthy connection. I also appreciated the fact that the conflict is an internal one for both characters instead of superfluous drama. When Dimple Met Rishi is a heartwarming, authentic, empathetic, and often hilarious, delightful read. It is my favorite contemporary romance read so far this year and I highly recommend it.  

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and crude sexual humor. There is also a small fade to black sex scene in the book. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Born Confused by Tanuja Hidier Desai
Rummanah Aasi
When I was at the ALA Annual Conference, I talked to the Penguin Random House representative who spoke highly of DC's new imprint called the Young Animal which was created by Gerard Way, the leader singer of My Chemical Romance. I asked the representative about the imprint's targeted audience and content which he suggested were appropriate for teens. I wanted to find out for myself and asked for his suggestion on where to start. He told me he is a big fan of  Shade, the Changing Girl by Cecil Castellucci. When I saw it was an advanced copy was available for review on Netgalley I thought I would try it. Shade, The Changing Girl, will be published on July 18, 2017.

Description: Far away on the planet Meta, Loma's going nowhere fast. She's dropped out of school, dumped her boyfriend and is bored out of her mind. She longs to feel things. That's where her idol, the lunatic poet Rac Shade, and his infamous madness coat come in. Loma steals the garment and makes a break across galaxies to take up residence in a new body: Earth girl Megan Boyer.
  Surely everything will be better on this passionate, primitive planet with a dash of madness on her side and this human girl's easy life. Only now that she's here, Loma discovers being a teenaged Earth girl comes with its own challenges and Earth may not be everything she thought it'd be. Megan Boyer was a bully who everyone was glad was almost dead, and now Loma has to survive high school and navigate the consequences of the life she didn't live with the ever-growing and uncontrollable madness at her side. Not to mention that there are people back on her homeworld who might just want Shade's coat back.

Review: It did not take me long to figure out that this graphic novel is not for me nor would it appeal to my students. The plot is pretty simple despite its non-linear narrative structure. Loma, a birdlike alien creature, is bored on her planet and desires adventure so she dons on a madness coat and turns into a spirit that inhabits the body of Megan, a comatose high school queen bee. Loma is disheartened to find out that Megan was a mean girl that pretty much everyone hated. Loma tries to amend Megan's wrong meanwhile Megan's parents and friends are more shocked about Megan acting like a real human being with emotions and empathy rather than her weird alien powers.
 Despite the colorful and vibrant illustrations of the graphic novel, I was bored throughout reading it. The plot was just okay and the characters failed to pique my interest. I didn't get a good grasp on who Loma is before she inhabited Megan. I also couldn't drum up any sympathy for Megan who was a big bully that took a lot of drugs and ended up drowning. I also didn't feel there was a lot of depth to the story despite the trope of using the high school setting as a metaphor of explaining the tumultuous time of puberty. Plot points that didn't really connect where casually explained by the weird things happening in the story instead of an actual explanation.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, underage drinking and drug use. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: After doing a little research I found out that Shade, The Changing Girl, is a new take on the original graphic noel series Shade, The Changing Man, by Peter Milligan
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Review: The Shade of Magic series is a great introduction to fantasy for readers who may not be too comfortable with the genre. It is fast paced adventure that is quick to get into with a great, medium-sized cast of characters with an easy to understand world and magic system. It is also a great teen to adult crossover book. 
 In A Darker Shade of Magic we are taken to a series of interconnected Londons ruled by magic--or the lack of it. Long ago, the doors between worlds were open, and anyone with magic could travel from one to the next. Now the doors are closed, and only a chosen few called Antaris, designated by two different eye colors, have the power to travel between Grey London, a world without magic, Red London, a world suffused with it, and White London, a world where magic is scarce, coveted and jealously guarded. Black London is a city consumed and dangerous. 
 Our main protagonist is Kell, an official royal messenger who carries important documents to the rulers of the three Londons and a confidant to the royal prince. Kell also has a guilty pleasure that always seems to land him in trouble: he is an unofficial smuggler who has the itch to collect artifacts from other worlds. During his latest "shopping spree" Kell accepts a dangerous relic, something that shouldn't exist that kicks off a great chase and adventure in our story. 
 Kell is very much an "every-man" type of character. He isn't particularly striking with the exception of his eye colors and being an Antari. He has no recollection of his parents though he is fiercely devoted and loyal to Rhy, the unabashedly flamboyant prince who regards him as a brother. Kell and Rhy's bromance is fantastic and it was a pleasure watching these two interact. 
 In my opinion the book really didn't take off for me until I we traveled to Grey London where we met a cunning thief named Lila who steals the artifact for Kell and who equally intrigues and infuriates him. Lila is an unconventional heroine who refuses to play the damsel in distress card and quick to draw her knives. She is clearly street smart and fiercely independent. 
 Schwab has created three distinct and memorable Londons in this book, but really her characters run the show. The plot moves at a brisk pace and there is hardly any time to be bored. Though I would have loved a bit more character development, I really enjoyed the start of this series. Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.

Words of Caution: There is some language and some strong violence. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2), for a darker fantasy that also contains parallel worlds check out Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Rummanah Aasi

Description: After experiencing a series of dangerous—and frankly, humiliating—trials at Camp Half-Blood, Apollo must now leave the relative safety of the demigod training ground and embark on a hair-raising journey across North America. Fortunately, what he lacks in godly graces he's gaining in new friendships—with heroes who will be very familiar to fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series.

Review: The Dark Prophecy is the second book in the Trials of Apollo series in which the Greek god Apollo has lost his powers and immortality and has been brought to Earth as an acne ridden American teenager. While the Dark Prophecy is a quick, fun read it is also a transitional book in the series. Apollo must work with other demigods, prominent in Riordan's Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, to help save Meg and other characters from a dark demise.
 I still find Apollo highly amusing from his self absorbed "woe is me" haiku poems that preface each chapter. I like that his human side is allowing him to see his own flaws and become a stronger person and character. While there are no particular myths that this series retells there are stories that are closely with Apollo that are interwoven in this series. I also appreciate Riordan's attention to diversity in his works as Apollo openly discusses his bisexuality plus meeting lesbian parents, and we meet demigods from various ethnicities and races throughout the series. It is not until the last few pages that a cryptic prophecy is revealed which clearly sets up the next book in a series. If you are interested in seeing why Riordan is super popular, I would highly recommend picking up the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series first as it sets up the foundation for his later series and gives you a sense of Riordan's trademark humor, action, and mythology retelling. I'm really looking forward to seeing where Riordan takes Apollo next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing scenes in the book and some of the stories mentioned in the book are quite violent. Recommended for Grade 6 and up.

If you like this book try: Olympians: Apollo by George O'Connor graphic novel, The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (Trials of Apollo #3 coming in May 2018)
Rummanah Aasi

Description: There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.
Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?
  Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die. What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Review: The Love Interest was one of my most anticipated debut novels of 2017. I was super excited for a diverse spy novel that flips familiar book tropes. Sadly, despite a fantastic premise the book is a major let down and disappoints in many ways.
Caden is a spy. He's spent most of his life so far in an underground facility called the Love Interest Compound, being groomed physically and mentally to become a Love Interest for someone influential. His job is to woo the candidate and win her trust while also divulging her secrets to the Compound who will later sell the information to the highest bidder. The concept of the Love Interest Compound is really cool, but the world building is unfortunately undeveloped. I had many unresolved questions regarding its creation and purpose. I did find it interesting though that the institution goes as far as altering the Love Interest physical features with surgery to ensure physical attraction, which reminded me very much of the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, and tagging them with a tracker much like we do to our pets. After a very long time Caden has been chosen and pegged as a Nice, the nerdy-boy-next-door type. He is given a script and plays the role as Juliet's long lost friend. 
 Competing for Juliet's affection is bad boy Dylan, the boy who lingers in Caden's mind as first as a competitor and then to something more. Like Caden, Dylan is also given a script and a role to play as the mysterious brooder/rebel. Each of them must pursue Juliet, a girl destined to be the next great scientific mind. Whoever wins will live and share Juliet's secrets with the Love Interest Compound and whoever loses dies. 
 The first half of the book was decent and interesting as you follow Caden and Dylan in their individual roles. I was able to suspend my disbelief in Juliet embracing Caden as her long lost friend so easily considering how much her intelligence is emphasized. I would have liked a stronger focus on the development of Caden and Dylan's relationship. The author teeters on the "are they or aren't they?" for most of the book, but I didn't find it convincing mainly because Caden's sexuality, which the Love Interest Compound found interesting and important, is written off and tossed aside. The GLBTQ+ slant of the book is the main reason this book will draw interest, but sadly this is not developed and handled well at all. Instead of exploring sexuality, the boys are thrown into confusing make-out sessions and it is the main reason why I couldn't care for his relationship with Dylan or the push and pull of their attraction. The narrative is told entirely from Caden's perspective, and it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between what's actually going on and Caden's assumptions.
 It is the second half of the book where every thing goes down hill fast. We hardly hear of Juliet's scientific experiments which the Love Interest Compound wants. Caden's cover is quickly revealed and Juliet is surprisingly quick to forgive despite being lied to for over 200 pages (just how smart is she?), the book morphs into an action novel where the Compound must be destroyed. There are few subplots developed with the secondary characters that I didn't care for that were suppose to up the suspense. The ending and epilogue are rushed leaving lots of unanswered questions. Even after lowering my expectations for this book, I was severely disappointed and as a result do not recommend this novel.
Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, scenes of underage drinking, and some crude sexual humor. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: I would really pick up the Unknown Assassin series by Allen Zadoff instead.
Rummanah Aasi
  I was approached by Sarah at Publishizer regarding a book contest for inspiring writers with a focus on diversity and I wanted to share this great opportunity with you. Read the guest post below to find out more information about the contest and its $1,000 prize!

Putting the Readers Back in Charge of Publishing

  Imagine a YA publishing process without gatekeepers. One where editors and agents read the manuscripts that readers love, not vice versa. One where anyone with a knack for writing, a passion to succeed, and a little flair for self-promotion, has a fair shot at being published.

All too frequently, this isn’t the case. Books often get rejected for reasons beyond authors’ control. One editor turned down an ultimately successful book by saying, “The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level.” The book in question? The Diary of Anne Frank. Furthermore, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only about 10% of all YA books accepted for publication feature “multi-cultural content.” Clearly, there are some blind spots that need addressing in the publishing industry.

It’s with this vision in mind that Publishizer is launching its YA book proposal contest called Plot Without a Cause. Publishizer is a startup seeking to fill a hole in the publishing industry through crowdfunding.

 It works like this: You write the book proposal. You know the book proposal I’m talking about. The one you’ve been daydreaming about for years. The one that just popped into your head last week and you haven’t stopped thinking about since. The one for the manuscript that’s been dearly loved by you but maybe not so much yet by the publishing industry. That one. Then you register (for free!) on Publishizer’s website and post your proposal in the Plot Without a Cause section (again—for free!).

  Now this is when you’ll have to start hustling. Crowdfunding runs on pre-orders, so you had better start promoting that proposal. Reach out over social media, post on your blog, email your old roommates—whatever it takes to start building buzz. If you get the most preorders by the time the contest ends, you’ll win $1000 dollars. And if you don’t have the highest number of preorders, don’t worry—you’ll still be queried to major publishers who fit your proposal.

Previous Publishizer contest participants have gotten interest and landed deals with a variety of traditional publishing companies, including Harvard Square Books, She Writes Press, and Weiser. Publishizer takes a small commission on pre-orders when you choose a publisher at the end.

Every year, thousands of books are rejected by the publishing world for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the book—they’re too mainstream or not mainstream enough, too similar to books already being published or too different from books already being published. Or the literary agent just doesn’t stand to make much money on the deal so they pass on a perfectly good book! Imagine how many brilliant YA manuscripts go unpublished every year thanks to frustrating rejections. Imagine how many hugely talented authors quietly give up on their dreams, just because the gate to a traditional publishing path isn’t open to them.

  With their new YA book proposal contest, Plot Without a Cause, Publishizer is seeking to level the playing field. Publishing decisions shouldn’t be based solely on a literary agent’s judgement
or how many friends you have in the industry. They should be based on quality of writing and how many readers the book attracts.

   Great books get overlooked all the time, and this is an opportunity to show acquiring editors that yours is worth paying attention to. Not to mention the readership and funds you could gain in the process. Crowdfunding (or crowd-publishing, in this case) is growing in popularity and brings a personal touch back to book sales—for readers and publishers. Are you in?

For more information, visit the contest page or contact Sarah White directly at
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

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