Rummanah Aasi

 The blog will be quiet for the next few days while I attend the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco. I'm excited to attend awesome programs, meet authors, and so much more. The blog will be back to schedule after the July 4th holiday.
Rummanah Aasi
 If you have younger readers who are a fan of mysteries, be sure to steer them to Sheila Tunage's Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky. This is the first book in the Tupelo Landing series and if the other books are just as good as the first we are in for a treat.

Description: Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Review: Three Times Lucky is a thoroughly engaging and humorous book despite some of the tough issues that the author subtlety addresses. The star of the book is the quick-thinking, precocious, sassy, and incredibly lovable Mo LoBeau along with fabulous cast of secondary characters in this modern-day mystery set in a small North Carolina town. Mo has an unique childhood. As a baby, she was found washed ashore during a hurricane and has led a quiet life with the Colonel, a cafe owner with a hidden past, and Miss Lana, the fun and colorful cafe hostess. Mo has always been on the search for her real mother as dubs her "Upstream Mother" and writes messages to her mysterious mother in a bottle that she throws in the water in hopes for a response. Along with this ongoing mystery, this Southern idyllic town is turned upside down by a murder investigation. The twists and turns in the plot kept me on my tones and the humorous interactions between Mo and her quirky neighbors held my attention throughout the book. As I mentioned earlier, the book does skillfully touches on tough issues such as alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, and underage drinking at appropriate times in the story, which shed light on contemporary issues and makes this book unfortunately realistic. Despite these issues, however, the mood of the book stays light and makes the readers root enthusiastically for Mo in all of her adventurous endeavors while also eliciting empathy for the secondary characters as they endure and conquer challenging circumstances. The book ends with a resolution to the murder mystery as well as teaching Mo the meaning of family. I'm so glad we get to visit these characters again in the other books in the Tupelo Landing again and I look forward to reading them.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is discussion of serious topics such as domestic abuse, underage drinking, and alcoholism. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, Holes by Louis Sachar
Rummanah Aasi
 I have dystopian burnout. It is not that I dislike this subgenre, but I have read a slew of dystopian books that in someway or in another is Hunger Games deja vu promising another blockbuster. As a result I have become bored and weary of the category of  dystopian. When I read about Holly Bodger's debut novel I didn't know what to expect and lowered my expectations. I'm relieved to find 5 to 1 to be an engaging dystopian novel set in India that poignantly explores gender politics. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.
  Sudasa doesn’t want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. Sudasa’s family wants nothing more than for their daughter to do the right thing and pick a husband who will keep her comfortable—and caged. Kiran’s family wants him to escape by failing the tests. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.

Review: In order to enjoy 5 to 1 there are few things you have to keep in mind. First 5 to 1 is what I call a soft dystopian, there is not an emphasis on the world that Bodger created which ironically  works in the author's favor because the book's basis is steeped in reality of gender politics. Second, the book is not your average heart pounding action book, the book moves steadily yet slowly focusing more on character development. Third, there is no romance in the book which allows the author to show how the gender selection effects each gender without any rose tinted glasses placed upon the characters. Additionally this debut novel is told in alternating points of view, one in poetry and one in prose. Once you settle and acknowledge these differences from the usual dystopian tropes, you can enjoy the book for its uniqueness and see where it shines.
  Bodger explores a dystopian India in which gender selection has led to there being five boys for every girl. In generations past boys were the favored gender of infants and as a result female infant population dramatically decreased as they were aborted and disposed of, signaling debt and burden for families (sadly, this is really happening in several parts of Asia). A revolution took place and a matriarchal government is now in power. Now female babies are prized possessions and men's value are determined if they can help their wives produce girls. The subversion of the gender roles and expectations is exceptionally well done in 5 to 1 from the characters to the various Tests that the boys have to pass. 
  Throughout her novel Bodger doesn't support just one gender, but rather shows how the gender selection has negatively effected both genders equally. Neither men nor women benefited from their society. Nor is one more in control than the other.  Interestingly they are equally oppressed, which can be seen in the narrative style of the novel. Kiran, the male narrative, is written in captivating prose, which allows much wordier passages however he is limited in expressing his own desires outside of winning the Tests which he is forced to participate due to his gender and age. Similarly the beautiful poetry of Sudasa is appropriately jarring and nuanced, showing how on the outside she  may seem as if she is in control because she is a girl, but her voice is also reduced in how she expresses herself and her limited freedom. Bodger does well in infusing the Indian culture and lifestyle in her work, but I would have liked to have seen more particularly within Sudasa's family dynamics. A glossary of Hindi terms would also be a great addition particularly those who are unfamiliar with the language.
 While the lack of romance in 5 to 1 may disappoint readers, I think it is one of the strong aspects of the book. The Tests are suppose to be pointless and unromantic. The more appropriate importance is placed on personal freedom and choice. During the Tests both Sudasa and Kiran have an epiphany of their own desires and both shamelessly pursue their dreams, which I would have loved to see in a more flushed out epilogue. Despite these minor flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed 5 to 1 and I look forward to see what Bodger has in stored for us in future books.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some mild crude humor in the book and minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Matched series by Ally Condie
Rummanah Aasi
  I thoroughly enjoyed Liz Prince's graphic memoir titled Tomboy. I found it to be a very enjoyable, funny and thought-provoking story. I definitely recommend checking it out if you are on the lookout for a graphic novel read.

Description: Growing up, Liz Prince wasn't a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn't exactly one of the guys, either. She was somewhere in between. But with the forces of middle school, high school, parents, friendship, and romance pulling her this way and that, "the middle" wasn't exactly an easy place to be.

Review: Tomboy is the tale of Liz Prince's childhood and adolescence along with examining the societal expectations of gender. From an early age, Liz didn't like all of the things people consider "girly" such as wearing frilly dresses and playing with dolls. She felt comfortable in boys' clothes and playing "boy" toys. As she grew older, she her interests didn't conform to what was expected for her gender. Although she got crushes on boys all of them wanted the "normal" girls, which made Liz ponder where exactly did she fit in the closed, tight boxes that we labeled as male and female.
  Tomboy is a refreshing, funny, and at times a heartbreaking look at what it means to be male or female. Liz is candor about her insecurities and it is very easy to root and align with her. The book ultimately challenges the notion that there is only one way to be either gender. We watch as Liz grows from a child who is rebellious and who would rather be mistaken for a boy and claims to "hate girls", into someone who recognizes that she doesn't hate women but rather the expectation that are placed upon them by society. Along with the social commentary on examining genders, there is also a discussion on conformity and non-conformity, bullying and the rites of coming of age. 
  The artwork is simplistic, which enhances the "everyman" narrative of the graphic novel. I think this would be a great graphic novel discussion for students and a great pick for reluctant readers. It is a fast, easy read, but also has a lot of material to discuss and will provoke discussion. 
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language sprinkled throughout the graphic memoir. Scenes of underage smoking and drug use are also depicted. There is also some discussion of sex though nothing in graphic detail. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks, Drama by Raina Telegeimer
Rummanah Aasi
 With the rise of the popularity of Sherlock Holmes on the big and little screen, I have gotten more student requests for good mystery novels. I trying to beef up my mystery collection with adding some current mystery titles. I came across positive reviews of Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk and thought I would give it a shot.

Description: In freezing London, November 1890, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson receive a man unnerved by a scarred-face stalker with piercing eyes. A conspiracy reaches to the Boston criminal underworld. The whispered phrase 'the House of Silk' hints at a deadly foe.

Review: The House of Silk is a story that features Sherlock Holmes and his famous sidekick Dr. John Watson and has been officially authorized by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. I've always been weary of reading books and short stories that feature Holmes other than the original tales, but I actually really liked The House of Silk as it kept my attention throughout the story.
  The story has a melancholy atmosphere which is perfectly suited to the rainy, cold Victorian London which we associate with the beloved Baker Street characters. This case, like the original stories, is narrated by Dr. John Watson and takes place a year after Sherlock Holmes's death (from natural causes). Watson recounts a case they shared in 1890 that was too grotesque and too shocking to appear in print. 
  The game is afoot when London art dealer Edmund Carstairs asks for the great detective's help after a shadowy figure in a flat cap, apparently an Irish-American thug bent on revenge, surfaces near Carstairs's Wimbledon home. When a murder follows Holmes getting involved, the trail leads him and Dr. Watson to a powerful secret society known as the House of Silk. There is plenty of action in the plot with nice plot twists and surprises. I intentionally didn't want to try to solve the case with Holmes, but rather took the passive approach and see how it all unfolded. Horowitz stays true to the famous characters from their narrative voices, presence, and actions. Watson has a prominent role in solving the case, becoming a true partner in the case rather than the comedic effect he is known to be in several adaptations. Horowitz also adds a bonus layer to the well done mystery by tackling the social and economic issues in Victorian England.
  While I wasn't a fan of Horowitz's Alex Rider series for young adults, I was definitely impressed by this book. I highly recommend it for readers who love mysteries or Sherlock fans who need something to fill in the gap between the next Sherlock tv season to read this book. I will be looking forward to reading Moriarty by Horowitz and am curious to see what he does with Holmes arch-nemesis. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, at times gruesome, along with slurs and language. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye, Sherlockian by Graham Moore
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