Rummanah Aasi
 I really liked Brian K. Vaughan's space opera graphic novel, Saga, but haven't been able to get the second volume of that series. Since I liked his writing and the illustrations of Saga, I thought I would check out his earlier series called Y The Last Man. 

Description: When a plague of unknown origin instantly kills every mammal with a Y chromosome, unemployed and unmotivated slacker Yorick Brown suddenly discovers that he is the only male left in a world inhabited solely by women. Accompanied by his mischievous monkey and the mysterious Agent 355, Yorick embarks on a transcontinental journey to find his girlfriend and discover why he is the last man on Earth. But with a gang of feminist extremists and the leader of the Israel Defense Forces hunting him, Yorick's future, as well as that of the human race, may be short-lived.

Review: Y: The Last Man: Unmanned is a dystopian graphic novel that has a really intriguing premise. A plague of unknown origin has spread and killed every mammal with a Y chromosome with the exception of one young man named Yorick and his male monkey pet. We don't find out the explanations for the plague or why Yorick and his monkey were saved, which is actually a good thing because there are several possibilities. 
  This graphic novel and I'm guessing the remainder of this series takes a satirical viewpoint of gender issues and the continual fight between progressive science versus the natural order of things. There is also a lot of humor and not so subtle social criticisms/satire as women commemorate the dead man at The Washington Monument (take a moment and think about it). We also have what society would dub as the crazy feminists who take on the role of the ancient Amazons and tear off one breast and take to believing Mother Earth meant to eradicate the males. Politicians are not left unscathed as Republican wives of dead senators show up with guns, arguing they should have a voice in the new government.
 Our main protagonist Yorrick is a likable slacker who is sometimes clueless. He is more concerned about reaching his girlfriend who he wants to marry and his sister. We are meant to believe that the survival of humanity rests in his head and let me tell you, it doesn't look good. 

  With its humorous dialogue, great illustrations, fun characters and a fast-paced story, I'm willing to take the journey with Yorrick to find out the answers to my questions.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: This graphic novel contains strong bloody violence, nudity, and language. Recommended for mature teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: Y: The Last Man: Cycles (Vol 2) by Brian K. Vaughan
Rummanah Aasi
 Navigating Early is one of those special middle grade reads that can be appreciated by young readers and adults for its complex narrative and excellent character development. After reading this book I was not surprised by how many starred review and accolades it has received. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it landed on my Top 14 reads from last year.

Description: When Jack Baker's father sends him from his home in Kansas to attend a boys' boarding school in Maine, Jack doesn't know what to expect. Certainly not Early Auden, the strangest of boys. Early keeps to himself, reads the number pi as a story, and refuses to accept truths others take for granted. Jack, feeling lonely and out of place, connects with Early, and the two become friends.
   During a break from school, the boys set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for a great black bear. As Jack and Early travel deeper into the mountains, they meet peculiar and dangerous characters, and they make some shocking discoveries. But their adventure is only just beginning. Will Jack's and Early's friendship last the journey? Can the boys make it home alive?

Review: Navigating Early is a story about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness, adn teh power of stories. On its surface, it is a tale of two outcast boys from a boarding school developing a friendship and overcoming loss; however, if you dig deeper you will realize that the book in fact is composed of three stories that beautifully weave together by the last page.
  Jack enters boarding school in Maine after his mother's death at the end of World War II. He mourns and feels guilty for not taking care of his mother. He also resents his Navy father who appears to him like a stranger and in Jack's eyes kicked Jack out of the only home that he has known. Jack quickly befriends Early Auden, a savant whose extraordinary facility with numbers allows him to "read" a story about "Pi" from the infinite series of digits that follow 3.14. It takes some time for Jack to accept Early as he is, but there is a powerful scene that shows how Jack and Early's solidified their friendship. Jack accompanies Early in one of the school crew team's rowing boats on what Jack believes is his friend's fruitless quest to find a great bear allegedly roaming the wilderness--and Early's brother, a legendary figure reportedly killed in battle. While on their journey, Early tells an evolving saga of Pi  and the boys encounter memorable individuals and adventures that uncannily parallel those in the Pi's stories.
 To be honest, I was not very interested in Navigating Early at first. I wasn't sure where the story was going when it started to include pirates and Pi's crazy adventures, but once I figured out the allegorical connection to Pi's story with that of Jack and Early's everything clicked for me. Jack and Early may appear to be very different from one another because of their abilities, but they are very much alike. Both are trying to accept the loss of their loved ones and are trying in their own ways to understand their realities. Jack prefers to internalize and analyze his thoughts. His voice does seem a lot older than a thirteen year old. Similarly, Early makes sense of his situation by creating a story using what he knows best: numbers.
 Vanderpool ties all these details along with Jack's growing maturity and self-awareness together masterfully and poignantly, though humor and excitement leaven the weighty issues the author and Jack frequently pose. Some of Pi's adventures require a bit of suspended disbelief and there are some coincidences that may seem a bit too convenient in the story. Despite these minor flaws, Vanderpool has created a stunning novel with a very eloquent and moving ending. Navigating Early requires patience, thought, and concentration but it is well worth the effort. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Rummanah Aasi
 These Broken Stars was one of my favorite books from last year. I was really looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While being different from the first book, the sequel does not disappoint. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book.

Description: Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.
  Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.
  Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporate conglomerate that rules Avon with an iron fist. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.
  Desperate for any advantage against the military occupying his home, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides in a senseless war.

Review: This Shattered World is the second book in the Starbound trilogy, however, it can be read even if you haven't read the first book in the series. This book focus on new characters and a new world. Unlike the space-opera romance in the first book, This Shattered World as the title implies is much darker, gritter, where the mystery takes center stage with hints of romance.
 Captain Jubilee Chase is the longest serving soldier on the partially terraformed planet of Avon, the only person who has proved immune to "The Fury," the mindless rage that strikes off-worlders who come to serve on Avon. Flynn Cormac is a member of the native Fianna rebels, who hopes that by kidnapping Chase, he can discover more about a mysterious facility hidden in the swamp to the east of the military's main outpost.
 Jubilee and Flynn are opposites of the war and see each other as the enemy, however, neither of them wants the shaky ceasefire between their sides to be over. At first Jubilee and Flynn can only see and focus on their differences, but as the two characters spend more time throughout the story they come to understand that they share many similarities particularly their tragic losses of their loved ones. As the characters spend more time with one another they develop a mutual respect that grows to something more-even as their alliance comes to be seen as a betrayal by both sides. They both uncover mysterious and conspiracies that have been plaguing Avon and quite possibly other planets in their galaxy. It was nice seeing Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux, the main leads in the first book make appearances and have a real purpose besides fanfare, tying the many unexplained events in this title to those in the first volume of the "Starbound" trilogy.
  There is plenty of action in This Shattered World and the mysteries that Jubilee and Flynn uncovered kept me turning the pages. I did, however, find the romance and the chemistry between these two characters are a bit underdeveloped and lacking. I find it a bit hard to believe that can find romance especially when their world is quite literally falling apart. Nonetheless This Shattered World is a very strong second book that can be enjoyed by young and adult readers. I look forward to seeing how every thing gets resolved in the next book of this series.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong war violence but most of it takes place off the page. There are some disturbing images and minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Across the Universe series by Beth Revis, Sky Chaser series by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Rummanah Aasi

Description: While picking up milk for his children's cereal, a father is abducted by aliens and finds himself on a wild adventure through time and space.

Review: A little boy and his little sister awake one morning with milk for their cereal. Their mother is away on business and their father is buried, reading in the paper while the childrens' sit impatiently and hungry for breakfast. The siblings concoct a plan to persuade their father to drop his paper and go get milk by telling him his tea isn't as good without milk. The father reluctantly makes a trip to the story, but takes a very long time from coming back to the story with their coveted milk. When he does finally arrive back home, he has a story to tell, a story involving aliens; pirates; ponies; wumpires (not the handsome, sparkly ones but the brooding kind); and a stegosaurus professor who pilots a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier (which looks suspiciously like a hot-air balloon). Fortunately, the Milk reminds me a lot of Douglas Adams' bizarre plots and humor. There is a lot of things that young readers will enjoy: time travel, treachery, and tongue in cheek humor and narrative twists as the father goes to great lengths at rescuing his bottle of milk at every turn. The illustrations by Young fills the pages with sketchy, highly stylized and exaggerated images, stretched and pointy, bringing the crazed creatures father meets on his perilous journey to life. Many kids just like siblings in the book will scratch their head and wonder if they believe the father's wild stories at all. I think this would make a great read aloud.

Rating: 4 stars

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

If you like this book try: Sideway Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Rummanah Aasi
Princess of Thorns is a loose fairy tale retelling, weaving elements of the various famous tales such as "Sleeping Beauty", "Rapunzel", and "Swan Lake" while creating a unique and compelling story of its own merit. Readers expecting a faithful retelling of any of the above fairy tales will be disappointed with picking up this book. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book.

Description: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora's throne ten years ago. Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it's too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

Review:  Jay has created an interesting fantasy kingdom that is home to humans, fairies, ogres, and witches; however, I wished the world building was a bit stronger so we could see how the kingdom works on a grand scale. The story of Princess of Thorns is engaging and unfolds incrementally creating suspense and romantic tension throughout the book. Briar-born siblings Aurora and Jor have been in hiding for 10 years, ever since their mother, Sleeping Beauty, sacrificed herself in order to protect her children from the Ogre Queen. Now Jor has been kidnapped, and the fairy-blessed Aurora must save him before his blood is spilled and the prophecy of living darkness comes true.
  I liked the main characters of Princess Thorns. Aurora is a very likable female heroine. She is tough and strong when it is required of her, but also has vulnerabilities that draws us closer to her. Her loyalty and determination to save her brother is admirable though at times a bit unrealistic such as solely fetching an army to fight the Ogre Queen. She is reluctant to trust anyone unless there is some bargin in which she can gain from, which is exactly how she meets Prince Niklaas.
  Disguised as a boy and calls herself Ror, she teams up with the repulsive Niklaas, when he promises to help her find an army in exchange for an introduction to "his sister," Ror agrees. Like Aurora, Prince Niklaas is also a complex character. He reminded me a lot of Flynn Rider from the movie Tangled. Under his handsome and overly confident bravado, he too is trying to escape from his own destiny of turning into a swan by his eighteenth birthday unless he finds and marries a princess. You get to see and fall for the real Niklaas as you get to know him better through his journey with Aurora.
 Aurora and Niklaas had great romantic tension. They definitely had a hate-love relationship as their preconceived notions about one another stood in their way. As their journey occurs over the span of several days, their relationship grows believably as we see them transition between friends and something more. When the truth is revealed to both characters about each other, it was refreshing to see that it took time as they sought trust and forgiveness for one another as well as repair their strained relationship. 
  While there were some interesting twists to the story, I felt the ending was a bit too rushed. The promised epic battle scene lacked oomph and was resolved too quickly. Though the book could stand on its own and it does not have a cliffhanger, I do hope that Jay returns to this world as I was left with some questions. 
Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, some crude humor, and a violent suicide that takes place off the page. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Beauty by Robin McKinley, Book of Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, Impossible by Nancy Werlin
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