Tag Archives: mystery

The Truth Commision by Susan Juby

truthcommissionThe Truth Commission

by Susan Juby

Reminiscent of but less cynical than The Year of Secret Assignments (or Finding Cassie Crazy,) The Truth Commission explores the meaning of “truth” and the effects of truth-telling vs lying with a plot that started off deceptively breezy and quirky but progressively gaining weight as the readers realize that the tale is a lot more than presenting some artsy high schoolers’ (and the author’s) mercurial whims.  I definitely got hooked about half way through the story once the successful older sister’s dark secrets start spilling out, and totally appreciated the twists and the examination of unreliable narrative devices.  A memorable read.

Cultural Querries:

  1. I don’t understand why the school’s mission in multiple languages would be printed in both Mandarin and Cantonese, since for the most part Mandarin and Cantonese are the same in written form, unless one (like some publications in Hong Kong) tries to mimic the colloquial usages (like in online discourses and tabloids). Its usage has been limited mostly to Hong Kong and even though has gained some popularity, is still definitely not the practice in official documents. Since one of the main characters is half Korean, it is evident that the author is aware of the existence of other Asian cultures.  So, why not Japanese, Korean, or Hindi? Is this a deliberate choice by the author to show the supreme quirkiness of the school or is it really the practice of that specific Canadian region?  (Is it set in British Columbia?)
  2. I also wonder about the portrayal of Dusk’s half Korean and half Jewish family background.  She is described as rebelling against a family of doctors and her “tiger” parents’ expectations. It did make me cringe a little, even if I am quite aware of how this is the reality of many young people.

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

lemoncelloEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

I can easily understand why my 4th grade students have raved about this one: there’s the thrill of watching a complex puzzle being solved, the excitement of exploring new friendship, the coziness of strengthening old friendship, and the novelty of discovering inventions of a high-tech, but still story-filled, library.  Plus a little bit of safe scare: facing down and defeating villains that really aren’t that threatening from beginning to end. This is old school children’s mystery fun.

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Candymakers

candymakersby Wendy Mass
A delightful concoction of implausible coincidences, innocent spying, interconnectivity, and childish pleasures. I can’t quite stomach the excessive amount of sweets being served as main meals but I imagine my younger self would have been quite fascinated. The candy making process and rules are highly entertaining, and perhaps even informative! As most Wendy Mass books, this one is all about how to appreciate one’s life and accept one’s lot while still strive to expand understanding of the world around. No wonder my students love it so much and it appeals to both genders and mystery and friendship book lovers.

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Far From You

farfromyouby Tess Sharpe

Genre(s): Mystery, Romance, Realistic Fiction

Basic Content Information: 17 year-old girl, former prescription drug addict, recovering from two traumatic events in life: surviving a car crash at age 14, leaving her crippled and scared (does not hinder her attractiveness from others); her best friend, a girl who is a faithful Christian withholding her dark secret of being a lesbian, was murdered in front of her — now will have to face distrust from parents, police, her best friend’s brother, and at the same time piece together the evidences that will lead her to the identity (and hopefully arrest) of the murderer.  The book is told in present tense, first person perspective, chapters alter from present to a moment in the past (still told in present tense) that reflects, affects, or triggers events in the next present day chapter.  It is a murder thriller and a love song in a very leisure pace.

Edition: Netgalley

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

Publisher: Hyperion/Disney

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

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We Were Liars

wewereliarsAuthor: E. Lockhart

Genre(s): This is a realistic fiction … and a mystery… and also something else that I simply cannot reveal.  Trust me.  You’ll thank me for not giving it that specific genre label before your journey with it.

Basic Content Information: We have an unreliable, shaky narrator.  We have a privileged family with many untold secrets.  We have drama.  There is a teen romance complicated by a case of class struggle.  There are summers on a private island, by the beach, in big houses, near Martha’s Vineyard.  The writing is both no-nonsense, straightforward and full of hidden meanings and messages.

Edition: Netgalley

Pub Date: May 13th 2014

Publisher: Delacorte Press

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media.  The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

dragontattooby by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland (Translator)
Audiobook narrated by Simon Vance

I have SO many issues with this book.  The top three:

It has the longest, most boring exposition section of pretty much ALL the books I’ve ever read.  The tedious laundry lists of the company and personal histories that do not propel the story and also do not really illuminate the personalities that much more made me want to just KILL the audio!

I find neither of the protagonists portrayed convincingly to fit the author’s high esteem of both: Mikael does not quite “show” how he is the most moral person as proclaimed by other characters and the narrator; and Salander seems to me more broken and angry than badass and vulnerable.  I really don’t find her appealing.  But, hey, I’m not a fanboy/fanman of this character.

I am not particularly squeamish or prim when it comes to book/story contents — as long as I feel that whatever details or events included in the book serve some literary, storytelling, or creative purposes.  But for some reason, the portrayal of Salander (the female protagonist) really bothers me — her “toughness” and lethal personalities, mixed with her supreme helplessness and brokenness are all probably very realistic (I’m no psychoanalyst) and yet this mixture does not appeal to my sensibilities at all.  The fact that so many young and middle-aged men highly recommended this book to me, and especially expressed their appreciation of Salander as a cool character made me actually uncomfortable and worried.

This, along with some other children’s and Young Adult books I read in 2013 featuring “tough girls” made me start pondering about the current trend of readers’ readiness and urge to applaud tough female characters in books.  Because, it seems to me, that instead of patience, resilience, open-mindedness, what I consider true strengths in human spirit, many authors have been creating vengeful or single-minded “tough” female characters whose most prominent and “appealing” personality is rooted mostly in aggression: a traditionally (and physiologically?) masculine trait. What are we applauding then? Are we praising a female character because she is free to be “whomever” she wants to be, liberated from the traditional and “weak” traits associated with femininity – or are we just saying that she is to be lauded because she behaves more like a male specimen since masculinity is clearly superior?

I will be reading many many 2014 Young Adult books this coming year and how young women are portrayed in these books will be something I pay special attention to and report here.

By the way, here’s a funny re-title from the site: betterbooktitles —

BetterBookTitle for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

truebluescoutsby Kathi Appelt

(narrated by Lyle Lovett for Audible)

This is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be!  And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listening to Appelt’s narrative voice brought to live by Lyle Lovett: folky, hilarious, tender, with just the right amount of controlled drama.  This environmental tall tale set in the swamp land, featuring anthropomorphized critters, caricatured villains, down home, real but also realer than life characters, and mythical beings is perfect for a family and classroom read aloud!  One of my favorite 2013 books for sure!

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