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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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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Doll Bones

dollbonesby Holly Black

I was pleased that Holly Black decided to maintain the mystery and the suspense over the paranormal scenario of the story all the way to the very very end.  To me, that’s the best part of the whole book.  Some other aspects, however, did not speak to me that much.  I was told the three main characters’ personalities, a bit of their back stories, and about the fact that they had been best friends with such amazing bonds as telling those fantastical stories…. but, as a reader, I never quite “felt” any of these facts.  Partly because on their “quest,” most I saw was their bickering and distrust of each other.

For example, when Zach worried about the two girls’ talking about him behind his back, his thoughts are whether they talked about he smelled bad or that he’s stupid.  I would hope, that after being close friends with each other for years, there might have been some darker, deeper secrets or concerns that made Zach squirm.

There are also just so many details that do not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters.  A list of 27 flavors of donuts that do not carry overt or hidden meanings baffled me.

I was also puzzled by each character’s ability to succinctly explain why have been acting in such a way toward their friends, sounding like what a therapist might present, after listening to 12/13 year olds relating the events and their feelings.  Alice revealed that the reason why she couldn’t believe in Eleanor’s ghost was that “There can’t be a ghost, a real ghost.  Because if there is, then some random dead girl wants to haunt Poppy, but my own dead parents can’t be bothered to come back and haunt me.”   And Poppy’s confession, “I thought that we could do this thing, and when it was over we’d have something that no one else had — an experience that would keep us together.”  Even Zach’s father confessed, “But I’ve been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn’t the kind of protecting that anyone wants.”

Don’t get me wrong — I believe in the validity of all of these statements and those are at the heart of this story — that we act certain ways because there are some additional, underlying emotional reasons which are seldom on the surface for others to interpret quickly or easily.  I just have a bit of trouble with how all of these ideas are delivered as “statements” by these characters.  I wish that readers had chances to perhaps sort some of these out by ourselves.  For example, perhaps in one of the shouting matches, Alice could have said something like, “There are NO GHOSTS!  If there are, WHY WOULDN’T MY PARENTS TALK O ME???!!!”  (haha.. much exaggerated)

I also was not creeped out enough by the book — and I wish I had been — the cover gave me so much hope!

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The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (Ninja Detective #1)

NinjaDetective1by Octavia Spencer

I usually approach books written by celebrities with a bit of trepidation. More often than not, I don’t even bother reading them — just waiting for others’ reactions. But for some reason, I got a positive vibe from the galley. Perhaps because its multi-ethnicity cast portrayed and neatly presented on the cover? My gut feelings proved to be not that wrong. Much like what Spencer enjoyed reading as a child (Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown,) the story is just complex enough to keep the readers’ interest without too many confusing layers and the solutions are somewhat on the easy and happy side — which are thoroughly appropriate for its intended middle grade readership: both entertaining and comforting.

Do I sense that Spencer tried too hard to “balance” the cast with the inclusion of a hearing-impaired Hispanic kid, a black kid, and a Chinese house-keeper/friend? Yup. I sense that. But I’m ok with it because she actually created solid characters whose identities and friendships ring true and whose ethnicities are not the focal point or the plot driving elements. For the most part, the ethnical references are cringe-free. (Except for when Mei-Ling says, “Ni Hao” for a quick morning greeting to those she knows well… instead of the more appropriate “Zao” – for early/morning.) I will have no problem recommending this book to my students and hopefully they will enjoy this mystery with its positive message of community building.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One

leagueofextraordinarygentlemenby Allen Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley

The concept of bringing a lot of 19th century literary characters together to solve a mystery is definitely a fun one — although not unique, at least, not any more in an age of mash-up stories. I enjoyed spotting literary allusions and also learning more about characters or original stories that I was not familiar with. The art is superb. The section with all the Chinese dialog is actually fairly accurate. Kudos! I think I’ll go over all the panels more than once just to enjoy the artists’ talents. Another aspect that’s extraordinarily fun is how the whole thing is done in an 1898 serial publication style. All in all, worth my time!

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All the Truth That’s In Me

allthetruthby Julie Berry

I couldn’t put the book down, especially toward the end — really wanting to know how everything played out. I don’t want to spoil it for other readers so won’t say how the plot/romance/mystery/fate were handled by the author — suffice it to say that I was quite impressed.

The most impressive aspect of the book, to me, is the author’s ability to maintain the inner voice, authentic and powerful, of Judith.  Every thought and emotion felt raw and genuine.  Did I sometimes wish that she had thought or acted differently because I wished all the best for her at the moment? Definitely.  But did I want her to act completely rationally — definitely not — because then we would not have had this very readable and more importantly, for a school librarian, “sellable” book to my middle school readers.   I already know that those who enjoyed Scarlet Letter and The Crucible would find this a much easier but nonetheless as gripping addition on their reading list!

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The Lost Symbol

lostsymbolby Dan Brown

I’m so happy that 1. I didn’t spend time reading this book.  Instead, I listened to it on audible.  It was LONG, but at least I was walking, or washing dishes, and didn’t spend my otherwise precious reading time on this.  Paul Michael, the reader, is quite adroit and I enjoyed his voice and inflections — and the subtle but effective switches between characters.  But, I cannot say that I enjoyed the book as much as its reader’s voice.

At first, I was somewhat intrigued by the exploration of Symbology, Free Mason history, and some supposedly high-tech science research on harnessing human consciousness…. but it all turned out to be just like Dan Brown’s other books: inserting very elementary knowledge of all these fields and channelling such knowledge through supposedly learned experts in each field to “explain” away the twisted plot and connections between events.  The bottom line, however, is that many many words are repeated and wasted to tell a potentially intriguing story that simply didn’t not live to that potential.

(For example: why would Langdon be forced to wear a blindfold to go to the “secret” place and experience pages of claustrophobia and doubts when the destination turned out to be somewhere he completely recognized — and should be recognizable by millions?)

Also, perhaps I’m just too jaded a reader for this — I completely predicted and guessed the identity of the villain a couple of hundred pages before it is revealed in the story.

The only bits that I enjoyed were the gruesome descriptions of tortures and deaths!

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A Study in Scarlet

sherlock-_-a-study-in-scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
I never got to read this original story that has inspired so many other renditions. I loved “A Study in Emerald,” a short story by Neil Gaiman in the collection Fragile Things and thoroughly enjoyed the BBC Sherlock episode entitled “A Study in Pink.” So pleased to report that this is indeed a fascinating mystery. Now I think I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes tales: short and long. Happy about it.

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Sisters Grimm #1: The Fairy-Tale Detectives

sistersgrimm by Michael Buckley

I read this series not in order but it didn’t hurt the enjoyment since each story has its central conflict to resolve and there’s a nicely tied up ending for each one. This first story sets up the backdrop quite nicely, explaining how the fairy tale creatures (the Everafters) got to Ferryport Landing and how the sisters came to assist their grandmother in playing the detectives to capture the culprits in magical crimes. It’s all very clean, imaginative fun and beloved by many of my young readers.

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The Darkness Dwellers Kiki Strike #3 Galley by…

8680025The Darkness Dwellers: Kiki Strike #3. (Galley)
by Kirsten Miller

Finished. The first 2013 children’s book that I got to read. A whole bunch of girls (5-8 grade) have been waiting for this to come out for a long long time! Hurray for its final appearance AND happy that they will definitely enjoy it. They will find that the plotting is as adventuresome and surprising as the previous two installments and the tone is as sassy. It’s also delightful to read Ananka’s TIPS for girls that encourage kindness and level-headedness throughout the story.

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February 5, 2013 · 10:14 pm

Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

I always wanted to read this book — and more than one teachers at school urged me to read it. Since I can’t really read it this year – I downloaded the audio book read skillfully by Marc Thompson. Thompson definitely did the story justice with expertly designed and executed voices for the many characters in the tale. The story itself satisfied: a wonderful blend of life-or-death/survival scenarios and the warmth of friendship and inter-generational support. Although there are some really despicable adults in the tale, there are also so many caring ones that eventually made the three children’s lives better.

I anticipated a lot more “magic” due to the title and the cover design and felt slightly disappointed when I realized that it’s mostly a tale of young immigrants and their struggles finding their places in the world and supporting their families. All three protagonists’ stories are definitely compelling. Kirby then introduced some magical elements in the form of the golems and the golem’s “heart” for the clockwork man. Being a picky and sometimes narrow-minded genre-purist, I found this mixture a bit disconcerting — although it was quite satisfying to read those fantasy bits. I don’t think any child reader will be bothered by this mixture of historical/realistic story telling and elements of magic.

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Pieby Sarah Weeks

This is a short and charming caper story with some not-quite-so-believable reconciliations — especially the incredibly fast and easy resolution of the mother-daughter relationship which was so extremely strained. I did enjoy the notion of aunt Polly being such a generous soul and that her legacy was felt and practiced throughout the town by those who truly loved her. I think many young readers will find great satisfaction in reading this story but those who came to PIE because they loved So B. It! should be told before hand to not expect the same kind of intensity, originality, and affecting ending as that previous most-beloved tale.

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Brain Camp

Brain Campby Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks

It’s really quite an oddly enjoyable weird tale. Some of the images can be disturbing, but effectively and purposefully so. I think plenty of young readers will find this a very interesting read.


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The Recruit

The Recruit (Cherub #1)by Robert Muchamore (First in the Cherub series)

It’s definitely a fun ride. Many young readers must really enjoy the fast pace, the satisfying notion that one can behave badly with light consequences or even rewarded for such behaviors, and the espionage aspects of the storyline.

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The Name of This Book is Secret

The Name of This Book Is Secretby Pseudonymous Bosch

I really should have heeded the recommendations, enthusiastic and spirited, from many different readers in several grades for the last few years. Why I felt reluctant to read this title for so long, I have no idea. Reading this book was absolutely a fun experience! Although some more experienced readers might find the meta-fiction aspect a bit heavy handed or derivative (ala Snicket or Scieszka & Lane,) I think young readers who encounter this type of storytelling format for the first will definitely eat it up with gusto! At the same time, I don’t find myself propelled to read on the rest of the series. What is lacking? Perhaps certain genuine emotional bond between this reader and the characters who serve as pieces on a game board and don’t quite come through as “real” people.

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