Tag Archives: YA

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Why I Serve on Selection/Award Lists Commmittees

The reasons are really quite simple: to force myself to read constantly, for a purpose, and reach beyond my own comfort zone.

I’ve been quite lucky in the last 15 years or so, to have the opportunity to serve on various children’s and YA literature selection/award committees.

Each experience pushed me to expose myself to genres or books that I would not have reached for naturally —

For more than five years now, I work with Monica Edinger and Jonathan Hunt annually to prepare for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Both are dear friends who read quickly and have strong opinions — they keep me on my toes and encourage me to seek out worthy contenders and to discuss and argue about them!

Notable Children’s Recordings committee (back in the late 90s’) taught me how to listen for technical excellence, for great voice acting talents, and for content respecting children’s intellect and sensibilities.

Twice on the Newbery (2002 and 2013) propelled me to consider each author’s crafts critically: be they creators of nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, or humorous realistic stories, etc.

The two years serving on the Notable Children’s Books (2008 and 2009, with about 3000 books submitted each year) committee really impressed on me the breadth and depth of the children’s publishing field and even though I was not working with younger readers/listeners, I got to relive the beauty and joy of picture books that I almost had otherwise forgotten!

Deciding to help with CYBILS first round of Graphic Novels selection panel (2013) was my way of urging myself to know more about this ever trending field for children and YA and it definitely served me well — and of course, I hope that it serves the world at large well, too! I also served as a final round judge for Cybils Fantasy panel in 2006, supporting passionately for our winner Jonathan Stroud, Ptolemy’s Gate.)

Now, embarking on the 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults (even though my term of service does not start until February) adventure, I can’t even start fathoming the great benefit I’ll reap from this experience: becoming more familiar with the field: the top authors, new and talented creators, trending and/or tired themes, and perhaps even glimpses of future directions.

And every committee also allowed me to admire and take from my fellow committee members the wealth of literary knowledge the enriched my own.

Yes, I definitely feel quite selfish when it comes to “serving” on these committees — but, hopefully it also in turn serves my community: having a well stocked mental library to draw inspirations and information from, I have ready answers and recommendations whenever a child asks for the next book or series to fall in love with, whenever I need to compile a reading list or conduct a literary lesson, and whenever consulted by teachers, administrators, and parents.

Serving on these committees is really the best (and possibly the ONLY) way for me, an extremely slow reader, to continue sharpening my tools of the trade! So, let me continue to be indulgent and selfish… and revel in the excitement and responsibilities of such committees!

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports, Views

Half way through WE WERE LIARS by E…

Half way through WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart. So far, intriguing and easy to fall for :)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Far Far Away

farfarawayby Tom McNeal

An usual narrator (ghost of Jacob Grimm, the German folklorist), a small town that feels subtly unsettling, and a villain that really creeped me out made this a memorable read.  The book feels like a combination of a classic Hawthorne short story and a Coen Brothers movie — the sinister thread goes through the whole book and you are just wondering worriedly what’s going to happen next… I was not sure who’s the audience of this dark tale but am hoping that it will find some deserved adoration from teen readers.


Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

The Kingkiller Chronicle, vol. 1 and vol. 2

wisemansfearVol. 1 (Day1) : The Name of the Wind and

Vol. 2 (Day 2): The Wise Man’s Fear

by Patrick Rothfuss

Altogether, these two volumes are more than 1,500 pages long and the audio book versions took about 61 hours to finish.  I mostly enjoyed the listening experience: the first volume is definitely tighter and since everything is new and the world is un-encountered before, I had a little more patience in all the details that Rothfuss put into the tale: colors of people’s clothing, the types of foods, some basic societal rules, etc.  And there are definitely a lot of thrilling moments and some good passages.

The Wise Man’s Fear, though, suffered from being too detailed at moments, too many similes thrown into the passages (that really could and should have been edited OUT of the tale,) and just too long.  I am really annoyed by authors who decided to use a particular narrative “device” and could not keep to the simplest or fundamental rules of that device.  Here, each volume is supposed to be tales told to the scribe within the duration of ONE SINGLE DAY (where people do go to sleep, where the current day contains events such as robbery, lunch, fighting, etc.)  So, almost 1000 pages of words (no matter how FAST one might be able to speak or write down the words) simply don’t compute.

One learns in writing classes that in order to create convincing and lifelike characters, one must know all the background stories (what colors they like, who was their first crush, when was their first experiences of fear and when and why and how, etc.) of the major characters.  But so much of these details should remain in the mind of the author.  Once in a while, perhaps, something can be drawn out and fill in a missing piece of a character’s traits.  But, the Wise Man’s Fear is full of such details breaking through the backstage door and cavorting on the main stage.  It just didn’t work for me.

I also got quite bothered by Rothfuss’ insistence of describing every single emotion or experience with a comparison to something else.  It is OK, Patrick R, to sometimes just say that you feel soothed by someone’s voice without having to compare the soothing feeling to a mother’s gentle touch to a child’s cheeks and the voice is just like a lover’s breathy whisper by your ears.  Some figure of speech enhances a narrative, but overindulgence in such narrative tool becomes tedious eventually.

All that said, did I love a LOT of what went into the books?  Absolutely.  I loved the world building, the mystery, the tentative romantic relationships, the exploration of language, means of communication, and how world history can be shaped and reshaped.  And I will definitely read (or listen to) the final installment when it is published next year.  Still a series worth recommending.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Rose Under Fire

roseunderfireby Elizabeth Wein

I have only read three books by Elizabeth Wein.  Years ago, The Winter Prince, last year, Code Name Verity, and now Rose Under Fire.  But, I now know, unwaveringly, that this is an author who can steal people’s hearts and cleanse their souls with her storytelling wizardry.

Elizabeth Wein, my friends, has a creative mind that goes forever deepr and her stories always take you to unexpected but exciting places — no matter their subject matters.  Her mind is so incredibly nimble that she can organize very complex threads into easily followed paths through intricate mazes she has devised for her readers. And, oh, the hearts and souls of her characters and the epic scale of their sufferings and triumphs! They linger on and sustain you like the LIFT under the wing of an airplane and a soaring kite! Read this book NOW and tell everyone else to read it.

I know that young teen readers will take to Rose’s story more readily than they with Verity and can’t wait to recommend this to them all!


Filed under Book Notes

Boxers / Saints (Boxset)

boxersandsaintsby Gene Luen Yang

As I said in my notes earlier, my reactions to this two-book graphic novel set are complex and still unresolved even after several days’ reflection.  Partly because that I found so much of it outstanding, so I did not want to be nitpicking about certain details and I don’t want to color anyone’s reaction to this historical fiction based on my largely emotional reactions as a Chinese American reader who wants everyone to know THE WHOLE STORY!!  I also don’t want anyone to think that I KNOW the WHOLE STORY.  In fact, I had to do some research as I read the book since my textbook history knowledge of this rebellion was also mixed with folklore and stories I saw on tv when I was little.

I am quite aware that Yang did not set out to write a historical treatment of the entire movement, but to personalize individual experiences so that he, and the readers, can explore the impacts of these events.  He couldn’t have been more successful in reaching his goal.  I greatly appreciate how there are never easy answers in Gene Luen Yang’s stories — the readers are left to wonder whether to be angry or sympathetic toward the characters; to admire or abhor what they do; and to be enlightened or perplexed by their reasons for their actions.

I’m glad that Yang included a list of the books he used to create this narrative since the origin of the Boxers and their practices are much debated topics amongst Chinese historians.  The references to the boxers’ being spiritually possessed by powerful deities based on folk beliefs are in agreement with most historians’ findings and there was a real leader of the movement named Red Lantern Chu.  I wish, however, that some sources translated from Chinese scholars were consulted and that the main sources have more balanced views from both sides.

I wish that I could have been convinced of Bao’s ignorance of Qin Shi Huang who is one of the most famous personalities in Chinese history — even if he might not have featured greatly in the opera — but was glad that the First Emperor is portrayed with a complexity of his own.

I wish that I had not cringed so much by Yang’s referencing/highlighting the more exotic but less significant aspect of the rebellion: how some boxers believed that foreign forces’ success was due to their utilizing the “yin power” (usually refers to the female spiritual power) which is evil and undesirable (drinking menstrual blood, flags woven from women’s pubic hair, etc.)  Even if these were documented facts (as Diana Preston claims in her The Boxer Rebellion,) I simply couldn’t help feeling ashamed and hoping fervently that young readers won’t mistake such “foreign” notions as typical of my fellow countrymen in the 21st century. (Does the inclusion of such claims enhance the storytelling and the power of this book?  I am too shaken by it emotionally to see it… perhaps someone else could convince me otherwise!?)

I wish that the slogan on the war banner had been written out in traditional Chinese characters because the events happened way before the simplification of the characters.

The above are all pretty much about Boxers — and I didn’t really get a chance to talk about Saints — which, for some odd reason, I found thoroughly convincing and more intense, although it is only half the length of Boxers.  I found the timeline crisscrossing of the two books very effective and the two pages (282 in Boxers and 158 in Saints) depicting compassionate deities (Guan Yin and Christ) with the same visual design absolutely breathtaking.

These two books can generate so much discussion and are so thought provoking that I have to tag them Highly Recommended even if I had some personal reservations…


Filed under Book Notes

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and Word Count)

theoceanattheendofthelaneby Neil Gaiman

This is typical Gaiman: the nightmarish landscapes and events are always presented with a reassuring glow of beauty that makes the scene and the story much less horrifying. Rather, it becomes purely entertaining. A bit of chill here and there and things mostly work out — except that there is always that trademark tinge of melancholy – like a lonely tinkling of a music box that plays a haunting and unfamiliar tune, slowly coming to a pause. The book reads like an expanded short story and I think it probably would have benefited from being a short story, rather than a novel (which even though meets the “novel” length requirement, reads more or less like a novella, with such a local setting and a tight plot time frame.)

Did I enjoy it? Definitely. Did it sweep me off of my feet? Not like some of his other work did in the past. However, since Gaiman proclaimed that this is as close to an “actual account” of his childhood as he could manage, the readers do get a glimpse of this creative writer’s mental landscape and the psyches that bring us illuminating stories.

I got a bit curious about the definition of novels, novella, etc. by length, and found this list on the Nebula award:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more.
  • At the author’s request, a novella-length work published individually, rather than as a part of a collection, anthology, or other collective work, shall appear in the novel category.

Source: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/faq/

On the same site, I also found an article about the definition of “a word”:

“So, years ago, publishers set up a standard definition: a word is six characters (including spaces).” — more detailed explanation and rationale for this can be found here:


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes


room by Emma Donoghue

I definitely was expecting a slightly different book after hearing about it from many students who were enthralled by the book, describing it as a “psychological thriller” and very creepy.  It turned out to be more about the process of socialization of a semi-feral child and the power of persisting maternal and familial love.  The strength lies in the author’s deft encapsulation of the inner and exterior voices of a five-year-old (super intelligent) child.  I do question the utter success of the escape and the short time it takes for both the boy and the mother to adjust / readjust to the Outside — with the understanding that this is not a psychology textbook but an author’s imagined world.  I listened to the audio book version and the voice actors are simply superb!  

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

The Magicians

magiciansby Lev Grossman

I have several different layers of reactions to this book.

Started reading it when it was first published and didn’t quite manage to get too far.  I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and the tone (smart and snarky and somehow languish as well — there’s a definite “drawl” in the sentence delivery here) to pick it up again and finish it this time around.  And gosh, how much I HATED parts of the book!!!

Good things first: Grossman definitely knows his fantasy tropes and knows how to subvert some of the conventions.  Magic isn’t easy.  Magical lands can really hurt/kill you.  Being a magician might not be as glamorous as one think.  And he definitely delivered some cool inventive magic powers in the book.  I love the transformation from human to geese, the various elemental and physical magic spells and powers, and the time/space travel scenarios, among many other minor and interesting magic tricks.

But.. but… but…. Quentin is SUCH A BORE. Such an angsty whiny little man that I simply couldn’t muster any compassion for him and his predicaments.  The constant search for happiness and the disappointments, the high school and college romantic affairs that turn out to be just petty relationship drivels.  And Alice as a super-magician was just a convenient device so she could save the day and sacrifice herself so that Quentin can somehow have a revelation (a bit too little too late) at the end of the tale.

Grossman managed to create a really unattractive fantasy book that makes me want to cry… in making sure that the readers realize that magic and the fantasy world is Real and is Hard and is Dangerous, he also made sure that much of the charm of a great fantasy novel is destroyed by his words.

Upon discussing this book with my teen readers, though, I realized that perhaps it’s just me being a middle aged reader who is tired and sick of anything dealing with relationship conflicts. These high school readers sense and fantasize about all those college romances as  something to ponder and to look forward to and to experience in their near future.  So, those quarrels, sex partnering, betrayals, loyalties, etc. add to the attraction of the book, not diminish it.  I heard that the sequel is better.. should I continue??


Filed under Uncategorized

Batman: Arkham Asylum (15th Anniversary Edition)

batmanaa by Grant Moorison, art by Dave McKean

To some readers, namely my 12-year-old students, this book is a total disappointment.  It has the brand name Batman on the title.  It IS a sort of origin story — of the Arkham Asylum which houses many infamous villains, including the Joker, of the franchise; and it does have segments with Batman in them.  But, they feel somehow cheated because there is almost no treatment of the fight scenes during the Hide and Seek game on the Asylum Ground.  A couple of pages, with McKean’s signature dream-like artwork hastily showing Batman  dispensing of all the Asylum inmates, are all they got out of these fight scenes.  And as super hero comics readers, they were not satisfied.

I felt differently.  As a McKean art adorer, I enjoyed all the panels, both the really detailed close-ups and the dream-line distanced treatments.  And I am totally ok with not “watching” longer sequences of the fights.  I enjoyed the psychoanalytically inspired (albeit superficially so) back story of Doctor Arkham more than my students.  However, I won’t say that this is one to highly recommend to either Graphic Novel enthusiasts or novices.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


mindwinterblood15794941by Marcus Sedgwick

I put up two covers for this book because I found it so strikingly obvious that the UK edition and the US edition attempt to appeal to different readers.  The UK edition has the back of a man in robe holding a gleaming dagger while we are stared at by a beautifully young woman with mysterious patterns overlaying her skin.  Even the type choices are different (not to say that in the UK Sedgwick’s name is the selling point while in the U.S. he has to be “explained” as a Printz honor recipient.

The two design of the title are even different where the UK version Midwinterblood is one word but the US edition the title reads Midwinter Blood.

I have to confess that I was not all that impressed or emotionally invested at the beginning of the book.  It’s that darn high expectations syndrome again: high and enthusiastic praise and push from Monica and the publisher.  Both of them compared the book to other titles I loved — and especially titles that have what I consider “beautiful” writings (such as Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch.)  When I didn’t see the sparkling prose that I was expecting, my eagerness dwindled.  And, the US ARC proclaims that there are Seven Stories of Love and Passion which I interpreted as each story would be an incredibly passionate romance  (again, in the vein of Lips Touch.) Perhaps it’s my close-mindedness, but perhaps this description is indeed misleading.  And from hindsight, I could see how each tale IS a story of passionate love, just not all romantic love.

I am so glad that I stayed with the book.  As it is really clever and original.  The seven stories going back in time, each interconnected in some way, and each containing some unsettling elements (which I adore in short stories,) piece together a whole picture that is powerful and affecting.  Sedgwick even granted my wish by bringing us all back to the first tale, the first characters, and giving us closure.

I’m still left with a couple of questions, though: 1. Are we to interpret the characters ask speaking a Scandinavian language and that everyone of them is from the same linguistic cluster (the Journalist, the Archeologist, and Airman, specifically)  They all seem to have no problem communicating with each other, no matter the time periods and whether the encounter is within the community or with outsiders; and 2. I want to know more about the Orchids and their origins and powers and perhaps stories of greed and desire because of their special qualities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Out of the Pocket

OutofthePocketby Bill Konigsberg

The best adjective I could think of to describe this book is perhaps “earnest.”

The reluctantly outed celebrity quarterback’s story is told with such sincerity and truth that the reader cannot but root for the main character.  Along the way, there is just the right amount of suspense and uncertainty — how everyone might react to the news and accept or disapprove of his sexuality or decision  making — to maintain a high interest level to continue reading.  I read through it quickly because I truly wanted to know what happened next.  The football play-by-play scenes are described with lucidity and are quite exhilarating.  So even this football layman could form clear mental pictures and follow the games with all the thrill a spectator at the games would possess.  That is one of the strengths of this book.

I cannot not quite decide whether Bobby is flesh and blood and completely realized or is a courageous face on the cover of a magazine or national campaign poster, whose story is told to and not quite lived by this reader.  Perhaps he is both — at different times in the telling, depending on whether he is put in the middle of a scenario and reacts, or he is being cool-headedly examined by himself in one of his many his internal monologues.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

The Dead


by Charlie Higson

I am not an aficionado of zombie stories.  Yes, I’ve had a few books and movies under my belt: thoroughly enjoyed World War Z and Zombieland.  But I am in no urgent need for yellow pus, green liquidy drippings, splattered red blood, or all sorts of creatively severed  body parts — any time, anywhere.  I did greatly appreciate the first book in Higson’s zombie series, The Enemy.  And finally got around to read the second installment, a prequel, a “history,” of The Enemy. 

I cannot be more pleased by The Dead.  There is everything I love: exploration of loyalty, what makes someone a leader or a follower, what gives people courage, survival strategies — all told in a highly realized, logically plausible setting and string of events.  Tension and surprises keep the reader incredibly involved and the passages describing the mind deterioration of some characters are simply brilliant.

In a few weeks, I know I’ll be ready for book 3 – The Fear. 



Filed under Book Notes

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and DanteThis was high on my “to-read” list after the January 28th Youth Media Award announcement — It won the Stonewall Award, is a Printz honor and is also the Pura Belpré award winner. And the cover had always spoken to me. But, it took me a whole week to finish reading this easy and not very long book. Mostly because I found myself not being drawn back emotionally to the book every time I put it down and I also didn’t feel compelled to continue reading for a long time. I found Aristotle’s narrative too wordy, too self-analytical, too clinical, even, at times. There’s so much crying and laughing: as if those are the only two actions that can express the emotions of the characters. And the descriptions of the crying and laughing were not that varied. The way the father cries is not distinguishable from the way Dante cries. I think this is a message-y book — but the revelation at the very end of Aristotle’s sexuality does nothing to strengthen the book’s power for me. I can appreciate the everyday life style of the storytelling but at the same time, there is definitely plenty of tightening up that could be done. (Is it necessary to feature an aunt who was shunned by relatives because she was a lesbian and a brother who’s serving time for the murder of a transvestie all in one story and all in one person’s life?)

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Not that far into Aristotle and Dante Discover…

Not that far into Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, this year’s big youth literature winner. Still in my highly critical mode… so, when I see on page 22, “My dad… was always giving me lectures about physical violence,” and on page 23, “And another thing about my father: He didn’t give lectures. Not real ones,” I am baffled and a little annoyed. Is this same father giving lectures or not? Is this the author not being consistent? Is this trying to say something about the narrator being unreliable? So far, the narrator seems honest so this does not sit well… I will continue reading it but there is a tiny fissure in the landscape of my trust for the author or the narrator. Hopefully I’ll get wrapped up in the story and stop paying attention to little inconsistencies.

Leave a comment

February 9, 2013 · 3:58 pm

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore art by…

5805V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore
art by David Lloyd

I really appreciated the intricate storytelling and some of the truly dark moments in this complete collection of the V stories. It’s great to finally know what this classic graphic novel is about and to have read something by the famed Alan Moore. At the same time, I’m not sure that I bought all the philosophical and political views underpinning the characters and the plot line: it seems to run too straight and too narrow down one singular line and everything worked out all according to V’s plans. That said, it is a rewarding read that demands quite a bit of focus and now I have to ponder hard about the ending: is it a brilliant treatment or does it too abrupt and unresolved? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on the series’ ending…

Leave a comment

February 8, 2013 · 6:20 pm

Finished Ready Player One I felt cheated by…

Finished Ready Player One.

I felt cheated by its incredibly simplistic ending and the not at all challenging message of, “Real Life is better than Virtual Life.” Have to say that it’s a great fun run and I really enjoyed Cline’s imagination of all the things one can do in a fantasy game — but they are not so out of what people have already created (except for the total immersion suits but that will come soon enough). When a story is set against a dystopian backdrop and when the characters start the tale by thinking of the big picture, one expects that there are some elements at the end of the tale that mirror or reflect what were presented at the beginning of the story. Mr. Cline did not accomplish that: instead, the story quickly turned into a simple tale of teenage love affair and taking down one evil enemy (or an evil entity) who is not much more than a painted cardboard villain: two-dimensional and quite shallow. So, I guess, I’m chalking this up to a book that I can easily recommend it to teens for pleasure reading but if I want to show anyone that Science Fiction is THE genre that comments on society and challenges many of our accepted notions of modern day life, I will go to so many other books, and not this one. (Epic by Kostick, written for readers as young as 10, deals with so much more ethical and societal issues set in the virtual reality game in a dystopic future, with much action and effective character development comes to mind.)


April 1, 2012 · 7:45 am

This morning’s ALA Youth Media Awards Press Conference…

This morning’s ALA Youth Media Awards Press Conference was fun and full of great titles to cheer and to explore. See the whole list here: http://ala.org/news/pr?id=9108

Leave a comment

January 23, 2012 · 2:34 pm