Tag Archives: YA fiction

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Book Love (3)


For the month of May, in honor of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite reads by/about Asians/Asian Americans.

The YA graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, is a recent read and firmly in my “favorite books” category! This graphic novel by Jen Wang is completely swoon-worthy, taking me back to some of my favorite manga reads when I was a teen.

Prince Sebastian’s parents are pressuring him, at age 16, to find a bride, but he is instead thrilled to have discovered a talented dressmaker. At night he becomes Lady Crystallia, a fashion icon. Frances, who dreams of a career in fashion design is at first happy to design dresses for the prince, and easily keeps his secret. But when it becomes apparent that in order to keep his secret, she must give up her dreams, she has to make a difficult decision, protect her friend or leave him to strike out on her own. A romantic tale of loyalty and being true to oneself.

First Quarter Reading List 2017


I thought I’d keep a running list of the books I read quarterly, as well as posting a full list at the end of the year. Here are the books I’ve read and loved so far this first quarter of 2017. While I’ve read 30 books so far, I’m way behind on my reading. More great books keep popping up. If only I could read and do nothing else! 🙂 Would love to hear what books you’re reading and loving!

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All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher (illus by Jess Pauwels) ARC

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Mama Loves You So by Terry Pierce (illus by Simone Shin) ARC

In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (adult fic)

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins ARC

Egg by Kevin Henkes

The Takedown by Corrie Wang ARC

My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce (illus by Carol Schwartz) ARC

Flying Lessons and Other Short Stories edited by Ellen Oh

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

March Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

Hug It Out by Louise Thomas

Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Silvensky ARC

Are You an Echo? translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, Michiko Tsubori (illus by Toshikado Hajiri)

The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LeReau (illus by Matt Myers)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howard (illus by Rafael López)

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina by Kara LaReau (illus by Jen Hill)

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham (adult humor)

Dark Horses by Cecily Von Ziegesar

A Million Worlds With You by Claudia Gray

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

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Welcome to the Spotlight Vivian Vande Velde and 23 Minutes


I have long been a fan of Vivian Vande Velde. And doesn’t she have the coolest name ever? She has written a number of books for readers of all ages. Some of my favorites of hers include, Never Trust a Dead Man and Heir Apparent. I’m adding her newest YA to that list.


23 Minutes by Vivian Vande Velde (Boyds Mill Press/2016)

When Zoe steps into the bank, clutching papers she stole from her group home, she’s only hoping to get out of the sudden downpour and catch her breath, but then a nice man is kind to her after she drops her papers. She is unused to being treated with kindness. And then a bank robber comes in and shoots and kills the man when he tries to be a hero. Zoe has an unusual gift – she can turn back time for 23 minutes and try to fix or change events, but she only has 10 tries. And with each playback, with each try, she gets to know the people affected, especially the kind man, better, but each playback results in more bloodshed. Can she save everyone before the 10th playback? Exciting and gripping page-turing story with classic Vivian Vande Velde tension. I could not put this book down and read it in one sitting.

I asked the author: How did you come up with the idea for 23 Minutes and what was the process of writing it like?

I can only talk about 23 Minutes by starting with a previous book.  I’ve played before with the idea of someone faced with a problem where she gets to see the consequences of different actions she might take.  That earlier someone is Giannine and the book is Heir Apparent, and the context is a futuristic virtual reality type of game, with the added factor that due to a mishap Giannine is stuck in the game until she successfully completes it.  A bad decision there means Giannine’s game character gets killed and the game reboots, and Giannine must start over.  People have described the story as “Groundhog Day” meets Jumanji.  By that description, you can tell that Heir Apparent is not meant to be taken too seriously.  Yes, I’ve set it up so that if Giannine doesn’t disconnect from the game in time, her brain will overheat and she could die.  But I suspect that most readers know that isn’t going to happen just as surely as they know Peter Rabbit isn’t going to end up in Farmer McGregor’s pie.

I wanted to revisit that idea of action/seeing consequences/trying a different solution/repeat, but I wanted it to be less humorous and with immediate real life (or real death) results.  I’d been mentally playing with possibilities but was getting nowhere when I came up with the first line:

“The story starts with an act of stunning violence.”

That would be clear and immediate warning to readers that this book was not a comedy and was not for the same readers as my most recent Frogged.

Once I actually started putting words to paper, the writing went fairly quickly, with each decision I made having consequences further along in the story.  Zoe, the 15 year-old main character in 23 Minutes, has the ability to replay the past 23 minutes of her life.  (There are, of course, limits and complications to what she can do.)  But how would you react if someone told you she could “redo” time–and couldn’t prove it because the new version of events would be the only ones you could remember?  So Zoe has been under psychiatric care.  She’s also in foster care, as her family has broken up, partially because of her perceived mental illness.  As a result, she is distrustful of adults, quick to make judgments, and wary of sharing her gift, as doing so has frequently resulted in a worse final situation than the original.  Still, when she witnesses a bank robbery where an innocent bystander gets killed–a young man who has just been kind to her–she decides against her better instincts to get involved.  But the solution is not as simple as calling the police from the safety of outside the bank.  Zoe replays the 23 minutes repeatedly, and can’t help noticing that people are more complicated than she originally judged them, treating her differently depending on how she speaks to them.  And in the meantime she finds herself more and more drawn to Daniel, that handsome young man who–no matter what she does–always seems in the line of fire.

For more about Vivian and her books, check out her web site. And do check out her books, especially 23 Minutes!

And of course, I can’t end a spotlight post without offering a copy of the book! You know the drill:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, April 9th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, April 12th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading! Thanks for stopping by!

Welcome to the Spotlight Jennifer McKissack and Sanctuary


I’m thrilled to shine the spotlight on talented author Jennifer McKissack and her spine-chilling novel, Sanctuary! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy!


Sanctuary by Jennifer McKissack (Scholastic/2015)

When 17-year-old Cecilia’s aunt dies and her cantankerous uncle stops paying for her tuition at her boarding school, Cecilia returns to Sanctuary, an old estate on an island off the coast of Maine. She has mixed feelings about returning – while she grew up there with happy memories, the past also haunts her. Her father died there, her mother was committed to an asylum, and her grandmother and sister perished in a fire there. A mysterious visitor, a young professor who is interested in Cecilia’s beloved library, draws her attention, but not as much as the strange happenings on the island. Cecilia fears she might be losing her mind as her mother had, and yet, she must solve the mysteries of the island. A haunting tale full of intrigue.

Spotlight on Jennifer McKissack:

How did SANCTUARY come to be? And what was the path to publication?

REBECCA. It’s a gothic novel that enthralled me as a teen and I’ve returned to as an adult. SANCTUARY isn’t a retelling of that classic, but I tried to capture the tone and sensibility of Daphne du Maurier’s haunting novel.

My (incredibly awesome) agent Trish Toney Lawrence is also a fan of REBECCA. Before she offered representation, we talked on the phone and bonded over our love for the book. It was one of the reasons SANCTUARY appealed to her. Trish quickly found two interested editors, and from there, we accepted an offer from the gifted Lisa Sandell at Scholastic. I am very fortunate to be in such good hands.

The house, the island, and the time period are integral parts of this haunting story. Can you tell us how you made these key decisions for the story and how you developed the island as a character?

Places have a very powerful hold on us. Houses, islands, towns, beaches, lakes, rivers, and places that we consider home — have a pull and a push that feels very human, as if you’re in a relationship. I wanted to explore that feeling and create it for the reader.

Cecilia sees ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts? Do you have a ghost story of your own to share?

I think there is a possibility that we have a spiritual connection with the earth that lingers after we die, especially if there was a traumatic event that affected many, many people. One of my characters mentions it in SANCTUARY. That observation emerges from the feeling I had when visiting Gettysburg. Something there. I’m not sure what. But it’s palpable.

Jenny writes, and lives not too far from the sea.

For more about Jennifer and her books, follow her on Twitter or friend her on Facebook.

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below.

1. Comment on this post by Saturday October 3rd by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, October 6th.

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!


And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on 9780062335319_p0_v1_s192x300

None of the Above  by I.W. Gregorio (Balzer & Bray/2015)

If you missed the interview, click here.

And now for the winner of a copy of this outstanding debut YA novel about an intersex teen and her search for acceptance and love. Using a random number generator, the winning number commenter is…

number 4, Betsy Devany! Congratulations! Please contact me with your mailing info and I’ll make sure you get your prize ASAP!

Stayed tuned for more buzz reviews, spotlight interviews, and give-aways! Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight: Deborah Heiligman and Intentions!


Welcome back to my Spotlight series where I shine the spotlight on fabulous authors and their wonderful books! For the first spotlight of 2013, I’m happy to feature Deborah Heiligman and her YA novel, Intentions, which just won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers. Congratulations, Deborah! Stayed tuned below on how you can win a signed copy of this incredible book!

9780375868610_p0_v1_s260x420Intentions by Deborah Heiligman (Alfred A. Knopf/2012)

When Rachel discovers that the esteemed Rabbi Cohn is not the person she thought he was, her world starts crashing around her. Her parents fight all the time, her best friend is distant and sometimes mean, and she thinks she might have a boyfriend in Jake who is sweet and kind, but then there’s Adam, the rabbi’s son, who is neither, but hot just the same. Rachel struggles with doing the right thing at a time when she has no one to lean on and all the people she once trusted are changed.

You are a prolific author of many children’s books, as well as a Printz honor winner for your nonfiction book Charles and Emma about Charles Darwin. What was your path to publication like?

My second job out of college was working at Scholastic News, the classroom magazines for elementary school children. (My first job was working at a Jewish magazine, where my main responsibility was to get coffee and lunch and snacks for the editor.) I hadn’t meant to write for kids, but I took the job so I could move to NY and be with my boyfriend. Good move! I learned to write for kids and I married the boyfriend. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and then when I got pregnant I decided to stay home and be a freelance writer. My first son loved to be read to above all else, so after he was born and I left Scholastic I read children’s books all day. I was freelancing at the time, and so I decided to try to write a picturebook. It was beginner’s luck. The second publisher who saw it bought it! My career has taken A LOT of twists and turns, ups and downs, since then.

INTENTIONS is your first YA novel. What was the initial spark behind this story?

I’ve always wanted to write about that moment in a kid’s life when she realizes that someone who adores is flawed. That happened to me a few memorable times when I was growing up and I think it really shaped who I became. But the particular sparks, I think, were some things in real life: from my childhood, the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, and this rabbi in New Jersey who had his wife murdered. Yes, I have been working on this book since the second Clinton administration.

I felt for Rachel, for her pain and struggle with dealing with betrayed trust and for her confusion following. I rooted for her when it came to her feelings for Jake. I could not put the book down, I wanted to be with her every step of the way. How did you get to know Rachel and were there any challenges you encountered as you were writing this book?

The biggest challenges I had in writing this book were not in figuring out Rachel. She came to me, more or less, fully formed. I thought of her (and I admit, still do) as a real person. I would yell at her while I was writing–whenever she did something stupid I would try to talk her out of it. But she won every time. When I first wrote it, though, it was set in the 1970’s, had a big Holocaust subplot, and many more characters. The challenge was to winnow it down, make it really move, and be not about me or my childhood, but about Rachel’s. I had a lot of help with this book, most especially from my editor.

Rachel volunteers at an elementary school – and the boy she works with loves cars. Were you obsessed with anything in particular when you were a child?

I was not, but I envied kids who had obsessions. I tried to have an obsession, or at least a hobby, but nothing ever stuck.

Heiligman, D.

Deborah Heiligman is the author of almost 30 books for children and teens, including Intentions (Knopf, August 2013), winner of the Sydney Taylor Award for Teen readers. Her book Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith was a National Book Award finalist, Printz Honor, LA Times Book Prize finalist, and the winner of the first YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Other titles include From Caterpillar to Butterfly (HarperCollins), the holidays around the world series (National Geographic) and Cool Dog, School Dog (Marshall Cavendish). Forthcoming: The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos (Roaring Brook, June 2012), and Go Dog, Snow Dog (fall 2013). She is currently working on book about Van Gogh for Henry Holt, and on a new novel.

For more about Deborah and her books, see her web site or follow her on Twitter!

Win a signed copy of Intentions, the winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Award for Teen Fiction! I truly loved this book and I’m so happy to be able to share it with a lucky winner!

Please follow the directions below (most of you know the drill)!

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, tell me something you were obsessed with as a child.  For me it was miniature dollhouse furniture. My dad built me a dollhouse (he built one for my sister, too) and I loved filling the rooms with furniture and re-decorating. I’d save my allowance so I could walk to the toy store to buy a new desk or bed or table. Maybe this prepared me for my adult life of moving every two years?

2. Leave your comment (and email address) by midnight EST Sunday, January 27th. The lucky winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, January 29th.

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

Really Great Reads


I read two books recently that I just have to share with you!

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman (Knopf/2012)

“I should probably start with the blood.” This is the book’s opening line. With this mesmerizing opening, the reader is drawn into Nora’s world. As a high school senior, she is working at the local college as an intern, persuaded by her best friend Chris who attends the college. Together, along with another college intern, Max, they translate a mysterious text, trying to break a centuries old code. When Nora stumbles onto something important, everything changes. There’s a murder, Max disappears, Nora’s other best friend and Chris’s girlfriend goes catatonic. Nora is drawn into the mystery and then there seems to be no way out. From the quiet town where she lives to Paris and then Prague, Nora is desperate to discover the truth behind the mystery and possibly save her and her friends’ lives.

I am afraid to go more into detail because this is one of those stories that could be spoiled by too much detail. The characters are amazing, the story unforgettable. I could not put this book down!  If you like intrigue and are not put off by blood, I highly recommend this book!

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson (Simon & Schuster/2012)

When 17yo Taylor learns devastating news about her father, the family decides to return to their summer lake house to spend summer together. Taylor is filled with dread at returning there. When things get tough, she usually runs away, and when she ran away from the lake house five years ago, she didn’t think she’d have to return to face her first boyfriend, Henry, and her then best friend Lucy. When she does come face-to-face with them, she has to face her past. As she comes to terms with her past, she also needs to confront the present and deal with her family’s issues. But, maybe, just maybe, Taylor will get a second chance, with her family, her best friend, and love.

A totally different type of story than the first book I mention, but just as worthy a read. I was swept away by Taylor and her predicament and how she deals with things that scare her. I cried at the end. And I’d read it again! Morgan Matson is quickly becoming a favorite author. I’ve missed reading contemporary stories just like this one! (Thanks to Lucy of The Reading Date for introducing me to this author’s books!)

This summer I will have plenty of reading time. I’m excited to share more great books with you! Please share your favorites with me! Thanks!

The Winner is….(Tomo Anthology)


Thank you to all the people who took time to read about Tomo and my interview with the editor, Holly Thompson. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. If you want to enjoy some fantastic YA short stories and help teens in the devastated Tohoku region (from last year’s earthquake/tsunami in Japan), do buy a copy (or two) of Tomo.

Tomo edited by Holly Thompson (Stone Bridge Press/2012)

Stone Bridge Press has generously offered to award one winner with a copy of their very own. I collected the entrants’ names and wrote each down on a piece of paper. (Some people were entered twice for reposting, tweeting the link.)  I was thrilled to be able to do the drawing outside in our brand new Japanese garden. Trixie, as usual, was very excited to help out.

She does love crumpled paper (almost as much as she loves a good snuggle). She waited for the signal to pick a winner. (She wouldn’t sit down, though. I guess the rocks were too rough on her bottom.) 😉

Here are the names on crumpled paper.

I gave Trixie the signal to do her job by shouting “Okay!” She leaped into action, dashing to the tray to make a choice. (I love how she daintily chooses just one.)

She surprised me by bringing it over to me and dropping it for me. (Usually she tries to run off with it and slobbers all over it, and I must snatch it out of her mouth before the winning name becomes illegible with drool.)

So, who is the winner of a copy of the terrific Tomo anthology? Drumroll please……! (Or better yet, taiko drum beat, please!)

Carl Scott, come on down! Congratulations! Please email me  (above under Contact Info) with your mailing address and I will send the info to Stone Bridge Press so they can mail you your prize! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

To everyone else, I hope you’ll come back again for a future drawing, and I do hope you’ll make a purchase to support a great cause and read great literature!

Thank you! (Domo arigato!)