My Favs of 2013

When I first decided to write my year in review, I thought it would be easy to write a post on the books I read this year. But then came time to sit down and write and my mind went blank. I had a hard time trying to even remember most of the books I read this year, especially ones that were published in 2013. Next year, I’m making a list and checking it twice. In the end, I was able to come up with a small list, plus a few books I’m looking forward to in 2014.

eleanor and parkOverall Favorite Book of 2013
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

OMG, I loved this book! The minute I started reading it, I had a smile on my face all the way through. Okay, not all the way as the story takes a darker turn, but I was still rooting for Eleanor and Park because I loved both the characters and I loved their relationship. Rainbow Rowell tells their love story in such a sweet and realistic way that you fall in love with both of them as they fall in love. Another aspect of the novel, for me, was the nostalgia factor as the story was set in 1986, so a number of cultural references I could relate to. Even thinking about this book gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and I know this will be a book I will read again and again.

Favorite SciFi/Fantasy Book of 2013
Immortal Rules/The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa


I know that Eternity Cure actually came out this year, but in order for me to write my review (link here) I had to read Immortal Rules, so I’m placing both books as my favorite for this year. This series is just so intense and it makes vampires scary again, not mopey teenagers in love. I completely lost myself in the world that Julie Kagawa created and fell in love with Allison and Zeke. The Blood of Eden series will be one I’m sure I’ll read again and again. Plus, after the cliffhanger that Kagawa left us on, I’m eagerly anticipating the next book, which is titled “The Forever Song” and publishes in April.



via Goodreads

via Goodreads

My “Diversity Done Right” Award
House of Hades, by Rick Riordan

I only started reading the Heroes of Olympus series at the request of my students and ended up enjoying the series. While my students were over the moon excited for the 4th book, I was a bit ambivalent as I really didn’t like Mark of Athena all that much. I have to say that I was extremely pleased with House of Hades, the improvements by Riordan to handle the narrative of 7 points of view, as well as how he handled issues of diversity amongst the characters. He doesn’t shy away from it, but he also doesn’t make it a “afternoon school special” feel. He also made a beloved character gay, which shocked my students, but pleased me immensely because Riordan’s world now felt like the one we live in.

 Book I Can’t Wait For

courtesy of Goodreads

courtesy of Goodreads

Ignite Me, by Tahereh Mafi

If you haven’t read the “Shatter Me” series  you need to. It is such an intense series and beautifully written at the same time. Ignite Me is the last book of the series and I can’t wait to see how it’s going to end. Also, isn’t the cover just gorgeous?

Group Discussion of If I Ever Get Out of Here

If I ever get out of here

If I Ever Get Out of Here was a book that caught our attention at Rich in Color, so we decided we should do a group discussion for it. Read on to see what we thought about the book.

Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?

Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock ‘n’ roll.


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Interview: Ellen Oh

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Ellen Oh a few questions about her books Prophecy and its sequel Warrior. Prophecy is a fantastic Korean-inspired fantasy with an awesome female heroine (read the review here!). Warrior will be released on December 31st, 2013.

prophecy warrior

What inspired you to write a Korean style fantasy?

It started with Genghis Khan. Back in the year 2000, Genghis Khan was named Man of the Millennium by Time magazine. I remember buying that issue and reading all about him and thinking how cool it was that an Asian man was considered the most influential man of the millennium. So I went and bought a bunch of biographies on Genghis and I just fell in love with all the Asian history I learned. It made me crave more information. But it was actually really hard to find a lot of books on ancient Korea. And there was hardly any fiction novels at all other than Linda Sue Park’s classic novel A Single Shard. This is really the reason I began writing again (I hadn’t written creatively since college.) I just felt that all these amazing historical facts would make for a great novel.

How did you go about researching for Prophecy and Warrior?

The great thing about being a faculty member of a university is that you have all the university’s library services at your disposal. I’ve pretty much researched everything I could get my hands on about Asian mythology, shamanism, Korean legends, even architecture and pottery. It’s fascinating stuff. I used a lot of legends and myths of Korea. One of the most famous legend is the story of the Rock of the Falling Flowers. It is a cliff in the old Paekche kingdom where 3,000 court ladies leapt to their deaths when faced with the invading Tang and Shilla army. Their colorful hanboks made them look like falling flowers – hence the name. I also use the myth of the 8 Heavenly Maidens and then twisted it to suit my needs. Usually, the folktales have the Heavenly Maidens descending to earth and bathing in a pool and some poor woodcutter comes and steals one of their clothes. Without her clothes the heavenly maiden cannot return home and is forced to marry the woodcutter. Well I never liked that myth. As far as I’m concerned, that poor woodcutter is a stalker/peeping tom/kidnapper. So I changed that myth to make my Heavenly Maidens strong and with an important purpose in life. I think research is really my favorite part of writing the Prophecy Series and I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to do something I love and get it published by a great house like HarperTeen.

Kira is supported by her tiger spirit. Are there or will there be other chracters with animal spirits, or is she unique?

She is definitely unique. But I’ve been toying with the idea of having other characters with animal spirits. It would be a play off of the twelve animal horoscopes. I don’t know if it will make it into the series, but it is something that I’ve been working on as a side project.

A lot of YA lit has a heavy focus on romantic love, but not on familial love. What made you choose to give Kira so many brothers and cousins?

I think family is definitely an important focus of my books. Family is the support base for most people. Whether it is brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, etc. The bonds that form family are incredibly important and I feel they should always be celebrated and remembered. It was a very conscious decision on my part to have Kira come from a strong family support group. Because that is true love. I know that some people are disappointed in how light romance is in the Prophecy series, but romance was never the focus of Kira’s story.

Jindo is pretty much my favorite, so I have to ask — What type of dog does Jindo resemble? Do you have a dog?

Jindo is a Jindo, a very special breed of dog from the Island of Jindo in South Korea. They are known for loyalty and are considered a national treasure of Korea. When I was thinking of naming Taejo’s best friend, I thought “what would I name a dog I just got from this far off island of Jindo… hey Jindo is a cool sounding name. I’ll just name him Jindo!” :o) As for me, well I had a dog growing up, a german shepherd that I loved, but my husband and oldest are dreadfully allergic to animals (not just the fur but the saliva) so it hasn’t been possible… yet.

I love the introduction of more mythical creatures in Warrior — like the Dokkaebi, Kumiho, and so on. Will there be more to follow?

Yes, definitely. The Asian mythology was one of my favorite parts of researching for this series. There are quite a few creatures that are very distinctly Asian and are very different from what we normally see in Western mythology. But I have to say that the Dokkaebi and the Kumiho were my favorite characters to write about. They were so fun!

Finally: If you had to choose, who do you think would make a better avatar in the Last Airbender/Legend of Korra series — Kira or Korra?

Oh, tough question! I do love the Korra series but I don’t think I could answer that particular question. But how about this – If both Kira and Korra lost all their magical powers, who would be the stronger fighter? And I would say Kira, because her skills have never been completely dependent on magic but her own strength and power.

ellen_145Originally from NYC, Ellen Oh is an adjunct college instructor and former entertainment lawyer with an insatiable curiosity for ancient Asian history. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, cooking shows, and is a rabid fan of The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra series. Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and three daughters and has yet to satisfy her quest for a decent bagel.



Audrey’s Top 8 Multicultural YA Titles for 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, we thought it would be fun for us to highlight some of our favorite books, so here are my eight favorite multicultural YA titles to come out this year. It’s heavy on the dystopian/post-apocalyptic, female main characters, and tears, but I think you should check them out if you haven’t already.

Excellent Standalones

Sometimes you just don’t want the long-term commitment that comes with a series, and that’s okay. Here are three books you should devote a weekend to:

charm and strangeCharm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn || My review

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying.

If I ever get out of hereIf I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth || GROUP DISCUSSION FORTHCOMING

Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?

Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock ‘n’ roll.

killer of enemiesKiller of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac || My review

Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones—people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human—and there was everyone else who served them.

Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets—genetically engineered monsters—turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun.

As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.

Surprisingly Good Sequels

Second books in trilogies can definitely be hit-or-miss for me, but here are three second installments that kept the tension high and advanced the story without making me feel like it was all just a big setup for book three:

Awakening Final cover-sAwakening by Karen Sandler || Crystal’s review

Once a Chadi sector GEN girl terrified of her first Assignment, Kayla is now a member of the Kinship, a secret organization of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns. Kayla travels on Kinship business, collecting information to further the cause of GEN freedom.

Despite Kayla’s relative freedom, she is still a slave to the trueborn ruling class. She rarely sees trueborn Devak, and any relationship between them is still strictly forbidden.

Kayla longs to be truly free, but other priorities have gotten in the way. A paradoxically deadly new virus has swept through GEN sectors—a disease only GENs catch. And GEN warrens and warehouses are being bombed, with only a scrawled clue: F.H.E. Freedom, Humanity, Equality.

With the virus and the bombings decimating the GEN community, freedom and love are put on the back burner as Kayla and her friends find a way to stop the killing . . . before it’s too late.

FragmentsFragments by Dan Wells || My review

Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival.

UntoldUntold by Sarah Rees Brennan || My review

It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

Absolute Favorites

These were my two favorite YA titles this year, of any genre. If you haven’t read them yet, go do yourself a favor and get your hands on them before 2013 is over:

Sorrow's KnotSorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow || My review

At the very edge of the world live the Shadowed People. And with them live the dead.

There, in the village of Westmost, Otter is born to power. She is the proud daughter of Willow, the greatest binder of the dead in generations. It will be Otter’s job someday to tie the knots of the ward, the only thing that keeps the living safe.

Kestrel is in training to be a ranger – one of the brave women who venture into the forest to gather whatever the Shadowed People can’t live without. It will be Kestrel and her sister rangers who stand against whatever dark threat might slip through the ward’s defenses.

And Cricket wants to be a storyteller – already he shows the knack, the ear – and already he knows a few dangerous secrets.

But something is very wrong at the edge of the world.

Willow’s power seems to be turning inside out. The ward is in danger of falling. And lurking in the shadows, hungry, is a White Hand – the most dangerous of the dead, whose very touch means madness, and worse.

The Summer PrinceThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson || Group discussion

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

December Releases

On Mondays we usually post New Releases for the coming week, but to allow for a brief break, today I’m posting all of the releases that we know of for the rest of the month. We will resume our regular New Release posting schedule in January. Watch for these upcoming titles throughout the month.

CyCy in Chains by David L. Dudley
Clarion Books

Release Date: Dec. 17th

Summary: Cy Williams, thirteen, has always known that he and the other black folks on Strong’s plantation have to obey white men, no question. Sure, he’s free, as black people have been since his grandfather’s day, but in rural Georgia, that means they’re free to be whipped, abused, even killed. Almost four years later, Cy yearns for that freedom, such as it was. Now he’s a chain gang laborer, forced to do backbreaking work, penned in and shackled like an animal, brutalized, beaten, and humiliated by the boss of the camp and his hired overseers. For Cy and the boys he’s chained to, there’s no way out, no way back. And then hope begins to grow in him, along with strength and courage he didn’t know he had. Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

ControlControl by Lydia Kang

Release Date: Dec. 26th

When a crash kills their father and leaves them orphaned, Zel knows she needs to protect her sister, Dyl. But before Zel has a plan, Dyl is taken by strangers using bizarre sensory weapons, and Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens who aren’t like any she’s ever seen before—teens who shouldn’t even exist. Using broken-down technology, her new friends’ peculiar gifts, and her own grit, Zel must find a way to get her sister back from the kidnappers who think a powerful secret is encoded in Dyl’s DNA.

A spiraling, intense, romantic story set in 2150—in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms—this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

warriorWarrior by Ellen Oh
Harper Teen

Release Date: Dec. 31st

Warrior (Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.

Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. — cover and summary via Indiebound

real as it getsReal As It Gets by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Release Date: Dec. 31st

She can uncover the biggest celebrity secrets. But now Maya Morgan’s hottest story ever is way too up-close-and-personal . . .

For once, everything in Maya’s life is falling perfectly into place. She’s getting serious media cred uncovering the source of a new designer drug doing major glitterati damage. And the new man in her life is giving Maya all the cool bling and attention she craves off-camera. But the truth behind her scoop is about to cut too close to home–and put Maya and her family in the crosshairs. Soon, she’ll have to decide just how far she can afford to go to save her family, her career. . .and herself. — Cover image via IndieBound & summary via Amazon

Book Review: He Said She Said

Title: He Said She Said
Author: Kwame Alexander
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 330
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers
Review Copy: ebook from Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

he saidSummary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! — cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I have yet to read a “hip hop” novel because the genre doesn’t appeal to me, but I thought I’d check out “He Said, She Said” because I know of Kwame Alexander’s work with school kids and admire his Book-in-a-Day program. I know he is a talented poet and children’s author, so I was looking forward to reading his first young adult novel. Unfortunately, Alexander’s novel didn’t sway me into reading more “hip hop” novels.

When I teach creative writing with my students, I encourage them to “show, not tell” by adding dialogue to their short stories. Usually, in a creative work, the use of dialogue adds to the story, moves the plot forward, reveals character, etc. In Alexander’s novel, the overuse of a dialogue backfires and instead leads to more telling, rather than showing. Because Alexander relied heavily on dialogue to tell his story, I never got a sense of setting, of the physical world Omar and Claudia live in. For example, they protest that their school is run down, but there is not a single description of the school. In what way was the school run down? Were the walls filled with graffiti? Were all the toilets broken? Were there broken desks everywhere?  Dialogue in a story is helpful, but all the senses need to be engaged for a reader to really lose themselves in a story and Alexander does not make use of all the senses.

I’m big into writers creating well-rounded characters, flawed characters, characters that make us root for them. Again, unfortunately for Alexander, the male main character, Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls, is extremely unlikeable. The reader is supposed to not like him in the beginning so that we can see his growth, but the change truly comes a little to late. I think Alexander tried to have the reader like Omar earlier, but he would always ruin a moment of Omar’s growth by some gross sexist comment towards Claudia and “getting in her panties”. I understand teenage boys can be that foul, but even in his quiet moments, Omar’s thoughts were the same. It got really annoying after a while. I also felt that Claudia could have been written better instead of written as “the hard to get girl who eventually crumbles to the bad boy’s charm”.  It’s such a bad trope and not very true to life. At times it felt as if the feelings Claudia began to have for Omar came out from no where and not from a genuine place. In fact, both Omar and Claudia didn’t feel very genuine at all. They were one dimensional characters that were often there to occasionally shout platitudes towards fighting the man, and to create a very unconvincing love story.

He Said, She Said is a good premise – two unlikely people finding love while finding a purpose – but in execution, the story is lacking. I feel that Alexander could have relied less on the use of dialogue (literally pages at a time) and spent more time constructing the story. He Said She Said could have used a few more rounds of revision in order to make this a truly engrossing novel.

Recommendation: Skip It.