Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Review: Dumpling Days, by Grace Lin

Lin, Grace. Dumpling Days. 272 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2012. Hardcover $15.99. ISBN 9780316125901.

I once took a trip to China just for the food. True story!

Of course, I was living in Japan at the time, so it wasn't that far, but still... I am dedicated to experiencing good food and interesting travel. Given that this book combines both of these things, it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved it.

The third installment in Grace Lin's semi-autobiographical "Year of..." series sees the Lin family on a month-long trip to Taiwan. It's a first for Pacy, who is not exactly in touch with her Taiwanese heritage, having lived in upstate New York all her life. She doesn't feel like she belongs in Taiwan, and is caught between her two cultures. As Pacy navigates an unfamiliar language, a daunting new art style in Chinese painting class, and her own insecurities, her only comfort is dumplings. Luckily, there are a lot of delicious dumplings to be had in Taiwan!

Soupy dumpling photo by flickr member keepwaddling1

Filled with vivid descriptions of Taiwan, an exuberant extended family, and a rich array of new experiences for Pacy, this book is a treat for the senses. As in the previous books in the series, charming black and white line drawings accompany the narrative. In this volume, the illustrations give the feeling of a travel journal. One need not be familiar with Taiwan to enjoy the narrative; in fact, since it’s all new to Pacy, the reader is introduced to the sights and customs of Taiwan along with her.

The wonder of discovering a new place deftly parallels the theme of self-discovery, and Pacy's struggle with the sense that she doesn’t belong in her parents’ homeland will ring true for many bicultural readers. The process of her coming to terms with her identity and finding balance is layered, realistic, and ultimately heartening.

Those who have gotten to know Pacy through the first two books in the series will love witnessing her continued growth in Dumpling Days. Here, in learning more about herself, she also forges deeper connections with her family, displaying increasing maturity as she considers how her parents must have felt when they left Taiwan to make a new home in the United States.

I found this book to be completely enchanting, and so true to the confusing, amazing, exhilarating experience of travel. I'm so excited to give it to my niece as a Lunar New Year gift-- she'll get a red envelope too, don't worry... but a new book by her favorite author will be quite a bonus!  

I recommend reading the first two books in the series before this one, but DumplingDays stands on its own quite effectively if you want to jump right in. 

Warning: you may feel an urgent need to run to the nearest dim sum restaurant and order up a mountain of dumplings while reading this book. I say go for it!

Dumpling Days will be available in bookstores everywhere on January 2, 2012. ARC for review kindly provided by Little, Brown.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Ditched: A Love Story, by Robin Mellom

Mellom, Robin. Ditched. 288 p. Disney-Hyperion. 2012. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 978142314338.
If you're looking to start the new year off with a light, fast-paced read that will make you laugh, this book is definitely it.

Justina has the wost prom night ever, as a series of crazy misadventures culminate with her ending up in a ditch. See? She was ditched! LITERALLY! (Hee.) Seeking solace at a convenience store after her awful night, Justina tells her story in flashbacks to a hilariously opinionated audience. The nonlinear storytelling is fun, as details and relationships cleverly unfold bit by bit.

In addition to a sympathetic protagonist, this book has a large cast of unforgettable characters. I adored the cheerful stoners, Mike and Mike, who call their dates by their "essences" instead of their names (Serenity and Bliss). The dates themselves, classic "bad" girls with hearts of gold, are also utterly endearing.

Speaking of "bad" girls, I was a little perplexed by Justina's angst over her own supposedly tarnished reputation. She used to kiss a lot of guys, and- horrors!- kissed two guys at the same party one night. I mean, not that I condone rampant kissing... it's just that I'm not entirely sure it's that big of a deal to today's high schoolers. But hey, for our younger teen audience, I like that the author keeps it clean!

As I was reading, I kept thinking: "This would make an AWESOME movie!" It's reminiscent of one of my favorite teen classics, Can't Hardly Wait. In fact, the characters in this book attend Huntington High School, just like in that movie... a clever shout-out? Or maybe the book is actually set in Huntington Beach, which is possible from the references to In N Out Burger, a California-based fast food chain. Either way, the setting made me smile.

Bottom line: Ditched is a super cute story and a fun read. I can't wait to recommend it at my library, and if it's ever made into a movie (which it totally should be!), I will be there.

Look for Ditched in bookstores everywhere on January 10, 2012. ARC for review provided by Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley.

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: Bookish Highlights of My Year

Did everyone have a happy holiday? I made the lemon chess pie from Sarah Weeks' Pie for the Christmas gathering at my in-laws'. It was a huge hit! I'd never heard of lemon chess pie before, but it's now a family favorite. Sweet and comforting, it's a sort of custard pie with a satisfyingly crunchy crust. And the recipe is so easy!

Now that Christmas is over and we're approaching the new year, I'm taking inspiration from Jessica Love Writes and doing a rundown of my most memorable book-related moments in 2011.


Went to ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego with my 3-month-old daughter blissfully strapped to me in a baby wrap. Did you know a baby is a fabulous accessory and conversation-starter when walking around the exhibits hall? Everyone wants to see the baby! Baby and I were pleased to meet up with some wonderful Betsy-Tacy enthusiasts.

Betsy-Tacy Society at ALA Midwinter
Photo by flickr member bonnyglen aka fabulous author Melissa Wiley, who is 2nd from left.
Started this blog! Aww, my first post. It's hard to believe I've been blogging for almost a year. I honestly wasn't sure I'd be motivated to keep up with it when I started, but I've found blogging to be quite an addicting hobby.


Started the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast with Michelle from Never Gonna Grow Up Reviews.

We did our inaugural podcast interview with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare in April, when I hosted an event with them at my library. The crowd loved them-- their fans are so enthusiastic!

Hosted a lovely, cozy library event with fabulous debut author Josie Angelini. Love her! Starcrossed was one of my favorite reads of 2011. Michelle and I also interviewed her for the podcast.

Was honored to be appointed chair of YALSA's Local Arrangements Committee for the ALA Annual Conference in 2012.


In addition to continuing to review books for School Library Journal, started reviewing apps for SLJ's Touch and Go blog

Attended YA in Bloom, an author event presented by Bridge to Books. Got to met Deb Bryan, who I've known online for YEARS-- ever since we figured out that we both taught English in the same remote corner of Japan. Missed her by a few years in Japan, and was thrilled to finally meet in person in Pasadena! (But why didn't we take a picture??)

Went to a book signing for Kiersten White, Andrea Cremer, Stephanie Perkins, and interviewed them for the podcast. That was the first podcast in which we went out into the crowd at an event-- we love meeting other book lovers and capturing their comments.

How cute is Kiersten White, standing on a chair
so the crowd can see her while she speaks??

Did a podcast interview with Suzanne Young, Nova Ren Suma, Cindy Pon, and Holly Goldberg Sloan at SCWBI in LA. These ladies are delightful!

Left to right: Michelle, Suzanne, Cindy, Allison, Holly, Nova
Photo by Vania Stoyanova

Did podcast interviews with both Gretchen McNeil and Marie Lu at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. Both of these ladies are debut authors this year, and their books are fantastic.


Presented about podcasting with Michelle at KidLitCon in Seattle. I loved that conference so much! And Seattle is such a fantastic city.

Helped host my library's annual Readers' Festival - emcee'd Heather Vogel Frederick's presentation (also interviewed her for the podcast!) and moderated a fabulous panel of teen authors.

Lisa Yee, Gretchen McNeil, me, Cindy Pon, Marlene Perez
(Think an oversized polo shirt and a lanyard is a good look for me?? So chic, I know.)

Introduced Brian Selznick when he came to speak at my library. What an honor! His presentation was riveting.

Along with the other Local Arrangements Committee members, organized the YALSA Happy Hour at the California Library Association conference in Pasadena, and met all sorts of awesome YA librarians and YA lit advocates. This event made me that much more excited for Annual in June.

Went to Laini Taylor's book signing in Huntington Beach and interviewed her for the podcast. The signing was fabulous- the crowd got masks!- and Laini is so brilliant. Plus, I love her pink hair!

Attended Tahereh Mafi's launch party for her debut novel, Shatter Me; interviewed her for the podcast (stay tuned for that interview in January... she's adorable!).

All in all...

It's been an AMAZING year, you guys. I feel like I've been challenged in so many wonderful ways and had so many fantastic opportunities.

Before this year, I never thought I'd be able to keep up a book blog, and a YA lit podcast was just a pipe dream. I knew I wanted to get involved with YALSA to help out with next year's ALA Annual Conference, but I didn't think I'd have the opportunity to serve in a leadership role.

I'm looking forward to what 2012 has in store.
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