Monday, May 9, 2016

Blogging from A to Z Reflections

I’m pleased to have this nifty new badge on my blog announcing that I survived last month’s Blogging from A to Z ChallengeFor this week’s reflections post, participants are invited to share their thoughts about their experience. First, I want to thank all the A to Z volunteers who maintained the operations of last month’s challenge and made this challenge possible for the many people who participated. 

During the challenge, I enjoyed connecting with new bloggers and getting to know better the bloggers I’ve connected with before. I was also open to meeting bloggers whose blogs/challenge themes didn’t match mine. That way, I got to learn more about subjects I didn’t know a lot about before. (Of course, there were bloggers who never visited me back in spite of my repeated visits to their blog. But I prefer to be thankful for the people who did come by to show their support.) 

My own challenge theme was about authors whose stories I read when I was younger. While composing my posts, I reflected on why certain stories stuck with me. Many of these thoughts were shared in the notes after a story synopsis. I noticed how certain subjects also occurred more than once in the books I shared- first time love, prom horror, the Ozarks, gang life, the disappearance of children, bullying and rivalries, to name a few.   

I made the effort not to discuss movies or other mediums inspired by these stories, even when sometimes I really wanted to talk about the movie. For example, for my OUTSIDERS post, I kept thinking about how The Outsiders movie was one of my favorites back in the day. Coincidentally, Rob Lowe (who played Sodapop Curtis) was in a number of my favorite scenes in the movie...So anyway, discussing movies and discussing books are two different things. So for the purpose of this challenge, I stuck with just discussing books.

If you have done the Blogging from A to Z Challenge before, what were your thoughts about your experience? Have you noticed recurring subjects in books you like to read?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

IWSG: Traces of a Story

Today is IWSG day, a monthly event Alex Cavanaugh started to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other stuff going on in their lives.

While preparing for last month’s Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I sifted through the little pockets of memory in my head to retrieve certain stories I read during my youth.  Sometimes I remembered the title, but not the author. Easy, I could just look up the title online. Sometimes I remembered neither the title or the author, but just traces of a story. In such cases, there was not much I could do to locate the title and author.

One particular story (sans title and author in my head) that really intrigued me when I was a ‘tween is a MG novel of historical fiction. If I remember correctly, here are the traces of the story… An older woman, someone who isn’t so pleasant, is about to inherit a big fortune, as long as no one else steps forward as being one of the relations closer to the deceased than she. A younger woman comes forward. She claims to be the daughter of someone in the family- it was thought that she, as a child, had died in a plane crash many years ago. If this woman is who she says she is, she will receive the inheritance. DNA testing does not exist in this time period so there is no way to scientifically test the younger woman’s veracity. But this young woman is able to tell stories about the family that only the family members know, and she easily identifies family members in person and in photographs.

At the end of the story, the younger woman takes the inheritance. It’s also revealed that the younger woman was actually the nurse of a true relation who, on her deathbed, wanted to target the older woman who was about to take a fortune that should’ve belonged to her. So she coached her nurse on how to pose as the heiress by feeding her family stories and making her memorize people's faces in old photographs. 

Does this story sound familiar to anyone? If so, can you please remind me of the title and author?

Stay tuned for my Blogging from A to Z Challenge Reflections Post coming next week!

Saturday, April 30, 2016


"You see, my mother and father never even touch each other, which makes me wonder how on earth I ever was born. I figure it was just an accident- they both happened to be walking around the bedroom nude and they made a mistake and tripped." - Paul Zindel, THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY (HarperTrophy, YA)

When I was a young kid, I frequently tagged along with my older sister to the library's teen section (they didn't even call it YA then).  I remember Paul Zindel's books were always in the Z section. I read his book THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY ages ago. This book is a sequel to a first book, THE PIGMAN, which I don't remember if I read. THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY is about two teens, John and Lorraine, a pair of friends who meet the Colonel, a senior citizen living in the same home where another senior the teens once knew had lived. (That other senior died in the first book.) At first, the Colonel doesn't seem very friendly but he eventually warms up. John and Lorraine set the Colonel up with Dolly, a lady who works in their school cafeteria. Soon after the Colonel and Dolly meet, John and Lorraine learn that the Colonel is dying. He has always known this. After marrying Dolly on his deathbed, the Colonel dies. The story ends when John and Lorraine are walking through the hospital past the nursery with the newborns. Here, John tells Lorraine he wants to spend his life with her.

My description probably gives the impression this is a sad and somber story. But much of the story is actually told with humor, as demonstrated in one of John's quotes shared at the top of the post here. I believe  humor is a weapon that some of us cultivate to better deal with the pain we experience in our lives.

Have you read THE PIGMAN'S LEGACY? Have you ever used humor to cope with something difficult?

And that's my last post for this month's Blogging from A to Z ChallengeMy theme: authors whose work I read when I was younger. Thanks to all of you who visited and supported my blog this month! 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y: Laurence Yep & DRAGONWINGS

"I get the ideas from everything. Children sometimes think you have to have special experiences to write, but good writing brings out what's special in ordinary things." -Laurence Yep

Lawrence Yep's DRAGONWINGS (HarperCollins, MG) begins in 1903 when Moon Shadow, 8, leaves the only home he has known in China to live with his father, Windrider, who has been working in San Francisco to support his family.  Everything about America- the food, the houses, the people- fascinates Moon Shadow. Although Moon Shadow and Windrider regularly experience racism, they also make friends with the kind Miss Whitlaw her niece, Robin. Despite the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, Moon Shadow and Windrider hold onto their gumption and work three years to build an airplane named Dragonwings that Windrider flies in 1910. 

While I've read a number of historical fiction stories set in the early 20th century San Francisco with the predictable Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (recorded magnitude: 7.8), the depiction of the 1906 earthquake in DRAGONWINGS is what I consider a very credible interpretation of an earthquake. I might be a more particular reader when it comes to earthquake fiction because I was a young child living in the City of San Francisco when, during the World Series, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit (recorded magnitude: 6.9). 63 people died, thousands were injured, an East Bay freeway collapsed, as did a part of the Bay Bridge. I was at home when it happened- I was reaching for something on a shelf when I felt the first shake. What a strange day it was, how things happened quickly and slowly at the same time, and how things were irreversibly changed for some, but remained the same for others...And in DRAGONWINGS, after Moon Shadow and Windrider help others in the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, they might momentarily forget that that they're foreigners in a new country until a police officer demands that the two aren't allowed to dine with a white woman. I think this part of the story shows that in spite of the changes going on around the father and son, some things still remain the same.

Have you read DRAGONWINGS? Have you ever been in a natural disaster? If so, what do you remember about it?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X: Antoine St.Expuery & THE LITTLE PRINCE

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”  -Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

I'm cheating a little here. I enjoyed Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's THE LITTLE PRINCE (Harcourt, MG) when I was a kid, and part of the author's name makes the X sound. So, close enough. The story is about a prince from outer space dishing to a pilot about the asteroids he has visited and who he met there- a bossy king ruling no one, a vain man only hearing praise, a drunk person drinking to forget he was an alcoholic, a businessman laying claim on the stars, a lamplighter following instructions without question, and a geographer refusing to explore.

If this book is a Buzzfeed article, it would be titled "6 Types of Contradictory People You'd Meet in the Universe." Told with a delicate balance between dreaminess and cynicism, I found the little prince's observations similar to ironies I can't help noticing in some people when I'm feeling less dreamy and more cynical (no delicate balancing here). Contradictory people I notice include rude customer service employees, anti-bullying advocates who bully, leaders who are minions, dishonest people who preach integrity, people who have melodramatic meltdowns to show how "tough" they are, people who criticize others for the exact stuff that they themselves do...and the list goes on. 

Have you read  Antoine De Saint-Exupéry's THE LITTLE PRINCE? Let's get cynical! Are you familiar with any of the contradictory people I listed? Can you think of other examples?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


“It's strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man's mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you've seen, or something you've heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.” -Wilson Rawls, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS

When I was in junior high, I had a thick and heavy textbook in my English class. It was filled with short stories and it included the novel, Wilson Rawls's WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (Yearling, MG), historical fiction about a man Billy remembering his childhood when he was boy who hunted raccoons with his pet hounds at night. One day we had a substitute and she assigned the first few chapters of RED FERN for reading homework. When the real teacher came back, I was disappointed she didn't assign any more reading chapters. (The other kids were relieved but I was a book worm even then!) 

Since junior high, I have read RED FERN from cover to cover. The setting of the Ozarks in Cherokee land was beautifully illustrated. Within this setting, two things struck me: One, religion was comfortably woven into RED FERN. I've heard from industry professionals that working religion into kidlit is a risky thing to do, how it might affect market interest. But RED FERN has been out since 1961 and it's still considered a classic. And two, the setting was considered safe enough for Billy to be out alone at night with his hounds while he hunted. Once, Billy even stayed out overnight without telling his parents. And Billy was considered a good kid and his parents, good parents. I can't imagine most parents today allowing their 'tweens and even teens to stay out like this alone, even if the area is supposed to be "safe." It's interesting to see the contrast between what was considered acceptable parenting back then versus what's acceptable today.

Have you read WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS? What are your thoughts about religion in fiction?  What other contrasts between acceptable parenting during the good ole days versus now can you think of?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V: Cecily von Ziegesar & GOSSIP GIRL

"I never once said that I was writing books with guidelines for how to live. I mean, they’re fiction, and I think that’s the role of fiction: to entertain. And I don’t care whether it’s for children or for adults. That’s what fiction is about: escaping into another world. I absolutely hate kids’ books that have lessons telling kids how to behave. For me, that is not the role of fiction at all."- Cecily Von Ziegesar
Cecily Von Ziegesar's GOSSIP GIRL (Little, Brown, YA) centers around the lives of teens, most who live in New York City's Upper East Side. In this world, affluent teens consume alcohol alongside their parents, shop at Barneys and receive Kate Spade handbags as party favors. Here, you're only a "somebody" when you're being gossiped about so an anoymous web site called Gossip Girl dishes gossip about some of these teens' lives.

In the beginning of the book, Blair, a high school queen bee, is ready to lose her virginity to her long-time boyfriend Nate while her socialite mother is throwing some bash in their home. But Serena, Blair's former best friend, crashes the event and interrupts them- Serena just got kicked out of boarding school in Europe and has returned to the Big Apple. Turns out that Serena and Nate lost their virginity to each other back in the tenth grade but Blair doesn't know that for most of the book until she and Nate are ready to try having sex again...and then Nate tells her the truth.

You know that so-called writing advice about making your characters, especially the female ones, likable and good role models with their every thought and action? Without apology, Cecily Von Ziegesar breaks this rule. Her characters are not always likable. But they're believable and interesting, and that is what's more important to me from a reader's perspective. I can also see how some of these characters' questionable behavior stems from their pursuit of loyalty and acceptance and their fear of rejection and betrayal. That is the universal rhythm of how many teens (and adults and children) tick inside. And you don't have to be from the Upper East Side to relate to that.

Have you read GOSSIP GIRL? Do you find books with subliminal lessons on "the proper way to think and behave" patronizing to the reader?