Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best new reads of 2008

I won't be finishing a book today (I'm barely into The Mists of Avalon), so I guess it's time to blog my best reads of last year. I chose my ten top reads from the books I gave five stars, and I'm not counting rereads. Here we go, in no particular order!

I Am Legend by Richard Matteson.

A well written, scientific look at what makes a vampire.

Hilarous and thought-provoking young adult book about teen pregnancy.

A beautiful love story about an old man remembering his travels with a circus during the depression.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

A story so real it's hard to believe it's fiction.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

One of the best non-fiction books ever, a heart-breaking tale about a young man who tries to survive alone in nature.

America: The Book by Jon Stewart

This textbook parody was so funny!

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A masterpiece in style with a beautiful story, about a family of missionaries in Africa.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A stark and beautiful post-apocalyptic story of love and survival.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

A gothic tale of orphans, insanity, and ghosts haunting an estate.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

A brilliant and captivating story about a wealthy family's downfall during the depression, and the impact upon two sisters.

Honorable Mentions:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Abarat by Clive Barker
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Great Rereads:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Everybody needs goals...

So here are my goals for 2009.

1. Exercise every day!
2. Eat better!
3. Keep up with my reading lists.
4. Organize my house (and keep it clean)
5. Organize my classroom.
6. Budget my finances and pay off my debt.

For 2009, I'm going to try not to overschedule myself, but still manage to do the things I enjoy.

For 2009, I'm going to spend more time with Trevor, even when we aren't on vacation.

For 2009, I'm going to think about what goes into my body.

For 2009, I'm going to pay more attention to my spiritual side.

For 2009, I'm going to savor every moment, instead of flying through them!

2009 Blog Improvement Project

Now here's a project that I really need! Found here, and hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, this will consist of bi-monthly activities designed to improve your blog. Participation is not mandatory, so you can pick and choose which activities you want to partake in.

2009 Mini-Challenge

Hosted by Caribou's Mom here; this is what it consists of:

1. Read a collection of short stories and either blog about it, OR tell the group about what you read. (Out For More Blood)
2. Read a play. Blog about it, OR tell the group about your experience.
3. Read a nonfiction book; write a review on your blog or post it to the group.
4. Read an 2 essays from the same collection; write a review on your blog or tell the group about what you read.
5. Go to a book event; blog about it or tell the group about it.
6.Borrow a library book, read it and review it on your blog (or tell the group about it).
7. Read a book by a new to you author. Do a little research on the author…do they have a blog? How many books have they written? Have they won any prizes? Where do they live? etc… Blog about the book you read and the author OR tell the group about them.
8. Make a donation. You can either donate to an organization that supports reading OR make a physical donation of a book (or books) to ANYONE. Blog about it or tell the group what you did.
9. Promote literacy. This is wide open - use your imagination. You could give a child a book, or read a book to someone who cannot read, or volunteer at an event which promotes literacy, or donate to your local library, or write something on your blog with a link to a group which promotes literacy, or anything in between. The only rule with this one is that you must PROMOTE literacy in some way…
10. Participate in a buddy read or Group discussion. This can be a face to face group, an on-line group or a one on one discussion with a friend who read the same book. Either way, blog about your experience or share with the group. Did the discussion give you greater appreciation or insight into what you read?
11. Read a book outside your comfort level or from a genre you don’t normally read. Blog about it, or tell the group about it.
12. Read a classic (defined as anything published before 1970). Tell us why it fits the category of being a classic. Write a review or tell the group about the book.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Modern Library's 100 Best Challenge...

A perpetual challenge hosted by Sharon at Ex Libris which can be found here, where the goal is to read the novels from the Modern Library's 100 best novels--either the board's list, the reader's list (both of which can be found here), and/or the Radcliffe Publishing Course's list, which can be found here. I have read 12 from the board's list, 19 from the reader's list, and 26 from the Radcliffe's Rival list, but only a combined total of 34 since many of the books I read were on more than one list. The following books are books I am planning on reading in 2009 that are on one or more of those lists...

Animal Farm (1/10/09)
As I Lay Dying (11/28/09)
Beloved (1/3/09)
Blood Meridian
Fahrenheit 451
Gone With the Wind
Lord of the Rings (11/4/09)
On the Beach
On the Road (10/26/09)
The Sun Also Rises (12/14/09)
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Series Challenge?

Due to the large amount of series that I would like to finish reading (or reread), I am considering joining one or more of these challenges: Serial Readers Challenge 2009, To Be Continued (Perpetual), or Series Challenge Season 3. The latter allows me to finish a series I've already begun (which is pretty much where I need to be), the middle one allows re-reads (which is another important place) and the first one is for a new series of which I've read none (and I do have two of those). I may sign up for all three. These are the series I would like to read (or reread) this year:

The Death Gate Cycle--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I've only read the first book, Dragonwing.

The Dark Tower Series--Stephen King. This would be a complete reread for me, but I'd love to read them all one after the other.

The Harry Potter Series--J.K. Rowling. Read the first three years ago, then stopped. I'd like to read them all again except the first, The Chamber of Secrets, which I read last year.

The Chronicles of Narnia--C.S. Lewis. Definately a reread, but always worth reading again.

Dragonlance--Various Authors. No way could I read them all, but I'm considering rereading the Weis/Hickman Chronicles (FINISHED!!) and Legends series. I read the first one of Chronicles, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, this year. And then maybe add some new ones that I haven't read.
* Dragons of Winter Night--4/1/09
*Dragons of Spring Dawning--4/10/09

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy--Douglas Adams.--FINISHED!!!!!
There are five books in this "trilogy"; I'd like to read them all.
*The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy--4/11/09
*The Restaurant at the End of the Universe--4/27/09
*Life, the Universe, and Everything--5/2/09
*So Long and Thanks For All the Fish--7/16/09
*Mostly Harmless--7/25/09

Lord of the Rings Trilogy--J.R.R. Tolkein. Since it is three volumes, I consider this an actual triology. I haven't read any of these books yet.
* The Fellowship of the Ring--2/15/09
* The Two Towers--3/1/09

The Shannara Trilogy--Terry Brooks. Another standard, three book trilogy, of which I have read none. I started the Sword of Shannara this year but never made it past the first chapter or so.

The Chronicles of Prydain--Lloyd Alexander. Just bought this entire series for my son Trevor, and would really love to read it again. I haven't read them since childhood, save for The Book of Three, which I read this year.

The Geodyssey Series--Piers Anthony. This series is a mix of historical and science fiction, as Anthony takes characters and evolves them through time and places to grow as he envisions the human race did. Characters start at the dawn of human history and are carried into the future. This would be a reread for me.

The Foundation Series--Issac Asimov. I read the first Foundation this year and would like to read at least the next two in the original trilogy.

The Percy Jackson Series--Rick Riordan--FINISHED!!!!!
*The Lightning Thief (4/13/09)
*Sea of Monsters (5/16/09)
*The Titan's Curse (6/17/09)
*The Battle of the Labyrinth (7/5/09)
*The Last Olympian (7/18/09)

Crank--Ellen Hopkins

Crank Genre: Young Adult
Year Published: 2004
Pages: 544
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an intriguing title! Whatever could this book be about?

I had a lot of books donated to my classroom library this year, including the sequel to this book, Glass. I try to read as many of them as I can, so I can recommend them to and discuss them with my students, so I had to get Crank so I could read Glass. An interesting book, Crank. It is written as a series of poems which tell the story of a teenage girl who gets hooked on--you guessed it!--crank. (For those of you who aren't up on your street drug lingo, crank is a more concentrated form of crystal meth--aka speed). I figured it would be insufferable, but actually, it really isn't. The story flows remarkably fast, and most of the time you forget you're reading poetry (until something glaring hits you). The style is conversational, and sometimes annoyingly teenage, although that is the intended audience, and it only enters the world of pretentia part of the time.

My biggest issue with the book is the author's insistence upon calling the drug "the monster", which gets a little old by the end of the book. But most of the writing is just fine, and some of it is really nice, such as, "Hers is the face I wear/treading the riptide/fathomless oceans where/good girls drown." Or this, which really sums up the tentative teenage years to me: "I kept to the shadows,/observing the game/I hadn't dared play/absorbing the rules/with adhesive eyes." My second biggest issue is that it seems odd to me that the author is writing a story based on her daughter's struggles with drugs through her daughter's eyes. It weirds me out a little bit--I mean, isn't that sort of invasive? But the story is captivating, the writing is pretty good and sometimes really good, and it's a quick and easy read. I believe the author means it to be a cautionary tale, to stop kids from trying "the monster" aka drugs, but I'm not sure if it works as one. There is something decidedly alluring about Kristina's descent into debauchery; probably the same thing that draws kids to drug use in the first place. But the story rings mostly true and is thus better used as a warning than an embellished, outdated story like Go Ask Alice.

Challenges: None!
Book-a-Week #: 66
Date Read: 12/28/08

Wuthering Heights--Emily Bronte

Genre: Gothic Fiction
Year Published: 1847
Pages: 432
Rating: 3.5 out of 4

Wuthering Heights I vaguely remember reading this as a child, but I think it went mostly over my head. The most notable thing about this book is the complete lack of a sympathetic character. The most likable characters are self-centered, narcissistic liars; the worst are downright evil. In between are the sniveling wimps. Even the tenant-narrator strikes me as a smug little jerk.

That said, nothing makes for over-the-top drama like a bunch of narcissists. I enjoyed the passion and drama, the temptestous fits and tantrums, the plotting and brooding, and even the heavily-accented, self-righteous ranting sermons delivered by Joseph the handyman. And what do you expect from a bunch of people who think it's ok to marry their cousins?

Challenges: TBR
Book-a-Week # 65

Date Read: 12/26/2008

Abarat--Clive Barker

Abarat Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Year Published: 2002
Pages: 432
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of all the young adult books I read this year, this one was by far my favorite. Barker has created an amazing world, with unimaginable creatures both good and evil, with roots in both mythology and modern fantasy. I was surprised both by the depth and clarity of the characters and the quality of the writing. The protagonist, Candy, is unsatisfied with her lonely, nondescript life in Chickentown Minnesota, when a sea rolls into the outskirts of her town and she finds herself sailing away to the islands of Abarat, which are arranged to reflect the hours of the day and include a 25th island of timelessness. Candy finds herself launched into a harrowing adventure, and begins to realize that she is somehow more than what she believed before arriving there. The world is described in detail in the appendix via an almanac created by one of the characters, which in itself is worth reading.

The only problem with this book is that it ends abruptly. I am looking forward to reading the sequel: Abarat--Days of Magic, Nights of War.

I just have to mention one of the coolest things about this book--on the cover, the title reads exactly the same upside-down as right-side up! How cool is that?

Challenges: Young Adult, Naming Conventions, States (MN)
Book-a-Week # 64
Date Read: 12/21/2008

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin Genre: Fiction
Pages: 641
Year Published: 2000
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fabulous book. Atwood tells the tale of a wealthy family's plunge to disaster via three running stories: The daily life of the narrator, an octagenarian named Iris struggling to contend with the difficulties of aging and summoning her past for preserving; the narrator's memoir of her childhood and young adulthood; and a novel written by her younger sister Laura and published posthumously, after her sister's suicide.
The girls grow up wealthy in Toronto after the first world war, when their father inherits his father's button factory. But as the depression approaches and a series of tragedies strike the family, they are forced into roles they did not envision. Iris marries an older wealthy competitor of her father's. Laura remains fiery, creative, temptestous and more than a little odd. Their friendship with a Communist sympathizer sets off a series of events steeped in passion, intrigue, secrecy, and cruelty, which ultimately lead to Laura's untimely and tragic demise.

I will say no more so I don't ruin any of this book, except for this: Atwood's telling of the tale is nothing short of brilliant. She reveals just enough in each section of the three storylines to keep the reader's interest piqued, and to keep the flow of the saga even and smooth.

Challenges: 1% Well Read; Naming Conventions
Book-a-Week # 63
Date Read: 12/14/2008

The Zero Stone by Andre Norton

The Zero Stone Genre: Science Fiction
Year Published: 1968
Pages: 238
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I was in third grade my teacher told us to read a science fiction book and write a book report on it. I came home and asked my father what he thought I should read, and he gave me Andre Norton's The Zero Stone. So the last time I read this book was in 1981, when I was eight. (I don't know if I faked it or not, but I did get an A on the book report). All I could recall of this book from that time was a vision of someone floating in space in a space suit with a monkey-like creature as an accomplice, and Billy Squier's "In the Dark" playing in the background.

Turns out, the person WAS floating in a space suit in space, the creature was more cat-like than monkey-like, and Billy Squier wasn't even invented when this book was written, although that single probably came out right about the time I first read it, leading me to believe that I listened to the radio as I read when I was a kid.

The story is about Murdoc Jern, the son of a jeweler, who ends up space traveling with an associate of his father's. He carries with him a ring with a mysterious stone, which was obtained under mysterious circumstances and which his father always wanted to understand. After his partner is killed, Jern escapes by making a deal with a spaceship captain. But on the way he is forced to eject from the ship (in a space suit--Aha!) with an odd companion--the offspring of the ship's cat after it ate some weird stones on a planet they visited. No ordinary kitten, Eet is intelligent and psychic and helps Jern manuever to an abandoned ship--although the mysterious ring helps too.

The novel ended abruptly, leaving far more questions than answers, so I queried my father and discovered there is a sequel--Uncharted Stars, which I plan on reading this year. I was also stunned to find out that Andre Norton was a woman, publishing sci-fi novels from the 1930's until just before her death in 2005.

Challenges: Naming Conventions, Read it Again, Well Rounded
Book-a-Week # 62
Date Read: (1981 first reading) 12/6/2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Spiritually Speaking Challenge

Spirituality is one of my interests and passions, so this challenge, which can be found here, really spoke to me. I haven't decided on all of my books yet, but here are a few I am considering:

Eat, Pray, Love--Elizabeth Gilbert
The Life of Pi--Yann Martel
You Are a Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience--Bob Frissell

What's in a Name? challenge

COMPLETED AS OF 12/1/09!!!!!

This is a unique and fun challenge, in which you pick books whose titles fall into some sort of theme. You can read all the details, and sign up if you wish, here. The themes for this year are a profession, a time of day, a relative, a body part, a building, and a medical condition. And the books I have chosen are:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter--Carson McCullers (profession) (11/20/09)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time--Mark Haddon (time of day) 12/1/09)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter--Kim Edwards (relative) (11/6/09)
Cat's Eye--Margaret Atwood (body part) (2/28/09)
House of Sand and Fog--Andre Dubus III (building) (11/9/09)
As I Lay Dying--William Faulkner (I assume dying is considered a medical condition!) (11/28/09)

Number's Challenge

This is a new one for me for this year. The idea is to pick five books that have numbers in the title--two of which are NOT in any other challenges. You can read all about it (and sign up) here.

(1/5)--DID NOT FINISH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fahrenheit 451--Ray Bradbury
Four's Crossing--Nancy Garden
The Life of Pi--Yann Martel
The Once and Future King--T.H. White (3/27/09)
Sin in the Second City--Karen Abbot

Decades 2009!

So this year I plan on doing this challenge correctly--last year I read books that were SET in the different decades, rather than PUBLISHED in different decades. You can read all the rules and sign up here.

FINISHED AS OF 12/14/09!!! My favorite read was probably Beloved; my least favorite was On the Road.

1910s: Riders of the Purple Sage--Zane Grey (12/8/09)
1920s: The Sun Also Rises--Ernest Hemingway (12/14/09)
1930s: As I Lay Dying--William Faulkner (11/28/09)
1940s: Animal Farm--George Orwell (1/10/09)
1950s: On the Road--Jack Kerouac (10/26/09)
1960s: Uncharted Stars--Andre Norton (11/26/09)
1970s: The Bluest Eye--Toni Morrison
1980s: Beloved--Toni Morrison (1/3/09)
1990s: Into Thin Air--Jon Krakauer (1/2/09)

TBR 2009

Here we go! This is my list of books I have been meaning to read for some time, but haven't gotten around to yet, so I will read them during the course of the year 2009! You can find the challenge sign-up here, and you can find the books I read last year (one more to go in my main list!) and links to their reviews here.

FINISHED AS OF 11/6/09!!!!! (8 regular; 5 alternates). I am going to keep trying to read more, especially on my regular list, but it feels good to have a challenge behind me. My favorite book from these was probably House of the Scorpion, but many were really, really good--The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Paradise, Into Think Air, Duma Key, The Virgin Suicides, House of Sand and Fog. My least favorite was probably Ophelia Speaks--the adolescent voice got tiring after a while.

Main List:

On the Road--Jack Kerouac (10/26/09)
Lord of the Rings--J.R.R. Tolkein (11/4/09)
Into Thin Air--Jon Krakauer (1/2/09)
Fablehaven--Brandon Mull (3/14/09)
Searching For the Sound--Phil Lesh
A Brief History of Time--Stephen Hawking
House of Sand and Fog--Andre Dubus III (11/9/09)
Duma Key--Stephen King (6/27/09)
Blaze--Stephen King
The Virgin Suicides--Jeffrey Eugenides (1/13/09)
Animal Farm--George Orwell (1/10/09)
The Crossing--Cormac McCarthy

Alternate List:

The Memory Keeper's Daughter--Kim Edwards (11/6/09)
Ophelia Speaks--Sara Shandler (5/23/09)
Paradise--Toni Morrison (4/3/09)
The Wastelands, Love Songs...--T.S. Eliot
Cat's Eye--Margaret Atwood (2/28/09)
Danse Macabre--Stephen King
I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon--Phillip K. Dick
Breaking Her Fall--
House of Scorpion--Nancy Farmer (5/9/09)
Your Writing Coach (didn't get to it this year!)
The Writer's Toolkit
I, Robot--Issac Asimov

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Young Adult Challenge 2009!

Here is my reading list for the 2009 Young Adult Reading Challenge, hosted by J.Kaye!
FINISHED AS OF 10/17/09!!!!

1. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (3/14/09)
2. Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler (5/23/09)
3. The Forever King by Molly Cochran (1/30/09)
4. The Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen (1/17/09)
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 9/28/09)
6. The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (5/9/09)
7. Speak by Laurie Hale Andersen (8/25/09)
8. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2/8/09)
9. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (4/13/09)
10. Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee (10/17/09)
11. Can't Get There From Here by Todd Strasser (1/23/09)
12. Glass by Ellen Hopkins (3/1/09)

(You can view last years list, and links to the reviews, here)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reading Challenges for 2009...

So in the next few days I'm going to begin posting my reading lists for the 2009 challenges. The challenges I'm thinking of joining are:

The A-Z challenge (Read books with titles beginning A-Z)
100 + Reading challenge (call me crazy--read 100 or more books in 2009)
Decades '09 (this time I'll do it correctly, by publication date)
TBR '09 (same rules apply, though there are new variations this year)
Young Adult '09 (ditto)
Casual Classics Challenge (4 classics)
Numbers Challenge (5 books with numbers in the title)
Themed Reading (read 4-6 books linked by a particular theme)
What's in a Name? (read 6 books with particular items named in the title)
Spiritually Seeking Challenge (6 books that have to do with spirituality)

I'll decide on book lists soon!

Blue Light--Walter Mosely

Year Published: 1999
Pages: 400
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3/5

This was a really weird book. I really disliked the first two-thirds of it, but by the end I was sort of captivated. Until the very end, which was sort of like a cold bucket of water.

I'm not sure that I can really explain the plot of this book. I'm not sure that I understand it. Basically, one day blue light comes down and infuses several people from earth--from San Francisco in the late 60s, to be more specific. The people whom the light has touched become sort of demigods, and they spread their word and recruit more followers through blood and sex. This rouses the interest of an evil being, known as "death" to the blue light people (or "Blues" as they are referred to in the book), and he comes to kill them in very horrific and gory detail. Many of them die, but those that are left flee and are called to a "safe zone" in the redwood forests of California, where they are led by a strange forestkeeper (sort of an archetypical "green man" figure) to help seed the world with "blue" trees. Here they live a peaceful, innocent existence, where they are among others like themselves and grapple with their true natures. Then the bad guy comes.

The battle that ensues is not what disappointed me about the ending, and I won't spoil it by explaining what did. (If anyone has actually read this book and wants to discuss it, feel free to email me!) I liked the part of the book that took place in the forest; I found myself sucked into their carefree, primal and feral world. And I like the premise, though I can't exactly enunciate it--that humans are pods waiting to be seeded and sprout into evolution. But a lot of the book had a dark seedy feel to it, and it created a lot of unanswered questions.

Challenge/s: TBR
Book-a-week # 61

Dragonwing--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Year Published: 1990
Pages: 480
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Finally I read this book (which has been floating around my bookshelf for years), and now I want to read the series.

I don't know why it took me so long to read it--I loved the Dragonlance series by the same authors. Maybe I was worried it would be too different than those books, which I adored. Or maybe time got in the way. Whatever it was, I'm glad I read it now. It sets the scene for a struggle between two races of demigods, the Patryns and the Sartans. Other races featured in this book are elves, dwarves (Gegs), and humans. All races are divided and mistrustful of one another; it appears that some sort of apocalypse separated them. The world is divided into three realms--the low realm, which is closest to land and on which resides the dwarves, the mid-realm, which is floating in air and occupied by elves and humans, and the high realm, which is above a crust of ice where the highest order of human magicians live. There is also an underrealm which contains a labyrinth where the Patryn were imprisoned--and forgotten--by the Sartans, causing the current conflict.

The book begins with a hired assassin (Hugh the Hand) given the task of killing a king's son--a bright, cheerful boy of about nine. He and the boy, Prince Bane, leave under the pretext that he is protecting the boy from enemies, and Bane's servant, Alfred, follows them. As they journey, Hugh begins to realize there is more to both of them than he bargained for. They end up stranded in low realm, where the dwarves are undergoing a revolution, where they meet Haplo, a mysterious figure from the underworld, and his remarkable dog. The journey takes them up to the High Realm where they must confront one of the more powerful magi--and where the true battle begins.

I loved this book. I loved the complexity of the worlds and races involved (how they create cultures, history, language, terrain!), I loved how bits and pieces were revealed as I read on, I loved the multi-faceted characters. (Who is good in this book? Who is evil? This is not so black and white!) I am definately planning on reading the next book in the series.

Challenge/s: TBR
Book-a-Week # 60

The Sound and the Fury--William Faulkner

Year Published: 1929
Pages: 378
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

When I first began reading this book, I had no idea what was going on. Why were events streaming from one to the next, and where the heck was the punctuation? Welcome to the wonderful world of Faulkner, whom I had never read before. I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but pieces of the story will probably leak out. I'm not sure that that would've ruined my experience--it probably would've made it easier for me to grasp the storyline.

The novel is a story of a prominent southern family's downfall, but it is not told in a straightforward manner. The first part is told from Benjie's point of view. Benjie is a grown man who suffers from mental retardation, and his concept of time is nonexistent. Therefore his memories lapse from today to twenty years ago to five years ago to this morning. They are all centered around his sister Caddie (who begins the family's shame) and the family's pasture (which is sold to pay for his brother Quentin's Harvard education, and becomes a golf course).

The next section is Quentin's, and is eighteen years previous. This is where we learn of Caddie's discrepancies. Quentin is so shamed by his sister's indecency--and by his thoughts and stirrings for her--that he loses his mind, and this section is stream-of-consciousness rambling as he wanders the streets of Boston. He ultimately drowns himself.

Next we hear from Jason, one of the most unlikeable characters ever created. Jason's story is told straightforward, but his sexism, racism, and contempt for his family make this section almost as difficult to read as the others. He is now the head of the family, where he makes life difficult for the servants and his sister Caddie's illegitimate daughter, who lives with them.

The last section is third person narration, and follows Dilsey, the long-time family servant. After this section an appendix tells some of the ancestral family history, clears up some of the confusion, and affirms some of what we have guessed.

As difficult as this book was to read, I really liked it. The writing can be hauntingly beautiful, and the family becomes more and more vivid as one reads. I plan on reading more Faulkner--perhaps As I Lay Dying?

Challenge/s: TBR (alt), Decades, Naming Conventions, 1% Well Read, States (MS)
Book-a-Week # 59

That Was Then, This is Now--S.E. Hinton

Year Published: 1971
Pages: 160
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4/5

All of Hinton's books for teens were favorites of mine since grammar school. This one deals with issues of drugs and morality. Bryon and Mark are best friends and have lived together like brothers since Mark's parents fatally shot each other in a drunken argument when Mark was young. But their friendship is tested by issues of morality. Grappling with immense emotional changes and struggling to come to terms with the death of a friend, Bryon is forced to make a decision between his friend and what he feels is right.

Simple writing, an easy read, and slightly dated. But still worth reading.

Challenge/s: Read it Again, States (OK)
Book-a-Week # 58

Dolores Claiborne--Stephen King

Year Published: 1993
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Good ol' King, never disappoints. At least not much. This book, for one, wasn't disappointing in the least. Dolores Claiborne has been charged with the murder of her boss, an older, disagreeable, lonely rich widow. So she gives her confession--but not for the crime they are expecting to hear about.

The entire book is told in Dolores' voice, as a transcript of her confession at the police station (with the exception of a few newspaper clippings at the end). And her voice is gritty and real. King is a master at characterization, and this is no exception. It is amazing how much he is able to tell through the eyes of only one character. Dolores' story is instantly captivating, and her life is filled with sadness, pain and strength. And I even liked the ending.

Challenge/s: Decades, Naming Conventions
Book-a-Week # 57

Tortilla Flat--John Steinbeck

Year Published: 1935
Pages: 244
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

I really enjoyed this book. It is meant to be an analogy of the King Arthur saga, but set in southern California in the depression, and characterized with paisonos--several-generation Mexican Americans with a distinct culture and way of life. I adored the paisanos, whose main concerns were to find ways to obtain more liquor and who spent much time rationalizing their actions against their moral code--and always finding amusing ways to do so. The story was passionate and humorous. I didn't really get the Arthurian thing, but I'm not too well-versed in Arthurian lore to begin with. I will say that I read the story before the foreward (to avoid spoilers), and after reading the foreward was the first time it occurred to me that Steinbeck's portrayal of his characters was offensive to Mexican-Americans. Afterwards it certainly made sense, but as I was reading it seemed to me that he was referring to specific individuals who formed their own cultural group, rather than an entire ethnic group who adhered to a different set of standards. An interesting controversy, either way.

Challenge/s: Decades, Naming Conventions
Book-a-Week # 56

Sundog--Jim Harrison

Year Published: 1991
Pages: 244
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

I have no idea where this book came from; it's been on my bookshelf for ages and I finally decided to read it. At first I thought I was going to hate it. It seemed colorless and boring, narrated in first-person by a self-centered author sent to write a biography on an engineer. But as characters were introduced and the subject's story began to be revealed, I realized this book was far more than I expected. Strang, the engineer, is suffering from a nerve disorder brought on by ingesting an herb in a foreign land (a common treatment for the natives there, but too much for him). Confined to a wheelchair and attended by a beautiful Costa Rican dancer, he tries to bring back the use of his damaged legs. His work had led him all over the world, and the story he tells is honest, raw, sexual and strong. The ending of this book is a sort of beautiful yet obscure triumph.

Challenge/s: TBR
Book-a-Week # 55

Foundation--Issac Asimov

Year Published: 1951
Pages: 256
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

I'm not the hugest sci-fi fan, but I thought it was high time I read some Asimov. Pretty amazing stuff, actually, considering where technology was at the time it was written. In this series (of which I have only read this one), a foundation of scientists (psychohistorians, who are sort of statisticians who predict human behavior based on mathematical probability) realize the end of the world is imminent and come up with a way to preserve society. They pick people to send to different ends of the universe, and set into motion a plan, one that is wholly dependent upon the lead psychohistorian's predictions. And then we get to watch it unfold. It was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, if somewhat dry and, well, scientific. I do plan on finishing the series next year.

Challenge/s: Naming Conventions; 1% Well Read
Book-a-Week # 54