Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tammy's Top Ten Reads of 2008

When I looked over my list of books read in 2008, I found it interesting how my ratings would change if I were to give them out now. Some of the books I rated 9/10 would be lower; those stories just didn't stay with me, though I enjoyed them immensely while reading them. Then some of the books I rated 8/10 or 8.5/10 would definitely be elevated; those stories still haunt me and I find myself thinking of them regularly. Don't you just love it when a story sticks with you, so much so that months or even years later you think about the plot and the characters and wish you were reading it again for the first time? So when I looked over my list, I chose my Top Ten, not just based on the rating given at the time, but on my feelings for the book right now.

Without further ado, here is my Top Ten List of 2008, (with several teetering on the cusp of inclusion, so they were added as Honorable Mentions with capital letters):

Top Ten List of 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Time of Singing by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Under An English Heaven by Robert Radcliffe
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Honorable Mentions:
The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause
Beside the Burning Sea by John Shors
Molokai by Alan Brennert
Lady of Milkweed Manor by Julie Klaasen
Caves of Perigord by Martin Walker
Stop in the Name of Pants by Louise Rennison
Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost
Rumors by Anna Godbersen
Wishing you all a blessed New Year filled with love, family, and books!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod

I'm on a roll! Well, it's easy to be on a roll when you're on Christmas break. I went ahead and picked up The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer because Katherine (my equally vampire addicted daughter) wanted me to read it so she could get to it. As it turns out, it's a gem of a book that takes on the young adult vampire genre very well. I'm looking forward to the next two in the series. Fun, fun, fun.
Amazon review copied below to give you a fuller view of the book.
With the glut of young adult vampire novels available today, I am usually hopeful that when I pick up a new one, it's going to be well written and at the very least, fun. Hopeful, but cautious; many times authors tend to jump on the bandwagon of the moment without regard for the nuances and flavor that created the sensation in the first place. Luckily for me (and the legions of other vampire addicts out there), The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod lives up to the hype and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout.
Vlad Tod is in eighth grade, which would be bad enough for an awkward adolescent if he wasn't also a vampire. Since Vlad's parents died, he has lived with his "aunt" Nelly, who is able to keep him supplied in blood through her job as a nurse. The only other person who knows of Vlad's condition is his best friend Henry; otherwise, most of Vlad's problems are of the every day middle school variety: being picked on by the school bullies, loving a girl from afar, and getting homework done. But things quickly change when a new substitute takes over when one of Vlad's favorite teachers goes missing; this sub seems to somehow know more about Vlad than he should, and Vlad finds this very unsettling. With the discovery of his father's diary, Vlad realizes his being a vampire is going to be darker and more dangerous than he'd known.
Vlad is a typical 8th grader, and that's one of the things that makes this book so engaging. While Vlad has a special "condition", he is also just worried about the regular things an adolescent would be. Vlad's relationship with Henry is entirely believable and funny, and his wistful longing for the beautiful Meredith is familiar territory for most young adults.
Ms. Brewer hits just the right balance of humor and suspense throughout the novel, and she spends the correct amount of time building tension and creating possibilities. The chapters that focus on the victims of the "bad" vampire are darkly written and chilling. While I found the climax a bit unrealistically lucky for Vlad, I can truthfully say that I am looking forward to reading more in this series. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod is great fun as well as entertaining, and a welcome addition to the young adult vampiric genre.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I am in love with this book. The more I think about it, the more I love it. It's got everything that makes a book wonderful: lots of humor, tragedy (for a purpose), determination, courage, and writing that is so good you just want to wallow in it. If you only ever pick up one young adult book, it better be this one. It's that good.

I will copy my amazon review below. I hope you'll read this one and agree with me. I'm still smiling about this unique novel.


I wish it was possible to give a book six stars on Amazon. Or ten stars. Or a hundred stars. Not for just any book, mind you; only for those that pack such emotional wallop, humor, and writing into them that the usual scale just doesn't do them justice. The sort of book like the young adult novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie that just makes you immediately realize this book deserves way more than just five stars.

Arnold (also known as Junior), lives on the Spokane Native American Reservation where drinking and dysfunction are imprinted on the genes of its inhabitants. Arnold's faced a lot in his life, including being born as a hydroencephalic to well-meaning but disappointing parents. But as Arnold looks around and sees how everyone, including his older sister, has given up, something is sparked within and he becomes determined to make something of his life. So with lots of courage, Arnold talks his parents into letting him attend Reardon High School, the "white" school outside the reservation that will give him the contacts and advantages the rez school cannot.

From the moment Arnold steps into Reardon, his life changes, as he knew it would, and a lesser person would have been brought down immediately in the face of becoming an outcast on the reservation for having the nerve to think he could be "better". Life at Reardon is difficult, too; as the only Indian at the school, Arnold's got to somehow forge friendships from people very different than himself. But Arnold's not a quitter, even when he's forced to walk the distance to school because his father is either too drunk or too broke to take him; not even when his former schoolmates and their parents turn out en masse to boo and throw things when he plays basketball against the rez school. Arnold takes refuge in his skill as a cartoonist and his self-knowledge that somehow he will survive.

The story is told with liberal humor and lots of tragedy, and Arnold is a typical self-deprecating teen. Alexie's writing is the kind I'd like to actually crawl inside, it's so good. An example is when Arnold's math teacher convinces him that he can better himself: "I was starting to understand. He was a math teacher. I had to add my hope to somebody else's hope. I had to multiply hope by hope." Later, while clinging to his mother following a devastating tragedy, Arnold says: "...she held on to me for hours. Held onto me like I was a baby. And she kept crying. So many tears. My clothes and hair were soaked with her tears. It was, like, my mother had given me a grief shower, you know? Like she'd baptized me with her pain."

When you finish some books and close them, you may know you've enjoyed them by the way you're left feeling. Maybe you're smiling over a happy ending, or you're breathing hard because you've survived an action-filled climax. With The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, there will be so much more; Arnold is going to live with you in his heart-warming, hopeful manner forever. Six stars. One hundred stars. One very large star that supersedes all others. Whatever. This book is simply one of the best I've read. I cannot recommend it highly enough for people of all ages.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth

Sandra Worth's The King's Daughter picks up the story of the War of the Roses from a most unique point of view: that of Elizabeth of York, daughter of the Yorkist king Edward IV and eventual wife of the Lancastrian king, Henry Tudor (Henry VII). While at times Worth is overly flowery, I can always count on her to give me a good tale that provides glimpses into this bloody period of England's history. Following is my review.
When we think of British history and its queens, I doubt many of us will immediately think of Elizabeth of York, daughter to a king, niece to a king, sister of a king, and wife of a king. Yet without her, the War of the Roses might have continued on interminably, and her family's Tudor dynasty would not have existed. Sandra Worth has taken this obscure tragic queen and illuminated her life in her excellent historical novel, The King's Daughter.
Told from Elizabeth's point of view, Worth starts with her earliest childhood as the beloved eldest daughter of Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Worth takes the view that Elizabeth Woodville was purely evil, giving her an over-the-top personality that quite honestly grated on me throughout the novel. Young Elizabeth, however, having lived through two times of frantic sanctuary, the death of her father and the disappearance of her two younger brothers, continues to try to make peace with her vitriolic mother. Indeed, making peace seems to be Elizabeth's lot in life; used as a pawn from her earliest days, she never seems destined to discover any true happiness of her own.
Worth chooses to have Elizabeth fall in love with her uncle, Richard III, which I believe to be a mistake for several reasons. The idea of an incestuous relationship between the two, while less distasteful in the 1400s than today, still gives the story an icky feeling. Plus, Richard's devotion to his wife is well known, and it would be hard to believe that he would have encouraged his niece to foster her romantic feelings for any reason. While a young girl who hasn't known much stability might have fallen for a strong older man, the sort of unending devotion Elizabeth exhibits just feels wrong.
However, Worth does do a terrific job in bringing the details of Elizabeth's life forward, and I found her portrayal of the relationship between Elizabeth and Henry Tudor very believable. Elizabeth, trained from birth to accept her fate, realizes that it's going to be up to her to find her own place in life, and if that means tolerating both Henry and his overbearing mother, she will do it in order to bring peace to the kingdom her father loved. Worth does give Elizabeth a bit more spunk and spine than I'd previously thought she might have, and I appreciated that as this is a woman I just couldn't have understood otherwise. Worth also has a way of pulling you into the time period and making you feel as though you are experiencing events firsthand. If at times her writing is overly flowery and her villains way too one-dimensional, it can be forgiven because her novels are always well written and vibrant. The King's Daughter is no exception.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Tradition #1

When Hannah was very little, Jeff started the Christmas tradition of baking and decorating Christmas cookies with her. She often ended up covered in flour and icing, but she was always pleased to have her own cookies to offer Santa on Christmas Eve. After Katherine was born, she also became involved in this annual tradition, and if we thought Hannah was a messy "cook", Katherine literally took the cake (and the cookie and pretty much everything else). We have a memorable picture of Katherine shirtless while decorating because we'd finally realized more was going onto her pajamas than on the cookies. But she was happy.

Tonight was the 2008 version of cookie decorating. You'd think that at age seventeen, Hannah'd be bored with the whole episode, but oh no. The only thing she's "bored" with is her mother with camera in hand, capturing the moment again for posterity. You don't let 17 Christmases (we don't count the first one) go without recording the moment, regardless of what she complains about. In fact, she was downright surly at first about having her picture made until I threatened to post it to Facebook. Cooperation guaranteed.

Jeff's a great dad, and he's always right in there with them. I suspect that even after Hannah goes off to college next fall, she'll come home ready to decorate Christmas cookies. And there I'll be, camera in hand, ready to capture the moment once again.
Life doesn't get much better than this.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fetching? Well, no, actually...

I wish I'd loved The Fetch because I adored Laura Whitcomb's first novel, A Certain Slant of Light. Unfortunately, I had to push myself through this one which I chose to review for Amazon Vine. Confusing, boring at times, even perplexing; I have to wonder who the editor was that let Ms. Whitcomb publish such a great premise without great execution. It's not that it's so poorly done; it's more that it could have been so much more.
I've decided that rather than posting a link to my Amazon reviews, I'm just going to copy them here, noting that they are also found on Amazon. I'd still like you to visit Amazon to vote if you feel like it, but with Amazon's bizarre method of counting positive votes these days, I'm just not seeing the point of directing everyone there. So below you'll see my full review with details (is that like "with bells on"? Food for thought there).
The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb
The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb has a terrific premise: Calder, a Fetch (those sent from heaven to "fetch" a dying soul to the next stage), glimpses a beautiful young woman one night as he steps through a Death Door, and finds himself unaccustomedly enamored. When he's summoned back to the same place just a few years later, he becomes even more intrigued--so much so, that not too long after that, he does the unthinkable, breaking his Vows and "borrowing" the corpse of a soul he's been sent to fetch in order to meet this young woman. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that not only is the woman not who he thought she was, he's now inside the body of the feared and despicable Rasputin, friend and manipulator of Russia's last czar and his family. How Calder not only protects but helps the czar's two youngest children after the dreadful executions, but also how he tries to repair the discontinuity his jumping into Earth gives this book a superb plot with lots of promise. Unfortunately, the promise goes unfulfilled for the most part. Laura Whitcomb has a gift for words, but I wish she had written a stronger novel. The Fetch has some gorgeous imagery and the idea of Calder, Ana, and Alexis needing to find Calder's Fetch Key seemed to be a good idea for action that should've kept me on the edge of my seat. Instead, the trio's trip around the world seemed interminable, with lots of repetition and some very confusing appearances by random demons and other Fetches. The characters felt distant; I never got the sense that I actually got inside their skins so I could understand them. The side stories held much potential, yet after turning pages excitedly to see what was coming, I was let down by either the non-action or the odd anti-climax. The ending itself left much to be desired; it's almost as though I was led to a scene expecting something momentous and was handed an abrupt, gentle solution. And the much-touted romance? Well, let's just say I didn't experience a true connection between the characters so I found it confusing and improbable. Not everything in this story is a let down, though. I did genuinely like Calder, and I could understand his self-doubt. I liked the glimpses into his life as a Fetch, and whenever he experienced supernatural reactions, I felt like the story was coming alive. I liked that the story was set in Russia with the Romanovs, and I liked that Whitcomb gave us another possibility for the tragic end of Ana and Alexis. An author's note at the end detailing some of the background to the real history would have been helpful; not everyone will understand the personna of Rasputin so I fear even more of the plot will be lost to young fans. I also think my final analysis of The Fetch suffers because of my deep adoration of Whitcomb's first novel, A Certain Slant of Light. The end result of my finishing this novel is that I'm left pondering what might have been had the story been fleshed out a bit; overall it's not a bad read, but it could have been so much more. Color me a bit disappointed, though I'll probably still look for Ms. Whitcomb's next book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Time Wasters

Because the only thing going slower than the minutes ticking by to indicate freedom in the form of winter break is my reading of Laura Whitcomb's The Fetch, I've decided I must share some holiday frivolity with everyone. So here is not one, but two fun time wasters to indulge in until I eventually finish this book (which generally isn't bad, but I'm pretty let down, honestly, especially since I adored her A Certain Slant of Light).

Snow Globe (I'm having to insert the url as blogger is for some bizarre reason, inserting a in front of every link I try to insert...oh joy). I like to pretend it's my 8th graders flying around inside. Be sure and watch the scenario happening inside as well...the snowman is pretty carnivorous.

Make-a-Snowflake (My classes had tons of fun with this one today. You'd think 8th graders would scoff at such childish fun, but oh no. They ate it up. I have to say, they made some truly coolio designs that I wish I could duplicate).

~taminator40 (brain dead and exhausted)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

My newest review is of the Vine book, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (think that's her real last name? I'm doubtful). I chose this one from the Amazon Vine program because it's young adult (a favorite of mine) and it contains vampires (also a favorite...oh, come on, you knew that). It turned out to be a good choice. After a bit of a rocky start (I disliked how Lucius, the vampire, spoke in the beginning--I'm not big on fake snobbery), I found myself very caught up in the action.

Short synopsis? Jessica Packwood is just starting her senior year of high school when a very odd exchange student (who happens to be wearing a velvet jacket/cape), turns up, seeming to be stalking her. While that alone would freak a girl out, when Lucius shares the fact that he's actually a vampire, and she is too, Jessica becomes determined to not give in to his charms. Lucius has been sent to woo Jessica because their parents signed a pact eighteen years before that would unite both their vampiric families and bring peace to the vampire nation. Jessica's having none of it, though--she's got her sights set on hottie Jake and she's certainly not going to honor some weird pact her biological parents signed.

The story is action filled, and the author does a terrific job of building tension between the two. Jessica slowly realizes her heart is changing, but unfortunately, so does Lucius; the twists are unique as the couple finds their way to one another. I didn't care for the climax so much because I felt it was very abrupt, but in general this is a delightful book that achieved its purpose: it kept me turning the pages and engaged in the lives of its main characters.

A fuller review of mine can be found at amazon at I'm glad I chose this book, and it's good to be able to recommend a teen vampire novel to those who love Twilight.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Another Mother's Life

Another Mother's Life is a book I picked up from the Vine program through Amazon. I'd read Rowan Coleman's earlier novel, The Accidental Mother earlier this year and enjoyed it, so I was eager to get this one to see if it compared favorably. Good news: it's another good one!
Coleman sets us up with two best friends, Alison and Catherine, reuniting after fifteen years. Only of course this isn't just a "glad to see you again" meeting; the last time the women saw each other was when they were seventeen and Alison was running away with Catherine's lover, Marc. Devastated by the loss of both boyfriend and best friend, Catherine tried to move on with her life, eventually marrying musician Jimmy Ashley and having two daughters. But just as her marriage to Jimmy is coming to an end, Alison and Marc (along with their three children) arrive back in the town of Farmington hoping to "start over". Can the women overcome the betrayals of fifteen years ago? Should they? Or should Catherine try to have revenge by sleeping with Marc now?
There are some pretty big cliches in this novel (women friends falling out over a man, infidelity, and confusion about what's best in the long run, coupled with children tragedies), but it's to Coleman's credit that she can make you care for people who really aren't all that loveable when you get down to it. I should've despised Alison, not just for what she did so long ago, but what she continued to do throughout the novel; her blind devotion to her family made her overlook what the real tragedy was. Catherine's wishy-washy personality should've put me over the edge, but again, I liked her. Coleman has a way of getting you to understand the deep-seated insecurities her characters face and make you want to befriend them.
I did a fuller review for Amazon at While this is chick lit, it's pretty good and I can recommend it for the writing and characterization. I'll be looking for Coleman's next novel.