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Xuesheng's 12 in 12

The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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Edited: Jan 21, 2013, 1:54pm Top

I'm here to try again. My goal is 5 books in all categories and more in the Kid's 1001 category.

I. History
II. What's that You're Reading?
III. China
IV. 1001 Books to Read Before You Die
V. 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up
VI. Whatever!
VII. Things I Should Know
VIII. It's All About ME - COMPLETE
IX. Anthologies or Collections
X. Dystopian and Fantasy - COMPLETE
XI. Travel
XII. nook Free Fridays What Rudolfo Anaya Said

How many have I read so far?

How many 1001 books have I read this year?

Edited: Nov 18, 2012, 1:10am Top

I. History

1. Images of America Jonesboro and Arkansas' Historic Northeast Corner by Ray and Diane Hanley - Jan. 11, 2012
2. Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick - March 6, 2012
3. Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff - September 3, 2012
4. Blood Feud by Lisa Alther - October 5, 2012


Edited: Nov 18, 2012, 12:38am Top

II. What's that You're Reading? - Using the 12 in 12 tag page, I will read at least one book on a page. I'll be using the list view since it always has 25 per page. If I've already read a book on that page, I will skip to the next. To make this even more adventurous, I've decided to use a random number generator to choose the book.

It is April now and it has become clear that I didn't think this through enough. Of course, as more people read and tag a book, it could move among pages. However, I still intend to use the concept understanding that a book may move to a page with another book that I've read on it.

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - (This book was the tenth book on the fourth page when I selected it.) **1001 book** - May 1, 2012
2. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black - (The book was on page 3 and the random number generator gave me 25.) - June 24, 2012
3. Room by Emma Donoghue - September 21, 2012 (audio book)
4. Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky - (On 3rd page with a random number of 8 in early October) - November 14, 2012


Edited: Jan 21, 2013, 1:51pm Top

III. China - I have so many books about China on my shelves so this category is back for another year.

1. Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin - Feb. 19, 2012
2. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang - July 4, 2012
3. Red Sorghum by Mo Yan - September 19, 2012
4. Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh - January 1, 2013

Edited: Oct 1, 2012, 11:46pm Top

IV. 1001 Books to Read Before You Die - Continuing to make a tiny bit of headway on the list.

1. Rameau's Nephew by Denis Diderot - March 21, 2012
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - April 17, 2012
3. The Monk by M. G. Lewis - October 1, 2012

Edited: Sep 3, 2012, 7:38am Top

V. 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up - Technically, it's too late...I'm already grown. Nevertheless, I am still a big kid and enjoy reading these, especially with my kids.

1. The Arrival by Shaun Tan - March 22, 2012
2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - April 23, 2012
3. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson - May 8, 2012
4. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech - July 1, 2012
5. Holes by Louis Sachar - July 4, 2012
6. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in Peoples' Ears by Verna Aardema - July 21, 2012
7. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina - July 21, 2012
8. The Three Railway Engines by Rev. W. Awdry - September 2, 2012

Edited: Nov 11, 2012, 12:08pm Top

VI. Whatever! - Whatever I feel like reading that doesn't fit in another category.

1. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez - March 25, 2012
2. Freeman: A Novel by Leonard Pitts, Jr. - May 31, 2012
3. The Waste Lands by Stephen King - August 12, 2012
4. The Odyssey by Homer - September 8, 2012 (audio book)

Edited: Jan 21, 2013, 1:53pm Top

VII. Things I Should Know - Topics that I want to know more about. This will be nonfiction.

1. Don't Know Much about Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis - Mar. 1, 2012
2. Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt - August 16, 2012
3. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt - December 26, 2012
4. Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin - January 1, 2013

Edited: Aug 14, 2012, 7:34am Top

VIII. It's All About ME - Autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs.

1. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls - January 16, 2012
2. The Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang - April 10, 2012
3. Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden - April 15, 2012
4. Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman - May 12, 2012
5. My Life in France by Julia Child - August 4, 2012


Edited: Nov 18, 2012, 1:11am Top

IX. Anthologies and Collections - First time for this category so I would appreciate any recommendations!! It can be poetry, short stories, or other.

1. June Fourth Elegies by Liu Xiaobo - June 19, 2012
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien **1001 book** - August 21, 2012
3. Lavender's Blue, compiled by Kathleen Lines ++1001 Children's Book++ - October 14, 2012
4. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell - October 28, 2012

Possible: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

Edited: Aug 14, 2012, 7:33am Top

X. Dystopian or Fantasy - This was a Mount TBR category, but I needed a new category for the Hunger Games trilogy and some other books I'm considering. I can get TBR books using categories already here.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - March 27, 2012
2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - March 29, 2012
3. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - March 31, 2012
4. The Gunslinger by Stephen King - July 7, 2012
5. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King - July 12, 2012


Edited: Dec 9, 2012, 9:12am Top

Edited: Nov 10, 2012, 12:55am Top

XII. nook Free Fridays
I'm changing this category from "What Rudolfo Anaya Said" to "nook Free Fridays" - The community idea for "What Rudolfo Anaya Said" wasn't working for me. Instead I'm going to use this category as a chance to read some of the many free nook books I have collected from Barnes and Noble over the past year. I'm moving the books previously read in this category to Whatever!.

1. The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone - July 19, 2012
2. The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu - August 30, 2012
3. Heart of the Witch by Alicia Dean - November 9, 2012

Edited: Mar 3, 2012, 12:00pm Top

Book 1: Jonesboro and Arkansas' Historic Northeast Corner by Ray and Diane Hanley
Finished: January 11, 2012
Category: History

I grew up in this part of the world. The book is one of a series called "Images of America," and it uses postcards that were popular around the turn of the 20th Century to show the life and scenes from that time. It is fun to see buildings and read about families that I remember from my youth. Even better, I learned some things that I didn't know even though, starting with my great grandparents, my family has lived in this area since the late 1800s. I definitely will pick up other Image of America books to read about other areas in which I'm interested.

Feb 12, 2012, 11:14am Top

Welcome back!

Feb 12, 2012, 11:23am Top

I enjoyed following your thread last year and got you starred again this year!

Edited: Mar 3, 2012, 12:00pm Top

Book 2: Half Broke Horses
Finished: January 16, 2012
Category: It's All About ME

A "true life novel" about the author's grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, this book uses stories told by Ms. Smith to her family to build this novel. It takes place in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and follows Ms. Smith from her childhood in West Texas during the early 1900s to the birth of Jeannette Walls in the 1950s. Ms. Smith was quite a character with an interesting life. In West Texas she first lived in a dugout along the banks of a river that was prone to flash floods. She learned from her father how to break horses. She worked as a school teacher in some sparsely populated areas of Arizona, and rode her horse, by herself at the age of 15, across Arizona to get there. She married a garage owner and during the depression, their business went bust. So, when he got a job as a rancher she became a working ranchers wife--a partner with her husband in running the ranch.

This book was fun to read because Lily is such an interesting, spunky character. Ms. Walls chose to write the book in the first person, and I'm sure the writing reflected her grandmother's way of speaking--realistic and very open. Definitely an enjoyable book.

Feb 12, 2012, 11:45am Top

Thanks, Ikernagh and paruline!!

Feb 12, 2012, 4:59pm Top

I'm joining this challenge for the first time this year and I look forward to your reads.

I work in a high school library and like to read books I find there to recommend them to the students. We have The Glass Castle by Walls and it is on my "someday..." list.

Edited: Feb 12, 2012, 7:37pm Top

Hi mamzel, thanks for stopping by. My in-laws loaned me Half Broke Horses and also recommended The Glass Castle. Next time I visit them, I'm going to switch books. I decided to read the books in chronological order rather than the order written. I'm also looking forward to Glass Castle.

Edited: Mar 3, 2012, 11:59am Top

Book 3: Nanjing Requiem
Finished: February 19, 2012
Category: China

I liked this book, and I'm glad I read it. I also have read the reviews saying that it is reporting and emotionally flat, and I agree. I felt the same during the beginning of the novel; however, at some point the feeling disappeared leaving me to believe that Ha Jin wrote this way intentionally.

This book is historical fiction and is told from the perspective of a fictional woman named Anling who works with Minnie Vautrin, a real woman who was a missionary and one of the founders, chairman of the education department and acting president at Jinling Girls' College in Nanjing China. The novel covers the time period just before the Japanese invasion of Nanjing and through Ms. Vautrin's death. Most of the beginning covers the activities of the employees of the college had to do as the Japanese invaded the city and made their way to the school. There were many atrocities being committed, and while Ha Jin writes of some tears and horror, the staff is running from one "fire" to another and doesn't seem to have time to feel. Anling also remarks at some point about Minnie's frustration with Chinese people over their willingness to accept things that happen because in a generation all things change. These are the reasons that I thought the lack of emotion was intentional.

Later, Minnie Vautrin remains haunted by some decisions that she had to make and one in particular continually plays on her mind. Things become especially difficult when the past president returns to Japanese-occupied Nanjing from her fundraising trip to the US and questions almost everything that Minnie has done to keep women and children safe and the school open. Through descriptions of Anling’s family life, we get an idea of the struggles and difficulties of living under foreign occupation. This is not a happy ending book, but for me, I found it powerful.

Mar 3, 2012, 11:57am Top

Book 4: Don't Know Much About Mythology
Finished: March 1, 2012
Category: Things I Should Know

An interesting overview of mythologies from various cultures. Starts with an introduction to mythology and then each following chapter provides information on various cultures. Each chapter gives mythical milestones for that culture along with a brief description of the chief gods and goddesses and answers to various questions you may not know you had. I wish the sections on Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific Islands had more information. However, in all, I thought it was a decent overview.

Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 8:38pm Top

Book 5: Elizabeth and Hazel
Finished: March 6, 2012
Category: History

I'm pleased that David Margolick wrote this book, and especially delighted that I happened across it in my local library. This is a compelling book about the two girls at the center of this picture taken on September 4, 1957.

They are Elizabeth Eckford--the African American women in front with her eyes down. This was her first day at Little Rock's Central High School, a school for which she and eight others were chosen to be the first to integrate it after the US Supreme Court's Brown versus Board of Education's ruling. In back is Hazel Bryan, a woman with her faced clinched in hate and spewing cruel words and epithets at Elizabeth's back.

Mr. Margolick documents the lives of the two after this picture was snapped for a Little Rock paper by Will Counts, a local photographer and an alumnus of Central. The paths that these women traveled, their triumphs and challenges are interesting, inspiring and disappointing. Later in their lives, Elizabeth and Hazel became friends and Counts again took their picture. Margolick was in Little Rock to do a story on Paula Jones, a woman that sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, but Jones refused to meet him. So, with some time before his return flight to New York, he visited the Little Rock Central High National Historic Site and while there saw the new picture and declared to himself, "Now, there's a story."

Margolick later met with both women, but Hazel, due to previous experiences with the press, was concerned that he was only interested in condemning her, so she refused to participate with his story. It was only after a shortened story appeared on Vanity Fair online that she saw that he treated her fairly and would tell her story accurately. After that she agreed to interviews.

It is a fascinating story, one of growth, inspiration and finally sadness because eventually Hazel and Elizabeth stopped seeing each other. During their friendship and work together, there were various hurts and misunderstandings. As Margolick has said, we all wanted a happy ending and it didn't happen. At least not yet.

If you are interested in learning more about this story, here is a wonderful, hour-long presentation given by David Margolick at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock in October 2011. I found it after reading the book and wanting to know more and to learn if there were further developments in their story.

Edited: Apr 2, 2012, 8:32am Top

Book 6: Rameau's Nephew
Finished: March 21, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die

This book is written as a conversation between the author and Rameau's nephew. Rameau is Jean-Phillipe Rameau, an important French composer during the 18th century. The nephew is a scoundrel and makes his way by finding rich patrons off which to live. He has recently angered his latest benefactors and been tossed into the street. Their conversation ranges through morality, philosophy, the pursuit of happiness, and 18th century opera and music. Diderot uses the conversation to take various swipes at composers like Rameau and his critics--Diderot was working on a comprehensive encyclopedia and had many critics of it.

This is a small 1001 book, only 125 pages in my edition and that includes a forward and an introduction; however, I wasn't drawn into the conversation and it took me two weeks to finish. Also, any time that I was reading it, I had to have an internet device nearby because of my lack of knowledge of 18th century French culture. Although I never encountered Rameau's Nephew before, this is the type of book that I can imagine being required reading in a college literature class to demonstrate satire and an essay from varying points of view. Yet, when I finished, I was left wondering why this small story was considered one of the 1001 books I must read before I die. So, I checked the entry in 1001 Books You Must Read before You Die to find out why. The explanation is that by being "part novel, part essay, part Socratic dialogue, it expanded the boundaries of what is possible in fiction." For me it is still 3 stars.

Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 8:38pm Top

Book 7: The Arrival
Finished: March 22, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

The Arrival is a beautiful book about the immigrant experience. Told only in sepia-toned pictures, we follow a man on his journey from one country to another--leaving his wife and daughter, arriving in the new country, trying to find a place to live and work. Along the way he meets people with similar stories who have fled lives of hardship to start over in this new land. Through his pictures, Mr. Tan was able to communicate the strangeness and confusion of a new place and the struggles and fears of their old homes. I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely book.

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 12:49pm Top

Book 8: Return to Sender
Finished: March 25, 2012
Category: Whatever!

Return to Sender is written for kids probably in their late tweens or teens. Tyler Paquette's father has been injured when his tractor rolls over on him. In order to keep from losing their Maine dairy farm, his parents hire three brothers from Mexico who don't have legal immigration papers. The oldest brother brings his three daughters with him, and all six family members live in the trailer behind the Paquette's house. Mari, the oldest daughter, is the same age as Tyler, but with her mother missing since trying to return from Mexico, Mari has the responsibility of watching over her two younger sisters while her father and uncles work the farm. When he finds out that his parents have hired people without papers, Tyler questions his parents' decision and struggles with the questions of right and wrong, patriotism, and what it means to be an American. Meanwhile, Mari goes to school, helps raise her sisters and worries about her mother who should have returned months ago.

The book is told from both Tyler's and Mari's perspectives. For Tyler, Ms. Alvarez uses 3rd person, but for Mari she writes letters in the first person. Through the eyes of Tyler, his family and mostly Mari, we get an idea of the fear and struggles of being an "illegal immigrant" in the US.

Apr 1, 2012, 11:52pm Top

Rameau's Nephew looks intriguing. I have seen The Arrival cropping up on a number of threads. Nice to see another positive review for it!

Apr 1, 2012, 11:59pm Top

Book 9: The Hunger Games
Finished: March 27, 2012
Category: Dystopian and Fantasy

Book 10: Catching Fire
Finished: March 29, 2012
Category: Dystopian and Fantasy

Book 11: Mockingjay
Finished: March 31, 2012
Category: Dystopian and Fantasy

I'm lumping all of these together since I read them back to back. The premise is that sometime in the future, the US has had another civil war. The Capitol of this new country, Panem, and the winner of the civil war, uses the remaining 12 Districts (the 13th was destroyed for a rebellion) to provide their needs and products. Also, in order to punish the Districts for the civil war, it requires each to provide one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. There is only one victor of the games.

The participants are chosen during a "reaping" in each District. During this year's reaping, Primrose Everdeen a twelve-year old, gentle girl is chosen as the girl tribute from District 12, a coal-mining region. Instead, her 16-year old sister, Katniss, volunteers, and along with Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute, they say quick goodbyes to their family and friends are then swept to the Capitol to begin their training and to get ready for the spectacle of the 74th annual Hunger Games. The entire games are broadcast on television throughout Panem.

Through all of The Hunger Games and most of Catching Fire, I was so disturbed both because it seemed as if the Districts accepted this arrangement and also, because in some ways I felt like I was a Capitol resident waiting to see who would die next and rooting for some to go soon. Thankfully, Ms. Collins shows the humanity of some tributes in their actions toward the others.

In the beginning of Catching Fire it becomes clear that things are not okay in the Districts. Toward the end of the second book, people were fighting back and a full scale war erupts in Mockingjay. I've already given away too much of the plot so I'll end the description of it here.

Ms. Collins puts together quite a story. Even though I was horrified by parts of the story, I was drawn into it completely. She mixes humanity with the barbarity of the games and contrasts the poverty of the districts with the wasteful wealth and superficiality of the Capitol. I couldn't put these books down. Of the three books, I think the first was my favorite, followed by the third and the second.

Apr 3, 2012, 11:15am Top

I, too, love The Arrival. I was blown away by The Hunger Games, a little less enthused by the next two. Are you going to see the movie? They did the book proud!

Apr 4, 2012, 12:10am Top

I saw the movie last Friday and really enjoyed it. Of course, there were some things that I wished they had captured, but as my husband reminded me, it was already almost 2.5 hours long, so they couldn't add much more.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 8:59pm Top

Book 12: The Little Red Guard
Finished: April 10, 2012
Category: It's All About ME

Finished this long ago. Here is my recently posted review:

In The Little Red Guard Wenguang Huang tells about his life growing up in China as the child of model Communists., except model Communists shouldn’t consider burial after death, at least not according to the party. However, Huang’s grandmother, born in the early 1900s is from an era of bound feet for women and a progeny of pre-communist China. She still believes in the old ways and wants to be buried in the home village next to the husband to whom she has remained faithful since his death decades earlier. So, Huang’s father, much to the chagrin of his wife, promises to bury his mother next to her husband. The only problem is how to arrange the whole thing when the practice is banned and following it is the exact opposite of the expectations of a model Communist.

Huang uses the promise made by his father to his grandmother to tell his family’s story about living and working in Xi’an and, more importantly, to illustrate the clash of generations living under one roof during times of great upheaval in China’s history: the Cultural Revolution, opening and the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. Through the disagreement over this burial versus cremation issue, he illustrates, within a family, the same changes occurring throughout China—his grandmother’s embrace of the old ways and superstitions, his parents unwavering belief in the Communist party and finally his and his siblings idealism and cynicism during opening and the emergence of capitalism. Throughout the book, he indicates the impact of the promise on his family, the relationship between his father and mother, and that with his father. I thought The Little Red Guard was an interesting and easily-readable book.

Edited: Jun 14, 2012, 12:02am Top

Book 13: Escape from Camp 14
Finished: April 15, 2012
Category: It's All About ME

Fascinating, but disturbing true story about Shin Dong-hyuk who was born to political prisoners inside North Korea's Camp 14, a camp reserved for those deemed among the most dangerous to the ruling Kims. Although Shin never found out his mother's crime, his father's "crime" was to be the brother of men who fled the North at the end of the Korean war.

The camp is a horrific labor camp that shows no mercy and provides no nurture for a growing child. Shin sees his mother as competition for food. He is beaten and abused by his "teachers" who are nothing more than camp guards. He watches as the teacher beats a girl to death for stealing a few kernels of corn from the camp fields. He is encouraged and rewarded for reporting any rule infractions of other inmates, his parents and brother included. When his mother and brother escape, he watches their executions with no remorse, only anger that they caused the guards to brutally torture him in order to find out if he knew anything of their plan. (And Mr. Harden provides a vivid description of this brutal torture.)

In his 20s, Shin learns about the world outside the camps when a new prisoner arrives. This man was high up in the regime. but angered someone and now is a prisoner. As he educates Shin to life beyond the fence, together they plot their escape and journey to China. During the escape attempt, his friend is killed by the electric fence and Shin is able to climb over his body. Shin knows little about living in the real world, but he is able to use his camp skills of stealing and lying. He also has lucky timing since due to the famine, many North Koreans are wandering the countryside in search of work and food. With everything somehow falling into place, Shin finally makes it to China and eventually to Seoul and the US. Shin continues to struggle with the demons bred within the camp--he gives up often, cannot trust or maintain relationships. Mr Harden found it very hard to trust him while writing the book.

I think this is a book that everyone should read to understand what is happening in North Korea. It is also a book that fills me with fear when I think what it would be like to be a citizen of North Korean living with the knowledge that they are often one wrong step away from these camps.

Edited: Jun 14, 2012, 11:02pm Top

Book 14: The Handmaid's Tale
Finished: April 17, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die

With this book, I finished my run of those occurring in totalitarian states. I didn't plan this, but somehow I ended up reading six totalitarian state books in a row. I was glad to leave the run behind, especially considering my penultimate (love that word) dystopian book is true.

Now, on to The Handmaid's Tale. Offred is a Handmaid. The new US regime, one that assassinated the president and Congress in a coup, provides Handmaids to its Commanders and their Wives. The Handmaid's job is to become pregnant and have a child for them and then move on to the next childless couple. In this world the lives of women, and to a lesser extent men, are very controlled. You do your "job" and you don't step beyond those bounds. Those that do are found hanging on the wall in the center of town. Of course, with all totalitarian governments, the rules don't always apply to the higher ups, and Offred gets to see some of this world too.

This was my first Atwood book. I loved the plot even though it was disturbing (that word again, see previous entries.) It was also a quick read for me. I'm looking forward to other books by Ms. Atwood.

Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 11:35pm Top

Book 15: The Graveyard Book
Finished: April 23, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

I loved this book! On the night when his family is murdered, a young toddler, also intended to be a victim of the murderer Jack, escapes his home and wanders up the hill to the small graveyard there. The newly dead ghosts of the toddler's parents and sister arrive at the graveyard, and as she is fading away (this is not her graveyard, after all), his mother begs the local ghosts to protect her son from the murderer who has followed him. One of the female ghosts agrees and the residents of the little, old graveyard on the hill adopt the toddler. They name him Nobody "Bod" Owens.

They say "it takes a village" to raise a child, and for Bod, it is no different, although in his case the village residents are mostly dead. They teach him, watch over him, and protect him from the world outside the gates and the man called Jack. There is a mysteriousness to some of the characters especially Bod's guardian Silas, but there is also a tenderness there that I found so touching and sweet, and I think that is why this book worked for me. It deals with a dark subject but there is such innocence in Bod and his relationships with the graveyard residents who seek to protect him that it outweighed the darkness. I especially loved that when Gaiman introduced a character he would include their epitaph--Doctor Trefusis (May He Wake to Glory) and Miss Euphemia Horsfall (She Sleeps, Aye, Yet She Sleeps with Angels.) One of my favorite books of the year so far.

Jun 15, 2012, 6:49am Top

Nice review of The Graveyard Book! I loved it too.

Jun 15, 2012, 3:12pm Top

The Graveyard Book is an excellent example of gripping first lines. And it helps that there is an illustration to go with it. From memory:

Out of the dark comes a hand, and it holds a knife.

Jun 15, 2012, 6:50pm Top

Glad to see y'all liked The Graveyard Book too. As I wrote above, I found it so touching.

Wow, mamzel. How long has it been since you read the book? You are so close: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. Gripping indeed.

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 9:24pm Top

Book 16: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Finished: May 1, 2012
Category: What's that You're Reading?

This is another book that I enjoyed very much. I started out listening to this, but switched to reading it because of the depth and concentration needed. I enjoyed the two individuals doing the reading so much that their voices stayed in my head even as I read it.

Renée is a concierge for a small, exclusive apartment building in Paris. She hides behind a mask that she believes is expected of someone with her position and related class--low brow, uneducated, inept and ignorant of the finer pursuits in life. In reality, she is a self-taught student of various forms of art, philosophy, literature and film.

Paloma is the twelve year old daughter of one of the wealthy residents of Renée's building. As she tells us, she is "exceptionally intelligent" and already cynical about what lies ahead in life. Both Renée and Paloma live their lives in worlds where no one else is worthy, or so it seems, until Monsieur Ozu, a wealthy, retired Japanese businessman, purchases the apartment of a recently deceased resident and moves into the building. He is able to see and break through their individual pretenses and defenses. Once Monsieur Ozu arrives the lives of our narrators open from tightly shut camellia buds encased in their own obsessions to lovely, widespread blooms.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a book about class, art, philosophy and expectations of ourselves and others. I found some of the passages of philosophy difficult to follow, and I was glad that I read this on my nook because I constantly needed to look up references to the philosophers and philosophy mentioned as well as those to art, film, and other items. It was also a book that enchanted me, and one that I am certain has more to reveal with each reading.

Edited to add: I was surprised by the ending--it wasn't what I expected nor what I would have preferred. It was still a very good book.

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 9:24pm Top

Book 17: Bridge to Terabithia
Finished: May 8, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

I saw this movie a few years back and enjoyed it. I cannot say that I enjoyed the book so much, and maybe that is because I already knew the story. Instead while reading I found myself focusing on Jess' relationship with his family and his and Leslie's relationships at school. As the only boy of the family, I thought his parents were too hard on him, and his older sisters were bullying and mean. I also felt the same about the kids at the school and their treatment of Leslie.

However, I did like his relationship with Leslie and their trips to the imaginary world of Terabithia. The end is tragic and sad. I think I would have enjoyed the book much more if I hadn't seen the movie first.

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 1:01pm Top

Book 18: Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope
Finished: May 12, 2012
Category: It's All About Me

Mary Beth Chapman's autobiography and testimony of her Christian faith. Mary Beth is the wife of Steven Curtis Chapman, a Christian singer. Mary Beth wrote the book to talk about her struggles and how her faith sustained her and her family after the death of her youngest daughter, Maria, when one of their sons accidentally hit her with the car in the family's driveway. The last few chapters are blog posts that she made after Maria's death, and I didn't particularly care for this style, but I think I can understand why she used them. I think she was trying to convey her ups and downs during this time and how with time, she began to heal. Choosing to SEE is an inspirational book that would be of most interest to those in the Christian faith, those that have lost a child, and those who have adopted especially from China.

Edited: Jul 19, 2012, 10:27pm Top

Book 19: Yak Butter & Black Tea: A Journey into Forbidden China
Finished: May 22, 2012
Category: Travel

Wade Brackenbury tells his story about heading to China to climb, but instead meets a photographer, Pascal, who is looking for a mountaineer to help him get into to the Drung valley where he hopes he will be the first to photograph the Drung minority. Wade volunteers for the trip, says goodbye to his climbing partner and together with Pascal heads out of Yunnan. The trouble is that the Drung valley is in a section of Tibet next to Yunnan and just across the border from Burma, and in the early 1990s when they were trying to make this trip, Tibet was closed to foreigners.

Their first attempt is a failure--they are arrested 3 times, and then early monsoons make the trip into the valley impossible. Pascal and Wade return to China in 1993 with Sophie, a French woman of Chinese descent who is their translator. As they try to make progress on their new route from Sichuan into Tibet, Wade and Sophie sense from his various delays that Pascal is really afraid of the wilderness and doesn't want to get to the valley as much as he says he does. It is a great travel tale, and Brackenbury does a fine job telling it. I was frustrated that Brackenbury let Pascal dictate the trip--or maybe he was just gullible--even though he was fairly certain that Pascal would never make it to the Drung valley. To find out if they make it, you'll have to read the book.

Edited: Jul 19, 2012, 10:30pm Top

Book 20: Freeman
Finished: May 31, 2012
Category: Whatever!

I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been more buzz about Freeman. I heard an NPR interview of the author, Leonard Pitts, Jr., back in May, but nothing since. The book is a historical fiction work, and it follows several people in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

First is Sam Freeman, a past slave who ran from a plantation in Mississippi and ended up in Philadelphia. He fought for the Union during the Civil War and almost died of illness, but now the war is over and his first thought is finding his wife, Tilda. He begins the journey from Philadelphia to Mississippi on foot. In Washington, DC he is joined by another ex-slave who is making his way to his wife and daughter in Tennessee.

Next is Prudence Cafferty Kent, a widow and abolitionist from Massachusetts. Prudence and the woman who was raised as her sister, Bonnie Cafferty, are preparing to leave for a town in Mississippi where they plan to open a school for newly freed slaves. Bonnie was born a slave near this same town, but Prudence's father had purchased both her and her mother's freedom. When her mother died on their trip North, Prudence's father brought Bonnie to his home and raised her as his child.

Finally, we follow Tilda who is still with her mean and ruthless master. Tilda is afraid of him, and because of what the Union soldiers did to his family and his farm, he doesn't care that the war is over and all slaves are now free. Instead he is determined to hold onto his past way of life, and Tilda is a symbol of that life. Their journeys will cost them all.

Freeman is an intriguing love story taking place during a time that doesn't seem to get as much attention as the war itself. Pitts' story was inspired by old newspaper ads taken out by ex-slaves trying to locate loved ones from whom they sometimes were long separated and some ads were placed 20 years after the end of the war.

The book has a few editing errors, for example, Sam crosses the border from Alabama into Mississippi and then heads east to the Mississippi river (oops, wrong way) and there were a few other minor ones that I noticed but don't remember now, so they weren't that important. Someplace, I saw a comparison of this novel to Cold Mountain, but I can't remember the story of Cold Mountain enough to say how similar it might be. I think Freeman is a great story, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 1:02pm Top

Book 21: June Fourth Elegies
Finished: June 19, 2012
Category: Anthologies and Collections

Who is Liu Xiaobo? He is a writer, literary critic, professor, human rights activist, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." He is also the author of the 25 poems contained in the recently published June Fourth Elegies. As Jeffrey Yang, the translator for the book writes in his Afterword, June Fourth (what we in the US often call the Tiananmen Square massacre) “became the transformative fire in Liu’s life that politicized him as a nonviolent activist around issues of free speech and human rights.” Liu returned to China from a visiting scholar position at Columbia University in the spring of 1989 to assist with the movement. He participated in the demonstrations, held a hunger strike and on the morning of June 4th, in order to avoid bloodshed, he asked the students to leave the square.

He survived June 4th, and on June 6th he was imprisoned. Since then in the spring of every year, he has written a poem to honor those who lost their lives. These annual remembrances are the first 20 poems included in June Fourth Elegies. The final five poems are ones that Liu wrote to his wife Liu Xia during his incarcerations.

The poems are poignant, vivid and stark in their descriptions. I am not a good judge of poetry so I turn instead to Liu’s wife, Liu Xia who describes her husband as an “awkward and diligent poet.” Jeffrey Yang agrees adding that this is “an honest observation of Liu Xiaobo’s poetry.” Later, Yang says that Liu “prefers a bold, in-your-face directness in his poetry, and veers away from abstractions and elusiveness.” I agree with his assessment. I am glad to have picked up this book. I admire Liu’s persistence in writing one every year to honor those who died for their ideals or just happened to be caught in the chaos. Liu will not allow others to forget them nor will he stop trying to seek justice for the dead and their families.

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 8:21am Top

Book 22: Christine Falls
Finished: June 24, 2012
Category: What's that You're Reading?

It took me a long time to get interested in the story of Christine Falls. I was rather bored with the beginning, and I didn't care for any of the characters--too snotty, whiny, violent or manipulating. But, midway through the plot thickened, and I found the story more interesting. I also found that I liked Quirke, the lead character, better toward the end.

He is a pathologist in a Dublin hospital. After a late night going-away party for a nurse who is moving to the US, Quirke, very drunk as he has been very often since his wife died, enters his basement lab to find his obstetrician brother-in-law, Mal, messing with a file of a young woman, Christine Falls, whose body was brought in during the party. After initially doubting his intoxicated vision, Quirke starts investigating his brother-in-law's late night visit to his lab and the disappearance of Christine's body. He, rightfully, becomes obsessed with finding out the cause of the young woman's death and his brother-in-law's role in it. At the same time that Quirke is following his leads, a baby girl is being placed with a dysfunctional Massachusetts couple at a Catholic orphanage in Boston. These stories along with Quirke's own--the death of his wife, his love for her sister who happens to be Mal's wife, and his close relationship with his niece Phoebe all blend in the end. It's the way that they blend that I found interesting, at last.

Edited: Jul 15, 2012, 10:58pm Top

Book 23: Walk Two Moons
Finished: July 1, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

Walk Two Moons is a young adult novel. The characters were quirky and cute. The story was sad and tragic. The duality made the story disconcerting. However, the care, concern, and love the characters demonstrated for each other, and the interesting plot with some mysterious twists kept me engaged throughout. I liked it very much.

Edited: Jul 21, 2012, 11:59pm Top

Book 24: Holes
Finished: July 4, 2012
Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

Another enjoyable book. This one is about a teenage boy, Stanley, who is falsely accused and then convicted of stealing some shoes. The shoes aren't just any shoes, but those worn by a famous basketball player who donated them to be auctioned off for the benefit of a homeless shelter. Stanley claims that the shoes fell from the sky, so obviously, according to the judge, he stole from a charity and he has no remorse. Therefore, the judge sends him to a juvenile detention center in the Texas desert where, everyday, the boy inmates must dig one five-foot diameter hole that is five feet deep. Digging the holes is not just an activity to keep the boys busy though. If the boys find anything "interesting" in the holes, they must tell the guards who then contact the warden. What is the warden seeking, and what is its link to Stanley? This was a fun book and Sacher included some historical connections among characters which I really enjoy in books. You won't be disappointed.

Jul 16, 2012, 4:42pm Top

"Excuse me?!"

I found Holes on the book shelf of my daughter's fifth grade classroom. I found it totally charming and exciting. The way the characters' lives interwove was totally cool! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Jul 16, 2012, 7:09pm Top

Holes is so cute. :)

Jul 16, 2012, 10:50pm Top

Yeah, I really liked it. I gave it to my 9-year old daughter after I finished, telling her she had to read it. A few hours later she was done, and she loved it too. She recognized the author from some other books she had read at school and enjoyed.

Jul 17, 2012, 3:57pm Top

May I make another recommendation for books to read with your daughter: A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. They are truly "I laughed, I cried..." kind of books.

Jul 19, 2012, 10:54pm Top

Thanks for the recommendations, mamzel. We will check them out. Right now, I am having trouble getting her interested in anything other than books with a Greek god and goddess theme. I introduced her to D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, a book that I loved when I was her age, and since then she has read and reread all the Percy Jackson, Goddess Girls and another series of books that I can't remember. I was happy that I got her to read Holes. Maybe I can use your recommendations for some mom-daughter reads.

Jul 21, 2012, 1:54pm Top

I think these books made me aware at how far children's lit had come since I was of the age to read them.

Jul 21, 2012, 11:59pm Top

Book 25: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
Finished: July 4, 2012
Category: China

Factory Girls is about the experience of young women who moved from the interior, poorer sections of China to the booming factory cities along the coast, particularly Dongguan. Chang does an excellent job telling their stories, and showing how the lives of young women all over China are so very different from their peasant-farmer parents. She drew on her own family history as a comparison to show how much things have changed in two generations. Another fine read!

Jul 22, 2012, 8:24pm Top

Glad to hear that both you and your daughter liked Holes. My daughter had read it first and recommended it to me, and we both loved it.

Edited: Oct 10, 2012, 2:08pm Top

I have really neglected my thread! Summer and the start of school always seem to be the time of year when I let my category challenges linger. I hope to complete comments on the books I've read in the interim while I continue trying to meet the goal of 67 books in this challenge. I have 24 more to go...YIKES!

mathgirl40, thanks for your comment on Holes. It's fun to be able to share favorite books within our families, isn't it?

Book 26: The Gunslinger
Finished: July 7, 2012
Category: Dystopian and Fantasy

I have read The Gunslinger, the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, a Western-based fantasy, a few times because I started the series when King was still writing the books. Whenever he released a new book, I would pull out The Gunslinger and the other books preceding the new release to reread the series. I got through the fourth book and never finished the rest because, if I remember correctly, King had a long lull after the fourth, and he didn’t finish the other three until after his accident. However, by then I had forgotten about the series. Fortunately, in last year’s 11 in 11 challenge, I saw a thread of someone who was reading them. So for this year’s challenge, I decided to reread books 1-4 with the plan to complete the rest in 2013.

The Gunslinger begins “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” Roland is the gunslinger and he is following the Man in Black across the desert in order to find the Dark Tower. Roland’s world has “moved on” along with all those people for whom Roland loved and cared. The Man in Black tests Roland’s worthiness and drive to know more about the mysterious Dark Tower by placing various people in Roland’s path. Roland must choose between saving these people or betraying them for his quest. This is a nice start to the series and leaves many questions unanswered that pull the reader into the subsequent books.

Edited: Oct 24, 2012, 1:02am Top

Book 27: The Drawing of the Three
Finished: July 14, 2012
Category: Dystopian and Fantasy

As foretold in the Tarot reading at the end of The Gunslinger, Roland must face three people in order to assemble his ka-tet that will help him continue his search for the Dark Tower. Those cards are The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows and Death (but not for Roland). Roland finds three doors on the beach each leading to New York City during various decades in the latter half of the twentieth century. When Roland walks through the door, he actually enters the minds of those he is bringing to his world. The first and the Prisoner is Eddie Dean, a junkie who is making a drug pickup when Roland enters his world. Then there is The Lady of Shadows or “Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker,” a woman with a split personality. Then there is death, but you must read the book to discover the individual and situation hidden in that door. Once Roland brings them over, he discovers that their internal journeys must be completed before their journey to the Dark Tower can continue. Good continuation of the series although the caricature of Detta was a bit over the top—or maybe just a product of the 1970s, 80s.

Oct 8, 2012, 12:47pm Top

Thanks for reminding me - I started The Gunslinger but got distracted. I need to get back to it.

Edited: Nov 11, 2012, 11:45am Top

Book 28: The Four Corners of the Sky
Finished: July 19, 2012
Category: nook Free Fridays

I didn't know much about this book and didn't expect much from it, but I quite enjoyed the story. The Four Corners of the Sky is the story of Annie Peregrine who on her seventh birthday is dropped at her aunt's house by her conman father Jack who says he will return for her. Fast forward 19 years and she is coming home (her aunt's home) for her 26th birthday. She is a Navy pilot, instructor at the Naval Academy and waiting for her divorce to be final. On her way home, she gets a call from a Vice Detective Hart in Miami looking for her dad. Then her dad is back in her life telling her that he is dying and asking her to fly to Missouri to retrieve something for him. She can't figure out if he is really dying or if it is another con, but she decides to help in order to get one piece of information--the name of her mother. Annie, Hart and her soon to be ex get pulled into an adventure as they try to follow Jack's trail. With quirky characters, airplanes, illegal activity and a setting in Florida, the story reminded me of Jimmy Buffet's Where is Joe Merchant?. There were times when I felt it jumped around too much or dragged a little, but the mystery of the con and the interesting characters kept me entertained until the end. This isn't a classic, but it was fun to read.

Edited: Nov 11, 2012, 11:45am Top

My list of books is going to be out of order until I either catch up on comments or give up trying to add them.

Book 44: Lavender's Blue
Finished: October 14, 2012
Category: Anthologies and Collections

What fun to read the nursery rhymes in Lavender's Blue! At 170 pages with often more than one rhyme per page, Lavender's Blue is chock full of them. Kathleen Lines did a marvelous job compiling so many old rhymes, and the illustrator, Harold Jones, created pictures for each using a mix of color and black and white drawings to accompany them.

There are some rhymes in here that I don't remember ever seeing in a book before, but that I learned from my mom, specifically this one which also is a face game:
Here sits the Lord Mayor,
Here sit his men,
Here sits the cock,
Here sits the hen,
Here sit the little chickens, (although Mom says "chicks")
Here they run in,
Chinchopper, chinchopper, chinchopper, chin.

The instructions on how to do the motions for this and some other hand and finger games for a few of the rhymes are even included in the back of the book.

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up lists Lavender's Blue in the 0-3 age group. I'm not sure that my kids would have been interested enough to sit and let me read it to them at that age. However, I wish I had had it when they were young so that I could have taught them more rhymes than I did. I like the book enough that I'm considering buying it so that they can still experience the rhymes even at 6 and 9 years old.

Edited: Jan 31, 2013, 12:09am Top

Book 46: Heart of the Witch
Finished: November 9, 2012
Category: nook Free Fridays

At the start of the book, Ravyn Skyler, the witch of the title, is awakening from being drugged. She is a captive of the Tin Man, a serial killer who tortures his victims before murdering them. Using her magic to harm him, she escapes. She gives the police only a vague description because, while she wants him caught, she is afraid he will tell what she has done to him. Then they will know she is a witch and her coven will know that she harmed someone and possibly banish her. Nick is the drunken, washed-up detective, now private investigator hired by one of the Tin Man's victim's husband to solve the case. Then there's Kayne, Ravyn's crazy ex-boyfriend who is also a witch. He has gone to the dark side and is trying to make Ravyn rule a small town in Oklahoma by his side. He will use whatever is at his disposal to bend Ravyn to his will.

This was a "meh" book for me. I found it interesting enough to read the entire book, but there are two confrontations--killer and Kayne--and I thought that the second seemed forced. Also, I thought the descriptions in the writing were cheesy, and I couldn't help rolling my eyes at some of them: "...she'd encountered a monster who wore murder like a cologne", "every move oozed pure sexual magnetism...", and "...his eyes were shimmering beacons of desire." Maybe I didn't like this much since it's a genre, paranormal romance, that I haven't read before. I give it 2 stars.

Nov 11, 2012, 1:59pm Top

LOL at "shimmering beacons of desire."

Nov 18, 2012, 12:33am Top

@ 61 - Yes, that along with the cologne one were my favorites.

Nov 18, 2012, 1:07am Top

Book 47: Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will
Finished: November 14, 2012
Category: What's that You're Reading?

I am so glad I created and included "What's that You're Reading?" as a category. It has introduced me to a couple of books that I likely would not have read; Atlas of Remote Islands is one of these.

I had the best time with this book. I would sit with my laptop next to me and the book on my lap. I would read the name of the island and its country affiliation at the top of each left hand page, then I would pull up the satellite view through Google maps. Next I would read the size of the island, the number of residents or inhabitants, the distance to other land masses and islands, the timeline and finally the story associated with the island. Then I would compare the beautifully drawn maps on the right hand side of the page to the satellite image and finally I would zoom in on the island to locate any features or communities there.

The stories were often fascinating, and my only quibble is that I wished there were room to tell more. When I would see the atolls or low lying islands I would wonder how many more years they will be visible above the sea given climate change and sea level rise. What a wonderful trip this book took me on!

Thanks to those of you who read and tagged this book for the 12 in 12 challenge. Considering that I found a book such as this, I will definitely include this category in the 2013 challenge.

Edited: Nov 18, 2012, 8:25am Top

Atlas of Remote Islands sounds like a book I would enjoy.

ETA: I discovered it was already on my TBR/wish list.

Nov 19, 2012, 7:52am Top

hooray for more atlas of remote islands I love that book :-)

Nov 20, 2012, 2:53pm Top

If I read this book it will be like you, with an atlas or other reference at hand. I am so addicted to maps and charts.

Group: The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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