Monthly Archives: December 2009

Top Ten 2009 books

Happy New Year’s Eve!  Today, I thought I would post my Top Ten YA books of 2009.  I cannot rate them more than this; I had a hard enough time just narrowing the list down, so these are in alphabetical order.  They are not necessarily what I think are the best literary achievements nor what might stand the test of time.  These titles are the books that emotionally affected me, that I loved reading and couldn’t put down, books I will gladly read again and recommend to my students.

1. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – If I have a hard time falling into a book after reading something, I know the authors have left their mark on me.  Thank you, Ms. Garcia and Ms. Stohl.

2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – A sequel that is better than the first. I cannot wait to read Ms. Collins‘ third book in the series.

3. Columbine by Dave Cullen – Yes, Mr. Cullen did not write this specifically for a YA audience, but I think it is so well done, students and adults can be drawn into the narrative and come away with hope and understanding.  This is the best non-fiction I read this year.

4. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie RyanMs. Ryan‘s book transported me out of my backyard and in to a creepy forest full of zombies.

5. Hate List by Jennifer Brown – Tears and tears!  Thank you, Ms. Brown!

6. I Know It’s Over by C. K. Kelly Martin – My heart broke many times while reading Ms. Martin‘s book.

7. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. StorkMr. Stork has created such a unique voice – amazing!

8. Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki – A graphic novel created by two cousins that captures adolescence in a heartbreaking way.

9. The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander – I love the way the main character grows and learns about herself.  Also, Ms. Alexander REALLY made me want a rooster!

10. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Wow! Really, well done Ms. Anderson!

Honorable mentions go to An Echo in the Bone, Bear Portraits, Dark Places, and Goat Song.  None of these can really be counted as YA, but I really loved them.  (Reviews will come at some point for An Echo and Dark Places.)

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and I wish you all the best in 2010!

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Thursday Tidbits

Today’s Thursday Tidbits will be short because I have two other posts today: the final V.C. Andrews book in the Read the Good Trash challenge and my top ten favorite YA-related books of 2009.  So, quickly:

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Dawn by V. C. Andrews

I’ve decided to give myself a belated Christmas present and not recap Dawn.  I recommend going over to Taren of The Chick Manifesto’s recap: Part 1 and Part 2.  Seriously, Dawn is the blonde version of Heaven plus the incest and rape of the Dollanganger and Casteel series plus the wealth of both, although more the wealth of Heaven Casteel’s so-called father’s cruise ship line than the ultra-rich Tattertons and Foxworths, and throw in the usual mean/cold matriarch.  Not much else is different, at least in the first book – I haven’t read further.  I definitely have no desire to read further ghost-written Andrews series, although I might read the rest of the Dawn series to see what happens, if I need some book junk food.

Right now, I think I will not take on any reading challenges in 2010.  Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind later, but for now, I don’t want to.  I want to focus on reading what I want for my blog, whether it is new or old.

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Web of Dreams by V. C. Andrews

Book 10 in:

Web of Dreams is the prequel and final book in the Casteel series.  It opens on Annie and Luke returning to Farthinggale Manor for Troy Tatterton’s funeral.  While poking around, Annie finds a diary that belonged to her grandmother, Leigh, and begins to read it.  The rest of the book is written in Leigh’s voice (minus the epilogue).  When the story begins, Leigh is celebrating her 12th birthday with her mother Jillian and her father Cleave.  Her mother spoils her with many gifts, but Leigh’s favorite is a blank book from her father, which is where she writes the story.  There is much gift giving in this book, particularly necklaces.

Jillian is supposed to be a children’s book illustrator, although this is something I never completely buy about her.  I feel like she is too selfish, flighty, and shallow to have the patience to create any kind of art.  Cleave owns a cruise ship company, which Jillian loved at one point because it made her feel wealthy and important, but the bloom is off that rose and she now yearns for a mansion with a maze – hmm, that is awfully specific.  Jillian takes Leigh to meet Tony Tatterton, owner of the fancy Tatterton To Company, age 23, who hired Jillian to paint murals in his house based on some of her illustrations.  Leigh is impressed by the mansion, which just so happens to have a maze, but is particularly enchanted with Tony’s little brother, Troy (so glad he is as adorable as a kid as he is as an adult).  Tony tries to win her over by giving her a necklace with a gold and diamond cruise ship charm.  I find this incredibly creepy knowing her father owns these boats.

The next week, Cleave launches a new destination for his cruise line, and Jillian has planned a bon voyage party as she and Leigh are coming along for the maiden voyage.  Tony attends the party, and he and Jillian are practically sucking face on the dance floor.  While on the cruise, Jillian constantly whines about not feeling well and how she hates being on the ship and that Leigh should not be learning about the ship, something she has always enjoyed as it is something shared with her father.  When the boat docks in Jamaica, Jillian ditches her family and flies home.  Leigh is heartbroken by her mother’s abandonment, and the dagger is twisted further when, upon arriving back in Boston, her father tells her that after leaving the boat, Jillian flew to Mexico to obtain a divorce.

Leigh arrives home to an empty house and is further traumatized when she finds sample wedding invitations.  Once her mother comes home, Jillian confesses that she and Tony are marrying, and begs Leigh to be her BFF and never tell Tony how old she really is as she’s led him to believe she is 28.  A Christmas wedding is planned, and Jillian is upset when her mother, Jana, decides to come.  Leigh overhears a conversation between Jillian and Jana where they discuss how Leigh is not really Cleave’s daughter and that Jillian was knocked up by some lounge singer.  Poor Leigh, not much is going well for her.

The wedding is held at Farthy, and at one point, Leigh and Troy explore the maze and cottage, but get lost trying to come home as a snow storm blows in.  When they are finally found, both are frozen.  Troy is whisked away to a hot bath, but Jillian proceeds to chew out Leigh, wanting to know how Leigh could do this to her on such a precious day.  Because Leigh camped out in the snowy maze on purpose.  Tony finally takes Leigh to a hot bath and helps her get undressed. Cue creepy music.

Tony and Jillian take off on their honeymoon, leaving Leigh and Troy to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve on their own.  Many gifts are left for the children, and Leigh receives a locket from her dad.  Troy, who has always been a sickly child, becomes ill while Tony and Jillian are still gone and must be rushed off to the hospital.  When they arrive back in town, Tony rushes straight to the hospital, but Jillian comes home, needing to catch up on her rest.  So Leigh decides to go keep Tony company in the hospital, where he makes several comments about Jillian being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire about liking sports and sex.

Leigh leaves Farthy to attend a boarding school in Boston, although Jillian makes her promise to come home every weekend to keep Tony company because she can’t stand his constant need for sex.  Apparently, she thinks asking a developing 12-year-old to distract a 23-year-old from sex is a good idea.  Leigh is pretty happy at school.  She loves her roommate Jennifer, and manages to win over the popular girls, despite the fact that they initially shun her when they learn her parents are divorced.

At the beginning of her summer break, Tony announces that he plans for his toy company to start creating a line of portrait dolls and the first doll will be based on Leigh.  This will require her to spend hours posing for Tony as he draws, paints, and sculpts portraits of her that he can use to create a doll that resembles her.  Jillian and Tony agree that, logically, this includes nude posing.  Tony sets up a studio in the cottage so they can have privacy.  While working, he asks many nosy, creepy questions about her previous sexual experience (none), and once he gets her naked, insists on fondling her entire body for creation purposes.  This would be the point where I needed a shower.  Leigh is horrified when she notices that everything he is creating has her face but her mother’s body.  When she tries to talk to her mom about the whole thing, Jillian is astounded that Leigh isn’t flattered by the attention.

Leigh hopes to talk to her father about what is going on, but he’s distracted by a new wife and a growing cruise business and doesn’t seem to have any time to spare.

Leigh returns to boarding school in the fall.  Her roommate, Jennifer, has found a boyfriend over the summer and introduces Leigh to his friend, Joshua.  The two of them pair off at the first dance of the year and the foursome spends all their free time together.

Jillian plans an extravagant thirteenth birthday party for Leigh and she invites Joshua, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s boyfriend, along with many other school friends.  Troy gives her a locket (necklace #3!) and Tony gives her the portrait doll, whom she names Angel.  During the party, Leigh and Joshua sneak out so she can show him the maze and cottage.  She is creeped out to discover a new painting of Tony’s in the cottage – one of Leigh’s head/Jillian’s body and Tony naked on the couch together.  She covers it up and starts to make out with Joshua, but they are interrupted by an angry Tony.  Later, he promises not to tell Jillian, but insists that she needs to learn about her sexuality. So gross.

Jillian decides to go spend a month at a Switzerland spa just as school is ending, and Leigh is left to keep Tony company.  He awakens her in the middle of one night, naked, and rapes her.  The next morning, he acts as if nothing happened.  When she receives a telegram stating that her mother will be back home the next day, Leigh decides to lock herself in Jillian’s room since it is the only room with a lock on the door.  To comfort herself, she puts on one of Jillian’s nightgowns and perfume and crawls into bed.  Tony shows up with a key, though, and after realizing she is Leigh and not Jillian, accuses her or trying to seduce him by dressing as Jillian and rapes her again.

When Jillian comes home the next day, Leigh tries to tell her what has happened, but Jillian won’t listen to her and claims that Tony said Leigh has been trying to seduce him.  Leigh hopes to tell her father, but he ditches her again and she realizes she is pregnant.  She tries to tell Jillian, but the hypocrite calls her a slut, so Leigh packs a bag and leaves, hoping to run away to her grandmother’s house in Texas.  She gets as far as Atlanta by train, and while there for a layover, she meets Luke Casteel.  He takes her to see the circus where he works, but is late getting back to the train station and misses her train.

Luke feels responsible and gets a hotel room for the two of them so she doesn’t have to sleep in his pile of hay at the circus.  She confesses her entire story to him, and he confesses that he has fallen in love with her in the 8 hours he’s known her.  Luke says he would like to marry Leigh and be the father of her baby, so they are married by the next day surrounded by his circus friends.

Luke and Leigh leave for the Willies where they will be living in a shack with his parents.  When they arrive, Leigh is shocked by the poverty his family lives in, but resolves to be strong and put in her share of work.  Luke builds her a pretty white outhouse and she tries to encourage him to cut back on his drinking.  He refuses to consummate their marriage, wanting to wait until they have their own house.  At one point, they attend a hoedown together where Luke dances with a red head named Sarah, whom we all know will be his second wife in the first book.  The final part of her diary has Leigh at the end of her term, suffering from stomach pains but happy.

The book ends with Annie flipping through the rest of the blank pages and finding a letter from a PI to Tony, explaining that Leigh died in childbirth.  Taren points out some inconsistencies about whether Tony knew or not, how Jillian got the diary, and even the shortness of time between Heaven and Tom’s birth.  The idea that Luke cheated of Leigh when they never even consummated their marriage is one of the things I find saddest in the book, after all the raping.  I feel like a lot of the series sets up this idea that Leigh was Luke’s one true love and his loss of her is why he’s such a drunk, and an awful father and husband, yet cheating would make this seem false.

I liked the character of Leigh.  After the many versions of Leigh’s story that Heaven and Annie hear throughout the series – she was innocent, she was a manipulative slut – I like ending the series on her own version of the story.  I had an easier time getting through this series than I did with the Dollanganger series – none of the books were as boring as If There Be Thorns, but it seems like this series has more rape and incest/inappropriate sexual relations than the Dollanganger series does.

One more book in the challenge – Dawn!

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Gates of Paradise by V. C. Andrews

Book 9 in the:

Gates of Paradise is the fourth book in V. C. Andrews’ Casteel series.  The focus is on Heaven’s daughter, Annie, who is about to turn eighteen.  She lives in Winnerow with Heaven and Logan and her sort-of-uncle Drake (now in college).  There is no one she is closer to in the world than Luke Jr., the son of her aunt Fanny and father Logan.  She often dreams of being with him forever, despite the fact that they are half-siblings (as far as they know).  They fantasize together, often including Farthinggale Manor in their dream world, although they have never been there.  Heaven’s past is a mystery to them; she refuses to talk about why she no longer lives at Farthy or talks to Tony Tatterton.

One night, Fanny throws a birthday party for herself, and Annie attends with her parents.  Logan drinks before they arrive, and is pretty drunk at the party, which only makes Heaven unhappy.  Fanny is excited that they have arrived and pulls Logan out on the dance floor, kissing him and rubbing all over him.  Logan, being the jerk he is, does nothing to fight her off.  Heaven eventually insists on leaving.  Logan is drunk driving when a storm starts and they end up in a car accident.  Heaven and Logan are both killed, and after waking up from a coma, Annie discovers that she cannot move her legs.  Her doctors do not think it is permanent but that she will need therapy and rest before she can walk again.

Tony Tatterton has shown up in the hospital, and insists on taking Annie to Farthy where he can give her the “best” care.  They arrive there and Annie is disappointed to see that Farthy is dilapidated and not the castle she and Luke dreamed it would be.  Tony sticks her in a room upstairs with a creepy nurse.  Annie is able to meet Rye Whiskey, the horribly stereotypical African-American cook who has been there forever and knew her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.  He cryptically warns her not to stay long at Farthy.  Beyond Rye, she is restricted from seeing many other people.  A friendly maid she had at first is fired, Annie is prohibited from contacting Luke, and Drake visits briefly but is distracted by the new summer job Tony gave him in the toy company.  He also doesn’t help Annie’s state of mind by claiming that he’s tried to get Luke to visit or call but that Luke is too busy with a new girlfriend.  Tony and the nurse are the two people Annie sees the most, and they appear to compete to see who can be the creepiest: the nurse with her controlling behavior and abusive therapy that seems to turn her on, and Tony, with his pedophilia and creepy caresses, who confuses Annie with Heaven, Leigh, and even Jillian.  He even convinces her to dye her hair blonde to better resemble these women.

Annie eventually grows tired of Jello and the bland food her nurse insists on, and demands to have some of Rye Whiskey’s food.  After eating it, she realizes her nurse spiked it with laxatives when she has an accident.  The nurse demeans her with the way she cleans Annie up.  Annie tells Tony and he has her fired, insisting on taking on her care himself.  This includes getting her bathed and dressed, which only makes Annie more uncomfortable.

Tony has buried Heaven and Logan in the family cemetary, which Annie can see from her bedroom window.  She is surprised to see a man visit the grave one day, but cannot seem to learn who it might have been.  Eventually, Tony installs a chair elevator and one afternoon, when she is left alone, Annie manages to get herself outside.  She meets Troy, who takes her through the maze and into his cottage.  They get to know each other a bit and talk about Heaven, and Annie realizes it was Troy she saw at her mother’s grave.  He even helps her take her first steps.  She finds herself trusting him and tells him about how creepy Tony has been.  When she returns to the house, Tony has been searching for her and leaves her alone in her room without a wheelchair.

That night, Tony arrives in Annie’s room intoxicated and tries to force himself on her, again confusing her with the other women she is related to.  The next day, he acts like nothing happened.  Annie tries to tell Drake about it and asks for help getting out, but he refuses to believe that Tony would do something like that and insists that it is best she stay at Farthy.  She is rescued when Luke and Fanny show up to take her home, thanks to an anonymous phone call that let them know what exactly was happening to Annie.  (Yay Troy!)  Before they leave, Tony confesses that he is her grandfather because he raped her grandmother Leigh.  He seems to think this will make Annie want to stay with him, rather than further prove what a creep he is.

I thought a lot of time passed during this part of the book, but at one point the reader learns it has only been about two weeks.  Annie returns home to Winnerow and her parents’ house, where Fanny now lives.  (Fanny has some how been motivated to undergo a huge personality change thanks to Heaven’s death.)  Annie and Fanny talk about how they are not really blood relatives now that they know Heaven was the child of Tony and not Luke Sr., but they consider themselves family just the same.  Still believing themselves to be half-siblings, Luke runs away after Drake discovers them sharing a kiss.  Drake still thinks Annie belongs at Farthy (I feel like he should have been Logan’s son with his jerkiness and moronic tendencies) and is angry that she refuses to return to Tony.  He leaves and Annie lives in the house with Fanny, eventually gaining her ability to walk again.

Troy soon calls to inform Annie that Tony has died.  Annie returns to Farthy for the funeral, with Luke by her side to assist her.  After the funeral, Troy invites them to his cottage and confesses that Annie is his child, not Logan’s, therefore Luke and Annie are not related at all.  Luke and Annie pledge to be 2-gether 4-ever.

There is one more in the series, the prequel Web of Dreams.  This was another Andrews novel obsessed with the incest and rape.  At this point, the books were being written by the ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman.  I don’t know if Andrews left behind notes that included so much incest and rape, or if Mr. Neiderman has the interest in it, or if he just believes he’s holding on to her desires (which is probably correct).

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Fallen Hearts by V.C. Andrews

Book 8 in:

Fallen Hearts is the third book in the V. C. Andrews’ Casteel series.  It’s been a while since I read this one so I don’t feel like I can do it justice with a recap.  Instead, I’ll direct you to Taren of The Chick Manifesto’s awesome recaps: Part 1 and Part 2.  In this one, Logan no longer holds back on being a class A jerk when he knocks up Fanny, Heaven’s sister, and even more when he defends Tony’s attempt at rape.  Troy returns, which is a little creepy with the uncle/niece relationship, but also awesome since Troy is the best character.  I found myself wondering how anyone can put up with Fanny – you never see a redeeming quality in her.

Coming this week: Gates of Paradise, Web of Dreams, and Dawn to complete the challenge.

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Photo Friday

These were all taken during the Snowpocalypse  this past Saturday.

The boys on the couch:

Brinkley makes his way through the snow:

Jake in the snow:

I thought our male deer, Michael, looked like a camel with the divot in his snowy back:

I loved seeing the lights outside glow in the snow:

I hope everyone is warm and happy today whether you celebrate Christmas or it is just another day for you.  I hope it is a day filled with peace and love.

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