2013 in Review

Well, I almost made it through the entire list for 2013! The only ones I missed? 

The 5000 Year Leap
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Divine Comedy
Jesus the Christ
The Killer Angels
The Majesty of God's Law
Orson Hyde

19 out of 26 isn't  too bad! Especially considering that I've been pregnant for half the year and working harder than ever before. I added in a few extras (or a bunch of extras) and started reading four of the unfinished books, too. Those will be my first to finish in 2014 and hopefully I can get to the other three, as well. I think my only failure is that I still haven't read my grandma's book, Orson Hyde! It needs to be on my nightstand in 2014! Maybe then I'll finally quit slacking. 

My favorites for the year? Dracula is definitely at the top. Along with The Book Thief and Mere Christianity. 

My least favorites? A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Period. How surprising that a Twain novel was my worst read for the year, but I guess reading, like life, is as full of surprises as anything else.

Here's to another great year of reading!
2014, here we come!


"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck

I am not a John Steinbeck fan. I have read several of his books and have always thought they were overrated. My sister, however, recommended East of Eden for my 2013 reading list. She assured me that she was pleasantly surprised by how different this novel is from Steinbeck's other works and thought I would feel the same way.

She was right. As always. East of Eden surprised me. Its characters are better than I expected and the storyline kept me interested, with the exception of a few inevitably boring parts, from start to finish. Lee is a new favorite character and my opinion of Steinbeck as an author has been flipped on its head. Does this make me want to go out and read or re-read the rest of his novels? No. But I am glad I read this one.

May I share my favorite passage from the novel? The end of Chapter 34, one of the rhetorical sections of the novel, reads:

"We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is."

How very true. And the novel addresses this very idea on so many levels. Lee is all virtue. Kate is all vice. But even within two completely opposite characters, Steinbeck reveals some vice in one and some virtue in the other. He does it well. And I'm not disappointed in my last 2013 book. I didn't finish the list, but I got pretty close! Thanks to my sweet husband, who bought me a Nook for Christmas, I just might have an easier time getting through the rest of the list and hopefully making it through my new (YAY!) list for 2014! Making books more readily accessible is a beautiful thing. Thanks, hubby!


"Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott

Re-reading Little Women was a wonderful experience for me. The movie has always been one of my favorites and I read the book when I was no older than 12, but after all these years it was fun to go back and read it again.

My confession: I still prefer the movie and always will. But combined with the book, there is so much more depth to the characters that I can't help but love both. And hope that if I have little girls someday, they'll love both versions of the story as much as I do.

For years, my own mother has referred to me as "her Jo" when Little Women comes up in conversation. Jo is one of my literary heroines and I really do want to be just like her. The novel is simple, beautiful, and charming in so many ways, but dear Jo is always a little rough around the edges. I think that's what I love about her. She isn't perfect, but she's so real and so many of the things she feels are very similar to my own feelings. Absolute devotion to family, a craving for books, and a deep desire to write something meaningful. She is lovely, isn't she?

The thing I loved the most about reading the novel again was how much it made me laugh. Especially when Laurie is involved. I listened to most of it on CD in my car and laughed out loud at so many different spots. And now that I'm done, I guarantee that I'll be watching the movie again within the week. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I recommend both. And after you're done, I'd like to know what you think of the ending. Are you forever torn, like I am, about Jo's fate? Or do you think it's just right?


"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" by Mark Twain

If you're a great Mark Twain fan, like I am, but looking for one book of his that is worth skipping . . . this is it.

It's strange to admit how bored I was reading this book. I absolutely love Mark Twain and am always amazed by his genius on the page, but I guess no author can have every piece be great. And now I know that Twain is no exception. Halfway through I debated putting it down and never going back, but decided I'd finish even if the only way to do that was by listening to the audio version while I was doing other things.

It took a few days but without the audio version I don't know if I ever would have made it through. I do have to say, though, that my sweet husband was listening to something else on his headphones close by and surprised me by saying, "How's the book?" I told him how boring it was and he said, "The writing is beautiful, though." Did I marry the perfect man for me or what?!

And he's right. The writing is beautiful and Twain does not disappoint in that regard. And the whole concept of the story is admittedly genius, as well. Regardless, it will not be added to any of my "To Re-Read" lists. My copy will go lovingly back on the shelf and maybe someday I'll have a kid with a sense of adventure who won't mind the Connecticut Yankee's ramblings quite as much as I did.


"The Great Divorce" by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis never fails. This was a quick and easy ready and I really enjoyed it. For some reason I was expecting something a little more like The Divine Comedy but was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful, profound, and inspiring The Great Divorce was.

This very short book is presented as one man's dream of Heaven and Hell and the great chasm between the two. Most of the book is observations of others and how they make their choice concerning where they will spend the eternities. I loved how honest and full-of-truth everything was . . . but also how fanciful and imaginative. My favorite thing is Lewis's emphasis on choice.

We have all been given the opportunity to live this life and to choose how we will live it. But I truly believe that this book captures another profound reality - we will all have the opportunity to choose how we live in the next life, as well.

Apparently C.S. Lewis wrote over 30 books? I want to read them all. Try this one if you need something super light and easy. It didn't take me more than a couple of hours and they were hours very well spent!


"Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen

What can I say about the heroine of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, to truly do her justice? It's rumored that Fanny was Jane Austen's personal favorite and I have to agree. However, I will admit that I was disappointed in this novel.

How can I love the heroine and not love the novel? Here's the confession: Like Emma, I will not deny that the movie version of Mansfield is much more enjoyable than the book version. I really, really, really love the movie. And especially love Fanny Price, played by the amazing Francis O'Connor, in the movie. I listened to the book on CD and was pretty bored the entire time, mostly because I expected more action and adventure. The movie takes all the core elements of the novel and magnifies them into something much more dramatic and, at times, even scandalous! Fanny is witty, outspoken, and extremely moralistic. (Is moralistic a word or did I just make that up?) In the novel she is much more timid, but I love her regardless.

The thing I love most about this novel is the way it portrays the "grass is always greener on the other side" mentality that has been present in human nature from the beginning of time. I love that Fanny gets a taste of many different aspects of human life, human relationships, and human existence in general. Most of all, I love that she consistently chooses the better part. She is a true heroine and even if the book is dreadfully slow, she is worth the effort.

If you haven't seen the movie yet, I recommend that you read the book first. And then I'd be curious to hear if you're upset by the changes in the movie. It's a personal favorite and I will not be swayed, but I enjoy hearing differing opinions. Are you willing to take the challenge? I'll wait patiently for a thorough discussion afterwards!


"Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis

This is a book that everyone should read. Everyone. I have always appreciated C.S. Lewis, but this book made me realize why he is quoted again and again in religious talks. He took Christianity and said, "Here. Let's look at this in the most basic way possible. This is what Christianity is and always will be."

There are countless passages in this book that made me realize the simple, yet profound power of Christianity. Having been a Christian my entire life and having loved my Savior Jesus Christ for as long as I can remember, this book still surprised me. Not because what C.S. Lewis says is new, but because he presents it in a way I have never thought about it before.

One of my favorite lines in the entire book in the chapter on Pride. In a discussion about why God tries to make us humble, Lewis says, "He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are" (pg 127-8). He's so right, isn't he? We do strut about like little idiots, thinking that we are better than so-and-so for such-and-such a reason. But that is not what Christ wants for us. He wants us to love others and love ourselves so that we can, truly and fully, come to love Him.

I love this book. I love Christianity. And I want to share it!


"Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy

Can you believe it? I finally, FINALLY finished Anna Karenina! It only took two years (or maybe three), but I finally finished. What an accomplishment! Besides having to put this one on hold for books and assigned readings, I struggled to stay awake through a lot of it. Tolstoy's writing is truly beautiful and I love the short chapters, but like most novels written during this time period, there is just so much talking and feeling and thinking and looking at the sky. Although my only real complaint about Anna is . . . well . . . Anna.  I have to wonder why Tolstoy wrote a heroine who he must have known his readers would have a hard time respecting. She is beautiful and outwardly attractive in every way, but that is about it. By about page 600, I finally thought, "Ugh! I don't like her!" I do appreciate, however, the way Tolstoy painted a picture of two different lives. One of poor choices and sadness, another of restraint and deep satisfaction. Anna may not be a wonderful heroine, but there are other characters who do enough to redeem the novel as a whole. Kitty and Levin and Nickolay. They all have something unique and beautiful to offer. Even though it was hard to get through, I think Anna was worth reading. I'm proud to have read a Tolstoy novel at last, but don't think I'll be picking up War and Peace any time soon.  I've already started making a list for next year, so I think I better get through the 15 I have left for this year pretty quick!


"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This book was on my list for the year even before I heard the new movie was coming out. I think it was an assigned novel in one of my classes in middle school or high school, but I could not remember a single detail, so I don’t think I actually read it. Regardless, I’ve heard good things about Gatsby from many people and I’m happy to report that they weren’t all wrong. The book wasn’t at all what I expected, but I found that I truly enjoyed it. If for no other reason, Nick Carraway made it worth reading. His honest-to-a-fault attitude toward life and relationships reminds me a bit of myself. He doesn’t understand society’s apparent need to be false, but instead chooses to be honest with himself and with others. I love that. The story has its own unique tragic turns, but I can appreciate why so many people love it. The story is meant to entertain, but I’d like to think that Fitzgerald also wanted to make his readers think—to make them think of what they would do if they were in Gatsby’s shoes, or Daisy’s, or Carraway’s. And to think of how our own lives are so often filled with similar choices and tragedies, but we get to choose our own response. I've heard both good and bad things about the new movie, so I haven't decided if I'll see it or not. Anyone have an opinion one way or the other? I'm happy to hear it if you do!


Re-Reads Worth Re-Reading

I already have posts about Melissa Moore’s Shattered Silence and Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place, both memoirs, but I read both of them again this week and couldn't resist posting about them again, as well. See my previous posts.

I love these two women. Melissa's story makes me appreciate the good, safe life I've lived, and Kelly makes me appreciate everything. Seriously. I'm grateful that I decided to read them both again, now that I'm a little bit older, married, done with school, thinking about starting a family, etc. I was amazed by how different my perspective was on both stories, but especially Kelly's. There's one story in particular that really touched me. It's about the struggle Kelly had as a young girl with friends, popularity (or the lack thereof), peer rejection, and all of those things most of us had to deal with at a young age. The conversation she had with her mother later in life about that experience - I won't repeat it, you'll have to read it yourself! - brought me to tears. The sweet love shared between mother and daughter is beautiful beyond words. 

Both of these books are fantastic and I will probably read them both again at some point. I gave my copy of The Middle Place away to a dear friend when she was facing her own battle with breast cancer a few years ago, so I'm currently without a copy. It may be one of my next book purchases. Please read it. You will love it.

Melissa will forever be one of my heroes. Did you know that the last time I posted about her book, her husband commented on it?! That was pretty amazing for me. To know that not only had I been touched by this book and by Melissa's strength and faith, but that she was able to read what I had to say about it and about her. She's amazing and I will stand by my previous comment: I will hug her when I meet her someday, even if it's in the next life. I hope to someday have as much faith as she does.

I love books about strong women. They inspire me to be a better daughter, sister, wife, and someday, I hope to be as good a mother as these two women. Thank you, Kelly and Melissa, for being the kind of women that I want to emulate. You are inspiring!

On Well-Written Trash

Two of the books I've read recently have opened my eyes to the difference between “trash” and what I will, undoubtedly, refer to as “well-written trash” for the rest of forever. The books in question are JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. It’s only a little ironic that both authors use two initials for the first name – and even more ironic that Salinger’s trash will probably always be more well-known than Rowling’s well-written trash.

What’s the difference, do you ask? The difference is that I read all 512 pages of The Casual Vacancy and couldn't force myself to read more than 5 or 10 pages of The Catcher in the Rye. A friend at work lent me her copy of Rowling’s “adult novel” that came out a while back, but that I had never heard much about since. She told me she had a hard time getting into it, so she never finished, but I figured there had to be something redeeming about it. It was written by the creator of Harry Potter, after all! How could she write anything not worth reading?

I was wrong. The Casual Vacancy is, more than anything, obscene. The language is filthy (this is an understatement) and the characters are dishonest and cruel and devoid of morality. Another reader who I love and respect nailed it when she said, “By the end of the book, I still didn't care about a single character.” It’s true. They’re all a bunch of trashy, shallow, selfish jerks who couldn't keep up with Harry Potter if their lives depended on it. But – here’s the catch – Rowling writes them well! Despite the language and the fact that I found myself skipping over entire passages and even chapters where I knew certain characters would use the “f word” more than any other, I was intrigued. Rowling’s words flow like a stream of poetry and life, and even though the content was horrible, I wanted to keep reading just because she is so incredibly good at telling a story.

As for JD Salinger. I have no idea why The Catcher in the Rye has received any praise whatsoever. I put it on my 2013 list because more than one person recommended it. I love my friends and am grateful that not all readers enjoy reading the same books, but this is one that I really can’t figure out. I picked it up shortly after reading The Casual Obscenity and was, honest-to-goodness, shocked that I preferred the “f word” to Salinger’s drawling conversation/novel. Rowling’s characters are filthy and shallow, but Salinger’s hero is nothing but stupid. I put the book down and asked my Dad about it. If he has a bad opinion of a book, I can guarantee that mine won’t be much different. When I told him I’d started Catcher, he winced and groaned as though he had eaten something nasty. And this is when I decided that there is a difference between trash and well-written trash. Both books might belong in the garbage, but at least Rowling wrote a book that has some semblance of merit.

Don’t waste your time if you’re looking for a good read. These two are not it. But if you don’t mind the swearing and explicit content, you better believe Rowling will TRASH Salinger from word one. Get it?


"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that I always remembered reading in school as a kid, but could never exactly remember what it was about or if it was good or not. Reading it as a middle school student was a long time ago and if I remember correctly, I did not enjoy it the first time. Over the years, I've heard references to Atticus Finch and Boo Radley numerous times - always with a hint of pride in knowing that these are characters from To Kill a Mockingbird. I finally read it - or, to be more precise, devoured it - as an adult. And found out why Atticus and Boo are notable characters that deserve to be referenced by the adult world over and over.

Isn't it funny how we hate reading these books when we're kids, but find so much joy in them later, when we've finally achieved something resembling maturity? I know I'm becoming a broken record, but I have to say it again. I loved this book. I loved the characters and the story and more than anything, the moral of the story. I love that Atticus Finch talks about racism and prejudice with the greatest scorn and sadness. I love that the Finch's black housekeeper, Culpurnia, is not just a cook/maid/babysitter, but a member of the family. I love that the characters love books. I love that Scout and Jem are Scout and Jem, not Jean Louise and Jeremy. I love that Harper Lee prefaced this edition of the book with the order that To Kill a Mockingbird should never be given an Introduction. I could hug her for that alone!

I'm glad I read this one again. I'm glad that a story told from a child's perspective was able to teach me, a mature, boring, bookish grown-up, a valuable lesson about what it means to be truly charitable. Being childlike is, after all, the surest way to see the good in everyone and to love others for who they truly are.


"Dracula" by Bram Stoker

After years and years of thinking I would have absolutely no interest in reading the original story of Count Dracula, I proved myself wrong. I loved this book! I sometimes expect older books to be dull, dragging, and hard to get through. Dracula was definitely NOT one of those. I can't decide what I loved more - the story or Bram Stoker's writing style. The two go hand in hand, of course, but I really was blown away by Stoker's writing. It's funny and suspenseful and heartwarming all at the same time.

My one disadvantage with this novel was that I've seen more than one Dracula movie. "Dracula, Dead and Loving It" will always be my favorite and I've been itching to watch it ever since I started reading the book, but I think it would have been even more enjoyable to read if I didn't already know so much about the story. Yes, each movie takes its own liberties here and there, but they definitely stick closer to the original story than Frankenstein ever did!

My point is this: if you haven't ever seen a Dracula movie and you've never read the book, please read the book first! And then have some fun watching the movies and seeing how Bela Lugosi and Mel Brooks adapt The Infamous Count Dracula. I have a new favorite. My list is ever-growing, isn't it?


"The Prince and the Pauper" by Mark Twain

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Mark Twain?


Clear enough? I don't know why I still haven't read everything he's ever written because I have never been disappointed with a Twain novel, story, or essay. The man is a genius!

I love Huck Finn and always will, but I think the Prince and the Pauper might be my new favorite Twain characters. How can you not love two little boys who come from completely different backgrounds and get caught up in each other's lives simply because they decide to switch clothes for a few minutes?

I loved this book so much. If you haven't read it . . . what in the world are you waiting for?!


"Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story" by Ben Carson, M.D.

I loved this book. So much that I'm not even sure there's much for me to say except this: Learn as much as you can about Dr. Ben Carson!

Seriously. I don't know what else to say. This man is amazing and his story is truly inspirational. If you aren't a book reader (strange for you to be reading this blog if so), then at least watch the movie.

I really want to be more like Dr. Carson. I want to overcome my trials, dedicate my life to the things I'm passionate about, and never deviate in my devotion to God.


"The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr." edited by Clayborne Carson

I finally read The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesse bought it for me several years ago, knowing how much I love biographies and even more, how much I admire Martin Luther King, Jr. This book has been sitting on my shelf, waiting until I finished school so I could read it and be fully engaged, instead of fighting the distractions of homework, school books, and papers to write.

That day finally came, but it took me longer to get through MLKJ than I thought it would. Not because it wasn't vastly interesting, but because it was also vastly overwhelming. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been a hero of mine for a long time and I am happy to say that my opinion of him was not diminished by reading this book. Clayborne Carson did a wonderful job (with lots of help from other King scholars) of compiling Dr. King's writings into a psuedo-autobiography. I have to assume that if he had lived long enough to write a book meant as an autobiography, he may have done it a little differently, but I am amazed by the sheer volume of writing that he did throughout his life. There is so much detail in this book about King's various activities, causes, and trials. He worked tirelessly to advance the cause of Civil Rights in America and was both loved and hated by people throughout the world. Reading this book opened my eyes to how many interesting and incredible things he was able to accomplish in his life. I love his speeches more than anything else - I truly believe that he was given a gift when it came to public speaking. His writing is good, but his speeches are spectacular! My very favorite quote from this book, however, was not given in a speech.

Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest advocates of equality to ever live, once wrote: "I would rather be a man of conviction than a man of conformity." I love that. And I love that no matter how much criticism he received, he refused to back down from his beliefs and his convictions. He admonished his fellow men to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and he never once shrank from his adherence to nonviolence.

When you have some time to spare, read this book. It will make you realize that MLKJ was, like the rest of us, human. He had weaknesses and vices and imperfections. But he tried his very best and proclaimed on the eve of his assassination that all he wanted to be remembered for was that he gave all he had to the pursuit of equality and justice. That, to me, is truly heroic.


"Emma" by Jane Austen

It's only been a month since I finished my last book on "The List" but mostly because I picked up three at once. It's been a long time since I first intended to read Emma by Jane Austen and I'm glad I finally did. Have you ever seen the movie? It is my favorite of all the Austen movie adaptations I have ever seen.

I'll have to agree with my mom and sisters about the book, though. While it is wonderful, as all Austen novels are, it does drag on and on and on. Don't all Austen novels do that, too, though? As much as I love her as an author, my sister pointed out that during her time, authors were often paid by the word, which explains why so many English novels from that period are extremely wordy and drawn out. More time is spent on dialogue than anything else - lovely, charming, delightful dialogue, yes - which makes it difficult to keep your eyes open at times.

Regardless of the drawn-out-ness of this book, I would still recommend it. And then I will even more quickly recommend that you go watch the movie. Gwenyth Paltrow makes such a perfect Emma and all the most boring parts are left out, leaving just the sheer joy and pleasure of the novel behind.

No matter how many books I read, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for Victorian Novels. There is something so refreshing about the language and expressions of the characters in true English literature. I will always love it!


"Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

Well . . . I finished The Hunger Games series. While I will stand by my two previous claims that Suzanne Collins is a truly excellent writer, I have to admit that Mockingjay was so depressing that I almost regret reading the series. Almost.

Katniss is the symbol, the Mockingjay, of the rebellion against the Capitol. She and her friends, whether they like it or not, are now in the middle of a nation-wide war. Only now, Peeta has been captured and Gale's views on the lengths the rebels should go to in their push for freedom go against everything Katniss has been fighting against. She is forced to form new alliances, both pleasant and unwanted, and to finally choose how much she is willing to do in order to protect herself and her family.

When I finished this book, I immediately picked up the closest Jane Austen novel I could find. While I appreciated that Collins did not turn into Stephenie Meyer and serve me, her captive reader, a fairy-tale-happily-ever-after ending, the end of The Hunger Games was so sad that my first thought was, "Wow. This entire series may have been Suzanne Collins very own anti-war propoganda!" Anti-war propoganda written for teenagers. Go figure.

My final judgement on this one: Suzanne Collins did something brilliant with The Hunger Games. Perhaps the most brilliant thing about it is that many of the characters are so lovable that I wish I could go back and save them myself. If you're thinking of reading this series, be warned that the violence and sadness is ubiquitous. I told my mom the basic storyline and she was slightly mortified. I won't lie. I'm a little mortified myself after reading it. But whatever your opinion is of these novels, my hat truly goes off to the author.

I'd like to know what everyone else thought of this one. Did others have the same response I did? Which characters are you missing the most? I think I'd chose Cinna as a best friend if I could.


"Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

I finally got around to reading the second Hunger Games book this last week. I only read the first one because I wanted to know the story before the movie came out, but was surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed both. Did you know that Suzanne Collins did the screenplay for the movie? Which is probably why it followed the book so well and that the changes that inevitably had to be made did not destroy the integrity of the original text. I liked that.

And I enjoyed the second book, as well! Catching Fire seemed to be more fast-paced than the first book, mostly because there was no time lost introducing characters or explaining the background of Katniss's life. Now that she and Peeta have returned from their joint victory of the 74th Hunger Games, it seems at first that life may go back to some form of normal. However, Katniss quickly finds out that the Capitol is furious with her for her act of defiance in the arena and that the president will stop at nothing to keep her from inspiring a country-wide rebellion.

The fact that this book did not include children killing one another made it a lot easier to handle. While there is still fighting and somewhat graphic violence, at least it is between adults (is that a blatant justification or what? I'll admit it, I'm looking for justification). Katniss is as conflicted and stubborn as ever, but I really love her and this book made me love the other characters even more. While I resisted joining the fan-base of this series, I will not deny that I admire Suzanne Collins for her writing. It is smooth, captivating, and (thank goodness) almost completely devoid of errors. The continuity is seamless - something that an English Literature major like me can truly admire, regardless of the content.

I'll be starting Mockingjay as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Chances are that I'll finish that one before I finish Martin Luther King, Jr., but that's ok. I still have 46 weeks to go to finish my list. Maybe I should turn it into a race and see how quickly I can read every text!


"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery

Although this book was not on my "list" for the year, it was recommended by a friend when I did a social networking request for book suggestions. I had also seen it on the shelves at various book stores, so I thought I might as well consume this one along with the others. What I did not realize is that this book was written in French and then translated into English. So, of course, it is set in Paris.

Ah . . . I love Paris. Regretably, I did not love this book. It is about a 54-year-old concierge and a 12-year-old girl who live in the same building. Both characters are brilliant intellectuals, but hide their true brilliance in order to protect themselves from a world that is not always fair. The characters themselves, Renee and Paloma respectively, were easy to fall in love with, but the story was painfully slow. I found that for 300+ pages there was more philosophy and introspection than plot. It jumps back and forth between Renee's musings and Paloma's, which is easy enough to follow, but toward the end I was skipping over entire pages that had no storyline, but simply the observations or ideas of the characters. Now if you like that type of book then I'm sure you would love this one, but I guess my personal preference requires a little more "action" to keep the story going.

My other complaint about this book is that I absolutely did not like the ending. I won't spoil it, but will say that I certainly expected more to come from the relationship between Renee and Paloma. It was a means to an end, but I felt that the author could have chosen a happier, more satisfying way to end the book. While the entire novel was beautifully written, the plot choices of the author were quite disappointing. Does this mean I only like the fantasy type, happily ever after endings? Perhaps. I will let you judge this one for yourself.

*Note: This book also contains a few swear words, including three uses of the BIG bad swear word. That usually takes my opinion of any book down a couple of notches.


"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is by far one of the most interesting books I've ever read. By interesting, I do not mean wonderful. Instead, I was rather surprised that Oscar Wilde actually wrote something so dark. The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde's famous play and one of my very favorites, is so fun and hilarious. Dorian Gray is quite the opposite. It definitely has similar elements of satire, especially in the character Lord Henry "Harry" Wotton whose sole purpose in life is to find pleasure in everything and to turn reality on its head, but the rest of the book is dark and ghostly. The title character Dorian Gray is the beautiful, innocent young man who sells his soul in order to maintain his youthful beauty after a friend paints his likeness at the age of seventeen. Dorian's outward appearance from that time on does not change, but the painting ages instead.

This book offers a unique look into what would happen to a man if his inner self were hidden from the world. Dorian Gray suffers inwardly with sin, guilt, and age, but is always viewed as the perfect, innocent boy that he once was. Loved by many and envied by some, Gray must hide the secret of his apparent fountain of youth and consequently live a life of loneliness and fear.

I don't know if I would recommend this one, but, like Moby Dick, I believe there is value in having read it simply because now I will understand what everyone is talking about when Dorian Gray is mentioned. If you're not a fan of long descriptive passages, this may not be the book for you. If you're not a fan of supernatural elements, this may not be the book for you. If you are a student of literature, however, and enjoy reading something very different . . . read on!


"The Scarlet Pimpernel" by Baroness Orczy

I loved this book! I have seen the movie many times, but my sister Kimberly made me promise that I would read the book this year and assured me that it was even better than the movie. Well . . . of course she was right!

Knowing the basic premise of the book made it a little bit difficult for me to get into it at first, but I read 3/4 of the book yesterday, so I guess that means it drew me in at some point. I can't help but love the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel. In the movie he is lovable and intriguing, but in the book he is so much more.

For those of you who may not know the story already, I won't spoil it for you. Just know that this adventure set during the French Reign of Terror is one that will make you laugh and have you on the edge of your seat with suspense.

Thanks for the suggestion, Kim! This was the perfect start to my 2013 Year of the Books!