Sunday, January 30, 2011

"I Will Fix You"

One of my good friends has a theory about why women love the story of Beauty and the Beast so much (whether in its movie, fairy tale, or retelling form): she believes that women love the idea of being able to fix and heal the men they love. This aspect of love's healing and redemptive powers has a huge role to play in Son of the Shadows, by Juliet Marillier, the second book in the Sevenwaters Trilogy (which isn't a trilogy any longer). I gushed about the first book here.

I'll go ahead and tell you right now that this book is my favorite of the Sevenwaters books, and I fear that my review won't really do it justice. And I really want to do it justice because it is so amazing and perfect in every way. Son of the Shadows builds upon the good work that Juliet Marillier started in Daughter of the Forest and adds elements of a very Beauty and the Beast-esque love story and the importance of choices and making your own path. All this results in a breathtaking book that I was enthralled with from start to finish.

The book opens with Liandan telling the story of her mother and father, Sorcha and Red. Liadan is very much like Sorcha: she loves her garden and is a healear; Liadan, unlike Sorcha, also has the gift (or curse) of the Sight: she can see the past, present, and future in flashes and is very valued by the Fair Folk who aided her mother in Daughter of the Forest. According to Sorcha, Liadan is a woman who potentially has great power to change the course of things because she was not a part of the vision that Sorcha had of her children; Sorcha saw Niamh, Sorcha's older sister, ans Sean, Liadan's twin brother, quite clearly, but only had a glimpse of a shadowy, saddened presence on the outskirts of her vision. This shadowy presence, I think, points to Bran, a man more connected to Sevenwaters and Sorcha's and Red's story than he would ever wish to be.

Just like Daughter of the Forest, Son of Shadows is about the love of family if it is about anything. Marillier sets up the story that she explores in her next book with the story of Niamh and Ciaran. I won't spoil the story of these two characters, but they must fight great pain, danger, and opposition to be together. Ciaran, especially, is a key figure in Liadan and Bran's story, and Liadan is one of the few people who seeks to understand her sister's pain and the great change that overcomes her in the middle of this book.

The reason that I loved this book, however, is because of the story of Liadan and Bran. After Niamh's wedding, Liadan accompanies Niamh and her new husband on part of their trip home. On her return to Sevenwaters, Liadan is kidnapped by members of the infamous Painted Men. These men kidnapped Liadan because they knew of her reputation as a healear and were desparate to help their friend Evan, a blacksmith for the group of fighting men.

As Liadan fights to save Evan, she often goes head to head against the leader of the Painted Men. Simply known as Chief by his men, Liadan christens him Bran because of an intricate raven tattoo that covers the entire right side of his body. Bran is a hard, bitter man who seems to have lived many years beyond his own twenty-one, and he bears a deep dislike and distrust for all women, which naturally extends to Liadan. Liadan stubbornly insists on treating Evan and demands that Bran make that possible. They clash often, and Liadan finds Bran puzzling. He is a hard man who seems to feel nothing, but she also catches glimpses, both because of the Sight and because of her interactions with Bran, of a scared, abandoned child who is terrified of the dark. Liadan is not sure how to resolve these contradictory identities, and it is not until the other men ride off on a mission, leaving behind Liadan to tend a dying Evan and Bran to guard and protect Liadan, that things start to change between Liadan and Bran.

Despite her best efforts, Evan dies, and it is at their makeshift funeral for him that Liadan and Bran, Bran especially, show their vulnerability. This oppenness finally bridges the gap between the tentative starts at understanding each other and the acknowledgment of love and desire that Liadan and Bran make. The rest of the novel focuses on the fight that Liadan must survive to not only be with Bran but to bring Bran back to himself.

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Again Marillier presents two very real characters trying to figure out who they are and how they can be together. Bran has many obstacles to overcome before he can allow himself to consider a life with Liadan and his son, Johnny, and it is Liadan that must bring him past many of these obstacles. She becomes, quite literally, the light that guides him. It is not until he can acknowledge this and be honest about his past that he can come out of the shadows and accept his true place in life and at Liadan's side.

There is so much more to this story, but I simply can't do justice to it here. The heart of the story, however, and the thing that moved me the most about Son of the Shadows, was Liadan's steadfastness is loving and helping Bran. She tells her mother, "we share a bond. Not love, exactly. It goes beyond that. He is mine as surely as sun follows moon across the sky. Mine before ever I knew he existed. Mine until death and beyond." Liadan shines for Bran through the darkest nights, she pulls him from the darkness (both literally and figuratively), and she sets a whole different story into motion with her bold choice of Bran and the life he offers. She is his hope, and she helps him find the strength to live with the hope and goodness and brightness that he finds in and with her.

This story is so much more than a romance: it tells a story of the true nature of love, and it is a powerful testament to why hope and love are necessary for our survival.

Please don't just take my rather scattered, ill-spoken word on this. Find these books, read them, and be swept up in this wonderful world created by a gifted storyteller and excellent wordsmith.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As Carol Says, "I'm Not Worthy!"

Carol and Tracey of My Outlander Purgatory have been kind enough to award me the Stylish Blogger Award. Needless to day, I was shocked and amazed, especially since I feel design-wise and aesthetically I blunder more than I succeed! The ironic thing is that I seriously considered changing my template and blog design over the weekend but just didn't end up having time to do so (read: the semester ended Friday, grades are due Thursday, and I'm still trying really hard not to curl up in a ball, rock in the corner, and cry over how much I still need to do...)

In addition to thanking the fabulous lassies of MOP (their blog is dedicated the totally engrossing world of the Outlander books and is ALWAYS good for a laugh!), I'm supposed to share some things about myself. Sadly, my life is quite ordinary and boring, but I'll try to be entertaining. Not surprisingly, most of these will be book related ;)

1. As a tiny, wee thing (about 5 or 6), my brother (about 3 or 4) and I didn't have any pets but wanted one desperately. We'd had pretty bad luck with goldfish, so my parents refused to get more. Our solution? Pet earthworms! I was devastated when I came home and discovered that Brother Dearest had failed to put the worms in the shade that morning while I was at school. They were all dead (read: shriveled and crusty), and I cried.

2. When we lived in Minnesota (the first time), we lived in the parsonage across from the church my dad pastored. We loved it because there was a huge open field right next door that my brother and I played in all the time. One summer I was biking home from swimming lessons. When I pulled into the driveway, there was a baby gopher that was obviously injured. Being the kind, compassionate soul I am, I wrapped it up in my swimming towel, carted it inside, and tried to revive it. My mom screamed a lot when she discovered my new friend (she was afraid I would get rabies).

3. Some of my favorite stories as a child were the ones my dad made up. He would tell us wonderful tales of the adventures of Joshuette, Joandrew, and Elizabert. It took me a long time to figure out that these characters were actually my brother, sister, and me and were intended to teach us right from wrong. Strangely, Youngest Brother never got in on this...

4.When I was in fourth grade, I decided that I wanted to read every fiction book in my elementary school library. We moved while I was in the Ls (I have this crazy plan to thank for reading A Wrinkle in Time), and I was most sad about leaving my project uncompleted.

5. The only time my parents ever got called for a parent-teacher conference was when I was in fifth grade. The reason? I was reading in class and completely ignoring what I was supposed to be doing. I couldn't take a book to school for about a month as a result.

6. In junior high, a good friend and I were obsessed with Newsies; so obsessed, in fact, that during math class we would write letters back and forth to each other as Jack and David. She was Jack; I was David. Basically, I was a big nerd!

7. I was the understudy for Yente and cast as mama in my high school's production of Fiddler on the Roof. I'm pretty short, so I was rather surprised to be cast as a mama instead of a daughter (the entire chorus was broken up into families). Upon expressing this surprise to a male friend who was also in the chorus, he responded with: "oh, no. You're DEFINITELY a mama." Needless to say, I took offense.

8. My college roommate and I once constructed a papier mache marracca at 2 a.m. True story; true event in the lives of education majors.

9. I firmly believe going IN by the door marked in and OUT by the door marked out. Yes, this results in mockery.

10. I have so many books that when I first moved in with my roommate, she didn't go to the library for months. She just borrowed from me!

Okay, so not terribly interesting, but that's me!

Here are some blogs I would like to pass this award on to:
A Striped Armchair--Eva has been so kind and helpful, and I've found so many unexpected gems thanks to her blog!
Angieville--As I've mentioned before, Angie's recommendations are flawless. Plus, she introduced me to Juliet Marillier and the Sevenwaters books. This means I am eternally in her debt!
words, words, words--Bethany is hosting the Victorian Literature challenge, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading her thoughts on all sorts of books.
Your Move, Dickens--Darlyn writes awesome reviews on books, and has an awesome blog with an awesome title (yes, I'm partial!)
Simple Little Bookworm--Amy's blog is my most recently discovered treasure, and I love it! She writes about a wide variety of books and is highly entertaining while she does it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Inhaling Books: Dangerous but Satisfying

My 2011 reading has certainly started out strong; not only did I finish Bleak House, but I also stumbled upon, fell in love with, and subsequently devoured a series of books in a way I haven't done in a LONG time. What can I say? I'm in literary love with Juliet Marillier.

Under The Lamp
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I had intended to post a review about how i live now, by Meg Rosoff, before reviewing Daughter of the Forest, but the novel literally wouldn't leave me alone: I pretty much read, slept, breathed, ate, and thought the Sevenwaters Trilogy once I picked up Daughter of the Forest. I've read the first three books in less than three weeks (and at 500-600 pages each, that is no small feat!). These books are so good that I gave up sleep, ignored potential social gatherings, and brought lunches that didn't require heating so I could spend as much of my lunch hour as possible reading! Like I said, I'm in love, and book love for me is never more strongly demonstrated than when I am willing to burn the midnight oil and stay up with a book, even if it is a school night!

I first learned about Daughter of the Forest from Angie. She included it in her favorite fairy tale retellings, and since I have loved every book I've read because of her blog, I knew this would be a good story. Little did I know HOW good!

Sorcha and her six brothers live in the forest of Sevenwaters, an estate full of lore and legend in the Ireland of the far past; they are left to essentially fend for themselves, especially Sorcha and Finbar, because their father was never quite the same after their mother died giving birth to Sorcha. Sorcha is never sure how her father feels about her (or if he even knows she exists; she feels that her father finds her at best insignificant and at worst the cause of his beloved's death), but she is deeply loved and well taken care of by her brothers. Her brothers represent the best and the brightest of the Sevenwaters estate, and they are quite blissfully happy until a young Briton, Simon, is captured by their father's spies. Life is further complicated by the coming of Lady Oonagh, their father's new wife. All the siblings, with the exception of one brother, sense a sinister danger in Lady Oonagh, but they don't quite know what to do. Conor, Finbar, and Sorcha, especially, are greatly troubled by Oonagh's presence because they are gifted with the supernatural powers of their ancestors, and they see most clearly and most specifically the threat that Oonagh poses. Indeed, Oonagh herself knows that these children know who and what she truly is, and so she conveniently disposes of them by turning the six brothers into swans, knowing full well that Sorcha will not survive long without the protection of her brothers.

Sorcha, naturally, despairs when this occurs, but she is given hope when the Lady of the Forest comes to tell her that she, Sorcha, has it within her power to free her brothers. She must weave six shirts from a plant covered with barbs and spines for her brothers, and she must remain completely silent while she attempts to accomplish her task: no speaking, no cries of pain, no moaning, yelling, or laughter are permitted her; to speak is to curse her brothers to their swan-enchantment forever.

Daughter of the Forest is compelling for two reasons: the excellent writing and the skillful discussion of love, sacrifice, trust, and truth. This novel is not just a thinly veiled morality tale (as so many fairy tales, at their cores, are); it is a treatise on the power of love and what a person will do, with little care for herself, for love. Sorcha's love for her brothers does more than just bind her to silence and an almost horific job in weaving the six shirts; she endures isolation, violation, fear, betrayal, and confusion for her brothers as well. She, a child of Sevenwaters, who is bound almost supernaturally to the forest, as if the forest was part of her soul, finds herself in a strange land, without friends, unable to communicate, and still forces herself to apply herself to her task, knowing that her life and happiness mean nothing if she cannot free her brothers.

On her website, Marillier explains that she "sought the human dilemmas at the heart of the fairytale, for such tales have at their core the most wondrous and the harshest of human experience, the best and worst of human behaviour." Marillier also explains that fairy tales tell stories that resonate deeply with us because they highlight the things that we care about most. I appreciated that Marillier dealt with many different types of love: at the heart of the novel is love for one's family, a bond for Sorcha and her brothers that almost seems too strong for such a simple word. Marillier shows the power and importance of love between friends in Sorcha's interactions with Simon, Linn, her brother's dog, Red (a Briton who saves her from drowning), and Marjorie and John (Britons of Red's household who become Sorcha's protectors and some of her closest friends).

And of course, what fairy tale would be complete without some romance? What I appreciated most about this aspect of Marillier's story was that Red, the man who loves Sorcha and who, in the end, Sorcha ends up loving, is not in any way an ideal, romanticized man. While he protects and cares for Sorcha, he is a man so tightly bound to his honor that he can scarcely be honest with himself (let alone Sorcha) about what he truly feels for her; he is a fair man, but he shows his truer, gentler self to very few people. Marillier also paces this aspect of her story very well. There are no heady, swoony glances followed by immediate, deep, undying love for Red and Sorcha. They are tentative and unsure; they blunder; they make mistakes; they cross signals and read each other incorrectly; they are both stubborn to the point of almost missing the chance to be with each other. And while in the end they are together, Marillier does not minimize Red's sacrifice of everything he has ever known nor make it easy for him to give up Harrowfield and his entire life; in fact, this decision comes back to haunt Red in the next book, Son of the Shadow, as he learns that his decision did not necessarily cost himself alone.

Above all, however, I appreciate that Marillier tells a story that is honest and true to life: there are no easily tied up endings in this story; characters feel the effects of their decisions, and the hurts and injuries that result from Oonagh's curse do not disappear as soon as the curse is broken. The siblings are, quite literally, constantly reminded of the years, the innocence, the love that were stolen from them. The siblings are reunited, but they must work to restore their relationships and face many challenges to reclaim the happiness that they lost at the hand of a cruel sorceress. As Sorcha herself says, "Real life is not quite as it is in stories. In the old tales, bad things happen, and when the tale has unfolded and come to its triumphant conclusion, it is as if the bad things had never been. Life is not as simple as that, not quite."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What I Loved About Bleak House

Even though I didn't love Bleak House as a whole, there were certain aspects that I did love. I promise to keep the gushing to a minimum!

One thing that I love about Dickens in general (and Bleak House did not fail me here) is his ability to comment upon what he sees as society's woes. In Bleak House, Dickens takes on the British courts (Chancery), the dangers of pursuing money at the cost of everything else, supposed do-gooders who do more harm than good (Mrs. Jellyby, he's talking to you!), and, of course, his old favorite, the treatment and abuse of the poor and disadvantaged. CSL2041 Photo Credit
Not surprisingly, Dickens' battle with money, the pursuit of wealth, and the cost of irresponsibility with one's means is a topic he returns to over and over again in his novels. He focuses particularly on the corrupting power of wealth in Bleak House. What is interesting about this is that it is as much the expectation of wealth as it is wealth itself that Dickens shows degrading and destroying lives in this story. The wards of court in Jarndyce and Jarndyce become a stark example of how dangerous it can be to live for the fleeting hope of wealth rather than determining to do good honest work for good honest money.

I've mentioned several times how much Richard's story saddened me (okay, let's be honest: this storyline made it nearly impossible for me to read this book the first three times I attempted it), and Dickens is at his best in showing how a bright, fresh, energetic, lovely young man (the representation of "Youth" to Miss Flight) is slowly but surely ground down in the milling wheel that is Chancery and Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Richard's naive belief and hope that Jarndyce and Jarndyce will end in favor of himself and Ada produces some of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the novel and provide Dickens with some of his strongest warnings against the danger of believing that wished-for wealth is better than actual happiness and security, however simple that happiness and security may be.

Along with Dickens' general delight in language, I have always loved his invention and use of very character-appropriate names. My favorite names that reflected character in Bleak House belonged to the main characters: Richard brings to mind nobility, honor, and goodness, and his name only serves to highlight how low he falls before he sees the truth that Mr. Jarndyce was trying to guide him towards the whole time. Ada's name means noble, and noble she truly is. She is sweet, kind, trusting, and wholly supportive, for better or worse, of Richard.

Really, however, it is Esther and Allan whose names fit them best and hint to the reader that they will indeed be together in the end. Even though it is not her true name, Esther is known as Esther Summerson her entire life, and she truly embodies many of the qualities of summer: A Summer meadow
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she is warm and kind and seems to exude light and goodness. It is only fitting, then, that she should be pursued, loved, and won by a man named Allan Woodcourt, whose name also brings to mind peace, simplicity, and true beauty.
Forest Path Photo Credit

The Deadlocks are also very aptly named: Sir Leicester Deadlock is trapped in the expectation of his family tradition and legacy, but, it turns out, he is not completely defined by them: he is not so "dead" that he will not marry a vaguely unsuitable woman (the mysterious Honoria Barbary), and marry for love, no less; even more shocking is the fact that he comes to love her so much that he forgives her affair and illegitimate child and wishes only that she would have come back to him so he could forgive her in person.

JoAnn of Lakeside Musings made an interesting comment on Book Psmith's post on Little Dorrit: she said that Dickens is an author that she had to trust while reading Bleak House; she had to let herself follow him where he would go, knowing that he would deliver eventually. I find that this very accurately sums up my experience with Bleak House. It may not have been my favorite, but I'm glad that I trusted Dickens enough to eventually follow this story through to its end.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Feeling Rather Bleak, Or a Post of Dickensian Length

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Upon finishing Bleak House, I felt one thing: disappointment. And, frankly, I was disappointed that I felt disappointed. Why, you might ask? Well, the answer is a long one. My relationship with Dickens has been a complicated one: my first exposures to him were enjoyable (Micky's Christmas Carol, a cartoon version of David Copperfield involving cats), but then when it came time to read him, I was not impressed. I read A Christmas Carol in my 7th grade English class (when I was probably too young) and was more confused than anything; then Oliver Twist was on the 10th grade summer reading list, and we all know what being required can do to a book, especially when it is required during the summer (and I LIKED to read!). I read it, but I didn't like it; then we read it again in class, and I hated it. It wasn't until I read A Tale of Two Cities in my senior English class that I realized I might have been mistaken when it came to Mr. Dickens. I loved Tale; I adored it, and my fondness for it has only grown as I have gone on to read and love most of Dickens' novels.

In fact, every Dickens novel I have read since A Tale of Two Cities has been a joyful discovery of an author and style and storytelling that I have come to love more and more with each read. I have read Great Expectations, Dombey and Son, Hard Times, Nicholas Nickleby, Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, and Little Dorritt and loved them all; many of these novels are stories that I know I will return to again and again. I plan to read all of Dickens' work (with the possible exception of Edwin Drood because I don't quite understand the appeal of an unfinished Dickens) because I love him That Much.

All this is to say that I fully expected to love Bleak House just as much as all the rest, especially since so many people consider it his masterpiece.

The truth is, however, I did not love it wholeheartedly, and this is why I felt disappointed. I loved pieces of it, but this is the first time (since those troublesome, youthful readings of A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist) that I have felt annoyed by Charles Dickens. I felt like the Chancery case was overblown, and there were times that I wanted to smack the men in Esther's life for being so condescending and smack Esther for letting herself be treated that way.

Then I took some time away from the novel (thank you, Juliet Marillier!), forgot about it a bit, and was able to come back to it with a slightly more balanced perspective. Surprisingly, this new perspective came about when I revisited the BBC/Masterpiece adaption of Bleak House.

I was having a lazy Saturday morning yesterday before jumping into the grading and planning that needed to be done, and I decided to pop in Bleak House. As I've mentioned before, I watched this miniseries before reading the book, and, in fact, the miniseries was part of the reason that I wanted to make Bleak House my next Dickens. I loved the adaptation when I watched it, and, for better or worse, it affected my reading of the novel (mainly because I knew what would happen to Richard, which troubled and saddened me greatly, which in turn translated itself into a reluctance to continue reading the book past the first hundred pages).

As I watched, I (of course) noticed things that I couldn't have seen before reading the novel, which in turn started me thinking about the novel again. I started to realize that Dickens' mastery at presenting characters, exposing the horrific realities of his time, his genuine love for people (all sorts, really), his longing for a good (i.e. ideal and perfect) woman, and his delight in language, all things that I appreciate about his style, were present and effective in Bleak House. And while I may not have adored Bleak House, and it is not my new favorite Dickens, it is still a good book.

Reading this novel was really a study in how much my choices and reading habits can affect my perception of the book itself (obvious, I know, but I don't often consider this because my choices and habits are generally so helpful in making a book the best it can be for me). Probably the first lesson I learned when it comes to Mr. Charles Dickens? Don't see the movie before reading the book! For me, so much of the joy that Dickens brings to me comes from the way he brings the many intricate webs of storylines and characters together at the end; he makes everything matter, and I love that about his novels. I keep reading to discover how he is going to resolve everything, so knowing the resolution going into the novel is not a good idea for me.

Secondly, I was reminded that I don't react well to books that I take a ridiculously long time to read. I discovered this while reading East of Eden, and I took even longer to read Bleak House (almost 5 months from beginning to end!). When I am reading a challenging book, I do best to focus only on that book until I am done; during these types of reads, my habit of reading multiple books at the same time does NOT help me.

Finally, I had to let myself be okay with not loving this book even though I really wanted to love it. I think these kinds of reads are most upsetting; when we expect to love a book, want to love a book, and then don't, it is almost as if we have been betrayed by the book. And if I'm honest, part of my disappointment comes from the fact that I wanted someday to be able to say that I love EVERYTHING Charles Dickens wrote.

Since this post is now ridiculously long, I will wait to post about the things I DID love about Bleak House. And I have to thank Amanda at the Zen Leaf for hosting the readalong that FINALLY compelled me to actually finish Bleak House!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top 12 Books of the Year

Two posts in two days! Pick yourself up off the floor and read on for my list of favorite reads of the year. These are the books that I consider the higlights of my reading year, but they are not in any sort of order according to merit. Books I reviewed have links.

1. The Uncommon Reader
2. A Homemade Life
3. The Girl with the Glass Feet
4. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott: a really beautiful book about a
much beloved author
5. Romancing Miss Bronte: I loved this book; it made me want to live in
Jane Eyre and Northern England
6. Shiver
7. Linger
8. The Cookbook Collector: again, another exquistely beautiful book with
poignant lessons to be learned by some very real people
9. The Hunger Games Trilogy: I will be posting on these after I reread
them, but they are wonderful. In fact, this is the first book/series that I have
ever started reading again immediately upon finishing the first time.
10. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
11. Lady Julia Grey Novels: these novels helped me discover that maybe I DO like mysteries (or at least Victorian mysteries with female detectives)
12. how i live now: I will be posting about this in the near future as
well; how i live now was my last novel of the year and proved to be
very good company during the blizzards.

Yes, I cheated. But I don't care!

Here are my list of best re-reads this year (these are in order of merit):
1. Harry Potter Series: I plan to post about Harry soon
1. To Kill a Mockingbird: I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!!
1. The Hunger Games Trilogy
2. The Outlander Series
3. The Maltese Falcon
4. A Midsummer Night's Dream

Do you like how I was sneaky and put in a three-way tie?!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Out with the Old; In with the New

I'm finally getting around to my 2010 end of year post; it would have happened earlier, but I was so stir-crazy after the blizzards that I really couldn't sit still. Then I was busy inhaling Daughter of the Forest (look for a post soon) and staying up way too late reading. Needless to say, this was a Bad Life Choice (the staying up late, not necessarily the reading).

Anyhoo, on to the year in retrospect.

2010 was definitely a year of firsts for me in pretty much every aspect of my life. I started this blog and read more than fifty books for the first time since I started recording book totals; I read mostly library or already-owned books; I left East Tennessee, where I had been living and teaching for five years, and moved to North Dakota; I am teaching American Lit for the first time EVER; I have to shovel my own garage out when it snows( obviously a very significant milestone). In other words, the year has been one of exciting changes, worrisome unknowns, and thrilling twists and turns, and it is a year that I will not soon forget.

Book-wise, I read a whole lot this year. I attribute this to the fact that I had started the blog and, let's be honest, the one tv show I was still watching ended (RIP Lost). It also helped that I stopped having a commitment four nights a week! In general, most of my reads were fiction; all seven nonfiction reads were memoir/autobiography. A lot of the fiction, especially from summer on, was Young Adult. This is largely due to the fact that block scheduling gives me more freedom in assigning/providing free reading to my students, and I want to be familiar with what they're reading so I can make suggestions and connect things in class to things that are current and appealing to them.

And for next year? I've thought about this quite a bit. My first priority actually has to do with the blog itself. Last year, I read 100 books; I reviewed (in some way, shape, or form) twenty-seven books. This, my friends, is pitiful. Pitiful! I am really going to try to be more consistent in reviewing the books that I read, and I am going to make it a point to post at LEAST once a week (no more six-week absences for me!). I am also going to make it a point to fully participate in any challenges that I sign up for. So far I'm signed up for the Victorian Literature Challenge; I also plan to sign up for the Historical Fiction Challenge (Severe Bookahalism leve) and the Support Your Local Library Challenge (Jumbo level). Both the Victorian and Historical Fiction Challenges will have a Mr. Linky each month, and I plan to be there!

I still pretty much plan to read what I want to read (which means a lot of rereads this year: Possession, Time Traveler's Wife, the Hunger Games Trilogy, and as much Sharon Shinn as I can fit in) since I do so much prescribed reading for my job, but I would like to participate in the Classics Circuit at least once this year. Also, I have been thinking quite a bit about doing some sort of "My Life in Books" feature. I would like to tell the story of why certain books are so important to me by explaining when I first encountered them and why they were so right for me at the time. I'm thinking it will be something very much like what I did when I talked about Jane and Jane Eyre.

So there you have it! Up next: my Top 12 Books of the Year and reviews of Bleak House (IT IS FINISHED!!!!!) and Daughter of the Forest.

Happy New Year, everyone!