BTT ~ The Best?

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It’s a week or two later than you’d expect, and it may be almost a trite question, but … what were your favorite books from 2008?

I’ve been meaning to post my Top 10 of 2008 list for about a week now, so I was glad to learn that Booking Through Thursday‘s question this week was “what were your favorite books from 2008?”  I had set a goal for myself to read 33 books in 2008 for the 33 years I celebrated on my birthday, New Years Day 2008.  Well I met the goal plus one!  Below you will find my top ten favorite reads from the list, followed by the other 23 titles that I read.

Karen’s Top Ten of 2008
1.  (A Tie)
~  The Art of Racing In The Rain
~  Keeping The House
2.  The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Lie Society
3.  Twilight
4.  Between Here & April
5.  Change of Heart
6.  The Abstinence Teacher
7.  Dewey – The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World
8.  House & Home
9.  My Best Friend’s Girl
10.  Where The Red Fern Grows
12.  Shopgirl
13.  My War… Killing Time In Iraq
14.  Wonder Woman: Love & Murder
15.  St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves
16.  Candy Girl
17.  Matrimony
18.  Mrs. Lieutenant
19.  Sail
20.  The Last Summer (Of You And Me)
21.  Night
22.  My Horizontal Life
23.  Schooled
24.  I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
25.  The Great Man
26.  The Summer of Naked Swim Parties
27.  Loose Girl
28.  Time of My Life
29.  Man of the House
30.  Home Girl
31.  Lulu In Marrakech
32.  Bachelor Degree
33.  Off The Menu
(34.  Driving Sideways ~ Review Still Pending)

Book Review ~ Schooled by Anisha Lakhani

Summary ~ “When Anna Taggert lands a teaching job at an elite private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, her dreams of chalk boards and lesson plans are quickly dashed by the grim realities of her small paycheck. It’s not easy to overlook the fact that tuition for each of your students exceeds your annual salary or that your students dress better than you do, but this earnest young Ivy League graduate does her best. And then comes the discovery that the papers she grades are not the work of her seventh graders, but of their high-priced tutors. Before long, Anna too is lured into a world where paying for the best that money can buy takes on a whole new meaning. Enticed by the prospect of earning more in an hour than she takes home in a day, Anna becomes a teacher by day and a tutor by night, joining the ranks of those who secretly do the homework of the children of affluence. A delicious debut based on the author’s experiences as a tutor while teaching at one of Manhattan’s top private schools, Schooled presents a shocking picture of an underground economy that is altering the landscape of education in every way. This dazzling exposé lays bare the tutoring industry in a way only an insider can. Welcome to Schooled, where even homework has a price.”

Schooled is a fun, light and enjoyable novel by debut author, Anisha Lakhani.  At the fictional Landon School, Anna Taggart is the newest and youngest member of the teaching faculty, in more ways than one.  Anna is the embodiment of a young Columbia University grad who actually gets a job right out of college as an English teacher at the most coveted private school in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  The hopeful and optimistic Anna enters the world of private school as a driven and idealistic first year teacher full of dreams of happy hours with co-workers and inspiring her young students. 

She starts out the new semester with clever class assignments and a drive to teach and mold the minds of her young students.  The lesson plans are creative and compelling and made for some of my favorite scenes in the book.  The students, who on most days would sit bored out of their minds around the conference table (there aren’t desks in this progressiveschool), really respond to Anna’s assignments.  Especially two in particular.  One being an assignment to rewrite some of Romeo’s lines as a rap song and the second, to direct a scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  They have to create story boards, blocking and put together the staples of a play. 

I learned more about Shakespeare while reading Schooled than I did while studying his work in high school.  I chalk it up to the fact that I may not have really been interested in learning about Shakespeare and his significance but I also blame the unenthusiastic teachers who saw the sea of faces before them as a group of uninterested, carefree, hormone driven kids who didn’t care.  I have no recollection of ever learning or at least retaining the magic of iambic pentameter.  I will admit that thanks to the character, Anna Taggart, I now understand it.

After some students, God forbid, seriously do the homework themselves and whine when asked by parents to go to bed, go out for the weekend or be on the computer working instead of the rumored hours of IM’ing, complaints come in over the phones to the administration and Anna is reminded that her job as a teacher does not require assigning homework.  Langdon School prides itself in it’s progressive ways of teaching and handling its students. 

As the semester continues, Anna learns that the papers she has been grading are too perfect to have been written by her seventh graders and are actually the work of overpriced and overpaid tutors who work for the families of Langdon.  Not only is she learning about the tutoring underworld that parents blindly believe is best for their children but these tutors are private school teachers just like herself.  

The plot thickens when Anna finds herself seduced by parents and their money to tutor their children.  She soon acquires a whole new schedule full of students from other private schools after finding out that she could make more in one hour of tutoring than she does in one day of teaching.  Soon Anna is caught up in the crazy world of writing papers for students all over the Upper East Side as well as for college students over Christmas break, being able to move from her fifth floor walk-up to a luxurious apartment between Park and Madison Avenue, to shopping and dining at all the tres chic boutiques and the coveted shopping mecca that is Barney’s. 

Schooled is full of moral issues, big money and spoiled rich kids and their parents taking advantage of the school system to their own detriment.  One of the most refreshing things I found about this book was the fact that the protagonist, Anna Taggart, does not have a love interest to busy herself with but instead devotes her time to starting her career as a private school English teacher and learning, and consequently becoming a part of, of the tutoring underworld that haunts her school and other private schools on the Upper East Side.  The idea of a relationship brimming between Anna and a fellow teacher hit me while reading and I later found out from my correspondence with Anisha Lakhani that she had toyed with the idea of pairing Anna up with this other character but decided against it.

I enjoyed every part of this book, from the classroom scenes to the shopping sprees to the tutoring lessons.  Schooled has a flair about it that transports the reader to Manhattan’s Upper East Side and makes it easy to visualize the life of the filthy rich and the people they take advantage of.  It offers up a great heroine named Anna Taggert who has decided to go into the thankless and difficult career of teaching.  She is a great character whom I will not soon forget.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Schooled will be available for purchase Tuesday, August 5th.  You can visit Anisha Lakhani’s website HERE.  It is a very cool site.  You can see Anisha’s book tour schedule under the Field Trip ‘pencil’ and be sure to check out her adorable Shih Tzu, Harold Moskowitz, under the Class Mascot ‘pencil’.  Anisha will also be over at The Debutante Ball grog (group blog) on August 9th.   

Book Review ~ The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

Summary taken from ~ “In the town of Waterby on Fire Island, the rhythms and rituals of summer are sacrosanct: the ceremonial arrivals and departures by ferry; yacht club dinners with terrible food and breathtaking views; the virtual decree against shoes; and the generational parade of sandy, suntanned kids, running, swimming, squealing, and coming of age on the beach.
Seat against this vivid backdrop, The Last Summer (of You and Me) is the enchanting, heartrending story of a beach-community friendship triangle among three young adults for whom summer and this place have meant everything. Sister Riley and Alice, now in their twenties, have been returning to their parents’ modest beach house every summer for their entire lives. Petite, tenacious Riley is a tomboy and a lifeguard, always ready for a midnight swim, a gale-force sail, or a barefoot sprint down the beach. Beautiful Alice is lithe, gentle, a reader and a thinker, and worshipful of her older sister. And every summer growing up, in the big house that overshadowed their humble one, there was Paul, a friend as important to both girls as the place itself, who has now finally returned to the island after three years away. But his return marks a season of tremendous change, and when a simmering attraction, a serious illness, and a deep secret collide, the three friends are launched into an unfamiliar adult world, a world from which their summer haven can no longer protect them.”


“The Last Summer (of You & Me)” took me to Fire Island and Manhattan, NY while introducing me to three characters whose lives overlapped each others like that of an intricately tied knot on a docked boat.  A knot that keeps the boat tied to the shore though the current works to free it.  Riley and Alice are sisters who have a close relationship with each other and with Paul, the boy who grew up in the neighboring beach house on Fire Island.  To Riley, Paul is a kindred spirit who understands her and looks at the world in a similar way.  They spent their summers growing up challenging each other in many ways.  Both being fans of the great outdoors, they trained to be life guards together but only one ended up taking the test and living their dream.  They shared Riley’s little sister, Alice, and both took great care to watch out for her and include her as best they could in their tight knit friendship.  To Alice, Paul is the boy she always tried to impress but never felt she could.  She thought about him all year round and would day dream about what he was doing in his life.  Paul always had a special place in his heart for Alice over the years but as girls learn, had a funny way of showing his affection.  He would torture her with relentless teasing and badgering for every little thing she tried to do.  But through the apparent strain between them, a love had blossomed into something that neither was very prepared for. 

After three years of being away from Fire Island, Paul returns for a summer he’ll never forget.  Waiting in anticipation for his ferry to arrive Alice thinks of the Paul she has been caring around in her mind for those three years. 

“How often she did attempt to process his thoughts in her mind.  She took his opinions too seriously, remembered them long after she suspected he’d forgotten them.
It was one thing, trying to think his thoughts when hes close by, his words offering clues, corrections, and confirmations by the hour.  But three years of silence made for complex interpolations.  It made it harder, and in another way it made it easier.  She was freer with his thoughts.  She made them her own, thought them to her liking.”

As the summer creeps along, the excitement of newly discovered love between life long friends is special and arouses memories in my own mind.  Memories of a love lost in my mid-twenties with a guy who had been one of my best-est of best friends for six years.  The temptation of creating something greater out of a stable and strong friendship is risky.  It didn’t work for me but it just might work for the characters in this book. 

“He was.  He was finally here.  He was taken back by his own certainty, but he was certain now.  Enough for the two of them and for anyone else who might come along.  This was what he wanted.  Now that he’d decided it, the future could not come fast enough.  Beware the power of the converted, he thought. 
At the same time, he knew he was at the edge of a great and rare pleasure.  A pleasure you got only once in your life, and if you didn’t make the most of it, you were stupid.  He was weary of being stupid.”
“Here she was, here they were, after all this time.  It was the joy of joys.”  

There were moments I absolutely loved in “The Last Summer (of You & Me)”and there were times when I felt I had lost my attachment to the story but for the most part I enjoyed this “summer read”.  The summer of 2000 found me visiting friends in Queens, NY and going along with them for a night on Fire Island.  I don’t really remember much of it because we arrived at night on the ferry and hit the bars almost immediately.  I do remember the morning after and waiting at the dock for the ferry to take us back to Long Island though.  I hadn’t thought about that trip in years until reading this book.  It was a fun and magical feeling to be on an island with a ferry ride separating us from the shores of New York’s Long Island.  To know that the only ways of getting around was walking (for us at least) and the only way on or off this long, narrow stretch of sandy land was a chugging ferry or heaven forbid a helicopter was such a foreign concept to me being from the suburban Washington D.C. area.  I enjoyed revisiting Fire Island as well as Manhattan and seeing it from a new perspective while reading “The Last Summer (of You & Me)”. 

The characters are rich and alive in “The Last Summer (of You & Me)”.  The events, lovely and tragic, effect their lives in a real and life changing way.  It was easy for me to imagine that this summer, (heaven forbid the tragic side of the story from happening), some magic is happening to young hearts on Fire Island.  That the tragedies of the world aren’t stretching across the Great South Bay and affecting them in the ways that affect us who live in it everyday. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Book Review ~ Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Summary ~ “Billy, Old Dan and Little Ann – A Boy and His Two Dogs… A loving threesome, they ranged the dark hills and river bottoms of Cherokee country.  Old Dan had the brawn, little Ann had the brains – and Billy had the will to train them to be the finest hunting team in the valley.  Glory and victory were coming to them, but sadness waited too.  And close by was the strange and wonderful power that’s only found… Where the Red Fern Grows.”

Monday, I finished “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls.  Though I needed a box of tissues to get through the end of the book, I loved every exhilarating, loving and heartbreaking word.  I sat there with my dog Rocky laying in my lap and read the last pages about Billy’s childhood and the little hunting dogs who changed his life. 

“Where the Red Fern Grows” is a story about a determined boy with a terrible case of “dog-wanting disease” set in the Ozarks of northeastern Oklahoma during the Great Depression.  After saying a prayer asking for help with getting his hunting pups, Billy Coleman spent two long years working to earn and save $50.00 to buy two little hunting puppies he had seen listed in a fisherman’s discarded magazine.  With the help of his Grandfather, his prayer is answered. 

   “I wanted so much to step over and pick them up.  Several times I tried to move my feet, but they seemed to be nailed to the floor.  I knew the pups were mine, all mine, yet I couldn’t move.  My heart started acting like a drunk grasshopper.  I tried to swallow and couldn’t.  My Adam’s apple wouldn’t work. 
   One pup started my way.  I held my breath.  On he came until I felt a scratchy little foot on mine.  The other pup followed.  A warm puppy tongue caressed my sore foot.
   I heard the stationmaster say, “They already know you.”
   I knelt down and gathered them in my arms.  I buried my face between their wiggling bodies and cried.  The stationmaster, sensing something more than just two dogs and a boy, waited in silence.”

And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that carried those three through the valleys, riverbanks and mountains of the mighty Ozark Mountains.  Billy’s loving and supportive family consisted of Papa, Mama, three little sisters, Grandma and willy old Grandpa.  After training his pups to hunt ring-tail raccoons with a coon pelt, the adventures this trio experience during hunting seasons are endless. 

The vivid words jump off the page and create the lush, dark, mysterious, and beautiful land in my mind’s eye.   Not only did I feel that I was following along with Billy as I listened to him telling me what his dogs were doing as they were hunting but I could feel the same rush as the hunts were coming to an end and a hide was the prize. 

As I was reading “Where The Red Fern Grows” I thought about the plot that Rawls was getting across to me as the reader.  It was simple.  Boy wants dogs.  Boy gets dogs.  Boy trains his dogs to hunt and with that skill mastered to perfection by Old Dan & Little Ann, the story takes off.  The dangers that hunting can entail fill the pages of this book with breakneck chases and sneaky raccoons tricking the dogs but the power of the canine nose winning out in the end almost every time.  

I have never been an advocate of hunting and the idea of going out to hunt for sport and not food isn’t my idea of ethical but when reading this book, those feelings were cast aside and I happily read about treeing raccoons, vicious fights with claws and teeth gnashing out and the final moment when a dog’s steel trap of a jaw settles in until the last breath of a raccoon or some other animal marks a win for a spirited hunter. 

I read this book as a child and I would recommend anyone from the fourth grade and above to read this magical tale of unconditional love you can only find with man’s best friend. 

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Rocky & His Raccoon 

Here’s Rocky with his toy raccoon.  I took this picture this morning and he willingly posed perfectly for all of you out there. 

3 Out of 33

I finished the third of 33 books I will hopefully read this year.  I know some of you may not agree that it is a “book” but it was suspenseful, beautiful, had a plot and was a comic book.  Wonder Woman: Love & Murderby bestselling author Jodi Picoult was great!  I haven’t sat down and read a comic book to read a comic book since junior high or so (Elf Quest series) but I did last night and enjoyed it immensely.  It made me curious about Jodi Picoult’s novels and what her appeal is that caused the comic world to ask her to write for one of the icons of the comic world, Wonder Woman.  Have any of you read any of her books and if so which ones and what did you think?

What Do You Think About…

…turning Planet Books into a bi-monthly reading club?  I want to keep Planet Books alive but make it more realistic for our busy schedules.  I thought that if I posted a voting poll every other month and alloted two months to read a book instead of one than maybe we could find time to read a book together and also read some things on our TBR shelf.  I have my “33 of 33” challenge I gave myself this year and I am going to post about all the books I read this year, not just the books we vote for here on Planet Books.  I would love to hear/read your thoughts on this idea and if you think the change should be implemented now or if a monthly reading club is what you want to stick with.  Please let me know what you think by posting your comment to this post.  If we go to a bi-monthly schedule then I will post the next voting poll at the end of February.  If you prefer to keep Planet Books the way it is then I will post the new voting poll next Wednesday, January 30th. 

1 Down and 32 To Go

Last night I finished “Shopgirl” by Steve Martin.  It is the first of 33 books I have challenged myself to read in my 33rd year.  This book was a gift from my sister and her hubby and boy did she pick a good one.  I LOVED this novella!!  I had to remind myself that the author was Steve Martin because for some reason this surprised me.  His writing was wonderful and transporting (though I pictured the actors from the movie based on the book throughout my whole read through) and I actually got a little misty-eyed at the end.  The character development was very well done and I invested a lot of sympathy for the characters as things occurred to them. 

Steve Martin described the depression that the heroine suffers from with such skill and understanding it made me wonder about his own experiences and then I was reminded that the hubby received Steve Martin’s new autobiography for Christmas and it’s on his nightstand right now.  I guess I can find out the answer to my questions with that book.  I totally recommend this short 130 page gem to anyone who doesn’t mind a reading about sex, depression and wonderfully written characters. 

I am still waiting for my copy of our January book “My War…Killing Time In Iraq” though I think today might be the day it’s in the P.O. Box.  Keep your fingers crossed because right now I am without a book to read.  Well not really without a book but I don’t want to pick up another title because I know the new one is arriving soon.

UPDATE:  My copy of “My War…Killing Time In Iraq” arrived in the mail today.  I plan on starting it tonight!