2000 - 2007 Other Prizes YA

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: v. 1 – M.T. Anderson

Winner of the National Book Award 2006

I picked this book up after seeing C.B. James mention it as one of his favourite reads of 2008.

The book is set in Boston during the 18th Century and centres on Octavian, a young boy who lives in a strange house with his mother and an array of unrelated men. He is confused by his life, his vague memories of a past in Africa and the role of all the men in his household. As the book progresses Octavian and the reader slowly learn the shocking truth about his life….

I found this book very hard to get in to. Octavian’s confusion meant that the reader had no idea what was happening for a while. The book was written with a very flowery language, which although not difficult to understand, meant that reading did require a lot of concentration and this also distanced me from the characters.

The men who raised me were lords of matter, and in the dim chambers I watched as they traced the spinning of bodies celestial in vast, iron courses, and bid sparks to dance upon their hands; they read the bodies of fish as if each dying trout or shad was a fresh Biblical Testament, the wet and twitching volume of a new-born Pentateuch. They burned holes in the air, wrote poems of love, sucked the venom from sores, painted landscapes of gloom, and made metal sing; they dissected fire like newts.

A further problem was that all the male characters in the book were referred to by numbers, rather than names. My poor little brain just couldn’t keep track of who was who. By the time I’d read and re-read everything and worked out what was happening I had lost interest in the story. I just didn’t feel that the effort I had put into understanding it was rewarded.

This book is marketed as a young adult book, but I’m not sure many teenagers would have the concentration to get through it. I think this book has many similarities with Beloved by Toni Morrison – it is very literary, hard to understand and tackles some difficult subjects. If you enjoyed Beloved then I’m sure you’ll like this, but it was too much like hard work for me.

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy the rest of the series?

Do you enjoy reading books that require a lot of concentration?

Blog Improvement Project Blogging Other

The Blog Improvement Project is back in 2010!

I am pleased to announce that the Blog Improvement Project is going to continue this year!

In 2009 Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness did a fantastic job of creating exciting projects that helped me and many others to improve their blogs.

This year I am joining Kim in hosting the project. We hope to introduce many new ideas and take a further look at some of the popular topics from last year.

We’ve created a dedicated blog for the project —  Please head over there for more information and to sign up if you’re interested.

The first task will be posted on Monday 1st February.

Are you interested in improving your blog?

Which topics would you find particularly useful?

2009 2010 Chunkster Historical Fiction

Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts is the third selection for the new TV Book Club, so when I spotted a copy hiding on the library shelves I decided to grab the opportunity to try it.

The book is set in an Italian convent during the 16th Century. It tells the story of a young woman brought to the convent against her will, as her family couldn’t afford the dowry to see more than one of their daughters married.

I was totally unaware of this practice – I found the detail of convent life fascinating and struggled to imagine a society in which so many women were forced to leave their loved ones to spend a life locked away from the world.

It is always hard, understanding what is being gained in the moment at which something is also being taken away. For such a young woman to appreciate, for example, the different meanings of incarceration and freedom. How while outside these walls ‘free’ women will live their whole lives dictated by the decisions of others, yet inside, to a remarkable extent, they govern themselves.

The book was rich in period detail and contained many of those little facts that you just can’t help sharing with anyone who happens to be close by. The characters were well drawn and I especially loved the way in which all the nuns had unique personalities, following the rules to a varying extents.

My only criticism is that the pace of the book was quite slow, which meant that the 460 pages dragged in several places. I’d recommend this book only to fans of historical fiction, as I don’t think the plot is exciting enough to entertain anyone who isn’t interested in learning about life in the 16th Century.


This is the first Sarah Dunant book that I have read, but I’m interested in reading more.

Have you read any of her books?

Which would you recommend I try next?


The winner is…

Congratulations to Pam from Bookalicious!

She wins the copy of Meet Me Under the Ceiba given away in yesterday’s post.

My thanks again to Silvio Sirias – I have now added some great Latino books to my wishlist and look forward to reading  Meet Me Under the Ceiba soon.

Interview Other

Silvio Sirias and Latino Literature


Silvio Sirias is the author of Meet Me Under the Ceiba, which won the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize in 2009. I have read a saddeningly small amount of Latino Literature, so am really pleased that Silvio has agreed to participate in a guest post on my blog today.


Welcome Silvio! 

First off, Jackie, I wish to congratulate you on having recently surpassed 10,000 comments on your blog.  That’s quite an achievement, as I can attest from experience—I closed the comment-feature early in my blogging career because I couldn’t bear to see 0 Comments any longer.

Thank you! While we’re sharing nice words I should congratulate you on winning the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize!  What was it like to win the award?

Upon receiving the news that the manuscript of MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA had won the 2007 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize—a award whose legacy now spans over four decades and that the University of California-Irvine sponsors—after ascertaining that the email message wasn’t a hoax, I ran across the campus of the school where my wife and I both work, in the Republic of Panama, to share the news with her.

The celebration has continued ever since.

But the festivities haven’t consisted of merriment, cork-popping, and champagne guzzling.  Rather, the true nature of my satisfaction has been a prolonged, serene reflection on the joy of having fulfilled what once seemed like a far-fetched wish: to produce a narrative that could grab and hold the imagination of intelligent readers.  The achievement of this dream was confirmed when I learned that the judge of that year’s contest, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith—a writer I’ve long-admired andthe first U.S. author to receive Cuba’s prestigious literary award, the Premio Casa de las Américas—had headed the committee that chose MEET ME UNDER THE CEIBA as the winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize.  What’s more, my thrill increased when I read Hinojosa Smith’s succinct verdict: “A fascinating read—very well-written, with a delightful, lively pace.”

That phrase alone—pronounced by one of the pioneers of Latino and Latina literature in the United States—made my decade.

Winning the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize also opened the doors to Arte Público Press—the legendary publisher of U.S. Latino and Latina literature.  Nicolas Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público, read the manuscript within a week of receiving it and, after a brief exchange of emails, offered me a contract.   My experience regarding the publication of my first novel, BERNARDO AND THE VIRGIN, had taught me that the book industry moves at a pace that would make snails impatient.  But now events were happening at lightning speed—all thanks to the prize.

As you can see, Jackie, the rewards have been emotional as well as tangible.

Still, what I enjoy most about having won the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize, what still generates a warm feeling in my chest, is when I take the time to study the roster of past participants who have either won or placed in the contest.  Many of these names are already guaranteed a place in the pantheon of writers of Latin American heritage who write in English and publish their work in the United States.  For my name to be now among theirs makes me feel as if I have acquired an infinitesimal grasp on literary immortality.  As a reader, student, and teacher of U.S. Latino and Latina literature, I have admired the following authors for years: Ron Arias, Gary Soto, Helena Maria Viramontes, Luis Rodriguez, Lucha Corpi, Francisco X Alarcon, Cherrie Moraga, Demetria Martinez, Benjamin Alire-Saenz, Mary Helen Ponce, and Alberto Rios, among many others.  Their names may not ring a bell among most readers, but for those of us who have followed the trials, sacrifices, and toils it took for U.S. Latinos and Latinas to get their work published regularly, they are gigantic, heroic figures.

I have fantasized of a reunion of Chicano/Latino Literary Prize contestants.  And when, in my mind, we assemble for the group photograph, you better believe that I will be grinning—like the Cheshire Cat.  And when I received my blow-up of the photograph, it will be framed and placed in the most prominent spot of my living-room wall.

That image, where I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these literary stalwarts, albeit existing only in my imagination, is what means the most to me when it comes to having won the prize.

What are your favourite books?

My list of favorite books is so long that it would soon bore your readers. Nevertheless, allow me to touch on the ones that make me green with envy; that is, the ones I wish I’d written:

Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Twenty Poems of Love by Pablo Neruda; The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene; The Feast of the Goat and The Language of Passion by Mario Vargas Llosa; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell; and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Can you recommend some other great Latino books?

The books on this list are also ones I wished I had penned.  Because of my love for these novels, I recommend them without hesitation:

In the Time of the Butterflies and ¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez; The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos; Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García; The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre; Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; So Far from God by Ana Castillo; The Ordinary Seaman by Francisco Goldman; and Latin Jazz by Virgil Suarez—and, of course, there are many other inspiring novels by Latinos that I’m leaving out—so I beg the understanding of my fellow authors.

Do you follow the Latino prize? Have you read any of the other winners? Can you recommend any of the other winners?

I have followed the contest’s history, and I’ve read many of the works of past participants, which I also highly recommend:

The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias; Baseball in April and Other Stories by Gary Soto; Soft Chaos by Alma Villanueva; The Moth and Other Stories by Helena Maria Viramontes; Always Running by Luis Rodriguez; Cactus Blood by Lucha Corpi; From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón; and Loving in the War Years by Cherrie Moraga.  

Thank you Silvio! That is a fantastic list of books!  I am going to try to make an effort to read more Latino books in the next year and will be referring back to your list frequently.

Silvio has generously agreed to give away a copy of his award winning book. For a chance to win, just ask Silvio a question below.

The giveaway is open internationally until 5am GMT on 20th January, when a winner will be selected at random. Good luck!

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Arte Publico Pr (September 30, 2009)
• Language: English
• ISBN-13: 978-1558855922

Link to author’s website:


This post is part of a blog tour, arranged by Latino Book Tours.

Silvio Sirias Blog Tour Dates:
Monday 11th: Book Lover Carol
Tuesday Jan 12th: Brown Girl Speaks
Wed Jan 13th: Regular Ruminations
Thursday Jan 14th: The Tranquilo Traveler
Friday Jan 15th: Pisti Totol
Monday, January 18 at Mama XXI
Wednesday, January 20th at Sandra’s Book Club
Thursday, January 21st at Latino Books Examiner
Friday, January 22nd at Una In A Million

2000 - 2007 Science Fiction YA

Uglies – Scott Westerfeld

I have a love-hate relationship with YA novels, so approached this one with extreme caution. I was prepared for a thought provoking plot, but I was pleased to discover that it was also a gripping, page turner that I’d happily recommend to everyone.

The book is set approximately 300 years in the future, in a world where everyone is ugly until their 16th birthday when they are transformed in adults of uniform beauty. The central character, Tally, is fast approaching her 16th birthday and is preparing to be re-united with her childhood friend, Peris, who has already undergone the operation. Everything changes when Tally meets Shay, a fellow Ugly, who wants to avoid the change, but Shay runs away, leaving Tally to make some difficult decisions….

The book started off quite slowly and after the first few chapters I was beginning to wonder why so many people rave about this book, but then I slowly became immersed in the story and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t put it down. I love dystopian fiction and this world came across very realistically. The book mocked our society in which tall people have an advantage at job interviews, or fights break out over the colour of someone’s skin and their observations of skinny models on our magazine covers were fantastic! I can easily imagine someone deciding to give us all a uniformly pretty appearance in a few hundred years time and it was these thought provoking issues that made the book special for me.

I loved all the characters in the book, the plot was fast-paced without losing any atmosphere and I thought that the twists were great and often unexpected.

This is what YA writing should be like – a fantastic, light read which can be appreciated by all age groups. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.



Have you read Uglies?

Will I enjoy the rest of the series?