Tag Archives: award winning book challenge 2013

The Fighting Ground by Avi


Published: 1984

Genre: YA historical fiction

Length: 152 pages

Setting: April 3rd-4th, 1778 in the Northeast

Interest: It was the second book chosen for the American Revolution time period for our American History Club.

Summary: Jonathan wants to fight in the American Revolution, but his father is against it. They’re hoeing a field when the bell at the tavern starts ringing to gather men. Jonathan runs into town to see what the news is and ends up following a group of men into battle with the Hessians coming up from the next town over. Jonathan runs away from the battle and is captured by three Hessians. They take him through the woods and find a house to spend the night in. The family that owned the house is found dead, and their young boy hides in the cow shed. Jonathan manages to escape from the Hessians when they fall asleep. He meets back up with a group of Americans, and discovers the family was killed by the Americans because they were Tories. Jonathan is forced to lead the American soldiers back to the Hessians, and the Hessians are unable to escape.

Final thoughts: A quick read that does a great job at describing the ambiguity of battle. I (and the boys) liked how the story was set up as a series of short snippets separated by different times. The story takes place over a 24-hour period, which keeps it exciting. It’s quite instructive to see the change in Jonathan’s viewpoint starting out eager to fight to the scariness of the actual battle. Avi manages to describe some of the ambivalence of war and the difficulty of seeing one side as wholly good and the other as wholly bad without being too graphic.

Awards won: Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 1984

Reading challenges fulfilled: 93/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and 14/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx


Published: 1993

Genre: fiction

Length: 337 pages

Setting: mostly Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, and it’s environs, present day when it was published

Interest: It won a Pulitzer Prize and fulfills a letter in my author reading challenge – a two for one book!

Summary: Quoyle is a bit of a loser – he’s hopelessly in love with Sunshine, his wife who sleeps around whenever she gets a chance, and works on and off at the local newspaper. When Sunshine and his parents die and his only friend moves away in quick succession, there’s nothing keeping him in Mockingburg, NY. His aunt persuades him to move back to the family home in Quoyle’s Point, Newfoundland, with his two daughters. Turns out, the home hasn’t been lived in in decades and is falling apart, but they still try to make a go of it. Quoyle gets a job at the local newspaper. He’s assigned car wrecks and shipping news. Turns out, he’s pretty good at writing little articles about the ships that are in port. Quoyle quickly becomes part of the local life – going fishing, building a boat, and even courting a local widow. His girls also make friends, and Quoyle starts to become much more confident and successful in his new home than he ever was in Mockingburg.

Final thoughts: I really grew to like this book. In the beginning of the book, Quoyle is such a loser. He knows he’s failing at everything but can’t manage to improve his life. I really found him annoying. However, once he gets to Newfoundland, the story got much more interesting. I loved the setting and the feel of a small-town, fishing community. Quoyle also starts to make improvements in his life and be less whiny. I ended up rooting for him to get the girl and the job at the newspaper.

Title comes from: One of Quoyle’s first assignments when he got to Killick-Claw (across the bay from Quoyle’s Point) was to get the shipping news for what ships were in port for the local paper.

Awards won: Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994 and the National Book Award for fiction in 1993

Reading challenges fulfilled: 89/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, an X in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (17/26), and 13/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser

Subtitle: The Tale of an American Dreamer

Published: 1996

Genre: literary fiction

Length: 293 pages

Setting: NYC, turn of the 20th century

Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner that also fulfills a letter on my author reading challenge.

Summary: Martin Dressler works in his father’s cigar shop, but he has big dreams for his life. He gets hired as a bellboy at a hotel just down the street. While working there, he makes a favorable impression on management and is groomed to take over. As he continues to work at the hotel, he also starts a successful chain of lunch rooms. When Dressler gets bored with the lunch rooms, he starts building hotels. He builds three, each bigger than the last and each containing more of the outside world inside. As he builds the hotels, he also finds a wife.

Final thoughts: Some very great writing that really drew me into the setting and the story. The author did a great job of showing how rapidly the world was changing around 1900. There were horse-drawn carriages on the streets and subways going in underground. Dressler had a dream (note the subtitle) and he keeps trying to bring it into reality as he builds bigger and bigger creations, but he’s never satisfied. I’m not sure he ever saw his dream in reality, but he does seem happy at the very end. We see the same thing in his love life – he’s got a choice between two sisters. One understands the big picture like he does, and the other seems to be in her own little world. He makes the wrong choice in sisters (I think), and sees no satisfaction in his home life, either. Altogether a highly enjoyable story.

Title comes from: The main character.

Awards won: Pulitzer Prize

Reading challenges fulfilled: 81/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, an M in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (10/26), and 12/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge

If you’re interested in the book, click on the cover image to follow an affiliate link to the Kindle version of the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's SonPublished: 2012

Genre: fiction

Length: 443 pages

Setting: North Korea, recent past

Interest: It was this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner

Summary: Jun Do is the son of the Orphan Master. He’s not an orphan, but he has an orphan’s name – one of the 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution. His job is to assign the boys to jobs and their sleeping and eating arrangements. One day, Officer So comes along and takes Jun Do with him to be part of a procurement detail that kidnaps people for the Dearest Leader. From there, he goes to language school, and gets put on a fishing boat listening to radio transmissions. He’s sent on a special diplomatic mission to America, which ultimately leads to him being sent to prison. In prison, Mongnan, a photographer, takes him under her wing and teacher him some survival skills. The second half of the book is told by Commander Ga to the intelligence agents trying to learn what he did with his wife and kids. Turns out, Jun Do killed Ga in the mines and assumed Ga’s life. It takes a while for Ga’s family to accept the new Commander Ga. The Supreme Leader uses Ga to try to humiliate an American diplomatic mission, but Ga uses the opportunity to smuggle his wife and family out of the country.

Final thoughts: A fascinating story, mainly because of the setting. The viewpoint and mindset of a North Korean is so different from an American. The author provided interstitial chapters that were transcripts of the national broadcasts everyone has to listen to. On many of the broadcasts, they would state how sorry everyone should be for the Americans since they had to pay for medical car and for entertainment and don’t know what to do with their lives since no one was there to tell them. The author did a great job putting you into this very different and dangerous setting. He even sold me on the idea that Jun Do could just replace Commander Ga and no one would say anything, since the Supreme Leader seemed to have been involved in the switch. I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Title comes from: The main character, Jun Do, was the son of the Orphan Master.

Awards won: Pulitzer Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2013

Reading challenges fulfilled: 74/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a J in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (3/26), and 11/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge

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Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Published: 2001

Genre: fiction

Length: 483 pages

Setting: Empire Falls, Maine, recent past

Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I’m making my way through the list.

Summary: Empire Falls is an old mill town that is controlled and owned by the Whiting family. C.B. Whiting would much rather bum around Mexico than take up the family business, but he does his duty when asked. The story is mostly about Miles Roby and his family. Miles runs the Empire Grills that is owned by the Whitings. With the help of his brother, they’re starting to turn the business around, but Mrs. Whiting doesn’t seem pleased. At the same time, Miles is getting divorced from his wife and his kid is at the bottom of the social ladder at school. Everything comes to a head in the end – Miles confronts Mrs. Whiting and there’s a shooting at school.

Final thoughts: A very enjoyable book. It really showed life in an old industrial town where the industry has left, but the dreams haven’t. There was a complex cast of characters that I would alternately feel sorry for and root for to achieve their dreams. I totally bought into the family and small-town dynamics in the story. So often I read a fiction book, and nothing really happens and I don’t really care about the characters. Starting this book, I was worried it would fall into that category, but there was definitely a good story arc and character development to be drawn into.

Title comes from: The setting of the story.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 64/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, 10/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

200px-American_godsPublished: 2001

Genre: urban fantasy

Length: 465 pages

Setting: various parts of the U.S., present day

Interest: It’s a classic speculative fiction book (even if it’s only been around for ten years) that everyone who reads in the genre should read. I finally got around to it.

Summary: The basic premise of the story is that all the old gods that got pulled into America by their worshipers immigrating to America are going to war with the new gods created by the American culture and Shadow is stuck in the middle. ***If you plan to read this book, don’t read any more of the summary or you’ll be spoiled and miss some of the joy of the book.*** Shadow is recruited by Wednesday (Odin) to be his bodyguard while Wednesday tries to recruit the old gods to fight. He’s not having much luck getting the gods in a fighting mood, so he goes to a meeting with the new gods where he is murdered. This galvanizes the old gods to fight. Turns out the whole war is a big con job between Odin and Loki (posing as Mr. World and head of the new gods) to regain some power, but Shadow stops the slaughter of the gods.

Final thoughts: This book totally lived up to the hype. It’s definitely a book that you get more out of the more world mythology you know. It is so tightly written that I didn’t realize the can was going on until it was revealed at the end, but once the reveal occurs, all the previous actions fit perfectly in the new reality. The underlying mythology was Native American that suffered the other gods to live on their soil, but it is the Bison and Thunderbirds that help Shadow in the end. An excellent book that tumbles through my mind afterward.

Title comes from: The book was about how the gods in America had to survive on scraps of power because they were forgotten.

Awards won: the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Bram Stoker Awards of 2002

Reading challenges fulfilled: 9/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge, 60/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge

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The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The YearlingPublished: 1938

Genre: fiction

Length: 480 pages

Setting: backwoods Florida, end of the 19th century

Interest: It won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and fulfilled a letter on my reading challenge. Bonus – two for one!

Summary: The Baxters live on a pine barren island out in the backwoods of Florida, barely scraping a living from the soil surrounding their cabin. The story is told from the viewpoint of Jody, a 12-year old boy on the cusp of manhood. He delights in listening to his father’s tales and going hunting. Their closest neighbors in the bush are the Forresters, a rough bunch of guys. They start feuding when Jody’s cousin takes Buck Forrester’s girl, which leads to Penny (Jody’s father) betting bit by a rattlesnake and Grandma Hutto’s house being burnt down. Their life is an endless struggle to get enough food, which is made even more difficult when a hurricane blows in for days and floods the countryside just before harvest.

Final thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I found the place descriptions so lyrical and poetic. I love books that show so clearly what it took to survive before you could just go to the grocery store and get what you want. It was sad, as I expected, but it fit so well within the story that it had to happen. It’s written from the viewpoint of Jody, so it’s considered YA, but I can’t imagine a kid reading the book and enjoying it.

Title comes from: The fawn Jody adopts is a yearling when Jody has to kill him since the deer is destroying their crops.

Awards won: Pulitzer Prize

Reading challenges fulfilled: 8/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge , 51/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a Y in A-Z Reading Challenge (which takes me to 23/26)

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