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Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

in a sentence: meet a boy named Bruno and discover the unfamiliar and confusing adventure that awaits him.

i'll be honest - the number one thing that interested me about this book was that the inside cover. they thought it would spoil the reading of the book to give anything away and believed it was important to start to read without knowing what is it about. having read it, i totally agree with that sentiment and will try and do my best to review without spoiling! though there is a movie version already, so you may already know.

Bruno and his family live in Berlin, and is pretty happy with his life actually. he's a typical 9 year old boy with a typical bratty older sister (she's 12, practically a teenager) and doting house servants. he loves adventures and exploring and all the fun discoveries that come with that sort of thing. something happens that leads his family to move away from his home and he is not pleased about that.

i absolutely adored Bruno's voice in this book. that's not to say that he was the narrator, because he wasn't really. it is his voice that is heard mostly in the book and his phrasing and everything, but we also get a peek into the thoughts of others through his eyes and through general narration. i'm not explaining it very well, but i really did like the way that Boyne did that.

Bruno experiences the changes and new experiences through his 9 year old eyes, and so do we. it is with this naivety and simple acceptance that we learn what is going on in the story. there are some internal struggles, some serious questions and curiosity - but he is only 9 after all and who cares about what a 9 year old wants to know? so mostly Bruno discovers things for himself and does his best to make sense of them, and what he can't make sense of, he shrugs away.

this was absolutely one of the best pieces of literature i have ever written. not purely because of the subject matter, but because of how it was written. i am seriously impressed with using a 9 year old as a narrator successfully and in a way that brought me to that level of naivety without any hint of condescension. even the chapter titles were 9-year-old-yet-adult-geared without being condescending. it was just incredible, and if you haven't read this yet - do it! you'll thank me.

fave (non-spoiler) quote: "One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family maid - who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet - standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he'd hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else's business." (opening paragraph and it totally sucked me in / set the tone for the book).

fix er up: a tad predictable, but that didn't hurt the overall impact and beauty of the writing.

title: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
author: John Boyne
genre: Adventure, Friendship

Review: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

in a sentence or two: the "true" diary of a 15 year old girl who is seduced by the mysterious world of drugs and just can't seem to pull herself out.

the narrator (Alice?) opens her diary by talking about an incident with a boy named Roger, though the real shift in events comes when she finds out her family is going to move for her dad's new job. you get the feeling that Alice is a bit of an outcast, though not a total weirdo or anything. she just has a hard time fitting in with people, and thinks this move might help her. even after moving to a new school, Alice has a hard time fitting in and meeting people. she spends her summer with her grandparents and gets invited to a party that introduces the world of drugs to naive and lonely Alice.

apparently this is an actual diary with changed names and dates to protect the privacy of those involved. i also noticed it was written in 1970, which helps explain some of the dated language. for the most part though, the diary is more than a simple narrative of Alice's life before, during, and after drugs - it's an inside peek at what challenges she's facing and why. some of her thoughts are so insightful, while others barely pass as shallow - which supports the insecure and awkward adolescence we all have to go through.

i don't want to give too much away for the plot, because that's where i believe so much of the power behind this book is. Alice deals with eating disorders. she deals with insecurity. she deals with her loving and supportive family. she deals with her multitude of crushes. she deals with the allure and excitement of drugs. She deals with peer pressure both encouraging her to do the drugs and against her when she chooses not to. her experiences are discussed with her diary without a big show or bragging, but simply as they happened.

Alice's voice is haunting, though i don't believe that is her intention. she's just so darn real and authentic that you can't help but get wrapped up in her pain when she's sad and her joy when she's happy. a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but definitely worth the ride. i appreciated the editor's note at the beginning of my edition that says it's not a definitive statement on the middle class drug world, it does not offer any solution, and that they hope to provide insight to the complicated world in which we live. well editors, mission accomplished.

fave quote: "Adolescents have a very rocky insecure time. Grown-ups treat them like children and yet expect them to act like adults. They give them orders like little animals, then expect them to react like mature, and always rational, self-assured persons of legal stature. It is a difficult, lost, vacillating time. Perhaps I have passed over the worst part. I certainly hope so, because I surely would not have either the strength or the fortitude to get through that number again" (76)

fix er up: i'm not sure there is anything. this was a quick read, and such a powerful read too. not too angsty or braggy or anything like that - just real. the epilogue caught me off guard, though i dont qualify that as a 'fix er up' either. **note** after doing some peeping around on the internet, apparently there is much debate and disbelief as to if this is a true diary or a made up account by the editor/psychologist. i could definitely see it being made up, but certainly find no harm in treating it as a true diary.

title: Go Ask Alice
author: anonymous
genre: Diary, Edgy, Challenged

Review: As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway

in a sentence or two: Anna (prefers to be called Anastasia, thankyouverymuch), the quirky and secretive new goth girl disappears, and the only evidence left behind is her black dress laid out on the snow by a hole in the frozen river. her 'bland-as-water' boyfriend is wrapped up in her mysteries, which only seem to be multiplying after her disappearance...

the narrator, Anna's boyfriend, has quite the complicated home life. he's the last child at home with an older brother living down south and a sister that disappeared never to be heard from again. the death of his other sister so many years ago severely altered the way his parents treated him, each other, and the world (and not in a very pleasant way). the narrator (remains nameless throughout, except for the letter G) is going through his boring and pretty much useless high school existence until Anna comes along. she's pretty, sure, but she's also goth - complete with black make up, black clothes, and black doc martins. after a chance encounter in the library (where he is hoping to meet girls, ironically), they begin a relationship unlike anything he would have ever expected.

Anna was a total riddle, both in the book and to me as a reader. a lot of the things she said worked herself in circles or just averted the topic altogether. the narrator was intrigued by her and drawn into her mysterious ways, just accepting her the way she was. her disappearance really did shatter the world of the narrator, and the way in which that is portrayed is so authentic and realistic it hurt my heart and periodically brought tears to my eyes.

all of the characters in the book are flawed. seriously. and for some characters, you don't even know how they are flawed, just that they are. you are simply left to take Anna's word for it and deal with her insinuations and vague references. that was the heaviest part of the book for me - the total abundance of flaws and prevalence of hurtful behavior. realistic, but heavy.

this is the hardest review i've written so far. i just could not find the words to describe the book or the way i felt about it. much more than an edgy novel, more than a ghost story, more than a introspection of people in the narrator's life, hardly classifiable as a romance, impossibly crafty and creative, this book is a thoughtful and mysterious story full of riddles from within the characters and from the plot development from Galloway. the whole thing was suspenseful, sad, creepy, funny, and creative. most of all, it was intentionally mysterious and therefore (for me) a bit unfulfilling. overall, i do think it is deserved to win the Alex Award and is one that i will want to read again some day to try and pick up more of the subtle intricacies.

fave quote: "This is what I know happened, or think happened. I fell in love with a girl, and then she left, and later she tried to come back, or I thought she did, and I went after her. It should have been simple but in the end it could not have been more complicated, and maybe that was the whole point to begin with, but if love is true and still leaves you lonely, what good does it do? I started going over everything again, thinking I might find a way to her, wherever she was, or at least figure out what to do with all the things she left behind." (pg 3)

fix er up: there just was not enough resolution for me. i know it's a mystery and i know that a major point of the book is to be unresolved and unsettling...but it was too much for me!

title: As Simple As Snow
author: Gregory Galloway
genre: Edgy, Mystery

Review: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

in a sentence or two: it's 1793 in Philadelphia, and a mysterious fever is said to be killing people without mercy. the murmurings of yellow fever come to fruition when 15 year old Mattie's mom is struck ill with a fever that drives her crazy and gives her eyes a horrid yellow tinge.

Mattie, her mom, their cook Eliza and Mattie's grandpa run a coffeehouse in Philadelphia. grandpa served under the great General Washington and likes to fill her days sharing stories, sneaking her candy, and being overall supportive and encouraging. her dad died from a fall off a ladder which left her mom understandably saddened and bitter, very much unlike the soft and comforting woman she used to be. their life at the coffeehouse provides a good deal of gossip off the street about the fever, however, their first awareness is when their beloved scullery maid and friend of Mattie dies suddenly in her home.

the book is the journey of Mattie and her family in their attempts to avoid the yellow fever. the fear that people felt from not knowing how to prevent the spreading of the disease or what to do when it struck is strongly delivered by Anderson. the differing opinions of doctors, the despair, and the struggle to keep going when everything seems hopeless flood this book with rich emotions.

i was impressed with Mattie's voice as the narrator. as a 15 year old, she's in that awkward phase somewhere between being a girl to being a woman, which adds a blend of insecurity and determination that fits perfectly with the surrounding circumstances of the rest of the story. i didn't think i was getting too sucked in to the emotions until i was bawling in the middle when someone died...then i realized how captivating this book was.

something i really appreciated was at the end of the book when Anderson answers some questions like "did the epidemic really happen" and "where are they buried" as well as the real life counterparts of the names she uses in the book. as a piece of historical fiction, i thought this complimented the read well. while Mattie and fam aren't necessarily real characters, they certainly represent one of the situations that many people faced during that time.

if you're looking for a solid hist-fic read with a wide range of developed emotions (including a little romance), great plot, a compassionate voice, with more-than-a-dash of historical accuracy in the form of events and language, this is for you.

fave quote: "They told of a small child huddled around the body of her dead mother. As volunteers placed the mother in a coffin, the child had cried out, 'Why are you putting Mamma in that box?' They had to turn the child over to a neighbor and take the mother away for burial. They told of the dying man who pulled himself to the window of his bedchamber and begged people to bring him a drink of water. Many passed by, hurrying away from the sound of his voice, until a brave soul entered the house to help him. They told of thieves who crept in and stole jewelry off the dead and dying. They told of good people who refused to take any money for helping strangers, even though they themselves were poor and near destitute...They told of terror: patients who had tried to jump out of windows when the fever robbed their reason, screams that pierced the night, people who were buried alive, parents praying to die after burying their children." (105-106)

fix er up: i would have liked more development with Mattie's love interest, Nathaniel. though the lack of it didn't hurt the book at all, and in fact now that i think about it, keeping it on the back burner of the plot makes sense. i'm just nitpicking.

title: Fever 1793
author: Laurie Halse Anderson
genre: Historical Fiction

Review: Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book #1) by Charlaine Harris

in a sentence or two: Sookie is a cute, charismatic, mind-reading barmaid in small town Louisiana. she Bon Temps and vampires are the prime suspects.
She desperately wants to meet a vampire - and then wouldn't you know it, she meets Bill. about that time, murders start happening in the little town of

Sookie lives with her grandma and works at the local bar. she's a bit envious that all the vampires like to hangout around New Orleans (how can small-town Bon Temps compete with that?). lucky for her, Bill walks in and tosses her world upside down. not that it wasn't already a bit topsy-turvy, her being a mind reader and all. when she discovers that two of her less-than-desirable patrons are going to lure Bill outside for his priceless vampire blood, she decides to do something about it. but don't worry - Bill returns the favor by saving her life too.

i was super intrigued by the idea of vampires being an accepted reality in the book. which gave room to more creative and thoughtful story lines other than "wehavetokeepeverythingsecret" being rehashed over and over, and was pretty refreshing. there is a good reason this book claims to be a mystery series and not merely a vampire book - there are murders happening in Bon Temps and no one can figure it out. the only clues are that the victims are women (fang-bangers [LOVE THAT]) and had an...ahem...sexual history. so along with the mystery, there is the Bill/Sookie budding relationship which adds some romance to the mix quite nicely.

overall, i was really impressed. Sookie's 'gift' as a telepathic isolated her from the world (which she explains pretty well), which i thought to be an accurate prediction of what that would really be like to hear everyone's thoughts all the time. Bill is trying to 'mainstream', that is, be among the living and lead a normal life. so we get to see how other vampires choose to live, how 'fang-bangers' choose to live, and how the rest of the world views the whole thing. there are even laws as to what vampires can and can't do, and what humans can and can't do to vampires.

i love a good mystery. i love a good romance. i love a good vampire book. this is all three in a steady balance with a quaint southern narration that wasn't hokey or dripping with southern drawl, but small-townish and southern enough to make you feel right at home with the characters, sipping some sweet tea on the front porch. and since is the first in a series, you can bet that i'll be visiting Bon Temps again real soon!

fave quote: "This was pretty exotic stuff for a telepathic barmaid from northern Louisiana" (197)

fix er up: not a fix er up exactly, but more a caution for young adult readers/adults who are recommending this to young adults. the book does contain some erotic sex scenes with Bill and Sookie. not that teens don't know about sex or shouldn't read about sex or whatever - but just a warning that there are some pretty intimate scenes. the good news is they are both consenting adults in a committed relationship blahblahblah - plus it's well written and not smutty. just a heads up.

title: Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book #1)
author: Charlaine Harris
genre: Vampire, Mystery, Romance, Lisa's Faves

Review: The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

in a sentence: Zoe's really hit the trifecta - her mom is terminally ill with cancer, her best friend is moving away, and she met (was stalked by) a sexy vampire named Simon.

Zoe spends a lot of her time alone due to her mother being in the hospital and her dad spending time with her mom or trying to catch up on work when he's not dutifully at her hospital bedside. consequently, Zoe is rather withdrawn, doesn't eat much, and begins to feel pretty sorry for herself. and her best friend, Lorraine, has no idea how to talk to Zoe about her mom (she's got her own mom issues) and is having a hard time moving away anyhow. there is just no one there to comfort Zoe...until Simon.

Simon is a vampire who is on the trail of a vicious killing vampire in the neighborhood and stumbles upon Zoe one night at the park. naturally, he is captivated by her beauty and the compassion he sees in her eyes. so he stalks her (yeah, a bit creepy and romantic in a vampire-y sort of way) and begins to share his world, and his history, with her.

i was surprised at how much of the story was about Zoe dealing with her mom's cancer, though it definitely fit with the rest of the story. the alternating chapters between Zoe and Simon provided insight into both worlds, as well as an examination of their character from an outside and inner point of view. there is minimal explanation for the origin of Simon, but as mentioned, about half the book is about Zoe and her mom's situation, so it fit well.

Klause does a nice job of balancing the realistic hurt that Zoe, her mom, and her dad are feeling with the supernatural hurt of Simon and his situation. ultimately, Zoe was able to feel comfort from someone who shared her pain (though in a much different way) and got her first real kiss as an added bonus. it was a quick read, but a very very good one. i'll be reading this again!

fave quote: "Things changed, she realized. People grew, they moved, they died. Sometimes they withdrew into themselves, and sometimes they reached out after needing no one. She remembered Simon's clinging embrace. What would it be like if nothing changed? she wondered. It would be stagnant, she supposed: decadent, terrifying. But why did it have to be painful - all this change? Why did it mean losing people you love?" (192-193)

fix er up: really could have done without the over-mentioning that Zoe had big boobs. yes, seriously. it's mentioned at least 3 or 4 times - once by Zoe, twice by Simon (to himself), and once by her friend Lorraine. it just seemed random and a bizarre point to keep coming back to.

title: The Silver Kiss
author: Annette Curtis Klause
genre: Vampire, Coming of Age

Review: Ithaka by Adele Geras

in a sentence or two: faithful Penelope is waiting for Odysseus to come home after the trojan war (still waiting 16 years after...yeesh) and in the meantime, the palace is overrun by dirty, nasty, stinky, mean men who are determined to marry Penelope and become ruler of Ithaka.

i was really excited to see this title, especially after having read Troy and really liking it. i am personally intrigued by greek mythology and the stories about the trojan war, and having the ability to read them in young adult form is just perfecto for me.

Ithaka focuses mainly on Klymene and her interactions with the other characters - the main of whom are Penelope (Queen of Ithaka, Klyemene is her personal handmaid / honorary daughter), Ikarios (Klymene's twin brother), Telemachus (Son of Penelope and Oddyseus and first love of Klymene), Melantho (the newest handmaid to Penelope, and rather conniving and slutty actually), and then the suitors (the dozens of men living at the palace for like 6 months waiting for Penelope to choose one of them).

as with Troy, there is a casual incorporation of the gods from Olympus and they are only seen by some characters. this element helps keep the story flow to the nature of a greek myth nicely. the god's don't consistently intervene, which is nice, but when they do you get a glimpse of them and their intentions before they vanish.

the best way that i can think to describe Ithaka is that it's a multi-layer love story complete with betrayal, murder, sadness, and hope. i did feel like it got a little long, however, that may have been the attempt by the author to help portray the extreme waiting that Penelope did so faithfully (well, most of the time) for Odysseus and to help the reader realize just how long and unpleasant the icky suitors made time at the palace for everyone in the meantime.

i couldn't help feeling like some of the characters were more shallow than i'd hoped for. while i really dug Klymene as a caring, devoted, and genuine person, i was let down by Telemachus, completely forgot about Ikarios at times, and felt that while Melantho provided a solid element of bitchyness that was necessary for the twists in the story, that she was a pretty underdeveloped character herself. i felt like they had to be deeper than they were portrayed, and that really bugged me.

overall, i appreciated the take on the flip side of the Odyssey from the palace point of view, and particularly from Kylemene's perspective. similiar to Troy in that the main characters are part of the palace life, Geras paints a vivid picture of that life and the surrounding landscape of the island of Ithaka and at times i really did see what she was describing. the story doesn't end perfectly, which is refreshing, and there are some serious heartaches along the way. Geras deals with first loves, doubt, and hope in an interesting and serious way.

fave quotes: "'Sorrow', said Odysseus, 'has to be borne, or we might as well die on our way out of our mothers' wombs. Life is threaded through with it, but you must face it and grieve and carry on if you're to be a real man. It's easier to do that when you've got your family around you. When you're in your own house. Home...that's the best that we can hope for this side of Hades, and it's worth fighting and even dying for. Ithaka is worth every bit of agony I've gone through to get here.'" (299)

"The only answer was a shrug, and Klymene sighed. She was used to the way men sometimes behaved, but it was exhausting. The wouldn't ever admit, straight out, what was wrong, but waited for the thing - whatever it was that was bothering them - to be drawn out slowly like a thorn from an animal's paw. You had to ask questions. They had to be the right questions. You had to guess and cajole and tease the pain out of them, and it could be a tedious business." (319) - a good example of Klymene's character also.

fix er up: i really wanted deeper character development from others besides Klymene!

title: Ithaka
author: Adele Geras
genre: Historical Fiction, Romance