I’m Not Dead

goofy kid stuff

Don’t you hate it when bloggers give a bunch of reasons/excuses why they haven’t been updating their blog lately?  Yeah, me too.  So I won’t do that.

But I did want to pop in to let you know that I’m not dead.

Lots ‘o reading has been going on (books & blogs).  Just not a lot ‘o review writing.  My apologies.

I’m re-reading The Hunger Games right now for my book club.  In general I’m not a re-reader and was only planning to skim it to refresh my memory before our meeting, but I couldn’t resist. It’s like brain candy- so fun and fast.  When I read it last summer, I was completely Team Gale, but I think I’ve switched camps.  Peeta is sweeta the second time around.

The girls get out of school in about a week.  Our summer will be filled with swimming and tennis lessons, sleep-away camp for them (on alternating weeks- not at the same time.  Poor planning on my part!), a family camping trip to the Mammoth area with friends, trips to the local water park and the beach, plus lots of ‘nothing days’ to fill in with bike rides, lemonade stands, neighbor kids, reading, sleeping in, and laziness.  It’s good to be a kid, but I’m in a bit of a panic, trying to figure out how I will work from home with kids all around.  Any suggestions from other work-at-home parents?

For my reading.. this summer I plan to get to The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, How to Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan, Let the Great World Spin (for book club), the Eric Clapton biography (also for book club), and City of Refuge by Tom Piazza (book club).

What are you reading this summer?

DEAD END GENE POOL Discussion with author Wendy Burden!

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Wendy Burden, author of DEAD END GENE POOL, to our Spring Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions for one hour beginning at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Wendy.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Wendy and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far:

Here’s a comment from Lisa at Lit and Life, followed by a question from me:

One thing I found really interesting was how Wendy’s grandmother just threw money away in some ways (like buying prescription eyeglasses and then just tucking them away in a drawer) but was so tight with money in other ways (like stiffing the cabbies).    Any idea why she was that way?

From Nancy at Bookfoolery and Babble:

I’m curious who is on the cover of the book. Wendy’s mother or grandmother?

From Gaby at Starting Fresh:

Wendy comes across as so witty, intelligent, and spirited in the book.  Is she willing to tell us more about her life after the book ended?  We know that she’s owned and been a chef at Chez Wendy, but who did she marry?  Why did she decide to live in Oregon?  How is she raising her children?  How does she fill her days (aside from writing and touring)?

So many of us dream of money to become financially independent, have the mortgages paid off, take any job that we want, etc.  How has she chosen to shape her life and what makes her happy?  What would a perfect day for her be like?

Who does she like to read?  What is she reading now?

From Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza:

Is your irreverant, and often hilarious sense of humour, a way of covering up any pain you experienced in your unconventional upbringing?

From reader Vance Lancaster:

1. How much wealth was left when your grandparents died and how was it distributed? Did the fact that your brother was a co-executor of the estate affect the distribution or cause any problems?

2. What happened to each of the homes owned by your grandparents? Are they still standing? If so, do you know who owns them now and have you ever re-visited them?

3. I assume that most of your grandparent’s art collection went to MOMA. Was any great art left to you or your brothers or to your uncle? If so can you tell us who got what?

4. What is your most cherished item left to you by your grandparents? Is there anything that you coveted that went to someone else?

5. I understand that one of your uncles is alive and living in CT. Are you in contact with him? Can you describe his life today? Do you know if he has read the book and, if so, what was his reaction?

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

6. At the end of the book, you discover that Charles Thomas, your mom’s lover, contrary to what your mother told you is still alive. Have you made any attempt to contact him or has he reached out to you since the book was published? Have others that knew your mother or grandparents reacted strongly to the book?

7. Are your mother’s ex-husbands alive and are you in contact with them?

8. I understand that you have two daughters. Are their lives, in any way, similar to yours with your siblings. Do you recognize any of the traits of your relatives in them?

Edited to add:

From Ash at English Major Junkfood:

Did you write these as individual essays and then pull them together for a book, or did you know when you were writing that you wanted this to be a cohesive memoir?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Wendy and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!

Spring Reading Series: DEAD END GENE POOL Discussion Questions

Hello Spring Readers!

This month we’re reading Dead End Gene Pool, a memoir by Wendy Burden, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt which, according to her website, ‘qualifies her to comment freely on the downward spiral of the blue blood families.’ For anyone interested in the super-rich, this is a fascinating and witty account of growing up surrounded by tremendous wealth, but it’s also a tragic tale of family dysfunction and parental neglect.

We are so fortunate to have Wendy joining us in real time, right here at Books on the Brain, on May 18th at 5 pm PST. If you’ve read Dead End Gene Pool or are curious about it, please mark your calendars and join us as we discuss the book with Wendy!

Here is a synopsis of the book, followed by a few discussion questions:

For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother.

At the heart of the story is Wendy’s glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband’s suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different.

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to add your own questions, and respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book? Was it what you expected?

2. Were there parts of this book that were difficult to read?

3. What aspect of the book did you enjoy most?

4. In the synopsis it says that Dead End Gene Pool gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different. The rich ARE different, but in what ways are they different? How are they the same?

5. Wendy’s grandparents placed a higher importance on her brother’s education than on hers. Have you experienced that type of inequity in your own family? If so, was the sibling relationship damaged as a result?

6. Do you think Wendy’s mother was essentially ‘bought off’ by the grandparents, bullied into making her children available to them for long stretches of time, over holidays, etc? Or was she just a really neglectful parent?

7. Who do you think was the most influential adult in Wendy’s childhood? In what way?

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

8. Wendy almost seemed to raise herself. How did she cope?

9. Often you hear about people who have come into money either through inheritance or the lottery, and blow through it really quickly. They sometimes find the money doesn’t make them any happier. Why do you think unearned money can be so difficult for people to manage?

10. What adjectives would you use to describe this book?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Dead End Gene Pool. Thanks for reading along with us. And don’t forget to join us on May 18th for our discussion with Wendy!

Do you have questions for Wendy? Leave them here in the comments or email me with them and I will pass them along, for her to consider before our discussion.

Dead End Gene Pool-Readers!

Wow!

We had a great response for the Dead End Gene Pool Spring Reading Series!

All 20 copies were claimed quickly, and the following readers will be receiving their copies of the book very soon (maybe you’ve already received them??).

1.  Me!

2.  Kathy from Boarding in My Forties

3.  Nancy from Bookfoolery and Babble

4.  Ash from English Major Junkfood

5.  Susan from Suko’s Notebook

6.  Kristi from Peetswea

7.  A. Rock-Contreras

8.  S. Walling

9.  D. Johnson

10.  Kathy from Bermuda Onion

11.  Heather from Raging Bibliomania

12.  Jennifer from Mrs. Q: Book Addict

13.  R. Newberg

14.  J. Shoppell

15.  Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza

16.  Care from Care’s Online Book Club

17.  Lisa from Lit and Life

18.  P. Berger

19.  R. Berven

20.  V. Lancaster

What a great group!  Can’t wait to discuss it with all of you on May 18th!  I’ll let everyone know the exact details for the discussion with the author as it gets closer.

And I’m so sorry if you were interested in reading with us and missed out this time.  The book was published on April 1st, so it can be found in stores and requested from libraries.   If you can get your hands on a copy, please join us!

Spring Reading Series Announcement! Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Today I’m announcing our May Reading Series selection… drumroll please…

DEAD END GENE POOL by Wendy Burden!

It’s dark.  It’s funny.  And it’s all true!  Here’s a synopsis:

In the tradition of Sean Wilsey’s Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir.

For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother.

At the heart of the story is Wendy’s glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband’s suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different.

And you thought YOUR family was weird!!

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

Ok, so here’s the deal.  I have 20 COPIES  of DEAD END GENE POOL available for our reading series, compliments of  Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group!  We’ll get the books out to everyone who’s interested in participating. Then we’ll discuss it here, and Wendy will join in!  Think of it as a book club of sorts, except without the wine.  Well, you can have wine in front of your computer if you like.  Who’s gonna stop you?

E-mail me with your address (even if you think I have it!) to request a free copy of the book- first come, first served.  Put “DEAD END GENE POOL” in the subject line, but please only request the book if you are interested in coming back for the  discussion.  Be sure it sounds like a book you’d enjoy.  And I’m really sorry to our friends in other countries, but this is open to residents of US/Canada only.

Click here to read a full description of the book. Dead End Gene Pool will be in stores on April 1st, 2010, and the discussion will take place here on May 18th – with the author participating ‘live’ for an hour!  I will post details for the discussion about a week before along with an email reminder to those who’ve won the book.

I hope you’ll join us!


A little Reading Series history:

Why do we blog?  Why do we read blogs?  For me it’s because I love to read, and I love discussing the books I read with others.

So out of that “desire to discuss” was born the Reading Series idea.  Another blogger and I really liked the idea of a virtual book club.  20 of us would read the same book and come back to talk about it, with the author in attendance!  This was such a huge hit with the Summer Reading Series (Beach Trip, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, and Two Years, No Rain) that we did a  Winter Reading Series (for the book Keeping the Feast).  Now it’s a ‘thing that we do’ with TLC Book Tours.

My TLC partner Trish from Hey, Lady! is having a Spring Reading Series discussion for The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott coming up in April.  Those books have already been claimed (and apparently, really quickly.  She claims she almost had her fingers bitten off by rabid book fans!)  SO, please be fast if you want to participate in this one.. and please don’t bare your teeth.. I like my fingers right where they are..

UPDATE: 3/23 at 2:30 pm PST-  I still have 7 books left, and all my fingers 🙂

Not Feeling the Love for A RELIABLE WIFE

In which I rip on a book everyone loves…

Disclaimer:  This is not a review, just rambling.  I’m not trying to be a literary critic, just a reader who didn’t care for a popular book.  I know many people will disagree with me.

When A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick was suggested and then voted in as my book club’s selection for March, I was so excited.  Having seen the buzz on the book blogs last year, my expectations were pretty high.

I thought it would be a dark story set in a bleak environment.  It was.  I assumed the setting would play a role on the psyche of the characters.  It did.  Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I couldn’t wait to find out.

Well.  Let’s just say this book is not for everyone.  I did not love it; in fact I found parts of it silly.  I’m clearly in the minority, so maybe it’s me.

Ok, so to bring you up to speed in case you haven’t read the book, there is Ralph Pruitt, a wealthy man in frozen-over Wisconsin living in a town named for his family.  He’s lived alone for 20 years with no love in his life and no family.  He owns everything and everyone works for him.  He advertises for a reliable wife and Catherine Land has answered his ad.

Catherine, we know immediately (from the back of the book and in the very beginning), is anything but honest.  She’s playing a role.  She flings her red velvet dress out the window of the train headed for Wisconsin and dons a basic black wool dress, more appropriate for an honest, sensible woman.  She has tiny blue bottles of liquid that she keeps with her.  She sews gems into the lining of her dress.  She’s up to something.

We find out soon enough that Ralph had another family, years ago.  He has an estranged son, Tony (or Andy, or some form of Antonio) from his first marriage.  Ralph made him pay for the sins of his mother and feels guilty for the way he treated him.  That guilt is the driving force of the story.

So it sounds good, right?  These aren’t really spoilers, mind you.  All of this unfolds very early on, and I’ll admit I was hooked.  I knew something was up- there were big red flashing signs all over the place- it was just a matter of what.  The book got off to a great start.  I wanted to know what would happen.

But then a lot of things went wrong, for me.  Without giving anything away, let’s just say Ralph sends Catherine on a big errand- which is the entire reason he needed a reliable wife.  My question, for those who’ve read the book, is why?  Why would he need to get married to do this?  Why did he need her to do this particular task?  Couldn’t he have paid one of the many townspeople who answered to him?  He had buckets of money.. there was no other way?

And Tony.  He also sends Catherine on an errand.  Why couldn’t he accomplish his mission on his own?  Couldn’t he have carried out his personal vendetta without her?

Yes, these men were using Catherine for their own purposes.  But please don’t feel bad for her, for she is a lying, murderous, despicable person who I thought at times was becoming a decent human but really wasn’t.  She had me fooled more than once.

There were some gaping plot holes and unexplained motivations and some head-scratcher stuff.  There was some laughable, silly dialog.  I found myself thinking, “That’s dumb” or “WTF?” a number of times.

The destructive, deceitful, selfish, sexually fixated characters were disturbing- and this book has three of them.  And I’m generally ok with dark and disturbing.   But then there were long looooong passages about sexual obsession that were a complete yawnfest.  It’s a sad day when reading about sex is boring, but the lengthy descriptive paragraphs were icky and tedious and I found myself doing a lot of skimming.

Another thing that was creepy and odd was Ralph’s obsession with people in town going mad and killing themselves or their families.  Apparently all that Wisconsin snow during the long hard winters made them crazy. Why was he so fascinated with sex, money, his long lost son, and tragic stories, to the exclusion of all else?

Ralph seemed so pathetic to me.  He did not seem like a powerful, wealthy tycoon so much as a passive old man.  Catherine, with her little blue bottles, is not a loving wife, and he knows it, and he does not care.  In fact, he welcomes her betrayal, allowing it to happen and even hastening it’s progression.  She’s aware that he knows, and everyone is acting like it’s perfectly ok.  And I did not understand that.  Why would he resign himself to that fate, willingly?  Somebody smarter than me, help me out.  Was it because he thought Andy/Tony would never come home?  And if that’s the reason, could he think of nothing else to live for (regular sex, perhaps, after the 20 year drought?)

There was a ton of repetition.  Like the phrase “such things happened”.  And I found the imagery of birds tedious.  Also the imagery of water- at first I thought the author was doing something kind of cool and subtle with the imagery, but after the 5th description of something being like water, or another mention of a bird (the heart beating like a bird, her hands fluttering like birds, “welcome home” sex like the singing of a bird, and the bird in the cage, and the bird in the garden..) I was rolling my eyes.  Again, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t need to be beaten over the head with imagery (or feathers) to get the meaning.

The whole scenario seemed vaguely familiar to me.  The frozen tundra, the long-suffering and wealthy bachelor with a haunted past, the beautiful woman with secrets of her own..  where have I read this before?  An old dusty classic from high school, perhaps?  I couldn’t place it but it had a very familiar feel.

So tonight is our book club meeting, and I cannot wait to see what everyone else thought about A Reliable Wife.  Someone else is leading the discussion tonight and I’m guessing she’s done a little research.  I’m going to sit back with my mouth closed and let the meeting unfold before I say a word about my impressions.  Maybe I will learn something and be enlightened.  Maybe I’ll see the error of my “analysis,” such as it is.  Maybe I’ll be the only one who doesn’t think the book is amazing and brilliant.  Or maybe not.

I’ll let ya know.

Keeping the Feast discussion with author Paula Butturini

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Paula Butturini, author of Keeping the Feast, to our Winter Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Paula.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Paula and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far.

My questions:

How does John feel about Keeping the Feast?  How might the book have been different if he’d been the one to write the memoir?

Your beating was so brutal.  At what point did you feel safe and confident enough to work again?

I remember reading that you kept a journal (I can’t find it in the book, but I remember reading that!)  Did you know then that you might write a book like this?  How were you journals used in writing the book- did you re-read them, use whole sections, or just refer back to them as necessary?  Did John also keep a journal?

The bullet that ripped through John changed your lives so dramatically.  Journalists put themselves in harms way in the most dangerous places in the world, getting as close to the action as possible in order to share it with the masses.  Why do they risk their lives that way?  At what point is personal safety more important than the public’s need to know?

From Jill at Fizzy Thoughts:

I was surprised by their decision to buy a house in France…I would’ve expected a return to Italy. I was wondering if she’d be willing to speak a little bit about what factors influenced their decision to buy a house in France, and if Italy was even a consideration.

Also.. has living in France changed the way she cooks?

When I saw Thrity Umrigar at FoB last year she mentioned that journalism gave her good work ethics for writing her novels…that writer’s block wasn’t an issue, as she considered it her job to sit down and write every day (I’m totally paraphrasing here). Did Paula find it difficult to transition from journalism to writing a book? Did she build on her experiences as a journalist, or was it a completely different writing experience?

From Kathy at Bermuda Onion:

I loved all the food descriptions and kept hoping for recipes, so I’m wondering if Paula has considered writing a cookbook.

From Susan at Suko’s Notebook:

The only additional question I might add is if there will be a sequel at some point in time, or even a book exclusively about food–not necessarily a cookbook, but something very food-related?  The author writes so beautifully about food.

From Dar at Peeking Between the Pages:

1.  I was amazed by your perseverance and patience in the face of John’s depression especially having grown up with it.  How difficult was that for you and how were you able to put aside your feelings and anger to be there for him like that? I think it takes a special kind of person to do that.

2.  How is your relationship with your daughter given how yours was with your mom?  It’s great how honest you are with her regarding John’s depression – she will grow up understanding depression hopefully instead of resenting it.

3. I really loved how food was something that always brought comfort whether shopping for it or preparing it.  I think it’s important to find that something that will bring you through the tough times.  I thank you as well for sharing your story with us about depression because too often it’s a hidden disease and it shouldn’t be.

And one from “anonymous” – ok, it’s me..

My husband had a nervous breakdown 4 years ago and suffered a scary bout of depression and anxiety after his business of 11 years failed.  I worry about a relapse whenever anything goes wrong and nervously watch for signs of it.  So, my question is, has John ever had a relapse?  Do you live in fear that he might?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Paula and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!

Friday Blabber

Hello out there..  I felt like doing a Sunday Salon style post, but since it’s only Friday I’ll have to call it something else.  Friday F F F F.. ok, no “F” word is leaping out at me..  we’ll just call it Friday Blabber.

Life has been so crazy around here.  My mother in law was hospitalized a week ago and my husband flew across the country to be by her side.  She’s still in the hospital but is doing much better, thankfully, and is expected to go home this weekend.  Hub will stay until Sunday (such a mama’s boy :-o)

My 12 year old has been a total pill this week, fighting with me about EVERYthing.  She got braces Wednesday and her mouth is sore.  Apparently this has heightened her emotions to new highs.  Every stray thought and feeling is magnified, everything is SO unfair.  It’s exhausting for me!

My youngest has been whiny and clingy, complaining relentlessly about Daddy being out of town.  WHEN is he coming home?  WHY does he have to be there?  He’s been gone since Sunday.  Last night she was so unhappy about it and mad at him that she refused to talk to him on the phone, and then sobbed about how other daddies are home every night.  It’s not fair!

Calgon, take me away!

I love the Olympics but they have seriously cut into my reading (and sleeping) time.  I got so caught up watching Shawn White and the other snowboarders last night that I never looked at the book in my lap.  And the skaters!  Wow!  I’ve been staying up so late, and falling asleep with the TV on.  Why is it on so late??

I’ve been reading Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott.  Totally terrifying if you are the mother of soon-to-be teens.  They have this whole secret world full of lies and deception and risk taking..  drugs, boys, drugs, sneaking out, more drugs.. and yet it all looks so pretty on the outside.. good grades, part time jobs, polite to adults, keeping up appearances.  I vow, right now, to be the nosiest mom of teens ever, up in my kids’ “bizness” at all times.  I will read diaries, I will search pockets, I will have internet controls, I will read their text messages and Facebook pages, I will give drug tests, I will call teachers, I will know the parents of their friends, will constantly ask questions and keep tabs on them.  I will not be their BFF, I will not look the other way, I will not make excuses, I will give consequences, I will not believe their lies or buy their BS.  How else can you protect them?  See, I remember high school, and I remember what I was like.  My mother didn’t have a clue.  I will not be clueless.

Aren’t you glad you’re not my kid???

On my nightstand are A Reliable Wife for my March book club meeting, and Give Me, Get Me, Buy Me (non fiction about demanding children- who better to review that??).  Also I’ve got two books on their way to me- HarperCollins is sending the new Lionel Shriver called So Much For That (I still can’t get We Need to Talk About Kevin out of my mind years later!).  Then there’s a historical fiction novel about the Donner Party called Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton (from the author).  I’m really looking forward to that one.

On Monday 2/22 we will be discussing Keeping the Feast with author Paula Butturini for our Winter Reading Series here at Books on the Brain.  Paula will join us ‘live’ for an hour (5pm PST) to answer questions and talk about her book.  Please drop by if you’ve read the book, or if you’re thinking about it!  Oh, and my giveaway of American Rust will run through Sunday at midnight.. leave a comment for a chance to win.

This weekend will have us delivering girl scout cookies to the neighbors on Saturday, and then my book club will meet to discuss The Weight of Silence on Sunday.  And then Daddy comes home (woo hoo! cue the angels!). Maybe I’ll leave town for a day or two so he and the kids can become reacquainted :-).

Hope you have a lovely weekend!

Book Review: The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf was my book club’s selection for our February discussion.  It was also a book we had on tour recently through TLC so I’d read a few reviews before I ever opened the book- although I don’t think that swayed my opinion of it.

Calli and Petra are 7 year old friends and playmates.  Calli is a selective mute.  You’d think that would make friendships difficult at best, yet Petra understands her, knows what she likes and dislikes, and is able to talk for her and smooth things over for her socially.  Friendship is easy at 7, and their friendship was very sweet.

Calli and Petra go missing from their respective homes in the wee hours of the morning on the same day.  Both girls’ homes back up to a wooded area where the girls have spent many happy hours playing, so the families think perhaps they are together and for some reason playing in the woods (at 4:30 am?).  Calli’s mom, especially, is not very concerned, having grown up in and around those woods.  But Calli’s dad, an abusive alcoholic asshole, was supposed to be leaving on a fishing trip with a friend at 3:00 am that very morning, and no one really thinks too much about that (I’m not giving anything away here because the reader knows from the beginning that dear old dad didn’t go fishing).  The police chief has a romantic history with Calli’s mother and a rivalry with Calli’s father, so there’s a massive conflict of interest, yet he’s on the case.  Small towns do things differently than the big cities, I ‘spose.

This book is told in very short chapters with very short sentences in the voices of different characters including Calli, Petra, Calli’s mom, Calli’s brother Ben, Petra’s dad, the police chief Louis.  Oddly, all the voices sounded the same to me, whether it was a 7 year old girl, a middle aged cop, or a 57 year old professor.  Same vocabulary, same tone- there just was no discernable difference.  I guess this bugged me more than it might have had it not been for the fact that the book I just finished prior to The Weight of Silence (American Rust) did that one particular thing VERY well- making the characters really distinct and individual.  I’m sure it’s not an easy thing for an author to do but it really goes a long way in engaging the reader.

This book was a page turner and I read it in two sittings (it would have been one, but I had to force myself to put it down and go to bed).  I wanted to know what would happen and so I kept going. And throughout I kept thinking, what is the deal with the dad?  What the heck is going on? However, the ending was unsatisfying and the writing unsophisticated.   The plot was full of so many coincidences that believability went right out the window.  Maybe I’m just a much more discerning reader than I used to be, but this one felt very amateurish.

I wonder what the other members of my book club will think..

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This month my book club discussed The Boy In the Striped Pajamas by Irish author John Boyne.

I was quite stunned by this book, a book meant for children but one that carries very adult themes.   I’ve read other books about the Holocaust but never one like this.

Bruno is a 9 year old boy, the son of a Nazi commandant living in Berlin in 1942.  After the “Fury” comes to dinner, his dad takes an ‘important’ job and the family has to move far away to a smaller home outside “Out-with”.  Bruno is really unhappy about this because there is no one to play with and nothing to do at the new house.  He is lonely and bored until one day he looks out his bedroom window and sees dozens of men and children, oddly all wearing striped pajamas.  The curious Bruno decides to do some exploring to find out what those people are doing there.

I worried about this innocent boy going too far with his exploring, and then it occurred to me that I was worrying more about the child of a Nazi than I was about all the people in the book wearing the pajamas.  They were all innocent, of course.  Did I believe that boy’s life was more important than the others?  I really had to question myself about why I was so concerned for him.  Perhaps because I already knew the fate of the others- I knew they were doomed.  That knowledge allowed me to put those feelings aside and put all my worrying into Bruno.

It was an odd experience reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas because the reader knows more about what’s going on than the sheltered young Bruno, and can understand what’s happening while he cannot.  And, because you’re reading about the Holocaust, you know it can’t end well, but the ending of this book was like a punch in the face.  I’m not kidding- I never saw it coming.  I have no desire to spoil it for you here so I won’t comment further- just know it’s shocking.  I’m glad I didn’t know more about the book before I picked it up because I like being surprised like that.

Parts of this book were a little hard to swallow (a child of a Nazi commandant would be that clueless?) but I got past that and didn’t let it spoil the book for me.  Kids are self absorbed, so perhaps he really wouldn’t have known anything about what was going on.

My 12 year old read the book too but I had to explain the ending to her as she hasn’t learned very much about the Holocaust or concentration camps yet.  She was quite horrified (by what I told her, not by the book) and asked a lot of questions.  I’d recommend the book for mature 12 years olds, on up.  It opened the door to a good introductory conversation on the topic between my daughter and me.

For our book club meeting we watched the movie.  For the most part it was true to the book, however the ending was a bit different.  In the book, the parents are left wondering what happened and eventually figure it out.  In the movie, they know immediately.  I thought the movie was good but (as usual) I preferred the book.

You can find book club discussion questions for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas at ReadingGroupGuides.com.

The Boy In the Striped Pajamas is different, well written, heartbreaking, and tender.  And shocking.

Very highly recommended.

For the FTC:  I bought this book with my hard earned cash.