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.

Summer Reading Series: Two Years, No Rain Discussion Questions

flower summer seriesHello Summer Readers!

Our August Summer Reading Series selection is Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens.  Shawn will be popping in to answer any questions you might have, so leave your questions in the comments.  Here is a synopsis of the book, and following are discussion questions that I’ve dreamed up. Please feel free to leave your answers here, or add your own questions.

cover

An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming… 

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 respond to each others answers, too.

1.  The book opens on the day Andy’s wife is moving out of their house.  His wife has cheated on him repeatedly, yet he feels the divorce is his fault.  Is it?

2.  What kind of husband was Andy?  What kind of brother/brother in law/friend/uncle is he?

3.   Is an emotional affair as damaging to a relationship as a real (physical) affair?  

4.  Some reviewers have referred to this book as “dude-lit”, or chick lit with a guy as the main character. Would you agree?  What was this like as a reading experience? 

5.  What factors are instrumental in pulling Andy out of his funk, both emotionally and professionally?  (i.e. working out, encouragement from friends, having Hannah around, etc.)  What kinds of things help to pull you out of a rut?

6.  Andy’s new job on Andy’s Magic Carpet gives him a measure of fame that he is unaccustomed to.  What did he learn about himself as a result?

7.  What role do the Jasons (Andy’s twin and Hill’s husband) play in the book for Andy?

8.  Did you find the characters likeable?  Who did you like the most?  The least?

9.  Did you enjoy the weather metaphors in Two Years, No Rain?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Two Years, No Rain! PLEASE try to avoid major plot spoilers in the comments, for people who haven’t yet read the book.  If your comment is spoiler-ish, put the word SPOILER first before leaving your comment!

These summer book discussions have been so fun!  You can check out our earlier discussions for Beach Trip in June and All We Ever Wanted Was Everything in July.

Thanks for reading along with us this summer! xoxo, Lisa and Mari


Summer Reading Series: Beach Trip Discussion Questions

flower summer seriesHello Summer Readers!

Our first read of the summer is Beach Trip by Cathy Holton, and what a great way to kick off the summer! Cathy will be answering any questions you might have here on Tuesday, June 16th, so leave your questions in the comments. I’ll compile them into another post to be published on Tuesday. She will be answering your questions in real time at 4 pm PST so if you’re interested in discussing Beach Trip with her, come back then! Here is a synopsis of the book, and following are discussion questions. Please feel free to leave your answers here.

imageDB.cgiA reunion of four friends becomes a cathartic journey into the past in Cathy Holton’s luminous new novel.

Mel, Sara, Annie, and Lola have traveled distinct and diverse paths since their years together at a small Southern liberal arts college during the early 1980s. Mel, a mystery writer living in New York, is grappling with the aftermath of two failed marriages and a stalled writing career. Sara, an Atlanta attorney, struggles with guilt over her son’s illness and her own slowly unraveling marriage. Annie, a successful Nashville businesswoman married to her childhood sweetheart, can’t seem to leave behind the regrets of her youth. And Lola, sweet-tempered and absentminded, whiles away her hours–and her husband’s money–on little pills that keep her happy.

Now the friends, all in their forties, converge on Lola’s lavish North Carolina beach house in an attempt to relive the carefree days of their college years. But as the week wears on and each woman’s hidden story is gradually revealed, these four friends learn that they must inevitably confront their shared past: a failed love affair, a discarded suitor, a betrayal, and a secret that threatens to change their bond, and their lives, forever.

Darkly comic and deeply poignant, Beach Trip is an unforgettable tale of lifelong friendship, heartbreak, and happiness.

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 respond to each others answers, too.

1. What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?

2. Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)? Was there one you identified with more than the others?

3. Did you have a favorite part in the book?

4. Did the end surprise you? Was it satisfying?

5. Which character do you think changed the most from college to mid-life: Lola, Mel, Sara, or Annie?

6. What did you think of the men in the book?

7. Have you kept in touch with close friends from high school or college? Do you still get together?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Beach Trip! Thanks for reading along with us! xoxo, Lisa and Mari

UPDATE:  Find more to discuss HERE

Review: Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers

Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers is an unusual novel, with a fascinating cast of (real life) characters, a strange plot, and interesting settings.  Powers blends fact and fiction to create a dreamlike portrait of lifelong friends Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and (Nelle) Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird), close as children but estranged in adulthood after their relationship took a wrong turn.  

The book opens with a troubled and fearful Truman calling his former confidante Nelle late at night, twenty years after they’d last spoken, claiming to be visited by Nancy Clutter, the murdered teenage girl from In Cold Blood.  Sensible Nelle, bitter from all the hurt and all the years that have gone by without word from Truman, writes this off as nonsense.  However Truman, in a fog of booze and drugs, has shaken Nelle’s world and awakened long buried memories.  And when a ghost appears to Nelle too, it seems that perhaps these ghosts are real and not just the alcohol fueled rantings of a pitiful, paranoid Truman.  What follows is an original story of spirits, strange packages, misunderstandings, secrets, and lies. 

My favorite sections of the book are Nelle’s sections, with vivid memories of her childhood friendship, and later, her time in Kansas with her strange little friend Truman, researching the Clutter’s murders for In Cold Blood.  The end, where we find out the true nature of the hauntings, was anti climactic. 

I appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book, which detailed his fascination with these celebrated authors and gave full disclosure about what was and was not fact.  The people were real but the thoughts and dialogue were all products of Kim Powers’ vivid imagination.  I had a small issue with taking such creative license with a person who is still alive, especially one as famously private as Harper Lee-placing her at real events where he knew she’d never actually attended.  

Readers who are fans of To Kill a Mockingbird or In Cold Blood will enjoy this the most.  I haven’t read In Cold Blood but I never felt like I was missing some key piece of information while reading Capote in Kansas.  I just think it would have enhanced the experience for me.  

If this review is a bit too wordy and you’d like to see it in haiku form (only 17 syllables!), click HERE.

Capote in Kansas will be available in paperback beginning September 22nd.

Want to know more? Visit (Mr.) Kim Powers’ website HERE.  Book clubs can find discussion questions HERE.

Kim Powers and Capote in Kansas will be on tour, virtually, through TLC Book Tours in October- what better time for a Southern ghost story? You can see the full schedule HERE.

Queen of the Road Giveaway!

 “Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cents..”  Why is this song stuck in my head, you ask?? Well, because I’m reading “Queen of the Road” by Doreen Orion, a romantic travel memoir of when the author and her outdoorsy husband decided to chuck it all and spend a year traveling the country in a converted bus.  Yes, a YEAR in a bus, with 2 cats, a poodle, and lots of shoes! I’ve barely started the book, but so far it’s fun and funny- I love her sense of humor. Here’s more about it from Broadway Books:

Summary: A pampered Long Island princess hits the road in a converted bus with her wilderness-loving husband, travels the country for one year, and brings it all hilariously to life in this offbeat and romantic memoir.

Doreen and Tim are married psychiatrists with a twist: She’s a self-proclaimed Long Island princess, grouchy couch potato, and shoe addict. He’s an affable, though driven, outdoorsman. When Tim suggests “chucking it all” to travel cross-country in a converted bus, Doreen asks, “Why can’t you be like a normal husband in a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?” But she soon shocks them both, agreeing to set forth with their sixty-pound dog, two querulous cats—and no agenda—in a 340-square-foot bus.

Queen of the Road is Doreen’s offbeat and romantic tale about refusing to settle; about choosing the unconventional road with all the misadventures it brings (fire, flood, armed robbery, and finding themselves in a nudist RV park, to name just a few). The marvelous places they visit and delightful people they encounter have a life-changing effect on all the travelers, as Doreen grows to appreciate the simple life, Tim mellows, and even the pets pull together. Best of all, readers get to go along for the ride through forty-seven states in this often hilarious and always entertaining memoir, in which a boisterous marriage of polar opposites becomes stronger than ever. — Broadway Books

Want to win your own copy of Queen of the Road?  Just visit the Queen of the Road website and click on the “share a thought” link on the roadsign on the left.  Once you are there, leave a comment by Monday, July 28th, about anything!  You can talk about your own travel experiences, your love of shoes, a trip you took with your spouse, your pets, how much you enjoy my blog (hee hee), the author’s website, or ANYTHING AT ALL!  It’s entirely up to you. Just leave a comment along with your email address, and mention that you got there via Books on the Brain.  Ms. Orion will be selecting a winner and will forward the info. to me so that I can send out the book.  This contest is open to US and Canadian residents only (sorry!)

This book is everywhere right now.  It was the featured book club selection in June at Borders and is the Adventure at Every Turn book club July selection at Celestial Seasonings!  In fact, Celestial Seasonings is running an awesome Iced Tea Drink recipe contest inspired by this book, which starts each chapter with a cocktail recipe.  The prizes are pretty spectacular, so I suggest you check it out.

Doreen Orion’s website can be found HERE.  She is more than happy to visit with book clubs via speaker phone.  Here’s a reading guide to help with discussions.

And you can check out reviews of Queen of the Road HERE and HERE.  Good luck!

Guest Post and Giveaway: Phyllis Zimbler Miller, author of Mrs. Lieutenant

Author Phyllis Zimbler Miller talks about her book, Mrs. Lieutenant, and how she’s had to become proficient at online marketing and html! Please leave a comment here by June 30th for a chance to win a copy of Mrs. Lieutenant. Oh, and that is the real Mrs. Lieutenant at a Coronation Ball in 1967. What a lovely up-do!

I’m reading Stephanie Chandler’s new book “The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform” with the subtitle “Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books.” It’s one of several such books I’ve read as well as numerous teleseminars I’ve listened to along with attending John Kremer’s two-day marketing event 10 Million Eyeballs.

All the advice is excellent – and if I could replicate into 4 to 6 copies of myself, I’d be able to follow all this terrific advice in the next, say, two to three years.

And yet the truth remains that an author has to self-promote or get completely overlooked. In 1992 when the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION that I co-wrote with Rabbi Karen L. Fox came out, she and I had to do all our own marketing. At least now, thanks to the internet, this is easier to do – as well as harder because there are many more opportunities to chase.

Just the “simple” question of my blog for MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL: How do I attract people to the blog? Where else can I post the blog? Is what I’m writing on the blog of any interest to anyone else? And, oh, could I somehow magically learn html so I could add fancy “things” to my blog?

Yet I do believe that authors self-promoting through blogs is very important. Only perhaps very important on other people’s blogs – blogs that have been around longer and have a loyal following. In fact, I’m on a virtual book tour this month through Pump Up Your Book Promotion – and I’m really enjoying writing guest posts and being introduced to some great blogs.

In addition, I’m co-sponsoring “Tell-Your-Own-Story,” a contest for military spouses in connection with season 2 of Lifetime Channel’s ARMY WIVES television series. The contest is HERE, and Lifetime is contributing prizes.

MRS. LIEUTENANT is told from the point of view of four women (read a chapter from each HERE. These women in the spring of 1970 come together because their husbands report for Armor Officers Basic at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, during the Vietnam War.

I wrote the novel because of the experiences I had as a new army officer’s wife – I wanted to share this specific time in women’s social history. And, yet, I do think the novel has much relevance for today, especially as the U.S. heads into a Presidential campaign in which race will undoubtedly be an issue as well as the current unpopular war.

I’m hoping book clubs will discuss MRS. LIEUTENANT, and for that reason I wrote book group discussion questions and provided these as a download off the home page of my website. (SPOILER ALERT: Skip question 7 until you’ve read the book.)

Recently on a podcast interview I was asked what I hope to achieve with my book. The answer: besides entertainment and a window into a past era, the opportunity for people to consider their own prejudices from the safety of a book’s pages.

A former Midwesterner and “Mrs. Lieutenant,” Phyllis Zimbler Miller lives in Los Angeles with her husband. She got a B.A. in Journalism from Michigan State University and an M.B.A. in Finance from The Wharton School. She’s the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION and, besides working on the sequel to MRS LIEUTENANT, she currently writes three blogs: www.mrslieutenant.blogspot.com, the teen and young people advice blog www.flippingburgersandbeyond.blogspot.com, and her newest blog www.dogooderscrooge.blogspot.com. She’s on an intense self-directed course to learn internet marketing, and her biggest addiction is clicking the “buy now” for books she sees on Amazon.


Note from Lisa, Books on the Brain: I haven’t read this book yet, but check out the reviews at Fizzy Thoughts and Planet Books.