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The Best (and Worst) Books I Read in 2014

Last year I read 108 books. Before you get too impressed, please note that there were may picture books in that mix. Overall, I read a lot of good books, some exceptional. Unfortunately I also read a few bad ones. So here’s my take on the best and worst books I read, divided by genre.

Best Picture Book:
BeekleThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
by Dan Santat
I chose this book for a few reasons. One, the drawings are great; colorful with plenty going on but not too much to be distracting. Another  reason is the story itsself. It’s creative and unique. It takes the common experience of a child imagining a friend, and flips it on its head. Instead, the imaginary friend has no child to imagine to life. I’m hoping that this book will get at least a Caldecott nod.

Honorable mentions:
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld

Dishonorable mention:
Telephone by Mac Barnett

SmileBest Young Reader:
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
This was not a new release in 2014. It was published in 2010 and since then I’ve had many customers asking for the book. I thought it was time I saw what the big fuss was about. First off, this is a graphic novel, which is different from Manga and “diary fiction”. It’s a biopic story of Raina going through tooth troubles while trying to navigate middle and high school. First she breaks her two front teeth, then has to endure years of oral surgeries, braces, moldings, and so forth. Along the way she is trying to find who she is and her voice. The story line is good, the morals fantastic, and the art well done. (Side rant: some parents will not let their child read graphic novels because “they’re not real books”. Um, actually they are and some of them are amazing. Reading is reading. Whether the book has no, few, or lots of drawings. Some kids need the extra help of pictures to comprehend plot or vocabulary and THAT’S OKAY! They’re making the effort! If a parent insists that a child read only a “real” book, then that child is likely to be turned off to reading entirely. How awful and such a disservice to the child!)

Honorable mentions:
Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket
Origami Yoda series by Tom Angelberger

PoisonBest Teen Book:
Poison by Bridget Zinn
The best potion master just tried to assassinate the princess, who also happens to be her best friend. Now Kyra is on the run, trying to track down the princess in hiding while not getting caught by the royal guard. With a piglet by her side, Kyra hunts down her target, promising not to miss this time.

I flew through this book (I don’t typically fly through anything). It has it all: intrigue, humor, adventure, romance, and a piglet. Who doesn’t love a piglet?

Sorry – I just love that! Anyway…The only downside to this book is that it will make you fall in love with its author, Bridget Zinn. And your heart will break when you learn that the talented young author lost her battle against cancer.

Honorable mentions:
We Were Liars by E. LockhartAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Dishonorable mentions:
Perfect Ruin by Lauren Destefano
The Originals by Cat Patrick

RosieBest Adult Book:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I didn’t read many adult books (i.e. not children’s or teen) but this was by far my favorite. I once read a description that the main character, Don, is the literary Sheldon Cooper and it is spot on. Don figures it’s time he gets married and sets about finding a wife the only way he knows how: methodically. First, he makes a list of must-have qualities. Second, he writes and distributes a 100-question booklet to eligible women. Now he just needs to review the answers and marry the one who gets them all right. Only, Don doesn’t expect a wrench thrown into his plans. That wrench is Rosie, who fits none of the qualities on his list, yet is suddenly, inexplicably now a part of his life. The book is hilarious and heartwarming at the same time. I couldn’t put it down!

Honorable mention:
Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Literature

 

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Waaaay too many books, not enough time

One of the things I love about Good Reads is that users can set reading challenges every year. This year I had to up my goal a few times because I read a lot of picture books. The challenge doesn’t make you specify what kind of books or number of pages; it just counts the quantity of books.

As of this posting, my “to-read” shelf is at 631 books.1 I can’t possibly read that many books in a year; I fall asleep when I read (hey, it relaxes me!). Still, on average it takes me a week to get through a 300 page book. So a realistic challenge for me would be to read 52 books in 2014 (not including picture books).

But what to read? With over 600 choices, I thought it would be best to put down the titles on a “short list” and read those first. I tried to get a variety of genres as well as finish up some series I started. So, divided by genre, here are the 52 books I will read in 2014:

Classic

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston3

 

Fiction

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

 

Non-Fiction

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck

Love You More by Jennifer Grant

College Girls by Lynn Peril

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer

For Her Own Good by Barbara Ehrenreich

 

Young Adult and Teen

The Void of Mist and Thunder (13th Reality #4) by James Dashner

Reached (Matched #3) by Ally Condie

Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth4

Lovesick (Ghostgirl #3) by Tonya Hurley

Delirium (Delirium #1) by Lauren Oliver

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s #2) by Ransom Riggs5

Shelter Me by Alex McAuley

The One (The Selection #3) by Kiera Cass

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Fever (Chemical Garden #2) by Lauren DeStefano

Sever (Chemical Garden #3) by Lauren DeStefano

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans

Ascend (Trylle #3) by Amanda Hocking

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Rule of Thoughts (Mortality Doctorine #2) by James Dashner

Unhinged (Splintered #2) by A.G. Howard

The Testing (The Testing #1) by Joelle Charbonneau

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of the Beginning #2) by John Stephens

The Curse of the Broomstaff (The Janitors #3) by Tyler Whitesides

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

When Did You See Her Last? (All the Wrong Questions #2) by Lemony Snicket

Shutdown (Glitch #3) by Heather Anastasiu

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

So, just over half of the titles I picked are young adult and teen. This really doesn’t surprise me since it’s what I read most of the time. A lot of the titles, from all the genres, were books that I bought on impulse6 because I HAD TO READ THEM RIGHT AWAY. Some I’ve had for years. Others, just a few months. Either way, I thought I should whittle them down first before trying to accumulate more, even if they are just digital. 

The ones I don’t currently own, I will rely on getting from the library. Now that I’m in a smaller town, access to free books is a bit more limited. Indy had over 20 libraries to pull from so almost everything I wanted was available. Here, not so much. There are only a handful of libraries at my disposal so my choices are more limited. Should I not be able to get a title through the library and am unable to afford to buy a copy, I will substitute the title for another in that genre.

And if when I get through my list, I’ll refill my coffee mug and start a new one.

 

1. To give you an idea, my “read” shelf, compiled over 7 years, is at 567. So, it would take me a good 8 years to read everything on my “to-read” shelf if I don’t add anything to it.2

2. Yeah, right.

3. I was supposed to have read this for a class in college. I don’t remember which class and the only thing I remember about the book was the beginning, which I liked, so I think that I didn’t actually finish it. Oops.

4. I want to read this before I see the movie, which is set to release in theaters in March.

5. It’s been over two years since the first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, came out and left its readers hanging off a cliff!

6. No, Mom, I don’t own ALL of the books on my list. Just most.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in About me, Literature

 

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A million reasons to love Beth Revis

Okay, I don’t really have a million reasons, but I do have very two big ones: Across the Universe and A Million Suns.

Across the UniverseHonestly, I didn’t think I would ever read the first book. The title actually dissuaded me a little because I thought, “Well, here’s someone else trying to capitalize off  the Beatles.” But the day of its release, I read a synopsis of it on my nook and it sounded right up my alley. So I downloaded it and started reading in bed. I was so enthralled with it that I was pissed when my eyes betrayed me and decided to close up shop for 8 hours.

The worst part about any first book in a series is waiting for the next installment to come out. I’ve had friends who’ve purposefully put off reading the Harry Potter series until all 7 books were released, just so that there was no waiting. Sure, I like instant gratification, but I also kind of like all that anticipation, even though it can backfire (see yesterday’s post).

A Million SunsAfter 51 weeks of waiting, I finally got A Million Suns, the second book in the Across the Universe trilogy. Just like its predecessor, it drew me in and didn’t let go until the very end.

The book picked up a few months later from when the last book left off. Everyone on board the ship has been taken off Phydus. Complacency is no longer a norm. The Recorder Hall is filled with people every day who want to learn more about life on Earth and other topics like history and science. But with this curiosity for knowledge comes rebellion and the questioning of authority. Bartie, once a friend of Elder’s, calls for him to step down, to let a real leader emerge. Bartie doesn’t get much following at first, but once people start getting murdered, more join the ranks. Elder tries to balance between giving people freedom and controlling them so they don’t descend into complete chaos and he still plans on getting to Centari-Earth, no matter what.

Amy, meanwhile, starts exploring Godspeed more closely than before, even though things are far from safe. Luthe (now Luthor) still roams free and Amy fears he will attack her again. But Amy’s stubbornness to learn the truth will not let her stay safely locked up in the hospital. Soon she discovers secret stairwells and containment chambers, as well as clues left behind by Orion. The clue lead her and Elder to Godspeed’s biggest secret. But there’s someone on board the ship who will do anything to make sure it stays a secret. Anything.

There’s not much more that I can say about what happens in the book without spoiling it all. What I can say is this: it far exceeded my expectations. Once again, descriptions of the ship were so well written that I was able to clearly picture in my mind the new sections that were introduced. As more and more secrets of Godspeed were uncovered, the more I wanted to keep reading.

The third and final installment, Shades of Earth, is due out January 2013. It cannot come soon enough.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Literature

 

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My utopia is dystopia (part 3)

The third and final book in my dystopian review is Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

The book opens as Amy prepares to be cryogenically frozen, along with her parents and many others.  They are set aboard a spaceship (aptly named Godspeed) bound for a planet that humans will inhabit.  Amy and the others are expected to be thawed 300 years in the future when the ship reaches the planet.

Elder is aboard the ship, years after Amy and her parents have been put aboard.  He is second-in-command, learning from Eldest how to one day run the ship.  However, Eldest has been holding back information because of a rogue Elder from the previous generation.  This doesn’t stop Elder, though, as he sneaks around the ship trying to find out as much information as possible.  For the first time in his young life, he comes across the part of the ship where the frozen bodies are stored.  He comes across Amy, though he doesn’t know her name, and he is instantly fascinated by her bright red hair (after generations aboard the ship, people have become ethnically monotonous).

Amy’s mind continues to be active as she sleeps, bringing up memories of life on Earth.  She is unaware of how much time has passed, yet is conscious that her brain is being active when it shouldn’t be.  At one point she starts hearing voices talking about the thawing process, right before she feels warmth.  Someone is thawing her!  Though complications arise, she makes it out alive, but only to find out that the reason she was thawed was to be killed.

Soon Amy and Elder meet and Amy tries to understand why society on the ship operates as it does.  It’s vastly different from life on Earth.  Not only are the people of one ethnicity (brown eyes, tan skin), they have limited knowledge of history, have sex in the fields during the Season (purely for procreation, though), and lock up the crazy (aka creative) people.  Elder and the people aboard the ship know no different, but to Amy, it is a nightmare.  She is anxious to get to the new planet and see her parents again, but as she and Elder later find out, the ship is still 100 years from its destination.  Amy will long be dead before her parents are woken up.

That’s not all that Amy has to worry about, though.  After all, someone tried to kill her.  She needs to find out who and why.  Elder continues to search out knowledge about the ship and he finds out secret after secret about how the society upon the ship is run and controlled.

The book was well-written, told from Amy and Elder’s points of view in alternating chapters.  Each chapter was titled with the narrator’s name so it wasn’t confusing.  The descriptions of the ship were so detailed that I had little trouble picturing something I’ve never seen.  It wasn’t until I was done reading the e-book version of it that I looked at a hardcover copy at the bookstore.  Apparently the cover’s reverse was a map of Godspeed.*  I was delighted (after my initial reaction of frustration).  Much of what I’d pictured about the ship’s layout was accurate.  To me, that marks the sign of a talented writer.

Overall, the book had a great amount of conflict, both inner and physical.  There was action, yet not so much that it was tiring and there was enough mystery and intrigue to keep me reading without ever feeling like I was working to get through it.

*I do no know yet if the paperback version will include a map of the ship (the paperback comes out in November).  However, if you read the book and need or are curious about the map, visit the book’s official website here.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Literature

 

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Speak out against banned books

It’s Banned Book Week and I have a bone to pick.  Why are books banned?  Some are banned from school libraries because of certain subject matters (i.e. drug use and sexual content) or language.  But who gets to decide what books are “okay” for young adults to read and what is deemed “inappropriate”?  Usually it is a select few who easily take offense to topics and/or language, present their case to the school or library board, and when they make enough noise, they win the ban on the book.

Check out the American Library Association’s 2009-2010 list of banned and challenged books.  How many times does the phrase “a parent complained about…” (or ” parent was appalled”, “a parent’s belief,” etc.) appear within the document?  Out of the 53 books, 11 contained that phrase.  Eleven.  These books were banned (or close to being banned) because a parent (that’s right, just one) complained.  One person is fighting for your right not to read.

One parent even challenged the dictionary in a school library because a child came across the term “oral sex.”  Seriously, the dictionary?  Are children no longer allowed to look up words they don’t know because they may come across, oh, I don’t know, INFORMATION?  God forbid we let our children grow up with a healthy vocabulary!  Let’s just pluck them all down in front of the Disney Channel and pray that they become smart, fulfilled, happy adults.  That should do the trick.

***End of sarcastic tirade***

Some schools don’t ban controversial books but restrict them to a certain age or with written consent from a parent.  It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still taking freedom of choice away from young adults.  One book that was restricted in Beardstown, Illinois is Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.  The reason for the restriction was because the book “describes sex, uses foul language, and contains other ‘R-rated’ content.”  I’ve read Nineteen Minutes and the sexual content is minuscule and occurs only in a few scenes.  I’m guessing that whomever wanted the book banned had a major problem with two teenagers having sex.  Okay, I get that, but here’s a reality check: teens have sex.  I’m not saying it’s right but it happens.  The book can actually be used as a good example of why teens shouldn’t have sex.  The girl who has sex later has to come to grips about possibly being pregnant – a very real consequence to sex.

For those who haven’t read it, the premise of Nineteen Minutes is about a lonely boy who goes to school one day and shoots his classmates and teachers.  The book also goes into the events of the boy’s life leading up to the shooting, and his trial after the shooting.  If anything, I think that the book could be a learning tool for both teenagers and adults.  Parents can discuss the issues brought up in the book: bullying, depression, suicide, teen sex, abusive relationships.  They may be difficult topics, but ones that should be discussed between parents and kids.  Books like Nineteen Minutes can be a good starting point to get the conversation rolling.

Sadly, a lot of books that can teach its readers a valuable lesson are the ones most often challenged.  One of my favorite books, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, is one of them.  A pastor in Missouri recently wrote an opinion piece to News-Leader of Springfield because he thinks it’s “soft pornography.”  The book follows Melinda through a year of not speaking until she finds the courage to stand up and confront her rapist.  Yes, there are a few rape scenes but as Anderson pointed out in her blog, “The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Also, young women need role models (whether they are real or fictional) of strong women.  They need to see that rape victims do not have to revert into themselves and become shells of the person they once were.  They can stand up and speak out against their rapist.

The more books that are banned, the greater disservice we are giving future generations.  Books that can help our youth grow and develop into mindful, ethical, and well-rounded adults need to stay on our shelves.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Literature, Rants

 

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Depressing subjects but still great writing

One of my favorite teen authors is Laurie Halse Anderson.  I first read her over ten years ago when her novel Speak came out.  Speak is written in first person from Melinda.  At the final party of the summer, Melinda calls the cops and several of her classmates are arrested, their lives forever changed.  Yet Melinda won’t say why she called the cops.  It seems like everyone in school is against her as she remains tight-lipped.  The truth is finally revealed but not before taking the reader on an emotional journey with Melinda. ***SPOILER ALERT***  The reason Melinda called the cops at the party is because she was raped in the woods by an upperclassman.  By the end of book she stands up to him and stops being a victim.  ***SPOILER OVER***

Twisted is just as emotionally confusing as Speak but it is told from a guy’s point of view.  (I’ve always believed that the mark of a great writer is one who can convincingly speak in voices of both sexes.)  Tyler begins his senior year after a summer of hard labor to pay off for his graffiti prank.  His newly-toned arms attract the attention of popular Bethany, which causes her boyfriend to come face to face with Tyler.  All the while, Tyler feels the pressure from his father (whose boss is Bethany’s dad) to be an asset and not a liablilty.  ***SPOILER ALERT***  The most gripping scene in the book (for me, at least) is when Tyler puts a gun in his mouth, ready to end his life, and he describes the taste and feel of the metal.  ***SPOILER OVER***

Anderson’s latest teen novel Wintergirls was right up there with Speak.  Cassie is found dead in a motel room and her former best friend Lia feels wrought with guilt.  The former friends had done everything together, including finding ways to stay thin through their own eating disorders (Cassie with bulimia and Lia with anorexia).  From page one the reader is taken inside the mind of a young girl struggling with body image and anorexia.  Words, phrases, and whole sentences are crossed out and rewritten, as if Lia’s mind is trying to reprogram itself to not have negative thoughts.  In this deeply personal narrative, Lia describes all the ways she hides her anorexia and the steps she takes to fool her stepmother into thinking that she weighs more than she actually does.  She describes how the weight loss is not enough and will never be enough, even if she weighed nothing at all.

Anderson’s writing is candid and she isn’t afraid to tackle the tough subjects that teens face every day.  I recommend her to any age, but especially for teens and their parents in hopes that it sparks conversations.  Even if you aren’t a teen or don’t have a child, they are still great books to read because by the end of them, the reader understands the hardships that the narrator, and others like him/her, go through.  I am not anorexic but after reading Wintergirls I understood the disease a little better.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2010 in Literature

 

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The best part about being a teen

No, I am not a teenager. I do not want to go back to those difficult years when my life had limited experience. Even though I’m almost 30, I still read teen novels. I read more of them now then I did when I was an actual teen. The teen section at my bookstore* has the best written adventure and fantasy novels that I’ve read. There are some I won’t touch, mostly the superficial series, like Clique and Gossip Girl (I really don’t care to read about 15 year-olds having sex and doing drugs). If you’re looking for a fun, easy read, whether you’re 15 or 30 or even 45, here is a list of my favorite teen books:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

This is the first book in a trilogy. Thomas wakes up in a metal chamber with no memory except for his name. When the doors finally open, he finds himself in a large clearing with a couple of buildings spread about and a group of boys who’ve built their own society there. They call the clearing the Glade and Thomas comes to learn that it lies in the middle of a maze. Each day, certain boys run out into the maze to find an exit, to no avail. Everyone has to be back to the Glade by sundown or the Grievers, vicious monsters (yes, they were scary, even to me) will kill them. But then things start to change when the first girl is sent to the Glade. Suddenly, it is more important for them to solve the maze than ever before. Will they find their way out? What awaits them outside of the maze? Are their families still alive? Will they ever gain their memories back? This is actually the first book that made me want to call in sick to work, just so I could finish reading it.** It captivated me from beginning to end and when the next book, The Scorch Trials, comes out in October, you can bet that I will be locked up in my room reading it. (Side note: Dashner’s other series The 13th Reality is also a good read.)

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Finn has only known life inside the prison Incarceron, where riots break out daily and red eyes watch every move made. Songs are sung of the legend Sapphique, the only prisoner to escape. Finn dreams of Outside and desperately wants to get there. One day a key comes into his possession – a key that is said to lead to Outside.  So Finn, with a couple of companions, starts out on a journey. At the same time on the Outside, young Claudia is looking for an entrance to Incarceron. She figures she must be close because her father is the warden and holds the only key to the prison. Her search is heightened when she is told her arranged marriage will take place sooner than first expected. Through a magical item, Finn and Claudia start communicating. They work together to get Finn out and stop the marriage from happening. This is another book with twists and turns in every chapter. It had my head spinning. The sequel, Sapphique, is due out in the US at the end of the year.

I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter

Despite the long name, this is a quick read.  It’s the first book in yet another series about Cammie who attends a very prestigious school…for spies.  Cammie is known amongst her spy friends as The Chamaeleon because she’s got a knack for blending in and going unnoticed.  But things start changing when a townie notices Cammie while she’s out on a mission.  Now she and her super-smart friends use their spy skills to solve the biggest mystery they know: boys.  This book, and its sequels, is a fun, fast-paced read.  The second book Cross My Heart And Hope To Spy brings another boy Zach, who’s also a spy, into Cammie’s life and many mysteries surround him.  The questions raised in the second book about Zach get even more muddled in the third book Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover.  I can only hope that some light will be shed when the fourth book Only The Good Spy Young comes out in late June.  I should point out that I just love these titles, which is what attracted me to the series in the first place.

Wuthering High by Cara Lockwood

Troubled teen Miranda gets sent to a boarding school on an island.  The school is old and creepy and to make matters worse, there is no cell phone signal.  The teachers are only known by initials, like Headmistress B, Coach H, and Mrs. W.  The first day at the new school, Miranda meets a mysterious guy Heathcliff who calls her Catherine.  Miranda’s roommate, Hana, claims to have seen Dracula.  Then even weirder things start happening when Miranda finds out a secret about the teachers and how close her world and the literary world are linked.  This book, and the other two in the series, actually made me want to start reading classic novels.  I’ve never had a book do that before, which I think shows the mark of a good author.

*To be clear, I don’t own the bookstore. It’s a chain bookstore, but I like to claim ownership to the store at which I work.

**No, I did not call in sick. It was really, really tempting, though.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2010 in Literature

 

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