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“The Truth About Forever” by Sarah Dessen

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

My boundless love for Sarah Dessen … well, it knows no bounds. 😉 Sarah is my absolute go-to author for pitch perfect depictions of girl friendship, first love, and magical summers. Check out the Sarah Dessen tag below, because I’m a fangirl, y’all, and have read, cherished, and reviewed quite a few of her books. I mentioned in my previous entry that I was beaching it recently, and beach reading basically REQUIRES a healthy dose of Sarah Dessen. Hence, me, sand, the waves, an umbrella (I’m slightly vampiric!), and Sarah’s 2004 gem, “The Truth About Forever.” What a perfect combination.

Teen girl Macy recently (and quite unexpectedly) lost her dad to a fatal heart attack. Older sister Caroline is married and out of the house, mom is an uptight, driven mess, and boyfriend Jason is rigidly focused on his academic future. When Jason heads off to “brain camp” for the summer, Macy finds herself alone with a stack of SAT textbooks and a mind numblingly boring gig at her local library’s reference desk. [Which, no comment!] Macy stumbles upon Wish, a local catering company, at one of her mom’s events. The Wish folks, led by the pregnant and perpetually frazzled mother hen Delia, are a fun, quirky family. Their obvious warmth and affection for each other — as well as their ability to get the job done, even when things inevitably go awry — immediately appeals to Macy. On impulse, she joins the crew and starts working events, despite her mother’s obvious disapproval.

So, yeah, there’s a GUY on the Wish crew. Duh. His name is Wes, and he’s a reformed bad boy who makes these epic angel and heart-in-hand sculptures out of wire, sea glass, and other scavenged materials. He’s deep and dreamy, and you will love him instantly. Trust me. Wes and Macy somehow jump into a continuous game of Truth or Dare, played out over many long nights, in which each slowly reveals details about their lives, hopes, and issues. Basically, they fall for each other without ever really admitting it to themselves. You’ll dig it. Again, trust me! Plus, he creates some art for her. Swoon.

There are, of course, complications. Macy’s mom isn’t too keen on the Wish folks, who also include sci fi nerd (and Wes’ younger brother) Bert; the scarred but completely adorable Kristy; and the mostly monosyllabic Monica. Mom, who buries her grief in a frenzied workload, eventually isolates Macy from the crew, which seemed a bit unrealistic to me. Macy gave up her entire life following her dad’s death, including treasured friendships, teenage silliness, and her most beloved activity, running. You’d think mom would like to see a little sparkle back in her daughter’s life.

Complications also arise between Wes and Macy, as each remains on guard despite their attraction. When Macy spots Wes at a late night hangout with an old flame, she cuts him off and retreats back into her old, lonely ways. But try as she might, now that Macy has rediscovered life, she can’t quite cram herself back into her spare, constricted little world. After a long summer of talks, parties, laughs, and tears, Macy is left with a tough decision: continue to play it safe with Jason and the SATs, or move forward, dive in, and take all the pain that comes with being truly alive.

Sarah is an incredibly beautiful writer, and “The Truth About Forever” is chock full of her usual lyrical passages, quietly heartfelt moments, and loving characterizations. She perfectly captures the heady combination of sky-high joy and crushing fear that accompany falling in love, making us understand exactly why Macy runs from Wes. Sarah slowly, believably pulls Macy along on her journey, nailing that end of the movie, they finally get together moment. It’s so understated and charming that you get the payoff without feeling cheap about it. You know what I mean! Throw in empowering girl friendships and some exquisitely rendered mother-daughter scenes at novel’s end, and “The Truth About Forever” is an absolute winner. Summer or not, you older middle school (and up!) readers will adore this one. In case you’re like me and somehow overlooked “The Truth About Forever,” please get on that now asap. Even though summer is over, there is always a place for a summer book. Happy reading!

PS ~ Cute fan-created book trailer below. Check it out!

dessen

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

You probably already know Maggie Stiefvater from her “Mercy Falls” werewolf series, which includes “Shiver” and “Linger.” She’s a phenomenal writer who is able to take otherworldly topics and give them grounded, touching depth. Maggie’s latest novel, “The Scorpio Races,” has already accumulated an impressive list of “best of” accolades, including one from the venerable New York Times. I had an advanced copy of “The Scorpio Races” literally forever, since Book Expo last June. I thought, “It’s a book about water horses that eat people. Yeah, not so much.” I was, I’m not ashamed to admit, dead wrong. It’s a book about people, an unforgiving land and its creatures, sacrifice, forgiveness, courage, family, and love. It is, in one word, remarkable.

What, you need more? Fine. :-p

Puck Connolly is the middle child in an orphaned family living on Thisby, a rocky, isolated island. Older brother Gabe is leaving Thisby for life on the mainland, abandoning Puck and her younger brother, the quirky, sensitive Finn. Puck and Finn decorate pottery for the local tourist shop, but without Gabe’s income, they’ll never be able to keep their heavily mortgaged home and its small bit of farmland. Faced with an impossible set of choices, Puck decides to enter the island’s Scorpio Races, in which capaill uisce (predatory water horses that emerge from the sea each fall) are raced against each other in a vicious, life and death game with a huge payoff for the winner. The water horses are aggressive, untamed creatures drawn, alternately, by the call of the ocean and their desire to feed on blood and flesh. So what will happen to Puck when she decides to race her beloved Dove, an ordinary mare who also happens to be her best friend, against these unpredictable, deadly beasts?

Enter Sean Kendrick, a nineteen year old orphan who has won multiple Scorpio Races on the back of Corr, a wild, crimson-colored water horse with whom he has an incredible bond. Corr is owned by the wretched Benjamin Malvern, Sean’s employer and owner of the largest stable on the island (and, incidentally, the mortgage holder on the Connolly family property). The quiet, steady Sean is a resourceful trainer with an intuitive understanding of — and a deep love for — all the water horses, but most especially Corr. When Sean rides Corr, it’s as if the two are one being, connected by a strange mix of respect, love, and fear. Sean hopes that by winning this particular Scorpio Race, he will finally earn the right to purchase Corr for himself.

As the races approach, Sean begins to admire Puck’s grace and courage in being (a) the only female EVER entered in the Scorpio Races, and (b) the only rider EVER to challenge the capaill uisce on an ordinary horse. The two become friends, riding together on the jagged cliffs overlooking the shoreline and sharing observations and warnings on the other riders. They also fall in love, but it’s not the cheesy, melodramatic deal that such love can often be in a YA novel. Like everything else in this extraordinary book, it’s quiet, subtle, and yet still heart wrenching.

I will reveal no more about the races or the ultimate outcome, other than to say that we want both Sean and Puck to win, which is an untenable position. Maggie has created two incredibly well-realized characters. Puck is rough around the edges and bit churlish at times, but she’s also brave, smart, and big hearted. Sean is stoic and strong, but he shares with Puck the same boundless love for a harsh, unforgiving land, a hardscrabble way of life, and the magnificent horses (both tame and wild) who share the island. The scenes with Sean and Corr, in which we feel the potent, magnetic connection between the two, thoroughly humanize both man and beast.

The secondary characters are also impressively shaded. Gabe is weak and cowardly, but we begin to understand why this young man must leave Thisby and his siblings to survive. George Holly, a wealthy, handsome American visiting for the races, starts off as a sort of patsy and emerges as a far more generous, perceptive man. And Peg Gratton, the local butcher’s wife, is a plain homemaker and a raging feminist / mystical horse goddess during the pre-race festival. Rock on.

Maggie also provides many evocative descriptions of the island, the rocky coast, the turbulent waters, and the sleek, deadly horses. The scenes of Puck racing across Thisby on Dove’s back, literally throwing caution to the wind, are breathtaking. Same with the scenes involving Sean and the surging strength of Corr as he gallops forward, torn always between the lure of the sea and his own deep affection for Sean. We even get suspense and terror, as when Puck and Finn must hide from a bloodthirsty water horse in a rickety lean-to during a raging storm. The writing as a whole is often beautiful and heartrending, filled with so many lovely passages like this one, when Sean remembers the first time he saw the capaill uisce:

[They] plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea foam out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They screamed back to the others still in the water, high wails that raised the hair on my arms. They were swift and deadly, savage and beautiful. The horses were giants, at once the ocean and the island, and that was when I loved them.

“The Scorpio Races” is, without a doubt, one of the very best books I’ve read this year, teen or otherwise. If you can get past the violence — which is organic to the story and serves to make the water horses a viable threat — then I’d say this book is fine for older middle schoolers. Also, since Puck and Sean alternately narrate the story, this novel should appeal to both boy and girl readers. “The Scorpio Races” is a thrilling, emotional, stunningly crafted book that I absolutely loved. I hope you, too, will give it a try. Happy reading!

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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“What Happened to Goodbye” by Sarah Dessen

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

My love of Sarah Dessen knows no bounds (check out my reviews of "Along for the Ride," "Lock and Key," "Just Listen," and "Keeping the Moon;" raves all!). For my money, Sarah is one of the finest YA authors around, always providing fresh insight into the classic teen coming of age / falling in love story. Sarah's latest novel, "What Happened to Goodbye," while perhaps not her strongest work, is still miles ahead of most teen literature out there. It's a winning, beautifully written novel that is sure to become a favorite of Sarah's legions of fans.

When we meet Mclean Sweet, she and her divorced dad, Gus, are settling into their fourth new home in two years. After her folks' contentious divorce — mom cheated with the head coach of dad's most beloved university basketball team — Mclean chose to travel with restaurant consultant Gus instead of remaining home with mom, a new stepfather, and twin half siblings. Mclean uses each move with Gus to reinvent herself, alternately playing the roles of theatre chick, athlete, and activity joiner. Mclean even uses a new first name in each town to go with each new persona. The result? Everything is temporary for Mclean; she forms no real ties or attachments, and she leaves behind so-called friends without so much as a backward glance. Even worse? By always pretending to be someone else, Mclean has lost the girl she really is.

In Lakeview, Gus's job is to reinvent Luna Blu, a local Italian restaurant managed by the overwhelmed but well meaning Opal. Inadvertently, Mclean keeps her own name and much of her true self at school, the restaurant, and with her charmingly weird next-door neighbor Dave. It's a new experience, just being Mclean, since there's nothing and no one to hide behind. She also befriends the delightfully bossy Deb as well as bickering but kind best pals Riley and Heather. As the kids embark on an outrageously overdone large-scale model project — and as Mclean slowly lets Dave into her closely guarded world — Mclean realizes she is becoming connected to these people and this town. She cares now, more than she ever intended. So what happens when she has to leave again?

I won't give much else away, because the joy of this book is discovering what ultimately happens to Mclean, Dave, Gus, and the troubled Luna Blu restaurant. I can easily discuss the many things I loved about this book, which I will do in no particular order:

* No great surprise here — this is Sarah Dessen, folks! — but Mclean has such great depth and emotional complexity. She's essentially a parent to her father, soothing his wounded heart, arranging their moves, and getting them properly settled into each new town. Yet, Mclean is also just a high school senior who, beneath this veneer of capability, is absolutely devastated by her mother's infidelity and her parents' divorce. Mclean is so emotionally disconnected from mom that she can only manage unreturned phone calls and carefully calculated, obscenely polite conversations with her. What Mclean doesn't realize is that by separating herself from her mom and her picture perfect former life she has also isolated herself from her peers and father. When Mclean finally allows herself to truly experience all that pain, betrayal, and loneliness, it's incredibly moving.

* Dave. Oh, I could write a lot about Dave. Yes, he's a standard YA love interest. He's sensitive, kind, smart, funny, cute in an offbeat way, quirky … you know the type. He could easily have stepped out of the pages of a John Green novel. But Dave also has believable conflicts with his parents about his boy genius status, a sweet friendship with Riley, and a slew of quiet, touching moments with Mclean. Very well done.

* The three main adults in this novel (Gus, Mclean's mom Kate, and Opal) are not just window dressing, thrown into a scene to stir up conflict only to disappear and leave the real action to the teenagers. These adults are all interesting characters with their own shadings, depth, and shortcomings. I thought Kate, in particular, was well developed. A cheating wife / shrill mother can quickly devolve into painful stereotype, which never happened here. Just as Mclean does, we eventually see beyond Kate's missteps to find a brokenhearted mother longing for her daughter.

* As always, Sarah creates a precise, evocative setting. We walk the streets of Lakeview with Mclean and understand exactly how this small, nondescript town can hold so much promise. There's something beautiful and alive about its alleys after a snowstorm, its starry skies on a clear night, its cozy woods surrounding Riley's house, its failing neighborhood restaurant and overly cheery local coffeehouse. The uber model project — which recreates the town in painstaking, oversized detail — only adds to this sense of community and place. Each building, street, and house clicked into the model is another chance for both us and Mclean to feel more at home in Lakeview. Similarly, when Mclean lovingly describes the shore town she often visited with her mom, we understand how surf, salt, sun, and freedom can transport her to happier times. Later, when Mclean grudgingly visits another beach town with Kate (shout out to Colby, Last Chance, and Heidi's bikini shop!), we readers are swept along on Mclean's same wave of nostalgia and longing.

* Sarah is an expert at portraying emotional moments with simple grace and lyricism. My only real complaint with this novel lies in its rushing past some of these scenes instead of allowing us to savor their impact a bit more. For example, presenting the dramatic culmination of Mclean's journey in a flashback undermines its intensity. I wish we could have stayed in the moment and enjoyed it more! Still, the depictions of the quiet beauty of friendship, parental devotion, and first love are real treasures here. When Mclean sees Dave's heartfelt messages for her in the completed town model … oy! That's good stuff. 🙂

"What Happened to Goodbye" is a perfect summer novel for readers looking for an understated coming of age story with well-developed characters, a charming setting, flawed but involved parents, and, of course, some kicking romance. There's the occasional bit of strong language here, but nothing that would offend an average middle schooler. "What Happened to Goodbye" is out now. I loved it. Go read it! :-p

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Shug" author Jenny Han's newest book is "The Summer I Turned Pretty." I have to be honest, I was pretty disappointed in this one, and I loved "Shug." Maybe my expectations were just too high, or any summer-themed novel for girls pales in comparison to Sarah Dessen's fabulous "Along for the Ride," which I just read and reviewed. I wish I knew why, but I never felt much of a connection to either the characters or the story here.

Belly, her obnoxious older brother Steven, and her mom spend each summer at the expansive beach house of mom's best friend, Susannah, and her two sons, the complicated, aloof Conrad and the outgoing, friendly Jeremiah. The story primarily involves Belly's 16th summer (the one where she, you know, turns pretty – heh), and how her relationship with the guys changes as the months pass. Belly's always had a fierce crush on Conrad, who is a few years older than her and has never seemed to notice her much. She and Jeremiah, who are closer in age, have always been best friends, laughing and swimming together, but even he excludes Belly from lots of "guys-only" fun. Now that Belly's got the goods, looks-wise, both Conrad and Jeremiah are no longer seeing her as Steven's pesky little sister, complicating Belly's life in ways both good and bad. It takes her ages to realize that maybe dreamy Conrad might actually have a thing for her and that's why he's acting like such a total jerk, which, I suspect, most readers will clue in on pretty quickly.

Scenes from other summers of Belly's life are interspersed throughout the novel, which is a lovely way to help us understand the current relationship dynamics. There's a great flashback to a night when Conrad takes a young Belly out to the boardwalk; Belly is crushed and then rather brave and honorable upon realizing she's only there to break the ice with a cute arcade worker. And I liked how Belly found her own summer boyfriend, smart guy Cam, and used him to figure out what she's really looking for and how far she'll go when she finds it. That felt honest and authentic to me, the uncertainty of that relationship's boundaries, especially when Belly couldn't stop herself from using Cam to make Conrad jealous.

What I didn't like as much were the inconsistencies and empty characterizations. I never felt as if we got to know Steven at all, and then he completely disappeared from the story. Okay. But I also felt the same way about the brothers, almost as if they were a list of traits and disjointed actions rather than living, breathing people. For example, the brothers start acting crazy protective of Belly when she meets Cam at a keg party, dogging her everywhere she turns, only to ignore it completely when she goes with him to a drive-in movie (!) the very next night. And where were the boys' friends? Conrad and Jeremiah are repeatedly presented as two popular, athletic, handsome, all-American guys. They don't have any true friends from home or from the beach community itself? Really? In an era of instant communication — text, IM, email, cell — no one stays in touch over the summer? For me, that sense of isolation from the "real world" was a problem, as was the continual distance I felt from both brothers.

There's a whole subplot here about Susannah and her personal struggles, but since we only see brief glimpses of her before she runs out on errands with Belly's mom, I never felt invested in her story. [Total side note, but this is how I know I'm getting old — I kept wondering who pays for all this free time at the beach. Jeremiah's lifeguarding job must bring in the big bucks!]

Overall, "The Summer I Turned Pretty" is good, but not great. There are better summer novels out there, but there's nothing offensively wrong with this one. I was put off by the false moments and the fact that the characters always remained at arms' length from me. Other readers might be more willing to overlook these flaws, which is fine. We're all different! If you read this one, I'd say it's aimed directly at girls heading into high school. There's some strong language peppered throughout and several drinking scenes as well, swinging it toward an older age group. While I was disappointed, I hope you'll enjoy this one more than I did!

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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“Along for the Ride” by Sarah Dessen

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Along for the Ride" is author Sarah Dessen's 9th novel for young adults. If you're already a fan of Sarah, then rest assured that everything you've come to love about her — the graceful writing style, a beautifully conveyed sense of time and place, the complex characters and relationships, and (yay!) first love — is on display here. And if you're a teen girl who's not already addicted to Sarah's books, I'm pretty sure this one will win you over.

First off, many thanks again to the Penguin Young Readers Group for another killer ARC. I may have actually squealed in delight when I saw the advance copy of "Along for the Ride" in last week's mail. You literally made my day!

Now, onto the plot synopsis, which I'll admit is pretty standard stuff. Auden, the school-smart daughter of two literary scholars, impulsively decides to spend the summer following high school graduation at her dad's house in the beach town of Colby. Dad, a once famous writer struggling for years to complete a follow-up novel, has a new young wife, the apparently ditzy girly-girl Heidi, and a newborn daughter, the colicky and constantly screaming Thisbe. Upon arriving in Colby, Auden quickly discovers that her dad's attention is focused solely on his book, making him oblivious to Heidi's exhaustion and Thisbe's continual unrest. Still, Auden's only alternative to this chaos is a boring summer at home studying under the eye of her cold, brilliant mother. In other words, she'll stick this situation out.

In Colby, Auden starts to emerge from her isolated, smart girl shell. Turns out there's a whole lot more to Heidi than meets the eye, and when Auden starts doing the books each night for Heidi's boardwalk clothing and accessories store, she discovers that there's also a whole lot more to co-worker Maggie and her friends Esther and Leah. The idea that female friendship can be empowering is a constant thread in Sarah's novels, and it's just as effective here. When Auden finally confides in Maggie, it opens a world of friendship that changes her life. How refreshing it is to see the positive side of girlfriends instead of the cattiness and bitchiness that typically pervade teen novels. And guess what? It works.

Now, because this is a novel set in the summertime and aimed at teen girls, there's also going to be a cute, wounded guy who totally falls for Auden in an offbeat way. Yeah, that's a little boilerplate, but Sarah's lyrical writing and the slow unfurling of the romance are so well done that you won't mind. Our guy here is Eli, a once-great bike rider still suffering after his best friend's death. Like Auden, the tortured Eli can't sleep at night, so the two explore the quirky world of Colby after dark, which includes bowling, all-night superstores, and a hidden cafe in the town's laundromat. Once Eli learns that Auden never had much of a childhood, he sets out to give her a lifetime's worth of experiences, from food fights to prom night, in one summer. He also works at slowly knocking down some of her walls, while she carefully does the same with him.

Ok, so what worked so well for me are the characters. Auden is bookish and responsible, but she's also incredibly disconnected from her peers. Her slow transformation from aloof outsider to more of a typical high school kid is believable and endearing. Even better, I can't imagine there's a girl out there who won't savor reading about Auden's late-night adventures with the complicated but sweet Eli. I also really loved how so many of the characters had incredible depth to them, especially the parental figures. It's unusual for a teen novel to be at all interested in the lives and tangled relationships of grown ups, but in this case, they're just so complicated and flawed that you can't help but be drawn in. We get to see weaknesses and some surprising strengths in Auden's mom and Heidi, just as we learn that Maggie isn't simply the cute girl at the Clementine's counter. Again, this kind of multidimensionality in a teen novel is rare … and pretty great to find!

While some of the themes here might be a bit played out — summer love found, thwarted, and rediscovered in the end; the old idea that if you fall off a bike you need to get back on it — that's fine. Sarah's writing is so beautiful, the story is so touching and meaningful in parts, and her sense of place is so precise and evocative, that you won't mind if some of this feels a bit recycled. Plus, fans of Sarah's "Keeping the Moon" will love seeing the Last Chance Diner and old pals Isabel and Morgan one more time.

"Along for the Ride" is scheduled for release in June. Definitely keep an eye out for it. This is just about the perfect summer book for girls everywhere, say in grades seven and up. I have a feeling this book will go in a lot of beach bags this summer!

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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“Keeping the Moon” by Sarah Dessen

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

In "Keeping the Moon," Nicole "Colie" Sparks is the formerly fat teen daughter of a national fitness star. Losing 45 and a half pounds hasn’t done much to help Colie’s self-image, though, and a nasty rumor about her at school only makes matters worse. When Colie’s mom goes on an international promotional tour for the summer, she leaves Colie with her eccentric Aunt Mira, a greeting card illustrator who lives in sleepy Colby, North Carolina. Colie soon lands a job waitressing at the Last Chance Bar and Grill, where she meets best friends Isabel and Morgan and a shy, sweet cook named Norman. Over one summer, and with the help of her new friends, Colie discovers that the kind of person she’d always like to be is already living right inside her.

This is a funny, touching story of the transforming power of friendship and the strength that all girls possess inside, even if they don’t always realize it. Definitely recommended for upper middle school and high school girls.

Check out Dessen's latest novel, "Just Listen," available now.

PLEASE NOTE: Our Moms & Daughters Sunday Book Club will be discussing "Keeping the Moon" on Sunday, December 10th, at 3pm.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“Dunk” by David Lubar

FROM A KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWER:

Chad lives on the Jersey shore, where every summer the boardwalk becomes a tourist-filled amusement park. But only a few things catch his eye. First, the Dunk tank, which he hopes to occupy one day soon. Second, a girl named Gwen. He has always dreamed of asking her out, but when the time comes can he really find his way out of a sticky situation? When Chad’s best friend suddenly gets sick and no cure is available for the rare disease, Chad’s perspective on life is looked upon in an extremely different way.

"Dunk" is a great book. I finished it in a matter of hours.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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