Huge Hatchette Giveaway at Hey, Lady!

The adorable Trish from Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin’? is having an amazing giveaway courtesy of Hatchette Book Group USA — 5 winners will win 14 books! Go check it out!  There are some great titles and several ways to win. Visit her post to read how to get an entry (or lots of entries.) The contest closes July 12th, so hurry over there and leave a comment.  Good luck!  And tell her Lisa at Books on the Brain sent you!

Review and Giveaway: The Fires by Alan Cheuse

The Fires by Alan Cheuse of NPR Radio fame is an intense reading experience comprised of two novellas in which people set fire to something precious.  The stories have elements in common- love and memories, misery and grief, loss and transformation- but the characters are very different. 

In the first story, The Fires, Gina Morgan travels to Uzbekistan, where her husband Paul has perished in a car accident on a business trip after falling asleep at the wheel.  Procedures for cremation, her husband’s wish, are elaborate and difficult in the Soviet Union, but she is determined and enlists the help of the American embassy.  She is able to make it happen only through a Hindu ceremony, a surreal experience in which she, the grieving widow, is the one to light the funeral pyre, and lights up her skirt in the process.  Later she marvels at her feelings of freedom. 

In the second story, The Exorcism, Tom Swanson travels to an exclusive New England college to pick up his daughter Ceely after she has been expelled from school for setting fire to a piano.  Ceely’s mother, a famous American jazz pianist, has recently died of a drug overdose, and her daughter is filled with anger, rage, grief.   You could feel both the daughter and the father struggling to be understood.  In this story there were long sentences that became almost stream of consciousness and dreamlike.  For instance, in part of the story, Tom is driving Ceely home from college.  While she sleeps he is thinking of all the things he’d like to tell her.  Here he thinks back on why he and Ceely’s mother separated when their daughter was 3: 

“Sure, she’d be home every day she was playing in town, but she was sleeping a lot of the time we were awake, so even when she was with us she was apart, so we didn’t so much as actually separate as kind of erode, like a beach washed away after one heavy tide after another.” 

There were comic moments here, too.  The father is constantly forgiving others in an effort to cleanse his soul.  He forgives his father, his wife, his ex wife, his daughter, the dean at his daughter’s school; for various things, like being jealous, or being angry, or for just being human.  He even forgives the couple in the hotel room next to his for their wild sexcapades that kept him awake half the night, but the next day he calls their room repeatedly in retaliation.  So I guess he forgave but could not forget!

These stories are extremely well crafted and excellently told.  I would love to hear them in Cheuse’s smooth radio voice.  They are compelling, tragic, yet funny at times. I enjoyed the symbolism of fire and words like sacrifice, destruction, purification kept coming to mind while I was reading.  

Published by the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, I received The Fires from the Literary Ventures Fund.  For a chance to win my copy, leave a comment here by June 6th.

Booking Through Thursday: MAYDAY!

Mayday! May 1, 2008

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Quick! It’s an emergency! You just got an urgent call about a family emergency and had to rush to the airport with barely time to grab your wallet and your passport. But now, you’re stuck at the airport with nothing to read. What do you do??

And, no, you did NOT have time to grab your bookbag, or the book next to your bed. You were . . . grocery shopping when you got the call and have nothing with you but your wallet and your passport (which you fortuitously brought with you in case they asked for ID in the ethnic food aisle). This is hypothetical, remember….

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If it was a true emergency, I’d probably be too distracted by it to enjoy a good book anyway.  More than likely I’d hit the gift shop and pick up People magazine or US Weekly- something mindless that I could flip through and look at the pictures would probably be enough if I was anxious about whatever was happening. Maybe I’d pick up a Sodoku or a crossword puzzle book.  Maybe I’d pick up USA Today.  I might also watch the in-flight movie, assuming there was one.

If it was a work emergency, or family drama that didn’t involve anyone being sick or hurt, I’d seek out a book.  Most airport gift shops and book stores are limited in their selection to the blockbusters, the mass market fiction, the stuff I typically pass over or have already read.  But I’m sure I could find something to read in a pinch.  And I’d be really pissed that I left my bookbag at home!  What would you do in this situation?

***NOTE*** If you haven’t already signed up for the giveaway for Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, click HERE and leave a comment by May 15.  *****The link works now!!

Review and Author Interview: Keeper and Kid by Ed Hardy

Keeper and Kid by Edward Hardy is a wonderful, funny novel about what happens when the past and the present collide.  James “Jimmy” Keeper has just purchased a home with his girlfriend, Leah.  He co-owns a business hunting down antiques and selling them on eBay and in a store called Love and Death.  He enjoys a few beers at his weekly “can’t miss” card night with his buds.  Life is good, until he receives a call from his former mother in law.  His ex wife Cynthia is in the hospital and has a favor to ask of him, one that will change his life forever.

When Cynthia suddenly dies, Keeper discovers that the favor doesn’t involve a dog, as he was told, but a 3 year old boy, the son he never knew he had.  Thrown into parenthood completely unprepared, Keeper brings his son Leo home to stay while girlfriend Leah is away on business.  Leah freaks and takes off, leaving Keeper to deal with the house, the job, and of course the kid.  Overwhelmed by the constant demands and needs of a drive-you-crazy toddler who is mourning the loss of his mom, he makes a ton of mistakes and ultimately finds he can’t do it all alone.  Keeper,  quite clueless at first, learns a lot about love, responsibility, family, friendship, and growing up in the process.

This bittersweet novel touched my heart.  The characters are believable and endearing.  I carried this book everywhere for 2 days and would pick it up even if I only had a minute or two to read.  I loved it and would recommend it to anyone who has children or is thinking about parenthood. Discussion questions can be found on the author’s website.

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Ed Hardy graciously agreed to be interviewed for Books on the Brain, and here is what he had to say:

 Hi Ed, Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new novel!  How did you come up with the idea for Keeper and Kid?

When I started the book, almost five years ago now, our oldest child was three and a half and his sibling was on the way, so we were already deep in the land of early parenthood, which can sometimes feel like living on another planet.  Along the way I began to wonder how this might feel to someone who wasn’t at all ready for the trip, and that’s how it started.

 Having children changes your life, obviously, but Keeper can only see the negative aspects of that at first.  The thing that startles him most about sudden parenthood seems to be the ‘dailyness’ of it.  Was that a surprise to you as well?  Did you feel like your life, or “life as you knew it,” was over with the onset of parenthood?

 One level you know that with kids your life is going to change, but I think it’s the thoroughness of the change that comes as a shock.  For me it seemed that the life I knew before kids just receded into the background, and over time you find out that some of those things you used to do you can still do, but differently or only once in a while.  I do think the dailyness of it comes as a surprise to many parents.  You’re in the kitchen, way down on sleep, refilling that sippy cup for the eleventh time and you can’t help but have an occasional moment of thinking: “How did we get here again?”

 Maintaining his relationship with Leah becomes a big problem for Keeper, but even under ideal circumstances, a relationship changes when children enter the picture.  Did you find that to be true in your own life?

Sure, with kids the focus in a relationship changes drastically and that can be hard.  One trick seems to be figuring out ways to occasionally jump back in time and remind yourselves that there was something else there before the kids arrived.  Babysitters help.

Keeper seems like the all American guy.  A card playing, beer drinking, stubborn “guy’s guy”.  He’s a really likable character who seems to understand his shortcomings,  yet he’s trying to do everything by himself.  Why do you think it’s so hard for him to ask for help with Leo?

Keeper gets a kick out of figuring things out on his own, only once Leo arrives it takes him a while to realize that he really doesn’t have that luxury any more.  He’s also one of those guys who would much rather keep on reading the map instead of stopping to ask for directions.

The voice of 3 year old Leo seems very real to me.  He’s an unusually bright and verbal child.  How were you able to write him so authentically?  Were you inspired by your own children?

I was definitely inspired by my own kids and by their friends.  A lot of getting Leo’s voice on the page had to do with really listening to exactly what kids say and paying attention to how their sentences move, compared to the ways that adults speak.

How long did it take you to write Keeper and Kid?  What is the writing process like for you.. do you write at home?  In an office?  On a laptop?

The book took about three and a half years to write, but there were a lot of interruptions in there:  teaching, parenting, a massive house renovation.  I work at home, upstairs in a small office off our bedroom and on a laptop.  I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor years ago so at this point I can only write on a screen.

The cover of the book is adorable and joyful.  Did you have any say over what the cover would be like?  Who decides these things?

The publisher came up with the idea and I only got a look at the cover pretty late in the process, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it.

Any chance Keeper and Kid might become a movie?  As I was reading, I could see it on the big screen in my mind’s eye.

I’d be thrilled if Keeper made it to the big screen, but there’s nothing in the works right now.

I read that you had written for various publications and had a short story featured in Best American Short Stories.  How is writing a novel different?  Do you prefer one format over another?

I started out writing stories and I’m probably a story-writer at heart.  With stories you’re working in a much smaller space and for a story to really click everything needs to line up and getting there is a big part of the fun.  In a novel characters and events tend to build up layer by layer and that means you’ve got a lot more room to roam around.

I loved Keeper and Kid and look forward to reading more of your work. What are you working on now?

 I’m in the gathering-wool stage for a new novel.  I think it’s going to be about a group of over-extended grown-ups who start an alt. country band and run into a string of unintended consequences, but if I say much more I’ll jinx it.

A big THANK YOU to Ed Hardy for answering my questions and for writing such a wonderful book!

 If you’d like to win a copy of Keeper and Kid, please leave a comment here on my blog by Friday, March 27th.  I’ll let the random number generator do it’s thing and pick a winner. Post about the giveaway on your blog and you’ll get an extra chance to win.  Don’t have a blog?  No worries.. just make sure to leave your email address here so I can alert you when you win!