Review and Giveaway: American Rust by Philipp Meyer

American Rust by Philipp Meyer is a contemporary fiction novel set in a dying Pennsylvania steel town, where the largest employer has shut down years before, where few opportunities exist for the town’s youth or the adults who’ve spent their lives slaving away in the steel mills.

Isaac English is a smart but socially awkward young man saddled with the care of his disabled father. Bitter that his sister was able to get out after their mother’s suicide, he finally decides to leave town to make his way to California. Taking his father’s stash of emergency money and throwing some items in a backpack (journals, a jacket) he heads out, asking his one friend Billy Poe to join him in walking the tracks to the outskirts of town where the plan is he’ll jump a train.

Billy Poe is a young man who has used up all his chances. A football star in high school who’s had a couple scrapes with the law, a fight gone wrong, and some missed opportunities.. . now a few years have gone by and here he is, stuck. His glory days are behind him and his future looks bleak. With self doubt holding him back he has stayed behind with his mom in their trailer rather than pursue offers of college scholarships, thinking maybe he’d go away to school in a year or two- well, he realizes now he’s made a big mistake. Nobody wants him anymore and he’s full of regret.

So with no prospects and nothing to lose, Isaac and Billy set off. Before long they encounter a situation with some homeless men on their way out of town that turns violent and changes their lives forever.

Other characters in the book include Billy’s sad and lonely mother, who has had an on again/off again relationship with the chief of police for years; Isaac’s brilliantly stupid sister Lee, a genius and Yale graduate who married into a wealthy family but is still dangerously attracted to Billy Poe; Isaac’s used-up father, a man who favors his daughter and doesn’t realize his deep feelings for his son until it’s almost too late; and the conflicted Chief Harris, a man who means well but whose actions belie his questionable character.

Told from the perspective of all of these characters, this novel does a lot of things very well. Each voice was entirely unique and felt real and raw. Mr. Meyers has created memorable characters that leap off the page, with inner conflicts that are completely relatable. Not only do you want to know what will happen to Billy and Isaac, but you gain a deeper understanding of the complex issues facing towns like the fictional Buell, PA. This economically devastated yet beautiful town was a huge presence in the book. As I was reading, I kept wondering… even if you get out, can you ever escape your past?

American Rust is an excellent debut novel, dark and emotional.  It’s about loyalty, friendship, desperation, and loss.  Mr. Meyers storytelling is compelling and gritty. There is no happy ending here, but if you’re ok with that, this is one I highly recommend.

Random House has generously offered a copy of American Rust as a giveaway to one of my readers as part of it’s TLC Book Tour!  For a chance to win, leave a comment letting me know if you still live in or near your hometown, or if you’ve left it behind. The contest is open until Sunday, February 21, at midnight.

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The Sunday Salon: January 17, 2010

Good morning!  I hope it’s bright and sunny where you are!

In  Southern California we are bracing ourselves for a MAJOR WINTER STORM!  Take cover!  There may be some rain!  I might not be laughing about this a week from now, but when the weather forecasters cry wolf a few times, and the major storm ends up being a few sprinkles.. well, let’s say I’m a bit unimpressed with the warnings.  We’ll see.  Right now it’s sunny, the sky is a brilliant blue, and the only clouds I see are high and fluffy.  But they are moving pretty fast, so.. hmmm.

Today was supposed to be our parent/child book club meeting day, hosted by me, but my oldest has strep throat.  I almost made her go to school on Friday (another one who’s always crying wolf) but she seemed a little warm and listless and had a miserable attitude so I let her stay home.  Later I saw that her throat was inflamed so we went to the doctor.. he said it was viral and to go home and give her Motrin.  But then last night she spiked a high fever and her throat was bright red, so we ended up in the ER for several hours, and she got a shot of penicillin.  Now my husband has a sore throat.  Good times!

I’ve spent some time this morning going through our pictures for Sheri from A Novel Menagerie’s Beautiful Baby pet photo contest.  We have so many that it’s hard to decide what to submit.  She’s having consolation prizes for most humorous and best personality so I’m thinking of entering one of these, rather than the standard “beauty” shot.. tell me what you think:

Where is everybody? Who wants to play with me?

What's THIS? A new pet in the house?

Well, she smells pretty good. Maybe we can be friends.

As for reading, I’m about 2/3rds of the way through both U is for Undertow and American Rust.  I’m usually a one book at a time woman, but I’d left “U” in my car one night and didn’t feel like going out to get it, so I started American Rust and haven’t put it down since. Wish I had a team of people to raise my children, make my meals, do my laundry, clean my house, and shop for me so I could just read read read in my free time.  Wait..I need another me!  I need a wife!! Ha Ha.

What are you reading this weekend?  I hope you all have a wonderful day and a great week!  Thanks for stopping by Books On The Brain.

Review and Giveaway: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyTRCoverI recently had the pleasure of reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer.  Where do I start in reviewing a book that has become a modern day classic in such a very short time?  A book that is almost universally loved?  A book that so many people have lauded, admired, and reviewed before me? 

Do I even need to say what it’s about?  Is it possible there are readers out there unfamiliar with the premise? 

In short, it’s a book told in letters.  It’s a cool format.  I know there is a real word for that.  Epistolary?  Is that it?  Or is that a religion?  Hmmm.. must check that out on Dictionary.com.  

Anyway, let’s dispense of the unwieldy book title for this review and just call it Potato.  Potato starts out in 1946.  WWII with all its devastation has ended, and the world is forever changed.  Early in the book Juliet Ashton, a writer, gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man living on the island of Guernsey, which had been occupied by the Germans during the war.  He found her name and address written on the inside of a book that intrigued him and, isolated on the island but seeking more information on the author, he reaches out to Juliet, the former owner of the book.  Their correspondence is the foundation for Potato.  

Dawsey tells Juliet about his book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Juliet is intrigued and asks him to have the other members write to her as well, because she is looking for material for an article and thinks their group would be interesting to her readers.  Soon she is corresponding with several members of the Society, and before long she is charmed by the people and by the idea of the island, so much so that she is compelled to go meet them and see it for herself. 

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

Yes, Guernsey is a real place

I love my book club- love talking about it- love the many positive changes it has brought about in my life (including this blog).  However, I could never say that it saved me or got me through the worst times of my life.  I could never say that it became my lifeline during a war.  But that is precisely the function the Society served for many of the people on Guernsey. 

And I loved this book for all it’s bookish quotes and insightful observations.  There are so many to choose from, but here is one from page 11, which I adored: 

“That’s what I love about reading; one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It’s geometrically progressive-all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” 

How true that is?!   That has happened to me so often.  

Another quote I loved isn’t specifically about reading, although I guess it could be: 

“Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person’s name suddenly pops up everywhere you go?  My friend Sophie calls it coincidence, and Mr. Simpless, my parson friend, calls it Grace.  He thinks that if one cares deeply about someone or something new one throws a kind of energy out into the world, and “fruitfulness” is drawn in.” 

That reminds me of when you get a new car.  I never knew how many Nissan Quests were on the road until I started driving one.  Or how many pregnant woman were in the world until I was one (and how they multiplied tenfold after I lost my baby). But it’s true in a bookish sense as well.  I have thrown my “book club energy” into the world, and I am constantly amazed at how often I meet others who participate in book clubs and who love to read and discuss what they’re reading.  You attract others like you into your sphere when you send out the right vibes.  And apparently I have some really strong book club vibes floating through the universe. 

Another quote I loved (LOVED!) is this: 

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey?  Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” 

I am that perfect reader, in this case.  I adored this book. 

I will leave you with one last quote, and (shock) it’s a book club one.  From page 51: 

“None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules:  we took turns speaking about the books we read.  At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves.  Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight.  We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.” 

Yes.  I can relate.  My book club is very dear to me, and it is a delight to debate a point in a book. 

If you are interested in WWII or historical fiction, you’ll appreciate this unique look at the war.  If you enjoy letters, are a member of a book club, or an avid reader, I strongly recommend this literary gem to you.  It is timeless, charming, insightful, and soothing.  It was the perfect book for me and I hope it finds other perfect readers. 

The publisher, Random House, has generously offered 5 copies of the trade paperback of this book to give away as part of it’s TLC Book Tour.  Please leave a comment by Friday, August 28th for a chance to win.  If you’ve already read Potato, please let me know what you thought of it!

Visit the Guernsey website HERE and the author’s website HERE (she also writes children’s books).  You can find discussion questions for your book group HERE.

Guest Post: A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

Marisa sitting oneThe lovely Marisa de los Santos, author of the New York Times Bestseller Love Walked In and Belong to Me (review and giveaway HERE), is guest posting today about balancing work and family.  Thanks, Marisa, for this wonderful essay!

A Little Theory of Mine by Marisa de los Santos

I get the question a lot, usually from women and often during book group meetings:  “How do you balance writing and family?”         

The easy answer is that I write my books while my children are at school.  Technically, this is true.  Any writing I do happens somewhere between drop-off and pick-up.  Weekends and evenings, I get a little time at my desk, but mostly these parts of the week are given over to homework, ballet classes, piano lessons, swim practices, meets and games, family dancing in the living room, family singing in the car, family bike-rides, movie-watching of the G/PG variety, and general hanging out.  When the kids go to sleep at a reasonable hour, which doesn’t consistently happen, weeknights belong to my husband and, sometimes, a glass of wine.  Saturday nights are ours, too.  So I balance work and family by writing my books Monday through Friday, while the kids are at school. 

imagesBut this answer is really too easy.  In fact, I stopped giving it for the same reason that I am deeply attached to it:  it makes my life sound tidy, when my life is anything but tidy.  Plus, I didn’t usually get away with it.  Most of the time, before the answer was completely out of my mouth, people jumped in with:  What about groceries?  What about laundry?  What about reading and exercise and volunteer work and meetings and friendships and email and shopping and dealing with the plumber?

While I have some help with some of these tasks and obligations, both from my husband, a true partner, fellow writer, and prince among men, and from a highly capable and much-loved young woman who helps with the kids a handful of hours a week and does errands for me on Thursday afternoons, I end up attending to many of them myself, usually during the hours between drop-off and pick-up.  When I explain all of this to people, I’m sure they wonder how my books get written at all.  I wonder myself.

lovewalkedpaperbackBut the truth is that I do all of the things I do not only because I have to, but because I want to.  I want to sit in the choking heat of the indoor pool or in the lobby of the ballet school and watch my kids do what they love.  I am co-president of Home and School (our school’s version of PTA) because I want to be part of the place where my kids spend so much of their time.  I want to be the one who thumps the melons and picks the piece of salmon my family will eat.  I need exercise, friendships, and family dancing to keep me sane.  Still, sometimes I resent how little time I have to write.  On bad writing days, I beat myself up over the squandered hours.  I envy the lives I imagine other writers are leading.  I long for the peace and time and big trees of writers’ colonies, despite the fact that I have never been to one and, in my heart, don’t really want to go. 

Over time, I have developed a theory.  If people hear it and dismiss it as rationalization, well, I don’t blame them.  It probably started out as rationalization, my putting a positive spin on my frenetic days and limited writing time.  But no matter why I came up with the theory, I’ve come to believe in it.  Not just believe in it.  I’ve come to see that it’s more than just a theory.  It’s big and holistic, ill-defined and not terribly original, but I recognize it as one of the deep truths of my life.

It goes something like this:  everything feeds everything else.  Writing time and family time are false distinctions.  Sweating it out at swim practice, watching my son’s arms arc and arc and arc; choosing one tomato over another; helping set up for the school book fair; listening to my daughter read an Ivy and Bean book aloud, her downward-cast eyes and chirping voice; watching Law and Order reruns with my husband; my obligations to the people I am honored to have in my life, the hours I spend with them:  all of these things make me–I almost wrote “a better writer,” but better than what?  Better than who?  All of these things make me a writer.  They impact directly the words I write in palpable and invisible ways.  Just as the hard-won hours I spend with language, story, and characters make me the friend, sister, daughter, wife, mother that I am.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Review and Giveaway: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

imageDB-1.cgiBelong to Me by Marisa de los Santos starts out like this: 

“My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.” 

It begins as a fish out of water story about Cornelia Brown, a character from de los Santos’ debut novel, Love Walked In, which I did not read.  No matter.  I didn’t even realize this was a continuation of another book until after I’d read it.  It was great all by itself!

Cornelia and her handsome doctor hubby, Teo, move to suburbia from the city, and pretty soon they are getting to know people.  Teo, by the way, is Handsome with a capital H.  The frequent reminders of his hotness made me think of the way Stephenie Meyers described Edward in Twilight.  He’s attractive; very, very attractive, and doesn’t seem to know it.  Mr. Modest.  

We don’t get to know Teo that well, although he plays a pivotal role in the story.  Belong to Me is more about women, and their relationships with each other.  Ok, about their relationships with men, too.  But it’s more a book about women.  Piper from across the street is a snooty beyotch (did I spell that right??); a married stay at home mom who is critical of everyone.  Right off the bat, she makes comments about Cornelia’s name, hair, and yard.  Pipe’s BFF Elizabeth, sadly, is battling cancer, which is awful but really brings out the human side of Piper.  Cornelia befriends a waitress named Lake who seems smart and blissfully normal (and nicknames Piper “Viper”- ingratiating herself to Cornelia instantly).  But Lake has a secret- a big one.  She also has a son, 13 year old Dev, with a genius IQ.  And Clare is a frequent guest at Cornelia and Teo’s house, who Dev falls for, hard.  Ah, first love. 

It was interesting to see the transformation that takes place in the characters, especially Piper. All her perfectionism and controlling behaviors mask an inner self doubt and lack of confidence, and when things beyond her control threaten her carefully constructed life, it forces her to take a closer look at the things that truly matter- love, friends, family- not the manicured lawn or the perfect crease in the sleeve of her blouse.  Even Cornelia likes her by the end of the book.  

The story is told from 3 points of view in alternating chapters- Cornelia, Piper, and Dev.  De los Santos did a great job of keeping their voices unique- I could easily tell who was telling the story.  Cornelia had such an interesting vocabulary, Piper was really into appearances and denial, Dev was teenage-awkward and brilliant in the best possible way.  The characters had a depth that made them very realistic to me. 

There’s money, private schools, cancer and death, secrets and lies, inappropriate relationships, affairs, and children- legitimate and otherwise.  Does it sound a bit like a soap opera?  I guess it does, but Santos is able to intertwine these characters and their stories in such a way that the reader truly cares about them.  The book is filled with hope and friends, laughter and tears, and the warm feeling that comes from knowing we belong to the ones who love us.  My emotions were all over the map while reading Belong to Me, and the unexpected ending was a real treat.  De los Santos is a truly gifted writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.  

Please visit Marisa de los Santos at her website, and check out the wonderful guest post she wrote for me about balancing family life with writing and working from home.

Oh!  OH!  I almost forgot!  Harper Collins is generously offering copies of Belong to Me to 3 lucky readers!  Leave a comment by Monday, May 25th, for a chance to win!!

Twitter Winner of The Blue Notebook

That Twitter giveaway was really fun!  With 33 total entries in one hour, the winner is:  

WORD LILY

Congratulations, Hannah! 

Don’t fret if you entered and didn’t win.. I’m giving away a 2nd copy of The Blue Notebook.  Leave a comment HERE by Friday, April 3rd for a chance to win.

Re-Tweet to win The Blue Notebook!

51rkxj2gqbl_sl500_aa240_Do you Twitter?  I’m sorta new to the whole thing.  At first I thought..  why?  But now I find it’s a really cool way to keep up with others in the book blogging community and to see what publishers are up to.  

On Twitter, you say what you’re doing in 140 characters or less, and that is called a Tweet.  I’ve learned that there’s also such a thing as a Re-Tweet, which is tweeting what someone else has tweeted.  See, sounds silly doesn’t it?  But you just have to trust me that it’s cool.  (Is the word ‘cool’ still cool??  Eh- it sux getting old!)

Random House and Books on the Brain are teaming up to give away two copies of The Blue Notebook (reviewed HERE), which I absolutely loved!  All you need to do is Follow Me on Twitter (click on the little birdie in the left sidebar and hit “Follow”).  Then, re-tweet the following  “I want THE BLUE NOTEBOOK! Read the review http://tinyurl.com/c7vrhw #giv2”   between 7 and 8 pm EST for a chance to win!  

If you’re not a Twitter-er but would still like a chance to win an advance reader copy of The Blue Notebook, leave a comment here.  I’ll pick a winner on Friday, April 3rd, at midnight.