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.

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.

Review: The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

cover-opposite-love-pb Julie Buxbaum’s terrific debut novel, The Opposite of Love,  is about 29 year old Manhattan attorney Emily Haxby.  The story begins as Emily breaks up with Andrew, her boyfriend of two years with whom she’s had a happy, comfortable, passionate relationship, just as he seems to be on the verge of proposing marriage.  

No one understands this; not her friends, not her family, and she can’t articulate it very well to anybody.  We soon learn it’s not about the awesome Andrew- it has everything to do with Emily; her fear of being left has forced her to push him away.  “You’re your own worst enemy,” her best friend Jess tells her.  “It’s like you get pleasure out of breaking your own heart.” 

Emily’s outwardly enviable life is a little messy just below the surface. Emily’s job for a high powered law firm is sucking the life out of her, and her married boss is harassing her.  She has trouble connecting with others-communication is not her special talent.  Losing her mother to cancer at 14, Emily and her dad grew apart and shut down emotionally.  Grandpa Jack stepped in to pick up the slack and became her sole support system, and now her beloved grandpa has been diagnosed with Alzhiemers. 

As her grandpa’s health declines and her career falls apart, Emily braces herself for more loss.  Her dad, the lieutenant governor of Connecticut, is too busy and too in denial to help care for her grandpa, so decisions about his care fall to her.  Motherless Emily needs guidance and she finds it in the form of Ruth, a wise retired judge and friend of her Grandpa Jack, who encourages her to live her life fully and take chances.  

Bottom Line:  I really liked The Opposite of Love!  I cared about Emily and related to her complicated mess of conflicted feelings.  The writing is solid and the story, while light in some ways, is not fluffy.  There are very funny parts, but it is the kind of humor I like best- wry and sarcastic and intelligent.  It has a lot to say about relationships, communication, love, and loss.  Book clubs would find a lot to talk about (discussion questions can be found HERE) and the author is available for Q & A’s via email or chats.

I can’t wait to see The Opposite of Love on the big screen next year starring Anne Hathaway as Emily (fantastic casting!).  It’ll make a really good movie, but read it first.  As they say, the book is always better.

Author Julie Buxbaum’s website can be found HERE and her new book, After You, comes out August 25th.

Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

51a7mjkefwl_sl500_aa240_Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is the tale of two sisters.   The book opens in Shanghai in 1937, where Pearl and May are “beautiful girls” who model for an artist and whose faces appear on calendars and advertisements selling everything from soap to cigarettes.  They make money, but it all goes into supporting their expensive lifestyle.  They are sophisticated, educated girls who wear gorgeous clothing, stay out late, go to clubs, and take full advantage of their status in this cosmopolitan city.  They are blissfully ignorant of the rapidly changing political climate and the war with Japan looming on the horizon. 

At home, they are just girls, albeit girls living a privileged life, with cooks and servants and lovely furnishings.  Daughters are worthless in China except for their value as marriage material.  Pearl, however, is in love with her “beautiful girl” artist ZG, and May loves Tommy.  They’ve made a modern assumption that they will marry for love, as they do in the west, and are shocked when their father announces that their marriages have been arranged, to help the family. “Baba”, a wealthy businessman, has had a reversal of fortune.  His gambling debts are mounting and he sees no other way out but to marry off his daughters to the highest bidder. 

dsc0325824 hours later, the girls are married women.  Their new husbands, Sam and Vern (only 14!), and their family live in Los Angeles.  The plan is that the girls will tie up loose ends, take a boat to Hong Kong to meet their new husbands, then travel with them to Los Angeles.   Pearl and May, still in denial, never get on the boat for Hong Kong.  Baba is upset but thinks, “What can I do?”  Life goes on pretty much as before, with the girls adjusting their lifestyle only slightly and trying to make more money. 

But then the war breaks out.  They get caught up in the bombings but manage to escape Shanghai.   Threatened by collectors of Baba’s debt, they flee.  Leaving the city proves extremely difficult, and as they make their way out of the country, they are broken both physically and spiritually.  They finally arrive in Los Angeles after much hardship and make a life with their husbands and extended family as immigrants in Chinatown.  Pearl and May, with their love of western clothing and sensibilities, are made to wear the traditional clothing of China for the tourists and must stay within the confines of the community.   Pearl works and works, harboring little resentments against the more carefree May.  They struggle with everyday life, and nothing is as they expected it to be.   

As in Lisa See’s earlier novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, there is a major misunderstanding between the main characters that threatens to destroy their relationship and propels much of what happens in the book.  May and Pearl, like all siblings, view their shared past differently.  The revelatory moment, when they each see things clearly and understand the others’ perspective, comes late in the novel.   

I’m a huge Lisa See fan and was completely swept away by Shanghai Girls. This is a book about survival and just how much a person will endure for the people they love.  It is also a captivating history lesson about the difficulties faced by our immigrant population.  The book is so rich in detail, lush in its descriptive language.  Lisa See is an expert at describing and exploring women’s relationships, making this a natural choice for a book club.  My only complaint is the cliffhanger ending.. but then, maybe that leaves the door open for a sequel.  I hope so!  

Shanghai Girls will be released on May 26th.  Many thanks to Random House for sending me an advanced readers copy.  

For more information on Lisa See, please visit her website.

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.

Winners of the Random House Giveaway!

This giveaway was tricky to pick winners for because I gave extra chances for blogging about it and then some people wanted certain books and others didn’t care what they got and others were greeeeedy and wanted everything!!  I hope the winners all won what they were hoping to win!  So here we go:


51luakxjkrl_sl500_aa240_Winners of Welcome to the Departure Lounge:

1.  Julie from Booking Mama

2.  Ladytink534 from The Movieholic and Bibliophile Blog

3.  Gentle Reader at Shelf Life 

 

41mgmxucf6l_sl500_aa240_Winners of American Wife:

1.  Christina from  Jackets and Covers 

2.   Kristi from Books and Needlepoint 

3.   Valorie at Morbid Romantic 

 

3Winners of Gardens of Water:

1.  Drey  from Drey’s Library 

2.  Sweet Diva 

3.  Melissa at Shhh I’m Reading 

 

And the Grand Prize Winners of all 3 Random House titles are:

1.   Melanie from The Scrapping Librarian 

2.  Care from Care’s Online Book Club 

CONGRATULATIONS!!  

And thanks to everyone who entered the contest!

100K Celebration Giveaway from Random House!

Not wanting to miss out on the party, Rochelle at Random House has jumped in and offered some fabulous titles to my readers! I’m so excited!

Ok, Ok.. lemme see… yep, Rochelle said 5 (five) FIVE!! copies of each title- WOW! Ok, ok. Let’s do this- we will pick Two Grand Prize winners who will receive all 3 titles! And then a whole bunch of other winners (9? Is that right??!!) who will get one title each!  ARE WE HAVING FUN YET??????

51luakxjkrl_sl500_aa240_ Welcome to the Departure Lounge: Adventures in Mothering Mother by Meg Federico (Just released in hardcover this week!)

About the book:
The adventure begins when Meg’s mother, Addie, vacationing in Florida, takes a spill. At the hospital, Addie bolts upright on her gurney and yells “I demand an autopsy!” before passing out cold.

“One minute, she is unconscious, the next, she’s nuts,” observes Meg Federico in this hilarious and poignant memoir of taking care of eighty-year-old Addie and her relatively new (and equally old) husband, Walter, in their not-so-golden years.

With a fresh voice and a keen eye for the absurd, Meg Federico writes a story that will resonate with the generation now caring for their parents. Welcome to the Departure Lounge is a moving and madcap chronicle of a family–their moments of joy, the memories they’d rather forget, and the just plain loopiness of their situation. “How’s life at the Departure Lounge?” Meg’s brother asks. Meg doesn’t know where to start. “Let’s just say the drinks are outrageous, and they never run out of nuts.”

41mgmxucf6l_sl500_aa240_ American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (Just released in paperback this week!)

About the book:
A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers that she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with–and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

The author’s website is HERE.

3 Gardens of Water by Alan Drew (Just released in paperback this week!)

About the book:
Gardens of Water is an enthralling story of two families, and two faiths, in Turkey at the time of the cataclysm of 1999. It tells of Sinan, whose daughter, Irem, dreams of escaping the confines of her family and the duties of a devout Muslim woman. She sees in Dylan, an American boy and her upstairs neighbor, the enticing promise of another life. But then a massive earthquake forces Sinan and his family to live as refugees in their own country and leads to a dangerous intimacy with their American neighbors, as Irem and Dylan fall in love. When Sinan finds himself entangled in a series of increasingly dangerous decisions, he will be pushed toward a final betrayal that will change everyone’s lives forever. Powerful and beautifully written, Alan Drew’s Gardens of Water marks the debut of a brilliant new American writer.

Check out the author’s website HERE

This 100K Party is in full swing now!!  Leave a comment by Thursday, February 19th, for a chance to win one, or possibly all three, of these great Random House titles!  Blog about it and come back with the link, and you’ll get 3 extra chances!  (So sorry, international peeps, this is only open to residents of the US and Canada).

<———————-More stuff to win over there.. go see..

Teaser Tuesdays: February 3, 2009

tuesday-t Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

21lkxjmjxcl_sl500_aa180_This teaser comes from page 55 of The Vagrants by Yiyun Li, sent to me by Rochelle at Random House (thanks, Rochelle!).  The Vagrants comes out today, February 3rd!

“Teacher Gu’s first marraige had lasted three years, and what he remembered, afterward, was many of their intellectual talks.  Even on their honeymoon they had spent more time reading and discussing Kant than enjoying the beach resort.”

This made me laugh because I remember reading about the wedding of at least two bloggers (Hello, Trish and Jen!) who did quite a bit of reading on their honeymoons!  Hopefully your marriages will last longer than this one!

What are you reading this week?  If you’re in need of some reading material, please enter my current giveaway for a chance to win Standing Still by Kelly Simmons!