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WINNER: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

25 Jul

Congratulations to…

Liberty!

(I’m really happy that she won this because her comment was awesome: “Ooooooo – WANT. If I get it, I will love it and pet it and call it George.” I expect pictures of this, Liberty!) Keep an eye on your email to send me your mailing address!

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting and entering. And thanks to Harper for these great giveaway copies!

WINNER: Sugar in My Bowl by Erica Jong

20 Jul

Congratulations to…

Lacey!

You’ve won a galley copy of Erica Jong’s Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex! Keep an eye on your email.

Thanks to everyone who entered! You’ve still got lots of time to enter my other giveaway for Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson!

WINNER: State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

18 Jul

Congratulations to….

Heather!

You’ve won a galley copy of Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder. Keep an eye out for an email from me 🙂

Thanks to everyone who entered! Remember, you’ve still got plenty of time to enter the other two giveaways currently still open!

Summer Reading Review + Giveaway: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

18 Jul

One of the most anticipated thrillers of the summer, S.J. Watson’s debut novel Before I Go to Sleep is probably every aspiring writer’s dream scenario. Watson’s novel is the result of his entry in the first Faber Academy Writing a Novel course, a rigorous and selective program that covers all aspects of the novel-writing process. But as anyone who’s ever tried and failed to write a novel can tell you, the talent it takes to actually complete and polish a book can’t be cultivated by enrolling in a course, no matter how intensive it is. The talent has to be there from the beginning, and Watson’s debut work is proof enough of that. Here’s the summary from Watson’s book site:

Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle- aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.

But it’s the phone call from a Dr. Nash, a neurologist who claims to be working with Christine without her husband’s knowledge, that directs her to her journal, hidden in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, Christine has been recording her daily activities—tearful mornings with Ben, sessions with Dr. Nash, flashes of scenes from her former life—and rereading past entries, relearning the facts of her life as retold by the husband she is completely dependent upon. As the entries build up, Christine asks many questions. What was life like before the accident? Why did she and Ben never have a child? What has happened to Christine’s best friend? And what exactly was the horrific accident that caused such a profound loss of memory?

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more un-believable it seems.

This is pretty universally described as a thriller, but man, does the suspense lay kind of low compared to most other traditional thrillers. The narrative point of view is kind of complicated, but the construction of the novel is such that for most of the first half of the book, we are reading the journal Christine has been keeping for just a few weeks at the same time she herself is reading it on a morning after she’s woken up, no knowing who she is and who her husband is. It sounds complicated, but Watson manages to keep it very simple, and I never struggled at all with understanding what was happening and when, and how much Christine knew and didn’t know day-to-day. The ability to keep everything straight – all the details and the movement through her memory – and consistent above all is impressive and I’d love to see the outlines it must have taken to write this novel.

Christine as a narrator – one where the reader has the benefit of knowing slightly more than she does and having the ability to remember what we’ve just read and therefore having the foresight to see bad things coming – was a bit hard to relate to. I can’t begin to understand what life must be like in that kind of situation, and while I wanted to empathize with her from the beginning, I found myself frustrated when she was slow on the uptake. Particularly at the end of the book, I had an inkling of what was going to happen and what the twist was going to be, and the fact that she didn’t see it coming at all…that was slightly irritating. At the same time though, I thought that this must just be how she lives all the time – slow to understand and frustrating to everyone else around her who have to wait until she catches up. I’m making it sound like she’s stupid, but she’s not. Having to re-learn who you are and what’s happened to you in the last 20 years, as well as just the last few weeks when all the events of the book begin to unravel, has got to be more frustrating than anything else.

Since I mentioned the ending already, and because it’s a mystery, I obviously won’t give anything away. But as I said, I did see the ending coming to a certain extent. But I certainly didn’t know how it was all going to play out, and given a narrator that is handicapped in such a way as Christine was, the variables were many.

This is a fantastic summer novel for those of you that like your beach reading with some mystery and intrigue. Highly recommended, which is lucky for you because I have a copy for giveaway. (I meant to post this last week to coincide with my bloggoversary but life and then technology got in the way).

Thanks to Harper, I’ve got an extra pre-release galley copy of Before I Go to Sleep. All you need to do is leave a comment and make sure the email you provide is accurate so I can get in touch with you if you win. For an extra entry, tweet the giveaway, and make sure you use my Twitter handle – @homebtwnpages – so I can see your tweet.  And if you left a comment on my Summer Reading post, you’ll be automatically entered once. If you’d like to comment again and also tweet it, you’ll get two more!

I’ll announce the winner of this giveaway next Monday, July 25th! Good luck :) .

(Also, I’ll be announcing the winner of State of Wonder this evening at 8pm EDT, so you’ve still got time to enter!)

Summer Reading Giveaway: Sugar in My Bowl by Erica Jong

13 Jul

I need a little sugar in my bowl,
I need a little hot dog, on my roll
I can stand a bit of lovin’, oh so bad,
I feel so funny, I feel so sad
—Bessie Smith

I’m a big fan of books about sex. I’ll just get that out of the way. I’m also a big fan of books that discuss and acknowledge intelligent female sex drives. There’s an academic explanation behind my fandom: my sociology major in college focused on gender and the media, I participated in several performances of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and I took enough women’s studies classes and did several workshops to qualify me for a second minor. But let’s be real: the interest came before the academics. I absolutely count myself as a feminist, but not in the stereotypical man-hater way, or that “I’m going to objectify myself because I think I’m empowered by feminism to do so when I’m really just falling in line with male-focused ideas of objectification” way. I’m a feminist in that “it’s my party and I’ll take home whoever I want to” kind of way. And it just doesn’t get any better than in Erica Jong’s new anthology Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex. Here’s the editorial description:

When it comes to sex, what do women want? In this eye-opening and courageous collection, Erica Jong reveals that every woman has her own answer. Susan Cheever talks about the ‘excruciating hazards of casual sex,’ while Gail Collins recounts her Catholic upbringing in Cincinnati and the nuns who passionately forbade her from having ‘carnal relations.’ In ‘Everything Must Go,’ Jennifer Weiner explores how, in love, the body can play just as big a role as the heart. The octogenarians in Karen Abbott’s sharp-eyed piece possess a passion that could give Betty White a run for her money. Molly Jong-Fast reflects on her unconventional upbringing and why a whole generation of young women have rejected ‘free love’ in favor of Bugaboo strollers and Mommy-and-me yoga. Sex, it turns out, can be as fleeting, heavy, mundane, and intense as the rest of life. Indeed, Jong states in her powerful introduction ‘the truth is—sex is life.’

I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s next on my list, perched on the bedside table (because where else would I read a book about sex but in bed? Maybe on the kitchen table? Or in a secluded corner?). I mean check out this list of contributors:

Erica Jong
Karen Abbott
Anne Roiphe
Jessica Winter
Jann Turner
Julie Klam
Susan Kinsolving
Susie Bright
Fay Weldon
Linda Gray Sexton
Elisa Albert
Barbara Victor
Daphne Merkin
Marisa Acocella Marchetto
Min Jin Lee
Honor Moore
Jennifer Weiner
Gail Collins
Liz Smith
Rebecca Walker
Jean Hanff Korelitz
Eve Ensler
Meghan O’Rourke
Rosemary Daniell
J. A. K. Andres
Molly Jong-Fast
Susan Cheever
Ariel Levy
Margot Magowan

It’s a varied and fascinating list of writers and I can’t wait to dig in (that’s what she said*). Also, yes, this totally counts as summer reading. Cause what’s more fun when you’re stuck inside because of heat advisories and you’ve got air conditioning to take advantage of?

(Read, obviously. What were you thinking, dirty mind??)

Want a copy? I know you do ;).

Leave a comment and make sure the email you provide is accurate so I can get in touch with you if you win. For an extra entry, tweet the giveaway, and make sure you use my Twitter handle – @homebtwnpages – so I can see your tweet.  And if you left a comment on my Summer Reading post, you’ll be automatically entered once. If you’d like to comment again and also tweet it, you’ll get two more!

 

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I’ll be choosing a winner next Wednesday, the 20th.

*Come on…a book about sex and you expect me NOT to make a “that’s what she said” joke?  Pleeeeease! Also, I can’t wait to see the spam/search terms that get people to my blog from this post!

Review + Giveaway: State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

12 Jul

Much has been said about Anne Patchett’s new novel, State of Wonder, nearly all of it praising the story and lauding Patchett’s talent. All of the praise is, in my opinion, well-earned.

Under the narrative voice of Dr. Mariana Singh, a pharmaceutical researcher in Minnesota, Patchett explores the strings that exist between a world that is known and understood and a world that is absolutely foreign and, at times, mystifying. The opening of the novel sets out the premise: Dr. Singh’s research partner and friend, Anders Eckman, has been sent by their pharmaceutical company to check up on the progress of a mysterious drug research project in the Amazonian basin, being conducted by Dr. Singh’s former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson. Dr. Swenson is not a woman who likes to be “checked up” on and has really gone off the grid, without any reports to the company or anyone else for that matter on the drug’s progress, even though she keeps sending bills for her work to them. After Anders has been gone several months, Dr. Singh’s boss and lover receives a letter from Dr. Swenson, informing them that Anders has died and they’ve buried him in Brazil. Encouraged by both her boss/lover and Ander’s widow, Mariana travels to Brazil in search of any information about Anders and his death, and to complete the mission he was originally sent to accomplish. But first she must find Dr. Swenson, with trepidatious fears about her personal history with her former teacher and a sense of well-reasoned discomfort at persuading this notoriously private and intimidating woman to let go of any information whatsoever about both Anders and her research.

The premise of Patchett’s novel is complicated, I’ll admit. And her narrative thread, moving Mariana from the cold of Minnesota winter to the scorching sun of Brazil and the Amazon, is sometimes difficult to keep hold of. But in the end, the story is quite simple. Inventive…but simple. It’s a story filled with massive snakes, wandering hippies, the business of drug research, fertility, mortality, giant snakes, orphans, and cannibals. But at it’s heart, Patchett has written a story about belonging and love and sacrifice. And about how when you think the story is over, it’s only just taken another turn and landed you here you didn’t expect to be at all.

Published by Harper, Patchett’s novel has the potential to be one of my favorites of the year. I suspect I will not be the only one that will be putting it on their short list for Best Books of 2011 come January, and already the praise it’s received has been loud and ardent. The thing about this book – and the reason for the largely-summarized review here, rather than my normal discussions of character and structure – is that this book is all about how you feel during your reading of it. If there exists a book that transports you more fully to its setting, I’d like to see it, because I felt distinctly IN Brazil, IN the Amazon, while I was reading it, and the book is so aptly named, Patchett must have been describing both the atmosphere around Mariana and the sense of mystification you as a reader leave the story with.

However, the story is slow-moving in parts and while there is a certain amount of suspense that develops, it is quiet and urgent, but totally unsuspecting. You don’t even realize you’re racing to the see how it ends until you’re pausing during a particularly gorgeous piece of writing, and going, “Oh my God. Oh my…God.” That being said, I also was left with a bit of blah-ness. I was enthralled with the language, the story and the atmosphere Patchett creates, but I also wasn’t sure why I was supposed to care about any of the characters. And as much life as Patchett breathes into setting the mood, the conclusion of the book was… confusing and questionable at best. At worst, it was implausible, in the larger context of the rest of the book.

One more point I’d like to make that Patchett touches on in the second video I’ve posted below is the idea of the author consciously being aware of her readers and generating questions in it’s writing that would arise in a group setting, like a book club. I’m both skeptical of whether it’s a good idea for authors to consider the ways in which their readers will approach the book in the process of writing it, and grateful to be, in a way, given permission to ponder the questions that came up for me personally. Like the ethics of pharmaceutical research and how far is too far when you’re talking about what biology is and isn’t designed to handle.

State of Wonder is mostly on target, and while I did have a few problems with the narrative voice or the pacing of the book, they had mostly evaporated by the end. Unfortunate that the ending of the book wasn’t what I was expecting – though my expectations of the book were pretty much blown out of the water from the beginning. I’d only ever read Patchett’s memoir, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, detailing the friendship she had with author Lucy Grealy, which is absolutely beautiful. (Also, highly recommended.)

Watch Patchett read the opening pages here:

Watch Patchett discuss State of Wonder here:

This is the point at which I’d normally tell you to go buy a copy, but I’ve got one…for free! FOR YOU!!

Thanks to Harper, I’ve got an extra pre-release galley copy of State of Wonder. All you need to do is leave a comment and make sure the email you provide is accurate so I can get in touch with you if you win. For an extra entry, tweet the giveaway, and make sure you use my Twitter handle – @homebtwnpages – so I can see your tweet.  And if you left a comment on my Summer Reading post, you’ll be automatically entered once. If you’d like to comment again and also tweet it, you’ll get two more!

I’ll announce the winner of this giveaway next Monday, July 18th! Good luck :).

Summer Reading: New Releases!

30 Jun

I love summer reading. I really, really do. I’m not entirely sure why though. I know as a kid, I was that nerdy student that wanted to go get all the books on my summer reading lists as soon as possible so I could start them early. Summer meant a blanket and lemonade in the backyard with a pillow from my bedroom that would always come back in grass-stained. Even throughout college, I thought of summer as a time to catch up on my pleasure reading (even though as an English minor, I read plenty during the school year), in between lifeguarding shifts and babysitting jobs. There were family vacations and road trips to look forward to. Because I was a military brat, we always moved during the summer, every two or three years, and as a kid, I had a stomach like iron and could happily sit in the back seat with a backpack full of books while we crisscrossed the country. I’ve never thought of summer as a time to dig into big tomes of literature – I’d rather pick up Anna Karenina or Great Expectations during the cold winter months – and summer reading felt like a time to read books that are just as easy-going as the season itself.

But as a working, professional adult who even has to work on the Fourth of July this year (I KNOW…Kill me now!), summer reading doesn’t really have the same magic. I’m reading on my commute, on the weekends, and after work, the same as every other time of the year. I still want a book that’s going to fit my mood, though. That probably means this is the summer for a Steinbeck – like Cannery Row or East of Eden – along with my standard fare. Here are some New Releases for the summer I’ve already read or I’m looking forward to:

With so many books listed, this might seem a silly question. But what am I missing? What are you most excited for this summer? Should I pick up Robopocalypse or Bright’s Passage by singer-songwriter Josh Ritter? I’ve already got plans to read the Shiver series this summer since I’ve now got books two and three as well. Give me your best recommendations in the comments below and I’ll make it worth your while.* Anything goes! (Clearly by the collection above I’m not that discerning when it comes to genre).

*My bloggoversary is coming up in July, and I’ll be giving away three of the books pictured above over the course of my anniversary week. Which three books? You’ll have to wait and see! But leave me a recommendation here, and you’ll be automatically entered in each of the three giveaways 🙂

Winner: Swamplandia!

19 May

This is going to be short and sweet because my day job is a little nutsy today. But I chose the winner of my Swamplandia! giveaway, in hopes of finding a good home for my unloved copy. And the winner is….

OhEmGillie!

She’s already promised to come back and give her thoughts; hopefully you enjoy this as much as I did not, OhEmGillie :). Thanks to everyone that entered, and if you do end up reading it and loving it, I’d love for you to post your thoughts here.

As for the rest of the week, I’ll be hopefully posting a review or two and then I’ll be in NYC for BEA!! I know I’ll see some of you there, but please leave me a comment if you’re lurking and you’ll be at BEA so I can look for you :). I love to stalk fellow book bloggers on the Expo floor.

Review + Giveaway: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

12 May

Karen Russell is by many people’s standards an up-and-coming literary star. Or if not quite a star, someone with A LOT of promise. Her debut novel Swamplandia! follows up her only other book, a 2006 short story collection called St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves that contains a story called, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” which was the genesis for this novel. Russell was named to New York Magazine’s list of 27 impressive New Yorkers under 26 (how’s that for making me feel inadequate?), and last year the New Yorker listed her in their 20 Under 40 list. She also won a 5 Under 30 award from the National Book Foundation in 2009. Aside from being impressive because of her young comparative age in the literary field, she has a certain way with language and storytelling that is completely unique. Not just unique in a “oh everyone’s special” kind of way. I mean, what on earth sparked the crazy plot themes and twists and turns that became Swamplandia! in Russell’s brain?

Published in February of this year by Knopf, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of this book. The advance praise along with the impressive New York Times review that I read was enough to encourage me to step slightly out of my comfort zone (I’m not normally a fan of Gothic-style literature) and buy a copy. The synopsis goes like this (from the publisher’s site):

From the celebrated twenty-nine-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s . . . Run for your life. This girl is on fire”—Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.

The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.

Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.

I loved the premise of this book, the family connections set against the backdrop of the Everglades, the promise of an engaging narrator with a singular viewpoint. I still do love those elements of the book, but if you follow me on Twitter (and you were paying attention to my #fridayreads Tweets, you might remember that I listed Swamplandia! for three, maybe four weeks as my #fridayreads. I’m not going to use that oft-used, entirely cliche phasing of, “I wanted to like this, but I didn’t.” Because why would I have picked it up if I didn’t want to like it? There are elements of the book that I did love. I loved the narrator, I loved the setting, I LOVED the writing – some of the turns of phrase Russell used were absolutely fantastic – but I had some real issues with believability.  I am a pretty adventurous reader when it comes to suspension of disbelief. I’ll buy pretty much anything you’re selling in a book, but there were too many points in Swamplandia! that made me stop mid-page, and go, “Wait, WHAT?”

For example, after Ava’s mother dies, and her father takes off, I was really hard pressed to understand a couple of things: why he would leave – there wasn’t an indication prior to this in the book that he was the type to desert his children. I understand that he was grieving and people don’t do rational things when they’re grieving, but I needed more to be able to relate to the situation and to not just hate Chief Bigtree from there on out. I had zero sympathy for him, which colored the rest of the book.

Here’s the big believability issue for me – the “relationship” between Ossie and the ghost. Every time Ossie’s obsession with some ghost boyfriend came up, I literally scoffed. I was angry that her family was letting her get away with this, I was angry at her for basically abandoning Ava’s for a ghost, and I was skeptical of the entire situation in the first place. My rational brain said, she’s have a mental break, she’s got a mental illness, but every other character in the book – while skeptical – let her go on in this manner without interrupting her fantasy and saying, wait, this isn’t okay, this isn’t right. I kept trying to talk myself into believing it, saying, well they are in the Everglades, maybe ghosts are a part of life, and maybe this is normal and part of the culture. But there was even less of an indication that this was the case than there was that Chief Bigtree had the inclination to ditch his children.

I stuck with Swamplandia! significantly longer than I normally would, given that I was slogging through it with such discomfort. But in the end, it was just not giving me the pay-off I was hoping for with the time I invested into it. I read slightly more than half the book in about a month and gave up. I’m sad to put this one on the Did Not Finish shelf, and I’d like to say I’ll come back to it, but I doubt this is the case. I don’t see my issues with it resolving themselves given a different time and/or place.

But there were a lot of people who liked this book. My DNF is one of the only poor reviews I’ve seen of this book, so I’d like to pass along my copy of Swamplandia! to one of you, dear readers.

So! If you’d like my copy of the book (hardcover!), leave a comment with your name and make sure the email you list in your comment profile is correct so I can email you if you win. Maybe you’ll find a different result, and if you do, please share it here. I’ll pick a winner on May 18th (next Wednesday).

Giveaway: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

27 Oct

Despite my lack of familarity with the classics, one of my favorites is Little Women. So when I ran across the author of a new biography of Louisa May Alcott – the author who notoriously modeled Jo March after herself – at BEA in May signing copies of the book, I pretty much dropped everything and got in line. (Okay, I didn’t really drop everything because I had a lot of books and if I’d gotten someone’s toes, it would surely have broken something).

Harriet Reisen has taken a fresh look at Alcott’s life with the book Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. Alcott had a fascinating life. The description of this biography from the Picador Web site:

A vivid, energetic account of the life of the beloved author whose work has delighted millions of readers, Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health; and her frequent recourse to opiates in searh of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this true-life rags-to-riches tale.

 Fascinating, right??

I’m not the only one that thinks so either. PBS is producing a film based on the book as part of their American Masters series (one of my favorites!). The book was originally published in hardcover last October, but the paperback was just release yesterday by Picador. And in honor of the occasion, Picador has generously offered a copy to a Home Between the Pages reader!

All you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment below and tell me your favorite of the March sisters. I like Jo personally (is it any surprise I’m such a fan of Alcott then?). For an extra entry, tweet the giveaway – but you have to include my twitter handle, @homebtwnpages and the handle for the book @alcottbook.

I will announce the winner next Monday, Nov. 1. Good luck to everyone!

In the meantime, check out the Facebook page, read an interview with Harriet Reisen, or read an excerpt of the book.