Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Freebie: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson, and The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

Congratulations to LuAnn Ritsema, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True, 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson.

This week’s book giveaway is a triple-delight package of The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson, and The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell.  I can’t think of a better holiday gift to put under a Christmas tree (yours or someone else’s) than these three books!  (Note: The Valley of Amazement and Someone Else's Love Story are hardbacks; The Death of Bees is a trade paperback.)  Here’s more about the books via the publishers’ synopses:

The Valley of Amazement is set in Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged fourteen-year-old daughter of the American madam of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when the Ching dynasty is overturned, Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Half-Chinese and half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the contradictory worlds of East and West--until she is able to merge her two halves, empowering her to become a shrewd courtesan who excels in the business of seduction and illusion. But privately she continues to struggle to understand who she is and where she belongs in the world. Back in 1897 San Francisco, Violet’s mother, Lucia, chooses a disastrous course as a sixteen-year-old, when her infatuation with a Chinese painter compels her to leave her home for Shanghai. There she is shocked by her lover’s adherence to Chinese traditions and her inability to change them despite the unending amount of American ingenuity she possesses. Both Violet and Lucia are fueled by betrayals and refuse to submit to the Chinese ideas of fate and societal expectations. They persist in their quest to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and, most poignantly, love from mothers, fathers, lovers, and children. To reclaim their lives, they take separate journeys--to a backwater hamlet in China, the wealthy environs of the Hudson River Valley, and, ultimately, the unknown areas of their hearts, where they discover what remains after their many failings to love and be loved. Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement resurrects pivotal moments of the past: the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty; the beginning of the Republic; the explosive growth of both lucrative foreign trade and bouts of anti-foreign sentiment, which would have ramifications into the future. The lost world of old Shanghai is recaptured through the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign “Shanghailanders” living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II. This deeply evocative narrative exposes the profound connections between mothers and daughters, which returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic insight and humor, she conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.

Someone Else's Love Story opens with this great sentence:  “I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K.”  For single mom Shandi Pierce, life is a juggling act. She's finishing college; raising her delightful three-year-old genius son, Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo; and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced Christian mother and Jewish father. She's got enough to deal with before she gets caught in the middle of a stickup in a gas station mini-mart and falls in love with a great wall of a man named William Ashe, who steps between the armed robber and her son to shield the child from danger. Shandi doesn't know that her blond god has his own baggage. When he looked down the barrel of the gun in the gas station he believed it was destiny: it's been exactly one year since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn't define destiny the way other people do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in science and numbers, destiny to him is about choice. Now, William and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head-on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know. Someone Else's Love Story is Joshilyn Jackson's funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness; about falling in love and learning that things aren't always what they seem--or what we hope they will be. It's a story about discovering what we want and ultimately finding what we need.

The Death of Bees also has a great opener:  “Today I buried my parents in the backyard.  Neither of them were beloved.” Marnie and her little sister, Nelly, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren't telling. While life in Glasgow's Maryhill housing estate isn't grand, the girls do have each other. As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Lennie takes them in--feeds them, clothes them, protects them--and something like a family forms. But soon, the sisters' friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls' family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart. Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.

If you’d like a chance at winning all three of the books--The Valley of Amazement, Someone Else's Love Story, and The Death of Bees--simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 5, at which time I’ll draw the winning name.  I’ll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 6.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

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