Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Freebie: The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill and Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

Congratulations to Josh Mahler and Deborah Henry, winners of last week's Friday Freebie giveaway.  Josh and Deb will soon be enjoying Emily St. John's backlist: Last Night in Montreal, The Singer's Gun and The Lola Quartet.

Up for grabs in this week's contest, I've got two novels from Algonquin Books: The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill and Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon.  I suppose they could be classified as "Young Adult," but really these books are for readers both young(ish) and old.  I know they're in my To-Be-Read pile, and they should be in yours, too.  One lucky reader will win a hardback edition of both books.  By the way, in case you missed Kelly's contribution to the "My First Time" series here at the blog, you should check it out.  Read on for more information on the novels....

Here's what I had to say about The Witch's Boy in a previous Front Porch Books here at the blog: Kelly Barnhill's fairy tale (the first four words are "Once upon a time") is tinted with tones of Disney elements: enchanted kingdoms, meek heroes finding inner strength, the everlasting bonds of friendship, etc.  That's why it's a little surprising to see the death of a major character on page 2 of this novel for young readers.  Then again, I have to remind myself, even Bambi's mother died and Old Yeller had to be put down.  In The Witch's Boy, Ned and his identical twin Tam secretly build a raft and, once they feel the vessel is seaworthy, slide into the Great River, hoping to make it to the sea.  The raft is a failure, both boys tumble into the river's current, and their agonized father dives in, knowing he can save only one of his children.  People call from the shore: "If you can only save one, make sure you save the right one."  That's quite a moral dilemma to present to young readers right off the bat, isn't it?  But I think it helps us sympathize all the more with Ned, the one who was saved, the one the villagers say was the wrong one.  In just three pages, Barnhill has already set the hook and grabbed my attention.  But wait, it gets even better.  Ned's mother, it turns out, is a witch, "the keeper of a small store of magic--one so ancient and so powerful that everyone knew it would kill a man if he touched it--but it did her no good.  Her magic could only be used in the service of others."  All the spells in the world cannot revive Sister Witch's drowned son.  Anne Ursu, author of Breadcrumbs, had this to say about the novel: "The Witch’s Boy is equal parts enchanting and haunting.  Kelly Barnhill is master of truly potent and unruly magic."

I was drawn into Hollis Seamon's 2013 novel Somebody Up There Hates You from the opening paragraphs:
      I shit you not. Hey, I'm totally reliable, sweartogod. I, Richard Casey--aka the Incredible Dying Boy--actually do live, temporarily, in the very hospice unit I'm going to tell you about. Third floor, Hilltop Hospital, in the city of Hudson, the great state of New York.
      Let me tell you just one thing about this particular hospice. Picture this: right in front of the elevator that spits people into our little hospice home there is a harpist. No joke. Right there in our lobby, every damn day, this old lady with white hair and weird long skirts sits by a honking huge harp and strums her heart out. Or plucks, whatever. The harp makes all these sappy sweet notes that stick in your throat.
Here's the publisher's synopsis of the novel: "Chemo, radiation, a zillion surgeries, watching my mom age twenty years in twenty months...if that's part of the Big Dude's plan, then it's pretty obvious, isn't it?  Enough said."  Smart-mouthed and funny, sometimes raunchy, Richard Casey is in most ways a typical seventeen-year-old boy.  Except Richie has cancer, and he's spending his final days in a hospice unit.  His mother, his doctors, and the hospice staff are determined to keep Richie alive as long as possible.  But in this place where people go to die, Richie has plans to make the most of the life he has left.  Sylvie, the only other hospice inmate under sixty, then tells Richie she has a few plans of her own.  What begins as camaraderie quickly blossoms into real love, and this star-crossed pair is determined to live on their own terms, in whatever time they have left.

If you’d like a chance at winning both books, 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 Sept. 18, at which time I’ll draw the winning name.  I’ll announce the lucky reader on Sept. 19.  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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