Friday, December 2, 2016
Congratulations to Lisa Murray, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch.
This week’s contest is for another clear-the-shelves Big Box of Books which should make just about any reader smile. I gathered up several new releases, as well as a few older books from my personal library, for this latest giveaway. Some are hardcover, some are paperback, and all are in new (or nearly new) condition. ONE lucky reader will win THIRTEEN books just in time for the holidays. Will it be you? Keep reading for more information about each book...
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington: Welcome to Spencerville, Virginia, 1977. Eight-year-old Rocky worships his older brother, Paul. Sixteen and full of rebel cool, Paul spends his days cruising in his Chevy Nova blasting Neil Young, cigarette dangling from his lips, arm slung around his beautiful, troubled girlfriend. Paul is happy to have his younger brother as his sidekick. Then one day, in an act of vengeance against their father, Paul picks up Rocky from school and nearly abandons him in the woods. Afterward, Paul disappears. Seven years later, Rocky is a teenager himself. He hasn’t forgotten being abandoned by his boyhood hero, but he’s getting over it, with the help of the wealthy neighbors’ daughter, ten years his senior, who has taken him as her lover. Unbeknownst to both of them, their affair will set in motion a course of events that rains catastrophe on both their families. After a mysterious double murder brings terror and suspicion to their small town, Rocky and his family must reckon with the past and find out how much forgiveness their hearts can hold.
Civilianized by Michael Anthony: After twelve months of military service in Iraq, Michael Anthony stepped off a plane, seemingly happy to be home—or at least back on U.S. soil. He was twenty-one years old, a bit of a nerd, and carrying a pack of cigarettes that he thought would be his last. Two weeks later, Michael was stoned on Vicodin, drinking way too much, and picking a fight with a very large Hell's Angel. At his wit's end, he came to an agreement with himself: If things didn't improve in three months, he was going to kill himself. Civilianized is a memoir chronicling Michael's search for meaning in a suddenly destabilized world. “Michael Anthony writes with emotional clarity, dark wit, and unpremeditated honesty. But what stayed with me most, I think, were the quiet punches to the gut: That to kill oneself, one must not only feel like dying, but like killing, and the feelings could not be farther apart. That what messed with him most was not the brutality of his foes but the moral bankruptcy of certain commanders. That it is not so much the intensity of combat that derails a soldier but the flatness of its absence. I won't soon forget this book.” (Mary Roach, author of Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War)
Huck Out West by Robert Coover: Our leading postmodernist novelist turns his iconoclastic eye to a great American classic in this sequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At the end of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, on the eve of the Civil War, Huck and Tom Sawyer decide to escape “sivilization” and “light out for the Territory.” In Robert Coover’s Huck Out West, also “wrote by Huck,” the boys do just that, riding for the famous but short-lived Pony Express, then working as scouts for both sides in the war. They are suddenly separated when Tom decides he’d rather own civilization than leave it, returning east with his new wife, Becky Thatcher, to learn the law from her father. Huck, abandoned and “dreadful lonely,” hires himself out to “whosoever.” He rides shotgun on coaches, wrangles horses on a Chisholm Trail cattle drive, joins a gang of bandits, guides wagon trains, gets dragged into U.S. Army massacres, suffers a series of romantic and barroom misadventures. He is eventually drawn into a Lakota tribe by a young brave, Eeteh, an inventive teller of Coyote tales who “was having about the same kind of trouble with his tribe as I was having with mine.” There is an army colonel who wants to hang Huck and destroy Eeteh’s tribe, so they’re both on the run, finding themselves ultimately in the Black Hills just ahead of the 1876 Gold Rush. This period, from the middle of the Civil War to the centennial year of 1876, is probably the most formative era of the nation’s history. In the West, it is a time of grand adventure, but also one of greed, religious insanity, mass slaughter, virulent hatreds, widespread poverty and ignorance, ruthless military and civilian leadership, huge disparities of wealth. Only Huck’s sympathetic and gently comical voice can make it somehow bearable.
Napoleon’s Last Island by Thomas Keneally: The bestselling author of Schindler’s List and The Daughters of Mars returns with a remarkable novel about the friendship between a quick-witted young woman and one of history’s most intriguing figures, Napoleon Bonaparte, during the final years of his life in exile on St. Helena. In October 1815, after losing the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte was banished to the island of Saint Helena. There, in one of the most remote places on earth, he lived out the final six years of his life. On this lonely island with no chance of escape, he found an unexpected ally: a spirited British girl named Betsy Balcombe who lived on the island with her family. While Napoleon waited for his own accommodations to be built, the Balcombe family played host to the infamous exile, a decision that would have devastating consequences for them all. In Napoleon’s Last Island, “master of character development and period detail” (Kirkus Reviews) Thomas Keneally recreates Betsy’s powerful and complex friendship with the man dubbed The Great Ogre, her enmities and alliances with his remaining courtiers, and her dramatic coming-of-age. Bringing a shadowy period of history to life with a brilliant attention to detail, Keneally tells the untold story of one of Europe’s most enigmatic, charismatic, and important figures, and the ordinary British family who dared to forge a connection with him.
Into the Sun by Deni Ellis Béchard: When a car explodes in a crowded part of Kabul ten years after 9/11, a Japanese-American journalist is shocked to discover that the passengers were acquaintances—three fellow ex-pats who had formed an unlikely love triangle. Alexandra was a human rights lawyer for imprisoned Afghan women. Justin was a born-again Christian who taught at a local school. Clay was an ex-soldier who worked as a private contractor. The car’s driver, Idris, was one of Justin’s most promising pupils—and he is missing. Drawn to the secrets of these strangers, and increasingly convinced the events that led to the fatal explosion weren’t random, the journalist follows a trail that leads from Kabul to Louisiana, Maine, Québec, and Dubai. In the process, the tortured narratives of these individuals become inseparable from the larger story of America’s imperial misadventures. In this monumental novel, Deni Ellis Béchard draws an unsentimental portrait of those who flock to warzones, indelibly capturing these journalists, mercenaries, idealists, and aid workers. More importantly, Béchard vividly brings to life the city of Kabul itself, along with the people who live there: the hungry, determined, and resourceful locals who are just as willing as their occupiers to reinvent themselves to survive.
The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro: When Alizée Benoit, an American painter working for the Works Progress Administration, vanishes in New York City in 1940, no one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her artistic patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who while working at Christie’s auction house uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind works by those now-famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt? “B. A. Shapiro captivated us in 2012 with her addictive novel The Art Forger. Now, she’s back with another thrilling tale from the art world.” (Entertainment Weekly)
The Wind Twirls Everything by Francine Witte: Francine Witte’s book of flash fiction/prose poems gives us two wonderful things. The first is her nimble and effortless use of story, form, and technique. This collection of 25 short form vignettes shows us how quickly a skilled writer can create place, character, conflict, and move a story to a stratifying conclusion. Witte who is also a poet and a playwright applies these two forms into interesting, fast moving short stories. Her technique is effortless and invisible, but central to making these stories move forward. The second gift of “The Wind Twirls Everything” is her reflection on love, clueless good hearted men, place, and family. The men who populate her stories “try” to do the right thing, they are not without heart and soul, but still they do manage to stumble. Into this mix are the women who love, long for, or try to stay away from them. This collision of interests and abilities gives the stories in this collection their strong core. She is quick and nimble as she riffs around a variety of topics: a chair, a love, a city, a time, a man, a woman....What a treat to see Witte bob and weave structure, pacing, and story with such alacrity. How wonderful to read stories that run no more than 350 words in length contain so much heart, humor, yearning and meaning. (from a review by Charles P. Ries)
The Midwife by Katja Kettu: Orphaned into an unforgiving foster home and raised as an outsider, Weird-Eye shoulders her unflattering nickname. She relies on her vivid imagination to sustain her work as a midwife bringing newborns into the world while World War II overruns her native Finland, desecrating life. She finds herself drawn to the handsome, otherworldly Johannes Angelhurst, a war photographer working for the SS. To be near him, Weird-Eye—whom Johannes lovingly calls Wild-Eye—volunteers to serve as a nurse at the prison camp where he has been assigned. From the brutality of the camps to the splendor of the aurora borealis above the Arctic Sea, The Midwife tells of a stormy romance, the desolate beauty of a protective fjord, and the deeply personal battles waged as World War II came to an end.
The Pavilion of Former Wives by Jonathan Baumbach: A man and woman carry out an unusual courtship through a series of letters that gradually strip away their facades. A husband and wife argue about an infidelity that may never have happened. A liaison that hinges on a lost car ends before it begins when dreams influence reality. And a man confronts the specters of his failed relationships in the mysterious Pavilion of Former Wives. In 14 thematically linked stories, Jonathan Baumbach explores the sour and bitter sweetness of relationships just beginning and already over, and the frailty that love makes of us. A staple in the literary scene for over 40 years, Jonathan Baumbach is the author of 14 books of fiction, including You, or The Invention of Memory, On The Way To My Father’s Funeral: New and Selected Stories, and B, a novel. He has published over ninety stories in Esquire, Open City, Boulevard, and elsewhere, and his fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize, and The Best of Tri-Quarterly.
The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin: What would you do if your four-year-old son claimed he had lived another life and that he wants to go back to it? That he wants his other mother? Single mom Janie is trying to figure out what is going on with her beloved son Noah. Noah has never been ordinary. He loves to make up stories, and he is constantly surprising her with random trivia someone his age has no right knowing. She always chalked it up to the fact that Noah was precocious―mature beyond his years. But Noah’s eccentricities are starting to become worrisome. One afternoon, Noah’s preschool teacher calls Janie: Noah has been talking about shooting guns and being held under water until he can’t breathe. Suddenly, Janie can’t pretend anymore. The school orders him to get a psychiatric evaluation. And life as she knows it stops for herself and her darling boy. For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has already stopped. Diagnosed with aphasia, his first thought as he approaches the end of his life is, I’m not finished yet. Once an academic star, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw everything away to pursue an obsession: the stories of children who remembered past lives. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he never stopped believing that there was something beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for a case that would finally prove it. And with Noah, he thinks he may have found it. Soon, Noah, Janie, and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for eight years. When that door opens, all of their questions will be answered. Gorgeously written and fearlessly provocative, Sharon Guskin’s debut explores the lengths we will go for our children. It examines what we regret in the end of our lives and hope for in the beginning, and everything in between.
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons: THE PAST...Caught behind the lines of Hitler’s Final Solution, Saul Laski is one of the multitudes destined to die in the notorious Chelmno extermination camp. Until he rises to meet his fate and finds himself face to face with an evil far older, and far greater, than the Nazis themselves. THE PRESENT...Compelled by the encounter to survive at all costs, so begins a journey that for Saul will span decades and cross continents, plunging into the darkest corners of 20th century history to reveal a secret society of beings who may often exist behind the world’s most horrible and violent events. Killing from a distance, and by darkly manipulative proxy, they are people with the psychic ability to use humans: read their minds, subjugate them to their wills, experience through their senses, feed off their emotions, force them to acts of unspeakable aggression. Each year, three of the most powerful of this hidden order meet to discuss their ongoing campaign of induced bloodshed and deliberate destruction. But this reunion, something will go terribly wrong. Saul’s quest is about to reach its elusive object, drawing hunter and hunted alike into a struggle that will plumb the depths of mankind’s attraction to violence, and determine the future of the world itself. “Carrion Comfort is one of the three greatest horror novels of the 20th century. Simple as that.” (Stephen King)
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester: The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary--and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell: From award-winning writer David Mitchell comes a sinewy, meditative novel of boyhood on the cusp of adulthood and the old on the cusp of the new. Black Swan Green tracks a single year in what is, for thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor, the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire in a dying Cold War England, 1982. But the thirteen chapters, each a short story in its own right, create an exquisitely observed world that is anything but sleepy. A world of Kissingeresque realpolitik enacted in boys’ games on a frozen lake; of “nightcreeping” through the summer backyards of strangers; of the tabloid-fueled thrills of the Falklands War and its human toll; of the cruel, luscious Dawn Madden and her power-hungry boyfriend, Ross Wilcox; of a certain Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, an elderly bohemian emigré who is both more and less than she appears; of Jason’s search to replace his dead grandfather’s irreplaceable smashed watch before the crime is discovered; of first cigarettes, first kisses, first Duran Duran LPs, and first deaths; of Margaret Thatcher’s recession; of Gypsies camping in the woods and the hysteria they inspire; and, even closer to home, of a slow-motion divorce in four seasons. Pointed, funny, profound, left-field, elegiac, and painted with the stuff of life, Black Swan Green is David Mitchell’s subtlest and most effective achievement to date.
If you’d like a chance at winning ALL THE BOOKS, simply email your name and mailing address to
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 8, at which time I’ll draw the winning names. I’ll announce the lucky readers on Dec. 9. 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).
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