Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 19th Wife giveaway: and the winner is...

The names of the entrants were in the hat (okay, the colander), and I had my middle child pull one out. So the winner of a lovely, brand-new paperback copy of The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, is:


Yay! Congratulations! Enjoy the read!

And now I'm off to the east coast to visit my father-in-law and to see the Tony Award winner for best musical this year, Billy Elliott, on Broadway. Yahoo!

I'll see you all in a week!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Balancing on the Edge of the World, by Elizabeth Baines--a review

Elizabeth Baines' collection of short stories, Balancing on the Edge of the World, is a slim volume, but what it lacks in heft it makes up for in emotional power. The stories themselves are often quite short--some might even be considered micro-fiction--but there is nothing small about what they have to say.

Here are some of the stories in a nutshell:

A group of young people, drunk, go out for a pizza, and realize they are not much better off than the beggar they meet outside the pizza shop.

A struggling writer realizes she is being conned by a flashy film producer, and a power struggle ensues between them.

A privileged teenaged boy grows up perhaps more quickly than expected when he is held up at knifepoint.

A child experiments with her "powers" as she watches her father leave their family.

One of the most touching stories, called "Compass and Torch", is about a boy who lives with his mother and stepfather who goes camping with his dad. The boy's vulnerability and the father's inability to relate to the boy are so true, and so heart-breaking.

"Going Back" shows the mix of exhaustion and hysteria that characterizes new motherhood.

"Into the Night" is about a man and a woman who meet at a reception, and have sex--and afterward, the woman debates leaving before he wakes, leaving the experience unadulterated; a perfect thing.

I also particularly enjoyed "The Way to Behave". In the ironic opening sentence, the narrator says, "Sisterhood, it's just a wonderful thing," and then goes on to tell the story of meeting her husband's mistress and taking revenge. I found this by turns biting, funny, mean and satisfying.

I agree with the copy on the back of the book that says that the stories are about power and powerlessness. The power Baines writes about is the power in regular, everyday relationships. She writes about the power struggles that occur during domestic disturbances. The stories are about the power struggles that happen in love relationships, relationships between parents and children, especially when these relationships are broken.

Some of the most powerful of the stories are the ones told from a child's eye view. And all of these stories pushed many of my emotional buttons, especially the stories about children who feel abandoned by parents who are separated or just emotionally distant.

Overall, I really enjoyed this writer's voice. Every story is meticulously crafted, and I loved how the stories are told with such a compact grace. Baines takes life's mundane moments and invests them with meaning, power, and a sort of magic. I also loved how the stories all made me feel something. I am not someone who cries while reading, but I definitely wiped away a few tears while reading some of these stories. There is an emotional honesty to them that is really raw and intense, and I found them very affecting.

I was really impressed with Baines, and how she gets to the heart of the matter. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff--TLC Book Tour, review and GIVEAWAY!

Today I'm hosting David Ebershoff on a TLC Book Tour stop for his wonderful novel The 19th Wife. Besides this virtual book tour, David has also been on an IRL book tour, at some of the great independent book stores around the west. He will be at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on June 22, and several book bloggers I know are planning to attend, so--meet ya there!

Also, the lovely and talented Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? met David at the book signing he did at her local independent bookstore--check out her post about it here.

My Review:

The 19th Wife
by David Ebershoff
Random House, 2008
Fiction (historical), 514 pages

In his novel The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two seemingly disparate stories together to form a satisfying and cohesive whole. He tells the story of Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young, whose own past illustrates the history of the LDS church's founding, and whose married life becomes the stuff of legend when she divorces Brigham to protest--and escape--a life under polygamy.

Ebershoff also tells the story of a modern son of polygamy, Jordan Scott, a "lost boy", kicked out of the FLDS, or Firsts' polygamous cult when he was a teenager. Evidently the "lost boys" are a perceived a threat to the cult's old men, who want to keep all the young women to themselves, so they eject them from the cult, and these boys have to figure out how to live in the modern world completely alone. Jordan has survived being a lost boy, though it has been a rocky road, and now he has created a life for himself and has found a sort of peace.

However, that peace is soon shattered when Jordan's mother is accused of murdering his father. Jordan's mother, who, like Ann Eliza Young, has the dubious title of wife number nineteen, is the prime suspect when her husband is found dead of a gunshot wound, but she vehemently denies her guilt. And so Jordan gets pulled back into the world of the FLDS, as he investigates his father's death, and tries to exonerate his mother.

So Jordan's story is in some ways a murder mystery, but it is also a journey of self-discovery. And Ann Eliza's story is in some ways a history of the LDS church, but it, too, is a journey of self-discovery. Thus these stories complement each other so well. You understand Jordan's story so much better knowing Ann Eliza's story as background, and Jordan's story, which serves as an example of the legacy of the early polygamists, really completes Ann Eliza's tale.

Ebershoff effortlessly blends fact and fiction in the book, and uses many wonderful devices, including letters and even a Wikipedia entry, to tell his tale. This artful blend of past and present, fact and fiction, is what really drew me into the story. I found Ebershoff's juxtaposition of the historical and the present fascinating, and his command of the history very impressive. Ann Eliza Young's story was enhanced not only by Jordan's modern story, but also by the story of Kelly Dee, the young Mormon scholar who is studying Ann Eliza, her ancestor, in the present. And some of my favorite parts of the story were the letters from Ann Eliza's son Lorenzo--his point of view was a really interesting addition.

I found both main characters, Jordan Scott and Ann Eliza Young, to be spunky, charismatic and ultimately very compelling. Their stories add up to a unique and very readable historical novel.

When my book group read Jon Krakauer's non-fiction book about modern polygamy, Under The Banner of Heaven, I wish we had known about The 19th Wife, and read it, too. It would have made for a wonderful addition to our discussion--a thought-provoking fictional complement.

This novel was the rare combination of entertaining and enlightening, and I found it to be a very satisfying read.

About the Author:

David Ebershoff is the author of two other novels, Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a collection of stories, The Rose City. He currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. He also is an editor-at-large for Random House.

Please check out the impressive website about The 19th Wife, which includes links to the full text of Ann Eliza Young's memoir, Wife Number 19, newspaper articles from the time about the divorce of Brigham and Ann Eliza Young, and other great resources.

Here is a link to the schedule of David Ebershoff's readings and signings of The 19th Wife. As I mentioned above, I'm hoping to attend the event at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on June 22--so I hope to see any of you locals there!

Also check out the TLC Book Tour for The 19th Wife:

Monday, May 18: Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
Wednesday, May 20th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Thursday, May 21st: Becky’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, May 26th: Book Nut
Tuesday, June 2nd: Biblioaddict
Thursday, June 4th: A Life in Books
Friday, June 5th: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Monday, June 8th: Live and Let Di
Tuesday, June 9th: Ramya’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, June 10th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Thursday, June 11th: A Novel Menagerie
Tuesday, June 16th: The Book Faery Reviews
Wednesday, June 17th: Shelf Life
Friday, June 19th: In the Shadow of Mt. TBR

And now for the fun part of the post--a giveaway!

If you would like to put your name in the hat to win a brand new paperback copy of The 19th Wife, please leave me a comment about why you're interested in the book! Please leave me your email address, too. And thanks for playing!

Entries will be accepted until Tuesday, 6/23 at 8pm (Pacific time). Good luck!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Salon: Cleaning and Reading

The Sunday Salon.com

We've been doing a big clear-out at our house. When did we acquire all these plastic kids' toys? Yikes! Getting rid of years of accumulated junk (and believe me, it is junk!) is so cathartic, I feel great!

The only thing I haven't given away to charity or sent to the dump are my extra books. I am paralyzed when it comes to giving away books. I guess I think I'll get around to reading it, or will possibly read it one more time, so I just can't give it away. But I am getting ruthless here, so I will be giving some books away soon. Which might mean some benefits for my blogging friends--methinks there's a giveaway brewing...

As far as reading goes, I'm still under the spell of Elizabeth Baines's short story collection Balancing on the Edge of the World, which I finished last night. These stories are very short, but hypnotic--I found they definitely transported me to another world. Sometimes that other world was the world of a child's mind--those stories were particularly good. I'll post a review some time soon.

I cannot believe the book luck I had last month, either! I was the recipient of a lovely stack of books, gratis. At last month's BEA "twitty party" (a pity party for those of us who couldn't attend BEA--waahh!), I won a book giveaway (thanks, Book Lady! You're the best!).

I also won a copy of Sally Gunning's book Bound from my blogging friend Booklogged at A Reader's Journal (yay, thanks, Booklogged!). I've been wanting to read this since I heard about it, as I really enjoyed Gunning's earlier book The Widow's War (my review here).

So my summer reading is set! (Okay, set except for all the books that I come upon as the summer progresses...) How's your summer reading shaping up?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Two Awards!

Having three kids at three different schools is really difficult this time of the year. Everything is theoretically winding down, but there are way too many open houses, performances, awards ceremonies, graduation ceremonies and parties to deal with. I feel more like a chauffeur than a parent at this point.

So that's why it was so nice to find out I had been given two blogging awards. At least someone out there appreciates me for more than my driving skills :)

Not long ago, Leah from The Octogon gave me the sweetest award: the Lemonade Stand Award, an award for bloggers who show “attitude and gratitude." Maybe it's also because when life gives me lemons, I make lemonade. Yum! Lemonade with vodka and fresh mint is particularly nice this time of year...

So thank you, Leah. I love my award.

And now, according to the rules, I need to pass it along to other bloggers. Really, all my blogging friends deserve an award. But I will choose some of my favorite bloggers with attitude:

J.S. Peyton at Biblioaddict

The smile had not even faded from receiving the Lemonade Award, when I found I'd won another award from another lovely blogger. J.S. Peyton, my Biblioaddict blogging friend, gave me this Literary Blogger Award:

The acceptance rules are:

1. Put the logo on your blog/post.
2. Nominate up to 9 blogs that make you feel comfy or warm inside.
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know by commenting on their blog.
5. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

Okay, I can do that. I nominate some fabulous bloggers who always make me feel comfy and warm:

Jeane at Dog Ear Diary

You know, any of you that I visit regularly deserves an award, so consider yourself awarded! You're all wonderful, and I am thankful to have made your blogging acquaintance.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Sticky

Here's this week's Booking Through Thursday question:

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

There's no way this will really be a quick one. I won't take too long to think about it, but coming up with fifteen will require some thinking, no matter what. And then I have to second guess myself, so that should take some time, also. But I'll try to stick with the asked-for 15 minutes.

Hmmm...here goes:

1. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember being completely enchanted by this book when I was around nine or ten years old. The main character, Mary, goes through an amazing transformation, from a selfish and sickly child to one who learns to love, becomes robust, and helps another child go through a similar transformation. And Burnett so beautifully describes life on the moors, and what the change of seasons brings to the animals and plants of an English garden. One of my first experiences being completely transported by a book.

2. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. I read this in college for a class on power relationships, and was enthralled by this allegory about the history of modern India, about two boys, born at the stroke of midnight on the eve of India's independence, one Muslim and one Hindu, who are switched and given to the wrong families. It was also my introduction to magical realism, and it was an amazing reading experience.

3. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Another story of a girl's transformation that I loved reading as a girl. Poor Jane--a smart, honest, blunt girl who is plain and has no money up against the rich, empty-headed, pretty, cruel, arrogant, abusive characters who try to ruin her life--a perfect character for me to root for.

4. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. When I read this for the first time, as a young teen, I read it as a simple love story, and loved it. I've read it many times since, and subsequently found the humor and subtlety of Austen's skewering of English society just as entertaining as the love story. But it's still a really satisfying love story, and still a favorite comfort read.

5. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I read this as a youngster. Dickens, the great manipulator, not only manipulated my emotions by sucking me into this crazy story, but taught me how people manipulated each other in love--and I remember being fascinated. How can Pip not see that Estella is not worth his love? How can Estella not realize she is being manipulated by Miss Havisham? How will it all turn out--can any of them find happiness? Great stuff!

6. Silas Marner, by George Eliot. Another book I read as a child, and found very satisfying. Even as a kid I could see the symbolism of the miser having his material gold replaced by the gold-haired child who changes his life for the better.

7. The World According to Garp, by John Irving. The first modern "grown-up" novel I remember reading. I was taken with Irving's style, and it made me seek out more contemporary fiction.

8. Vineland, by Thomas Pynchon. Vineland is the only Pynchon I've ever read, and people say it's not nearly his best. But Pynchon's wild use of language was eye-opening to me, and his twisted view of California was devastating. The book made a big impression on me when it came out.

9. The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles. One of my first forays into postmodern literature, I loved how Fowles twists up the Victorian novel, and himself steps into the book to suggest alternate endings. Something I've been meaning to re-read for years.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. One of the first serious novels I ever read, I found it warm and accessible, and yet about such chilling subjects--it was the first book about racism that I had ever read, and profoundly affecting. Also, one of the best novel-to-movie adaptations I've ever seen.

11. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Science fiction wedded to comedy, something I didn't know was possible before I read this.

12. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. My first Russian realist. Really loved Levin and Kitty, and loved to wallow with Anna and Vronsky. And who can resist such a first line, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

13. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. Another book I read in college, for a history course. Stegner made the history of the western United States come alive in this novel, and the characters were fascinating. This portrait of a marriage, and a woman's compromises in marriage, is still one of the saddest I can recall reading.

14. A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster. One of the first novels I ever read really closely, for an AP English class--and somehow that didn't ruin it for me. I learned to love the symbols in the novel, and fell in love with Forster's prose.

15. The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank. I read this as a child and it not only stuck with me, but haunted me then, and haunts me still.