08 August 2011

It's My Party: Birthday Week Giveaway Day 1

"Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story." ~ John Barth

My birthday is this week (August 11th) and I decided that I wanted to share some gifts with you, dear readers. So this is the first giveaway of the week with more to come.

You may not know this, but I have a degree in English and Secondary Education. That means that at one time I held a teaching license in the state of Wisconsin. And my first job out of college was as a 7th grade English teacher.

I loved to read as a child. I would find such solace in books. I credit my learning to read while I was quite young around age 4-5 with my mother working in a public library and the fact that I hated peas. 

You see, my mother had to work on some Saturdays and she would bring me along. They had a great children's department at the Hennepin County Public Library. I even met Tomie De Paola there when I was a kid and he came to share his books with us. But I would grow bored with the kiddie books and wander off. They would find me in the stacks surrounded by a pile of books. I couldn't necessarily read them, but I was fascinated. To this day I cannot go into a library without the urge to sit myself in a stack someplace and just look at book after book.

Fast forward a year or two and I can recall sitting at the dining room table staring at a plate of peas. I was not allowed to leave the table until I finished them. I recall sitting there pouting, listening to the strains of the latest Disney cartoon wafting up from the television set on a Sunday night (anyone else remember those great Disney shows on Sunday night?). But I was stubborn and refused to eat them (and I still hate peas). The bookcase was next to the table, so I started picking out books and trying to read them.
I particularly loved stories that I could feel lost in, that I would want to live myself. I love to read books about different times and places. My favorite authors as a young adult were Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L'Engle. And of course I loved to write.

I love to give the gift of books and pass along books that I have found particularly interesting.

But for a former English teacher and a current writer, I really don't get to read as much as I would like. Still, I have read some books in the recent past and thought that I would pass them along to some random winner.
Following are the titles that I have availble to pass along, each with a little teaser about them. (Note: All teaser texts are exerpts from Amazon.com; my thoughts are in italics).

Good Enough to Eat - Stacey Ballis 
Melanie Hoffman and her husband Andrew have been happily married for almost 10 years but when Melanie slims down to a trim size 6 after once tipping the scale at 290 pounds, her hubby leaves her for another chubby lady. Now divorced, the 39 year-old finds solace in her successful Chicago restaurant serving healthy gourmet fare. She has a small support group there consisting of her energetic, gay sous chef, Kai, a ballsy part-time cook, Delia, and her new roomie, a 24-year-old whimsical vagabond named Nadia. As Melanie slowly sweeps up the crumbs of fallen love, she finds Nathan and the handsome documentary filmmaker helps her overcome her body image issues. Ballis's (The Spinster Sisters) use of the enjoyment of cooking and eating as a continuous theme with featured recipes in the back is a nice addition, but the heart of her book lies within the jagged mind of Melanie and her daily struggle that most women, fat or thin, endure. Women will savor the brutal honesty of how Melanie sees her body, her battles with food, her failed marriage, and her fear of new love.

I really liked this character. I can relate to her issues with self-confidence issues and the image of what constitutes beauty. I found myself rooting for Melanie at every turn. It was one of those books that I could immediately see turned into a long-running TV show. The characters were fun and unexpected. And I loved all the recipes that were paired with the chapters that were included in the end of the book. I would like to read more of Ballis' books.

Such a Pretty Fat - Jen Lancaster
"To whom the fat rolls…I'm tired of books where a self-loathing heroine is teased to the point where she starves herself skinny in hopes of a fabulous new life. And I hate the message that women can't possibly be happy until we all fit into our skinny jeans. I don't find these stories uplifting; they make me want to hug these women and take them out for fizzy champagne drinks and cheesecake and explain to them that until they figure out their insides, their outsides don't matter. Unfortunately, being overweight isn't simply a societal issue that can be fixed with a dose healthy of positive self-esteem. It’s a health matter, and here on the eve of my fortieth year, I've learned I have to make changes so I don't, you know, die. Because what good if finally being able to afford a pedicure if I lose a foot to adult onset diabetes?" ~in Jen Lancaster's own words

I love everything the Jen Lancaster writes. Her words are dripping with sarcasm and self-deprecation. I especially love her use of footnotes. This book did not disappoint and was gut achingly funny at times. As someone who has struggled with weight her whole life, I appreciated the lengths that she was going to and I think I have had some of the same experiences.

Shanghai Girls - Lisa Yee
May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides. But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know. A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.

I loved See's book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Whereas that book took me back many generations to a Chinese culture of closeted women with bound feet and their struggle for survival, this was more to the middle of the last century with different struggles for survival. I really didn't know a lot of the history of that time in China and the way that Chinese Americans were treated. There is a lot of historical accuracy in See's novels that I appreciate. She does her homework and makes me feel what it was like from the perspective of a character who lived it.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
The novel is told from the point of view of three narrators: Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children, and who has recently lost her only son; Minny Jackson, an African-American maid whose back-talk towards her employers results in her having to frequently change jobs, exacerbating her desperate need for work as well as her family's struggle with money; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a young white woman and recent college graduate who, after moving back home, discovers that a maid that helped raise her since childhood has abruptly disappeared and her attempts to find her have come to nought. The stories of the three women intertwine to explain how life in Jackson, Mississippi revolves around "the help", with complex relations of power, money, emotion, and intimacy tying together the white and black families of Jackson.

I am delighted that this book has been made into a movie! I can't wait to see it. (Maybe it will be my birthday treat to me?) The characters grabbed me from the first pages. I love that this is told from the perspective of three different characters. The people in this book came alive y'all! I am even starting to think in a Southern accent. I was sent my copy of this book from my book loving friend Jenners of Life with Books, and I am willing to send it on to someone new. Jenners is a hilarious blogger. I encourage you to check her out! (Note: my copy of the book has an alternate cover).

Life After Yes - Aiden Donelly Rowley
What could have been a ho-hum story of a golden girl's engagement to an equally golden boy is tempered and hardened by the specter of 9/11. Quinn is the beautiful, smart, successful young lawyer; daughter of smart, successful, wealthy parents; living a fiction-perfect life as a junior partner in a major law firm; and engaged to Sage, an equally blessed investment banker. All is according to plan until a September morning when her father meets his broker for breakfast at the top of the World Trade Center. Life shatters, but of course life goes on. In her grief, Quinn questions and tests the love and loyalty of everyone, and acts out in ways that others are willing to tolerate, for a while. Finally, she becomes aware of the grief and burdens that others bear, and finds and accepts the flaws in herself and others that her previous self would not have. First-novelist Rowley creates credible characters and situations with sharp dialogue and apt descriptions, and wisely lets a personal perspective embody the story of a national disaster.

Aiden is another blogger that I discovere. She writes at Ivy League Insecurities. She has such a way of writing that I love. She always asks questions in her posts that elicit great answers. She was the inspiration behind my post questions. This is her debut novel and is a pretty good one. It is a world that I really am not familiar with, yet there are a few parts back in my neck of the woods, so that felt familiar. There were times when I felt that the main character was a bit overly angst about her impending marriage, but still I was rooting for her to make sense of her life. In the end, I found that I really liked this character, as flawed as she was, and thought this was an interesting perspective about the most recent past with the backdrop of 9/11.

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
In Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, 14-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic.

I really got sucked into this story. The main character is really brave to go on the run with her black nanny in the hopes of finding out more about her dead mother. The characters are rich, and warm, and feel familiar even though they come from a world away from my own life. As always, the book is better than the movie, in my opinion, but the movie is a good retelling of the story.

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen
Two gifted sisters draw on their talents to belatedly forge a bond and find their ways in life in Allen's easygoing debut novel. Thirty-four-year-old Claire Waverley manifests her talent in cooking; using edible flowers, Claire creates dishes that affect the eater in curious ways. But not all Waverley women embrace their gifts; some, including Claire's mother, escape the family's eccentric reputation by running away. She abandoned Claire and her sister when they were young. Consequently, Claire has remained close to home, unwilling to open up to new people or experiences. Claire's younger sister, Sydney, however, followed in their mother's footsteps 10 years ago and left for New York, and after a string of abusive, roustabout boyfriends, returns to Bascom, N.C., with her five-year-old daughter, Bay. As Sydney reacquaints herself with old friends and rivals, she discovers her own Waverley magic. Claire, in turn, begins to open up to her sister and in the process learns how to welcome other possibilities. Though Allen's prose can lean toward the pedestrian and the romance subplots feel perfunctory, the blending of horticultural folklore, the supernatural and a big dollop of Southern flavor should find favor with a wide swath of readers.

I really liked the story of these sisters. The fact that they had some mystery surrounding them was very intriguing. This is one of those novels that I could see turned into a movie as I was reading it. It had me thinking of what life would be like if I had these 'powers' that the sisters share.

Ready to win? All you need to do to enter is answer the following question and indicate which two books that you would like to win. Winner will be chosen at random from all comments on this post through Saturday, August 13th and the two books that you indicate are what you will be sent. You MUST have your email turned on in your profile to win, or provide your email in your comment. Winner will be announced next week.

What is the best book that you have read in the past year? or
What is the best book that you recall reading as a child?


Unknown said...

That is so funny because the last two books have been on my list forever! I just never seem to pick them up as I am one who will read until the end. I hope your week is full of fun and festivities and although it is a crazy time here you know I have you in my thoughts!! Happiest of Birthdays my sweet friend!!!!!

moonlitfantaseas said...

Happy Birthday Week!, its mine too, one day after yours, only I am 16 years older.....and like you I have always had a serious love of books, they took me to places I would never go on my own, and let me experience things I never would have....books are so much better than movies, our minds can create the visuals better than any movie director ever could, some times it almost breaks my heart to finish a book, because I don't want to lose the character in the story...... Hope your birthday week is full of wonderful things!

Mary K. McGraw said...

I have read a lot of good books this past year, but I just finished Alice Hoffman's "The River King" and she is my new favorite author. Her use of the English language is amazing and lyrical and she is a true storyteller.

The best books I read as a child were Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" and Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights." They were the first "grown-up" books I read and they left an impression that has stayed with me all these years. I have read both many times since and seen every movie made based on them. I cannot think of any other book from my childhood that rivals that impression.

I have read "The Help" and "Secret Life of Bees" but love winning any of the others.

Lisa said...

I thought I had read somewhere in you blog that you were an English teacher and was going to comment on it, but could never find it again. It's just the beauty in the way you have with words that I love reading your posts. I have tried to instill the love of reading and writing in my children all these years. It can just open a multitude of doors when you can express yourself well! Now, if I were to win, I would love to have "The Help" and "The Secret Life of Bees". To answer your question, the first book that came to mind that I read as a child was for a book report in the 4th grade, "Who Gets the Drumstick" by Helen Beardsley. The librarian suggested it and it was so good. Guess that's why now, all these many years later, I still remember it first because it was such a fun book!

I hope you have a wonderful birthday! You are so sweet to pay-it-forward during your birthday month! My daughter's 'Sweet 16th' is on the 19th, so August is a special month at our house, too!

Rebecca said...

I can just imagine you as a teacher Erin, I think you'd be great! Teachers need to be heart and should folk and you are + + + I've read the secret life of bees (loved) and should I be lucky enough to be a winner, I'd have to go for the top two books, but really, they all look intriguing. As a girl who struggles with her weight, they do appeal to me though :-) as for my favourite childhood books....they're still some of my favourites now. I was addicted to Agatha Christie mysteries, the Narnia series and also Sara Paretsky books. My Mum listened to a dramatization of Indemnity Only when she was pregnant with my wee sister and I was 9 1/2. I listened too and we have both been hooked ever since :-)

Gardanne said...

You seem to have a lot of company this week. My birthday is on the 14th, so happy birthday to us.

rosebud101 said...

Best Book read this year: Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle, S. J.
Best book I read as a child: Little Women

Sally Anderson said...

First, happy birthday, Erin (in a few days). Second I love that you're having a book giveaway. I'm an avid reader (usually about a book a week) and have been so since childhood, too. I only wish I could read faster because there are so many books I'd like to read. I've read several of the ones you listed but have wanted to try Lisa See so Shanghai Girls and Garden Spells are my two picks. Thanks so much. I love this!!

Noemi said...

I have always been a vivid reader myself too.
My granny used to read a lot. The image that always comes to mind when thinking of her was her sewing room, but it was so funny that she would be reading on he green sofa, and she would have piles of books all over the floor but not sewing to be seen.
I remember reading The Miserables by Victor Hugo by age 12. I was so fascinated that I read through both books (there wee two volumes) non stop during few days, and even reading at night with a torch. Loved it!
One thing I miss about living in London (UK) is their charity shops, as I would buy and read many books and in the original languge they were written, English. I have lost so much by stopping reading in English.
As for the books I would love to choose if I get to win are "The help" and "Shanghai girls", although they all look great.
By the way, is this giveaway open internationally?
Have a fantastic time celebrating with your loved ones such a great event. Happy birthday.

Alice said...

If I won, my two choices would be the last two books.

I loved to read as a kid, and was fascinated with the Little House on the Prairie books. In fact I still have the very first one from my childhood (well actually my oldest daughter snatched it to read to her 5th grade class).

What a great idea for a giveaway!

Jenners said...

Isn't Jen Lancaster hilarious! I'm listening to her My Fair Lazy right now.

I actually have read or already have most of these books so I'll take a pass on entering … even though this is so up my alley. Glad you enjoyed The Help. I'm so excited for the movie.

Most importantly, HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY!

Regina said...

Love to read, but find little time these days. Life and beads get in the way. Not read any on your list... Find myself reading a lot of non-fiction these days, two books that come to mind that I read this past year are non-fiction 'Son of Hamas' and fiction 'Saving Miss Honeycutt' Thanks for the great giveaway.
Happy Birthweek! Enjoy!

MoonRae said...

Happy BirthWeek sweetie!! Great selection of books,they all sound wonderful!! I haven't read any of these so I'd be thrilled with whatever you choose

Beverley Baird said...

I too love to read. What a great giveaway!
The best read this year so far was "Bury Your Dead" by Louise Penny"
My favourite book as a child was "Anne of Green Gables"
I'd love to read "Shanghai Girls" and Garden Spells"

Doreen said...

Happy birthday to you!! I read (again) a book that I adore, The Woman in White. I love that book! After reading a little about each book, I would like to read Shanghai Girls and Garden Spells. It looks like Beverley Baird (above) and I have similar taste in books!

Christine Altmiller said...

Happy Happy Birthday Erin!!! What a wonderful giveaway!!!
The best book I read this year was "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebbecca Skloot. It was impossible to put down. It should become mandatory school reading.
The books I would like to read on this list are:
Good Enough to Eat & The Help. I read "Such a Pretty Fat" a few months ago and love Love LOVE Jen Lancaster's wit and sarcasm. I wanted to have a meal and a bottle of wine with her!


steufel said...

Ohh, I love to read and I have to go to a book store a few times a month! I'm really into crime novels and I love, love, love Jussi Adler Olsen. He is danish and I think his first novel will be out in English later this year. My childhood love were Paddington, the bear. And the books of Erich Kästner. I'm not sure wether they are available in english?

SummersStudio said...

Happy Birthday, Erin!

I don't know if I could narrow this down to two books as I've not read any but The Secret Life of Bees on your list. I love to read but this last year I've had so much on my plate that I've read only a handful of books. But I'm just finishing the books by Stieg Larson and I've loved them even though some of the material is a little on the disturbing side. There are far too many books that I loved as a child to narrow it down. I was one of those kids with the flash light under the blanket. I remember reading until the very wee hours of the morning then being so sleepy when it was time to get up for school. In fact, I am still a little like that, except the school part :-) All of my life books have been my best friends and my refuge.

Anonymous said...

Interesting selections. How to choose 2? Like you when I go to the library I tend to want to bring home as many books as I can carry.

whew, at least I already have a few of these titles, so... with The Help coming out as a movie I'd love to read that, and you peaked my interest with the "fat books," so I'll choose Good enough to Eat!

Happy Birthday!
(Mine is the 18th)

wismom works (at) gmail (dot) com

Michelle said...

Jen Lancaster books...love 'em. read them all. Just finished The Help...loved it too and have recommended it many times. Secret Life of Bees--re-read it for the 5th time...still love the story. I keep forgetting to get the Book By Stacey Ballis... Love your memories of reading. We would walk to the library twice a week and fill up the wagon when I was really little. I remember the summer I was 10 and we moved for the 4th time...I didn't have friends yet and found books again. I still have that book...It was the beginning of reading independantly and finding "friends" in all the stories I read.
Have a great B-day week!

Michelle said...

Forgot to recommend 2 books...Leaving Unknown by Kerry Reichs & The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand. Leaving Unknown--I read it again as soon as I finished last year. There are more I could recommend. I've been re-reading a lot of my older books, so I haven't gotten tons of new ones this last year.


swopemelmel said...

I think I would like the the books Garden Spells and Good Enough To Eat. I love all kinds of books but I do read a lot of scary books & my favorite author is Dean Koontz. I love his book The Watchers.
As a kid I remember reading LOTS & LOTS of Nancy Drew books. I will forever cherish The Wizard Of Oz , Anne Green Gables & also Winnie The Pooh. swopemelmel@aol.com

JeannieK said...

The most interesting book I ever read is "Beliefs that changed the world" By John Bowker, non-fiction.

I remember reading a book called "Growing Pains" when I was a child. I always remember it because it dealt with death of a little boy's pet, a collie. It made me cry.

I did love "Secret Lives of Bees." The movie was so-so. I thought the book had a bit more of a edge to it. A little more umff!

Syd said...

Like you I am an avid reader!! I read any chance I get. When I was a kid I was drawn to everything by Roald Dahl. I was given a book of Hans Christian Andersen and when I read it the world around me disappeared!

In the last year my there were tons of books that I have enjoyed, but my favorite was Stardust by Neil Gaimen.

I would love to read The Help and Shanghai Girls.

Happy Birthday

Unknown said...

I am also an avid reader. The love of reading was my escape of reality! One of the first books I remember reading was Nancy Drew. I even had all the Nancy Drew books that were out at the time. I have always had a bookshelf full of books in my room.

Unknown said...

I read Garden Spells last year and what a precious Book that is. I was just thrilled to read it..it was so sweet in so many ways! It made me wish I had a tree that threw apples as well hee hee~pure enchantment! It made you want to live in that house and bake the things that she did with the effects that they had on people. Truly a Treasure of a Book!

Unknown said...

PS The best book I read as a child was James and The Giant Peach! I got a hard cover from my Father when I young for Christmas..a fantastic read. Another treasure was Fun and Fancy a collectable book now and Ruth Chews childrens books!

scottsgal said...

I'd like to read the secret life of bees and the help.

I loved Fireworks over Toccoa - such a beautiful story

msboatgal at aol.com

CraftyHope said...

I've always loved reading too! Days at the library were a treasured things for me. While my mom and sister took Tae Kwon Do, I would slip downstairs to the library and gather up as many books as I could too. Picking one favorite is HARD. I've always been a fan of anything by Roald Dahl and I recently remembered how much I like "The Cricket in Times Square". In fact, I've convinced my oldest niece to read it.

Thanks so much for the book recommendations. I'm always on the lookout for a new book and I'll be saving this list when I finish up the extraordinary long book I'm currently involved in. THANKS!!

Erin S said...

The best book I read this year was probably Pillars of the Earth. Epic!

I'd love to win "the help" because I was just about to order that from amazon anyway, and second choice would be "secret life of bees" which seems, well, intriguing.

Thanks for all these awesome giveaways!

Kym Hunter Designs said...

I have always loved "To Kill a Mockingbird". I fell in love with it when I read it in school and I can't tell you how many times I have read it since. Surprisingly, it's one of the few things that I have been able to get all four of my children to read and they all liked it too.

Grubbi said...

Happy Birthday week!

The Help is an amazing book! Can't wait for the film release, I hope they do it justice.
I just bought a Kindle this week and so have been trying to fill it with my favourite books.
I just read a book called A Piece Of Cake by Cupcake Brown and it's a fabulous read, really inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

As a child the book that stands out in my memory as the best, was Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. It reminded me of nursery tales with a twist for those of us kids that had a darker sense of humor than most.

The best book I have read in the past year was Siddhartha by Hermann Hess. It's an easy reader and a good story about life changes.

The two books from your list that interest me are Such a Pretty Fat and Shanghai Girls.

Enjoy your birthday week!

I LOVE color! said...

Loved this post. Loved knowing more about one of my favorite bloggers and loved the recomendation of good books. I have read 'Secret Life Bees' I belly laughed on one page and cried like a baby on another.
Be Blessed to be a blessing

Lucid Moon Studio said...

Happy Birthday Week! I really want to read "The Help" (waiting to see the movie until I read the book!) and "Good Enough to Eat" looks really good. I love food, and I like that it includes recipes. Lately I have been reading a lot of non-fiction books, and the best one I've read is "Hot Connections Jewelry" on soldering jewelry. I will be doing a review on it on my blog in the near future, in fact. Thanks for the giveaways!!

Susanm said...

My fvourite book this year is a children's book, "Milo - brain freeze and sticky notes." I borrowed it from the library for my son. We both loved it - it is about an 11 or 12 yr old boy who is coping with his mother's death. It is sad but tempered with humour. It is really well-written in a tone that is respectful of kids while addressing difficult topics - death and grief.

I have read a number of the books on your list and enjoyed them - my choices would be Life after Yes and Shanghai Girls.

thanks for the opportunity to share favourite books.

Maxine Booth said...

This past year I read a wonderful book called Simple Pleasures of the Garden by Susannah Seton, filled with insights, tips and great garden produce recipes. My favorite book as a child was Black Beauty. I spent many happy hours with my nose in books. I would love to have Shanghai Sisters and also The Help.
Happy Birthday Week!



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