** GIVEAWAY CLOSED **
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!
Happy 4th of July week to all of our Thoughts on This ‘n That blog followers!
We have some books to tell you about & to giveaway!
(Book synopses courtesy of publishers)
In THE ELIZAS (Atria), New York Times bestselling author, Sara Shepard makes her mark on adult fiction with this Hitchcockian double narrative composed of lies, false memories, and a protagonist who must uncover the truth for survival.
When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.
Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?
The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.
For as long as she can remember, Sara Shepard has been writing. However, when she was young she also wanted to be a soap opera star, a designer for LEGO, a filmmaker, a claymation artist, a geneticist, and a fashion magazine editor when she grew up. She and her sister have been creating joint artistic and written projects for years, except they’re pretty sure they’re the only ones who find them funny.
She got her MFA at Brooklyn College and now lives outside Philadelphia, PA with her husband and dogs. Her first adult novel is called The Visibles/ All The Things We Didn’t Say.
Sara’s bestselling young adult series, Pretty Little Liars, is loosely based on her experiences growing up on Philadelphia’s Main Line…although luckily she never had any serious stalkers. The series has also inspired the ABC Family television series of the same name.
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS (Touchstone) is the story of Nour, a Syrian American girl reeling from the recent loss of her beloved Baba (father) to cancer. After returning to Syria before the war breaks out, Nour and her family then must flee across the Middle East and North Africa in a desperate and dangerous search for safety. Her journey intertwines with the story of Rawiya and the legendary mapmaker al-Idrisi who made the same journey nine hundred years before in their quest to map the world. This rich, moving, compelling, and lyrical debut novel is the first to bring the headlines about the Syrian crisis to life, placing our current moment in the sweep of history.
A Conversation with Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
How do you think The Map of Salt and Stars can help readers to understand the Syrian refugee crisis? I hope that this novel will serve as a starting point for readers to seek out accounts of the Syrian refugee crisis written by Syrians. It’s important to me that readers understand that this novel was written by an author with a mostly Western perspective, an author born in the United States and not in Syria, an author who has not lived through the war in Syria or been a refugee. While I have more nuanced insight into the situation as a Syrian American than someone without a link to Syria, my insight is still incomplete; and because it is impossible for a writer to ever entirely discard their lens of nationality, race, gender, and other factors, it is impossible for my American upbringing not to leave traces on this novel. That said, I wrote this book primarily for people like me: people living in the Syrian diaspora, unable to return to their ancestral homeland, who are in deep pain and grieving the beloved people, places, and heritage that have been lost and that continue to be lost every day. What can we take with us? What can be salvaged? Where can we call home? These are the questions I primarily concerned myself with in writing this book. I do hope, however, that non-Syrian readers will also, by reading the fictional story of a single family, have increased empathy for refugees and feel more personally connected to and invested in the situation in Syria after reading this novel, and that this emotional, empathic connection will help spur readers to combat the antirefugee, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic rhetoric that is deeply wounding the communities of which I am a part.
What does the title The Map of Salt and Stars mean to you? Salt symbolizes several related themes in the book, including grief and healing from it, not only in terms of the sea’s salt but also the way that salt occurs as an imperfection in precious stones. For me, this symbolizes life’s traumas that, on the one hand, can be “polished” from us (healed) by the love of family, community, belonging—but also, on the other hand, the losses and pains of life that we have no choice but to endure. In its own way, grief and healing make us the precious stones that we are. We can’t always see this, just as we can’t always see the value of a raw gemstone when it comes out of the earth. This does not mean that suffering is inherently good or even necessary, but because we cannot avoid suffering and trauma, it’s important to remember that our traumas do not make us unlovable. They do not make us irreparably damaged. They do not make us worthless. There is life after trauma, and it can absolutely be filled with love and wonder. This lesson, dear reader, is for you.
What’s next for you? Without saying too much, I’m working on a second standalone novel that discusses Syrian immigration to the United States over the last century, Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment in post-9/11 America, and the particular mythology of New York City. Served up, of course, with a healthy dose of magical realism.
Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American writer, a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) and of Mensa.
Originally from New York City, Joukhadar was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. She earned a PhD in the Pathobiology Graduate Program at Brown University and worked as a biomedical research scientist before switching careers to pursue writing full time.
Joukhadar’s work has appeared in Salon, The Paris Review Daily, The Kenyon Review, The Saturday Evening Post, PANK Magazine, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. She is a 2017-2020 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Program Literary Arts Fellow in fiction and is an alum of both the Tin House Summer Workshop and the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA).
From National Book Award nominee, Rachel Kushner comes THE MARS ROOM (Scribner). It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.
Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner’s work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker, her fiction “succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.”
Personally, it creeped me out. I felt like I was in prison and there was no way out. Life in prison is not “orange is the new black.”
Kushner is also the author of The Flamethrowers, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times Top Five Novel of 2013. Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. A collection of her early work, The Strange Case of Rachel K, was published by New Directions in 2015. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and the Paris Review. She is the recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2016 Harold D. Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
David Bell, author of more than half a dozen novels, makes his hardcover debut with SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER (Berkley). When Michael Frazier’s ex-wife, Erica, unexpectedly shows up on his doorstep, she drops a bombshell that threatens to rip his family apart: Her ten-year-old daughter is missing–and Michael is the father. Unsure whether this is the truth but unwilling to leave the girl’s fate to chance, Michael has no choice but to follow the elusive trail of the child he has always wanted but never knew he had.
David Bell is the USA Today-bestselling author of eight novels from Berkley/Penguin, including SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER, BRING HER HOME, SINCE SHE WENT AWAY, SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, THE FORGOTTEN GIRL, NEVER COME BACK, THE HIDING PLACE, and CEMETERY GIRL. His work has been translated into numerous foreign languages, and in 2013, he won the prestigious Prix Polar International de Cognac for best crime novel by an international author. He is an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University where he directs the MFA program in creative writing. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, he spends his free time rooting for the Reds and Bengals, watching movies, and walking in the cemetery near his house. He lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with his wife, writer Molly McCaffrey.
We have copies of all four novels. Just tell us what the 4th of July means to you. We’ll announce winners soon. Good luck!
GIVEWAYS USA only please