Joe’s America – Guest Post by Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat

So hey, you know what I really want to read? The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, out today from Viking Books. The Boys in the Boat is the story of the University of Washington’s crew team and their quest for Olympic gold at the 1936 games in Berlin. Brown focuses in particular on one of the rowers, Joe, who has very little else in his life besides the crew team. Brown is here today to talk about the America Joe grew up in, and the similarities to the America we live in today.


Seventy-eight years ago this summer, a tall, muscular young man with a blond crew-cut carefully strapped on a harness, took a deep breath, and lowered himself over the edge of a cliff in Washington State, clutching a sixty-pound jackhammer. All around Joe Rantz, dozens of other, shirtless, sun-bronzed young men were already at work, dangling from ropes over the abyss below, pounding away with their jackhammers at the solid rock face of what would eventually form the west anchor of the Grand Coulee Dam. The work was brutal, the noise deafening, the blistering sun relentless. Every move Joe made was potentially lethal. Rocks dislodged by his jackhammer bounced and ricocheted off the face of the cliff below him. Rocks dislodged by the men working higher on the cliff face rattled by on both sides of him. It was a full-time challenge just to avoid becoming the latest corpse laid out in the new mortuary at nearby Mason City. But Joe, like all the young men working at Grand Coulee in the summer of 1935, was profoundly grateful for the work, and for the 80 cents an hour that it paid. If he kept at it all summer, he might just have enough money to make it through another year at the University of Washington and keep rowing for the school’s varsity crew.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the work Joe Rantz did that summer. In fact, I have been pondering many aspects of Joe’s life for nearly six years now. It has taken me that long to research and write the story of how he and eight other extraordinary young men from the Pacific Northwest came together to form arguably the greatest collegiate rowing crew of all time. To understand their story, I’ve had to get to know all nine of boys pretty well, mostly through their letters, their diaries, and interviews with their children. In the process, I’ve had to live mentally in 1930s America—Joe’s America—for a long while now, only occasionally coming up for air and taking a peek around at America in the early twenty-first century. But now, with my book about their epic accomplishments—The Boys in the Boat—finished, I’ve finally remerged fully into the year 2013. And boy oh boy does it look familiar. Sometimes it feels as if I’ve never left Joe’s America. Continue reading Joe’s America – Guest Post by Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat

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The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio – Giveaway

You know who is my writing superhero? Sarah Jio. A little over two years ago she gave birth to her third son and since then she has published FOUR BOOKS. I have read all of her first three, and they were all just lovely and awesome. Her newest book, The Last Camellia, is out now and promises to be just as wonderful as the rest. Here’s the synopsis:

On the eve of the Second World War, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes.

More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couple’s shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener’s notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will Addison share her fate?

I have three copies of The Last Camellia, courtesy of Penguin, to give away to lucky readers with US mailing addresses. Just fill out the form below by 11:59pm Central on Thursday, June 6th.

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The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett – Giveaway

You guys, there are TOO MANY BOOKS that I’m dying to read. Here’s another one today: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett. Books about books (especially if there’s a little bit of fantasy/supernatural-ness included) are my genre kryptonite and this one sounds like it will just kill me. Here’s the synopsis:

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays

If this sort of thing is your kryptonite as well, I have one copy to give away, courtesy of Viking Books, to someone with a US mailing address. To enter, fill out the form below by 11:59 pm Central on Sunday, June 2nd.

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Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman – Giveaway

Way back in 2010, I was having a terrible day, and then I read Beth Hoffman’s debut book, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. It was so sweet and lovely that it absolutely turned my day right around. Now Hoffman has a second book, Looking for Me, coming out Tuesday May 28th and she has generously supplied me with a copy to give away to one of you readers with a US mailing address. Check out the description below:

From the publisher:

Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop. Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky. It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last. But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.

To enter, please fill out the form below by 11:59 pm on Friday, May 31st.

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The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester – Giveaway

I had a lot of fun reading James Forrester’s first novel, Sacred Treason. Forrester is the pen name of Dr. Ian Mortimer, a historian whose nonfiction The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England I also very much enjoyed. Well, Mortimer-as-Forrester is back with a second book in the Sacred Treason series: The Roots of Betrayal. Here’s the publisher’s description of The Roots of Betrayal:

Catholic herald William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is the custodian of a highly dangerous document. When it is stolen, Clarenceux enters a nightmare of suspicion, deception, and conspiracy. As England teeters on the brink of a bloody conflict, Clarenceux knows the fate of his country and countless lives will be determined by his actions. The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking, and Clarenceux’s journey towards the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also of himself.

I have one copy of The Roots of Betrayal to give away to a reader with a US or Canadian mailing address. Simply sign up on the form below by 11:59 pm on Thursday, May 9th.

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