Tag Archives: Thomas Van Essen

We have two winners!

Thanks to all who checked out, or entered, Proto Libro’s first book giveaway. Due to the generosity of Other Press and author Thomas Van Essen, Proto Libro had two copies of The Center of the World – a debut novel which I feel has been underrated this year – to give away. Kirkus Review also listed the book as one of the “overlooked novels of 2013.”

So after the drawing…..


We have two winners…congrats to:


And thanks for all the book recs you provided when you entered the giveaway. Two of the books suggested were debuts. A debut novel: What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha; and a debut memoir: My Foreign Cities, by Elizabeth Scarboro.

More reviews to come next week…I’m writing next about Jennifer duBois‘s second novel, Cartwheel and then about James Whitfield Thomson’s debut novel, Lies You Wanted to Hear.


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Book Giveaway – Thomas Van Essen’s The Center of the World


Thanks to Other Press and author Thomas Van Essen for sharing with Proto Libro two copies of The Center of the World to give away to Proto Libro readers. This is a really great book, which I reviewed in June; I’m excited to be able to share it with you.

To enter the giveaway leave a comment to this post noting a book you think is really great that you would like others to read (book can be a debut or not). Leave a comment by noon ET on Sunday, November 10th.  Make sure you enter a working email when you do. I will be the only one who sees your email address and will need it to let you know if you have won. And there might be a delay before your comment appears on the site, as I need to approve comments before they become public.

On Sunday I will do a random drawing and announce the winners early next week.

Good luck!



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Stand out debuts from 2012 – 2013

As I reflect on the year of reading, I want to call attention to three debut novels that are now all available in paperback….

Best award-winning debut


I’m not one to seek out books about snow or Alaska, but I loved Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. Its magical realism and poetic prose made for a splendidly unique book.

Best critically-acclaimed debut


Patrick Flanery’s Absolution stands out to me for his unique storytelling, moving story and sharp prose. I much enjoyed this book, but haven’t encountered many others who have read it. But Flanery fans don’t have to wait long for his second book—Fallen Land just came out. I can’t wait to dive in.

Best underrated debut


Thomas Van Essen’s The Center of the World drew me in to all four of its interlocking stories. The prose is crisp, the themes are engaging and I loved that the book revolved around a fictional painting. This is a great book that deserves to be more widely read.

Later this week I will be offering two readers of Proto Libro a chance to receive a copy of The Center of the World…stay tuned for details…..


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The Center of the World, by Thomas Van Essen


The Center of the World

By Thomas Van Essen

The Other Press, 2013

375 pages

Four interlocking stories chronicle the fate of a fictional J. M. W. Turner painting called The Center of the World. Charles Grant is a handsome British writer/scholar who gets swept up in the lavish world of Mrs. Spencer and Lord Egremont, one of Turner’s patrons, and meets Turner around the time he painted The Center of the World. Cornelius Rhinebeck, an American industrialist, savors the Turner painting in his upstate New York country home in the 1920s. Gina, an ambitious young woman, who works for a New York-based fine arts consultancy in the late naughts, goes on a search to find the painting. And Henry Leiden, an unassuming middle-aged New Jersey man, has his life turned around by The Center of the World.

I deeply enjoyed this book. It explores the themes of art, sexuality, beauty, marriage and servitude/patronage. It is told in multiple voices and while it took me a little while to settle into, and find myself, in all the stories, once I did, I was completely drawn in. Van Essen also interweaves e-mails, letters, an obituary, a 19th-century memoir and a transcript into the story. I am not a big reader of historical fiction, but I found the 19th century scenes, mainly set in Lord Egremont’s Petworth House, to be vivid and engaging while enjoying how the story was also grounded in the present.

Van Essen lives in New Jersey. Amazon did an interview with him about this debut novel. For those of you in the Boston area, he will on an Author Panel at the Boston Public Library on July 30th.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.


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New look, new link and what’s next…

I heard from a couple of you that you found it hard to comment on my blog (thanks RP and OS), so I have chosen a new theme (layout), which I hope will make it easier for you to find and contribute to the comments. Please give the new theme a look and leave a comment…What are you reading today? Is this commenting feature easier to use than the last one?

I recently discovered another blog that focuses on debut authors, the Tottenville Review blog. I just added them to my blog roll. They do a lot of author interviews and also look at works in translation.

Next week I’m reviewing a debut novel that just came out, Thomas Van Essen’s, The Center of the World. After that I’m reviewing some memoirs….






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