The Sunday Salon

August 24, 2008 at 10:14 am | Posted in Books, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 6 Comments
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The Sunday

This week was by far less eventful than last week. For that I am very grateful. I was able to read two books: The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner and House and Home by Kathleen McCleary. I also posted my review of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

I became absolutely entranced by Juana La Loca while reading Gortner’s novel. Her story is tragic as she was betrayed by every man in her life, but she was such a strong woman. I hated that Jennifer was translated into Juanita in my high school Spanish classes. It wasn’t as sexy as Carmen or Pilar. It sounded plain to me. Now I would happily take on the name Juana for the strength and courage it signifies. Besides, what’s wrong with people thinking you might be crazy? They should be careful.

I read McCleary’s novel for one of the first TLC Book Tours, so you’re just going to have to come back on September 8th, when the tour reaches The Literate Housewife Review. This will be the second time I’ve participated in a virtual book tour. My first go round was for Mrs. Lieutenant by Phyllis Zimbler Miller. It was a good experience for me and I’m hoping that when Bethany from B&b ex libris is less bogged down we can get together with the author and hold a discussion.

This week I launched my first reading challenge: Expand Your Horizons. The object of this challenge is to exchange books with a friend who has different taste in books than you do. The first reviews for this challenge were Special Topics in Calamity Physics, written by my friend Mark and my review of Pattern Recognition. I’m hoping that Mark and I will do this again soon. It was a good experience for the both of us.

Marcia from The Printed Page will be sending me her copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. I’ve been coveting this book ever since it was offered as an Early Review book through LibraryThing. Jen’s review at Devourer of Books only intensified it. I am so excited to be receiving it. Thanks, Marcia! I’m starting the next book I’ll be sending you today…

Which leads me to what I’m going to be reading this week. The first book up is The Seamstress by Frances De Pontes Pebbles. It is set in Brazil, a country I’ve never visited before and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a 600+ page book, but I’m thinking that it will read quickly. After that, I’m going to read Femme Fatale by Pat Shipman, which is a biography of Mata Hari. I’m really looking forward to this. I just discovered that she was a Dutch courtesan. One of my people… 😉

I’ve gotten a little behind in my blog reading, so I’m hoping to catch up on that tonight. I hope that everyone has had a wonderful week. Emma starts kindergarten tomorrow and after a great experience at her open house, she’s looking forward to it. That will help me keep my tears to a minimum. 😉

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

August 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, Reading | 3 Comments
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An Expand Your Horizons Review by Mark

the best husband of a best friend for which a woman could ever ask

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened that smiling box to find “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”. As someone who spends most of his time reading textbooks, technical papers, and hard science fiction, this was sure to be something outside my normal experience. I managed to maintain a healthy optimism as I started the book. It was, after all, recommended by the same Literate Housewife who suggested that I read “Generation X” a number of years ago.

It didn’t take long before this optimism was no longer needed. I was drawn to the fascinating life of this strange girl with the strange name. The story is narrated by Blue van Meer, a girl unlike anyone I’ve met, yet strikingly familiar. She doesn’t seem lonely, despite a life of constant travel. Her only anchor through her life has been her father, an intelligent man who travels from university to university, working on his “latest book” and teaching batches of incompetent students.

Having only her father as reference, Blue’s ideas and goals are closely tied to her his. It’s impossible to say if she is incredibly self motivated, or if her passions come from dad. Either way, it’s clear that she is gifted. Within months of arriving at St. Gallway, the elite school where she spends her last year, she is head of her class. She recounts her life there, filtering her tale through lenses of great literature (Steinbeck, 1939, et al). In fact, the entire narration is punctuated with appropriate references to illustrate her point (Pessl, 2006).

Blue’s last year, however, isn’t the straight-line stroll to Valedictorian that her father predicted. With prodding from Hannah Schneider, one of the teachers at St. Gallway, she begins to attend social events. She meets a clique of charismatic kids who care more for gossip, games, and sex than studies. While it’s unlikely she would go so far as to call them friends, and certainly not in front of her father, their influence on her is strong. She finds a world outside of study and dad.

But Hannah’s affect on Blue isn’t limited to a few introductions…. nor is it limited to her subtle guidance / manipulation of the students in the clique. Hannah’s mysterious death comes as a surprising turn for Blue. From here, the book travels far beyond anything I had predicted when I began reading it a few short days before.

As I closed the cover for the last time, I felt a familiar pang of sadness. I feel it whenever I finish a book that I truly love. I feel a momentary loss. I will no longer be visiting this beautiful world that I’ve been enjoying. I realize that I owe Literate Housewife again, without whom I would have never been on such an adventure.

My only regret is that Marisha Pessl has not yet written anything else… and I must wait with everyone else until she does.


This is the inaugural guest post in my new Expand Your Horizons Reading Challenge. Click here for more information on how this started and how you can participate.

Book Trailers for Some of My Favorites

July 19, 2008 at 10:30 am | Posted in Books | 9 Comments
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I’ve recently entered a contest to win a copy of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid from The Friendly Book Nook. Click here for your chance to win this book. I don’t typically read fantasy, but what really caught my interest in both the post and the book was the accompanying book trailer. After I watched that, I was hooked.

This got me thinking about the concept of book trailers. It is an interesting idea to use a short video to sell a book. Trailers have been used to grab the attention of movie goers and sell films for ages. In such a competitive market, it could be just the tool needed to increase sales and readership. It’s not that much different than the blurb on the back of the book. The key is to make it compelling. If it’s not, it could turn people off just as quickly as it can get them excited.

I decided to do a little research. None of the books I have in my upcoming reads queue have book trailers, so I looked for any that might have been created for books that I absolutely loved. I wanted to see if the trailer would have sold me or not. I found book trailers for four books that I really enjoyed. Here they are with links to my book review, the book trailer and a short review of the book trailer itself:

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

For me, this book trailer was okay, but by trying to cover everything, it didn’t highlight what made the book so delightful. It would be difficult to do that in such a short clip. I did appreciate how the imagery matched the book. The actress playing Willie’s mom didn’t do much for me, but that might not have been a factor had I not already read this book. I’m not sure that I would have read it based on this book trailer alone, but it wouldn’t have turned me off, either.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

This trailer really coordinates well with the book’s website, which is awesome. Other than imagery, it doesn’t provide much actual information about the book. It’s an imaginative way to showcase complimentary blurbs about the book.

Admit One by Emmett James

This book trailer is hilarious and it very fitting for the book. I absolutely loved this one.

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This is an interesting trailer. It shows some clips from the novel at a distance. I think the Tegan and Sarah song fits very well with the mood. I liked this trailer and I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

In the end, I think that book trailers are a great way to get more information on a book you are thinking of reading or purchasing. When they are good, they are really good. When they aren’t, well… Just with covers, you shouldn’t judge a book entirely by it’s trailer. Book trailers are just another tool in your informed reader’s toolbox. When the tool fits the job, great! When it doesn’t, there are many other tools available.

Have you used book trailers when researching a book? What have your experiences been?

#33 ~ Special Topics in Calamity Physics

August 8, 2007 at 3:27 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Childhood Memories, Inspiration, LIfe, Marisha Pessl, Memoir, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 2 Comments
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Just 75 pages into Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I knew that I was going to enjoy it. When what I was reading spoke to me personally in conjunction with an outside conversation I had just moments before reading it, I knew that I was reading something spooky-spectacular. Now that I’ve completed this novel, I can say that I’ve never read anything quite like it. It is as fabulous in its story as it is original in its style and form. I hope to keep my mind long enough to see how this book is regarded by future generations.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the story of Blue van Meer, the only child of an amazingly intellectual college professor named Gareth. She lost her mother at the age of five in a terrible car accident. From that time forward, the van Meer’s traveled from one small college town to the next ~ usually once per semester. The main story begins just before Blue’s senior year of high school. As a special “treat,” her dad takes a year-long teaching position in a small North Carolina town with an excellent prep school which will help Blue get into Harvard. Truth be told, Blue’s intelligence matches her father’s. There’s little doubt that Harvard would pass her up.

Given Blue’s nomadic childhood, she developed a strong bond with her father ~ in equal parts because he was her only constant and because she tended to keep to herself. That all changed at St. Gallway. Through a fluke encounter at the local grocery store, she catches the eye of Hannah Schnieder, a beautiful woman who happens to be the film teacher.

Hannah has mentored a group of five classmates called the “Bluebloods” by the rest of the class. Upon Hannah’s insistence, Blue is reluctantly included in their weekly Sunday dinners at Hannah’s house. After a couple of months, she’s even seen as one of them. In one form or another, they all get embroiled in figuring out Hannah’s mysterious life away from them. When Hannah is discovered dead, Blue’s newfound life is destroyed along with it. Worse still, while the “Bluebloods” are nearly violent in blaming Blue for Hannah’s death, no one else will believe that her was anything other than a suicide. Blue is forced to go it alone to detangle Hannah and why she was so mysteriously attached to her.

This book is written in first person by Blue as a memoir of her childhood. Pessl uses the experiences of this interesting father/daughter relationship to construct this novel. It is full of references and hand-drawn reproductions of pictures used to illustrate her points. One might think that references would bog down a novel written as a memoir, but they were nothing short of a delight. Blue never used a quotation unnecessarily. Although I never bothered to check to see how fictitious (or not) they were, this novel would not have worked without them.

I would have to say one of the most amazing things about the construction of this novel is the Table of Contents. It is created in the form of a syllabus from one of Gareth’s courses. Each chapter title is that of a well known novel or story. Each one (for at least those that I was familiar with) was absolutely perfect for that chapter. I could not believe how ingenious and creative that little touch is. How could I not buy a book with a chapter entitled, “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man?” For that matter, how could I not adore a character who makes up a Ulysses study group to get out of her house and out with her mentor? There were times that the Table of Contents alone made me happy to be alive as a literate human being.

There is still some summer left. Do yourself a huge favor. Buy this book.  I swear you’ll want to keep it. Take a long weekend (Labor Day if you must), sit back, crack open this book and be delighted. You may find yourself reading way into the wee hours of the night without being exhausted the next day.

Yes, my friends, it’s that refreshing.

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