Thursday, November 29, 2007

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I just finished this ambitious debut novel, which goes to show how behind I am in literary pursuits--it was published last year. It's been sitting on my nightstand for a while because, at over 500 pages, the book was a bit daunting. Well. I think it's clearly a love-it-or-hate-it book (the average 3 1/2 star rating on librarything would seem to corroborate this assumption) and I LOVED it. Comparisons with Safran Foer and Zadie Smith abound. The Zadie Smith part I agree with, but I (ahem) didn't really care for Safran Foer much, though I can see a passing resemblance. Like Zadie Smith and my beloved Kate Atkinson, Pessl pulls together disparate elements adeptly to keep control of her complicated plot. Part coming-of-age tale, part high school realism, part mystery, part History of Western Thought, this novel is packed with more similes, metaphors, and literary references (some real, others invented) than any high school English class. Yet this doesn't detract from astute characterization and masterful plotting. Pessl is an incredibly gifted writer and Blue is so well-drawn that it's easy to forgot this is not a real autobiography of a real girl. Blue's descriptions, wry asides, and painstaking references somehow make her more likeable instead of insufferably show-offy and pedantic. She shimmers on the page, on every page, a luminous force-to-be-reckoned with. (See, all that description and simile is contagious.)

The other characters (even Blue's dad) are drawn with less depth, because they're shown only through Blue's eyes, but they are still fascinating. They propel the labyrinthine plot through increasing twists and turns, many wildly improbable, but I never stopped to ask, "Are you kidding me?" as another twist revealed itself. I think the pacing can be credited here. As some have complained, the first 300 pages move slowly, almost laboriously, and the last 200 really fly, snagging you as they pass, dragging you along through the satisfying conclusion and, better yet, a beautiful ending. I didn't mind the pacing of the first 300. Rather, I thought those pages set the reader up for the conclusion by gently unfolding events, coincidences, character oddities, in a leisurely fashion to make him/her invested in the outcome. A more perfunctory set-up would have meant a less satisfying pay-off, in my opinion.

Okay, I've gone on long enough. I hope Marisha Pessl is hard at work on her next novel, because I can't wait. I'll pass the time by re-reading this one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Book Drive

Stepping back on my this thing on? *tap* *tap* :-)

Barnes and Noble is doing their annual book drive again this year. If you have the opportunity and inclination, please visit your local store and buy a book for a child. This program usually teams up with a women's shelter or other organizations who work with children who are in a situation where their parents may not have extra money to buy them books. The Barnes and Noble near us is doing a great thing this year where you can buy a children's book or an adult book (or both); the organization they are giving all the books to will let the children pick a book for their mom and the mom gets to pick a book for their child. I think that's pretty cool!

I'll be taking the girls again this holiday to pick out a book for another child their age and explain to them that some mommys and daddys aren't as fortunate to be able to buy their children books. This way we can help those kids have some of the books we love so much!

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

By Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This is the conclusion to the trilogy that began with Peter and the Starcatchers, documenting the events that preceded (and led to) those in Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. This is an excellent conclusion to an excellent series. Truly enjoyable. The rollicking, swashbuckling adventures are just plain fun. The characters are engaging and well-developed, and the plot moves along at breakneck speed, one scene leading to the next. It's hard to put these books down. The dual imaginitive power of Barry and Pearson is amazing. They seamlessly weave in elements that will appear in Peter Pan without distracting from their own story. Without giving too much away, it's difficult to summarize the third book. I was hooked with the first book, and I can't recommend this riveting series too highly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For A Good Time, Call Cece Caruso

As you know, I read a lot of mystery series. I have my favorites, but I always hope for a new series that I'll love. I've tried several lately, with mixed results. I finally have a new favorite, the Cece Caruso series by Susan Kandel. They are smart, funny, well-written, and well-plotted. The West Hollywood setting is fun and well-realized, and Cece's career (biographer of mystery authors) adds a fun, fresh element to this series. I read Not A Girl Detective first (about Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books) because I loved Nancy Drew, though it's the second in the series. It was great fun, and I zipped through the first, I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, as well, and though I'm less of a Perry Mason fan than a Nancy Drew fan, I still loved it. I'm nearly finished with Shamus in the Green Room, the third (which, interestingly enough, is called Sam Spade in the Green Room in the preview printed at the end of Not A Girl Detective--this makes more sense, as I have no idea who Shamus is and I only have about 60 pages left). Christietown is the fourth, and then I'll be going into withdrawal.

I am now on LibraryThing! I'll be going back and adding 2007's books as I have time. My library is at this address!

All Through The Night by Suzanne Brockmann

If you're not familiar, Suzanne Brockmann writes suspense novels that are also romance novels (I phrase it this way because I think the suspense is more central than in most romantic suspense novels). This, the 12th in her Troubleshooters series, is a short holiday novel about a wedding. Here's the biggie: Jules and Robin, two guys, are getting married. Brockmann includes a letter at the end of the book explaining that her son is gay, and the thought of his not being permitted to marry really upsets her. She's donating all proceeds from this book to Mass Equality. The book isn't perfect. Brockmann sort of drops at least one outside subplot, and every two pages, the guys are looking at each other and either thinking or saying how much they want to have sex. The straight couples do this a bit, but not to the sex-crazed extent to which Jules and Robin do. This seemed a slightly overcompensatory way of not shying away from gay sex, but it plays on the perception many people have that gay relationships are only about sex (which, in turn, leads to stereotypes like all gay men are promiscuous). Brockmann is careful to state over and over that Robin and Jules love each other and want to be together, and she shows this admirably, but it's a bit obscured by all the sex, sex, sex that gets a smidge tiresome (and I believe I would have felt that way if it had been a hetero couple as well). But I just skimmed past those bits when they got annoying, and I still recommend this book for two reasons: 1. It may be the first gay romance novel written by a mainstream author and 2. Brockmann does suspense very well, and I stayed up WAY too late reading this one, even though I was jet lagged and exhausted. You don't have to have read the previous books in the Troubleshooters series to follow this one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Reading Marathon

I've actually finished three books in two weeks! Quite a record for me lately, I've had a hard time even deciding what book to pick up. A while back Allison sent me a box full of fun cozy mysteries, so I decided to take a look at those and try one out. I chose Murderers Prefer Blondes by Amanda Matetsky, the first in her Paige Turner Mystery Series. The book's heroine, Paige Turner, works for a detective magazine in New York City when she stumbles across what she hopes to be the perfect story to jump-start her writing career. The story takes place in the mid-1950's in New York City. As I was reading, it seemed like my mind was watching an old black and white detective film. I could picture all the characters. I got a little annoyed by Paige's best friend and her tone in conversations. I'm sure the slang was accurate to the time period, but it felt a little forced in that character for some reason. Although, I enjoyed the novel, the ending was very anticlimactic and predictable. But if you take it for what it is, a cozy mystery, this was an entertaining read.

I spent last week visiting my mom with the kids and spent the better part of any free time I had reading. It was great to be away from the house so I didn't have the guilt of "I should be doing this, oh, I'll just read a few more pages...." I could read to my heart's content and it was fantastic. I brought My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult with me. Whenever I mention Picoult to anyone, this seems to be the common book that people have read. I read it in about 2 days. For those unfamiliar, the story is about Anna, a 13 year old girl who was conceived to be a perfect genetic match for her older sister sick with leukemia. Throughout her life Anna undergoes various procedures that help prolong her sister's life. Finally, she decides she will no longer be a guinea pig for her sister and seeks medical emancipation from her parents. The book is told from the different viewpoints of all the characters and flows really well. It's a pretty heavy book because of its topic and you spend the whole book waiting for the inevitable. Picoult surprises with quite a twist at the end that shocked me. I wasn't very thrilled with it actually. I think because I had spent the majority of the book expecting a completely different outcome. Picoult covers the medical ethics topic well and from many angles. And I plan on continuing to read her other books. This was the second Picoult book I have read and both were told alternating the characters viewpoints. I'm curious, does she do this with all her books? Is this her signature writing style?

The last book, I just finished this morning: Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See by Robert Kurson. This is our November book club pick. I have to say, the topic did not intrigue me much and I toyed with the idea of not even looking at the book. I just figured I'd be bored to tears. But part of the reason I like being in a book club is because it makes me consider books I would not normally read on my own. So I thought I should at least look at the book. I got it from the library and figured I'd just sort of skim through it enough to make a comment or two at the meeting. Well I was very wrong, the book really pulled me in. It's the story of a man, Mike May, who lost his sight at age 3 and spent the next 43 years of his life blind. One day, he was with his wife at her eye exam and the doctor just looked at his eye on a whim. Then his colleague took a look. They told May he would be an excellent candidate for a new stem cell surgery and he might be able to see again. I was curious about how May lost his sight, how he gained it back, and whether or not he would keep it. And continued reading to find out. There were some very technical sections that read like an Intro to Biology textbook. I tended to skim or skip these sections all together. But everything else was very interesting and flowed very easily. May's tenacity and attitude are amazing. It was fun to read about his journey and see how it ended. If anyone is interested in nonfiction books, this was a quick and enjoyable read.

Sidenote: I'm also on Library Thing now. You can find my library here. I started one for my daughter as well, to keep track of what books she really likes. I also added books I think might be good for her in the future too. You can find her library here. I updated the Links in the blog sidebar, added a few new book blog links, and added book covers from my library. I thought it was time to spice up the blog a bit. :-)