"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Children's Book Review: The Wizard Who Saved the World by Jeffrey Bennett

The Wizard Who Saved the World
Author:  Jeffrey Bennett (Big Kid Science)
Illustrated by Roberta Collier-Morales
Copyright:  2012
Publisher: Independent Publishers Group
Genre:  Children
Pages:  32 Hardcover
ISBN 9780972181952
Release date:  November
Source:  Lissy Peace & Associates Ltd
A complimentary copy was provided in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

The Wizard Who Saved the World will be released simultaneously in both English and Spanish.

"The Wizard who Saved the World: by award winning author Jeffrey Bennett teaches children about the magic that can happen when we work together to curb global warming, develop renewable energy, and pursue education.

Have you ever wondered what you can do to help save the world?  In the delightful new story from Big Kid Science, The Wizard Who Saved the World by award-winning author Jeffrey Bennett, a young boy named Diego takes a journey from his daydreams about glory and wizardry to real-life inspiration about what he can do to help build a better future.  Beautifully illustrated by Roberta Collier-Morales, children can't help but be inspired to form their own dreams about how they can contribute to our collective future, and to make those dreams come true." (from Lissy Peace & Associates, Ltd, publicity)

My Review:  
When you ponder things in life that you could change if only you had the "magic" to do so, what would those things be?  For young Diego, he would save the world!  In brilliant colour, The Wizard Who Saved the World illustrates the physical ailments of our planet including climate change and global warming complete with easy to understand descriptives of the problems and possible solutions that have been scientifically verified.  All of this is found in a text box on each page which, I found, does not detract from the visual appeal of the story.

Empowerment to the reader is a powerful "gift" that author Jeffrey Bennett shares, allowing the elementary to middle grade (junior high) student to envision the positive influence they can offer through means as simple as turning off unused lights and recycling to as big as studying for university to make a career of affecting positive change.

The Wizard Who Saved the World is a powerful teaching tool, great to read on a singular basis, but potentially effective in classrooms as a means of inspiring the leaders of the future!  Every library, personal or school/public, should have at least one copy!

Meet the author:
Jeffrey Bennett holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is well known for his college level textbooks in the sciences, mathematics and statistics.  He also authored award-winning Beyond UFOs and the Max Science Adventure series for children.  Max to the Moon was read aboard the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery by astronaut Alvin Drew and is being developed into a planetarium show that will be distributed across the states.  Jeffrey Bennett is frequently asked to speak at schools, universities and science museums worldwide.  Bennett's website is www.JeffreyBennett.com.  Big Kid Science is also available on the web at www.BigKidScience.com.

Rated 5/5

Monday, October 24, 2011

Children's Book Review: Abe's Lucky Day by Jill Warren

Abe's Lucky Day
Author:  Jill Warren
Copyright:  2011
Publisher:  Outskirts Press, Inc.
Illustrations by Kalpart
Pages:  31
Genre:  Children's fiction
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the author with Bostick Communications in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
ISBN 9781432773052

"Abe's Lucky Day.  Any day could be your lucky day.  Story description:  Abe is a homeless man who lives in the alley behind a bakery and winter is coming.  What will happen on his lucky day that could change his life forever?" (from the back cover)

My Review:  Abe is a kind-hearted homeless man who has a lucky day.  He continues to come across blessings which he pays forward.  Will he be rewarded for his kindness?

A children's book about homelessness, Abe's Lucky Day, is a rare find and Jill Warren puts a warm spin on the tragic life of a homeless man, showing him in a new light as a man with genuine heart who is down on his luck.  Surprisingly, though Abe has needs of his own, he gives that which he could use to benefit another, putting a touching spin on his story.  

Awareness is the first step for positive change.  Our children will inherit this society and perhaps early awareness will affect positive changes for all society.  This book can be one of the first steps in the right direction.  

Illustrations are colourful and beautifully rendered by Kalpart.  

Rated:  4/5

Review: Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Little Princes
Author:  Conor Grennan
Published by William Morrow, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Copyright:  2010
Pages:  283
Genre:  biography
ISBN 9780062031709
Source:  a complimentary Advanced Readers Edition was available to me at work.

"In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan traded his day job for a year-long trip around the globe, a journey that began with a three-month stint volunteering at the Little Princes Children's Home orphanage in war-torn Nepal.  But what began as a lark became a passionate commitment that would transform the young American and the lives of countless others.

Within minutes of his arrival, Conor was surrounded by a horde of gleeful boys and girls showering him with warm welcomes.  Yet, as he soon learned, the children's cheery smiles belied years of pain and abuse; many of the boys and girls at the Little Princes Children's Home were not orphans at all but victims rescued from human traffickers.  Moved by their plight, Conor vowed that when his trip was over he would return to the children of the Little Princes Children's Home and eventually reunite them with their families -- a promise he would risk his life to keep.

Little Princes is the powerful story of a soul's awakening, and a reflection of the noblest and darkest of human intent.  It is a true, and often hilarious, tale of the power of optimism, love, and faith.  And it is an unforgettable account of children, families, and one man whose decision to take a stand makes the world a better place for all of us."

My review:  One morning I was watching the Nate Berkus show and was immediately caught up in his introduction to a new author and book, Little Princes.  Preceding the interview, Nate commented that it is rare that he stays up all night to read a book but this was one he couldn't put down.  Fascinated by that introduction and upon watching the interview I immediately went online to check out the website, Next Generation Nepal and had been looking forward to reading it ever since.  Little Princes did not disappoint.

Conor Grennan professes that his initial intent to volunteer at a Nepalese orphanage wasn't selfless.  He thought it would impress people so he began his year long world travel with three months at the orphanage.  Little did he know, those three months would change him and the lives of those children forever.  Conor returned not once but twice and got caught up in the cause to find the parents of those children who were not orphans, but were victims of child trafficking.  It became his life's passion.  This heart-warming biography is interspersed with moments of danger, cultural highlights and plentiful humour.  Little Princes is an enthralling read that I would highly recommend to all.  
" It was well after nightfall when I realized we had gone the wrong way.  The village I had been looking for was somewhere up the mountain...if we could even find the trail in the pitch-dark.  My two porters and I had been walking for almost thirteen hours straight.  Winter at night in the mountains of northwestern Nepal is bitterly cold, and we had no shelter.  Two of our three flashlights had burned out.  Worse, we were deep in a Maoist-rebel stronghold, not far from where a colleague had been kidnapped almost exactly one year before...I wondered how things would have been different if I hadn't gotten hurt.  Or if I hadn't split from my team, or if I hadn't decided to wait on that mountain for a helicopter that never came. It didn't matter now.  What did matter was figuring out how we would get through the night."  (from the back cover)

Note:  this book is one of my staff favourites at work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Children's Book Review: Kathryn the Grape's Colorful Adventure

Kathryn the Grape's Colorful Adventure
Author (s):  Kathryn Cloward with Ginny Hornby
Illustrated by Christine Winscott
Copyright:  2011
Publisher:  Kandon Unlimited, Inc.
Pages:  44
ISBN:  9780982927717
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.


Copies are available for purchase at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and the author's website:  http://www.kathrynthegrape.com/index.php/store

Note:  the review copy I was given includes a colourful post card, bookmark, a business card, and colouring pages.

"Did you know you are colorful?  Come along with Kathryn the Grape and Maggie on an imaginative colourful adventure and discover how to make your colorful rainbow shine.  BLING!  It's going to be fun!  Let's go!

With this second Kathryn the Grape book, Kathryn Cloward and Christine Winscott combine creative talents with co-author Ginny Hornby.  Inspired by the desire to help children build their self esteem and learn important lessons through dynamic stories and vibrant illustrations, Cloward, Winscott, and Hornby help children learn to SHINE and remind them that everyone is magical and colourful!" (from the cover)


Kathryn the Grape books were designed to help build children's self esteem.  In Kathryn the Grape's Colorful Adventure, the second Kathryn the Grape book, Kathryn is given a charm bracelet by Maggie the butterfly.  Each charm is a colour in the rainbow and represents one of each of the following:  Belong, Excitement, Trust, Love, Say, See, and Learn.  Maggie takes Kathryn on a magical journey to show her how each of these are a part of her and how to use them to her best advantage.  It is a lesson in building self-esteem that parents will welcome as they teach their own children how wonderfully special each of them truly is.  Kathryn the Grape's Colorful Adventure is a welcome tool to help children realize their own self-worth, with colourful entertaining illustrations that will grasp attention and a short memorable story that children, especially girls, will relate to.

View the book trailer here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l85_FTnPyM

Steve Jobs Biography by Walter Isaacson to be Released October 24

The Steve Jobs biography written by Walter Isaacson will be released October 24, 2011!  Go to your nearest Indigo Books Monday, October 24 to purchase yours. Copies may also be ordered online at Indigo Books, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.


  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Format: Hardcover , 656pp

Read an overview here

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Copyright:  2008
Publishers:  Random House
Paperback Edition:  Dial Press Trade Paperbacks (2009)
Pages:  290
ISBN 9780385341004
Includes:  map, Afterword, Questions and Topics for Discussion


"January 1946:  Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger; a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name."  (from the back cover)

Read an excerpt.

My Review:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was suggested by a fellow book club member as our October book of the month and was universally accepted.  The novel was started by Mary Ann Shaffer who travelled to Guernsey to explore the possibilities of a book but before she could finish the edits requested by her publisher, she became too ill to complete the task.  Fortunately for all, her niece Annie Barrows (author of the children's series Ivy and Bean) took over where her aunt left off with the finishing touches that brought the book to publication.

The cast of characters is plenty, 20 in all, each contributing to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society through letters, one to another.  While this is an unusual format for a novel, May Ann Shaffer utilizes it incredibly well.  Through this "voyeurism" by the reader, we glimpse the lives of these characters without pomp and ceremony.  Letters and telegrams reveal with unveiled emotions the circumstances the towns people of Guernsey endured during the occupation of the Germans of their lovely island during World War II.

The society begins one night as a hidden pig is slaughtered and friends are gathered together in a rare feast which incidentally puts them in peril as they breach curfew.  Thanks to the quick wit of Elizabeth, it is explained to the soldiers they come upon in the night that they have just left a meeting of The Guernsey Literary Society.  Fortunately one amongst the soldiers is an avid reader and lets them off.  The alibi is a ruse but it must not be discovered to be so, so the next morning they gather all the books they can to make it legitimate lest they should receive a visit from the Germans.  Later the Potato Peel Pie is incorporated by a member of this book club as a treat shared at a meeting. Not terribly tasty, but when potatoes are available and little else a certain amount of ingenuity is required.

The story evolves from here with the introduction of London reporter Juliet Ashton who receives the first letter from a member of the literary society inquiring about acquiring books by Charles Lamb, one of which he had the good fortune of new ownership.  Inscribed inside is Juliet's name.  Further correspondence peaks Juliet's curiosity about Guernsey, the occupation thereof by the Germans and the quaint folks who reside there.  One thing leads to another and, amidst romantic suitors, a missing prisoner of war, a child, and quirky situations, Juliet falls in love with Guernsey and its residents.  The reader does as well.  It can't be helped.  We find new friends in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and as we draw near the end, it is with regret that we must say good-bye.  That, dear readers, is what the best books are made of.

Humourous and heart warming, book lovers will adore The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The author's site.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: Little Black Dress by Susan McBride

Little Black Dress
Author:  Susan McBride
Copyright:  2011
Publisher:  Harper Collins Publishers
Pages:  295
Includes Book Club Questions and Author Q & A
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

"Two sisters whose lives seemed forever intertwined are torn apart when a magical little black dress gives each one a glimpse of an unavoidable future.

Antonia Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but she realizes her life has gone off track.  Forced to return home to Blue Hills when her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke, Toni finds the old Victorian where she grew up as crammed full of secrets as it is with clutter.  Now she must put her mother's house in order -- an uncover long-buried truths about Evie and her aunt, Anna, who vanished fifty years earlier on the eve of her wedding.  By shedding light on the past, Toni illuminates her own mistakes and learns the most unexpected things about love, magic, and a little black dress with the power to break hearts...and mend them."  (from the back cover)

My Review:

Family secrets, a magical black dress that shows the wearer their destiny, an estranged family member, love  and mystery... all these make Little Black Dress one of my favourite chick lit books this year!  Susan McBride is the author of this masterfully written quick paced novel. Her previously published works include The Cougar Club and the award-winning Debutante Dropout mysteries. 

Little Black Dress is an entertaining visit to the wine country of Missouri where mysteries, magic and secrets abound.  The characters are incredibly well developed with personalities that ring true.  You probably know an Evie, a down to earth, straight-laced woman who knows much heartache, or Anna, the adventure seeking, make your own rules kind of person who is as different from her sister Evie as she can be; or the daughter Antonia (Toni), a successful wedding planner who leaves behind her busy calendar and a boyfriend who may or may not be Mr. Right to be at her mother's side in the hospital following a massive stroke.  Their relationship is strained but this may be the chance to bridge those chasms that separate mother and daughter and perhaps a sister too.  Evie's stroke may reunite a family but not without reservations.  A dilemma of a decision faces the two sisters, Anna and Evie, and one wonders which is the better choice.  I think they made the right one. Read Little Black Dress to see if you agree.

If Little Black Dress is an inkling of an indication of Susan McBride's abilities as a novelist, then I look forward to tracking down her previous works.

Rated 4.5/5 (adult situations)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Just Saw the Last Harry Potter Movie - WOW!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

I know I am a bit slow in getting to the theatre to see the last movie in the Harry Potter series, but better late than never.  Two people warned me of the death of a certain someone (not necessarily the nefarious Voldemort) and I went in feeling a sense of doom.  It has been forever since I read the last novel and how quickly I forgot the finite details that came to life tonight in the movie.  As each sequence enveloped on the big screen, in 3D nonetheless, memories also came to life and I caught myself cheering out loud in a nearly empty theatre.  Sadly, I was alone in the vocal cheers, though I know everyone present cheered or booed or cried secretly, I just know it.

All in all the movie is one of the absolute best book to movie productions, particularly in the Harry Potter realm.  I loved it!  If you have not yet seen it, haul your ...... out the door and go to the theatre!!  I cannot wait for it to come out on DVD.

I will not further analyze the film as far as acting, which was superb, nor the plot, true to the book, nor the special effects (I don't think 3D was necessary for full satisfaction), but suffice it to say this is one you will want to add to your collection.

Read this review with the addition of a movie trailer on my blog Adventures in a Not So Unusual Life.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Author:  Erin Morgenstern
Published:  2011
Publisher:  Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Ltd.
Pages: 387
Genre:  Fiction
ISBN 9780385671712
Source:  I borrowed this book.

"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des R√™ves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead."
My Review:
Reputed to be comparable to Harry Potter in popularity and sales, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is  a delight of imagery that stimulates the senses and transports the reader to the magical world of The Night Circus.  Erin Morgenstern's prose flows over the pages, grasping the readers' attention and imagination as every circus can but The Night Circus is even more.  It is a magical escape, like a dream land, full of mystical performances, still life performers, acrobats, contortionists, fortune tellers and so much more.  To attend this circus once, is the beginning of a yearning to return time and again, as every reader is sure to attest.  This is one book that is definitely re-readable.
Meet the Author:

Erin Morgenstern is a writer and a multimedia artist, who describes all her work as 'fairy tales in one way or another'. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband. About Erin. The long, first person version: I write. Fantastical, fairy tale-esque things with magic and mystery and tea. I started querying literary agents in June of 2009. After working with interested agents and revising my manuscript (twice) I signed with my agent in May of 2010. Then I spent a summer in the Revisionland Hotel, and in September of 2010, THE NIGHT CIRCUS sold to Random House. The sound you are hearing is my head spinning, still. My fiction tends to be location-driven. Nocturnal circuses, subterranean libraries, townhouses dressed up as pirate ships. I got tired of living in Alice’s Wonderland and decided to build some of my own. I write 10-sentence flash fiction pieces inspired by photographs that are posted to the blog every Friday. They are fondly known as flax-golden tales. I paint. Mostly acrylic-based mixed-media abstract illustration. Which means painting with acrylic paint and adding anything I can get to stick, and it’d be abstract if it were not so illustrative and illustration were it not so abstract. I paint Wonderland-y things and teacups and pigs with wings. I spent large amounts of the last few years painting a black & white tarot deck. I finished painting it in early 2010. You can purchase a beautiful limited edition deck of the Major Arcana. (Well, you could. It’s sold out now, but they might turn up on tarot trading sites.) I keep an art-based blog on LiveJournal. I am lousy at updating it. I read a lot. I drink absurd amounts of red wine and even more absurd amounts of tea. I collect jewelry made from old keys. I rather like the internet (even Twitter!), so I will be polishing and decorating this corner of it for the foreseeable future. (from the Random House website)

The following is a reading by the author from her novel, The Night Circus.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Meet the Author: Christopher Meeks, author of Love at Absolute Zero

Meet Christopher Meeks. I had the opportunity to read his novel, Love at Absolute Zero and reviewed it yesterday on My Bookshelf.  

Christopher Meeks kindly agreed to an interview to discuss his new novel, Love at Absolute Zero.  Help me welcome him to My Bookshelf (applause and cheering....)


Thank you, Shirley, for letting me be a part of your website.
How would you describe your favourite genre to write in?
That’s my problem. I don’t have a genre, unless you call “literary” a genre—but that’s broad and probably the most difficult type of fiction to market. I had an agent who loved Love At Absolute Zero, and he brought it to editors at large publishing companies who had enthusiasm, but the marketing people in the companies seemed to feel it was like beef-flavored gum—interesting but they didn’t know how to sell it. 
Someone on Goodreads called this book’s genre “Lab Lit.” That made me smile because first there was Chick Lit, then Lad Lit, now Lab Lit. It suggests there’s humor, romance, and science, which my book has. There’s probably not a lot of books within Lab Lit, but what the heck. 
There’s also depth in the book that’s not necessary to see, but it’s there. As one customer review on Amazon said, “I don't give five stars just because I like a book, but usually have to be able to see more than entertainment to give that rating. Absolute Zero turned out to be great entertainment, but also much more.”
Writers who write in main genres such as romance, mystery, and thriller have an easier time getting published and having their books sell. That doesn’t mean this book won’t find a large audience. I’m impressed by the customer reviews coming in—people I don’t know—and I’m optimistic. Or maybe I’m just quixotic.
So is mystery your favourite genre to read?
I have to say I love how the Canadians and English spell “favourite.” I’m international now.
Yes, I enjoy the old mysteries such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but Michael Connelly and Robert Crais are authors I often read. My former professor David Scott Milton’s new mystery, Iron City, which is only on Kindle now but soon will be in print, is dark like Chandler and Hammett, and I really love it.
However, it’s the contemporary literary books I love finding. I relish books that have great stories AND depth. When I find a book I love, I want to teach it. I happen to teach English at Santa Monica College, and I give myself the challenge of teaching two new books of fiction each semester, one by a male author, one by a female. Not only do I have to love each book, but I aim to have them grab my students who typically don’t read fiction. 
What books, you might ask, fills all those requirements? This semester we’re reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. The first is told from the point of view of a dog whose owner races cars and the second just won the Pulitzer Prize and loosely revolves around a hit record producer and those associated with him before, during, and after his reign. 
I’ve created a list on Amazon called Best Loved Novels I’ve Used Teaching English. You’ll see the books that have proven themselves such as Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen These are books where a large part of the class reads ahead because the book is so good. That rarely happened in the English classes I took in college or high school. My goal is to show students that novels are where it’s at. If they come to love at least one of the novels in the semester, there are more books like them out there. Find them. 
In short, I’m trying to deliver the spark that you clearly have and are flaming as you devote your days to reading and writing about new books.
Would you define your writing process for us?  Do you use an outline?
I’ve changed over the years. One thing has remained constant: I write in the morning at the same desk. One of my mentors, the late and bestselling author Thomas Thompson (Blood and Money), told me his secret was writing at the same place at the same time each day. In that way, in a routine, you easily pick up where you last left off and you are productive. Even when my life is particularly hectic, I find time to write.
I used to be an anti-outliner—that outlines sucked out any creativity. My short stories were never written with an outline but with the curiosity to see where a story would go. When it came to novels, however, I quickly learned one can easily be lured away from the main story line, following a tangent that loses the reader. Then I discovered I don’t have to create outlines the way I’d been taught with levels using Roman numerals and capital letters and numbers.  I discovered bullets.
What I now do is write outlines with mere bullet points to any given scene. In other words, novels are written in scenes, and each scene should deliver action and often realizations from a character. Scenes without either are not scenes but information dumps, which are boring. Exposition is needed but has to be metered out carefully. I want my reader involved in my stories, so structure is a big deal. 
Outlines let me “What if?” What if such and such happens, where will the story go? What if something else happens?
This is to say outlining lets me imagine scenes faster than I can write them. I see them in my head, and if the scene isn’t interesting, I don’t write it. In the act of writing, I’m often surprised—I go off my outline. If I do, I return to my outline to see how the latest surprise changes things. I either adjust my outline or a scrap the surprise. With bullets, it’s easy to change an outline, and thus my outlines are organic and evolving. 
You have published several other novels and short stories, what is your favourite so far?  Why?  What are some of your recently released titles?
I started writing plays and getting them produced, such as Who Lives? which is about the invention of the kidney dialysis machine and the first patients to try it out. In the sixties, when it looked as if the machine had been perfected, a committee was chosen to select people for it. Only a handful of people could be on it to see if there were any long-term consequences. Who would live?
In between writing plays, I wrote short stories. When I gathered enough courage and felt I had enough feedback that the stories were strong, I sent them out to literary journals—and was rejected like crazy. I realized, though, the journals were often staffed by eager college students who didn’t necessarily understand what I was doing, so I kept sending the stories around until they each found journals that would publish them. Once I had enough stories published, I put them in my first collection, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea. That was well-reviewed and even mentioned by Entertainment Weekly as a collection to get. I put together a second collection, Months and Seasons.
Novel writing intimidated me, mainly because I didn’t think that writing short stories well necessarily led to great novels. I completely loved Lorrie Moore’s short stories such as in her collection, Birds of America, but her novels had never grabbed me. After reading Melissa Bank’s The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, I saw I could create a series of short stories using the same characters and call it a novel. That’s how I built The Brightest Moon of the Century
With my new novel, Love At Absolute Zero, I wanted a page turner. Rather than have chapters end with an ending (as short stories do), I wanted what a good mystery does, where you hit the end of the chapter and just have to turn the page. That meant a more traditional structure. 
In short, everything I’ve written has been with a particular challenge in mind, and I’m proud of each of them. I’ll let critics choose which is best.
What are you working on now? 
I’m polishing Falling Down Mt. Washington, a mystery novel about a young man, a theatre Ph.D. student who’s writing a dissertation on David Mamet and who’s at the end of his rope, desperately trying to get a job. While he’s applying at a Starbucks in a bank, the bank is robbed and he’s taken hostage. Now he really has to fight for his life. 
I’m on the third draft and working with an editor.
About Love At Absolute Zero, can you relate to or do you know a Gunnar Gunderson?
I’ve always loved science—I was a kid when President Kennedy said we’d get a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and we did. I was a chemistry major for a year before I realized that’s not where my passions were. I like writing stories. 
My wife happened to work in Caltech’s astrophysics library, so I met a lot of brilliant scientists there who could easily be Gunnar. One of them in particular helped in my initial research into studying the physics of the ultracold.
Do you believe in the scientific approach to love?
That’s one of the points of the novel—that it doesn’t quite work. Chaos is involved. Einstein never liked chaos in his science, even if (or perhaps because of) he had chaos in his love life. I’ve studied Einstein, too, and even wrote an entire screenplay called Einstein Loves. He had an amazing personal life, but people have made him such an icon, they don’t know him as a real person. He was living with his lover in Switzerland around 1905, and they had a child out of wedlock, who was lost to history or at least in most of his biographies.
Einstein was a Gunnar, now that I think of it. 
In layman's terms, for the person who doesn't like or understand physics, can you describe "absolute zero"?
Absolute zero—or very near it—is the coldest anything can get. It can get extremely cold in Canada and Minnesota (where I’m from) and thus -32 C (or -25 degrees Fahrenheit for us in the U.S.) is so cold that it’s just not pretty. Your nostrils sting breathing in that cold. Cars don’t start. However, that may as well be the sun for how cold cold can get. Absolute zero is 0° on the Kelvin scale, −273.15 ° on the Celsius scale, and −459.67 °F.
Cold and heat is just a reference to how fast atoms bounce around. The hotter something is, the faster the atoms move. Theoretically, absolute zero is where atoms stop moving. However, atoms never stop moving. We can only get within a few billionths of a degree from absolute zero, and at that temperature, atoms change and form a new state of matter called Bose-Einstein Condensates (BECs). The previously known laws of the universe change with BECs. For a cool YouTube video on BECs, click here.
How does "absolute zero" relate to the search for love?
That’s the fun of the novel, for the reader to see how love and quantum mechanics connect. Atoms in a Bose-Einstein Condensate lose their identity—so do people in love and those in misery from the loss of a love. Physics and love interconnect on so many levels. It might take the whole book to see, but it’s a fun journey.
You write of physics with a great depth, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the concepts of which you write.  Did you take physics in school or is your knowledge a result of extensive research?
Both. I took a great class at the University of Denver, physics for non-majors. The professor gave all sorts of wonderful demonstrations. In my junior year abroad in Denmark, I lived with a family whose neighbor was a physicist, and he loved talking about how everything in our world comes down to 92 natural elements. The taste of your lover’s saliva, the fire where you cook marshmallows, the tent you sleep in—all are part of 92 natural elements. Scientists have a different way of seeing things.
I had to research a lot, however, to grasp a basic sense of quantum mechanics, and then I had to explain it to readers without boring anyone or drifting away from the story. It’s a tricky balance. Story comes first, then the science slips in where it doesn’t hurt anyone.
Who is your greatest influence in life?  In your writing career?
We are all products of our environment, driven by whatever mysterious commands are in our DNA. In my Blake High school class of sixty-three young men, I was not the English geek or the jock or any of the many brilliant boys in the school. Al Franken, now Senator Al Franken, was a few years ahead of me. I have to say the school encouraged me in my senior year to try new things, to push myself, and I’ve done so ever since. 
My mother was a voracious reader, and when I started writing, she became a fan long before I deserved to be. My father loved that I was writing stories, but he was also a tough critic. It was probably after my first book was well received that he saw that my stories could have open endings. 
I’ve had some great mentors—author Thomas Thompson, playwrights David Scott Milton, Jerome Lawrence, and Robert E. Lee. Each held my plays or prose and went over them and gave me great advice.
I also learned a lot from reading my favorite authors, such as Tim O’Brien, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, John Irving, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and many more. I also teach Children’s literature, and there’s a lot to learn from J.K. Rowling.
You’ve mentioned teaching English and writing on the college level.  Has that helped you to analyze your writing process differently than you think others might write and edit their own work?
Teaching should also be on the list as a major influence in my life. Writing well cannot be done without reading a lot, and teaching novels has made me look closely at what certain writers do. I push myself to try new books every semester, even though it’s a lot more work, because I learn so much from each new novel. How the students react is important. What grabs their imaginations is so fun to see. When I witness that, I hope I find readers like them for my books.
In my Introduction to Literature classes, we study fiction, drama, and poetry—all of which can help any creative writer. Teaching is important because I’m witness to young people’s thirst for knowledge. I hope not to take away from that thirst but to let their genius come out. Teaching is a real balance in my life. It helps feed my writing. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Love at Absolute Zero by Christopher Meeks

Love at Absolute Zero
Author:  Christopher Meeks
Publisher:  White Whisker Books
Publishing Date:  September 17, 2011
Pages:  309
ISBN 978 0 983632917
Genre:  Comic Fiction-Adult
Source:  I was provided with an Advanced Reader's Copy for the purpose of this review.  This does not influence my opinion nor this review.

"Love at Absolute Zero is the story of Gunnar Gunderson, a 32-year old star physicist at the University of Wisconsin.  The moment he's given tenure at the university, he can think of only one thing:  finding a wife.  His research falters into what happens to matter near absolute zero (-459.67 F), but he has an instant new plan.  To meet his soul mate within three days -- that's what he wants and all time he can carve out -- he will use the Scientific Method.  His research team will help.  Can Gunnar survive his quest?   What happens if and when he goes to Denmark?"  (from the back cover)

For a star physicist, given tenure at the local university, the next quest he must embark on is that of marriage.  To be successful he must alter his image.  No one takes a second glance at a geek, right?  So off he goes to the dentist to get braces, which by the end of the evening have made the insides of his lips and cheeks feel like raw meat, followed by laser eye surgery and a trip to the hair salon.  He is now a blond not so bad looking man with metal braces and watery eyes who embarks on two nights of speed dating.  What ensues could evoke a great deal of laughter.

But the girl he meets, not through speed dating, but through a chance of accidental stepping on of a pretty high heeled foot, takes him on a roller coaster ride of emotions and turns his life upside down.  Is she the one for him?  Or is it the girl he knew from high school whom he unceremoniously dumped to pursue love in Denmark.

Through one calamity after another, Gunnar fumbles through, learning that love is not so scientific as he thought.  

Christopher Meeks' research is evident in the detail with which he writes of physics, absolute zero (which is beyond this reviewer's comprehension, so is Physics, for that matter), and the science of dentisty and ophthalmology.  The details are painstakingly written and can easily lose the less than enthusiastic reader.  The author is a talented creative writer whose talent pours from the page, with easily flowing descriptives.  

As you read Love At Absolute Zero, you can see the brilliance of the plot, appreciate the thoroughness of the author's research, and understand that there is a gifted writer at work here.  Though many will applaud Love at Absolute Zero for its approach of combining science and love, it wasn't one of my favourites this year.  I enjoyed the writing, just not the story so much.

 (Caution for the sensitive reader:  sexual situations and language, use of hashish)

Watch for my author interview tomorrow. (which, by the way, is a fabulous insight into the mind of the great Christopher Meeks.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs a biography by Walter Isaacson

Read more about the brilliance behind Apple, check out this new biography, Steve Jobs, by author Walter Isaacson.  Available at your local bookstores, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com.

Steve Jobs Died Today at Age of 56

Today an Apple spokesperson made the following statement:  "We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today."

"Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."
Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs, retired just six weeks ago after years of intermittent health problems including cancer (2004), recovering after a liver transplant (2009) and his recent undisclosed health problems.  He was a brilliant man who gave Bill Gates a run for his money and will be sadly missed.
This announcement came today, the same day Apple made public its release of the IPhone 4S with iOS5 and ICloud.

2011 Giller Prize Short List

What is the Giller Prize?  "The Scotiabank Giller Prize is Canada’s most distinguished literary prize, awarding $50,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. Finalists on the Shortlist receive $5,000. The award was established in 1994 by Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.  In September 2005, Scotiabank was proud to become the first ever co-sponsor of the prize – and it has been known as the Scotiabank Giller Prize ever since." (2011 Giller Prize Shortlist)

The following have made the Giller Prize short list:

The Cat's Table 
Author:  Michael Ondaatje

Author:  Lynn Coady (a local author!)

The Sisters Brothers
Author:  Patrick Dewitt

Half-Blood Blues: a Novel
Author:  Esi Edugyan

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
Author:  Zsuzsi Gartner

Free World
Author:  David Besmozgis

Watch the jury announce the short list finalists for the 2011 Giller Prize.

Winner will be announced November 8, 2011.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick Released Today!!

The third book in the series, previously preceded by Hush Hush and Crescendo, was released today in Canada!!  Fans, get out your wallets!!

Pushing for 200 Followers Giveaway!!!

I am so close, sitting at 193 Google Friend Followers.  When I reach 200, I will host another giveaway for a hard cover copy of the book, Palm Trees on the Hudson.  Here's a peak:

Description (from Amazon.ca)

Palm Trees on the Hudson is the hilarious prequel to Elliot Tiber’s bestseller Taking Woodstock. Before Elliot found financial success by bringing Woodstock Ventures to his upstate motel, he was one of Manhattan’s leading interior designers. Then Elliot’s career came to a halt due to a floating society party, Judy Garland, and the Mob.

In April 1968, Elliot was hired to throw an elegant dinner party aboard a luxury yacht on the Hudson River. Included on the guest list were New York’s rich and famous—politicians, financiers, and even Elliot’s icon, Judy Garland. The big night arrived. But when a fight broke out, resulting in the destruction of everything including rented palms, Elliot’s event turned into financial disaster. Things couldn’t get any worse—or so it seemed until the Mob paid a visit.

By turns comic and tragic, Palm Trees on the Hudson is the take-no-prisoners memoir that gives readers a more intimate look at the man who went on to fight back at Stonewall and who helped give birth to the Woodstock Nation.

About the Author

Elliot Tiber has written and produced numerous award-winning plays and musical comedies. As a professor of comedy writing and performance, he has taught at the New School University and Hunter College in Manhattan. His first novel, Rue Haute, was a bestseller in Europe, and was published in the US under the title High Street. He is also the best-selling author of Taking Woodstock, as well as a highly sought-out lecturer.

New followers, from the time of this posting, will be entered in the giveaway too!!

All you have to do to enter is to become a follower of this blog (Google Friend Connect) and leave a comment with your email address.  Open to US and Canadian residents.  Enter now!!

Contest close date to be determined.  The sooner you enter, the better your chance of winning!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...