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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Integument
Casuistry
Disquisition
Jackstraw

Books. You never really know what you’re getting until you crack the boards and step inside. Cover art, blurbs, reviews, recommendations, they paint a picture, but as with all art, though the rest of world might love it, for you can be a big fat nothing-burger. Or worse. Will it be a breezy fun-filled page-turner? A deeply engrossing dive into the belly of the dark societal beast? A slog through a mire of typos, anachronisms, and cliches stitched together with wooden dialog spoken by lackluster characters? It’s hard to tell at the outset.

Spillikin
Tergiversate
Congeries
Houseled

A good book isn’t always an easy read. Some very good books take a lot of work to get through. Complicated, intertwined timelines can make your brain hurt. You can get lost amid involuted syntax, tripped up by participial phrases and subordinate adjectival clauses. Or you can be barraged by salvos of words unknown or unfamiliar to you. This doesn’t make the book unreadable; it just makes it a challenge. 

Bathos
Panopticon
Nugatory
Irenic

I don’t mind if a good book is a challenge. I don’t mind having to work for it. It’s part of the journey, no? Where a single “there”/”their” mix-up can be the last straw on a book already fraught with issues, I’ll work hard with another book if the prose is exceptional, the story compelling, the characters so interesting that they draw me in and hold me down as I fight my way through the convoluted plot.

I am halfway through a book right now, and have had to look up a ton of words, more than in any other book I’ve ever read. These words were either wholly unknown to me (spillikin?) or ones that I was only “pretty sure” I knew (integument, disquisition). In a lesser book, I would likely be put off by these words as being out of character or too highfalutin for the subject, but in this book these words are a perfect oriel from which I can peer into the minds of the characters (a pair of Victorian poets). And, hey, new words.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know: spillikin and jackstraw? Synonyms. 

k

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We all make mistakes. Sometimes, it’s our fault. We move too fast, we don’t think something through, we misspeak, we fat-finger as we type. Other times, though, it’s not our fault because, though we do our best, we were simply ignorant of the rules.

English Grammar: 100 Tragically Common Mistakes (and How to Correct Them) can help, at least with mistakes involving the words we use.

Sean Williams, (known also by her Facebook alter ego, Captain Grammar Pants), has gifted us with a useful, readable, light-hearted tour of grammar ignominy. It is chock-full of tidbits, explanations, examples (good and bad), and sound advice. Each topic is concisely laid out, putting everything—introduction, example of the mistake, example of the correction, a brief explanation of the underlying rule, and an optional test question—all into a few paragraphs that can be read in under a minute.

Unless, like Williams, you are a grammar maven, you will benefit from this book. As an author, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of grammar, but even so I learned from reading it; sometimes I learned something new, and others, I got a better understanding of the rule behind what I already knew. Throughout, it was interesting and informative.

I recommend this book to any student, any budding writer, anyone who wants to polish up their grammar skills for work, or anyone who simply loves words and wants to use them more effectively. It’s a book you can read in bits, or all in one sitting, but either way, it’s a book you’ll come back to repeatedly.

k

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As regular readers know, I’m a Browncoat for life. However, I am not the sort of über-fan who will buy anything they slap a “Firefly” logo on. Yes, I have Firefly-related t-shirts, a couple of “behind the scenes” books, and on the back of my car there is an “I aim to misbehave” sticker, but I’ve passed on most of the comic books, the graphic novels, and other paraphernalia that’s out there vying for my Browncoat credits.

A series of novels, though? Sign me up.

The Magnificent Nine is the second installment in the new Firefly novel series, penned by James Lovegrove, who also gave us the first in the series (a review of which can be found here.) I was underwhelmed by Lovegrove’s first title, but I enjoyed the book despite its flaws.

Alas, this title also has its flaws, some of them serious.

But first, what’s good . . . (more…)

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Leonardo da Vinci has fascinated me for a very long time, so when I learned of Walter Isaacson’s biography of the quintessential Renaissance Man, I snapped it up. The hardcover edition is a hefty tome, not merely by virtue of its 624 pages, but also because of the heavy coated paper, employed to better display the many color plates and illustrations that are scattered throughout the book.

Isaacson’s analysis of Leonardo’s life, personality, virtues, and faults, is engagingly warm and human, bringing the deified icon of the Italian Renaissance back down to earth. That Leonardo was a genius is not in dispute—his wide-ranging expertise on everything from anatomy to optics to engineering to painting to architecture provide ample proof of his genius—but he was a flawed one, given to bouts of vanity, arrogance, self-doubt, and impatience. His reputation as a master of science and art was matched by his reputation for failure: commissions repeatedly went unfinished, and projects dragged on and on until patrons found someone else to fulfill their needs. (more…)

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Full disclosure: I am a Browncoat.

I wasn’t an early adopter, in that I never saw Firefly during its brief broadcast on FOX, but once a friend lent me his box set of DVDs, I knew I had found my all-time favorite science fiction television show.

That said, you might think I’m about to go all gosh and gee-willikers about Big Damn Hero, the first official Firefly novel.

And you’d be wrong. (more…)

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I was missing London last week. I really felt the need to go for a visit. Luckily, I had a book in my TBR pile that was waiting to take me there.

I’ve visited London a handful of times over the decades, seen it clean itself up—from pollution, bombings, fires—seen it rebuild itself, piece by piece. I remember thinking, when The Shard started to go up, “Oh my, that’s gonna be awful,” and yet today, I look on that gargantuan pillar of glass rising above the Southwark walk and think, “Yeah, I like that. It fits.”

While I’m not always fond of London’s continually changing cityscape, one thing I adore about London is what doesn’t change. A perfect example is the ancient building that’s tucked in among skyscrapers called the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie, and the Cheese Grater. In the shadow of modern architecture is a treasure that’s been around for nearly a thousand years.

The Tower of London. (more…)

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This past year, I’ve reviewed only three books. There are a couple of reasons for that.

The primary reason is that I’ve been reading a lot more news these days. Current events (and my often visceral reaction to them) have been consuming a great deal of my available attention. A secondary reason is that another main chunk of my reading time has been devoted to research—online and offline—for my work-in-progress, and while some of these research works are very good, they’re not titles that most (or any) of you would find interesting.

Through this, however, I felt the lack of fiction, not only as a needed escape from the real world, but also as part of my education and development as a writer.

With this in mind, last month I decided to devote time to fiction (the first of which resulted in this), and I’ve been continuing that trend by reading Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep.

But this isn’t about that; this is about reading. (more…)

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