Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

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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My life and my brain have calmed enough that, for the first time in a long time, I was able to finish reading a book. I’d picked up a dozen or so in the last year, but either they were uninteresting (a lot of titles about adolescent angst…what’s up with that?) or I found them annoying (like this one). After so many failed attempts among the offerings of current fiction, I decided to try something that wasn’t waiting in my TBR pile.

The question was: What?

Fate intervened, and tossed a title my way. Bang the Drum Slowly is a title I’d been aware of, but never read. I am not a big sports fan — oh, I watch the Seahawks and I enjoy a baseball game, but I don’t follow any of it — so Mark Harris’s book about a mediocre catcher who is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s during a pennant race wasn’t high on my list. But a stray mention of it as a prime example of mid-20th century fiction caught my eye, and I figured, what the hell, give it a chance. It couldn’t be worse than some of the others I’d started this year.

What I found was something I did not expect: a unique voice and structure. Well, unique in my reading experience, anyway.


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As regular readers know, I have what I call The 40-Page Dropkick Rule. When I begin reading a book, it has forty pages to grab me, draw me in, and make me want to keep reading. For exceptionally long books, the forty page limit can be extended to fifty, sometimes eighty. Regardless the limit, if I’m not hooked by that time, the book gets tossed aside.

I created this rule because, growing up, I had a hard time putting down a book, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. It took me six months to finally finish The Agony and the Ecstasy, a book I might very well enjoy now but, when I was sixteen, it really was a slog.

Six months! One book! That’s a long time, time during which I might easily have read several other books if I’d just allowed myself to put Mr. Stone’s opus to the side. But I couldn’t. With my completionist nature, my overriding urge to “see the job through,” I couldn’t not finish the book. As years passed, my self-confidence helped me override these urges, and thus was born my 40-Page Dropkick Rule.

Once in a while, though, a book passes the Dropkick limit, only to falter farther along. Such was my experience of The Goldfinch, the Pulitzer Prize winner by Donna Tartt. (more…)

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Book lovers never die; they just get carried away by a story.”

Stack of BooksYou may never have heard of her, but in the publishing world, Harriet Klausner was legendary.

This week, she passed away, aged only 63.

Harriet Klausner was the uncontested Queen of Book Reviews. A speed reader who easily consumed four to six novels a day, she was (and remains) Amazon’s #1 Hall of Fame reviewer, with over 31,000 reviews to her credit.

In 2006 (when she had only written around 13,000 reviews), Time Magazine listed her as one of the year’s most influential people. “Klausner is part of a quiet revolution in the way American taste gets made.”

Indeed. (more…)

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Recently, Roger Sutton (editor-in-chief of The Horn Book, a magazine that reviews children’s and YA books), declared in an open letter to self-published authors his reasons for not reviewing self-published books. The next day, Ron Charles (editor of The Washington Post’s Book World) picked up Sutton’s commentary for an article and interview, adding his own two cents of support at the end. Other editors and reviewers chimed in, echoing the comments and sentiments of both.

A few hours later, the self-publishing universe achieved critical mass and exploded.

Unfortunately, most folks involved in that explosion didn’t bother to read Sutton’s letter or the WP article. They just heard that their books had been interdicted, and that was enough send them into orbit.

Which illustrates a huge part of the problem: Self-published authors don’t understand the industry.


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We’ve had some tough times, lately, so when I looked at my TBR pile (composed primarily of history, science, and literature), I sighed. I just didn’t have the verve to crack one of those. I needed something fun, something fresh, something…easier. So, when a friend recommended Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass as a fun, engaging read, I jumped at the chance.

I’m glad I did.


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Last week, I made the mistake of going to a bookstore. I avoid bookstores, as a rule. I always leave them with books. More books. Books I want to read. Books that sit on the shelf and taunt me.

This last trip had an interesting twist: I left with all non-fiction.

One of these non-fiction books was Gifts of the Crow, by John Marzluff and Tony Angell. It is dissertation on the nature of corvids–crows, ravens, jays, magpies, etc.–and through the use of anecdotes and field studies, it illustrates how intelligent these birds are, and how many analogues exist between their behavior and ours.

Marzluff is a veteran ornithological biologist and Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, here in Seattle. Angell is an illustrator whose line drawings accompany the text, and whose schematics of the corvid brain and anatomy fill the appendices. Let’s face it: these guys know their stuff.

It’s an intriguing subject for me. Ravens and crows are strong spiritual icons both here in the Pacific Northwest, and throughout the Native American cultures I studied for the novels of my Fallen Cloud Saga. Personally, blue jays (like the Steller’s jays that come to my deck and jeer at me until I give them some peanuts) are among my favorite birds. I’ve often noted how adaptable, how intelligent these birds seem to be. Their behavior always seemed to be a step more advanced than the other birds that frequent our back garden. In short, when I regarded the crows and jays that live around me, I often felt that there was someone in those birds, regarding me in return.


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