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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

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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Back in the late ’70s, James Burke introduced me to interdisciplinary thinking. His book and documentary series, Connections, showed how (for example) the use of lateen sails in the 14th century led to the discovery of electricity. The process was far from linear, but Burke made the connections along the way clear and irrefutable.

Mark Forsyth, in his book, The Etymologicon, has done much the same thing with words. (more…)

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London is built upon its dead.

On our last visit to London, during an unseasonably warm April, we opted to flee from the Holy Week/Royal Wedding crowds that thronged the city center and seek a quiet, shaded walk. We found it in Kensal Green, one of the six great Victorian cemeteries that ring London. It was a spontaneous choice, our walk amongst the tombs, but it piqued my curiosity enough that I wanted to learn more about these somber, beautiful places of death.

Thus, when a friend told me about Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead, I snapped it up.

It’s difficult for Americans to comprehend, sometimes, how young our nation is when compared to the rest of the civilized world. Though the native populations of the Americas had been here for thousands of years, they left the continent virtually unmarked by their presence. Seattle, where I live, was not here 150 years ago. Our streets were built on land uncut, our city laid out on land that had never known one stone stacked upon another. This is true of all American cities. There are no ruins of empires past beneath our feet. When we dig in the earth, we do not find coins of Rome or remnants of a Norseman’s armor. Thus, when we travel abroad and visit cities that have been in existence for centuries, for millennia, it is often difficult for us to grasp what that really means.

In the case of London, it means that the city is not only built upon the ruins of its past but that it is, quite literally, built upon the bodies of its dead.

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Though they show no particular affinity for me, I love dogs.

At my core, I’m a cat person, but I adore the dogness of dogs and the unique relationship they can have with humans. And though it may sound strange, I love the humanity of dogs, their willingness to love us and to trust us (whether we deserve it or not).

It is not a surprise, therefore, that I enjoyed Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. It’s told by a dog. It takes place in Seattle.

What is a surprise is how much I enjoyed it.

Seriously. This book is now on my Top Five list. As a reader, I loved it. As a writer, it taught me some lessons I’m ready to learn. (more…)

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Full disclosure: I do not like vampire stories.

Puzzlement: I’m going to recommend one.

The past twenty years have seen an ever-increasing convolution of the vampire, twisting and shoving the original ’50s monster into the tightening straight-jacket of political correctness. I mean, sparkling? Seriously? That’s why they can’t see sunlight now? They sparkle? I haven’t done a study of it (nor will I) but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s a vegan vampire out there, sucking the life out of blood oranges and beetroot. (more…)

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A lot went right with the release of Beneath a Wounded Sky and the completion of The Fallen Cloud Saga. Overall, I’m very pleased with the product, inside and out. Don’t kid yourself, people do judge a book by its cover…and by its font, and even by the quality of its title page. A good product, a quality product, will sell better than something that looks like it was put together by a grade-schooler.

But I did not do everything right; far from it. And there was one Big Item that I actually ignored purposefully, and it bears mentioning for any of you out there who are taking notes.

So, where can I improve for next time?

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