2 Following


Currently reading

Virtue and Terror
Maximilien de Robespierre, Slavoj Žižek, John Howe, Jean Ducange

The Akhenaten Adventure (Children of the Lamp Series #1)

The Akhenaten Adventure (Children of the Lamp Series #1) - I'd readily recommend this to a middle-grade Middle Grade reader. For adults, however, it doesn't have the charm of some of the other middle grade books I've read. I think I'll be sticking with Mr. Kerr's brilliant adult novels.
The Lives of Tao - Wesley  Chu This is the kind of book that makes you miss your train stop and keeps you up late at night, lying to yourself that you'll read just one more chapter. Come dawn, you'll put it down with regret that you're so tired and even more regret that you've finished it.Chu misses a few opportunities—the aliens seem to mostly bond with people of the same sex, which deprives them of some potential humorous insights—but makes up for any absences with an abundance of enjoyable virtues. This is strongly recommended for any reader of action-oriented fiction.

Me Before You

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes Me Before You is one of those books that just does it right. While the writing, characters, plot and almost everything else is different, the book this most reminds me of is Ron Carlson's Five Skies. Both books don't draw attention to themselves, but completely captured my imagination with their deeply engaging stories and vivid characters. Both offers joy and sorrow in equal measures. Both have a profound appreciation for individual lives. Both are books I couldn't wait to finish, but was sad to have finished. They're the kind of books I'm desperate for a sequel, but am glad the authors won't indulge me.Or, in short, just read it already.

The Foreign Correspondent

The Foreign Correspondent - Alan Furst This was a hard book to rate. In many ways, it delivers on all of the promises any Alan Furst novel offers. The research appears to be top notch, with plenty of telling details to give it a powerful sense of place; the story puts the reader in the middle of the hidden side of the road to WWII. Yet, I got the the last 20 pages wondering where the novel was going? Alas, I don't mean an unexpected plot turn thrilled me with the unknown. Rather, the plot doesn't seem to suggest an ending. While Furst provides an ending, it felt more like a petering out that a climax. I suspect the problem is that the plot hinges on a secondary character who isn't well-enough developed to make the end feel crucial. Her fate never seems in question, so the reader (or at least I) doesn't invest in it as the novel progresses.I wouldn't suggest a dedicated Furst fan should skip this one. Enough of Furst's charms are on display to make it worthwhile. But if you are new to his oeuvre, he has many other novels that offer a vitality from beginning to end. Having read five of his novels, Dark Voyages is the one that haunts my memories.

Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults

Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults - Cheryl B. Klein I got more from this book than any other writing book I've read. Ms. Klein's insight into the editing process are priceless and the exercises had me turning to my M.S. constantly. I greatly valued the insight into the writer/editor relationship. Klein is an editor for Arthur A. Levine Books and has worked with some great writers, such as Lisa Yee and Francisco X. Stark (she was the U.S. continuity editor for several of the Harry Potter novels as well). She walks the reader through some sample edits from both Yee's and Stark's books, which I found an amazing relief. Seeing actual submissions gives my internal editor a guide as to where my writing needs to be at the submission phase. Klein's edits show how to address the weaknesses of these drafts—similar to ones most potential readers will have to overcome.I give out five-stars with a bit of reluctance (although I'm not horribly stingy, either). Were the information here not so valuable and inspiring, I'd knock Second Sight for it's one weakness. The book is a collection of essays and presentations Klein had previously presented. As a result, the book doesn't feel as well organized or polished as I'd normally demand from a book on writing and editing. However, given the insights the material has given me into my own writing, I can't knock it below any of my other favorite writing books. I'll call it a flawed masterpiece.

The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual

The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual - Victoria Mixon Put Victoria Mixon's books on the top of your writing craft to-read list.Mixon's second Art & Craft of Writing manual takes the outstanding content of the first and brings it to a formidably high level. Simply put, the two books together would easily serve as brilliant texts for a university intermediate or advanced writing class. Indeed, I urge other writers approaching them to do so when they can take a month or more to read them several times, give close readings to the works she references (especially the three novels and two short stories she uses to show structure in Story).Unfortunately for me, I read both novels when working on revisions for my own novel and don't feel I have the time to study them to reap their full reward. I suspect when I get my current draft finished and letting it "go cold" for a while, I'll revisit both books and give them the time their due.Mixon's focus in Story is on structure. Most of the books and articles I've read on structure are essentially books on plot. Mixon doesn't short-change plot. If you don't pay attention to her examples and the lessons she draws from them, one might even find her plot rules to be rigid. There's a hook sentence, a hook, a conflict, a faux resolution, then a resolution—repeated for the hook, conflict and resolution. Oh, don't forget the fulcrum. With a heavy hand, it's the to-do list for a generic (if quick moving) genre piece. But if you pay attention to the examples, let your mind dance a bit to Mixon's song, she will force you to think carefully about all of the elements of story. This is particularly true when Mixon talks about character. Most of the plot and structure books and articles shuffle character off to the side. Mixon doesn't let you slide by on plotting alone. She demands that you understand how your characters' conflicting needs drive and complicate the plot. In the end, she asks you to know why this character?Even for people like me—rushing too much to get their draft done to give the book the time it deserves—The Art & Craft of Story asks questions that bring clarity to your writing.

Livvie Owen Lived Here

Livvie Owen Lived Here - Sarah Dooley

The Art & Craft Of Fiction

The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner's Manual - Victoria A Mixon ——The Review——One of the frustrations when buying instructional books is determining if a book is written for someone of a similar skill level as yourself. In a break between writing, I spent five years teaching myself an extremely complex 3D program, Autodesk Maya. Once you learn the basics, finding new instructional materials becomes difficult. Much of what is written assumes very little knowledge. Sometimes a book called "Advanced Techniques" targets advanced beginners instead of people who have spent a few years on the material. Yet there are books called "Fundamentals of" or "Basic" that require a substantial basis of knowledge before having any utility. Writing books rarely fall into the "too advanced" category, but frequently target beginners, placing a great deal of emphasis on things like "show, don't tell," that appear in almost every guide whose spine you've cracked. What makes Mixon's The Art & Craft of Fiction such a joy is that it sidesteps the problem of being too beginner-ish for more studied authors without leaving those just started in writing without the valuable basics. To start, Mixon is a joy to read. I had started an engaging novel when my order for The Art & Craft of Fiction arrived at the Book Cellar. I had planned on finishing the novel before starting Mixon's book, but made the error of reading a few pages. From that point, I read it like a can't-put-it-down thriller. Like Charles Baxter's The Art of Subtext, the last writing book I read, Mixon's mastery of prose shines on every page. She's been a "professional writer and editor for a bizillion years," and it shows. Even when covering areas that I feel comfortably competent in, I never felt the urge to skim. Moreso, often when writing about topics I have general mastery in, Mixon had something new to add that will enhance my writing.The Art & Craft of Fiction covers a broad swath. I'm tempted to call it a complete book on the topic, but she has a second book (that I haven't read), expanding further on the subject. However, even if Mixon has yet more to say, it's unlikely a beginning writer will be left wanting. She covers planning and development, character, plot, scenes, dialogue, prose, grammar, and just about everything else; and she covers it poignantly with insight.In short, this is a book anyone who hasn't published a bunch of novels and worked with a good editor for years will benefit from and enjoy.——Chapter 21——There is, however, a significant problem with the book, and it's name is Chapter 21. I'm not rescinding even a quarter-star for it, nor changing my must-read recommendation, but Chapter 21, you and I have some issues. Let me talk about the subject to debate issue of the ellipses first. The Chicago Manual of Style (Twelfth ed.—alas mine is quite out of date) doesn't mention them in any context except for deletion in quoted text. E.g., "Use three dots…[t]wo look silly" could be used if you didn't value the entirety of "Use three dots, no more, no less. Anything more than three is wasteful. Two looks silly." Within the context of non-fiction, that is the only proper use of the ellipses. But Mixon isn't writing about non-fiction and we fictionistas get to flout some rules or hew to a somewhat different set of regulations. So when Mixon says one shouldn't use an ellipses with a period, she isn't incorrect in a technical sense. However, the ellipses used in fiction indicates a pause or interruption and, in the case of an interruption, may occur at the end of the sentence. In such a case, The Chicago Manual of Style leaves no doubt about the propriety of an ellipses followed by a period. Moreso, under the influence of Emily Brontë, Mixon opposes ellipses in favor of em-dashes. In five paragraphs, I would hope that she mentions the great utility of using ellipses and em-dashes to represent different kinds of interruptions. In Browne and King's equally vital volume on writing, Self-editing for Fiction Writers, the authors suggest using ellipses to indicate a self-interruption: a pause or trailing off. The em-dash is reserved for external-interruptions, such as in this exchange: "But didn't you promise…" Jessie said. "I did nothing of the sort," Tyrone said. "Now, look, you two—" Dudley said. "You stay out of this," Tyrone said.In that exchange, we understand that Jessie has spoken without the confidence to finish her accusation against Tyrone, while Tyrone interrupts Dudley. The ellipsis has use. (I should note that The Chicago Manual of Style does call for em-dashes to indicate breaks in speech or thought, but, you know, Browne and King had it right.)You might conclude this is nit-picking and I just wasted a bunch of words on a nit. Fair enough. My next complaint with my nemesis, Chapter 21, is more substantive. It is a matter of fact, not opinion and I am correct. Mixon may edit books, but I design them (amoung many other things) and know the fundamentals of typography. Trust me when I tell you that the en-dash is not a hyphen and is not used for hyphenation. That's the hyphen (this guy: - ). The en-dash, as Mixon correctly points out, is the width of an en (it looks like this: – ). It has two uses, one of which is extremely rare, the other largely ignored. The primary use of the en-dash is to replace the words "to" or "through" in ranges, such as "1997–2001" or "2001-". A rare secondary use is the join compound adjectives, such as post–Civil War (although not non-English Speaking).Okay, I'm a typography nut. I'll spare you the other typographical misinformation contained in Chapter 21. The section on the period is quite good, so you might as well read it. Just expect that if you mess up with en-dashes, whomever lays out your book will be at pains, because nobody expects that. ——The Book as a physical object——As one might expect from somebody who gets worked up over typographical misinformation, the design of a physical book matters to me, and here, Mixon's husband (who not only formatted the book but put the typefaces on the copyright page—swoon!) did a bang-up job. The cover design feels comfortable and inviting, suggesting a safe, calming space for writing. The typeface choice was dead-on, and the archaic choice of pen lines gives the cover a sense of gravitas. (There is one error that makes a designer grind teeth: the subtitle's font is stretched. Most readers won't notice, but I had to search to find out if there was a badly done extended version of Poor Richard, the typeface. There isn't. When you spend your days being hyper-careful about type layout, once you notice an error like this, it takes over the page.)However, what truly makes this book a physical treasure is it's soft matte coating. This is a relatively new finish that I've yet to see on a book. Apple uses it on some of their packaging, so it's going to get broad use, but for now, it's a smart, cutting-edge choice with enormous tactile rewards. The soft matte finish gives the cover a silky/rubbery feel that is entirely caressable. It also prevents fingerprints and smudges from showing. I'm pretty sure The Art & Craft of Fiction is print-on-demand. Prior to seeing this, I didn't think it was possible to get even a decent standard matte finish from the POD printers*. If you're self-publishing and can get a soft-matte finish, ante up a bit more for it if your book will appear anyplace where the reader will pick it up pre-purchase. The sense of luxury will make the price of the book seem more reasonable.*If you are fanatical about design, self-publishing is frustrating. You can't control the paper the cover is printed on, have no embossing options, forget about a foil or metallic finish, and don't even dream of spot varnishes. Go into a real bookstore sometime and pick up Francisco X. Strork's Marcello in the Real World. Hold it up to the light and look at how the spot varnish on the black surfaces shine while the blue sky remains without reflection. Run your fingers across the cover and feel the differences in texture between the varnish and the unvarnished paper. Ironically, the interior paper isn't as nice as The Art & Craft of Fiction nor the handful of prints I made of the first draft of my current novel through Lulu.com. But that cover is a joy. It's almost as much of a tactile thrill as Mixon's book.

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot

The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot - Charles Baxter This is a book full of passion for art and language. As someone who hasn't formally studied literature, The Art of Subtext gave me a wonderful new way to think about my reading and writing.While as far from a how-to guide or writing manual as possible and still be a book on writing, I suspect that this book will impact my writing more than most of the writing manuals I've read. Baxter's prose is engaging and his opinions are unflinching (if occasionally stodgy or nostalgic). I find it difficult that many readers will agree with him completely, but it's equally incredulous that readers will find him unengaging or lacking insight. His critique on the disembodied and disconnected nature of modern relationships, where we talk at each other instead of with somebody is contradicted by his examples from 19th century literature, but remains intriguing and worth thinking about.English majors may find this ground they've covered, but for those who haven't studied literature on a collegiate level and want to get more out of their reading (or film/tv viewing), I'm tempted to call this a must-read. Even for those who have covered this ground before, Baxter's style and willingness to speak his mind give the reader much to deliciate over.This is the first book in a series on The Art of…, all edited by Baxter. I'm excited read the rest of them.On a design note, the entire The Art of… series are all unusually sized books. They're about as wide as an iPhone is tall, and around 50% taller than wide. Combined with the slender page counts, these are fantastic books to slip into a coat pocket or small bag.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak I read the last fifth of The Book Thief sobbing, something I've never done before—and this was coming after a spectacular morning on a beautiful day. I'm not somebody who cries easily over fiction. However, Markus Zusak does something better than any writer I've read has done: create characters who embedded themselves in my mind not as fictional people, but living creatures made of pieces torn from every corner of my memory. The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany, amongst the civilians living on Himmel Street at the outskirts of Munich. If you don't know from the back cover and the setting there will be a lot of suffering, you'll clue in when the narrator, a melancholy Death, tells you. Death does a lot of foreshadowing, so the reader rarely comes upon a painful scene unprepared. (Is it foreshadowing when the narrator tells you outright something will happen?) Foreshadowing is a tool often used to build tension and suspense, but frequently does so by blunting sadness and loss. Zusak's skill is such that the foreknowledge of death and pain never diminish the reader's experience of them.I suspect the reason the characters of The Book Thief resonate so strongly is because they aren't heroes in the conventional sense. Literary-wise, heroes are the people who step-up in the face of need or are drawn reluctantly into conflict. The heroic characters of the novel are not people who actively seek out to defy the Nazi regime (or the civilians who have embraced it's horrific messages), nor people who are dragged by others into acting. They are "normal" people whose humanity and empathy compel them to make rash acts of kindness. In reading The Book Thief, you come to realize the irony of the adjective "humanity." The most clearly "heroic" character in the novel is Hans Hubermann. His virtue derives from not acting like the rest of humanity. Instead, when confronted with a person in need of compassion, he cannot help but act kindly. He isn't driven by a sense of moral obligation or idealism, but primal, instinctual empathy. The other primary characters (none of whom is a Nazi, expect perhaps by forced party membership) have different reasons for their acts of kindness, but at the core of every one is love and compassion.There are two or three acts of contemplated altruism in the book and the first happens before the events of the book: Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa decide to take in two orphans*. The reasons for this act of charity is never explained, although one finishes the book with suspicions. Without spoilers, the second and (possible) third altruistic acts can't be discussed, but they are driven not by a desire to give, serve or do justice, but guilt (a recurrent theme) and loss. They, too, are acts of compassion. By presenting readers with characters who are never forced to be something beyond ordinary in all but empathy, I felt their losses far more than heroic characters who have chosen to enter death's path or who are in it for cynical reasons (but come around, maybe, to believe in The Cause). Zusak never rushes the reader along. The chapters don't end with cliff hangers (perhaps with Death foreshadowing so much, there's no need to lure the reader with suspense). The scenes are relatively short, never staying past their welcome, but detailed and poignant enough that the reader is tempted to linger. With each scene and each act of kindness that strikes against the cruelty of humanity, I was drawn deeper into the characters and the characters into me. There is much more that could be said about this book: it's depth is extraordinary; it's phrases and word choices striking and beautiful. However, this is a review of the characters. Few readers will be able to leave Himmel Street without tears. Nor will the characters be likely to leave your mind for long after you finish. I suspect The Book Thief is a classic that will outlive it's youthful author.*The two orphans are Liesel Meminger and her brother. Her brother dies on the trip to the Hubermann's with their mother. Technically, they aren't orphans, but have been abandoned by their mother for reasons best left undisclosed.

A Coffin for Dimitrios (Charles Latimer Series #1)

A Coffin for Dimitrios - Eric Ambler This is a curious book. A pioneer in the espionage novels, casting an unwitting foreign (a Brit in the two Ambler books I've read) in an espionage plot he only slowly realizes he's entangled in, Ambler created a template that's been used over and over again and remains surprisingly contemporary. Yet, I can't imagine this book being published today because it so often violates the "show, don't tell" rule. For extended passages—sometimes entire chapters—the story is told in letters or paraphrased exposition that the protagonist meets with. The protagonist has little to say during these stretches and while the exposition is well-crafted and engaging, it never rises to "showing."I some ways, this is an argument against the "show" rule. Ambler creates a gripping story with few cliff-hangers, too much show, and just about everything else thriller writers are supposed to avoid. While not reaching the masterly levels of Ambler's contemporary, Graham Greene, or the current works of Phillip Kerr, A Coffin for Dimitrios is as enjoyable and well crafted as any of Alan Furst's novels—which is by no means damning with faint praise.

The Rent Is Too Damn High

The Rent Is Too Damn High - Matthew Yglesias As a dedicated urbanist, I've thought about many of the issues Yglesias covers, yet he digs out so many unexpected observations in 80 pages that I felt I hadn't even started to think or read about the topic. After discussing the many ways in which zoning restrictions (including things that aren't usually considered zoning, like parking requirement) not only inhibit people from living where they want, but force them to move to "cheaper" cities where they, on average, will earn less money. This is not an attack on suburbia or a glossy-eyes tribute to urbanity, but rather an insightful treatise on how zoning restrictions hurt people in almost all sectors of the economy and places in the nation. While Yglesias is a self-identified liberal, libertarians and free-market proponents will recognize the logic in his suggestions. The same is true for those who fear gentrification and new development as a tool for displacing the poor. Yglesias notes that without new development, a newly gentrifying area becomes even more expensive, driving out more lower-income people. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in urban planning, city and suburban economics or just a well-reasoned policy piece.

Behold the Dawn

Behold the Dawn - K.M. Weiland Behold the Dawn is a well-researched and -written historical action novel that kept me reading to the point of missing train stops. Other readers have noted a slow beginning but I found it engaging from the start. Marcus Annan is a tourneyer—a combination of sports hero and mercenary—of considerable gifts. Feared on and off the tourney field, he fights hoping to find someone who can best—and kill—him. Too strong and skilled to die, he gets sucked into a byzantine plot to extract revenge for horrible events from his past. On whim or by manipulation of a revenge-mad monk, Annan travels to the Levant during the crusades. While there, he takes a young woman into his protection and wants nothing more than to deliver her to safety. Evil plotters won't let this happen, of course, and many plot twists ensue.Weiland's plot has a sense of inevitability, but manages to surprise. Her prose is often lovely and never distracts the reader with out of character phrases or conspicuously overwritten passages. There are some moments when she slips into some of the stereotypes of romance writing—the reader never has reason to doubt Annan's shoulders' breadth—but those lapses are rare. The primary characters are well-developed, fully-envisioned and occasionally surprise. The villains, who are also given POV time (there are six POVs by my count) are less well-developed: one never escapes the sense that they are bad men, not men who have made bad decisions. However, their full-on bad-guyness suits the plot and works in an action-oriented novel like this.The redemption theme is handled gracefully. While the dedication ("Dedicated to my beloved Savior, who has given us a fresh beginning in each new day.") leaves the reader with little doubt that Annan's certainty in his own damnation will be overcome, Weiland never pushes the redemption theme to the point that I feel that somebody reluctant to read "Christian Fiction" would find it intrusive. Another potentially thorny issue Weiland masterfully sidesteps is the potential to either cast her heroes as moral moderns in a historical time or creating muslims who are simplistic villains. There is a respect for the Seljuk's military prowess and Saladin's devotion to honor, but there is no sense that any of the Christian characters view Islam as morally equal to Christianity (or at all blessed by God). The Muslims are in the background and the evil-doers are men who claim Christian piety.I recommend it to any reader looking for an action-focused novel who enjoys or even just tolerates historical themes. I would suggest readers uncomfortable with fairly graphic portrayals of violence stay away, however, as Weiland never shies from showing the violence of Annan's life, nor that of the times (war and all that).

God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History

God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History - Stephen Hawking Anyone interested in the history and evolution of math and science should pick up this monster tome. It's not a book you're likely to read front-to-back in order, nor necessarily even be able to follow all of the copious amount of equations presented without a very solid math background. However, Hawking explains the importance of each mathematicians accomplishments, gives a solid biography for each of them, and presents some of their most important work in its original form.I'm currently working through Laplace's work on probability. I find it challenging and slow-going at times, but highly rewarding and a great way to keep my mind vigorously engaged.Since I'm writing a novel with a math genius as the protagonist, I find this the singularly most valuable reference in my library.

Dangerous Liaisons (Penguin Classics)

Dangerous Liaisons - Helen Constantine, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos This was a library loan I didn't have a chance to finish. I enjoyed it, but was lured by other titles. I suspect once I get through my current list of research titles and books that might be similar to my own novel (call them query research), I'll go back to this.

Burning Bright

Burning Bright - Tracy Chevalier I was slow to take to it's quiet charms, but half way through, I've come thoroughly enjoy the way Chevalier so carefully and thoroughly places the reader in the London of the early 1790s.The plot unfolds very slowly, at times it not entirely clear there is one. However, when I have reading time, I'm coming back to this over other, more plot-driven books because the children are so fascinating.