My First Summer in the Sierra (Illustrated Edition) – Book Review

sierraPicture getting to see some of the most breath-taking parts of Yosemite National Park before it ever was Yosemite National Park. Think of sweeping mountains, fresh, gushing water and abundant plant life. 19th century romanticism only touched on how beautiful these landscapes were and in some cases still are. Now, combining that 19th century writing with beautifully rendered 21st century photographs, this illustrated edition of a classic is not something that is easily put down.

The Power of Descriptive Narration

John Muir’s adventure into the Sierra is wonderfully documented, pairing stunning nature photography with an in-depth personal narrative that makes you feel as though you are along side him, taking in the scenery and experiencing everything that untamed nature has to offer.

“Before noon,” Muir writes, “we passed Bower Cave, a delightful marble palace, not dark and dripping, but filled with sunshine, which pours into it through its wide-open mouth facing the south. It has a fine, deep, clear little lake with mossy banks embowered with broad-leaved maples, all underground, wholly unlike anything I have seen in the cave line even in Kentucky, where a large part of the State is honeycombed with caves.”

Muir creates pictures, not only with the included photographs by Scot Miller, but also with his keen sense of detail and explanation which evident throughout his narrative. Combined with the equally as detailed photographs, Muir delivers with My First Summer in the Sierra.

My First Summer in the Sierra and John Muir

Originally published in 1911, My First Summer in the Sierra enticed many people to visit the Yosemite area. John Muir was a young Scottish immigrant who had not yet become the famed naturalist that he would be later in life. Later dubbed, “John o’ the Mountains,” Muir first trekked into the Sierra shortly after the end of the Civil War.

After falling in love with the area, Muir later returned in 1869 to work with a group of shepherds as they herded a flock of 2,500 sheep toward the headwaters of the Merced River. My First Summer in the Sierra captures much of this adventure, including vivid descriptions of what Muir under-went during his time in the unspoiled area of Yosemite.

Other books that document and explore the American landscape include Joseph Sohm’s Visions of America: Photographing Democracy.

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir with forward by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns with photography by Scot Miller is available for purchase on April 12, 2011 with ISBN 9780618988518 through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design – A Review

biophilicThe world unto itself is a work of art, with its natural beauty and majestic landscapes. Too often, modern society tends to forget the world we live in, failing to preserve the beauty that we were given from the beginning. Biophilic Cities explores the importance of incorporating wilderness and nature in our urban lives. City living makes it easy for us to forget what nature is like, everything from its beauty to its power to heal even the most jaded of city landscapes.

About Biophilic Cities

In his book, Timothy Beatley argues for the greening of future cities, stating that renewable energy and better public transit are just one part of what a green city is. More importantly, urban planning needs to begin to focus around coexisting with the natural world instead of constantly impeding on it. A biophilic city, argues Beatley, plans in conjunction with nature. It incorporates the natural world into its buildings and planning.

It is imperative that as we move towards the future, we begin to take into consideration the importance of doing so because nature is an important part of sustainable living and thus, overall existence. What is most notable about Beatley’s ideals for a future planned city, is that it not only incorporates the nature that was already there in the first place, but it also strives to replenish and revive what has already been lost and degraded by poor planning in the past.

Including Nature in Urban Design

Timothy Beatley offers many solutions to how urban planners can incorporate nature into urban development. Beatley includes essays and beautiful photographs of roof-top gardens, green walk-ways, living walls and sidewalk gardens. His ideas for what a city can be, does not make it difficult to put these new ideas into place. Rather, his ideas for the greening of urban living are about coexistence and even a beautification of drab urban settings.

Overall, Biophilic Cities presents interesting ideas on what future cities could strive to become. The essays though interesting, can be a bit dry in places. However, Beatley does make up for that by including beautiful nature and urban photography which often enhance his ideas on what a city can be and what the issues with past urban planning have caused. It will be interesting to see how many of Beatley’s solutions begin to redefine what we have known as the urban landscape.

Biophilic Cities by Timothy Beatly is available for purchase with ISBN 1597267155. It was originally published on October 25, 2010 through Island Press.

Book Review: The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostovaswans was first published in 2005 with her best-selling historical vampire thriller, The Historian. Today, there are more than 1.5 million copies in print and a Sony film adaptation is in the works. Much like that novel, Kostova sets up The Swan of Thieves.

The Artist and the Academic

Here, Kostova creates a central, academic hero that becomes engrossed within a mystery. Each chapter ranges in time from past to present, encompassing the lives of painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose lives are beautifully described and played out through their art and letters.

Juxtaposing the past with the present, Kostova creates her academic hero in Andrew Marlow, a trained psychiatrist who is bent on asking the tough, prying questions and unraveling the mystery that is key to the plot of the novel. The mystery being that one of Marlow’s patients, renowned painter Robert Oliver, tried to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow becomes increasingly obsessed with Oliver and his reasons for attempting to do what he did, when he uncovers Oliver’s obsession with a stolen batch of letters written in French that he continually reads and obsesses over himself.

Living Up to The Historian

Fans of Kostova have waited with great anticipation for her next novel. Fans of The Historian will not be disappointed by The Swan Thieves, in fact, it is rather easy to see much of Kostova’s budding writing style continue on into her latest novel.

The intrigue and ability to build a deep and entangled plot is clearly evident in Kostova’s second novel. Accompanied with the lush world of Impressionism and 19th century life, Kostova delivers with The Swan Thieves: A Novel. Kostova has a great gift for writing. It will be a long wait to see what her third novel will bring to her already impressive quality of work.

About the Author – Elizabeth Kostova

Kostova was born New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan.

According to a press release, in May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created to help support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova was published by Little, Brown and Company on January 12, 2010 with ISBN 0316065781.

Book Review: The Botticelli Secret

secretSteeped in the turmoil of the non-unified Italy of the 1400’s, Marina Fiorato skillfully weaves a detailed and evasive mystery around one of Botticelli’s more famous paintings, Primavera or Allegory of Spring. The painting is packed with meaning alone, but Fiorato takes the painting to an entirely new level in her book, The Botticelli Secret.

Primavera

Painted in 1482, the Primavera was created by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. He was of the Florentine school and worked during the Early Renaissance or Qauttrocento. It is suggested that the allegory had been petitioned by the Medici family.

The work is largely accepted as an allegory of springtime, however, other themes and meanings have been explored, including the idea that the painting illustrates the ideal of Neoplatonic love. For Fiorato, the painting serves as the basis for her art history mystery in her novel.

The Plot

Fiorato opens her novel with the introduction of her heroine- common whore by the name of Luciana Vetra. She is described as a classical beauty, with long flowing ringlets and a sharp tongue from the four years that she spent on the streets of Florence. She is aptly named for how she arrived in Florence. Her origins for much of the novel are unknown, but from the beginning Luciana speaks of her uncommon arrival in the city- as a baby washedup on the shores of the city in a glass bottle.

The reader is quickly drawn to her, despite her abrasiveness and crassness that are abundant in the earlier part of the novel, but softens as she finds herself and finds love during the course of the story. Her flaws make Luciana realistic and easy to relate too, despite the over-the-top mystery and life that she eventually gets swept up in to.

Fiorato’s story of Luciana, Primavera and the mystery that engulfs everything is skillfully rendered and so lush that the reader easily gets immersed in the world of what Italy was like during the early part of the Renaissance. Fiorato leaves nothing to the imagination and stays away from romanticizing the period, leaving the reader with a raw and detailed depiction of what life was like during the time that Botticelli lived and worked.

The Botticell Secret by Marina Fiorato was originally published in April of 2010. It is available for purchase through St. Martin’s Griffin, New York with ISBN 978-0-312-60636-7.

Book Review: The Sidewalk Artist

sidewalkA blocked writer, unhappy with her life and relationship takes off for a Parisian vacation. It is there that Tulia Rose encounters beautiful chalk drawings of some of Raphael’s most beautiful and famous creations of cherubs and light. The chalk drawings’ artist Raffaello, intrigues Tulia. She quickly finds herself asking if she loves him? Or is he a stalker? Or could he even be the reincarnation of the Renaissance artist Raphael?

Dreamy Settings

Tulia’s story and eventual love-affair takes her across Europe to lush settings that are both dreamy and romantic. Readers are indulged in sensual Paris, dream-like Tuscany and beautiful Venice as Tulia navigates herself through her budding affair and eventual break-up with her New York boyfriend, Ethan.

The settings are beautifully described and detailed by an author with a keen eye for the intricacies that the romance of Europe offers its visitors. Buonaguro writes, “What truly moves Tulia is not the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame Cathedral or any of the wonderful sights. It is the little things. A windowsill with a pot of geraniums and a glimpse of lace curtain, the way the sun glances off a puddle, the echo of her heels as she walks down a narrow cobblestone street, the taste of coffee at an outdoor cafe, the sound of children calling out to each other in French,” making it easy for the reader to fall in love with Paris even if they haven’t had a chance to make it there yet.

The Failing Hero

The downfall of The Sidewalk Artist, in my opinion was Raffaello – Buonaguro’s hero. Instead of being the romantic artist that was meant to sweep readers off their feet as they read, I found Raffaello to be more creepy than to be someone with whom I would want to disappear into the European countryside with. I kept waiting for a plot twist wherein the entire story line became something sinister and it was with that thought that kept me from completely falling in love with the story though I did find the idea of the parallel plot and romance to be creative and intriguing.

The Sidewalk Artist makes for a quick read and is great if you’re looking for a sweet story to spend a day at the beach with.

The Sidewalk Artist by Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk is available for purchase through St. Martin’s Griffin with ISBN 031237805X. It was released on April 1, 2008.