Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Roger Levy Spins a Complicated Tale

Two things before I begin. First, I apologize for this being a bit after the publication date. I was dealing with a sinus infection, and not up to reading much. Second, I received this as an uncorrected bound proof from Titan Books. All opinions contained herein are my own, however…and you guys know how opinionated I am.

At 615 pages, Roger Levy’s The Rig is not a book to dive into lightly. While I occasionally found myself “rooting for” one or another of the characters, all are pretty flawed. None are wholly likable, but there are books where that happens, and it’s never been a deal-breaker for me.

The book starts slowly, establishing the friendship between the two main characters, and the world they are living on. It’s not a pretty society, either, because it follows a pretty rigid interpretation of the Bible. At any rate, the story follows the two characters and several other plotlines. One thing that kept me reading, in fact, was waiting to see how Mr. Levy was going to tie all the different stories together. And, when he finally did so, it was only partially in ways I had expected.

For all that, the book is well-written, and once I had gotten past the slowness at the beginning, I didn’t want to put it down – not for dinner, not for some work I needed to do, not even to go to bed.

It’s doesn’t fit neatly into military SF or horror, but I think it will appeal to readers thereof. It was definitely worth the time and effort to read it.

 

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This One is Okay, But….

First, let me note that I received an advanced reading copy of this book. Second, let me state that all opinions herein are mine, and are not influenced by the previous statement.

A Baby’s Bones is not a book to read lightly; it requires concentration, patience, and attention to detail. It is the first book in a new series by Rebecca Alexander, featuring Sage Westfield, a female archæologist. It’s a good read, but the subject matter gets a bit grisly in places, so I would say it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

I felt the book started slowly and, at first, I didn’t much like any of the characters except Sage’s mother. Still, as I read, it grew more interesting, especially the historical mystery within the contemporary one. The ending was pretty satisfying, although I had figured out the historical mystery. However, the modern-day mystery had a somewhat different solution than the clues led me to believe, so that was cool.

My other nit to pick is that I would love to see a series with a female protagonist where she doesn’t meet a romantic partner in the first book. It would be wonderful to have a female detective/cop/etc., who doesn’t need a man (or woman) in the background. However, that is a personal preference, and should not keep anyone from reading this book and, indeed, this series.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #7

So. I haven’t gotten to the last six books for the Book Riot Challenge just yet. Reading has been going a bit more slowly this week, as I have been a bit under the weather. Also, the book I am working my way through actually requires you to think, so it’s taking a bit longer than lighter fare.

Book #32 (Goodreads Challenge): The Last Stand, by Mickey Spillane is the last novel that Spillane completed before his death. It’s packaged with one of Spillane’s early novellas that has not been published before, “A Bullet for Satisfaction.” This volume is being released by Hard Case Crime, who kindly sent me an ARC, to celebrate what would have been Spillane’s 100th birthday and begins a year of events and releases. Neither story is a “Mike Hammer,” so if you are looking for Spillane’s most famous character you will be slightly disappointed. The title story is one of the best I’ve ever read, and the characters will definitely stay with me. It’s clear that no matter how old Spillane was when he wrote it, his abilities were still top drawer. This is funny, scary, tense, and delightful in general – all at the same time. There is some stereotyping of Native Americans here, but it’s made clear early on that the author has contempt for those stereotypes. The earlier piece has a lot of violence and also has some stereotyping, mostly to the tropes of the characters – the hard-boiled ex-cop turned investigator, etc. If you can remember that this piece was written in the late 1940s/early 1950s, you can keep in mind that those were how the reading public of that era wanted that particular sort of protagonist. Still, this is one volume that I am delighted I had a chance to read, and I hope you love it as much as I did, even with its obvious faults.

Book #33 (Goodreads Challenge):My friend Marie recommended that I read Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni. I ordered it for my Kindle, and there it stayed – at the bottom of my reading queue until she asked me during this past week if I had read it yet. I’ve been working my way through a different book, so I sheepishly admitted I hadn’t. I then bumped it all the way up to “Read Now” status. I’m glad I did. It’s set primarily in New York in the late 19th century. The mix of characters is intriguing: a female golem, a jinni, a wizard reborn as an amoral rabbi, an apostate Jew, an Orthodox rabbi, a Syrian tinsmith, a pretty heiress, a possessed doctor, and various immigrants that helped make up the melting pot we know as the Lower East Side. The story starts out in a fairly straightforward manner: a man in Danzig wants a wife, so he pays an amoral rabbi to create a golem for him, which he then attempts to take to America. Having been cautioned not to wake her before the boat docks, he does so anyway, then dies from appendicitis, leaving the golem masterless. Meanwhile, in the Syrian quarter of New York City, a tinsmith is given a flask to fix. When he unstoppers it, he releases a jinni – who has no memory of how he ended up in the flask, just that a wizard put him there. Both golem and jinni have to learn to adjust to living with humans. This not only puts restrictions on their natural abilities so that they are not discovered, but it requires them learning how humans think and feel. The tinsmith becomes the jinni’s protector, while an Orthodox rabbi becomes the golem’s. Like all the best books, this one can be read on many levels. First, there is the story itself, entertaining as is. Next, it can be read as a tale about the human condition: what are feelings, what is duty, what is faith, what is our obligation to our fellow person. Finally, it can be read as a quest to fully realize oneself. It’s not preachy, however, and is – in fact – quite an enjoyable way to pass a weekend day. Give this one a shot – you may enjoy it as much as I did, if not more.

Books #34 through 49 (Goodreads Challenge): My friend Kathy recommended the first book in the series, Murder with Peacocks, to me when I asked for recommendations as part of one task in the 101 in 1001 Challenge I’m doing elsewhere. She negelcted to tell me it was part of a series though. I’m up to the 11th book in the series, Swan for the Money. The series is delightful, if a touch formulaic. It has memorabe characters, titles that are all bird-related, puns, literary allusions, and the books are short enough that a fast reader could get in two per evening if he/she tried. The titles in order (of the ones I’ve read so far) are:

Murder with Peacocks
Murder with Puffins
Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos
Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon
We’ll Always Have Parrots
Owls Well That Ends Well
No Nest for the Wicket
The Penguin Who Knew Too Much
Cockatiels at Seven
Six Geese A-Slaying
Swan for the Money
Stork Raving Mad
The Real Macaw
Some Like It Hawk
The Hen of the Baskervilles

and the one I am currently reading: Duck the Halls.

Book #50 (Goodreads Challenge): Killing Town, by Mickey Spillane and Max Collins. It’s a wonderful thing that Spillane hand-chose Collins to be his literary executor. When Collins finishes a Spillane manuscript, it’s virtually impossible to tell where Spillane left off writing and where Collins began it. This book is no exception. I do note that I received the book as an ARC, but all opinions of it are mine and are in no way influenced by its receipt. This is the very first appearance of Mike Hammer – yes, before even I, the Jury. It has all the hallmarks of Hammer to come: it’s gritty, there’s violence, there are beautiful women and plot twists within plot twists. Overall, it was a highly satisfying way to spend an evening.

Book #51 (Goodreads Challenge): Steve Allen’s “Dumbth”: The Lost Art of Thinking With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind requires some thinking. This is not the first time I have read it, nor will it be the last. It’s one of those books that works best with several re-readings because you will concentrate on different suggestions by Mr. Allen on how to improve the use of your brain. Even better, there is finally a Kindle version of it. Now if I can only get the four books of the MEETING OF MINDS series for my Kindle….

Anyway, that’s it for this time. I am hoping to get back to reading a bit more in the near future. I just don’t feel right if I can’t read for an hour a day.

What a Way to Meet Someone.. .

I do note that I received the book as an ARC, but all opinions of it are mine and are in no way influenced by its receipt.

Today’s mail brought me the ARC of the newest – yet oldest – book in the Mike Hammer series: Killing Town, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books). This is the very first appearance of Mike Hammer – yes, before even I, the Jury. It is being released as part of the celebration of the 100th year since Spillane’s birth. It follows the release of The Last Stand/A Bullet for Satifaction by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime), two non-Hammer stories in one volume.

Spillane could not have chosen a better literary executor than Max Allan Collins. When Collins finishes a Spillane manuscript, it’s virtually impossible to tell where Spillane left off writing and where Collins began it. This book is no exception.

In Killing Town Mike Hammer slips into the small town of Killington to fulfill the last request of an old Army buddy of his who had liberated $30,000 from an operation run by the New York “Mob.” Before he can do so, however, he is arrested and framed for the rape and murder of a young woman he had observed while traveling to Killington.

It has all the hallmarks of Hammer to come: it’s gritty, there’s violence, there are beautiful women and plot twists within complications within plot twists. The writing is taut, the dialogue is the kind of snappy, period talk we expect in the best early noir novels. Overall, it was a highly satisfying way to spend an evening.

Happy 100th, Mr. Spillane!

Hard Case Crime is beginning the year-long celebration of what would have been Mickey Spillane’s 100th birthday by publishing (for the first time anywhere) his last completed novel, The Last Stand.

They were kind enough to provide me with an advance reading copy, so here are my thoughts on it. Neither of the stories in the book feature Mike Hammer, so if you are looking for a new “lost” Hammer novel, you will be disappointed. That will probably be your only disappointment with the book, however.

Additionally, the volume includes a never-before-published early Mickey Spillane novella, “A Bullet for Satisfaction.” This is the first story in the book. It’s a taut story, albeit a violent one. Rod Dexter is a police detective who, while investigating the murder of a local politician, stumbles into a conspiracy by the Syndicate to take over the mid-sized town he works and lives in. Fired for essentially being too close to exposing too many bigwigs, he refuses to let go of the case.It’s a lot grittier than most of the stuff I read, but it is definitely the work of someone who knows what he is doing. The prose is spare – not a single word that isn’t needed – and the tension is kept high. And while the violence seems excessive to me, it is my understanding that this was appropriate for the time was written, and takes place, in.

The title story, “The Last Stand” follows. When you read it, you will need to bear in mind that it was written way before political correctness existed. This may mean you find it offensive in terms of stereotyping. If you can put that aside (I found it hard to, until one of the Native Americans in the story started making fun of the stereotypes), it’s a good story. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I hope that you can, becaause this is one of the best stories i’ve read in a long time. Funny, scary, tense, complicated, and with utterly memorable characters, this is one that will stay with e for a while. Mr. Spillane may have aged, but it’s clear he was still at the peak of his abilities when he penned this one.

During the year-long celebration, MWA Grandmaster Max Allan Collins’ completion of the first Mike Hammer novel (begun in 1945, but set aside for later work), Killing Town, will be published by Hard Case Crime. So will his the first paperback publication of the Spillane started/Collins finished The Will to Kill. Additionally, Hard Case Crime will publish a new Mike Hammer graphic novel/comic book called Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Night I Died.

So, if you are a Mickey Spillane fan, this will be an excellent year, with lots of things coming your way.

The Ship That Armed Herself

I recently received an advanced reading copy of Gareth L. Powell’s new book Embers of War, the first book of a new trilogy. The ship, Trouble Dog, whose brain has been created partly from human cells, has gotten disgusted with war and has resigned her commission and joined a rescue operation. Having been decommissioned, she has had the bulk of her weaponry removed, keeping only defensive weapons. While on a rescue mission, Trouble Dog acquires two passengers, also on a rescue mission. They are looking for a poet who vanished when the ship she was a passenger on was shot down.

There are complications. The two passengers Trouble Dog picks up are intelligence agents for opposite sides of a struggle that has been going on for years. The new medic barely has enough training to change a band-aid and suffers from homesickness. The ship’s mechanic, an alien, understands everything except people. The one actual crew member the captain has dislikes many of the decisions she makes. And those are just the handicaps Captain Sal Konstanz starts out with. Oh, yes, and she might be facing reprimand, demotion, or expulsion from the service for a decision she made while attempting a rescue prior to the current mission.

So, you can see there is plenty of dramatic tension here.

Powell is a powerful writer, His writing is spare, with no wasted words and little embellishment. He gives us the straight story, harsh as it may be. His war is not romantic; it’s ugly – the way real war is ugly. It has needless deaths, wasted potential, and exposes the legacies of war – and not just the war in the book. It makes you think about the legacies that we live with today from past wars and the possible legacies of wars that may be all too damned close to happening in the near future.

It’s a good book. It makes you think. The characters are well-drawn. The writing is transparent and does not get in the way of the story. Oh, and did I mention it makes you think? You should read this book even if military SF​ is not your thing. You may not love it; it may make you uncomfortable; still, you should read this book.

The press release that accompanied Embers of War likened it to “Firefly meets Ancillary Justice.” I would compare it to crossing Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who…” books crossed with David Feintuch’s “Seafort Saga” series (which is one of the best examples of military sf that I have read).

An Interesting Challenge

I don’t normally do shout-outs of publishers, but I would like to call your attention​ to two publishers – one in the U.S., one in Britain – who have taken up a challenge.

First, the challenge: In 2015, a British Pakistani writer named Kamila Shamsie came up with a challenge for publishers: publish only books by women for a year. She wrote the following:

“I’m going to assume that the only people who really doubt that there is a gender bias going on are those who stick with the idea that men are better writers and better critics. Enough … Why not have a year of publishing women: 2018, the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the UK, seems appropriate.”

It was taken up for 2018 by one British publishing house​: And Other Stories, based in Sheffield. The challenge has now also been taken up by Oregon’s Not A Pipe Publishing.

I think both publishers​ are doing something really good by taking up this challenge, and I am looking forward to reading the books they will put ut this year. I promise to review the books here ​and to keep folks up to date on how the publishers are doing while taking this challenge.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #6

So. I still have six books to read for the Book Riot Challenge. Reading has been going a bit more slowly this week, as I have been a bit under the weather.

Book #28 (Goodreads Challenge): Karen S. Bell’s Brooklyn Rhapsody is a quick, pleasant, easy read. It’s pretty much a vignette about a single woman living in Brooklyn, who is dealing with family who cannot see any of her accomplishments unless she manages to get married.

Book #29 (Both Challenges): I had Gabourey Sidibe’s This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare on my TBR queue for a while now, so when I needed a celebrity memoir it seemed like a good choice. It was. Ms. Sidibe has a very refreshing viewpoint, and she openly discusses things that shaped her, both for good and bad. The one thing I was not so pleased about is that she still seems to need to make the jokes about herself before others might do so. Then again, that is a skill that many of us who are different learn, and it’s a damned hard one to break.

Book #30 (Goodreads Challenge): Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a solid, thought-provoking piece of military sf. It reads like a cross between Ann McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who…” books and David Feintuch’s “The Seafort Saga” books. IT makes you think; it does not sugar-coat its tale of war’s legacies, and it does not shrink from calling things what they are. You really want to read this book, even if military sf is not your normal beat.

Book #31 (Goodreads Challenge): Haldane Macfall’s Vigee Le Brun is an interesting short biography of painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. I read this for a project I’m involved with, and it was interesting enough to keep me going, even though the language is a bit odd. Written in 1922, the language is more than a bit flowery, and I get the feeling that the writer was off by a hair when using certain words to describe things. Still, if you like artist biographies, this one is worth exploring. It was a quick read (less than a morning) and covered the life of a fascinating woman who spent twelve years after the French Revolution as an exile and an official enemy of the State. The book also has colored illustrations of some of her works, and those are a true delight.

I am in the process of rereading one of my favorite books – Steve Allen’s marvelous “Dumbth”: The Lost Art of Thinking With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind, and will report on that next time. After that, I will get back to my other reading challenge.

Westlake Strikes Again!

One of the pleasures of reading is discovering gems one had not known about by writers one adores. Such is Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake. Those of you who know me know that Westlake’s Dancing Aztecs is one of my favorite books. Well, this one isn’t far behind it.

The book tells the story of Harry Künt, a practical joker who is imprisoned after one of his jokes goes horribly wrong, wrecking twenty cars, and injuring – among others – three children, and two Congressmen (who were sharing a car with some unmarried ladies). He mostly does well in prison, becoming accepted by one of the toughest groups there, after which he finds out that he is expected to help plan and execute the robbery of two banks — while in prison, which seems to be the ultimate in alibis. Like all of the best Westlake books, this one careens along like a cyclist on meth.

Complications arise. Of course, they do. It wouldn’t be a Westlake book otherwise. In this case, the main complication is that Künt is not the only practical joker in the prison. Someone keeps pulling jokes that it looks like Künt pulled, and he keeps getting in trouble with the warden. This also keeps him from having to actually take part in several failed or thwarted attempts at robbing the banks. Eventually, however, one of the robberies succeeds – at least mostly — after all, this is a Westlake book. Unfortunately, shortly after that, so does another prank that looks like Kunt was responsible. Künt needs to find the prankster before he ends up off all privileges and has to spend the rest of his sentence in solitary.

This is definitely a fun read and just the thing for a quiet evening. You may even find yourself laughing out loud, as you root for Künt and his friends to succeed. I know I was.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #5

And here we go again – another round of books for my two reading challenges.

Book #21 (Both Challenges): The task was to “read an assigned book you hated or never finished.” I had vague memories of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome during the same term I had to read Willa Cather’s My Antonia. So I tossed a coin and Frome won out. While it is not a fun book, being about the inability to escape one’s responsibilities, it was a very well-written one. I was surprised at how easily it read, given the subject matter. I can’t say I would recommend it for light reading, but if you are interested in the classics, this is a good one to read. In fact, it was sufficiently good that I may very well give My Antonia another try!

Book #22 (Both Challenges): I wish I could say the same for the next book on my list. The task was to “read a book with a cover you hate.” I had wanted to try some Henry David Thoreau, specifically because I could not get into Walden back when I was in college, so I figured I would try a shorter work, Walking. I was underwhelmed. I thought I would enjoy this piece because I love walking – before I became disabled, I would walk three to five miles a day just for the hell of it. For Thoreau, however, walking seems less an enjoyment than a political statement. The bulk of the piece is spent eschewing civilization and its comforts. For me, a devout city walker (I do live in New York, one of the best walking cities in the world), this is so far outside my wheelhouse that I can’t wrap my brain around it. Oh, well, I suppose they can’t all be winners.

Book #23 (Goodreads Challenge): My ex and I were discussing this past month’s obituaries and – of course – Sue Grafton was included. He noted that he had come across an interesting bit of info in one of the obituaries about her: She said that she had gotten the idea for her Kinsey Millhone series by reading Edward Gorey’s The Ghastlycrumb Tinies. I had not read this, so he pointed me to a free PDF version. It’s a very quick read, and if you like Gorey’s twisted sense of humor you will enjoy it.

Book #24 (Goodreads Challenge): One thing I love to do is review books, as you may have noticed. Occasionally, a publisher will send me an advanced reading copy, such as Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake. This is a rerelease of an old Westlake book by Hard Case Crime, Like all the best Westlake books, it careens along at ludicrous speed (See Spaceballs). While a more in-depth review will follow on the publication date, the book involves a practical joker who ends up in prison as a result of one of his jokes going horribly wrong. He falls in with one of the “bad” groups of the prison and is compelled to assist in planning and executing the robbery of two banks — while still in prison. Definitely a fun read, and worth the time spent. If you like books with a cast of oddball characters, this is one you will love.

Book #25 (Goodreads Challenge): Got a lovely little surprise this morning while managing the books on my Kindle – a little gem of a story from one of my favorite writers – the absolutely charming Lawrence Block. It’s called Who Knows Where It Goes?, and has all the things I like about Block’s stories. It’s well-written and depicts how easily a plain, prosaic man can accept work that is inherently evil in order to maintain his lifestyle. Pretty much anything by Block is worth reading, and this is no exception.

Book #26 (Goodreads Challenge): I was going through the backlist on my Kindle, and found Nancy Nahra’s quick, little hagiographic book, Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady in Courage. It was just okay, not noting anything new to me about its subject.

Book #27 (Both Challenges): The Woman in the Window, by A.J.Finn was another recommendation from the forums for the Book Riot Challenge. It actually was a page-turner of the best kind – twist upon twist, with elements of many of the old black and white movies the heroine loved so much. This is not to say that the protagonist is likable – she’s not really. However, the story has so many interesting turns that I don’t recommend starting this book before bedtime – I was up all night reading it.

And that is it for this entry, I think. I am six books away from finishing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. We’ll see how long it will take me to accomplish that – possibly in the next entry or the one after that.

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