Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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

Archive for the category “Reviews”

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.

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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).

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.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #4

I’m back with the next installment of my challenge reporting. Again, I’m sticking with the running draft because I like it. And I can’t believe that with the books reviewed here I’m fifteen books through the 24-book Book Riot READ HARDER Challenge!

Book #17 (Both Challenges): Someone in one of the forums recommended The Windfall, by Diksha Basu for Challenge #5, which is “A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa).” I’m glad I listened. The story careens along, with as endearing and frustrating a cast of characters as a reader could want. The story centers around the changes a family undergoes when the father sells a technology start-up for what – to them – is an extremely exorbitant amount of money. Ms. Basu has a good eye for people’s foibles and strengths, and how they are sometimes interchangeable. I will definitely be looking up her other work when this challenge is over.

Book #18 (Both Challenges): I’m not much on romance these days, and task #10 was to read “A romance novel by or about a person of color.” I looked in the forums, and a few people were recommending Someone in one of the forums recommended Forbidden, by Beverly Jenkins. This book is considered #1 in her Old West series and is one of those wonderful books where the characters are so memorable that you want more. Fortunately, Rhine Fontaine is so fascinating that he appears in at least one of Ms. Jenkins’ other books, which I am looking forward to reading after this challenge, and her protagonist, Miss Eddy Carmichael, is so fascinating that I hope she reappears in other books.

Book #19 (Both Challenges): Someone in one of the forums recommended Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani for Challenge #19, which is to read a comic not published by DC, Marvel, or Image. Since I’ve been having pretty good luck with forum recommendations, I figured I’d try another one. I’m glad I did. The art is lovely, and the story is absorbing. You can add me to the folks that are recommending this book about a teenager’s coming of age and learning about making life choices.’

A Rare Fail: I tried to read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, but could not. I found it much more disjointed than I could deal with (and I don’t usually have problems with “disjointed” – I adored Laurence Sterne’s The Life & Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman immensely). (I note that my roommate says the only Atwood she ever read and liked was a book review in The New York Times.) It’s not often that I give up on a book but, honestly, there are some books that life is just too short to slog through. Still, I wanted it on record that I did try with this one.

Book #20 (Both Challenges): I read the first Aunty Lee book back in May 2015, about six months after it first came out. I fell in love with Aunty Lee, Nina, Salim, and Raja, and hoped there would be many more books in the series. Much to my delight, I found there are now three more books to read. For Book RIot’s task 23, I needed to read a book by a female writer with a protagonist who is both female and over 60 years of age.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #3

Hi all. I’m doing this as a running draft again, since I like the format.

Book #10 (Goodreads Challenge): I finally finished Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I lived through the integration struggles of the 60’s and the Vietnam War (I know – it was technically a conflict) and Watergate, and I have never seen anything as scary as the goings-on described in this book. I note that GQ Magazine did an article on this book in which they noted that:

“As much as I wanna discredit Wolff, he got receipts and, more important, he used them. Wolff got it all. Wolff nailed them.”

They further note that,

“If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.”

What I kept thinking, while reading the book, was that I had never thought I would live to see a President who would make me miss Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes. Further, it took a lot longer to read than I had anticipated. The problem was not the book’s length, but that I kept getting so disgusted at the events depicted therein that I had to keep putting the book down.

I think it is a must-read, but only if you have the stomach for it.

Book #11 (Both Challenges): Courage is Contagious: And Other Reasons to be Grateful for Michelle Obama is a collection of essays from both famous and non-famous people about Michelle Obama and what they perceive her contributions to the country, The White House, and the role of First Lady were. It’s a very quick read and a very enjoyable one. I only wish the book had been longer.

Book #12 (Both Challenges): Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, by Sheri S. Tepper was definitely a page-turner. I read until I literally fell asleep way too late, with my Kindle still in my hand. I woke up this morning and had to finish it, even before my coffee and breakfast. It’s not a happy book; in fact, it is one of the scariest books I have ever rear, right up on a par with Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale or Eugene Wheeler and Harvey Burdick’s Fail-Safe. But it is beyond well-written, and well-worth the time it takes to read it.

Book #13 (Goodreads Challenge): “A City’s Favor,” by Racheline Maltese, with Joel Derfner, Tessa Gratton, and Karen Lord, which is the thirteenth chapter of Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Serial Box website. As I’ve noted before, I’ve been following this series from the beginning because it takes place in the same world as Ellen Kushner’s “Swords of Riverside” series. It’s a wonderful fantasy series, with several major female characters: Diane (Duchess Tremontaine), Ixkaab, Micah, and Tess the Hand all jump to mind immediately. Ellen has woven a complex society, with two very distinct classes – the nobility, and the Riversiders. You might want to read her trilogy, Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword, and The Fall of the Kings before plunging into Tremontaine. Since it leaves us with something of a cliffhanger, I am sincerely hoping that there will be a Season 4. Whether there is another season ahead or not, I promise you, it’s well worth the time invested.

Book #14 (Both Challenges): The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. The task was to read a children’s classic published before 1980. Several folks in the challenge forum suggested this book, originally published in 1978. When I looked it up, it sounded interesting, so I figured I’d give it a try. I am very glad I did. For one thing, it was not written “down” to some imagined kids’ level. It was written as if the author was writing for people with brains. Two, there were enough twista and turns that it held my interest all the way through, and had an ending that seemed both natural, inevitable, and totally satisfying. One thing I can tell you: Once this challenge is completed, I intend to look up Ms. Raskin’s other books and read them.

Book #15 (Both Challenges): Daytripper, by Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Craig Thompson (Introduction), Dave Stewart (Colours), Sean Konot (Lettering) was much more than I expected it to be. I’ve been a fan of comics since I picked up my first Adventure Comic back when comics were $.12 each. And I am certainly no stranger to comics that ponder deeper questions. But this was one of the more unusual comics I have ever read. For one thing, it was not meant to be comfortable. Relatable, yes; thought-provoking, yes; well-written, yes; comfortable, not so much. It’s about the choices one makes in life, and when and how we discover the meaning of life for ourselves. I highly recommend this. NOTE for the Unwary: There are several depictions of death in the book – partly because the protagonist is an obituary writer, partly because death is the capstone of life, and partly because in some ways our deaths tell us about how we lived. As I said, this was not a comfortable book, but I found it to be very worth my time.

Book #16 (Goodreads Challenge): The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. There are some books that not only resonate with you, they inflame your love for reading. Between the descriptions of books that Mr. Fikry writes for his daughter, Maya, and the books mentioned in the book itself, my reading list has grown. Many of the books this book has caused me to look up are books that I probably should have read long ago but didn’t. Others are totally new to me (kind of like the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge stuff). This book is really about the power both books and people have in our lives, and it should not be missed.

So I think I have rambled on long enough about books for now. Whatever you are reading this week, may you find joy in it as great as I have.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #2

Okay, I’m going to do this post as a running draft until I have a number of books reviewed.

Book #6 (Goodreads Challenge): I came across Philip Gourevitch’s Cold Case through an article in The New Yorker recommending books/stories to read during the current cold snap. It’s a bit slow-moving but is a fascinating look at how a 27-year-old crime was solved. If you like crime stories (as opposed to mysteries), you will enjoy this one, especially as it can be read in one sitting.

Book 7 (Goodreads Challenge): “Dragon Rampant,” by Karen Lord, which is the eleventh chapter of Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Serial Box website. I’ve been following this series from the beginning because it takes place in the same world as Ellen Kushner’s “Swords of Riverside” series. It’s a wonderful fantasy series, with several major female characters: Diane (Duchess Tremontaine), Ixkaab, Micah, and Tess the Hand all jump to mind immediately. Ellen has woven a complex society, with two very distinct classes – the nobility, and the Riversiders. You might want to read her trilogy, Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword, and The Fall of the Kings before plunging into Tremontaine. I promise you, it’s well worth the time invested.

Book 8 (Goodreads Challenge): “Surrounded,” by Joel Derfner, which is the twelfth chapter of Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Serial Box website. Again, this is a wonderful serial, which I highly recommend to anyone who likes fantasy/adventure/dynasty/political books. In this installment, Duchess Tremontaine has a funeral for her husband, and the school Rafe Fenton has founded is attacked. As always, the writing is excellent, and the story compelling.

And a note – new chapters of Tremontaine are introduced on Wednesdays, although the next chapter will be the finale for the third season. OTOH, if you want to do some catching up before the fourth season (assuming there will be one), this will give you a good chance to do so.

Book 9 (Both Challenges): “I met Catheryyne M. Valente back when she was an NYU student, and I have been meaning to read some of her stuff ever since she sold her first story. Life intervened until now, but I finally got to read Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Six-Gun Snow White. It’s a version of Snow White set in the Old West, with a radically different scenario – instead of being poisoned with an apple, Snow takes off after years of being emotionally abused by her step-mother. One thing I like very much – this Snow is no-one’s patsy. She can, and does, take care of herself.

So, that’s it for this week. I’ve been slowly making my way through Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. It’s been slow going, not because of the writing, but because the subject matter is so appalling to me that I have to read it in short pieces. I’ll have a report when I’m done with it.

‘Til next time!

Taking a Virtual Walk

Most folks who know me know that I am a huge Lawrence Block fan.

Random Walk

Early today, I received a newsletter from him that discussed, among other things, his book Random Walk. I was intrigued by the plot: A guy quits his bartending job in Oregon, starts walking across the country, and Things Happen. (Yeah, that’s the best I can describe it without using spoilers, and I really want you to read this book and discover its wonders for yourself.)

Block, as always, weaves together disparate subplots into a unique whole that – to me, anyway, was very reminiscent of vision quests, coming of age sagas, expiation of sins, and books about following a Path. As always, his writing is transparent and does not in any way overshadow the tale he is spinning. He balances the characters’ introspection and actions perfectly.

I could not put the book down, nor did I want to. I ignored my phone; I ignored my email; I ignored my social media. I ignored everything but the cat – who would have shredded my leg completely if I did not pay him a few minutes of attention every couple of hours.

Seriously, if you have any inclination toward being on a Path, or looking at the larger questions in life, or how to change your life to be more what you want it to be, go and get this book. I don’t care if you prefer e-books, printed books, or audio books. Get your hands on a copy of Random Walk, settle in with your favorite beverage, and enjoy a walking tour like you have never been on before.

Happy reading.

Catching Up on Life and Reading

First, I apologize for not being more regular about posting. It’s been a rough two years, including spinal surgery, and more heart work. That, plus all the usual junk that life piles on you, and writing crashes to the bottom of the priority list for a bit.

So, In May of 2016, I woke up one morning and could not get out of bed. Literally. It took three EMTs almost half an hour to get me into a transport chair so they could get me out of the apartment, and I was screaming in pain the whole time. It turns out that a number of things had gone wrong. There was sciatica, which I had known about, but there was also stenosis, a nerve so pinched at the base of my spine that the doctors couldn;t even find it on the MRI, degenerative arthritis at the base of my spine that no one knew about, two crumbling disks, and an infection between the two crumbling disks that was doing its damnedest to get into my spine.  I spent six weeks in what is probably the worst rehab place in Brooklyn (ask me offline if you want the gory details) getting IV antibiotics, then a few weeks at home to make sure the antibiotics had worked. Then I had a consultation with a neurosurgeon, and spinal surgery was scheduled. The good news is that even though there was some discomfort after the surgery, the relief was so profound that the discomfort could pretty much be ignored. Then came the slow recovery. Now, what I didn’t know at the time was that none of the doctors involved, except my primary care guy (who is a saint) believed I would ever walk again. Fortunately, I proved my primary care guy right and surprised all the others. However, just after Passover this year, my heart started racing. I mean my heart rate was something like 130 when I was just sitting at my desk. I called my doctor and was diagnosed with atrial flutter, a situation where the heart’s electric signals are getting missent. It’s not quite as serious as atrial fibrillation but does increase risks for strokes, heart attacks and the like. I went into the hospital for a cardioversion (basically electroshock therapy for the heart) and it worked. BUT…two weeks later, I had another episode. My cardiologist (another saint), set me up with a cardiac electrophysiologist, who recommended that I have a procedure called an ablation, wherein the tissue that is misfiring is basically destroyed, allowing the heart to return to a normal pace. I had that procedure about three weeks ago, and things are getting back to normal, although we are having some fun trying to find a new balance for my meds.

I have been able to start reading again, since my ability to concentrate is one of the things that has been returning. Not that I wasn’t trying to read this whole time; I was just having enough concentration issues that in stead of a joy, it was becoming downright unpleasant.

I am now trying to finish books I had started and given up on along the way, as well as new books.

In that regard, I am reading Excelsior, You Fathead!: THe Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, by Eugene B. Bergmann. I was surprised at having a hard time reading this (not realizing that it was largely because of the physical stuff) before my health issues kicked up because I have always been a fan of Jean Shepherd’s. My mom always had WOR-AM on her radios in the house, so I grew up falling asleep at night to Shep’s delicious cynicism. I have picked the book up again (thank God for Kindle readers), and it now seems less of a slog.

In fact, what inspired this entry is something that Shep came up with in the late 1950s (when I would have been listening to him every night that he was on): Dream Collection Day! What Shep proposed was that the city declare one day to be Dream Collection Day, on which day everyone could put out on their stoop, like so much garbage, all the dreams they had not achieved, along with the paraphernalia for chasing those dreams. His contention is that those old dreams are doing nothing more than making us feel guilty and holding us back from what we could be doing if we were living in the present moment. Thing is, from my great perspective of almost 65 years, I think he might be onto something here.

I received an email today from an acquaintance who was bemoaning that nothing he had tried in his just under eighty years on the planet had worked out the way he had wanted it to. in his words, “My entire life could best be described as an unrealized potential–a tale of what MIGHT have been; not a tale of what ACTUALLY happened. Not for a single moment did my shafts hit the bullseye. I was off by a mile. I was considered second-rate; never a winner. I was no more than a face in the crowd; a nameless, unidentifiable being; a nobody.” Now, this friend is about to have a second volume of poetry published – not a mean feat these days. Yet all he can see is the things that didn’t happen. And he judges his life as being worthless because of those. I wonder what it could be if he could focus on going forward, rather than looking back in despair. I also am debating taking Shep’s idea and putting it to use in my life. I have been wanting to

I also am debating taking Shep’s idea and putting it to use in my life. I have been wanting to get rid of tons of things over the last few years, and have even made some attempts at doing so before I got sick. I think I need to look at the stuff in my life, and see what dreams are no longer relevant to me, and sell, give away, or toss out the things pertaining to them.

In other news, I have been reading a delightful series by Shira Glassman; the Mangoverse series. It revolves around a Jewish, lesbian queen named Shulamit; her wife in all but name, Aviva; Riv/Rivka, her cross-dressing bodyguard; and Riv’s husband, Isaac, a man/dragon shapeshifter. The series is fun, silly, delightful, and way too damned short. I want more stories about them. I stumbled onto this series because the author is a Twitter friend of one of my real-life friends, and I had interacted with her through my friend’s Twitter account and liked her. She’s also done some stand-alone book, and I read the first one, Knit One, Girl Two, with great delight (except that it was too darned short and I want to read more about Clara, Jasmine, The Phantom, and Danielle)! I highly recommend this book, as well as the Mangoverse series.

Another thing I got to read, thanks to the wonderful Lawrence Block, who seems to have gotten me listed as a reader/reviewer for Random House, was a book by Donald E. Westlake, Forever and a Death, which is – according to Random House – his first novel. It was delicious, with all the hallmarks of a great Westlake read. Not Dancing Aztecs, by any means, not a Dortmunder, but well worth the time spent reading it. Again, highly recommended, especially if you are a Westlake fan.

There is so much more I have to recommend, but I think that’s enough for one post. So I will be back to my regular schedule soon, I hope, and look forward to seeing everyone again.

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