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 #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.

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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.

Review: “The Crime of Our Lives” – Lawrence Block

There’s only one problem with opening a new non-fiction book by Lawrence Block: Your reading list explodes logarithmically. His newest collection of introductions, eulogies, and other appreciations, The Crime of Our Lives, is no exception. In addition to finding authors I already knew of and enjoyed, like Robert B. Parker and Donald E. Westlake, there were a whole bunch whose work I had never heard of, and another bunch of writers who I dimly remember from school — all presented so engagingly that I now have a new list of authors to pursue, along with a batch of notes on their various pseudonyms and notable pieces, so I don’t miss anything. When I mentioned this to my ex — also a Lawrence Block fan — he noted “you don’t have to read every author he recommends.” “Maybe so,” I responded, “but he makes them all sound so engaging.”

And that is the truth of Block’s writing. Fiction or non-fiction, gentleman thief, assassin, adventurer, ex-cop, running essays, stamp collecting, writing — Block’s work is engaging. I have never read a Block book or story that didn’t feel like I was settling in with a good friend for a catch-up session.

In The Crime of Our Lives, he gives overviews of the work of sixteen writers — peppered with anecdotes about them, about his own life and writing, and about writing and the mystery/crime genres in general. One caveat which Block notes in the beginning, is that he has restricted the subjects of the book to deceased American writers, primarily of the “hard-boiled” variety of fiction, and the list has no women on it. He does note that the last is because Christie and Sayers are British while the female American writers he would include are still living. His reasoning is that he does not wish to assemble a list of favorites and upset friends by their exclusion. In his words: “I have mentioned how generous and amiable mystery writers are, how much I enjoy their company, how well we all get along. If you think I am going to change all that by assembling a list of favorites and leaving some of them off it, you’re out of your mind.”*

Among the writers Block covers in this volume: Anthony Boucher, Frederic Brown, Raymond Chandler, Stanley Ellin, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and Donald E. Westlake.

After reading Block’s overviews, my first instinct was to go to the Brooklyn Public Library website, find all the books by each writer and start putting them on hold, one writer at a time.

If you are a fan of mysteries, crime stories, noir, or all three, this is an interesting, engaging overview of some of the author’s favorite writers, who happen to be among the best in their fields. I highly recommend this book to you. In fact, I recommend this book even if you aren’t a fan of the genre. You might just well become a fan after reading it.

*Block, Lawrence (2015-03-26). The Crime of Our Lives (Kindle Locations 286-288). Lawrence Block. Kindle Edition.

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