Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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

Archive for the month “September, 2022”

Review: Neruda on the Park, by Cleyvis Natera

Kahleah from the Virtual Silent Book Club read Cleyvis Natera’s debut novel, Neruda on the Park and spoke about it, and it sounded interesting to me, both as a New York book and as a book I would not ordinarily have picked up on my own.

Described on Goodreads as “exhilarating,” I would say – instead – that it was gripping. The characters are unforgettable, and there are plot twists aplenty. I could not stop listening to this (the readers – Imani Russell, Annette Amelia Oliveira, and Alma Cuervo – are superb). My one caveat is that there are a few other Dominican strongholds in New York City, at least two of which I’m familiar with.

But wow! I am so glad I picked this up. It was well worth the time to listen to, and is an incredibly vibrant picture – a few of the more imaginative plot twists notwithstanding – of one of NYC’s incredible cultures. I would say that – in some ways – it reminded me of Lin Manuel Miranda’s paean to NYC, In the Heights, but that doesn’t do either this book or that film justice.

If you like books about NYC, or about the many cultures that make it up, this is one book you should not miss!

Review: First Love, by Ivan Turgenev — and Recommendation: Brooklyn Book Match

Brooklyn Book Match (a service of the Brooklyn Public Library) recommended this as part of a five book response to a query about Russian Literature. (The other recommendations were Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We [read years ago thanks to the late Dr. Aurelia Scott], Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii’s Autobiography of a corpse, Alexandr Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin [which I’m currently reading]. And Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago.)

First Love is a tale of the infatuation of a 16-year-old boy with the 21-year-old princess who moves into the lodge next door. It’s a bit slow-moving, but is definitely entertaining, and the audiobook is only three hours long, which is very short for a Russian novel (at least the ones I am familiar with).

I’d certainly recommend it as a good gateway to Russian literature — it’s characters are easy to track, and don’t seem to have quite as many relational variations on each name as many Russian novels do.

Overall, it‘’s an enjoyable reading (or listening) experience, and I do recommend it as a gateway into what I know is a complex field.

As for the aforementioned Brooklyn Book Match…

You may need a fair amount of patience to use this service. My original request was made on June 30th, 2022, but the response did not come until September 14th, 2002. I am not displeased with the recommendations — there is no way they could have known that I’d read one of them decades ago, or that I’m currently reading a second one (and in a more elegantly translated version than the one they recommend).

Still, if you have the patience and time to wait for a response, I can see Brooklyn Book Match as a welcome and useful service.

Review: There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble, by Laurie Notaro

My friend Jan read a bit from this at the Virtual Silent Book Club, and I knew I had to read it.

It’s delightfully funny, and it so captures some “small town” attitudes, as well as the feelings of a fish out of water, whose every attempt to make new friends goes hilariously astray. Oh, yeah, and there is a cold case mystery to be resolved, too.

I want to read everything Ms. Laurie Notaro (who is not, as far as I can make out, related to Tig Notaro) has written. Anyone whose book can keep me laughing and hold my attention for an entire day is someone whose writing is clearly worth pursuing!

Review: Mademoiselle Revolution, by Zoe Sivak

This is a very rich, complex novel. Sylvie is the mulatto daughter of a planter on the island of Saint Domingue. She and her half-brother, Gaspar, escape a slave uprising and end up in Paris at the home of their aunt. They both get drawn into the inner circles of the French Revolution, and much ensues in terms of action, reflection, and emotional growth (or lack thereof). There is also a bisexual element to the story that is not so surprising (other than it taking place during this point in history). Getting into the story takes a few pages, but once I was engaged I could not put the book down (so to speak). One thing I loved about the book is that the character growth arcs for all the characters are uneven and bumpy, as much of real life is. It’s a sweeping saga, with plenty of twists and turns.

Do make sure to read or listen to the author’s note at the end of the book!

This book is well worth reading or listening to. I believe the characters will stay with me for a long time.

Review: Dashing Through the Snowbirds (Meg Langslow #32), by Donna Andrews

I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley. All opinions, etc., are my own.

I admit it. I wait anxiously for each new Donna Andrews book, and this was no exception. Dashing Through the Snowbirds is her 32nd Meg Langslow mystery, and opening it was like seeing an old friend after a hiatus.

It contains all the usual elements: Meg & her marvelous family and numerous friends, the residents of Caerphilly, the usual Christmas madness that overtakes the town, a murder, and three (count ’em!) mysteries to resolve. It also has enough easter eggs (n terms of jokes and name-checks) to keep her readers happy.

My only problem with this book is that I am now caught up on all of Meg’s adventures to date, and now have to go back into waiting for the next one. As my mom would have said, “This should be my biggest problem.”

This is the one bit of Christmas before Halloween that I wait for, and I think that once you enter Meg’s world, you will too.

Review: Round Up the Usual Peacocks (Meg Langslow #31), by Donna Andrews

There are very few series that will hold me through 31 books. (In fact, Lawrence Block’s wonderful books and the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are the only other series that I can think of where my attention was held from the first book to the last.)

That said, it was with anticipation that I picked up Donna Andrews’ 31st Meg Langslow mystery, Round Up the Usual Peacocks. I was not disappointed. Ms. Langslow and her whole crazy, funny extended family are back, this time to celebrate her brother Rob’s wedding. It also involves three cold cases, all of which are over 20 years old. The interesting ways the cases end up being resolved (two openly, and one “secretly”) are satisfying, of course. Also satisfying are the hallmarks of the Langslow mysteries: the huge family, the dysfunctional animals, the next county – with its corruption, at least one bit of less than legit action by the sleuths, and a ton of chuckles along the way.

One little note, this time around, Ms. Andrews name-checks one of my favorite writers, and one of his friends and favorite writers. This made me smile, of course.

I do recommend this series, but do read it in order if possible, so you have the best chance of growing into “the family.”

Review: Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

Another Hogarth Shakespeare Project book that I thoroughly enjoyed despite it having two major challenges for me. The first challenge is that I know virtually nothing about the original The Tempest. The second is that I have had issues with Ms. Atwood’s writing for many years, which I only recently confronted and re-evaluated. A third factor was that I kept hearing the wonderfu satirical song “I’ve Seen Shakespeare Done in Modern Dress” by Bill Weeden and David Finkle.

Those things noted, I enjoyed the book very much. I was grabbed by the beginning rehearsal, which seemed heavily influenced by “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” And it’s been very interesting watching the former artistic director try to create a play and a revenge play using primarily prisoners in a correctional institute while totally losing his mind re his deceased daughter.

One of the more interesting points is Ms. Atwood’s portrayal of how the artistic director leads his potential actors to analyze the characters that they are reluctant to play. It’s a wonderful exercise in thinking outside the box.

So, this series continues to delight and surprise me, and I wish Hogarth/Penguin Random House would revive it.

Review: Loitering with Intent, by Muriel Spark

I really don’t remember how I came to borrow Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent from the library, but I am delighted that it somehow found its way to my TBR pile.

I was grabbed by the first paragraph, and shanghaied into accompanying the protagonist, one Fleur Talbot, on her journey as an aspiring writer through 1949 London. The characters she meets, the autobiographies they are trying to create, the “additions” Ms. Talbot creates to make them more interesting, and the novel she is working on in her copious free time all make for a delightful ride.

The flip side, of course, is that this is very much about one writer’s process, and it is a fascinating look at how this particular writer’s mind works, and how her characters and the people she deals with in life blend and feed each other.

If this book is any kind of real representation of Ms. Spark’s work, I expect to see a lot more of her work on my TBR!

Review: The Great Mrs. Elias, by Barbara Chase-Riboud

I love books of real stories about the darker side of my city. Especially, I love stories about things I didn’t know. This book was not only exciting, it covered ground I was only barely familiar with.

It tells the story of Hannah Elias (née Bessie Davis), a young black woman sex worker, who rises from “nowhere” to become the richest real estate speculator of her day by listening to her clients talk about their financial dealings. Although often accused of “passing” for white, the closest she ever came was letting people believe she was a Cuban national.

One of the most important parts of the book for me was the reminder of just how historically racist New York City actually was — contrary to what many native New Yorkers believe. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to look at, but ignoring or forgetting it will only lead to its perpetuation.

Thank you Ms. Chase-Riboud, for this very exciting look at one of the great failures of my city.

An Interesting Quest

I received <i>Atrocious Immoralities</i> by Brynne Stevens to review from the wonderful BookSirens website. All opinions expressed in this review are mine, however.

I would have given this a higher rating, but for the author’s slipping into modern idioms, and somewhat misusing the formal version of medieval English. These two faults pulled me out of the story several times, but I was able to get back into it, so I didn’t deduct more than one star for each.

That said, the story was a lot better than the opening led me to expect. I wish Avis, Charles, Ephraim, and Isabel could have been a bit more complex, but Swain was drawn very well. The story is a complicated quest tale, with Avis trying to find out her origins, prevent a war, and discover what is really important to her. I think it reads better if considered as a YA book, rather than an adult one, but I did enjoy it.

I would definitely class this more as medieval chick lit than action, but I think it would be just perfect for older teens who want a little more than just a starry-eyed, unrequited love tale.

Again, I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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