Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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

Archive for the category “Books”

Review: The Copenhagen Trilogy, by Tove Ditlevsen

Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen trilogy is definitely a masterpiece and worth spending time with. I listened to it through Libby, the library app from Overdrive, and it was compelling, horrifying, saddening, and wonderful — all at the same time.

Ms. Ditlevsen is an excellent writer. She tackles her memoir without glossing over the rough parts or glorifying her accomplishments, and we know that such balance is not always easy to achieve. Further, her story is compelling because it is a very common one in my generation. the young Tove is easy to identify with — how many of us were outsiders at some level? And, once that has happened, it’s all too easy to understand why she makes the decisions she does. But the most attractive thing about the book is the unflinching way she looks at her decisions and their consequences.

According to Wikipedia, by the time she committed suicide in 1976 she had written 29 books and was one of Denmark’s best-known authors. I shall certainly add any of these that were translated into English to the never-ending reading queue.

So, while this is not a happy story, let me count among those who want Tove Ditlevsen to be one of the most-read authors in the US.

Review: The Muralist, by B.A. Shapiro

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. I picked it up due to my friend Jan’s recommendation, and her recommendations are usually spot-on for me.

It is a fascinating story- an artist, Danielle, goes searching for her family history, including that of her great-aunt Alizée Benoit, a WPA artist who disappeared after the war. However, what kept me reading, more than the weaving in of prominent historical figures, was the way Danielle’s personality (and that of her family) operated at so many different levels; Aunt Alizée, for example, was mature enough to interrupt a meeting between Eleanor Roosevelt and the owners of the WPA project she is working on, with a goal of getting the current work of her and her contemporaries (the founders, pretty much, of abstract expressionism) included in WPA projects and exhibitions, despite the rule that all WPA art had to be representational rather than abstract. In other areas of her life, Alizée has trouble being quite so forthright. She is also a bit naive regarding getting her relatives out of what is becoming Vichy France. Even as officials are telling her, one after another, that she will not be able to obtain the needed visas, she still keeps attempting the same methods to try and rescue her family, much the way Danielle keeps searching for her great-aunt despite being thwarted at every turn.

It’s not a bad book, and it’s possible that it was just a bit triggery for me – a Russian/Roumanian/Galician Jew whose ancestors emigrated to America in the lead-up years to World War II. It is definitely worth reading, not least for the way real historical figures are woven into the story (the one thing from the times she seems to have missed is the story about Marc Chagall locking his paintings into a Paris attic before evacuating during the war and expecting to find them still there when he went back after the war (they were stolen while he was gone, in fact), but for the multiple layers of maturity Shapiro’s characters show as they move through their lives. These are complex people, with many fears, motivations, and agendas, and that is what kept me reading through a book I might otherwise have put down.

Reading Habits…

Like many of my bookish friends, I rarely read only one book at a time. Right now, for example, I am reading a collection of short works by P. G. Wodehouse (The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories), a novel by Iraj Pezeshkzad (My Uncle Napoleon), a book about libraries by Matthew Battles (Library: An Unquiet History) a book about the making of “Imagine” by John and Yoko Ono Lennon (Imagine: John Yoko), and a book of essays about food mostly by Mark Kurlansky (Choice Cuts). I am also listening to an audio version of Homer’s Iliad.

I’ve read this way for as long as I can remember. There are so many things I’m interested in, and so many times a book that is fine on one day is not something that suits my mood the following day. It may be a weird way of approaching books, but it has always worked for me.

Another bookish habit — one that was schooled out of me early on — is not marking up books as a rule. There are one or two books that I have marked up over the years (always feeling guilty about doing so), but those books I have always bought an extra copy of — just for the purpose. I’ve been thinking about this lately because Benjamin McEvoy notes in his YouTube lectures about reading notes that marking up a book with comments, indices, and other marginalia is one of the best ways to make a book “yours” and to tie your thoughts about the book to other books you’ve read, ideas you’ve had, and how the book relates to your world views and general values and beliefs. I have to admit that the idea is scary — and when I discussed it with one of my most well-read friends last night, he noted that he had also been taught that marking up books was a sin. (His parents were both educators; my mom was a bookkeeper and my dad was a construction worker.)

A bookish friend of mine, the late Velma Bowen, had a system for marking up books, and I did use it once or twice to note ideas in books on journal-keeping (I was teaching online courses in journal-keeping at the time, so being able to find the info was useful. I also developed a system for noting things in my own journals (which I still use when I journal by hand). I number the notebook’s pages and then I create a Table of Contents (ToC) going from back to front in the last three pages of the journal. Working from back to front with the ToC means that if I need more pages, it’s easy enough to do, I just rule off a page or two more. I have three columns in my ToC: the date of the entry, the page number(s), and a column for a brief description of the information I’m noting. I’ve used this system since 1979 or so (way. before Ryder Carroll and Bullet Journalling became A THING, and it has never failed me yet.

Another bookish habit I developed early on is maxing out my library cards. These days, that’s easier than ever, what with e-readers; apps like Glose, Audible, and Libby (my current favorite); inter-library loans; Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and — of course — the good, old neighborhood library. (We won’t mention that I have maxed out my Kindle at least three times, and I am currently at maximum borrowing and holds at two of the three libraries I have access to through Libby.) Yes, I do love “real” books (now often referred to as “dead-tree editions”, but I can carry thousands of books an an electronic device (as opposed to maybe three physical books), which has become more important as my health has declined over the years

The other bookish habit I have, and I suspect that it is the most important one of the lot, is that I read every day. I found out long ago that if I do not do that, the ability atrophies, just like what happens when you don’t use any other muscle, talent, or ability. What I do not do is set up a formal schedule for reading — life throws too many curve balls at adults to be able to say I will read for “x” amount of time every day. Some days, I will barely get half a short story read; other days, I will finish one or two novels. The point is not that I turn reading into a job that must be done; I keep it a pleasure that I can fit into whatever time my day allows.

So, above are peeks at some of the habits (good and bad) that I have acquired around reading over the years. I’d love to hear what yours are, so please feel free to tell me what works (or doesn’t) for you.

Book Review: The Stone Buddha’s Tears, by S.P. Somtow

I loved this book.

Okay, Somtow needs a better proofreader, but when that is the only criticism you can make about a story, that’s a Very Good Thing.

From the moment you meet Boy, Nen Lek, Ake, and Sombun you are drawn into a fascinating tale, not only about the people themselves, but about what the intersection of two seemingly unimportant lives can achieve.

In his notes at the end of the book, Somtow says that this was originally to have been part of a series, although the series never managed to happen. I wish it had – I certainly would have bought all the books based on the quality of this one.

Oh, yeah, I have only one other problem with Somtow’s writing: Every book of his I do get to read makes me want to add more of his books to my already overgrown reading queue. AND THIS ONE WAS NO EXCEPTION TO THAT.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: Although I have only met Somtow in person once for a few minutes at a Science fiction convention, I have been honored with his virtual friendship over the years. One way I honor friendships with writers (and I have many) is that I give full and honest reviews of their work. If I hate a book I will say so. If I love it, I will say so. I purchased this book on my own from Amazon, and I receive no compensation for reviewing it. I hope anyone who purchases, borrows, or otherwise honestly acquires it enjoys it as much as I did.)

Review: At Home in the Dark, Lawrence Block, ed.

At Home in the Dark is the newest anthology from master writer and editor Lawrence Block. It contains seventeen stories exploring what Block refers to as “the dark end” of the gray scale of a “hard line on reality”, plus one of Block’s usual wonderful introductions.

I have, in truth grown up reading one of the included writers – Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve met several others through other Block anthologies – Joe R. Lonsdale and Jill D. Block come to mind. I now want to explore their work more deeply and dive into the work of the other contributors.

As in any Block-edited anthology, the writing is tight and swift-moving. My favorite stories in it are Joe R. Lonsdale’s “The Senior Girls Bayonet Drill Team” and Joe Hill’s “Faun”.

No matter what genre the stories in this book are – even if they are out of your comfort zone or your favorite genre – I found them well worth the time it took (2 hours and 57 minutes, according to my Kindle) to read them, and I think you will, too.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #10

And here goes another installment of my reading list and bookish pursuits.

It’s been a busy month. I read a trilogy and a horror anthology, finished one serial on Serial Box, started the final season of another and began a third, read the newest in a mystery series I love, and had enough real life to keep things interesting. All my reading this month was for the GOODREADS Challenge only, however, and I need to remedy that this month.

Book #76 (Goodreads Challenge): I began the month with a recommendation from Cindy Guentert-Baldo – Kevin Kwan’s trilogy. The first book in that trilogy is Crazy Rich Asians. I’m not much on popular fiction, but this was a delightful book – It’s not quite chick lit, and it’s not quite a rom-com, but it tells the story of Rachel and Nick in a very quick and frothy read with a few darker moments.

Book #77 (Goodreads Challenge): Kwan’s trilogy continues with China Rich Girlfriend. Here the plot shifts from Rachel and Nick to his cousin and her husband, and to the stories of other of the secondary characters. By now, they all felt like old acquaintances, and it was wonderful to catch up on their stories.

Book #78 (Goodreads Challenge): The final book of Kwan’s trilogy is Rich People Problems. The focus is heavily on Nick and his grandmother in this one. It ties up the series nicely. The whole series took me about two and a half days to read and was well worth the time spent.

Book #79 (Goodreads Challenge): I’m not a horror reader in general, but I was invited to a book launch for A New York State of Fright, edited by James Chambers, April Grey, and Robert Masterson, published by Hippocampus Press. I was – I admit – predisposed to like at least two stories in the book because I know the writers, Hal Johnson and Patrick Thomas. (Full Disclosure: I also know the publisher slightly. The opinions herein are my own, however.) Much to my surprise, while I loved both stories from my friends, I was more impressed with several of the other stories. Alp Beck’s “Heels,” which I heard partially read at the launch was my main reason for purchasing the book, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I only felt one story wasn’t superb – and that just because I thought the ending had been telegraphed too early. Again, while horror is not my jam, this was an excellent example of contemporary horror. Oh – and all the stories are set in New York – either state or city – a big plus for me.

Book #80 – 84 (Goodreads Challenge): As most of you know, I am rather fond of a website/app called Serial Box. I finished the five books of their BOOKBURNERS series this month. I’m sorry to see this serial end. It’s held my attention all the way through but leaves some loose threads. I want to find out what happens to several of the protagonists whose endings are not shown in the last chapter.

Book #85 (Goodreads Challenge): Serial Box has also released the first, preview, chapter of the final season of TREMONTAINE, which is how I found them in the first place.

Book #86 – 88(Goodreads Challenge): The new series I started on Serial Box is something of an experiment for them. They have teamed up with The Associated Press to do a non-fiction series called 1776: The World Turned Upside Down. It covers the year 1776, in 12 chapters – one per month. Each chapter begins with an overview of the events taking place that month and then goes into the story. If you are a history fan, you will find it quite interesting, and worth subscribing to. I have already read the first three installments, and have the fourth queued up on my computer.

Book #89 (Goodreads Challenge): Donna Andrews has released the next chapter in her Meg Langslow mysteries. is another enjoyable chapter. It’s fun to watch her boys growing up, and watch her indomitable mother and father, as well as the other characters. This is another series where the characters feel like old friends settling in for a visit, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

I didn’t get more reading done this month because of various real-life issues. I’ve been fighting yet another round of cellulitis, a friend has had sudden, unexpected brain surgery (he’s doing fine so far), another friend has developed what seems to be pretty much terminal cancer, various friends have needed tech support, and my sister has her usual crises, so my attention has been pushed in all sorts of directions other than books.

In September, I will be attending a conference for people who are in the planner community – which is one of the groups that ties in with the bullet journal communities. I met some of the other folks who will be attending this evening, and they seem to be quite friendly and welcoming. At least I will see a few familiar faces when I get there.

So that is where things are at for August. I will try to blog more in September, but with the High Holy Days and my birthday, it’s going to be a pretty full month.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #9

So here is the next installment of my 2018 reading list for both the challenges I have committed to so far.

Book #63 (Goodreads Challenge): Okay. A friend suggested I read Amy Tangerine’s Craft a Life You Love: Infusing Creativity, Fun & Intention into Your Everyday because Ms. Tangerine had some pretty good suggestions and kept the Newage goop to a minimum. While both observations are correct, there really wasn’t anything new and exciting in here. Note: I am probably a good twenty to thirty years older than her target audience, so having a longer perspective may have something to do with my having “seen it all” before now.

That said, the exercises are interesting, and have helped renew my interest in art journaling, so I will give the book that much credit. And Amy’s story is interesting, if not a bit indulgent. Many of us who are trying to make it don’t have parents or a partner in the background to prop us up if we have a fall or a rough spot, and I think that far too many books of this kind overlook that. Ms. Tangerine at least acknowledges the help she got at crucial moments from her parents.

Still, it was a relatively quick, enjoyable read, and I’d say that there are people who could benefit from reading it. That I just didn’t happen to be one of them is no fault of Ms. Tangerine’s, and I wish her all success and hope many of her target audience find this book and buy it.

Book #64 (Goodreads Challenge): Went to a book launch party at Integral Yoga, and the swag was a copy of the book being launched. The book was Suzan Colon’s Yoga Mind: Journey Beyond the Physical, 30 Days to Enhance your Practice and Revolutionize Your Life From the Inside Out. This book tells the story of the year she spent teaching yoga to a friend who had been severely injured in a freak diving accident. It includes actionable practices for the various steps of yoga, including breathing, mantra, and cultivating appropriate attitudes. I would definitely recommend this, just for Francesco’s story. Note: We got to meet Francesco
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Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #8

Okay, I’ve been slacking a bit, but I’ve had some actual work to take my attention away from reading. Hopefully, I am heading back to achieving my daily reading goal. I find it helps me deal with the day better if I start by enjoying some time with a book.

Books #52-57 (Goodreads Challenge): Donna Andrews’ The Good, the Bad and the Emus, The Nightengale Before Christmas, Lord of the WIngs, Die Like an Eagle, Gone Gull, and How the Finch Stole Christmas bring the Meg Langslow series (mentioned in my last Book Challenge post) current. There are two more books in the series, but they won’t be released until later this year.

Book #58 (Goodreads Challenge): A Baby’s Bones by Rebecca Alexander is the first book in a new mystery series. It was pretty interesting, although my one gripe is that I really would like to see more female sleuths who are not dependent on a man. There is a more in-depth review in my post of 1 May 2018.

Book #59 (Goodreads Challenge): Spenser is back again. Ace Atkins continues the Robert B. Parker “Spenser” series with Old Black Magic>. This time, Spenser is without his old buddy Hawk, as he works to resolve a case involving a mobster with a grudge against him and some paintings that were stolen several decades ago. Further, he doesn’t have much help from Quirk or Belson, who have risen up the chain of administration. Spenser prevails, of course, but it’s always fun to watch how he gets there.

Book #60 (Goodreads Challenge): Roger Levy’s The Rig got reviewed in my post of 16 May 2018. It’s another book not to be picked up lightly, but is well-worth the read.

Book #61 (Goodreads Challenge): Madman Walking, by L.F. Robertson is an interesting look, through a fictional case, at the process of overturning the conviction of an innocent, but mentally-ill, man. I note that I received this as an uncorrected bound proof from the publisher, but – as always – my responses are not based on that. I did a more in-depth review on Goodreads.

Book #62 (Goodreads Challenge): The Crowns of Croswald, by D.E. Night is a book I was asked to review by the author’s publisher. I agreed, with the usual proviso that my review would be honest, and not influenced by the fact that I was given the copy.

That said, it was enjoyable. It started a bit slowly, and I had figured out the plot twist long before it was revealed, but that did not make the book less enjoyable. The story revolves around a young woman with a secret. A kitchen maid, she still somehow gets invited to join the country’s most important school to learn to be a scrivener. Being bright and inquisitive, as well as poor, she has some trouble fitting into her new surroundings. She also has a very powerful enemy, who has been searching for her for all of her life and develops two very close friendships, one male and one female.

The similarities to Harry Potter will, I think, make the book resonate with its target audience, which I believe is YA. There are enough differences, however, that those similarities do not detract from the story.

I further note that I am now awaiting the next book in the series since the ending of this book sets up the heroine’s next quest.

So, those are my recent books read. I am a touch behind where I want to be, but that happens around this time of year. I fully expect to get to where I should be over the summer.

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.


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.

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