Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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

Archive for the category “Recommendations”

Why I Review the Way I Do

I have been noticing lately that my reviews often differ from those of a lot of other posters. So, I started thinking about what I write about when I review something, and why I choose those things.

To me, one of the most important things is the impact a book has (or not) on me. Sure, I could explain the plot like others do, or try to talk about every character, but there are others who can do that much better than I ever will. What I can do is share why a book has an impact on me – whether it’s a beloved classic or something totally out of my wheelhouse. That is the service I can provide best, although the “normal” review elements do peek in from time to time. I am more concerned with why you would want to read the book I’m talking about than with the book’s specific details.

As far as I can see, we read books for many reasons. Some we read like dessert – the light, fluffy treat at the end of a long day. Others we read because there is meat there. We suck the knowledge out like we suck marrow out of a soup bone (does anyone remember doing that as a kid?). Still others are some combination of the two. I believe that my job is not to reconstruct the book for you, but to let you know why I think it’s worth your time or not to pick up a particular book.

If that’s not what you are looking for in a book, so be it. I never thought I could please everyone. Go in peace and enjoy your reading – I honestly will not judge you. However, if you think my method is good, I am delighted to see you and share what I have learned, And, I have never stopped learning — every book I read teaches me *something* — even the light, fluffy ones have something to say that leaves an impact on me. Hopefully, I can communicate that impact well enough to help you make your reading decisions.

Review/Recommendation: Libby by OverDrive

From “Borrow ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more from your local library for free! Libby is the newer library reading app by OverDrive, loved by millions of readers worldwide.”

Libby is one of my favorite apps, and with good reason. I have links to the three libraries I have cards or e-cards for; I can do searches easily; Libby tracks my holds and checkouts. for all three libraries; and I can not only listen to my libraries’ audiobook selections, but I can read ebooks either directly on the Libby app or on my Kindle. Further it syncs my ebooks and audiobooks across my devices so that I can switch easily between laptop, tablet, and phone for reading or listening.

Setting up my Libby was pretty easy. I found it through the library I use most often – Brooklyn Public Library – and set it up to use that library card. I then added my card for the New York Public Library system. I did not have a current card for the Queens Borough Public Library system, but Libby let me set one up using my cell phone number. Theoretically, I can add other libraries that will give me a card or let me set up an e-card, but I’m pretty happy having all three New York library systems available. Moving between the systems is easy — just a click on an icon. Searches are pretty easy, too. Once I’ve searched one library, I just have to switch libraries, and click on search and the title of my most recent search to search the same book at one of my other libraries.

Even better, I can borrow, renew, and return items through Libby itself. Libby lets me know when it’s time to renew or return something, and if the item in question is on hold. If it is on hold and cannot be renewed for that reason, it gives me an option to place a new hold on the item. It also lets me know how many times I have renewed an item, and exactly what time of the day a loan will end.

There are a few things Libby doesn’t do. I cannot set up an e-card for just any library through them…as an example, New Jersey’s library system does not do cards for out-of-staters, so I cannot set one up in Libby. Another thing Libby doesn’t do is to automatically add a book to my Goodreads reading challenge for the year the way my actual Kindle does. This is not a huge issue, but it would be nice if it took care of that step the way Kindle does. I also need to write any reviews I want to write on either Goodreads, Amazon, or my blog and manually copy them to wherever I want them posted. Again, more of an inconvenience than a major issue, but it would be lovely if this could happen.

So, overall, I would give OverDrive’s Libby app a 9 out of 10, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys ebooks and audiobooks as well as the hardcovers and paperbacks many of us grew up with.

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.

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.

Book Review – Spells of War, by Gary McGath

Spells of War is one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a while. Gary McGath is, first of all, an excellent writer and storyteller. He is able to blend the factual background parts you need to understand the story into it without pulling you out of the story or doing an info dump. He also clearly respects the intelligence of his readers. Further, he takes the time to remind readers that the worldviews of the period he is writing about differed greatly from the ones we hold today.

Now that I’ve addressed the technical reasons I enjoyed the book (I was originally reading it as an editing assignment, but fell in love with it along the way), let me address the story itself. Given the beliefs of the time period, I had no problem with the basic premise: that both sides in a war would want to use mages and magic to gain an advantage. I was fascinated by how said mages were used, and what the true cost of such use turned out to be.

I had not read McGath’s The Magic Battery prior to reading this, but it is now in my reading queue because I enjoyed this book so much.

I highly recommend Spells of War if you enjoy reading fantasy, historical fantasy, military fantasy, military science fiction, or just enjoy reading well-written books of any genre.

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.

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