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Michael Goodine

Joined 1 year, 5 months ago

I read quite a lot. Mostly fiction, but some non-fiction related to my work.

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A guide for students preparing for the TOEFL iBT, a test of English proficiency.

Review of 'Skills for the TOEFL iBT Test' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

A couple of notes before I begin: First, I am only reviewing the writing section of this book, since that is my area of expertise. The reading section looks fine but I could be wrong. Second, this book is based on the version of the TOEFL offered before August 1, 2019. The test changed a bit on that date. Most of the content in the book is still fine, but be aware of the new format of the test.

And now, the review: I like this book just as much as I like the matching speaking and listening book from Collins. Like that book, this title is incredibly accurate in its depictions of TOEFL questions. Indeed, I have never seen a printed book with such accurate TOEFL integrated writing questions. There are only five samples, but they are all perfectly designed to match the real test. In each of them …

The fabulous riverboat (1971, Putnam) 3 stars

The Fabulous Riverboat is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip José Farmer, the …

Review of 'The fabulous riverboat' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the first Riverworld book, I'm continuing my reexamination of the series.

"The Fabulous Riverboat" is the second book in the series, and it has a somewhat confusing publication history. The story here was originally published in four parts - two parts in 1967 and more two parts in 1971 (all in "If" Magazine). These parts were combined (and somewhat revised) for the book-length version, which was also published in 1971... the same year as "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" (the first book in the series).

Do you got all that?

I wonder if Hugo voters who named "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" best novel gave Farmer credit for the second book as well. It did beat out a very deserving novel by Ursula K Le Guin.

Anyways, this is a somewhat better book than the first. Some decades have passed since Resurrection Day, …

Sapiens (2014, Vintage Books) 4 stars

El libro de no ficción del año. Bestseller internacional con más de diez millones de …

Review of 'Sapiens' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

I can't really speak to the value of its scholarship, but this book zips along at a wonderful pace. It is extremely readable. That said, it does make a lot of superficial arguments. I wouldn't say that it is particularly deep.

I think this one is good fun for a high school senior thinking about starting a BA in History who wants an overview of potential study areas. The citations at the back of the book might also get them started down more specific paths.

Plain English for Lawyers (5th Edition) (2005, Carolina Academic Press) 5 stars

It is a good book for anyone who wants to improve their writing skill.

Review of 'Plain English for Lawyers (5th Edition)' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

The stereotype of the lawyer who writes incomprehensible gibberish is fading away, but it is always a good idea to review the basics of good writing.

This book covers the same ground as Joseph Williams' wonderful "Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace". Get that one if you want more of the same.

Mirror to Damascus (1996, Penguin Books Ltd) 4 stars

Review of 'Mirror to Damascus' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

"Mirror to Damascus" is Colin Thubron's very first travelogue. It finds a very young Thubron exploring Damascus and the surrounding countryside in the mid 1960s. Interestingly, this seems to be Thurbon at his most "Fermoresque." He doesn't make as many assumptions about your knowledge as Fermor does, but you might want to take a quick look at the Wikipedia pages on the histories of Syria and Islam before you get going. And perhaps crack open your copy of the Old Testament while you are at it. This isn't a book for the ignorant.

Like some of Fermor's better-known works, there is precious little actual travel depicted in these pages. Thubron spends a few paragraphs recounting a bicycle ride and then spends thirty pages talking about the history of a town. Again and again this is repeated. At first I felt bad reading the book... I visited Damascus in my early …

Gigged (2018, Penguin Random House) 3 stars

"The full-time job is disappearing--is landing the right gig the new American Dream? One in …

Review of 'Gigged' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

A pretty decent overview of the "gig economy" as it existed in (and leading up to) 2018. Note that this isn't a data-driven study, but rather a collection of anecdotes. It covers the founding of major companies and the experiences of individuals working for them.

The text seems even-handed, and presents both the negative and positive aspects of participating businesses. At times the author seems pessimistic, but I sense she's pessimistic about the economy as a whole, and not specifically about this particular shift.

While the book covers some of the major players of the period (Uber, Managed by Q, etc) there is also quite a bit about Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" which is oftentimes ignored in favor of sexier stories. I was happy to see that.

It is worth mentioning that this is a fairly short read. It isn't exactly comprehensive, but it is still worthwhile.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1981, Berkley) 3 stars

Review of 'To Your Scattered Bodies Go' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

Well, 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of "To Your Scattered Bodies Go," which won the Hugo award for best novel, and was adapted twice for television. I suppose it is worth noting that the story was actually serialized in 1965/66, and was based on an unpublished manuscript from the 1950s.

So... does it hold up in 2021?

Sort of. As other reviewers here have noted, it's quite sexist. I would say that it is a product of its time, but the sexism here does bring to mind much of "Game of Thrones," which is a product of our time.

On the plus side, Farmer's pulpy prose zips along at a wonderful pace. The book is tightly plotted and readable. There's no filler here. Richard Francis Burton is the sort of good-at-everything protagonist that Farmer loved to write. Some might find that tiresome, but this moves the plot …

To Be Taught, If Fortunate (2019, Harper Voyager) 4 stars

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through …

Review of 'To Be Taught, If Fortunate' on 'GoodReads'

2 stars

There is barely a story here. The astronauts go into space and visit planet A. There they observe the planet. The narrator explains a few scientific concepts. Next they go to planet B. The same thing happens. Then they go to planet C. The same thing happens. Etc.

There is a sliver of a story between planets. It's mildly interesting, but it is really thin.

Becky Chambers does have a wonderful way with the English language, so everything flows smoothly enough, but that isn't enough to carry an entire novella.

The good news is that the gee whiz aren't we a great bunch of friends in space presentation of characters found in some of Chambers' other books isn't excessively prominent here. But... isn't that presentation why she's so popular?

The Black Tides of Heaven (EBook, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery …

Review of 'The Black Tides of Heaven' on 'GoodReads'

2 stars

I always appreciate when authors take a "show, don't tell" approach, but the result in this case is a scattershot of characters and groups of people without any clear sense of motivation. This is a story where, as the saying goes, stuff just happens. In fiction with particularly beautiful use of the language that can be fine, but that isn't found here. The characters too often speak in cliches. Many of those characters are somewhat stock in nature - the evil empress, the kindly old monk, the handsome young doctor, etc.

There is some compelling stuff here about gender and a mildly interesting system of magic called "slack," but I don't think I'll check out the remaining three books in the series.

The Deep (Hardcover, 2019, Saga Press) 4 stars

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard …

Review of 'The Deep' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

This is an atmospheric and beautifully told story, but it drags a bit. There isn't a ton of plot here, and the world-building is scant, even by literary SF standards.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo (EBook, 2016, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

Egypt, 1912. In Cairo, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between …

Review of 'A Dead Djinn in Cairo: A Tor.Com Original' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

Quite a lot of story and world building packed into this novelette. And if you are into this sort of thing, there is a much longer sequel, "The Haunting of Tram Car 015" that fleshes out the setting even more.

A bit predictable as far as mysteries go, but really atmospheric. Recommended.

Review of 'Permafrost' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

Really gripping stuff. I was hooked right from the in media res opening (someone's dead, someone else is a bit stabbed, and lord knows if the plane has enough gas in the tank).

It's just a quick novella, so I'll spare any specific details. Basically, though, the premise is that an ecological catastrophe has befallen the earth in the near future, and "World Health" is attempting to use a novel time travel method to recover from it.

Because of the brief length of the book the action skips along pretty quickly, though a few potentially interesting details and plot points are given short thrift.

The best short SF from 2019 that I've come across, so far.

Desdemona and the Deep (2019, 4 stars

Review of 'Desdemona and the Deep' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

Well, this is an interesting one. Sort of a comedy of manners in a fantasy setting. Our hero, Desdemona Mannering (get it?) is the sort of person who doesn't appreciate art, but does collect a lot of artists. She goes to cocktail parties and fundraisers. She drinks. Eventually, Desdemona discovers that her father has "tithed" 36 of his miners to the underworld and has murdered another 300. She's going to have to descend into the worlds below to undo this. But first... champagne (and lots of it).

If you read only first 20% of the book you might think that it is purely a satire of the idle rich, but there is a story here if you keep going. Readers who find shallow socialites and their hangers-on annoying might not like this one, but it is also a story of transformation. The characters and the society they are in do …