21 books and 10 lbs (week 28): Overdue books

I realize I’ve been sorely neglecting the book reviews I should have been posting as I’ve made my way slowly but surely through the year. In the past several months, I’ve made my way through four books – some of which were FAR better than the others. As far as my weight goes, I’ll be reporting on that in a separate post, since there is news to provide there and I’d like to have separate space to think it all through. I am still aiming to get through 21 books, though – as Goodreads was kind enough to point out – I’m moving too slowly. You can see farther down on this page just who owes me a month of my life back. Hopefully the next few books will go faster…

As far as the books go, you can see where I am on Goodreads at any point, or you can wait for me to post my reviews here. So, without further ado, catching everyone else up on my last few months of reading:


Book 3: “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson

The quintessential “pirate” book, “Treasure Island” breathes life into the character of Long John Silver, a character of broad reputation and dubious morals. A young innkeeper’s son, Jim Hawkins, gets recruited to go on a hunt for a sea-faring hunt for treasure, where he uncovers mutiny and danger. As one of those books that I felt I always should have read, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When you think back to the books you were required to read in school, “classics” typically stood in for “boring” or “why am I reading this” or “isn’t there something written within the last century?” This book was a fairly good read, the first time I’d ever read any fiction centered on pirates, and it was interesting reading about Silver and buried treasure. You saw Jim come into his own, learning probably more than he cared to about the dark side of human nature. For what’s typically considered something aimed at children (the “classics” version of YA?), I’m surprised at the amount of death and danger. Then again, I guess every century has its way of trying to shock parents.


Book 4: “The Magic Mistake (Oh My Godmother, #2) by Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson

From the presses at a Disney imprint comes the second book in a series about – you guessed it – Fairy Godmothers. Only, in this case, you have a young girl who’s been tapped to head off to Fairy Godmother school, leaving her family and friends behind. Lacey Unger-Ware (great name) is the young girl in question, and though she resists her call to join the corps, an accident places her squarely in the position of having to serve as a fairy godmother to her best friend’s mother…or have everyone hate her. A series of madcap mishaps ensue, and it’s up to Lacey to save the day – and herself – by saving others. I read this one with dd, who liked it a lot and asked to get more books from this series. I was sent a copy by the Disney folks so that I could see what she thought, and I was happy to see yet another example of smart YA writing. As much as dd liked the book, I found myself snorting along and enjoying it immensely. Definitely two thumbs up.


Book 5: “Telegraph Avenue” by Michael Chabon

Having loved “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, I figured that this one had to be worth a read. I saw Chabon appear on “The Colbert Report”, plugging the paperback release, and I went out right away to get a copy for myself. What then ensued was my “Midnight’s Children” moment for the year. I could not have been more disappointed with this book if I tried. I liked that Chabon tried to explore the lives of multi-cultured couples in Oakland, CA, centering around a failing record store in a failing neighborhood about to be gentrified and steamrolled into a whole new existence. Archie and Nat are co-owners of this anchor for a driftless neighborhood, and the relationship between the two men and their families is the central point on which the book should turn. Instead, you follow the shiftless Archie more often than not, finding him less an anti-hero and more just a poor excuse for a husband and father. Threads of stories don’t get pulled together too well, as everything suffers under the weight of Chabon’s apparently editor-free writing. The idea was just far better than the execution. Chabon’s rambling narrative – including one epic 8-page-long sentence that was a chapter unto itself – reduced the value of the book to bare minimum. It was as though someone took filet mignon and smothered it in a rancid sauce; you can’t even come close to eating it with any sort of pleasure. Unlike the bother books I read this year, this one was a terrible bore and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.


Book 6: “Perfect Ruin” by Lauren DiStefano

The first book in the Internment Chronicles series was just the breath of fresh air that I needed after slogging through “Telegraph Avenue”. Yet another delightful YA novel that I picked up for free at the local movie theater, “Perfect Ruin” centers around a young girl – Morgan Stockhour – living in a controlled, but generally happy, society established on a chunk of floating earth, suspended high above the planet. Strict measures determine the number of children, who will marry whom, and even the lifespan (population controls being important when you have finite space), but Morgan is fairly happy in her existence on this higher plane…until a murder is committed, and her illusion of a happy society is well and properly shattered. She begins to dig into what happened, her natural curiosity getting the better of her, and she uncovers far more than she bargained in the process. This was a delightful book (not just because of the contrast with the prior read); I’m definitely hooked and can’t wait for the second book in this series to come out. Further proof that the YA tag should never be used to weed out books…but perhaps to weed them in.


Book 7: “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexander Dumas

Dumas’ book was a literal page-turner; I found myself devouring the book 50 pages at a time. The story focuses on a young man, Edmond Dantès, wronged by a rival suitor for his beloved Mercédés. Dantès is tossed into prison, where he befriends an abbé right as he is on the verge of desperate measures. As time passes, Dantès’ mind and body both strengthen, and when he manages to escape from prison, he reinvents himself as the eponymous Count so that he can take revenge on those who contributed to his imprisonment. I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to miss every theatrical version of this book, since the material is so rich you could mine it for ages. Dumas draws his characters in 3-D; they just seem to have such depth and emotion. Where Chabon was slow and plodding, Dumas races from household to household, weaving an incredible tale of love, betrayal, politicking, redemption, mystery, and finally – salvation.

Book Review: “A Dance With Dragons”

(We will return to our regularly scheduled discussion of books and weight loss when there’s weight loss to report – D’oh!)

Funnily enough, for as few times as I’ve posted lately, I’ve been doing a lot. It’s mostly just that I haven’t been posting about it because time, energy levels, or other things have prevented me from it. And so, this is the first of three book reviews that I need to push out from this year’s “21 books and 10 lbs” challenge.


Book 2: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin


A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin


I originally bought George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series for dh, as we were both fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series. Over time, as he realized that Martin’s vision of an otherworldly medieval world was perhaps too bloody and too filled with “adult themes”, he withdrew from it. In fact, he never even picked up the books. So, of course, I picked them up instead. {Warning: ahead there be spoilers! Not that I’m going to tell you who’s died, but by telling you who’s ALIVE, you find out who hasn’t yet been killed off. Maybe. Let’s just say, don’t read this review unless you’re okay with possibly knowing that someone’s lived long enough to be there at least for a part of this book.}


My brother-in-law refers to Martin as “the enemy of happiness”, and I would tend to agree with him. Much as the four preceding novels in the series, the closest you’ll find to a happy ending in “A Dance With Dragons” is of the prurient kind. This book focuses more closely on main characters that were set aside in the prior book – A Feast for Crows – so, there’s renewed focus on some of the children of House Stark, particularly Arya, Bran and Jon. You get more time with the golden haired Lannisters, as well, and Danaerys Targaryen gets more than her fair share of page time. The book opens with Arya still learning the arts of concealment and killing, Jon trying desperately to control a continuing escalation at The Wall between Stannis’ retinue and the wildlings, Cersei scheming to get her freedom, Danaerys endlessly lip-chewing in the desert, and Tyrion attempting to make his way East to plead his case to the white-blond would-be Queen.

As usual, Martin focuses on four main themes: people killing people, people having sex with people, people pondering the miserableness of their situation, and people wandering/dithering/nearly-but-not-quite-finding-each-other. I won’t say that it’s become boring after five books; I devoured this one fast enough for something that runs over 1,000 pages. I will say, though, that this is not a book for the faint of heart. Martin’s vision of a medieval world is never sugar-coated, and the hyper-realism and sheer grittiness of his descriptions can be off-putting to those of tender or delicate sensibilities.

There is also a sense of frustration to be had reading some of the rather lengthy tales of indecision and wrong turns; Martin is very clearly in love with Danaerys, else he wouldn’t mind watching her wander, ponder, and generally do not a lot of anything for quite a few pages. Or perhaps he loves her least, since she often is the literary equivalent of the video game character you keep bumping into a wall because you can’t manage to sort out the controller.

For those who are willing to hang onto the dragon, so to speak, and see where it leads – I suspect the ride will continue to be interesting. And, after all, he claims to have “The Winds of Winter” in progress and teed up to keep the (planned) seven-book franchise going. I’ll keep reading…even if I’m reading it all on my own.

21 books and 10 lbs (week 4): Restarting the clock

Honestly, it’s hard for me to tell what week it is. I’m still in a bit of denial about it being 2014 already – much less nearly the end of the first month of 2014 – so you’ll have to forgive my inability to tell what week it is. Furthermore, I’ve been in the grips of some kind of malaise, most likely brought on by my immune system fighting off the double-volleyed attack of dd’s stomach bug from last week and ds’ continuing cold. Actually, both kids have pretty awful colds, with dd having the worse of the two right now. I think Proctor & Gamble is making a FORTUNE off us right now, for all the boxes of Puffs with Lotion we’ve gone through in the last few weeks.

And so, not feeling particularly well for the last several days – plus just still very discombobulated for the last several weeks – my weight loss hasn’t been where I want it to be. Since I ended up losing about 10lbs last year off my starting point, I’d like to see if I can take off the other 10 I wanted this year. Sure, that’s backing down from the whole “losing 20lbs in one year” thing…but, sincerely, I DON’T CARE. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’d rather do this in a fashion where I don’t stress myself out so much about the numbers that I miss the healthy forest for the weight loss trees.

I’m up a couple of pounds, thanks to improper levels of hibition over the first few weeks of the month so…ONWARD AND DOWNWARD, yes?

I have, though, already finished off the first of the twenty-one books I’d like to get through this year. I set up a Goodreads account, so if you’d like to follow along, friend, peruse what I’ve rated, etc., you’re welcome to do so. My current read, partly because dh bought it for me as a present and partly because I like to see if I can challenge myself, is “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin. I’m not quite sure if I can manage to stick to the pace I need and yet get through that book; it’s 1,050 pages long. I’m giving it a serious try, though it may take me just over a month to get through it and then I’ll be running at a rabbit’s pace the rest of the year to catch up. I also have a lovely box from Barnes & Noble sitting in my living room with the next several books to follow. Ahh…reading…

Book 1: “Jim Henson: The Biography” by Brian Jay Jones


Jim Henson: A Biography by Brian Jay Jones

I grew up with “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street”, and Jim Henson has always had a somewhat god-like status in our house, because he managed to be so funny, clever, inventive and astonishing. Reading Jones’ incredibly detail-oriented biography of Henson, you see that he’s all that and more. Through the book, I heard about projects I never knew he’d done (such as the incredible amount of advertising the Muppets did, the shows he did in Washington, DC that preceded my appearance on the planet, and several other works for TV that I just don’t even recall, such as “The Storyteller”). I also read about things that were less joyful – sad things that happened to Jim and his family, sad things that Jim did (humanizing him by really showing that he was, in fact, a human), and the sad details of his final hours.

What you walk away with is a sense that Jim Henson – and the amazing cast around him, particularly long-time collaborator Frank Oz – had a burning need to continue to do things that hadn’t been done and, through the variety of endeavors that did well (like “Sesame Street”) and that didn’t do as well (such as “Labyrinth” or “Dark Crystal”), he managed to make incredible advances in puppetry, animation, animatronics, engineering, set design, and cinematography. Things he did out of necessity, such as putting monitors out of view, where puppeteers could see how things looked to the viewer, became staples of the industry because it just made sense and it made it all that much better.

Jim Henson’s creations have certainly touched my life and made it better; I don’t want to know what life would’ve been like without Kermit the Frog. I just don’t.

Jones puts meticulous detail into the book, almost down to the level of “…and Jim had toast with blackberry jam today, because the nearby store didn’t have his usual orange marmalade…” (NOT A REAL EXCERPT), but the book stays readable and comfortable. For someone like me, who had more than a passing acquaintance with Henson’s work, I perked up when someone I loved was coming up in the story, and I loved hearing the back stories on so many different projects he did. I’m even more in awe of Henson now than I was before I read Jones’ fascinating portrait of the artist, from before he was born up through the time just following his untimely passing.

Fans of Henson’s work should read this book, for sure, and those who don’t have familiarity with his work should study it and then go rent a messload of DVDs. Jones’ rich and vivid descriptions do Henson justice through what Henson himself always strove for: passionate, gripping, and uplifting storytelling.