Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Good, the bad, and the embarrassing (not necessarily in that order)

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

I listened to the audio version of this because it is read by David Tennant, who does a fabulous job. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was well written and a lot of fun. Hiccup, and the other boys in his tribe, much each catch and train a dragon to prove their manhood and become full members of the tribe. This proves a difficult task for Hiccup, who is the son of the chief. He has a chance to prove himself when, after getting himself and all the other boys banished, two gigantic dragons appear on the beach and he, his dragon toothless, need to save the tribe. Well worth the read.

The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses by Robert Louis Stevenson

I thoroughly enjoyed Treasure Island, so I thought I’d read something else by Stevenson (or in this case, listen). I enjoyed The Black Arrow, but I didn’t love it, and it was not nearly as engaging as Treasure Island. This book takes place in 15th century England during the War of the Roses. Richard Shelton’s father was murdered when he was a child and rumors are spread that his guardian was responsible. Dick discovers that his guardian isn’t the kind of man he thought he was and bands together with a group of outlaws, the Black Arrow, to avenge his father’s death and save the woman he loves.

Death by Drowning by Abigail Keam

I really did not enjoy this book, and I’m a little annoyed with myself for reading the whole thing. I wanted to know who caused the death by drowning. This is the second book in the Josiah Reynolds mystery series, of which there appear to be several. Josiah is a bee-keeping amateur sleuth. In this first book, apparently, she gets on the wrong side of a corrupt cop who pushes her off a cliff. She manages to survive, and this book details her recovery with the help of the hot (as she tells the reader over and over again) Choctaw physical therapist and body guard, Jake. I dislike commenting on things being poorly written, because have I written a novel? No. And I know it’s a difficult task. In the case of this book, the dialogue especially did not ring true. Or perhaps it rang too true. In real life we spend a lot of time engaged in conversations that don’t really say much. In the case of a novel, the dialogue should either develop character or forward the plot all while giving the impression of being natural. That is difficult. There were too many conversations in this book like the one in which they were discussing movies for too long to no apparent purpose. The other problem I had was that the resolution to the mystery seemed like a side note to the rest of the plot. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this more had I read the first book and gotten to know the characters better.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Change Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee

I listened to the audio version of this book. I enjoyed the movie, so I figured I’d enjoy the book as well. I did like the book a lot. One of the enjoyable things was seeing how it differed from the movie. One of the first surprises is that the zoo is in England. The book details the long road to acquiring the zoo, unlike the movie in which it was more of a “we’re sad, oh look, a zoo is for sale; let’s buy it,” kind of a situation. Mee and his extended family buy the zoo and he becomes the director. The zoo has been deteriorating for decades and it takes a lot of work and money to repair it, care for the animals, and build relationships with both new and old staff. Meanwhile, Mee’s wife Katherine has a brain tumor which eventually takes her life. The zoo plays a part in helping the family heal from her loss. What I most enjoyed about this book were all the details about what it takes to run a zoo and turn it into a facility that cares for animals, educates the public, and has the potential to become a facility for conservation of wildlife. If you like animals or stories about families, this is a book you might enjoy. Don’t expect it to be much like the movie, though.

Smart Women Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams by David Bach

I was a little embarrassed to be reading this book, but it was a best seller and seems to have helped a lot of people. It was easy to read, very accessible and had good information and suggestions for action. I already knew a fair amount of the information, but it was good to have a review and learn a few new things. It did spur to increase the amount of money I contribute to my 403(b) plan, so I had a positive experience. The premise of this book is that women need to take control of their financial lives. Bach has known too many women whose husbands handled the money, and when he died or they got divorced the women were financially devastated because they didn’t know what they had or all the legal rules surrounding it. He also says that you can get rich no matter what your income if you follow these steps. I found out I’m doing a lot right and a lot wrong. Bach began as a financial advisor, but now spends much of his time writing and giving seminars to help people get control of their finances.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

I decided to listen to Main Street, because I’d never read anything by Sinclair Lewis and I feel like I have a huge gap in my knowledge of early 20th century literature. The story follows Carol Kennicott (nee Milford) from her college days in the city to her life after she marries Doc Kennicott and moves to Gopher Prairie. Carol has big ideas about what she’d like to do with her life and finds life in conservative, small town Gopher Prairie not only stifling but soul crushing. She sets about trying to make reforms, such as hosting a party where they do things other than tell the same tired stories and in which she tried to add small flourishes such as making her own mandarin costume; she created an amateur dramatics club; she improved the town’s public restroom. In these and many other things, she failed and was ridiculed by the townspeople and her husband. She eventually leaves her husband and moves to Washington, DC to work and explore her options. When she finally returns, it is with more confidence in who she is. She might not be able to broaden the horizons of the people she’s around but she can continue to ask questions, and she can be true to herself. I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t like this book. It was very slow to start and was never really a page turner. Additionally, I spent the better part of the book upset at the narrow-minded, mean-spirited people. In the end, I enjoyed it very much. I think Carol’s struggles can still resonate with readers today; I know they resonated with me.

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers

I decided to listen to Mary Poppins because I enjoyed the movie and thought it might be fun. I did enjoy it. I enjoyed the magical adventures of Mary Poppins with Jane and Michael, including what happens at the zoo when it closes, a floating tea party, and a trip around the world. I was kind of surprised at how mean Mary Poppins could be; sometimes she seemed to go beyond stern. It was worth the time, made me think, and I look forward to enjoying future adventures with Mary Poppins.

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

It occurred to me that the only thing I knew about The War of the Worlds was the famous radio show panic. I spent part of my teenage years near Grover’s Mill, NJ where they set up a giant Martian display every Halloween to commemorate the invasion. I thought I should read the real story. The story is a narration of the experiences by one survivor of the Martian invasion outside London. At first, people are curious when there are flashes of light from Mars seen through a telescope and when cylinders crash to the earth. When Martians start emerging and killing people with their heat rays, mass panic ensues. I liked the details in this book, what Martians looked like (including their anatomy-they are mostly head and brain), what they eat (blood), and descriptions of people’s reactions to the invasion. Some people were paralyzed with fear, others went insane, others panicked and tried to escape, other’s made ineffectual plans for how they would live in a world ruled by Martians. I thought it was especially fun to read this from a 21st century perspective where we know a lot more about Mars than Wells did. The Martians brought with them a fast growing red weed, presumably a lot of this grew on Mars giving the planet its red color. The only problem I had with it was that what eventually killed the Martians was a little anticlimactic. Having been raised on a steady diet of books and movies in which human ingenuity and courage defeat all invaders, the Martians demise was more of a fizzle than a bang. But, I guess, death by natural causes probably made more sense. A good book and worth the read.

The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by Daniel Pinkwater

The Neddiad is a fun children’s book filled with Hollywood adventure, magic, friendship, a phantom bellboy, a shaman and an ordinary boy who saves the world. This was a sweet, fun story that elementary school kids will enjoy.

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

This is the follow-up to Good Calories, Bad Calories, in which Taubes reviewed decades of scientific research about nutrition. Why We Get Fat is a much easier read. If you’d like the information from the first book without slogging through all the detail, then this is the book you should read. Additionally, new scientific evidence not available for the first book is incorporated. He discusses why “calories in vs calories out” is not only incorrect but has prevented us from doing what is really necessary to lose weight and be healthy. He also addresses what it is that makes us fat, why some people get fat and others don’t, and what we need to do to be lean and healthy. This is good reading for fat and lean people alike. Even if you’re not fat, maybe this can help give you a little sympathy for those who are. Being fat is not a character flaw.

I guess I should post more often, so the posts aren’t so long!

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