Monday, January 27, 2014

Cat Stories by James Herriot

Cat Stories by James Herriot is a collection of short memoir pieces in which the veterinarian cum author shares stories from his professional and personal experience.  Interspersed throughout the book are watercolor paintings by Lesley Holmes.

Of the ten stories, three deal with the same pair of cats while the other seven stand alone, each telling a different story about a different cat.  Some are domesticated while others are feral but all are so beautifully described that each is unforgettable.  There is humor in some, pathos in others, but each and every one is a delight.  I honestly can’t say that I liked one more than any other, that is how strong this collection of stories is. 

Herriot has a wonderful way of sharing the unique qualities of the cats themselves as he describes the curious relationships the different people have with them.  Yes, there is a “crazy cat lady.”  There is also a reclusive man who shares his peculiar home with a cat that has come to mean a lot to him and another who is sick and dying but most concerned with his beloved pet.  Herriot and his wife themselves are adopted by a pair of cats.

The beautiful watercolor drawings by Holmes are the perfect complement to the charming stories.  I wanted to read this because I’m thinking of giving something by the author to our niece and our granddaughter.  I wasn’t sure if the stories would be too sophisticated but I think they are perfect for older children (Isabelle will be 9 and Brianna 7).  In fact, I was so happy with this book, I’ve decided to read Herriot’s other books, as you can see from my currently reading books in the sidebar.  I’ll definitely be giving this book to both the lovely girls. 

And you know how I said I am committed to reading all of the unread books on my bookshelves?  Well, we’ve had this book on my bookshelf for nearly 20 years (!) and I can’t believe it took me this long to read it.  I wish I’d read it sooner.   

Monday, January 20, 2014

Better Body Workouts for Women by Dean Hodgkin and Caroline Pearce

Better Body Workouts for Women by Dean Hodgkin and Caroline Pearce is a new book for those who are seeking to get fit.  And of course, this is the time of year when these books flood the shelves as women make resolutions to lose weight.  This book is not about getting skinny; it’s about being healthy, stronger, and fit.  There are “tips” scattered throughout the book for those seeking to lose weight but that is not this book’s emphasis because the goal of exercise shouldn’t be to fit a certain size of jeans so much as being the best you can be.

The book is full of information.  After a brief introductory chapter, the authors dig right into first doing a self-assessment that includes stretching and resting heart rate as well as a few surprises, such as one that looks at explosive power.  And this is one of the things I love about this book.  Mixed in with the usual information that one expects to find, there are suggestions that are obvious once you learn about them.  The advice about rehydrating after working out, which can be found on page 43, is wonderful and I’m amazed I’ve never read this suggestion before.

There are suggested exercises using a variety of fitness resources—from your body weight to gym equipment.  But you won’t need to join a gym just to use this book.  The chapter on strength training initially focuses on gym machines but also shows how to use free weights to work the same muscle groups.  And if that isn’t enough, there are even suggestions for how to use a medicine ball and kettle bells.  As if that weren’t reason enough to give this book a try, when was the last time you read a fitness book that had a section focused solely on agility?  Well, this one has a whole chapter! 

The book guides you through how to create your own exercise program eventually concluding on keeping a training diary.  My only complaint with this book is that there are many allusions to research but there are no references to the research itself, no citations to follow up on the research for yourself.  Perhaps there will be a second edition someday and the authors will include citations.  Information like that shouldn’t be considered unnecessary.  But, frankly, if that’s my only complaint (and it is), then I obviously like this book a lot.

Note for American Readers:  The authors use metric measurements so you may need to adjust accordingly.  It’s not that complicated or difficult but I wanted to mention it because I know for some people it’s off-putting.  

Edit:  Over on Twitter, Caroline Pearce explained the reason for the absence of citations.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 3

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 3 edited by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and “wirrow” is an addition to the charming collaborative project.  Artists contribute drawings—some more sketch-like in their simplicity while others are complicated drawings.  Writers contribute words.  Each inspires the other and are paired and presented on the small pages of the books.

This third volume is just as interesting as the first two.  Once again, I found myself easily flipping past a few of the tiny stories while other times I had to pause.  I don’t know if I am alone in this but I find myself imaging how some of the stories continue, taking the few words on the page as a sort of writing prompt.  I even try to look only at the images and make up my own “story” to go along with it. 

I love the haphazard results, the way some images juxtapose against one another, how sometimes the words take an image and turn it in surprising ways, and vice versa.  As with the previous two volumes, some of the combinations don’t quite work for me while others are downright transcendent.  Is it too soon to look forward to the fourth volume?  I hope not.  I have a feeling I am not alone in this.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty is the third in the Jessica Darling series and is somewhat better, in my opinion, than the second book.  Rather than trying to follow the previous novels in having the chapters organized by month, this one novel spans the course of several years, following Jessica Darling through her entire college-life experience.  The novel begins with Jessica on break from her studies but not from the complications of her life.

What I didn’t like about this novel begins with Hope who remains a cypher, an unknown character because her brief appearance is aborted before the reader can come to know her.   So how she is such a driving force for Jessica remains a mystery.  Technically, we are told more about Hope than we are ever shown, only knowing her through the hearsay of Jessica herself.  After two novels reading about Hope, reading Jessica’s letters to hope, we still don’t get to experience Hope for ourselves. 

There is also the character Dexy, introduced in this third volume.  On the surface, there’s nothing especially wrong with her.  But I was amazed that Jessica Darling didn’t make a connection between Dexy’s behavior and that of a character from an ‘80s movie.  Bearing in mind that Jessica is a professed fan of all cinema of the ‘80s, especially the John Hughes oeuvre, why would she not see a similarity between Dexy’s costume changes as derivative of Iona from Pretty in Pink.  I confess, I first found myself thinking of Carrie Hamilton’s Reggie Harris on the television series Fame.  That association is more obscure and, contextually, less obvious than Annie Potts as Iona.  I found it distracting, thinking as I did that if Jessica were a real person who loved John Hughes’ films she would surely make the connection between Dexy and Iona. 

In spite of these two flaws, I still enjoyed reading this novel enough.  Yes, everyone but Jessica herself seems to be nothing more than a two-dimensional character, unchanging from novel to novel.  But it is a pleasure to see Jessica mature.  It is especially delightful to finally see a young adult novel that allows a young woman to pursue her college education, even when it means being separated from her best friend and her boyfriend.  She is focused on her goals even as she continues to occasionally nurture her relationships with the letters with which the reader has become accustomed.  And for that reason alone, I’m content to continue reading Jessica’s journey through all five books.

And because I can, here are some pictures of Annie Potts as Iona from Pretty in Pink:

Iona (Annie Potts) in Pretty in Pink (1986) 

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