Medallion Status by John Hodgman

If you read my previous review on Hodgman’s Vacationaland, you would know I am a fan Hodgman. It’s a bit funny because like Hodgman admits in this book, he is not a typical celebrity or famous person. The Judge John Hodgman podcast is my absolute favourite podcast.

I really like Hodgman’s humanistic style. I liked Vacationland too. Hodgman admits that Meallion Status was harder to write and it does show. While I like some of the chapters and the writing style, I found there lacked some cohesion in these stories. It also didn’t help that I heard some of these stories via podcasts. I could tell the author was digging deep to tell these stories. Contrast to Vacationland which was breezier.

I still liked it. I think the stories in Hollywood proper and Maine worked the best. I listened to a few chapters via audiobook which was a pleasure. I will continue to support the author. I hope he keeps writing and finds the right level of fame to go to more secret rooms.

Read and listened to audiobook Dec 16-17, 2019.

Four Children’s Books

When I finished Voracious a few months ago, I was inspired to put a few children’s books on hold. As a kid, most of my non-school book discoveries were self-initiated so I missed out on some of the books below.

Home Price by Richard McClostky

This was a cute one to start off with. It was published in 1943 and has all the references and illustrations from that time. Homer is an industrious young protagonist. I liked that he tamed and kept a pet skunk. The best story in the book is the one about the doughnuts.

Read October 15, 2019

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This was very sweet and nice. It was written in the 1930s. I found it relaxing as the characters were so nice. It may be a bit too cute and idyllic but there is something classically about this children’s book. This was the first one I really wished I had read when I was a kid.

Read October 20-21, 2019

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

I really enjoyed this. It may have even been worth a standalone post. It has a lot of heart and outside from some dated concepts; I actually thought the writer was thoughtful about the character development. Now I’m really curious about the adaptation and the sequels.

Read November 13, 2019

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

I have mixed feelings on this book. It’s not that I did not like it or the characters, but there were times where as an adult, I did not have much patience with Pippi. On the other hand, I do like her. She’s a true rebel and nonconformist. It took me longer to read this book because of it. I think this is a good children’s book but it did not work for as well as the others.

Read November 27, 2019 – December 5, 2019


Overall, I’ve found reading children’s literature really enjoyable as compared to other books. The stories are straight forward and they don’t take as much time. Philosophically, I like the optimism of these books which can be sometimes missing in adult day to day life. I have put more children’s books on hold.

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

I started this book so I could get rid of it. I bought the book years ago at a used book sale. The paperback is from around 1986. Its pages are all yellow and the spine had already started to come apart. I dug this up from my book stash after dinner at my parents’ home. I am glad I did as the book proved to be engaging.

It moves along at a very steady pace with lots of details of prehistoric times. I liked most of the Clan characters. I even got use to Ayla being basically perfect by prehistoric and modern terms. I liked that with the exception of the villain Broud, the books characters seemed reasonable and human. Like Ayla, I began to love Iza and Creb. I thought those relationships were sweet and real. Ayla’s coming of age, learning, and her trials were decently written and even believable. The pacing is quite good. I read this book once on a weekday night then picked it up before bed on a weekend. I found it hard to put down and finished it in the middle of the night. I actually have not read a book late into the night for awhile. I really shouldn’t read novels like this before bed. It did give me that pleasure of reading a novel that makes you forget your problems and your world.

There was a lot to like about this novel and I look forward to the next book. When it came to how I would rate it, I just couldn’t give it a full four stars. The writing had some deficiencies that I couldn’t ignore. For example, there was a lot of repetition. Ayla is constantly referenced as being “ugly” because she is “Other”/ Cro-Magnon. This is irony as we know Ayla’s blonde and blue-eyed looks are not ugly by modern terms. The author kept hammering that detail. The villain of this novel is a cartoonishly grotesque sociopath who is obsessed with hating Ayla. While there were small attempts to give him more depth, he was just too broadly drawn and lacking rationality in everything. I think it may have been an intentional choice by the author to make him that “backward” but it makes you wonder how the other Clan members could sustain it throughout the years.

The novel had some moments where the omniscient narrator waxed a little too much about how intelligent Ayla is because of her “frontal lobe” and her birth as an Other. That was a bit too modern and superimposed. I did not mind the supernatural or ritualistic aspects, but the science interjections were incongruous to the story especially when it was basically tacked in after one of the character’s point of view.

All in all, these were minor issues. I wouldn’t say this novel is essential reading, but there was a lot of research and effort. I liked the characters and the pacing and setting were relatively well done. I will read the next book, but I may not finish the series as I’ve read the series becomes more of a romance drama with even more anachronistic elements.

Read October 15, 19 into the morning of the 20, 2019.

Miss Tonks Turns to Crime by Marion Chesney

I think I am going to give up looking for an alternative to Georgette Heyer. Reading this book only made me want to reread Heyer.

This is the second in a series and my library did not have the first. The books seem fairly stand alone and share a cast of central supporting characters.

This book was ok. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it seemed just too frivolous and superificial. I didn’t really like most of the characters and there were too many schemes and comedic elements. Heyer has her faults, but she’s actually good at rounding her characters out quickly. Chesney has too many characters and most of them are jerks or idiots.

I didn’t even care about the central romance in it as I didn’t really like how things kept happening to most of the women. I will say that the novel is short and some of the characters are not bad. As the book was written in the early 1990s, the language and interactions are a little more adult than Heyer’s writings which I appreciated.

I’d give Chesney a try if you are into the comedic Heyer bent. Some Heyer fans will like it. It didn’t work for me.

Read September 24-25, 2019.

Lucy Knisley graphic memoirs

Relish

A graphic novel and food memoirs growing up in NYC, Hudson Valley, and Chicago. It includes illustrated recipes and tips. I really enjoyed this little piece especially after I read Bullshit Jobs (which was more intense). I like the artist’s style and storytelling. I will be reading more from her.

Read August 15, 2019

After Relish, I realized that my library had a number of her graphic memoirs so I requested a few and read them during a busy work week time. I had taken a break from the nonfiction I was reading and needed some easy read.

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Monthly Movies/TV – August 2019

Avengers: Endgame (04-05 08 2019) – I was thoroughly spoiled, but I haven’t been able to watch it since the release. It was a bit long and it had a bit too much fan service, but it was good for the most part. I think the endings fit for most of the characters except I was not satisfied with two of the most important ones. Oh well. I have my favourites from this series and will follow them through.

TV

“Jack Ryan” Season 1 – I watched most of these episodes as my partner got a Prime trial. We both like John Krasinski and it was a nice to see Abbie Cornish.

What We Do in the Shadows” Season 1 – Funny. Nadja is my favourite. There is some good character work as well in this for a an unconventional comedy. I really enjoyed and am looking forward to the next series. Lately, Taika Waititi can’t do wrong.
Plot, characters, perfect sitcom

FO: Barn Raising Quilt

This project took me nine years to finish. I knew that it would take awhile going in as it’s made completely from scrap sock yarn that I either used myself, were gifted, or samples.

I made 57 squares for this blanket. I used 54 in a 9×6 quilt. Many of the squares were doubles and they are represented twice on the quilt. All of the yarn had a wool or alpaca percentage at 75% or higher. It weighs almost 1kg.

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Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

I have been due to read a Sandor Katz book for awhile now. I am glad I was able to get the revised edition of this book.

Fermentation has become a hobby of mine for the last few years. I’ve made sourdough, kombucha, milk kefir, water kefir, jun kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and recently started facto-fermentation of pickles and garlic. On a regular basis, I make jun kombucha at least twice a week and sourdough almost weekly during the cooler months. I drink the kombucha almost daily and when I am not making sourdough regularly, I do buy it from my local bakery.

A few years ago, I noticed that after a morning of drinking kefir, eating sauerkraut, and sourdough bread, my stomach felt great. Not heavy and things felt easy to digest. While I have never been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, IBS, digestion issues, etc. I have always had some digestive problems since I was a kid. My father has similar ones and is even more restricted by lactose intolerance. It’s not chronic nor is it persistent on a weekly or monthly basis, but I am the kind of person who gets digestion issues while travelling. At least a couple times of year, I get painful indigestion or food poisoning from eating something that did not agree with me. I guess the microbiome that Dad gave me is not the best. However, I generally eat pretty well and I find that fermented drinks and foods digest well. They do not give me problems.

I liked Katz’s style and ethos about fermentation. He emphasizes that you should keep clean but not sterilized and unlike a lot of other food or beverage books, he does not give you a mandatory list of what you need to get started. I found the book really interesting. There were lots of things I wanted to try and it was very accessible. The book has recipes but there is an emphasis on process rather than strict guidelines. Even the process can be adjusted.

The book has a lot of references and tips from lots of sources. I also really like the reflection about how microbes and bacteria and yeast are all around us. That this biodiversity in our food is important for sustainability in the long run.

I would really like to do a proper full cookbook review where I evaluate some of the recipes, but I do not own this book in book form. I do have an ebook version and will experiment with some recipes.

Read August 27-28, 2019.

Marcus at Home by Marcus Wareing

Marcus Wareing is a Michelin starred London based chef. He is widely known on UK TV for judging “Masterchef: The Professionals”. I’ve been a fan of Wareing since watching him judge “Great British Menu”. Masterchef: The Pros is one of my absolute favourite TV programmes. Last year, I was lucky enough to dine at Marcus at the Berkeley. It was one of the best dining experiences. I hope to go back one day.

I was gifted a copy of this book and another of book by Wareing. Of the two books, this one is looked more informal which is why I read it first.

I started this as a bed time book last December and there many weeks (if not months) where I did not read it at all. I made a concerted effort to finish the last third which compromised of Entertaining (irrelevant for me) and Baking (more relevant but smaller section).

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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

This is a fictional graphic novel of an underrated artist from Singapore. The work charts the political history of Singapore from the second world war, through independence, and finally, its development as a first world city-state.

I was privileged enough to spend a week in Singapore last month. I really enjoyed my time there for a plethora of reasons. I found it fascinating and enlivening. When I got back, I tried to find some books to learn more about the country.

Since it is a graphic novel and faux memoirs, Sonny Liew uses various styles of comic art to convey history and time. It’s a very meta work. It also incorporates real people in Singapore’s leadership. I learned a lot about Singapore’s history and I’m sure most people would. The achievements of Lee Kuan Yew and PAP to create modern Singapore were not done without bloodshed. They removed and manipulated political opponents and the press. The book makes the reader reflect that while Singapore has changed rapidly in the last fifty years, there is a cost.

I found the book a little sad. I enjoyed the historical aspect and the subversive themes in the book; however, there wasn’t any character that I felt truly invested in. I was not moved by the character of Charlie Chan Hock Chye for some reason.

It’s an ambitious work and will be a classic of Singaporean literature.

Read August 21-22, 2019.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

I have been reading Kinsella’s novels off and on for at least 16 years. I did read one of her most recent novels targeted for young adults. It was OK. After I Owe You One, I think I’ll be more cautious about picking up Kinsella’s novels for a very long time. I think I’m growing too old for her style and probably chick lit in general. I was never into chick lit that much any way.

This book had too many unlikeable, superficial characters. Most of them were described as painfully selfish, spoilt, or misogynistic. One of the characters is a narcissistic sociopath and conman. Kinsella has had some weird characters in her other books, but at least they were somewhat interesting or amusing.

The protagonist is nice and a tiny bit relatable, but Fixie (what a stupid name) is very insecure and a doormat for almost the whole book. It was incredibly frustrating to read the first person narrative of a woman who is so blind to be stuck on man (aforementioned sociopath) since she was 11 years old.

I thought the book would get easier because Kinsella usually sticks the landing. However, the beginning set up took too long and actually made me angry about how bloody entitled some of the characters were. I use to find some Kinsella’s characters eccentric, charming, or harmless. Most of those in this book are boring, asinine, or contemptible.

The ending itself is unremarkable. It was hard for me to be invested in any of the characters. Characters do change by the end, but the developments felt undeserved. They were drawn out without much depth from the beginning. Even if they were not as bad as the narrator described, as the reader, I can only judge what the author presents. This is not literary fiction where I should be questioning the narrative accuracy nor should I when reading this type of book. It shouldn’t irk me so much either.

In the past, I’ve found the London setting in these novels make me nostalgic especially when set around Christmas. There was not enough of London. I really couldn’t care anymore about the holiday details because I wanted to be finished with the novel.

I gave this two stars on GoodReads which makes it equal to the last book. It’s probably closer to 1.5 stars. It was a waste of a couple of hours, but I did finish it.

Two low rated books in a row make me a bit sad. Ahh well. Onwards to the next one.

Read August 20, 2019.