Nonfiction — Jim Henson

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones

5 out of 5 stars!

From the Goodreads Synopsis

An up-close look at the charmed life of a legend, Jim Henson gives the full measure to a man whose joyful genius transcended age, language, geography, and culture—and continues to beguile audiences worldwide.

The Muppets have been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember.  Sesame Street was one of the few shows I was allowed to watch at a very young age, later on The Muppet Show would become a staple in our household.  One of my favorite Christmas specials is a lesser-known earlier creation called Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas.  And the movies…well, you get the idea.  I remember when I heard about Jim Henson’s sudden death and wondered what would become of all his amazing creations.  But over the years I began to wonder:  who was Jim Henson?

Brian Jay Jones dives into the details from the very beginning, starting with a rather extensive look at Jim’s family, then going into his childhood and teen years.  Jim’s fascination with puppetry and his creative mind would launch an early career making commercials for everything from coffee to dog food (some of these have recently surfaced on youtube, it’s worth checking them out).  Than along came an opportunity called Sesame Street and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thanks to the hundreds of hours worth of family interviews and Jim’s own journals, Jones shows us the private side of Jim, the quiet, unassuming workaholic with a passion for life and a fierce loyalty to his family and friends.  There’s no drug-fueled debauchery or Mommie Dearest-type abuse.  Rather, Jim’s story is one of a creative genius who just wanted to share his visions with the world.

I loved reading the backstories to the various characters, shows, and movies.  The extent to which Jim Henson went in order to make his Muppets come to life was truly amazing and inventive, and often far ahead of the times.

I will admit, the first couple of chapters felt a bit slow and it took me a while to really get into it.  But even with the slow start, I found this biography to be captivating, entertaining, and inspiring.  Highly recommend.

If you’re a Muppet fan, here are some other titles to check out…

No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop by Matt Bacon is a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the place where the magic happens.  My copy was published in 1997 (I’m not sure if any updates have been made) so the full scope of their creations are not included, but I was amazed at the variety of films, television shows, and commercials had used The Creature Shop creations up to that point.

Jim Henson: The Works by Christopher Finch is basically a condensed Henson biography with lots of photos and fun fact sidebars throughout.

And for the kid in all of us, The Muppet’s Big Book of Crafts from The Muppet Workshop offers a wide range of colorful and creative craft ideas.  Easier projects include suncatcher bugs, bread dough monsters,  and rainbow stationery.   Want something a bit more challenging?  How about a spider pinata, a deluxe dollhouse, or a monster collage lamp?  And of course there’s puppets!

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #111

With the late winter blahs setting in, this  little pot of tulips definitely brightens things up a bit!

Spring really feels like a long way off right now.  Between all of the snow last week, followed by lots of rain, and now more snow and wind today….well, just more excuses to bring out the hot chocolate and curl up under a warm blanket with a great read!

The Week in Books

Kin: A Memoir by Shawna Kay Rodenberg — 3 out of 5 stars

Rodenberg tells her story of her younger years living in a religious group called The Body,  as well as her troubled teen and early adult years, and shares stories of abuse that has haunted her family for generations.  I have read many memoirs of similar situations over the years, and for some reason Kin just didn’t stick with  me.  The writing at times was dry and emotionless.  There were really no explanations or inner reflections, which left me feeling a bit disconnected to the author’s story.  And while I try not to rate an early release ecopy based on editing errors, I really hope this one receives an extensive editing before publication.  The layout is choppy and at times confusing.  It almost felt like someone was playing with the cut and paste buttons as random thoughts/paragraphs would pop up in the middle of another narrative.    I would be willing to reread this after the final edit to see if I feel any different, but at this time my rating stands at a solid three stars.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Lucid Screams by Red Lagoe — 4 out of 5 stars

This collection of dark tales offers a bit of everything, from the heartbreaking  loss of a child to a tale of haunted paint brushes.  There’s weirdness and dark humor (my notes for one story simply states “don’t piss off your wife!”).  I’m looking forward to reading more of Lagoe’s work in the future, and I highly recommend these tales if you’re looking for something strange and different.

Something Rich and Strange by Ron Rash — 4 out of 5 stars

One of my February TBR.   I’m a big fan of Rash’s writing, with his style reminding me a bit of John Steinbeck.  This extensive collection offers tales ranging from the Civil War through modern times, focusing on simple, hard-working folk trying to get by the best they can with their given circumstances.  While many of the stories are a bit depressing, there are some moments of light humor thrown in (The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Love and Pain in the New South to name a couple).  This is a must-have for Rash fans, and a great place to start if you want to check out his wide range of work.

A new month is coming up quickly, be sure to check back for my March theme and TBR.  Until next time, stay safe and sane, and Happy Reading!

NightWorms February Theme — Love Games

That’s right, it’s that time again for the book shipment I look forward to every month!!!

Robert M. Coates’ Wisteria Cottage is a classic originally published in 1948 with a synopsis that reminds me a bit of Cape Fear.  Valancourt Books has been doing an amazing job bringing back the classics, not only the “Paperbacks From Hell” from the 1970’s and ’80’s, but other out-of-print novels from years past.  I can’t wait to curl up with this one!

Antioch is a debut novel from Jessica Leonard.  A local bookseller becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer.  Sounds pretty straightforward, but having read some of the other works put out by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, I’m pretty sure this story will be anything but straightforward!

Tiny Nightmares is an anthology of flash fiction (1500 words or less) with a wide range of topics and authors.  Most of the authors are new-to-me, and the few stories I’ve read so far have really impressed me.  I know what I’ll be reading over the next few days!

The treat bag always holds surprises, and this month included some hot chocolate from my favorite, Moonstruck Chocolates, based in Portland Oregon.  Usually my chocolate-loving son snags the cocoa packs, but this month I beat him to it, putting it in a safe spot until I can try it!  Cocoa with almond and cinnamon, sounds yummy!

Have you received any great book mail this month?  Drop me a line and let me know!

I hope you all are doing well and staying safe!  Until next time, Happy Reading!


Weekly Mash-Up #110

This past Sunday may have been Valentine’s Day, but around here, snow was the main focus!

We had over a foot of the white stuff fall over the weekend, but it didn’t last long.  It started raining early Monday and as I write this Wednesday morning, we have only a few inches left!

After our internet satellite was coated with snow and ice we were without internet access for a couple of days.  Honestly, I didn’t really mind!  It just gave me more time to catch up on some favorite television shows and read some good books!

The Week in Books

The Redwood Asylum: A Paranormal Horror by L.A. Detwiler — 4 out of 5 stars

What evil lurks behind the walls of the Redwood Asylum?  Young Jessica, trying to run from her own troubled past, takes a job at the imposing building and soon discovers a whole new world of nightmares.        This is one of those slow-burn, creepy psychological thrillers with plenty of the paranormal mixed in to keep you on your toes.  Detwiler does a great job creating an atmosphere of mystery and malice, as well as some characters that I think deserve to have  their own stories told.   I do want to say this:  my biggest complaint/pet peeve was the repetition of wiping away tears, all those damn tears!  Seriously Jessica, grow a pair and quit crying every other page!!    Other than my personal pet peeve, I enjoyed this story and I would love to see more tales from the asylum in the future!

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for providing an ecopy for review.

Clade by James Bradley — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

A broken family finds their way through a broken world.    Starting with a scientist and his artistic wife awaiting the results of their latest IVF treatment, each chapter takes us further into a dystopian future through the story of another character, where natural disasters, global warming, and plagues are the norm rather than the exception (sounds eerily familiar, right??).  I rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads because any book that keeps me reading until 3 am deserves a bump up.  And while the story was very good (and not too preachy), I was left feeling little towards most of the main characters.  I appreciated how quickly the story moved, but I wish there had been a bit more focus on character development.  If you like depressing dystopian fiction with a glimmer of hope, check this one out.

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord — 1.5/2 out of 5 stars

This hot mess of a novel gives us a grown woman recalling her teen years in a strange small town where the full moon brings monthly changes to the youth of the community.  Nothing fun like werewolves though.  Nope, these teens spend three nights a month running around naked, gang-raping and brutally beating each other, then acting normal during the daylight hours.  While the story started out pretty good, by the mid-way mark I was rolling my eyes so much I thought they would pop out of my head.  Not much more to say here without going full-on rant, so we’ll move along…

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

The Number 121 to Pennsylvania and Others by Kealan Patrick Burke — 4 out of 5 stars

KPB is one of my fan-girrrl favs, and this collection just reaffirms his placement at the top of my list.  There are tales of ghost trains and the ghosts of lost loved ones, an interesting take on Jack and the Beanstalk, some totally weird stories I can’t begin to describe, and some of Burke’s dark humor mixed in as well (you better not light up a cigarette while reading Prohibited!).   With such a wide range of stories, this is a great place to start if you haven’t picked up anything by KPB before.  Highly recommend.

Anoka by Shane Hawk — 4 out of 5 stars

I was impressed with this debut collection from an up and coming dark fiction author.  He describes these as “tales of indigenous horror,” incorporating native folklore and modern issues into the stories.  There’s quite a variety in these six tales, from parents desperately wanting a child to a werewolf on Halloween (and it’s definitely not what you’re thinking!).  My advice is to make sure to read the author’s notes at the end.  They help to tie up a few loose ends.  I’m keeping my eye on this young author and can’t wait to see where his talent takes him!

What have you been reading this month?  Drop me a line and let’s talk books!

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #109

A quiet week to catch up on some reading…

The Week in Books

Hit the Road Jack by Willow Rose — 4 out of 5 stars

The first installment of Rose’s Jack Ryder series, we find Detective Ryder chasing after a serial killer in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  This was a fast-paced thriller with a MC I could really get behind.  I thought the romantic interest was a bit too much, but if the rest of the series is as twisty and addictive as this one, then I’m all in!

Merciless by Bryan Smith — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

This was a difficult one to put an actual star rating on.  When you have main characters, newlyweds Grant and Lindsey, who make Natural Born Killers Mickey and Mallory seem friendly and normal then you’re talking about a pretty twisted story.  The violence is extreme (author Bryan Smith has won awards for his splatterpunk  if that gives you an idea) and I have to admit I almost tapped out at one point.  But what kept me going was the writing.  Smith sucked me in from the beginning.  Every time I needed to put the book down to scrub my brain of the imagery, I would soon feel the pull to pick it up again, “just a few more pages.”  If you’re into extreme horror/splatterpunk, then give this one a shot.  However, if you have any triggers, avoid it as it hits them all.

Edge Case by YZ Chin — 2.5/3 out of 5 stars

Edwina comes home from work to find that her husband, Marlin, has packed up and moved out.  Where did he go and why did he leave so abruptly?       While this may seem like a pretty straight-forward storyline, don’t be fooled.  There are many threads woven in:  both characters having issues with parents (Marlin with his father’s death, Edwina with her over-bearing mother); both working towards the coveted green card;  Edwina’s unsatisfying tech job and her dealings with co-workers, to name a few.  But I felt that there were too many of these loose threads that ultimately never really came together.  I did enjoy the flashback chapters, but the rest just seemed muddled.  Another plus:  I did enjoy YZ Chin’s writing style, and I will be looking for more of her work in the future.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

The Water Museum by  Luis Alberto Urrea — 4 out of 5 stars

Urrea’s stories are thoughtful and often heartbreaking, from the lasting pain of love lost (Mountains Without Number) to in-laws helping each other through grief (Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses, my personal favorite).  While there are really no truly uplifting tales in this mix, there are some lighter moments and some hints of mystery.  A solid collection I would recommend for everyone.

Singing With All My Skin and Bone by Sunny Moraine — 4 out of 5 stars

I don’t think I have the right words to adequately describe this collection of  unique stories that blend fantasy and horror with dreamlike narratives.  With subject matter such as self-mutilation, sexuality, and death (especially suicide), this is no easy reading by any means.  But each story called for my absolute attention and left me thinking about them long after the last sentence.  Highly recommend.

Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #108

I always think of February as a gray month, and these first few days have definitely proved to be that.  Usually the view from my porch includes the vibrant greens of my neighbor’s pastures and the distant hills, but lately the colors have been muted, the low clouds creating an almost claustrophobic effect.

To help kick the winter doldrums, I’ve started knitting again after not picking up the needles for several months.  I’ve been using the brightest colors I have, working on quick and simple projects like scarves and hats.  I’ve also been looking through the many seed catalogues that come in the mail this time of year, admiring the beautiful flowers and wondering which veggies I should plant for the summer.

And there’s always books, the perfect way to escape on a rainy day!

The Week In Books

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones — 4.5/5 out of 5 stars!

I am writing a full review that I will be posting both here and at Mr Pink Ink towards the end of February!  Stay tuned!

The Summer of Kim Novak by Hakan Nesser — 3.5 out of 5 stars

A coming of age story set in the 1960’s with an unsolved murder added to the mix is usually the makings of a really good book.  For the most part I liked Nesser’s tale of young Erik and his friend Edmund and their summer spent at the lake, swimming and fantasizing about the gorgeous substitute teacher, but it got to the point where I felt the build-up was being stretched out too much, and the ending was rather abrupt and unsatisfying.  This was one of those reading experiences where I was hoping for more mystery and less mundane routine.  I am a fan of Nesser’s writings though, so I see more of his novels in my future.

A Student of Living Things by Susan Richards Shreve — 3 out of 5 stars

One of my 20+1/2021 choices.  Part mystery, part family drama, it’s the story of Claire, who is trying to understand (and perhaps solve) the murder of her brother while dealing with her dysfunctional family.  There was a lot of potential with this one, and I probably would have given it a higher star rating if the MC Claire wasn’t so blah.  Still, not a bad choice if you’re looking for a novel with lots of secrets, eccentric family members, and a bit of mystery.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

The Buck Stops Here by Sean Seebach — 4 out of 5 stars

One of the latest installments in the “Creature Feature” horror novellas that started out as a joke last year on Twitter, and now includes 4 stories (with more on the way) with all proceeds going to the featured author’s favorite animal charities.     We’ve all heard of werewolves, even wereleopards and werebears, but a were-deer?!?!?!?  That’s right, a were-deer just might be the creature responsible for some unsolved deaths in a small Ohio town.  Fast-pace horrific fun!

Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

February — Short Stories for a Short Month

Ah, February.  The shortest month of the year.  In the next few days and weeks, we will see if a groundhog predicts the end of winter, celebrate the loved ones in our lives, and start counting the days until the arrival of a new season.

Since I’m not much of a romantic (sorry, Valentine’s Day), this year I decided to highlight the short story in honor of the shortest month.  I’ve always been a fan of a good short story, and in recent years I’ve noticed a definite uptick in the number of anthologies and collections that are coming out.  Whether you’re into romance, fantasy, horror, literature, there’s a lot of greatness out there to choose from.

Why do I like the short story so much?  There are the times I’m just looking for a quick entertainment fix…you know, those days you only have 30 minutes of reading time and don’t want to commit to a 400 page book.  But I also find this platform to be the best way to discover new authors and to rediscover my favorites.  Multi-author anthologies have introduced me to some great new authors, many I probably wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.  I also enjoy checking out collections from a favorite novelist as, more often than not, they present works unlike their novels and allow the reader a look at some of their earlier works and experimentations with other genres.

After looking through my book hoard, I decided to put these two collections at the top of my TBR this month…

I think of Ron Rash as the modern John Steinbeck (one of my all-time favorite  authors) and I really couldn’t tell you why I haven’t read this collection sooner!  His stories are based in the Appalachia area of the southeastern US, with topics like poverty, nature, and societal tensions.  I know from past experience with his works that his writing is beautiful and often heartbreaking.  I can’t wait to start this one!

According to the cover blurb on Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Water Museum,  this collection ” (Examines) the borders between one nation and another, between one person and another…”, and with titles like Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush and Taped to the Sky, needless to say I am intrigued with this new-to-me author.

Still looking for some ideas for your February reading?  There are some good ones on my…

Goodreads Group Reads

Lakewood by Megan Giddings is a dystopian thriller, the story of a young woman who goes to work for a mysterious company doing some pretty shady- sounding experiments.  This sounds like something right up my reading alley and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is the story of twin sisters who flee their small black community and how each shaped their very different lives yet remain closer than they may think.  This is another one I’ve put on my must-read for 2021.

Maynard’s House by Herman Raucher sounds like a very eerie psychological horror story:  a disturbed young war veteran moves to a remote cabin that was willed to him by a fallen comrade.  Then he gets snowed in.  I can’t imagine this ending well!

So what’s on your February TBR list?  Feel free to drop me a line here or on Goodreads or Twitter.  I love talking books!

Until next time, continue wearing your mask, stay safe, and Happy Reading!