The Little World of Liz Climo

img_0393This is another book from someone that I discovered on Instagram. While I do not remember exactly how I originally came across her work, it was instant live. It’s cute and quirky and always makes me smile. I love the simplicity in style, combined with the wit in each character. I knew that she had published books, but had never really sought them out. I stumbled across this at a bookstore and decided that I needed it on my shelf. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of here books!

This a perfect little book for when you need to take a break– whether that is from some heavier reading, or taking a step back from a rough day. The problems of the animals in Liz Climo’s world are perfectly balanced between real humanity and imagined animal issues. Despite having followed her online for some time, I found that there was plenty of content here that I had not seen before. One more thing this book is perfect for? A blog post in a pinch, when you have been feeling too busy and tired to put mental energy into writing.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think that bear and I could be friends. 4 paws.”

The Immortalists

img_0238Date Read: April 16 to April 29, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Would you want to know the day that you are going to die? This story is built around a fairly simple premise, but unwinds into an intricate and complex tale of family and relationships. As children, four siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, visit a woman that people say can tell your future—specifically the day that you will die. Over the course of the novel, the following 40-ish years, we get to know each of the siblings a bit better in their own rite, as well as in relation to their family.

While reading, I loved and hated each one of the siblings. I adored their individuality, I cursed their faults, and I grieved each of their subsequent deaths. There were so many points that I could not put it down, even when I had a sinking feeling of what was coming. The story of each sibling is vibrant and emotional; despite the huge differences in how they chose to live in the time they were told they had remaining. The obvious discussion, which is even mentioned on the back cover, is the intertwining of fate and choice. Would Simon have lived so recklessly if he had not anticipated dying young– would he have lived longer if he had played it safe? How did knowledge of a death date play into Klara’s obvious mental illness, and would she have met the same end without it? Even Daniel, who claims to not believe the prophecy, is driven by the knowledge to actions that seem spectacularly out of character. While there could certainly be much said here, I thought the sibling relationship aspect was even more interesting, in the context of the impending dates.

After each death, we get a glimpse of that character from the view of the next, with trails of these through each sibling’s story. In each case, the surviving siblings carry with them some perceived responsibility for those before them. Is Klara responsible for Simon because she encouraged him to live his life? Is Daniel responsible for any of this by convincing his siblings to see the woman in the first place? What about Varya, who was oldest and should have known to put a stop to it? In her meeting with the woman, Varya asks, “what if I change?” Was her destiny determined before she asked, or was it the knowledge of her death date that changed her?

As expected, the novel overwhelmingly centers on death. However, it is also full of life—the richness of each story is intriguing and compelling. I loved the ending, which I thought contrasted with the first sections, but fit perfectly in the context of the full story. In a novel about death, we end on a note of life and hope for the future.

Boris’s thoughts: “After all of that… no, I don’t think I want to know the day I will die. I would, however, like to take a nap. 2 paws.”

The Remains of the Day

img_0221Date Read: March 18 to April 16, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Although it took me a painfully long time to get through this one, I actually quite enjoyed it. The story unfolds slowly, with the past and present interspersed. The narrative is a sort of stream of consciousness, a trail through present circumstances and reflections on the past as our narrator, Stevens, drives himself through the countryside. It is beautifully written, and the style was striking to me– the type of mind wandering is very much like the train of thought that I often find myself in when driving alone for a length of time.

Stevens is intriguing as a narrator, in that he is both extremely reliable, and completely unreliable. He recounts events themselves with extreme precision, but with no acknowledgment of emotion. He talks at length of dignity, but never truly defines it for himself. His definition, it seems, is that dignity means detachment. He separates himself from reality, making himself into what he believes his employer wants him to be. As he gets closer to his meeting with Miss Kenton, we start to see some small cracks in this shell. Although he does not yet admit it, he denies his connection to his former employer. While he will defend Lord Darlington to readers, he will not do so publicly. He begins to admit that perhaps he was misleading himself to believe Miss Kenton wants to return to Darlington Hall with him.

The ending we get is both tragic and hopeful. While his reunion with Miss Kenton is heartbreaking (he even admits this himself!), he seems to get some closure he was lacking. At that moment, Stevens becomes a bit more understandable as a character. His conversation with a stranger on the pier gives us a little hope for his future– perhaps he will seize upon the remains of his day, even if it is simply in his mastering of bantering with his new employer.

Boris’s thoughts: “You need to start reading some happier books. 2 paws.”

Dragons Love Tacos

img_0228-1Did you know that dragons love tacos? This was a new edition to our school library this year, and the librarian suggested that I should bring it home for Boris to read before it went out into circulation.

This book is light on plot, but high in silliness. The first part of the book provides some various evidence about how much dragons love tacos. We get a bit of a story going in the second part of the book, when we are introduced to the one thing that dragons love more than tacos: taco parties. BUT, of course, dragons cannot have hot sauce on their tacos. It makes them too fiery. When the boy in the story plans the best taco party ever, there is a mix-up with his totally mild salsa, and chaos ensues. Don’t worry though, even though it was an accident to burn down the whole house, the dragons will help rebuild. Because dragons have building skills, and they are nice, in addition to loving tacos.

It was a pretty easy read, and pages are dominated by illustrations rather than text. It would be a non-intimidating book for early readers, although there are some more difficult words. I can see this as a good read aloud. It’s silly enough to keep most kids interested, even without a big draw to find out what happens in the end.

Boris thoughts: “I am a dragon. I never knew. 4 paws.”

Brave New World

img_9303Date Read: March 3 to 18, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Third time is the charm, so to speak. After starting this book on two other occasions, I finally made it all the way through!

I had a bit of difficulty with March’s prompt from The Unread Shelf Project: the book that has been on your shelf the longest. Here’s the thing– I have about 60 books that have been on my shelf the longest (the books that I added within the first two days of starting my Goodreads account 8 years ago). Part of the reason that I chose this one over the others is that I had started it before, but never made it very far in. A friend of mine also lists this as one of her favorites, so I thought it would be worth powering through! (It was.)

I am not sure that you can get more “classic dystopia” than Brave New World. While I think we can all agree why the society is problematic from any viewpoint, there is an interesting balance struck. Society is functional, as it balances productivity with consumption, and meets human needs on a very basic level (really, what more do we need than food, sex, and entertainment?). To top it off, everyone is trained from birth to know what they want and to be happy with their place.

While I was not really crazy about the writing style (a bit dry, matter of fact, like I would expect in a textbook), I did like the way that the society was initially set up for us. We get a basis of how the society is built by its introduction to the students touring the hatchery, and then the details are filled in from three perspectives: Lenina, who is wholly satisfied in this world; Bernard, who knows enough to be critical, but is content enough to do little more than push boundaries; and finally the Savage, a complete outsider who is horrified by what he sees happening around him.

One other piece to this that I found interesting, is that this is a problematic society that recognizes that it is problematic. Those at the top realize the monotony of life for the individual, but choose to maintain it as is. Being “in the know” gives them to freedom to think and even criticize society, but this must be kept secret from the masses. This puts quite a spin on the punishment of being transferred to an island– the islands are the only place where people can live and think freely! Even the Director admits at the end, it would be a sort of unknown luxury to live on an island. Perhaps I should see about being transferred to Iceland.

Boris’s thoughts: “Any society that does not include CATS is not worth considering. 1 paw.”

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

img_9277Date Read: February 24 to March 3, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was the 2019 selection for “One Book, One City” in Grand Rapids. (For more information about One Book One City, please see my post about last year’s book, One Crazy Summer, which also includes a description of the program.)

There are so many topics covered here, that it is hard to know where to begin– family, culture, food, community, first love, and how hard it can be to deal with all of those things as an adolescent. I definitely understand why this was chosen as a book for this project. Cartaya nailed it here with the voice of Arturo: he comes off as genuine and sincere in his telling of his story, but all the awkwardness of being a thirteen year old boy searching for himself shines through. I love how Arturo is willing to listen to the stories from his family to guide him, to help him decide what is the right thing to do. The use of Spanish throughout is fitting and interesting, although a little confusing at times. Most often there is enough context to get the idea, but I feel like knowing more Spanish would have added to the experience of the book as a whole.

Another theme that I did not directly mention above, but many of the students I work with recognized, was the impact gentrification. In the story, Arturo is fighting for the survival of his family’s restaurant, against a real estate developer whose interest obviously lies in his own profit rather than the betterment of the community. While it comes off as a fairly clear good vs. evil here, many of our students were able to point to parallels within our own community, and in the real world it is not quite so cut and dry. Where is the line between “gentrification” with its often negative connotation, and general improvements to a community that is in need of help? Although we have not had to deal with established and successful businesses being pushed out (as is dealt with in this book), there are definite and noticeable changes happening within the community where our school resides. Many of these are seen as positive, but there have also been some repercussions for families (such as higher rent). This is a bit of a bigger topic than I am prepared to deal with here, but it was definitely a good conversation starter for our kids, and an opportunity to evaluate and form their own opinions.

Travel Break and Update

img_0184I am a bit behind in my writing, as I just returned from a 10 day trip exploring Mexico! I had the forethought to set up an auto-post while I was gone, but had not yet completed one for this week. It has been a whirlwind since I got home, and I was not able to complete anything new for this week.

BUT

I still wanted to share something for the small number of you that are following this blog (thanks, by the way!).

I have always been interested in travel and seeing new places, which I have always thought matches well with my love of books and exploring new worlds through reading. Up until last summer, most of my travels and exploring had been limited to areas within a reasonable drive from home– while I had not been as many places far from home, I definitely thoroughly explored what there is to see nearby! When I expanded my horizons a bit with some further destinations, I started a new collection: books, of course!

Since Boris is still a bit peeved with me for leaving him with a babysitter, I thought I would share my modest collection of books from the countries that I have visited. The first book in this collection came from Iceland, the Sagas of Icelanders. I also added a short book of Icelandic Fairy Tales from that trip. This fall when I visited Ireland, I added James Joyce’s Dubliners, which I picked up from Books Upstairs in Dublin.

My trip to Mexico added a bit of a challenge– while I would prefer to have purchased a book from a local author, I had some difficulty locating one that was written in English! I opted to go for something a little different this time around– “Matar A Un Ruiseñor,” the Spanish translation of one of my favorites, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I am looking forward to perusing this one, despite my lack of skills in the Spanish language. Maybe this will help me expand my vocabulary a bit?