Norse Mythology

Book: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Date Read: February 14, 2018 to February 28, 2018img_5787

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book came out with near perfect timing for me. In late 2017, a couple of friends asked me if I was interested in going on a trip with them in the summer… to Iceland. That was a quick yes for me. Not long after committing to the trip, I decided that I would need to brush up on some Norse Mythology– this mythology is still a big part of the culture of Iceland today, and I felt it only appropriate that I should have at least a basic knowledge of the subject. Fast forward just a bit to holiday shopping at various local bookstores, and I came across this take on the mythology written by Neil Gaiman. Perfect! While I am not super well versed in Gaiman’s work, I have read several of his books and have quite enjoyed them.

I have always been interested in mythology, folktales, fairy tales, and legends. That being said, I sometimes have a hard time reading them. While I enjoy them, they do not always turn out to be the quick reads that I want them to be. This book worked out very well for me. While I realize this is nowhere near a comprehensive collection of Norse tales, I liked how Gaiman selected stories that could be fit together into a narrative arc. I did not need to cross reference stories and jump back and forth as I read, because the chronology was there. From what I can tell, he has stayed true to the narrative of each tale, with minimal additions. I suppose this is both a positive and negative. I can see why those more familiar with these tales would be disappointed in this book, but for me and my purpose in reading, it worked. I finished with a feeling that I have a basic knowledge of Norse Mythology, and did not spend months agonizing over a lengthy textbook-ish rendition to do so. From what I know about the geography of Iceland, so much of the creation and destruction myths seem to fit so well. I am looking forward to seeing this in person, and feel like reading this ahead of time has given me an opportunity for a greater appreciation of my destination.

As a final thought, I would like to share my reasoning in the timing of this post. While I read this book back in February, and wrote the majority of this review shortly after, I felt it fitting to wait until closer to my trip to post. I leave tonight! I am super excited for this trip, and my first major international travel in more than 10 years! As I will be gone for close to 2 weeks, I will not be posting another book review until I am back. I have a long flight ahead of me though, so I will have plenty of reading material to get me through.

Boris’s thoughts: “Book is a little heavy, but human seemed pleased while reading. 3 pa– Wait? You’re leaving? Stop! No! 1 paw! 1 paw!!”

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Book: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Date Read: May 14 to June 10, 2018img_6170

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I’m still a bit torn in how I feel about this one. In many ways, I did quite like this book, but much of it also does not feel quite right for me. I debated between 3 and 4 stars on this one, and decided on 4 based on some things in the structure of the novel that I felt were interesting.

I like the premise of the novel, but the plot was rather plodding. There seemed to be so much going on individually with each character, but really, not much happens in terms of actual plot development. The same goes with characters. While I do think there was some personal growth for each of the family members, I think it was pretty minuscule considering the span of a lifetime. At the same time, I think this works for the novel on some levels. Isn’t that kind of how life works sometimes? Every person has struggles and triumphs, but if we were to lay them out as a dramatic timeline, most of us would find our lives to be rather dull. In the moment, events seem big, but often they do not turn out to be as monumental as we presume. At the same time, big is not the same as consequential. Everything, to some degree, is consequential. And then contrasting this (or perhaps complementing it?), is Caroline’s “big moment” of realization when she simply looks at her small family through the window of their home.

This leads in to what I mentioned earlier about the structure of the novel. The story spans approximately 25 years in around 400 pages. There are time jumps, several of them rather significant. In each case, these occur at the climax of a dramatic event, leaving no direct resolution. Everything is resolved (or not) behind the scenes, and we learn how each of these played out based on characters’ reflections on the past. While I could see this as something that could annoy many readers, it’s not something that I have seen done before, and I thought it was an interesting choice on the part of the author.

There is, of course, one major lacking: Phoebe’s perspective. While the novel does not take a first person view from any character, we do get to see life from the perspective of the main characters: David, Norah, Paul, and Caroline, but never Phoebe. We learn that she likes cats and music, knows how to weave, and has a boyfriend that she wants to marry. But that’s really about it. That’s a huge discredit, especially for the title character. I think it’s unfortunate that in a novel that very much promotes that idea that she should be viewed as a person and not a disability, we do not get the opportunity to see the world from her eyes.

This is going to seem nit-picky, but I feel like I need to mention it since I am still thinking about it. I feel like there was a lack of attention to detail on the part of the author. For example, the book refers to Van Gogh’s Starry Night being viewed at the Louvre. However, Starry Night is not (nor has ever been) at the Louvre. In fact, there are no Van Gogh paintings in the Louvre at all. There are also some inaccuracies related to the times and distances traveled in a few places in the novel. While these are admittedly not major faults, they are things that irk me a bit. I knew immediately that these things could not be correct just from my general knowledge. I feel like these were errors that could have very easily been avoided with just a little fact checking.

Boris’s thoughts: “Phoebe likes cats? Well then I like Phoebe. 4 paws.”

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

img_6152Book: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Oh, the Pigeon. I totally understand why people do not like the Pigeon. He is loud. He is obnoxious. He is persistent. He is whiny. He is annoying. But oh, I must admit, I kind of love the Pigeon. This one is not actually my favorite of the Pigeon books, but I thought it would be the most appropriate for a review, as it is the original. As usual though, most of what I have to say about this can be applied to the other books in the series as well. (I think my favorite is probably The Pigeon Needs a Bath, or perhaps,¬†Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late.)

I love the set up of this book. It’s somewhere between a picture book and a comic book. The story is shown through pictures and dialogue. What I find most interesting is that the dialogue is one sided– the Pigeon is talking directly to the reader. Imploring, begging the reader to just, please, LET ME DRIVE THE BUS! I think this gives the (adult) reader options. This could be read as a monologue, or an interactive read aloud with children. Sure, there is not much variation in the children’s response to the Pigeon, but I think this makes it great for younger kids. (And certainly allows for the possibility of some fun!) This could also be a great choice for early readers, or for older children to read with younger. The illustrations are very simple, but are still able to portray the action of the pigeon in his plight to drive the bus.

You may notice that Boris is not alone in his picture with this book. A friend of mine told me that the Pigeon reminds her of me. At first I wondered if I should be offended, but she assured me, that it’s not that I am actually like him, but that he seems like “my kind of character.” Well, I suppose I do have to agree with that. For my birthday a few years ago, she gifted me a Pigeon. But not just a Pigeon, a TALKING Pigeon.

In the true spirit of the whiny, obnoxious, persistent Pigeon, he is only able to say one thing: LET ME DRIVE THE BUS. He generally hangs out in my office at work, where he is a big hit. A warning to parents though: he’s awfully cute, but you definitely don’t want your child walking around with a noise making toy that can only say one thing. Boris was not a huge fan. Our little photo shoot was a bit of a struggle, and I’m still not sure if he was annoyed or afraid of the Pigeon.

Boris’s thoughts: “If you put that thing near me again, I will destroy it……..which might be fun. 3 paws.”

Politically Correct Ultimate Storybook

Book: The Politically Correct Ultimate Storybook by James Finn Garner

Date Read: January 17 to 18, 2016img_6291

Rating: 2 (of 5) stars

This book was a gift. Admittedly, one that I likely would not have picked out myself. Nonetheless, I had some high hopes for it. I like fairy tales and those sorts of stories, and thought that the “politically correct” twist on it had the potential for hilarity. I was sadly disappointed.

By no means do I want to imply that there were not some good moments. There were some stories that made me laugh. I especially loved Sleeping Beauty (or, of course, The Sleeping Person of Better Than Average Attractiveness) being cursed to have unrealistic expectations of her future relationships. Honestly though, I thought that some of the story titles were funnier than the stories themselves. I feel like there was some good potential here, it just fell short for me.

I realize that part of the point of this book was to “go overboard” on political correctness. Or, at least, I think that was the point. I just felt that much of it just ended up being dumb, not funny. I also think that much of it really had nothing to do with political correctness. The best examples for this come from the selection of Holiday stories. Santa portrayed in a villainous way for being overweight? What’s politically correct about that? If politically correct was the goal, then I would think coming up with neutral seeming language would have been more appropriate. Then, there is the faux pas of the party host, who raises a holiday toast with his guests– forgetting that he has served eggnog, and one of his guests is vegan. The error is, of course, corrected. Again, where is the political correctness here? Having an alternative for a vegan friend is not “being PC,” its just being considerate.

Boris’s thoughts: “You didn’t like this one? You like everything. 1 paw.”