The Time Traveler’s Wife

img_0097Book: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Date Read: July 27 to August 7, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Generally speaking, I tend to lean toward books that are on the shorter end of the spectrum. Not that I avoid longer books altogether, but I find myself satisfied with books staying in the 300-400-something page range. These books feel like anytime books. Anything longer feels like a little more of an undertaking—something that should be taken on with some intention. So I was intentional about timing the “read a book over 500 pages” prompt, and my week of summer travel seemed like the perfect fit. I started this book on a plane on my way home from Denver, and then wrapped it up a couple days after arriving home from Nashville.

The story follows the lives of Clare and Henry, a couple dealing with some peculiar circumstances: Henry cannot stay put in time. Due to this, the story is told in snippets with some variations in chronology. While it mostly follows the traditional chronology of Clare’s life, there are flash-backs and forwards that fill in additional details. The author did well in varying how these were used, sometimes foreshadowing aspects of the story and other times circling back to give more context to things that had not been fully explained. Although I’m not really sure—does it count as foreshadowing when you know things are happening in the future?

I loved the concept of this book, and thought it was done well as a romance/science-fiction crossover. I am not sure that “science fiction” is the perfect classification, but feel the time travel aspect and the genetic studies piece was enough to at least set it on the edge of the genre. It is certainly not simply a traditional love story. In some ways, I debate in its classification as a love story at all—but in the end, I am not sure how else to classify it. The time travel aspect complicates it. While I feel like it is intended to add an element of sadness to Clare’s love, it also takes away the spontaneity and serendipity of a traditional love story. Clare knew she would marry Henry before she had even met him in her chronological life—if she had not been told that, would things have happened as they did? Henry’s attempts to change other events seems to indicate that her knowing did not matter, but I think the idea of everything being preset by fate takes a little magic out, flattening the story just a bit.

Boris’s Thoughts: “This is all a bit much, isn’t it? 1 paw.”

Born A Crime

img_9796Book: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Date Read: July 11 to 20, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I chose this book to fit the prompt to read a book that I was gifted, but did not ask for. I love this prompt, because those are my favorite types of books to be gifted. Sure, it’s nice to receive a book that you have been wanting, but I think it is nicer to receive a book that someone thought to pick out for you. This book was a gift from my Secret Santa—who I must say did a fabulous job.

Prior to this book, I did not know much about Trevor Noah. I knew the name as a personality on television, and probably would have associated him with the Daily Show. I am not much of a television watcher, and have only ever seen bits and pieces of anything associated with him. While I had occasionally seen the cover of the book, I am not sure that I had ever picked it up to truly consider it. I am so glad that this was gifted to me, because this one really blew me away.

This was a memoir of childhood, told through a series of short stories. While there was some continuity to the stories, they were not exactly chronological. The stories, although often dealing with some weighty content, are told with a perfect mix of seriousness and humor. Really, each story seems to be told for it’s retrospective humor, although the heaver themes of racism, apartheid, poverty, and love can be seen interwoven through each. That is—until the last chapter. Although some of this story had been alluded to earlier in the book, I was not quite prepared for the blow when it came. I will not share any spoiler details—it is something that I highly recommend you to experience for yourself.

I knew only a little of the history of South Africa before reading, and it was really interesting to learn about through the eyes of someone who experienced it as a child. Even the things I did know, I did not think of as current events, assuming that the pieces I knew came from long before my time—not something experienced by someone so close to my age.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Shame that it seems it’s only okay to have certain pets over there. Although he did have a point about peoples’ priorities when it comes to violence. 3 paws.”

Crenshaw

img_0425Book: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Date Read: August 8 to 12, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This was my Unread Shelf Project pick for the month of August: a book bought from an independent bookstore. This was another category that was a little broad for me. For several years, I have been making a strong, pretty consistent effort to “shop local” as much as possible. It helps that I have a pretty phenomenal independent bookstore in my city. With a to read list as long as mine, it would be nearly impossible for me to determine the purchase location of all my books—but I would bet that 80% of those acquired in the past 5 years have been from independent bookstores. To make things easy though, I decided to pick from a specific collection: a book acquired from a store on my “Michigan Booksellers” tote bag (I cannot remember if I have written about this before, but have a post planned for the end of this month with more information!).

This qualifier narrowed my list down quite a bit, and I decided to pick the book that I thought would be a quick, light read. I was only half right there: quick, but definitely heavier than I had anticipated. This one definitely packs a punch. This is what I get for not revisiting the summary blurb on the back before making a decision.

Jackson is an interesting kid—a bit particular, a bit too old for his age. He is contrasted by Crenshaw, the large imaginary cat that he has not seen for several years. Jackson battles with himself over Crenshaw, while also trying to deal with some serious issues in his family: hunger, illness, and possible homelessness. There are many aspects of this book that I can praise. Jackson’s voice reads really well as a kid, albeit a kid who has had to grow up a little too fast. It is a well-written narrative that deals excellently with some really tough subject matter. Yet… I wanted something a little more from it.

I think where this fell short for me was with the character of Crenshaw. I kept hoping for something to happen with him, but for the most part, his role in the book was just to exist. While I can see that perhaps his mere existence being important is part of the point, I still think there was some missed potential for this story.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A giant imaginary cat might be nice, but not nearly as nice as a giant real cat like me. 3 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for August

  • Books Read: 4
  • Books Acquired: 2
  • Total Unread Books: 278

Curious Critters Michigan

Book: Curious Critters Michigan by David FitzSimmons

I picked up this fun board book at the Ann Arbor Street Fair this year. The photographer and author had a booth that included several of his striking prints, along with a nice selection of children’s books. He had a lovely Curious Critters picture book with more lengthy text, as well as several varieties of board books like this one. Each of the board books featured animals that can be found in different states around the US.

Although a fairly simple concept, these books are well put together and a nice representation of wildlife in Michigan. The focus is on “critters” versus all animals, which I think makes the animal selection more interesting. While there are other notable animals in the state, these are the creatures that you might see in your backyard or around town. The Michigan book includes a variety of birds and insects, along with a few other small animals like turtles, opossums, and snakes.

Each creature has a short kind-friendly description, usually with a distinctive behavior or sound associated with the animals. The real stand out here though is the photographs. The photos are fully colored and detailed, with most of them either life-size or larger. In our first read-through, my niece was fascinated by the bugs—things she sees regularly, but would rarely have the opportunity to inspect up close in real life.

Minka’s Thoughts: “They included some of my favorites, but left out the most important curious critter of all: ME. 2 paws.”

The Hill We Climb

img_9579Book: The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

Date Read: June 30, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I debated with myself about writing an entry for this one—I bought a copy of this little book, but I wondered: should it really count as a whole book? Yes and no, I suppose. It is a bound copy of a poem. Short, yes, but presented in the form of a book. Regardless, I thought that it was deserving of some recognition—which, of course, is part of the reason that I bought the book in the first place.

I heard the poem the first time when many others did: when she recited it at Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021. I admit that I was not watching with great excitement. While I thought Biden was the better of the presented options, this was not exactly what I had been hoping for. Then Amanda Gorman took the stage and blew me away. She talked about my country in a way that felt familiar but could not put in to words on my own. Not the perfect place Americans like to pretend it is, but one that has the ability to prevail nonetheless. One that is able to look at its shortcomings and find ways to make them better. That’s the America I want to live in. That’s the life that I hope I am living—not perfect, but good enough to strive for my best and be proud of the result.

The poem captures a feeling—one that I feel we all desperately need right now. Healing. Hope. Resilience. Unity. Whichever you feel it is, I hope that we are able to live up to her words.

Sh*t Happens So Get Over It

img_9730Book: Sh*t Happens So Get Over It

Date Read: June 30, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was a gift from a friend, who said it was perfect for two reasons: it was the kind of book she felt that I would appreciate, and it would be a short, quick read so it would not really be like adding more books to my reading list! Correct on both counts. I read this one along with a couple others on an evening near the end of June, as I was trying to dwindle down the growing stack of books that I cannot find room for on my “to read” shelf.

There is a trend in shock-value self-help lately, and I am happy to report that this does not fall in to that category. While I have not really read that myself, I know of complaints from many about unexpected titles meant to draw you in to a book that offers minimally insightful advice. It may have the title meant to grab that attention, but this is not a self-help book and it does not pretend to be. This is a collection of quotes—some common, some a bit more obscure. It’s a book that you can grab from the shelf and open to a random page when you might need a little flash of inspiration or motivation. As that, it succeeds nicely.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Oh, I am so not over it. 1 paw.”

Winter’s End

img_9697Book: Winter’s End by John Rickards

Date Read: July 1 to 11, 2021

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

In July, the Unread Shelf Project challenged readers to own up to doing what they are told to never do: judging a book by its cover. I decided to put my own personal twist on the prompt, to read a book bought for the cover. This is a book that I bought for the cover, but not in the way that you would suspect: I bought it because it did not have a cover. I found this book in the discount section of a discount bookstore. Presumably it ended up there because it was a hardcover book that had lost its dust jacket. A plain black covered, with the title embossed on the spine in metallic red. This was many years ago—at least long enough that I did not have a smart phone or other convenient way of looking up anything about the book. Intriguing enough for me to bring it home.

As with many books, it got filed away on my shelf to read when the time was right. This month, its number was up. Despite the temptation, I refrained from looking up the book or checking reviews before reading. However, I did get a glimpse of the actual cover by adding it to my to read list on Goodreads. That all is to say: I went in to this with very few expectations. I suppose it is safe to say that it lived up to all of them. It was a quick and entertaining read, but nothing that jumped out or sets itself apart. It’s a pretty straightforward murder mystery story, with a few unusual elements. The leading man, Alex, is called back to his hometown to help the local sheriff solve an unusual case, and the clues begin to point to a larger story buried under the surface of small town life.

While the story was pretty straightforward in what I would expect from a murder mystery novel, the author did throw in some misleading trails and enough hints toward the supernatural that I wondered if there was something more to the novel than it seemed. As he revisits his hometown, Alex reminisces about his childhood, but most specifically about stories of ghosts and hauntings in the town and its surrounding woods. There are several characters that are implied to be important, who end up simply falling out of the story. I did enjoy some of these elements, especially descriptions and references to the purportedly haunted Crowhurst Inn where Alex stayed in town.

Unfortunately, none of these possibilities pan out. It really is just a murder mystery in the real world. There was one piece in particularly that had me wondering: Alex makes it a point to state that he moved on from the town when he left for college, never looking back. Initially, he talks about hoping to quickly solve the case so that he can get home to Boston. However, at several points later in the book, he refers to the Inn where he is staying as “home.” As I was reading, I wondered if this was some kind of clue, but in retrospect I wonder if it was merely a bit of careless editing.

Minka’s Thoughts: “I find hauntings more interesting than the real world as well. 2 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for July

  • Books Read: 3
  • Books Acquired: 4
  • Total Unread Books: 280

I have added it up several times, and my math does not fit from where I was last month. Not sure where the error is, but I know that this current total unread is right!

Little Feminists

img_9808Book: Little Feminist Books by Emily Kleinman, Illustrated by Lydia Ortiz

Being a wide-ranging bookworm can be a funny thing. My shelves are filled with such a variety of books that pretty much anything seems fair game. So, despite being a full-blown adult with cats instead of children, I was thrilled to get these Little Feminist baby books for my birthday this year.

This is a boxed set of Little Feminist books from Mudpuppy Books, including four board books with individual themes: Artists, Leader, Activists, and Pioneers. Each book features four women, with a kid-friendly explanation of their accomplishments and impact. There is also a cartoon illustration of each woman, all with bright colors and some distinctive accessories related to their inclusion.

I thought the author did a great job of choosing women from diverse backgrounds for inclusion. Some more traditionally known women like Amelia Earhart and Rosa Parks were included along with less familiar names like Malala Yousafzai, Billie Jean King, and Indira Gandhi. While I am definitely planning to hold on to this set for myself, I think this is one that I will have to gift to a few people in the future!

Boris’s Thoughts: “Boys should be feminists too. Girl power! 4 paws.”

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse

img_9719Book: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Date Read: June 30, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I picked this one up at least a dozen times before I finally brought a copy home with me. I had seen occasional praise for it online, and the book itself is certainly eye catching. For some reason, it never felt like the book to get right in that moment—until it was. While I cannot say what it was that caused that shift, I am thrilled that it happened. This is more than a simple book: it is a work of art.

In the book’s short introduction, Mackesy states that “this book is for everyone, whether you are eighty or eight.” It truly is exactly that. It is a quick read full of wisdom and humor, coupled with some enchanting artwork. The art has an interesting style, with variation in its feeling of completeness. Some drawings are done with lines only, and give more of an impression than a full image. Others are more whole, with more details in the form and the addition of watercolor. The text of the book is handwritten, making it part of the flowing art piece.

Although the book does tell an overall story of the four friends who find their way into each others’ lives, it is not necessary to view this as a chronological story. Each page is a valuable work on its own, all of them coming together to make a book that is worth treasuring. I know that it is one that I will revisit from time to time—perhaps the whole book, or just a few pages when I need some wisdom and grounding.

Minka’s Thoughts: “This seems nice. Do you think they have room for a cat friend? 4 paws.”

City of Thieves

img_9752Book: City of Thieves by David Benioff

Date Read: July 18 to 23, 2011; June 13 to 18, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

A few weeks ago, I finally got myself a library card. I moved across the state in 2012, into my current home at the beginning of 2019, and it was not until 2021 that I first made it inside my local library. Of course, a major part of this is that I already have a rather extensive library at home. The draw that eventually got me through the door was the expanded access to audio books—since I have found my audio sweet spot with rereading, I have a hard time justifying buying an audio copy of books that I already own. Up until now, I have been accessing through my school’s library, but have started to run low on books there, as it primarily offers children’s and young adult options. So, I got my shiny new library card (Grand Rapids Public Library’s 150th Anniversary edition!) and then went home to start browsing the audio options.

My first choice with my new options was to revisit this book that I read very close to 10 years ago. At the time of my initial reading, it was something of an impulse buy. I was at the store looking for another book, which turned out to be not in stock. While talking to the bookseller, she recommended this one. Ten years later, I could remember only the vague outline of the story, but recall that it made a strong impression on me at the time. It made it onto my Goodreads favorites shelf, and there it has sat.

It’s an interesting thing, to label a book as a favorite and then sit on it for 10 years. Not only did I never get around to rereading, I never looked for any other work by the author, explore more in the genre, or look for recommendations based upon it. When I decided to reread now, I wondered if this one was truly deserving of its place on the list and thought about reevaluating it and several others. A few chapters in, I was starting to question my past self. The plot was thinner than I remembered, the characters more vulgar. Nothing that outright signaled dislike, but threw up a red flag: was this really worthy of the designation “favorite?”

I cannot recall the exact moment when my thinking turned, but yes: this is absolutely worthy of its place on my favorites list. This is a story that draws you in and holds you there. It feels real. The characters are introduced to you in the same way they are introduced to each other. They are people you want to know, and you feel their impacts on each other as they develop through the story. It is alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, often at the same time. Lev’s voice rings true, not only with the telling of the story, but in how he perceives his surroundings and how thoughts of the past break through into the present moment. It was immersive in a way that I do not often feel with historical fiction.

Boris’s Thoughts: “I don’t like how they talk about the missing pets in the starving city… very suspicious. 1 paw.”