I am officially on spring break this week, which means a bit of travel for me and a babysitter for the kitties. This is an especially busy time of the year in the education world, so I decided to take a break from other ventures so that I could make sure to be fully able to leave work behind for this short time off. I plan to return to regular posting soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy some Books On My Cat outtakes!
For the first bonus week of 2022, I wanted to write a little about something that you may have seen if you also follow us on Instagram: Books and Brews Tuesday. This is a new tradition that came about early in the year, and although it is a rather simple one, it was in a slow development for nearly 10 years.
Over the last 10 years, I have had a weekly “Book Club” meeting. This is definitely a “Book Club” in a nontraditional sense: while for a long time there was a core group with mostly have regular meetings, there has always been some variation in frequency, location, members, and reading material. The biggest departure from traditional Book Clubs is a big one: we don’t actually read books. This odd deviation is a hazard of working in education—it’s hard to talk about your plans after work when you do not want to broadcast to the children that you will be spending the evening in a bar. It might not always be called the same thing, but I know that everyone who has worked in education knows what I mean (at various schools I have heard about book clubs, library visits, and special Friday staff meetings).
I have always been the only regular reader at my “Book Club,” but over the years its existence has sparked conversation about actually book clubs. Being part of a book club is something that has always sounded appealing to me, although I know it’s not something that fits well with who I am as a reader. I am at least a little bit of a mood reader, and have always had a very extensive to read shelf. Adding in a rotation of additional books at regular intervals seems like a recipe for disaster in the pursuit of reducing my list to a manageable number. I have recently hit an all time high in books to read without any such excuses!
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a real Book Club venture that actually works, and it connects back to my original fake book club! Back in the days of the original “Book Club” we almost always held our meetings in the same local brewery, where a few of us eventually got a mug club membership. That group drifted away from regularly meeting in the same location, and I am the only one that decided to continue renewing my membership in the mug club. After the tumultuous 2020/2021, I vowed to make sure I made the membership worth it this year, even if I had to go there on my own with a book every week. When I said this to a bookish friend, she said that was the perfect idea for a real Book Club—who says we have to be reading the same book?
Books and Brews Tuesday was born. We have set a weekly routine of meeting at the brewery after work, reading with a drink until our food arrives, and then chatting over dinner followed by a game of cards. It’s a nice quiet social routine that it was easy to fall into, and something that has quickly become important to us both.
Does anyone else have any fun or unusual reading habits or routines? I would love to hear about them!
Book: Cat Poems; Selected by Myra Cohn Livingston; Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
For this month’s picture book, I’m taking things way back. Cat Poems: published in 1987. Realistically it’s not that long ago, but for me this is one of the ultimate flashback to childhood books. I never owned a copy of the book, and it honestly was not a book that I have thought about much since elementary school. Yet, I was thrilled when my librarian friend at work put it on my desk one day. We are both cat ladies, so when she came across it while re-shelving she thought it would be funny to share. She was as surprised by my reaction as I was to see the book.
My elementary school had a yearly speech competition. The expectations for this varied between grades, but for the time I was there always focused on poetry. Each student was to choose a poem to memorize and recite in front of the class. Top students were chosen from each class to read in front of the school. Most students went to the most popular of poets at the time: Shel Silverstein. Not me. I was not going to memorize the same poem as anyone else. And, of course, it needed to be about cats. I convinced my mom to take me to the “real library” where I found this book. Despite being a pretty shy kid, and horrified of public speaking, this book took me to the semi-finals in three consecutive school years.
It really is exactly what you would expect: a collection of poems about cats. Based on the copyright information, there are a few original to the book, plus several others from various authors. The most famous, I suspect, being The Song of the Jellicles by T.S. Eliot. Most of the poems are light hearted or funny, although there are a few that are on the sad or spooky side as well. I was surprised that I remembered parts of quite a few, even after so many years. Each poem is also paired with a drawing, some a simple cat illustration in the corner and others with much greater detail that incorporate the poem into a full-page illustration. While there is certainly a nostalgic aspect to this for me personally, I think this is a nice little collection as an introduction to poetry.
Boris’s Thoughts: “You are so predictable.”
Book: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Date Read: January 11 to 30, 2022
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
I was immediately intrigued the first time I saw this book. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my control, the timing was not right to add it to my shelves. For some reason, after that day, this book and I seemed to always pass each other by. I added the book to my want to read list in 2013, but did not actually add it to my shelves until nearly 4 years later. It stayed there long enough that when I read the first prompt for the 2022 Unread Shelf Project, a book you’ve been putting off reading, I knew right where to go.
This story ended up being quite a different ride than I had expected. While it is clear in the title that Oscar’s life would be cut short, the story goes much deeper into not only his story, but also the stories of his family’s history. In telling the story of the family, we also get a crash course in Dominican history—primarily told through some lengthy footnotes that read something like a textbook written in ghetto vernacular. Amusing at points for sure, but also making this a pretty heavy and more complicated read than I had anticipated. While I think the language was fitting to the story, it definitely made this a tough one to get through, as I found myself stopping frequently to translate words or look up the meaning of unfamiliar slang. Perhaps the most frustrating part of this was that I could not always find answers that really made sense in the context that a word or phrase was used.
Overall, I felt like the story here was worth the effort, although there were definitely pieces that were not quite fully satisfying. The novel had multiple storylines running in various timelines, and while some pieces seem to come full circle in the story, there were also things that were left hanging or unresolved. That combined with some of the extra efforts needed to read pulled this down from being the 5 star read it could have been.
Minka’s Thoughts: “Well, it tastes good anyway. 4 paws.”
Book: Just Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
Date Read: December 23, 2021 to January 1, 2022
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
One of the funny things about being a reader is the odd habits that you develop over time related to your reading. Currently, I take pictures of my books with my cats. I used to track the number of books I read by using a different bookmark for every book I read, and then counting up my pile of bookmarks at the end of the year. Perhaps my oddest bookish habit is my text exchanges with a particular friend: we frequently text each other about the books we are reading, but rarely actually share which book we are talking about.
This past December, my friend was texting me about a book that had her on an emotional rollercoaster. She thought she had picked up a romance, but ended up with a story that had much more depth. With each unexpected turn in the story, I got an update about how every prediction made was turning out to be wrong. So toward the end of the month when I ended up waitlisted for all of the audio books I had hoped for on my holiday driving, this turned into a natural recommendation. It is not exactly the book that I would typically pick up on my own, but as she had said, it was much more than the fluffy romance novel that she had anticipated.
Although the romance storyline was definitely there, I felt like this book was much more about friendships and family. It all starts with a friend group and a pub quiz—a new romance trope, I think. Our main character, Eve, introduces the dynamics of the group just before finding herself on a romantic misadventure. This is around where things begin to veer into the unexpected, starting with a tragedy within the friend group.
I try not to give too much away when writing these, so I will just say that the story did not turn out to be anything like what I predicted along the way, while somehow still hitting all the things I would expect from a romantic comedy. McFarlane had me alternately laughing and crying, and did an excellent job of handling some serious topics without straying too far from the heart of the genre.
Boris’s Thoughts: “I never saw this book, so I don’t believe you actually read it.”
Book: Me Before You Series by Jojo Moyes
Date Read: December 22, 2021 to January 10, 2022
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
I picked up the first book in this series in the used books section of my local store. After seeing the title repeatedly around stores and online, it seemed like something worth checking out. I knew very little about the premise, and admittedly only did a cursory glance over the back cover. I filed it in my memory as a likely romance to be revisited when I needed something lighter to read. Fast forward to December, and in a rush to complete the final prompts from the Unread Shelf Project, I grabbed this one to meet the prompt of a backlist title.
Shortly after I started reading, I got a message from a friend: You know that’s the first in a trilogy, right? You have to read them all, it’s not the same on its own. Some people think the first can stand alone, but that’s only because they don’t know the whole story. I’ll give you the other two to read when I see you over Christmas.
Well, it turned out that my preconceived notions were incorrect—which is exactly what made my friend’s insistence true. First of all, to consider the first book a romance is definitely a bit off. While there are definitely elements of romance within the story, it certainly is not the main theme. I try my best to avoid big spoilers here, but I am finding it hard to articulate much on this book without giving things away. I will just say that the issues brought up in the first book were heavier than I was expected, although with a little bit of a “candy coating.” Viewing the trilogy as a whole, it is clear that this is a story about Louisa. While the men in her life play a role in shaping that story, they are secondary to the overall narrative.
I decided to rate the trilogy as a whole, rather than focusing on the individual books. I think I enjoyed the first book the most, and while I was not thrilled with many parts of the second book, it really was necessary to lay the foundation for the final piece to Louisa’s story. I suppose what I am trying to say with that is—if you’re reading and find yourself disappointed through the middle book, don’t give up! It does become worth it in the end.
Minka’s Thoughts: “I saw that bit about a cat behaviorist. Ridiculous! 1 paw.”
Book: Cat & Mouse by Britta Teckentrup
I saw this book at a cute little store on a trip to Texas last month, and I could not resist. I did show a little self control though, and only bought two copies to give as gifts. After the taking of this photo, the book has moved on to its new home with my nephew.
This is a story that will be loved by kids, but also carrying some elements that can be enjoyed by their adults. The story follows a cat and mouse chase around the house and into the woods, with little peek-through spaces on each of the pages built in to the illustrations. The illustrations are mostly geometric figures arranged to give the idea of the spaces, without a ton of details. The story is told through a catchy rhythm of rhyming verse, and I liked the way that text blocking was used to keep things visually interesting.
I think this would be great as a read aloud, with one or with a group of younger children. There are good opportunities for predictions or questions, and kids will enjoy following the chase through the illustrations on each page. And don’t worry—despite the set up of the sneaky mouse and the clever hunter cat, there is an ending that will satisfy lovers of both!
Minka’s Thoughts: “Finally, a cat and mouse book where we don’t have to be the villain! 4 paws!”
Book: In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Date Read: December 19 to 22, 2021
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
This book was one of my last picks of the year to finish up the bonus challenges included for the Unread Shelf Project 2021—a book from a Little Free Library. Before I talk about the book, I need to talk about how I love the idea of Little Free Libraries, but I am not so great at using them. I love having books, and being around books. When I have really enjoyed a book, I have a hard time letting go of it—partially because I am a re-reader, and partially because I love to have it on hand to lend out to someone who might be interested. I do try to collect rather than hoard though, so sometimes it does become necessary to pass a book on to its next life.
There is a Little Free Library along one of the routes that I like to walk through my neighborhood. Throughout the warmer months, I like to stop to browse the titles there at least once a week, and have picked up a few over time. Given my lengthy to read list, I am not always great about getting to those books right away to return, so I use a “take a book, leave a book” approach (as I believe many others do as well). Over the last few years, I have gradually dropped off any book donations that I have there, hoping that I will keep things balanced.
This is actually one of the first books that I picked up from that Little Free Library. The title was familiar and the cover intriguing. Although I was slightly confused with the disjointed storyline early on, I thought it was brought together nicely throughout the book. Although I would say that this is primarily a mystery, there were some elements of horror woven into the story, and these pieces were very well done. The skin crawling eeriness sprinkled throughout made the mystery aspect richer, while also serving to distract a bit from the clues dropped along the way. I was expecting some kind of twist, but the one here had nuances that were way beyond what I had anticipated.
There were some elements here that I think could qualify this as a 5 star read, but overall I put it just a little below that. While I appreciate that there was a mix of genres intertwined here, there were some elements that just did not seem to fit. Occasionally when reading, I found myself doing a mental double take— wondering if I had accidentally picked up a romantic comedy rather than horror mystery. That’s not to say, of course, that those genres could never mesh, but it did not feel right for the story here.
Boris’s Thoughts: “Horror, mystery, comedy… too many things to think about, really. I think I’ll nap on this one. 2 paws.”
Book: Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
Date Read: December 15 to 18, 2021
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
I found this book while shopping with a friend. I must have picked it up and set it down a dozen times—I was supposed to be shopping for gifts, not for myself. Of course there is the matter of the giant stack to read at home. I somehow summoned the self-control to leave without it. Lucky for me, my friend was paying attention and picked it up to give to me later. Bookish friends are the best.
This one has been a little tricky to write about, as there were some aspects of this book that I loved and others that I’m still not sure about. The concept is definitely intriguing, and for the most part the story was as well, although the plot meandered a bit. The world of the island is constructed slowly, both answering questions and generating new ones along the way.
After finishing this book, I saw it described somewhere as “a children’s book that adults like more than children” and this makes sense to me. There are so many aspects are relatable in terms of the uncertainty of growing up, but that’s much easier to appreciate in retrospect than when you’re going through it. While I felt that the ending was in some ways fitting with the overall theme of the story, it left me a little unsatisfied. Sure, it works well as a metaphor, but sometimes the story is more desirable than finding a deeper meaning.
Minka’s Thoughts: “I think there’s something about children’s novels that can bring us all together. 4 paws.”
Boris’s Thoughts: “Sure. But don’t push it, little girl. 3 paws.”
Book: Burned by Ellen Hopkins
Date Read: December 10 to 15, 2021
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars
I used a very loose and vague interpretation of the December prompt from the Unread Shelf Project to choose this book: a book the reminds you of childhood. This book is generally categorized as young adult, and it has one that has been on my to read shelf for a very long time… maybe since high school? Unlike many of the books on my shelf, I cannot exactly place this one, but it seems like it would fit with that general time period.
To start, I feel like I should start by saying that the connection to my childhood ends there. This is a coming of age type story, based on a girl growing up in an extremely conservative religious family. She rebels, but begins to come in to her own after being sent away to live with an estranged relative. There is, of course, a love story tied in, but I thought there was at least some effort made to make this more than just a teenage love story.
For the most part, the story was compelling and the style of the book was definitely unique and interesting. The story is a narrative told mostly through poetry, with a few more traditional passages sprinkled throughout. It was a surprisingly quick read for being 500+ pages. Although I generally liked the story, things did get a little wild toward the end, leaving me not completely satisfied. While not exactly a cliffhanger, the ending feels incomplete. I was both excited and disappointed to discover that there is a sequel out there—although it is proven to be a little difficult to locate.
Boris’s Thoughts: “I think fast paced quick reads are the perfect nap on the lap books. 4 paws.”