Little Fires Everywhere

img_0855Book: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Date Read: August 27 to September 26, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I finally got around to reading this one when faced with the prompt to read a book that I bought because of the hype. I feel like this does not need much explanation—this book was everywhere for a long time even before it was made into a television series. When everything was starting to close down in the early months of 2020, I decided to start making regular purchases through some of the independent bookstores that were offering online ordering. As if I really needed an excuse to buy more books.

This one follows something that has become a theme in this blog: books that I loved and rated highly, but cannot find the right words to write about. Does it suffice to say that it lived up to the hype that inspired me to buy it? Probably not.

There’s a lot of things going on here, so let’s start with the big one: this takes place in a suburban community that is all about planning and order. Everything in its place and nothing that is unexpected. Of course, it’s not all bad to approach things that way—having a goal, sticking to a plan. The problem comes when that ideal is clung to too hard; when you forget that life does not always (or even usually) work that way. Sometimes you do everything right, and things still do not turn out how you plan. And that is when the first domino falls and everything begins to crumble.

Following along those lines, I enjoyed the varying dynamics of the mother-daughter relationships and the exploration of gray area in what makes a “good” mother. While each mother had the best interest of her children in mind, how this ultimately plays out varies wildly. Adding in layers of differing backgrounds, life experience, and culture to this complicates it further, creating an intriguing web of interactions. Despite the time that it took me to get through this, I really did find it engrossing.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A month of this book made a month of decent lap snuggles. I’ll take it. 3 paws.”

Zombie, Ohio

img_0482Book: Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenemore

Date Read: August 13 to 26, 2021

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

I chose this book in response to a prompt to read a book that was an impulse buy. I have so many books that would probably count as impulse buys—maybe even most of them. To narrow it down a little, I decided to choose a book that I had purchased for my kindle. For several months, I would regularly check the kindle daily deals, and racked up quite a few new books ranging from $0.99 to $2.99. It does not matter if a book had been on your radar if it costs that little, right? Well, I may have taken that just a bit too far. Although it seemed like a good opportunity to try out some new styles and genres, the actual end result was an increasingly out of control to read list.

This was one of those books: a zombie novel. I have never read a real zombie novel until now (and I am not entirely sure this one counts either). I know people who like them, so I thought I would give it a try. This was a slightly different take on the zombie novel, being told from the perspective of one of the zombies—seemingly the only truly sentient one in the bunch. While this twist did make for an interesting story, it was not one that I was really crazy about.

The book starts with the protagonist, Peter, waking up after a car accident. Other than memory loss, he does not feel that he is badly injured, although he can see that the accident looked serious. Peter’s memory loss is used as an opportunity to introduce us to the world and some of the characters—he needs to put the pieces together himself, so this is a natural way to lay things out for the reader. The first section of the book goes on along these lines, and is aptly titled “Revelation.” The book moves on into two more sections with similarly fitting names: Rampage (where Peter embraces life as a zombie) and Redemption (where Peter, although unapologetic, attempts to make up for his behavior in the previous section).

Part of what puts this story on shaky ground with me is the heavy use of two factors: gore and introspection. I realize that gore is to be expected in a novel about zombies. Given the premise of a sentient zombie as narrator, I also understand the need for some introspection. I think the issue comes with the combination: gore may be expected, or even required, in a zombie novel—but it typically does not come with descriptive soliloquy on the joys of licking the brain from the inside of a skull or the satisfying pop of biting into a fresh eyeball.

The introspective nature of our zombie narrator also meant that there were long sections that seemed to plod along, followed by condensed action. The balance felt a little off. Overall, it felt more like a diary of events than a plot driven novel, which did not feel like a good fit with the subject matter.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Silly humans. Everyone knows that cats are the only ones who are going to actually survive the zombie apocalypse. 2 paws.”

Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness

Book: Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Tourell Søderberg

Date Read: September 26 to 30, 2021

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

In September I was challenged to read a book that I wanted to learn something from. I debated quite a bit about which book would be the best choice—so much so that I ended up choosing the one that seemed the quickest read because I had pushed things so close to the end of the month!

I picked this up on one of the discount racks at my local bookstore, and have to admit that I was really drawn in by the cover. It is a beautiful book. It sparkles. Of course, a pretty cover is not quite enough for me. I was also intrigued by the idea of hygge. Although only vaguely familiar with the term at the time, it seemed to me the embodiment of what I love about the fall season—not that it necessarily has anything to do with the season, but that it involves the feeling that I associate with this time of year.

I am not sure that I could be called a hygge expert after reading this one, but I do at least have a bit of an idea of what it means to hygge. Hygge is about togetherness and coziness and good feelings. As I expected, it is not so much associated with the season, but many elements are fall-ish to me: soft blankets, warm lighting, hot drinks, and yummy snacks. There were certain elements of hygge that I already see embedded in my days, and others that I could probably use some more of. As is pointed out in the book, I think this is something that is valued by all, but perhaps prioritized more in some places than others. The Danish having a word for it helps to make it an embedded element in their culture.

It was interesting to me to read the other side of hygge: how some view it as something that is counter to productivity as a society. While I suppose I can see where that argument could come from, I also think it is the exact reason why valuing it is so important. Contrary to many countries around the world, I think we in the US put a little too much focus on productivity. People are afraid to do something just for the sake of enjoying it. Hobbies are turned in to hustles. Leisure is justified by outputting something in your spare time. I am guilty of it too, as evidenced by the existence of this blog—although it is mostly for myself, it is also a way for me to have something to “show” for all the reading that I do.

I suppose that is what I should take as something learned from this book, as the prompt for the month required. A reminder that life is more than productivity, and sometimes it is good to just enjoy the moment as it is.

As for the book itself, I debated about where a rating should fall. I said above, it is a quite pretty book. The interior is as aesthetically pleasing as the cover. There is a nice overview of hygge, and some practical tips for bringing more of it into your life. At the same time, it feels a little choppy and disjointed. There are quotes, stories, recipes, and interviews. Although each has something to offer to the book as a whole, there was not really a flow to how these were presented.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Snuggles and snacks? I’ve definitely got this down. 4 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for September

  • Books Read: 2
  • Books Acquired: 5
  • Total Unread Books: 281

Michigan Booksellers

Happy bonus week!img_0940

It feels like it has been awhile since I have written post that was bookish, rather than focused with a book review. With the fifth Wednesday this month, I thought it was time to get back to something along those lines. As promised at the beginning of the month, I wanted to share some information about my tote from the “Michigan Booksellers.”

A few years back, a group of independent bookstores across the state of Michigan decided to create a sort of books passport—in the form of a tote bag featuring a map of the state and a list of stores to visit. As a little extra incentive for the project, each store included offered a 10% discount on your first purchase at their store when you brought in your tote. I first heard about this through the Instagram account of my local store, when some of their staff did a social media takeover for a weekend trip to all 15 stores. Shortly after, I found myself in one of the smaller towns included. As luck would have it, the first open parking spot I found was just across from the bookstore! I decided to stop in, and so my journey began.

I think it’s fair to say that this kind of promotion was made for someone like me: I have a hard time turning down a good tote bag and love an excuse to visit a new bookstore. It’s been an extra treat that I get to do a bit of exploring along the way, including my first trip to Marquette and a few other out of the way towns. There were even a few stores within an hours drive of home that I had never visited before! A few times I have enticed others to join me by combining bookstores with local breweries—a perfect combination.

When going in to a new bookstore, I like to go in with an open mind. Although I usually have an idea of what I am looking for, I like to leave it open ended. I go in thinking about one thing, but leave with more than only that—it makes the experience more fulfilling. Over time, visiting these new stores has evolved into a search for recommendations from small booksellers. Each time I visit a store for the first time, I buy a book that is a in a special display or featured as a recommendation. It has been a nice addition to my book collection, and has earned itself a special section on my bookshelf.

img_0943So far, I have visited 13 of the stores, and only need to visit Cottage Books in Glen Arbor and Island Bookstore on Mackinac Island to complete the list. (I tried to get a picture to show this off–but that did not quite work out as intended.) It has been an exciting journey, and while it will feel like an accomplishment to check off that last store, it is a little bittersweet. Maybe in the future there will need to be another round of visits to each of these locations. Do you think that could count as the ultimate Michigan road trip?

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

Book: The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams; Illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Today is the first day of fall, and do you know what that means? The official start of spooky season! Fall is definitely my favorite season, both for the spooky fun leading up to Halloween and the cozy feeling that comes after when we start to hunker down before winter. To kick off spooky season, I wanted to start with a Halloween classic that I just added to my home library.

Meet the Little Old Lady: she is independent and brave, and perhaps a little witchy looking. She lives in a cottage in the woods, and goes out collecting things in the forest. On her way home, she meets some spooky things: clothes that move and have their own sound effects. She becomes increasingly nervous, but never afraid. Although there is a scary pumpkin head that spooks her a bit, in the end she is able to stand up and say, “I am not afraid of you!” This, of course, leads into a fun and happy ending for all involved.

I always love looking for the lesson that can be found in a children’s story—themes like friendship, being yourself, and general life advice. Even when it’s couched in silliness, there’s always something to draw out. While it’s perhaps not quite overt, I love the presentation of bravery here. The Little Old Lady is not afraid of anything—she immediately stands up to the clothes items and says that she is not afraid. Then, the pumpkin head comes along and sends her running with a loud “Boo!” But she bounces back: bravery is not about never being afraid, it’s about moving forward even when things get scary.

Including the sound effects for each item she encounters on her journey gives this some good opportunities to make this into a fun read aloud. With a relatively small amount of dialogue, it’s also an easy occasion to add in a funny voice. There’s also a nice chance for a surprise when getting to the pumpkin head’s “Boo!” near the end of the book. The story structure also makes this a good one for early readers. There are some nice repetitive elements, with the listing of each item she finds and then begins following her home.

Minka’s Thoughts: “I am the Little Kitty Who is Not Afraid of Anything. Except the vacuum—that thing is just freaky. 3 paws.”

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.