Galapagos

img_1695Book: Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Date Read: November 18 to December 10, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Every time I read Vonnegut, I end up feeling a little content and a little unsettled. While it seems a bit of a conundrum, it’s not all that bad of a place to be. Nearing the end of 2021, I was trying to wrap up all the prompts from the Unread Shelf Project to get a “bingo blackout” for the year. One prompt that has always been difficult for me is to choose a book from your favorite genre—I am not entirely sure what to call my favorite genre. So with that in mind, I figured that Vonnegut would fit the bill.

One of the things that I love about reading Vonnegut is that while he tends to stick to very similar themes of humanity, he manages to take you by surprise with the unique ways he presents this in each of his books. In this case, we are taken on a journey of over a million years into the past—all the way back to 1986, the year when a series of coincidences combined with Darwin’s theory of evolution to save the fate of humanity. The retrospective is told from the only one left who would be able to tell it: a ghost who has been hanging around since the fall of man to see it all play out.

The ghost narrator lends an interesting aspect to the story that is different than any of the other books I’ve read from Vonnegut. While the story begins as if it were a history, the narrator gives hints throughout about things that have changed in the million years he has been watching humans—we never get a completely clear picture, but enough to piece things together. The contrasts here reminded me of something that was included in one of the later Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books: humans believe that we are the superior beings on earth because of our technological advances, while other intelligent animals like dolphins just muck about and play in the water all day; dolphins know they are the superior beings for exactly the same reason.

Boris’s Thoughts: “It sounds like he was on to the reasoning of how cats know we are really the ones in charge. Suspicious. 3 paws.”

A Room of One’s Own

img_1388Book: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Date Read: November 3 to 17, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

For November, I was prompted to choose a book that was published before 2000. To make this easier on myself, I decided to go way back rather than try to guess at which books I have might fit that criteria. I picked up this book for a history class back in college, but for some reason the class never got around to reading it. From my recollection, the class had a large number of required readings, and this was one that became optional. Obviously I could not abandon it completely, although it did take me some time to circle back around to it.

This book originated as a lecture on the subject of “Women in Fiction,” which turns out to be a fierce criticism of the patriarchal society. While I did enjoy reading this and feel that it continues to be relevant, if I’m being completely honest, I was probably not in the appropriate headspace to fully appreciate this book. I have found myself struggling through many of my chosen reads lately—not quite a reading slump, but something akin to it. With its short length and feminist slant, I thought this might be a jumpstart for me. Despite the inspiration that can be found here, it did not turn out to be quite what I needed, which I suppose is clear in the fact that it took me two weeks to get through a book just over 100 pages. I think this is one that I will have to revisit at another point in time.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Do you think you’re perpetuating a stereotype by pairing this book with tea and a cat?”

2021 Wrap Up

Welcome to Books On My Cat 2022!

It has been a bit, so I wanted to kick off the year with a little wrap up for 2021—a year in review of sorts. Since I am a big nerd about data, here are some Books On My Cat 2021 stats:

  • Full Book Reviews: 31
  • Children’s Book Reviews: 11
  • Special Posts: 4
  • Total Books Read: 55
  • Unread Shelf Books: 25
  • Audio Books: 22
  • Other Books: 8
  • Starting Books to Read: 271
  • Ending Books to Read: 289

While I feel like I did a pretty good job of focusing on reading the books I already owned, this did not end up reflecting itself in my total books to read. It seems that I still have some of the issue surrounding the quick acquisition and accumulation of books. Looking back over the past several years, this is a trend: I often make progress in reducing my book total throughout the year, and yet somehow it always creeps back up come the turning of the year. Unfortunately, this is one of the highest jumps in recent years, and I think may put my to read list at an all time high.

I am working on some ideas to get a handle on this, but I feel like it is a problem that may never be solved. I suppose there are worse things that always having a book you want to read!

As usual, I have some new ideas for implementing in the blog this year, which will start again with regular posting next week. The most noticeable difference for readers will be a slight change in content: last year I wrote a few bonus bookish posts, and I hope to expand on that a little this year. Hopefully less noticeable will be a loosening of the guidelines I have set for myself: I am through sticking to self-imposed rules that drain the joy from reading and blogging. I plan to relax my expectations for myself in writing reviews, and I may not review every book that I read this year.

For those who have been following along my little blogging journey, thanks for sticking around. I wish you all another wonderful year filled with books and cats!

Negative Cat

img_1530Book: Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall

A couple weeks ago I made my way into a bookstore to start looking for Christmas gift ideas—of course, I ended up coming home with just as many books for myself, including this new picture book. It was on a table of new releases, and had a cover I could not resist picking up. After reading through it, I knew it had to come home with me.

We start with a boy who is willing to make just about any deal with his parents to get a cat: cat care, extra chores, and reading every night—even though he does not really like to read. He goes to the shelter and picks out his perfect cat, but things are less than perfect once he gets him home. Max the cat is a bit naughty. He gets himself into trouble and doesn’t really get along with anyone. Max is a negative cat, and Mom and Dad are about ready to send him back to the shelter. When it comes time for Max to leave, his boy is not going to let him go! He hides in his room, and discovers the secret to winning over Max: reading.

Although not a true story, parts of the story were inspired by real events at an animal shelter in Pennsylvania, where children are invited to come in to read to the cats. In addition to helping children practice and build confidence in their reading, the interaction helps to socialize cats and has lead to some matching with forever homes!

Along with the sweet story here, I really loved the illustrations. They had a little bit of a retro feel to them that reminded me of some of the older picture books I read as a kid. I liked how some of the story was told through text and some through speech bubbles, with some text mixed in with the layout of the page. My favorite were the pages with all the cats at the shelter, each with a fun name and showing a little kitty personality.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Definitive proof that there should be more reading and less other things. Except snacks. More reading, more snacks! 4 paws.”

Dinosaur Therapy

img_1448Book: Dinosaur Therapy by James Stewart; Illustrated by K Roméy

Date Read: October 3 to 4, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Here I go again: one more online comic turned book to add to my shelves! These fun dinosaur comics started on Instagram sometime in 2020, and I started following not long after. I admit that it seems a little off to describe a comic about anxious, depressed dinosaurs as “fun,” but I really do think that it fits—the more serious content paired with the colorful, cute cartoon dinosaurs creates something that is both sadly relatable and comedic.

We can laugh because we can see the truth in it, but it also opens the door to a more accessible discussion of mental health. It also fits with one of my personal theories—that memes are the primary millennial coping mechanism. While the online comic is not strictly focused on mental health, I think those that follow in that theme resonate the most. It was definitely the perfect theme to focus on for this collection in book form.

Followers of the original comic account will be happy to see many of their favorites in the book, along with some new content. I thought inclusion of both was well balanced. There are also some updates in style that add a little extra to the book edition—when the comic first began, the frames were a bit simpler and did not include much in the way of background. All comics in the book have the newer detailed background style, and some of that art is really beautiful. Overall, really happy with this book and glad I decided to add it to my shelves!

Minka’s Thoughts: “It is small and cute like me. Approved! 4 paws.”

Cat and Cat Adventures: The Quest for Snacks

img_1413Book: Cat & Cat Adventures: The Quest for Snacks by Susie Yi

Date Read: October 8, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

A few months back, I might have gushed a bit when reviewing this cute collection of cat comics from one of my favorite online artists. Well, that was only the beginning. Less than a year later, the same artist and storyteller has released the first book in a series of graphic novels for children—Cat and Cat Adventures! I am a long time follower of Cat and Cat Comics, and was super excited to receive my copy of this book. Although the story feels separate from the comic world Yi has created online, it features two of the cat characters that readers will easily fall in love with.

Squash and Ginny are not ordinary cats, but they are on a mission that will feel familiar to any cat owner—a mission to eat all the snacks! I feel this is especially true for my two troublemakers, who have become extremely skilled at finding snacks despite my efforts to cat proof the kitchen. There is a panel in the novel of the cats magicking snacks from a cupboard that I am pretty sure is based on actual events in my house. When the cats run out of snacks at home, their quest takes them on a journey through fantastical lands where they meet some new friends and learn a couple lessons along the way.

There are so many things that I loved about this book. As a fan of the online comics, I loved that Yi was able to stay true to the style from that work, but also expanded it with details and framing to fit the novel format. There were some great scenes throughout the book, and the balance of illustrations, text, and dialogue worked nicely. The story was creative—it did not exactly follow the path expected, but still turned out with a happy ending.

Although not completely new to graphic novels, I am gaining a greater appreciation of them recently. I love that they can be used to tell a story in so many different ways through the combination of elements. I think it’s time to break away from the idea that books with pictures in them are only for kids. While this does make graphic novels a great accessible option for beginning readers, I think they are fun for all levels of readers!

Boris’s Thoughts: “Fun I suppose, but I was hoping this was going to be more instructional where it came to actually obtaining the snacks. 3 paws.”

Frankenstein

img_1149Book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Date Read: October 4 to November 1, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Of course, Boris was right last week: despite the passing of Halloween, it was not the end of the spooky books. I picked this book to read in October for the Unread Shelf Project Prompt: a book you’re secretly afraid of. I was not entirely sure how to apply the “secretly” prompt, since I do not know that I have any books that I am openly afraid of either. I picked this one because it could fit the prompt in two ways: it is a horror story, and it is one that I have been uncertain about starting due to hearing mixed reviews.

My first thoughts as I was reading were that this was not what I was expecting it to be—kind of a silly thought, since I am not really sure what I was expecting. Going in, I only knew the very basics: Frankenstein creates a monster—and Frankenstein is the creator, not the creation. Of course I have seen some pop culture variations on the story, but none in full, so I did not have much to associate with the book itself. After finishing, I would say that the horror aspect was subtler than I had expected. While horror definitely still fits, it is not the action filled, in-your-face type horror.

The “story within a story” framing added an interesting level to the story that I had not anticipated. The novel begins and ends with letters initially unrelated to the main tale, with the story of Frankenstein embedded within them as a story relayed to the letter writer. The initial story contained in the letters follows what I have discovered to be a popular trope from the time period—an adventurer seeking to journey to one of the extremes of the earth, in this case the northern pole. Captain Walton writes to his sister regarding his travels, and then begins to impart the story told by Viktor Frankenstein after picking him up as a castaway. Going beyond simply using this as an entry point for the main plot, the end of the novel loops back to connect the two stories: Viktor’s ambition in creating the monster is paralleled by Walton’s ambition to push forward on his journey, but Walton knows when to stop as his crew begins to fear for their lives on the perilous journey.

This leads in to where the true substance of the horror tale lies—who really is the “monster” in this story? In general, Viktor comes across as the villain, but there is wavering sympathy for both him and his creation woven through the story. The reader is able to feel sympathy for the monster, but it is not totally straightforward, as he clearly does perform evil acts. However, Viktor’s treatment of his creation is the driving force behind the crimes committed—and his seeming inability to recognize his own responsibility for the outcomes tips him further into the side of villain.

Boris’s Thoughts: “As usual, the human botched this one—I bet a cat companion could have solved all of their problems. 2 paws.”

Unread Shelf Progress for October

  • Books Read: 3
  • Books Acquired: 4
  • Total Unread Books: 282

Room on the Broom

img_1229Book: Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson; Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Just in time for Halloween, I have another spooky picture book to share before spooky season comes to a close. This one is an especially kid friendly type of spooky, starring a witch but without the usual scares.

As is typical, our witch has a broom, a cat, and a big black witchy hat. She likes to fly in the wind, but has some trouble holding on to her belongs. As she drops items along her journey, she is helped by a variety of new animal friends who then join her for a ride on the broom. After a crash landing and encounter with a hungry dragon, the witch gets a little unexpected help from her new friends. There’s a few good conversation tie ins here—the animals and witch helping each other, being nice to others coming back around to you, or even just that it’s good to have friends (even if you are a witch).

The story is told in rhyming verses, with some nice illustrations to go along. I liked that some of the pages had a single dominant picture, but that there were also some pages with a few frames of pictures, or intermingled pictures and text. The text itself is probably easy enough for early readers, but the rhyming also creates a nice rhythm for a read aloud. Bonus points for being a Halloween themed book that can still be enjoyed by little ones who may be a little too easily spooked!

Boris’s Thoughts: “I don’t think I believe you when you say this is the last of the spooky books.”

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.”