A Man Called Ove

img_1921Date Read: August 8 to 31, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

This was my book for The Unread Shelf Project prompt for August: a book voted for you to read by Bookstagram. Since I do not have a large following, I decided that it was easier do this as a poll with two options. It was actually my first ever Instagram poll! I only had 6 participants, but enough to give a slight majority to this grumpy old man. I loved this book, so I am happy that it turned out as it did!

To those around him, Ove appears to be just a cranky old man. They aren’t wrong—he is one of the most cantankerous characters I have ever read. However, as the back cover states, there is more to Ove than meets the eye. Of course there is; we would not have much of a story otherwise. We meet Ove shortly after the death of his wife, Sonja, although this is not entirely clear in the first few chapters. He has been struggling to cope with the loss, as he views Sonja as the bright spot in an otherwise bleak existence. Throughout the novel, we jump back and forth between past and present, allowing us to see how the story of Ove’s youth, and Sonja, has influenced his attitudes: strong principles, irritability, and all. Sonja certainly brought out the best in him, and continues to do so even after her passing. Whenever faced with doing something that is inconvenient, but the right thing to do, he considers what Sonja would say to him when he joins her in the afterlife—whether that decision is about caring for a stray cat or taking in a youth who was kicked out of his home.

The two main themes that stood out here for me were Ove’s ability to find new purpose in life through his connection to others, as well as what Backman calls “time optimism”—the tendency we all have to assume that there will always be enough time with other people, until suddenly that time runs out. It’s a funny concept to think about, because I think it is a characteristic that we all share, to an extent. I know I am guilty of time optimism still, despite having several experiences to call on of time run out. I would like to say that it is something I am working on—and it is—but I think it is something hardwired in us that we may only be able to escape temporarily.

In addition to falling in love with the story of Ove, there were some literary devices the author used here that I really enjoyed. The first, and the most apparent, is the liberal use of ridiculous and hilarious similes. Things like when Ove “nods irritably, like someone squeezing an avocado and finding it overly ripe.” I can see why some readers might think the similes are overdone—but I love it. Second, and a bit subtler, is the change in narration that coincides with Ove’s shifting attitudes. At the beginning of the novel, Ove refers to nearly everyone around him by a nickname, oftentimes a rude one. His new neighbors are the Pregnant One and the Lanky One, and their children are referred to only by their ages. There is a full cast of characters in the neighborhood who have all earned Ove’s contempt. Gradually, as Ove begins to soften toward some of these characters, he begins to refer to them by their proper names; beginning with Parvaneh, the pregnant one who pushes his buttons but also pushes him to be better.

Boris’s thoughts: “He was kind of a jerk to that cat… but I’m not sure I can blame him. I think I relate more to the man than the cat. 3 paws.”

I am Pusheen the Cat

img_8907Book: I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton

I spotted this book at my school’s book fair this fall, and simply could not pass it up. Prior to finding this book, I had seen a plethora of Pusheen merchandise, but had never seen any of the comics. This is a collection of many of the online comics, with a few bonus comics thrown in. Pusheen is a friendly cat, who loves food and various other cat things. Through the comics she shares some funny and valuable knowledge from the life of a cat: how to make cookies, where cats belong, and some other creative imaginings from the mind of a cat.

I have to admit, that there is a bit of a draw for the online comics. Although the animation is simple, it does add a bit of pizzazz that is lacking in the book. However, I still thought this was a fun book, and do not regret adding it to my shelves. I expect that it will be a great one to look at with my niece when she is a bit older. I imagine that we will have a bit of fun comparing Pusheen to Boris, my own fat gray cat who loves food. The book is primarily based in pictures, with fairly simple text throughout. It could make a good book for young readers who want to read longer chapter books, but may not be quite ready for them yet.

Boris’s thoughts: “Hhhhrrmmmph. I am NOT fat. I am just BIG. She is pretty cute though. But not as cute as ME. 2 paws.”

The Marvels

Book: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Date Read: December 29, 2018 to January 3, 2019img_8825

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am completely fascinated by the work of Brian Selznik. The way he perfectly intertwines illustration and narrative to tell a story is incredible. The concept he used in this particular book is unique even for him, and was done spectacularly.

The Marvels tells two stories– the first completely through illustration in the first 400-ish pages, the second in a traditional novel format. The whole time I was reading, I was trying to solve the mystery of how the stories would come together in the end. I was constantly making guesses as to where things were going, and constantly being surprised. When the stories began to overlap, I thought it was a clever twist that the novel turned to do the same thing that I was doing as a reader– putting words to the original illustrated story, and then trying to solve the mystery as well.

This book was beautifully put together. The illustrations beautiful, and the stories compelling. While perhaps geared more toward a younger demographic, there is much here to enjoy for readers of all ages. I was also thrilled to discover, as I came to the end, that this story was based, in part, on real events. While the story is completely fictional, the idea behind the story is based on an actual person and museum in London. I have definitely found somewhere that I will need to add to my travel wish list.

Boris’s thoughts: “This book is heavy, and I’m kind of over it. 2 paws.”

A Year of Books (On My Cat)

It’s hard to believe, but it has been a full year since I have started this blog! Along the way I have shared some of my favorite books, as well as many pictures of my favorite cat!! It has been a ton of fun, and I am looking forward to see where the next year will take me. I have some ideas to mix things up a bit for the next year, and hope that you enjoy the ride!

To celebrate my first year of posts, I thought it would be fun to show a little glimpse onto the other side of this project. While I will fully admit that I am in no way a professional photography, I try to choose the best of my pictures to include with my blog posts. While Boris is generally a good sport about these things, cats have a fickle nature, which has lead to quick a few “outtakes” along the way. Enjoy!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

img_8777Book: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Date Read: December 3 to 29, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I have unintentionally done something that I generally try to avoid: writing about the same author twice in a row. At least there was a week off in between? Previously, I wrote about Cinnamon, a picture book by Neil Gaiman. I realized shortly after posting, that another work by Gaiman was up next on my novel reading list. While I suppose it is not ideal, here we are.

Despite the length of time it took me to read this relatively short book, I did quite enjoy it. In a way, it is a book about nostalgia and magic. But at the same time, it is itself nostalgia and magic. I love the idea Gaiman has here of magical places in the world, stuck in time: we go to them to remember things that happened there, but when we leave we start to forget. Forget the memories, forget the magic that we have experienced.

The main plot of the story is primarily a fantasy adventure, although I would say that it is “fantasy lite.” The magical creatures, both good and evil, are there, but the story primarily takes place in our world. In fact, the main point of the adventure aspect is to protect our world from things that are trying to sneak into it. For me, it really was the perfect amount and taste of fantasy: I do enjoy elements of magic, but get overwhelmed by the lengthy and often complicated works that dominate the true fantasy genre.

Boris’s thoughts: “The real important message in this story is the importance of the cat. Shame on that boy for forgetting his kitten. 2 paws.”

Cinnamon

img_8521-1Book: Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Something that I could not quite put my finger on has drawn me to this book a few times when I have perused the children’s section of my local bookstore. I suppose it is most likely the beautiful cover, combined with an affinity for Neil Gaiman’s work in general. Despite picking it up a few times, I never actually read through the book until recently.

I always buy a book for each of the kids at our extended family’s Christmas party, and finally decided to pick this one up while shopping for them. I loved the simplicity of this book. It has the feeling of a folktale, although I am not sure if it has any basis in the actual mythology of India. Cinnamon is a princess who is blind and also does not speak. Her parents have offered many riches to anyone who is able to get her to speak, but all have failed. A tiger steps in to do the work that humans have failed to complete. In addition to an enjoyable story, I find Divya Srinivasan’s illustrations striking. The colors are bright and bold; the style is simplistic but full of detail.

Boris’s thoughts: “I could be a tiger. Majestic and all. Roar. Although I don’t know why the tiger would WANT more humans to talk. 3 paws.”

Beauty and the Beast

img_8589Book: Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Date Read: November 26, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is not the story of Belle and the Beast that you think you know. It is, of course, a translated and somewhat adapted version of the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Although, I am under the impression that the version I read is at least close to the original. Interestingly, this is also not quite the typical original fairy tale vs. popular story scenario either.

To start, our heroine’s name is never actually mentioned, she is just referred to as Beauty by everyone because she is beautiful. She is not the only child of an eccentric inventor, but is one of 6 children of a wealthy merchant who has lost everything and moved to the country. She adjusts a bit better to the new lifestyle than her sisters, who constantly complain about being poor and bored, but also refuse to do anything to help around the house. Beauty’s father does stumble upon an enchanted castle, where he is well treated. The Beast appears only when he has decided to steal a rose from the garden to take home for Beauty. However, the Beast is not the jerk that you suspect him to be. He is, from the beginning, a generally decent guy. Beauty’s father pleads his case to return to his family to at least say his goodbyes, and leaves in the agreement that either he or one of his daughters will return. Upon learning that it was her request for a Rose that caused this problem for her father, Beauty returns to the castle despite her father’s protests.

The next bit of the story proceeds without much incident or discrepancy from the more popular version. Beauty has a generally pleasant time at the castle, her and Beast get along well from the beginning. She does become homesick, and Beast agrees to allow her to return to visit her family, after she gives her word that she will return after a week. This is where we depart from the popular version of the story, to one that is a bit less dramatic. There is no jealous suitor after Beauty, there is no mob with torches and pitchforks. Beauty returns to visit her family, and her sisters continue to spite her for her new life living in a castle. As the end of her week draws near, they convince her to stay longer– not because they have missed her, but because they hope that she will be punished by the Beast for breaking her word.

Beauty stays, but after an additional week decides that she must return to the castle. We return to the castle to find, not a dramatic battle for the love of Beauty, but a heartbroken Beast. When Beauty did not returned as promised, he was devastated by the loss of her and is in a deep depression. Feeling guilty for the pain she has caused him, Beauty apologizes and declares her love, thereby breaking the spell. Beauty lives happily ever after with the prince, and her sisters are punished for their evil and selfish ways. Although the ending is quite similar, it actually a much friendlier seeming version than the one that we all know from Disney.

Boris’s thoughts: “Day reads make nice snuggle times. I approve. 4 paws.”

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

img_8460-1Book: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Dates Read: October 30 to November 25, 2018

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

The last couple months have been a bit crazy for me, and so it has been quite awhile since I have done a normal review. This is one that I struggled with quite a bit. On the one hand, this is a beautifully written and compelling story. On the other, the subject matter is a bit… should I say, problematic? I think perhaps the author hit the nail on the head with the title.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought it sounded potentially interesting. Of course, it’s impossible to ignore that it is definitely polarizing. The main plot is the development of a relationship between a young man and a female child. When they first encounter each other, I believe they are 19 and 8 years old, respectively. The situation that Wavy is living in is quite horrific. Her father is a meth dealer, her mother was recently released from prison and is obviously mentally ill, and she ends up as the primary caregiver to her infant brother as well as her mother. Enter Kellen, a “business associate” of her father, after he crashes his motorcycle on his way up their driveway. After recovering from the accident, he takes an interest in the children at the house. This seems partially due to a perceived debt to Wavy for saving him, as well as some genuine concern for how they are living (really, the first thing he does when he goes to the house is to clean up). Things become much more complicated from here, especially when 11 year old Wavy begins referring to Kellen as her boyfriend, and wondering what she needs to do to get his attention away from other women. This all leading to an increasingly inappropriate relationship developed between Wavy and Kellen over the next several years, with the novel spanning over two decades.

In some ways, it is difficult to deny that Wavy’s relationship with Kellen is in many ways the most functional and healthy relationship that she has with anyone. Does that make this relationship okay? No. It doesn’t. However, I think most of the commentary I have seen about this book ignores what I think might be the most important piece of this: where do we draw the line? I don’t think there are many people who would try to argue that any type of sexual relationship between a 13 year old girl and a 25 year old man is normal. Kellen himself is quick to point this out, and is very clear about the fact that he will not have sex with her. However, there are certainly lines crossed into the territory of sexual impropriety and even sexual abuse (no, it does not matter that she was a willing participant– she was a child, and encouraged his sexual interest in her because she thought it was what she had to do for him to love her).

However, if we look back to the beginning of the relationship, when did it become inappropriate? I think there are some definite places where we can see crossed lines, but many of them are a bit blurred. Was Kellen bringing food to the house, and helping care for the children wrong? Should he have not gotten involved when Wavy’s father was physically abusive? Was the line crossed when he knew that Wavy had a crush on him, but continued to come to the house? What about pretending to be her father for a parent teacher conference, or lying on the forms so that she could be enrolled in school when her parents would not? When Wavy told her Aunt and cousins that she had a boyfriend? Was laying next to her on a blanket in the field wrong, or was it not wrong until she tried to kiss him, or when they started to go out on dates? When Kellen realized he loved her, or told her he loved her? When he gave her a ring?

Doubling back for a second, does any of this make the abusive factor of the relationship okay? Still no. My point though, is that Kellen is not exactly a sexual predator or even a definitive pedophile (he did not have a sexual preference for children; he had no interest in other young girls, just Wavy). Perhaps this is something we should take as food for thought, consider it in how we view other people in the real world. Does it justify their actions? No, but it can help us to understand how lines are blurred for certain people in certain situations.

Boris’s thoughts: “This is complicated. Can we try some light reading next time? 2 paws.”

Dragon’s Merry Christmas

img_8672Book: Dragon’s Merry Christmas by Dav Pilkey

While I have written about Dragon before, I could not let the holiday season pass without a mention of my favorite Christmas book: Dragon’s Merry Christmas. (And it’s a day early!) Dragon is up to his normal mis-adventurous antics, but with a bit of a heart-warming Christmas twist.

Dragon finds the perfect Christmas tree, decorates his house, and goes out shopping for all the things that he wants for Christmas. All, of course, with that little extra Dragon twist of silliness: it would be a shame to cut down the perfect tree, and we can all guess how things might turn out when you make Christmas decorations out of chocolate! The final story really pulls it all together as a Christmas tale, where Dragon learns a lesson about the spirit of giving.

As usual, I love the extras that Pilkey adds to the story with the illustrations. Each section of the book adds something into the illustrations, that make appearances throughout the rest of the story: the lengthy extension cord to light up Dragon’s perfect tree in the forest, the devastated chocolate candy wreath. In true Dragon fashion, he improvises when he runs out of room to write out “Christmas” in lights on the front of his house.

Boris’s thoughts: “Aww, warm fuzzies. I’m warm and fuzzy too! 4 paws. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Gingerbread Friends

img_8670Book: Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett

While this one is not strictly a Christmas story, there is something about Jan Brett that just feels Christmasy to me. This book is a follow up to her telling of a more traditional Gingerbread Man. In this case, it is a Gingerbread Baby. After running of on his initial adventure, the Gingerbread Baby has made his way back home. The story starts with him living contentedly in a gingerbread home with Mattie, although feeling terribly lonely when Mattie goes off to school or out to play with his friends. The Gingerbread Baby goes off on a second adventure in search of friends.

Unfortunately, he goes looking for friends in a plain, normal bakery… where none of the other cookie creatures can talk or play! He is perplexed and decides to rest while he thinks about what to do next. Of course, resting turns into sleep, which is interrupted by a hungry mouse! The Gingerbread Baby decides that this friendship search is not working out for him, and dashes back home– leading to the chase scene that we expect from Gingerbread characters. While he is discouraged from his journey, he does find a nice surprise waiting for him when he gets home, which folds out into an extra large pop-up picture for the end in the hardcover edition.

I like this story as a read aloud. It’s a nice traditional type story, and has a combination of normal storytelling, as well as some verse in the Gingerbread Baby’s speech. The pictures are great: large and with tons of details to look through with kids. One of the compliments of Jan Brett’s books I have heard is about the beautiful borders around the pages of her stories, and this is no exception. I like in this one that the borders serve a dual purpose– there is a recipe for gingerbread cookies included, while we also get to see what Mattie has been up to while the Gingerbread Baby has been away.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think the real lesson here is that I don’t ever need to leave my comfy home. Sounds good– it’s time for a nap.”