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.”

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.”