The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved BooksThe Cat Who Saved Books
by Louise Heal Kawai (Translator), Sosuke Natsukawa
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780063095724
Publication Date: December 7, 2021
Pages: 198
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: HarperVia

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and the cat and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.

Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, the cat and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter . . .

An enthralling tale of books, first love, fantasy, and an unusual friendship with a talking cat, The Cat Who Saved Books is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper.

I have no idea how I discovered this book – I know I read about it somewhere online, and I thought it was here, but I can find no reference to it, so I’ll just throw out a ‘Thank you!’ to the universe at large for putting this book in my path.

Saying that, the title is a little misleading; I’d argue that the cat does not save the books, but is merely a guide for the teen-aged boy who does save the books.  Since I don’t speak Japanese beyond ‘arigato’ I can’t say if this is a translation issue or a marketing one.

As I was reading, two thoughts stayed with me: the first was that this book had a definite Wrinkle in Time vibe – which should be taken with a grain of salt, because I never liked that book, so the parallel is likely tenuous – and second, the philosophy that props this book up feels far more Franciscan than Zen.  The translator’s notes at the end point out the so-obvious-I-missed-it connection to Greek mythology and it’s labyrinth, so who knows what connections each reader of this book will make?  And I think that’s one of the points this book makes – each reader takes what they need from every book they need, and rarely do two people need the same things.

As a story, it’s an engaging one; a little sweet, a little naive from a Western viewpoint (I’m assuming school attendance laws are laxer in Japan? And perhaps too emancipation laws?), but it’s also a fantasy, so some slack needs to be cut, but not all that much.  Rintaro’s life in his grandfather’s bookshop sounds like heaven to me, even without the talking cat; Tiger the Tabby just made it even better.  But the ideas addressed about books and the people that love them are anything but sweet and naive, and for book lovers, there’s some deeply fundamental stuff going on just under the surface.

The book seemingly wants to end after the 3rd labyrinth, when suddenly a fourth one is tacked on – and it feels tacked on.  At first I resented this … addendum, because it felt like it was pandering and gilding the lily, so to speak, not to mention the ill-fitting ‘save the damsel’ conceit of it.  But I have to not only concede that it worked, but that 1/2 star in my rating is for Natsukawa’s cleverness.  I like what he did there, in spite of the way he framed it.  The ambiguity of who is at the centre of the fourth labyrinth is delicious – I have my suspicions, but so will others that read this book, and I doubt any of us would agree and none of us would be wrong.  I love it when that happens!

Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in ChemistryLessons in Chemistry
by Bonnie Garmus
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780857528124
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Pages: 390
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing.

But it's the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute take a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with - of all things - her mind. True chemistry results.

Like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later, Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America's most beloved cooking show, Supper at Six. Elizabeth's unusual approach to cooking ('combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride') proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn't just teaching women to cook. She's daring them to change the status quo.

This was a total impulse purchase.  It showed up on my Amazon feed when I was looking up another book.  The colourful cover caught my eye and at first I thought it was non-fiction, which is why I clicked on it.  Turns out it was fiction, but with an interesting story line that promised to be funny.  So I bought it.

The narrative jumps around on the timeline a bit at the start, and the first ‘flashback’ wasn’t funny.  It was dark and there’s a definite trigger warning for sexual assault.  The story takes place in the late 50’s so the misogyny is ripe on the ground and infuriating to read.  But there are moments of humor and more importantly, there are men who aren’t assholes.  In fact, the ratio is about 50/50, and the author includes a number of misogynistic women too, so that this story is set in what was probably a very realistic late 50’s/early 60’s backdrop.  The story itself … not quite so realistic but it was a lot of fun imagining what it would have been like had it been a realistic story.  The scenes on-set were hilarious, and I loved the dog (and his name).

There’s a come-full-circle, fairy tale ending to the whole thing but the only other alternative ending I can imagine would involve a romantic HEA, and I much prefer this one, as it makes the story far more empowering without any knights in shining armour.

A solid read.

The Mushroom Tree Mystery (Crown Colony Mystery, #6)

The Mushroom Tree MysteryThe Mushroom Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781472132055
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #6
Publication Date: June 21, 2022
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

The Allies have defeated Germany in Europe, but Japan refuses to surrender the East.

In Singapore, amid rumours the Japanese occupiers are preparing to wipe out the population of the island rather than surrender, a young aide is found murdered beneath the termite mushroom tree in Hideki Tagawa's garden and his plans for a massive poison gas bomb are missing. To prevent any more destruction it falls to Su Lin to track down the real killer with the help of Hideki Tagawa's old nemesis, the charismatic shinto priest Yoshio Yoshimo.

In so many ways, this series represents the best kind of historical, cozy mystery, although a few of the 6 published so far have been average.  The Mushroom Tree Mystery is not one of the average ones.  I’d rank it as one of the best, perhaps because it’s set in a time, and in the face of events that were my area of study at university, and I couldn’t put it down.

The writing style takes some getting used to, though if you asked me why, I’d have a hard time putting my finger on it.  The narrative flows, but doesn’t; it can be choppy, or staccato, but after a few pages (or chapters) it begins to feel more natural.

It’s the tail end of WW2 and Singapore is caught between the Allies and a dying Japanese empire that would rather die than be defeated.  As if that wasn’t enough, the people of Singapore are also caught up in the internecine warfare of the Japanese; the old-school ronin and those that felt honor didn’t imply death.  In the midst of all this, Su Lin is further caught up in a murder mystery, where as a crippled straits born it would be all too easy to find herself convicted and executed.

I found this entry particularly fascinating, not only for the mystery itself, but for the perspective of someone born in Singapore, with ancestors who went through the war on the island and shared their first-hand experience with her.  I was deeply moved by the image of a people that welcomed Allied bombing of their island because it brought hope of salvation along with destruction.  To be cut off so completely from the world that a bombing was the only way of knowing that the war wasn’t truly over, as the Japanese asserted.  I was also chilled to read in the author’s notes about how close Singapore came to being wiped off the map entirely by the Japanese warlords.

Overall, a very good mystery read.

My lost fortnight

I tried with Invisible Women; I agreed with the premise, I just really, really didn’t like the writing.  I might have tried too much:  I found myself attempting to regain my equilibrium by binge watching all the Avenger and Thor movies in order of release.  That swallowed my weekend, and possibly swung me a little too far into the testosterone range, and so I spent the last week binge watching all 8 seasons, plus the recent 9th, of The Gilmore Girls, a series I didn’t originally watch more than a handful of episodes from.

I’d probably still be binge watching, but I can’t get ahold of Bones without paying for a Disney+ membership, and luckily, a couple of new books arrived that immediately appealed to me, so I think I’m back on an even keel again.  I’m currently re-reading an old Lynn Truss collection called Making the Cat Laugh and I’ve just started Ovidia Yu’s new release The Mushroom Tree Mystery.

In other news, I’m hobbling along without crutches or boot pretty much exclusively now, with my first outdoor foray yesterday (grass is so much more challenging than you’d think it would be).  Still not allowed back to working on site for a few more weeks, but with the COVID rally we have going on, I’m ok with that.

Pikachu gave us a right royal scare on Wednesday by becoming violently ill in the morning and spent the day in the hospital.  The vet eliminated all the obvious suspects, and we’re left with a diagnoses of PUO: pyrexia of unknown origin.  Helpful.  Fortunately, she came home Wednesday night and a follow up on Thursday morning had the vet deciding she would be fine.  She spent most of Thursday on my lap, and in the late afternoon, dragged her favourite toy into the library and laid it at my feet – her way of declaring herself healthy and ready to get on with life.

DNF @ 168 pages: Invisible Women

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for MenInvisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
by Caroline Criado Perez
isbn: 9781784706289
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 410
Genre: Science
Publisher: Vintage Books

Imagine a world where...

· Your phone is too big for your hand
· Your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body
· In a car accident you are 47% more likely to be injured.

If any of that sounds familiar, chances are you're a woman.

From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, and the media. Invisible Women reveals how in a world built for and by men we are systematically ignoring half of the population, often with disastrous consequences. Caroline Criado Perez brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the profound impact this has on us all.

Discover the shocking gender bias that affects our everyday lives.

Here’s me, being all contrarian and swimming against the tide, but I could not finish this book.  It engendered a level of page rage in me that I haven’t experienced since being forced to read Orwell, although, not so much that I’d like to flick a bic at it, so Orwell’s title remains safe.

Why the page rage?  Because this book was sold to me as an academic look at the bias towards men in everyday living; if that’s what it was meant to be, it’s poorly written, with very little context, and next to no data to inform the author’s assertions.  As a diatribe or manifesto, however, it’s an excellent piece of writing, full of snark and sarcasm and barely repressed vitriol, in spite of the forward where she claims to take an agnostic view, because so much of the bias is unintentional.   Understand that I don’t make any claim that these bias don’t exist – I don’t disagree with her premise in the slightest.  But I don’t like anyone of any gender that rages against the machine and does little else.

But the biggest reason for my page rage and my DNF is that I couldn’t help thinking as I read it that I’m not a female in Perez’s world.  I’m too tall, my hands are too big, my seatbelt sits where it’s supposed to, but most damningly of all: I don’t have children.  I’m not a care-taker or giver, and therefore I am irrelevant.

I have never encountered this attitude in my books before, and the irony is not lost on me that my first experience with it is in a feminist title.

Reading Status Update: I’ve read 28 pages … I hope this gets better

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for MenInvisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
by Caroline Criado Perez
isbn: 9781784706289
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 410
Genre: Science
Publisher: Vintage Books

Imagine a world where...

· Your phone is too big for your hand
· Your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body
· In a car accident you are 47% more likely to be injured.

If any of that sounds familiar, chances are you're a woman.

From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, and the media. Invisible Women reveals how in a world built for and by men we are systematically ignoring half of the population, often with disastrous consequences. Caroline Criado Perez brings together for the first time an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are forgotten, and the profound impact this has on us all.

Discover the shocking gender bias that affects our everyday lives.

While I was reading the Preface, I was really settling in for a good, informative, empirical survey of data bias.  But I barely made it through the introduction. I am not interested in a manifesto, even if it’s a manifesto based on solid, rational reasoning.  Manifestos – all manifestos – end badly.  The introduction, it’s safe to say, pissed me off, and likely not in the way the author intended.

I’m hungry for the data, so I’m going to keep going and hope she got her snarky anger out of the way in the introduction – I prefer my snarky anger when it’s in works of fiction.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

Tuesday Mooney Talks to GhostsTuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
by Kate Racculia
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Pages: 359
Genre: Fiction

A handsome stranger. A dead billionaire. A citywide treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney’s life is about to change…forevermore.

Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.

Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can't be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.

How much fun was this book?  I had a blast reading it; there are very pale shades of Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop to it, although it’s an entirely different beast.  Scavenger hunts! Unsolved mysteries! Lost fortunes! Secret codes!

Enough exclamation points – it was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure with an engaging cast of characters and the closest to unreliable narrators (not really) that I can come without hating a book.  The narrator is reliable, but so much of the information she gets is not.  There are stories within stories and games within games and the author does a phenomenal job putting it all together in a way that doesn’t leave the reader behind.  Racculia also scores points for combining brutal violence, a happy ending, and poetic justice in a way that I was willing to buy without a blink.

There was only 1 thing that left me hanging – a very minor plot point that was never addressed:

View Spoiler »

This is the kind of book you pick up when you just want to surrender a few hours to having an adventurous good time.

Adult Assembly Required

Adult Assembly RequiredAdult Assembly Required
by Abbi Waxman
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781472293619
Publication Date: May 17, 2022
Pages: 375
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Headline Review

When Laura Costello arrives in downtown Los Angeles, her life has somewhat fallen apart.

Her apartment building has caught fire, her engagement to her high school sweetheart has been broken off, and she’s just been caught in a rare LA downpour and has no dry clothes.

But when she seeks shelter in Nina Hill‘s local neighbourhood bookshop, she finds herself introduced to the people who will become her new family. And as Laura becomes friends with Nina, Polly and Impossibly Handsome Bob, things start to look up.

Proving that – even as adults – we all sometimes need a little help assembling and re-assembling our lives. . .

This is a good read; I’d have called it a great read if I hadn’t already read The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and The Garden of Small Beginnings, but I have and it doesn’t quite measure up.  The snappy wit that made me laugh out loud in the first two books was much more subdued in Adult Assembly Required (a title that doesn’t make any obvious sense after reading the book), and while all three tackled some pretty serious anxiety issues, the first two did it with a level of tension that AAR never achieved.  I think I also ‘clicked’ with Nina and Lily, the MC’s of each of the first two books in a way that I didn’t connect with Laura.

Saying that, it really is a good read; I may not have connected with the MC, but holy wow, her parents – well, her mom, really since dad never got any direct page time – was a piece of work.  As was her ex-fiancee.  I’ve met these people in real life, but I’m sort of surprised in this day and age they haven’t gone the way of the dodo.  I really enjoyed seeing the characters from Nina and Garden come back, all slightly further ahead in time; it’s fun to see the ‘after’ part of their happily ever afters.

I’m caught up now with my Waxman reads, but I’ll be on the lookout for whatever she writes next – they’re fun without being horribly shallow, without being stories about a bunch of drama llamas.  A fabulous summer read, even if where you live is in the middle of winter.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A HatThe Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat
by Oliver Sacks
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781447203834
Publication Date: January 1, 2007
Pages: 256
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Picador

In this extraordinary book, Dr. Oliver Sacks recounts the stories of patients struggling to adapt to often bizarre worlds of neurological disorder. Here are people who can no longer recognize everyday objects or those they love; who are stricken with violent tics or shout involuntary obscenities, and yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents. If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales illuminate what it means to be human.

This has been on my shelf for at least 10 years, and I don’t know why it took me so long to pick it up; I’m a sucker for case studies, and Sacks doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

This is a collection of previously published case studies of various neurological disorders, and reading it reinforces my sense that truly, every day is a miracle when your brain isn’t forsaking you.  I alternated between awe, horror, indignation, anger, sadness and, throughout a growing, overwhelming amount of respect for those that dedicate their lives to their patients.  Sacks impressed me as both a doctor and a human.

The book wasn’t perfect – Sacks had a tendency to meander through citations of similar cases, or other doctors’ hypothesis, and when that happened, my eyes got a bit glassy, and I skimmed, but overall it’s an incredibly readable collection.  I wish there was more follow up for so many of these people – I’m left curious and hopeful that they all found some space in the world for themselves.

It’s hump day for 2022! My biannual stats.

I’m never organised enough, or motivated enough, to do a monthly reading wrap-up, but I usually pull off a mid-year analysis, and as this year seems to be a personal annus horribilis, and I’m all about finding whatever nascent silver linings I can find (I’ve avoided mingling with the COVID masses!), I’ve been looking forward to this year’s mid-point check.  Because if I’ve had anything these first 6 months, it’s been time. Time to read, time to organise, time to learn  little embroidery.

So, here are the stats.  Just before starting this post, I finished my 152nd book for this year.  Before my great personal shattering of bones, I set my reading goal for 2022 at 200.  I think I’ll make it; it’s looking good, but let’s not jinx it.

This 6 month period, like last year’s first 6 months has seen an enormous number of re-reads.  Almost half my books so far have been re-visits of old friends.  What’s new is the number of DNF’s – I’ve hit a lifetime record of 5 DNFs.

That high percentage of re-reads and DNFs would, in any other year, have felt like a failure on some level, because I have so many TBR books and I take a lot of care trying not to buy books I might not read.  BUT, and here’s another tiny silver lining in both the broken leg and the pandemic, I’ve been reading a massive number of books from my TBR shelves – some that have been sitting on that shelf since its inception.

52 books came from previous years’ TBR, vs. 36 books I bought this year.  That, too, I suspect is a personal best.  I’m never truly disappointed when I re-read, because why keep books you aren’t willing to re-read again? but this year it’s felt like pure pleasure, rather than a guilty one, because of the dent I also made in the TBR.

As to what I’ve been reading – that’s been topsy turvy this year too, as I’ve suddenly found my interest in mysteries has waned this year.  I’m certain it’s temporary, as I’m a mood reader in search of solid traditional/cozy type mysteries that are becoming rarer than hen’s teeth.  There’s still a large number of mysteries in my tally, but there’s a lot more wide ranging reading too:

In ‘normal’ years, Urban Fantasy would be vying for the top spot next to mysteries, but this year General Fiction and Magical Realism are top contenders and non-fiction/science/history/biography was near 20%.

The one stat that wasn’t a surprise on some level, and remains static over all the years, is author gender.  Even though at times this year I felt like I was reading a lot of male authors for the first time, the females still dominated.  This is also the first year I’ve kept track of protagonist gender (because the new spreadsheet included it), and – no surprise – the XX’s have it in the bag:


(N/A, if it’s not obvious, are the non-fiction books that discuss a subject rather than people.)

My reading formats this year so far, have been off too; I am really useless with audio unless I’m in the car, so I’ve only read 2 audio books this year.  3 ebooks have made their way onto into the stats too.  Otherwise, Hardcovers dominated, the result of my TBR progress, if I had to guess.

My tracking of Folio Society as a format is a pure reactionary snit in spreadsheet form to my reading of Howard’s End is on the Landing, when the author made some rather sanctimonious comments about people who buy Folio Society editions; apparently we never intend to read them, just show them off.  This is my quiet way of saying “up yours dear”.

And finally, just because the spreadsheet tracks it and it turned out so pretty … really, look at all those colours!, I’m ending with a chart showing the publishers I’ve read so far this year:

It’s like one of those giant insulin-killing lollipops they sell at amusement parks!