Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday's Tomes: Cats, Dogs, Mockingbirds, and Children--Oh My!

I mentioned yesterday that it's been insanely hot the last few days (at least in terms of northeast Ohio summers--Southerns, let me whine about the heat and I won't begrudge you when you whine to me about the cold in February). For the last several days, I have spent the majority of the day sprawled across my bed in front of a fan reading. There hasn't been a lot of rhyme or reason to the books I've chosen this month, so this month's Quick Lit is a bit of a grab bag, but I'm proud to say that I've powered through 6 different books already this month and checked off another two categories for The Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge.

As I mentioned earlier, I traveled at the beginning of the month and I can't read anything serious on a plane, so I chose Book 2 of the Fat Cat Mystery series, Fat Cat Spreads Out by Janet Cantrell. I don't often read cat books, but I think Soth sometimes gets jealous of the number of dogs books that I bring home, so I try to appease him with the occasional cat book. I do love this series. It calls a fat cat named Quincy whose owner Chase runs a bakery; Quincy is on a diet but always hungry and always escaping in search of food. Some how, his escapades always lead to the discovery of a body and Chase getting involved in a murder investigation. This book takes place at the county fair and involves butter sculptors. Since I fell in love with the idea of butter sculpting after seeing the movie Butter, this book was all I wanted it to be and more. Plus, all of the books in this series end with recipes for the cookie bars for humans that are discussed in the book as well as a recipe for a kitty snack. Soth would have no interest in the treats in this book, but I'm looking forward to trying the pumpkin bars when fall rolls around.

I'd pre-ordered two books for the challenge months ago and have been waiting impatiently for their arrival. It was a tough decision of which book read first, but Barley licked Scents and Sensibility, so I figured that gave me my answer.

For the category of a book by a favorite author, I chose Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn. This is the 8th book in the Chet and Bernie mystery series, which I discovered last year. I quickly worked my way through books 1-7 last year (plus a couple short stories on the Kindle app) and fell in love with Chet, a failed K9 cop, who is adopted by a failed human cop turned private investigator named Bernie. Chet reminds me so much of Barley--not only is similarly colored and a mix of dog that nobody can identify, he's also super smart and eager to please, but has a bit of a naughty side. Often, Chet starts out focused on what he's supposed to be doing, usually sitting calmly beside Bernie, and then starts inching closer to something he shouldn't--like burgers, a bird, a tiny pony--only to find Bernie's hand resting gently on his collar. These stories are told from Chet's perspective and are always fun to read. This book is no different from the others in terms of excitement: as always, Chet gets separated from Bernie and has to find his way back; he makes a variety of new friends along the way; he romps with his pal Iggy; and he eats a few donuts. This book was a little different than past stories, though--you get more background on how Bernie found himself off the police force and for the first time, you see him questioning whether it's right to have his pet dog in these highly dangerous situations. While the book still had the typical happy ending, it wasn't wrapped up in as much of a nice neat package as the others have been and I am going to be worried about Chet and Bernie until book 9 is released.

With the release of Harper Lee's new book, I'd read several reviews and most emphasized that you couldn't appreciate the new book without a love of To Kill a Mockingbird. I read--and loved--that book in high school, but it's been at least 15 years since I'd read it. When I swung by campus to get the book from my office, our assistant dean mentioned that his son was currently reading it and not enjoying it; he asked me why I liked it and the only thing I could really remember about my first read was loving Dill--so much so that when we watched the movie in class and their Dill wasn't my Dill, I put my head on my desk and completely wrote off the movie version. Since so much criticism of the new book focuses on the shift in Atticus's character, I reread it paying special attention to Atticus. After reading the book through that lens, I think Atticus's character may have been distorted over the years. Is he a good man? Yes. Is he the civil rights advocate that lives in our memories of reading To Kill a Mockingbird? I don't think so. He takes Tom Robinson's case because he has to; he's been assigned to the case because Tom can't afford a lawyer of his own choosing. Really, the hero might be Judge Taylor who assigns Atticus to the case knowing that Atticus's love of the law and justice will motivate him to take the case seriously when other lawyers wouldn't have. In addition to seeing Atticus's role in the trial differently, I also noticed he made a few disparaging remarks about women--such as when he's telling Scout that women in Alabama can't serve on juries and states, "I doubt if we'd ever get a complete case tried--the ladies'd be interrupting to ask questions." But, I still loved Dill and I might need to get the new To Kill a Mockingbird shirt from Out of Print Books.

Once the announcement of a new Harper Lee book was made, it was easy to decide that Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee would be my selection for the challenge category of a book published this year. I just finished this book mere hours ago, so my thoughts aren't fully formed about this one yet, but I didn't hate it. I'm not shocked by the fact that Atticus as an old man is a segregationist. I grew up in the South. I love the South. But I left the South--much like Scout, or Jean Louise as she's called in this story. As Scout tries to wrap her mind around this new truth, she notes that she never knew hate or suspicion until she moved to the north, that the north has laws "to keep you from hating." She thinks, "I can say only this--that everything I learned about human decency I learned [in Maycomb]." That was a sentiment that rang true for me--the people I grew up with are some of the kindest, most compassionate people I know who would do anything for anyone in need in their community, but they're also some of the people who make the cruelest comments in regards to current events. I felt Scout's struggle with this because it's something I still haven't been able to wrap my mind around, either. I do agree with reviews that say this book couldn't stand alone--if you don't have the backstory from To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout's revelations about her father and her town aren't very powerful. My favorite parts were flashbacks to her childhood, such as a revival she held with Jem and Dill. Even though Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy doesn't see the book as a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, I think I do. There are paragraphs in the book that are almost word-for-word identical to paragraphs in To Kill a Mockingbird, such as descriptions of how Maycomb became the town center and how long it took people to make it into town or descriptions of Aunt Alexandra. The strongest scenes in my opinion on the ones where she flashes back to Scout's childhood. In most creative writing classes, at some point, you'll hear the instructor comment on how sometimes you have to write [insert number of pages here] first before you figure out what story you're really trying to tell; that's the feel I got from this book--it seems like Lee knew she wanted to tell the story of a small southern community and what it was like to grow up in that community and when her editors suggested a reframing of what was presented in Go Set a Watchman, we got To Kill a Mockingbird.

For a book published this year, I could just as easily have chosen the new Toni Morrison book God Help the Child. As someone who teaches a lot of American literature, it seems prudent to read new books by Morrison. The reviews of this book have not been kind and I think I'm of the opinion that this book wouldn't have been published if it had been written by anyone other than Toni Morrison. God Help the Child brings up important topics that we need to have conversations about, not only about race, but also about how the actions of adults affect children and the people they grow up to be. This book has some of the typical magical realism-like elements that Toni Morrison known for, like the ghost daughter in Beloved and the zoot suit man in Home, but she beats you over the head with them and spells everything out for readers, which seems a little insulting. As the main character Bride finds her body regressing to her childhood body, the narrator points out that she was becoming like a little girl again. I just kept thinking duh, I realized that chapters ago.  I also had trouble deciding what time period the story was taking place in. It's noted as being one of the few books Morrison sets in a contemporary setting--but during Sweetness's chapters, I had no idea we were in the present day. The last chapter was haunting and has stuck with me for over a week, and I thought the chapter about Booker and his response to his brother's murder would have made an excellent short story, though.

Last but not least, I needed something silly after reading Toni Morrison and Amazon had recommended the new Pet Boutique mystery series when I ordered the Fat Cat book. Paws for Murder by Annie Knox seemed perfect since it featured a dog and a cat, so no sibling rivalry would occur while I read it. I can't say I loved this book. It was entertaining, but it was also ridiculous. The main character is a woman in her early 30s whose life has been turned upside down after being dumped by her high school sweetheart after he finishes medical school; her whole life had been planned out around his plans, including putting off going to fashion school in New York until he was ready to start a career there. The main character, Izzy, ends up opening a boutique for pets and on opening night a murder takes place in her alley; to save her best friend from going to prison, she has to figure out what really happened. I had trouble relating to Izzy--the whole putting your life on hold for a guy thing has never seemed interesting to me, so in her few "woe is me" moments, I had trouble caring. She also regularly says the phrase, "Good heavens" (and on at least one occasion "Merciful heavens") and while I occasionally say good heavens in jest, I have never once met anyone my age who uses that phrase in everyday conversation, so that was always jolting and laughable. But there is a guinea pig named Gahndi roaming the pages of the story, so the book has that going for it.

With Scents and Sensibility and Go Set a Watchman, I've officially checked off 10 of the 12 categories for the reading challenge and still have several months to conquer a book my mom loves and a book "everyone" has read but me.

What are you reading this month? Have you read or do you plan to read Go Set a Watchman? Be sure to check out the rest of the Quick Lit link up to see what other people have been reading lately.


  1. You do so great when you challenge yourself! I love the variety of books that you read. I just don't read like I used to, but maybe one of these days I'll get back into it.

    1. Oops! Don't know how I missed this comment! The challenge has been great and reminding me how much I love to read--and getting me to read something other than the dog books I usually go to (although once the school year starts again, I have a feeling I'll be reading more and more silly dog mysteries!).