Lily and the Octopus

27276262by Steven Rowley
4 of 5 stars

Debut novel: June 7, 2016

Obviously, I grabbed this book because of the cover and the funny title. As a dachshund lover with my first dachshund, this is an incredibly endearing, emotional story about a man and his dog that had me crying buckets and laughing at dachshund quirks (although I think any dog lover would appreciate and love this book)! My dachshund Kiwi endured all my Emotions as I read this curled up next to me with heavy sighs and side-eye.

Ted’s only enduring companion is his aging dachshund, Lily. But one day he notices an octopus on her head, and their lives take a dramatic turn as he must confront her health and age, and what mortality means for both of them. I hoped that I’d find this story moderately engaging, but the first chapters had me engrossed! The voice is so distinctive, and Lily’s presence so heart-felt, that I had to know what happened next.

Told in both present day and flashbacks through the lens of Ted’s anxiety and depression, we see the entirety of his relationship with Lily, as well as the volatile nature of his romantic relationship with Jeffrey (now ended). Lily and the octopus reveal his struggle to find happiness again when it’s so much easier to isolate himself with his dog.

Lily is a perfectly loveable, perfectly accurate, perfectly unique dachshund. The octopus is sinister in the way that only impersonal attacks can be. Ted tells this story with the shock, heartbreak, and humor we all feel in terrible situations. The author’s personal material shines through in the best way and the story’s pacing unfolds at a good clip. Be prepared to laugh, cry, and hug your pet until their eyes bulge and they wriggle in protest.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Lily and the Octopus is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – An aging bookstore owner on an island finds his life changed in surprising ways when his prized copy of Tamerlane (his retirement plan) disappears and a baby turns up on his doorstep. See my review here.
  • The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings – Even Hawaii can’t provide comfort when it comes to death. Matt must tell his two girls that their comatose mother’s will orders him to take her off life support. At the same time, his family’s valuable land has a buyer, but only he can decide to preserve or develop the pristine wilderness. This is darkly funny (all the good parts in the movie come from this) and a fast read.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – Pat is on probation and determined to reinvent himself so that his estranged wife will fall in love with him again. But fate and the widowed neighbor girl Tiffany might upset his master plan.

Pride and Prejudice

PPby Jane Austen
4 of 5 stars

It’s February, the season of rom-coms, so I thought I’d review a standard contribution to this genre. The most popular Austen novel of interpersonal drama and romance set in the microcosm of the English countryside features the love-hate relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Austen wrote this romantic comedy over 200 years ago when she was just 21 years old! You can see her sharp opinions on society, particularly regarding the social restrictions on women, throughout. I’d forgotten how funny and easy to read this is despite its age.

Quick-witted and clever Elizabeth is the second of five sisters who must all marry well since they have no fortune. She and her older sister Jane strike up an acquaintance with the rich and well-connected Mr. Bingley when he comes to town for the season–unfortunately the Bennet family does not make a good impression on Bingley’s sisters or his close friend, the proud and even richer Mr. Darcy. Insults (accidental and intentional) fly for hundreds of pages as these characters (okay, well mainly Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy) struggle with their feelings for each other. Of course, the theme of the day is the danger of forming an impression of someone you don’t know well, and how actions can easily be misrepresented.

In addition to the romance and social commentary, Austen provides a detailed glimpse into the lives of English gentry during the early 19th century. This is an enjoyable and enduring love story that set the framework for many modern stories today.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Pride and Prejudice is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Set around the same time, this is the story of Cathy and Heathcliff’s epic, doomed romance on the Yorkshire moors. A bit harder to read thanks to the preservation of the Yorkshire dialect, but full of beautiful lines.
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – The Parisian, star-crossed romance between a reclusive musical prodigy and the prima donna of the opera house. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s a short book with beloved characters.
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – Another romance story featuring a push-pull relationship. Lara Jean never meant to fall for her fake boyfriend but now she has and doesn’t know what to do. See my review here.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – From different backgrounds and cultures, Eleanor and Park find themselves falling for each other despite everything that stands in their way. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – The adventurous Sophia Bellamy is betrothed to Rene Hassard but they both have secrets that threaten their relationship. Sharp conversations about this occur while they are on the run. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Memoirs of Cleopatra

20764393by Margaret George
Fiction / Historical Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I’ve read this twice now and each time took me a couple of months, but I reveled in the rich experience of it. This book is a brick, it’s true (I usually had to put it on a table to read it) but the writing is superb. George has a lyrical style that is filled with detail, so even in the midst of events you have time to absorb everything. This style isn’t for everyone, but if you want a historical novel that makes it feel like you took a physical trip to the past, you can’t beat this. You come away from this feeling as if you just spent months in Cleopatra’s Egypt.

Cleopatra ascends the throne after many political plots and threats from her siblings, only to inherit an Egypt crippled politically and economically by debt and the threat of Rome’s empire. She must use all of her wits and considerable knowledge to protect her country and safeguard it for generations to come. The incredible lengths she goes to in order to achieve this are what makes up the bulk of the novel, though it does cover her entire life from her childhood to her death.

The author’s note in the back (aside from detailing her years of research) points out what I agree to be a common opinion about Cleopatra. We simultaneously know nothing and everything about her. We know the caricature of her in great detail thanks to writers of the time and Shakespeare (perfumes, oils, death by snake, famous lovers), but we don’t know who her mother is. It’s both easy and hard to believe that this novel could be so long. Historical fiction isn’t normally my genre of choice, but someone recommended this to me and I’m so glad I read it. It reminded me of my intense fascination with ancient Egyptian culture when I was in junior high.

For history sticklers, George provides clarification as to which events and relationships are well-documented, which could be surmised, and which ones were the author’s creative license. It’s a commitment to read, but in my opinion it’s well worth the effort.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Memoirs of Cleopatra is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Helen of Troy by Margaret George – Although not a historical figure, this is a reasonably absorbing account of the legend of the most beautiful woman in the world. See my review here.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – A fascinating and detailed account of a fictional geisha, largely set during World War II. The story is both heart-wrenching and hopeful as Sayuri struggles to find love and acceptance within the tight bonds and restrictions of Japanese society. Beautifully told and the film is excellent as well.
  • Death Comes As the End by Agatha Christie – A unique mystery set in ancient Egypt. This is one of my favorite Christie novels. As usual, the plot is impossibly intricate and the characters are well-drawn.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Fikryby Gabrielle Zevin
5 of 5 stars

Merry Christmas! For my last review of the year, I read this book a second time. My grandfather recommended it to me last year and I read it and loved it! (If you know anything at all about the premise, I couldn’t imagine my grandpa recommending a more appropriate book). This is a story for book-lovers by a book-lover. If you want the feeling of sitting by a cozy fire while someone tells you a story, this is it.

A.J. Fikry is a persnickety, recently widowed bookstore owner on a small New England island. When his prized first edition of Tamerlane is stolen (Edgar Allan Poe’s first work – 50 copies produced) and his retirement is gone with it, A.J. is ready to give up on life. But then a baby girl is left in his store, and his friends convince him a fresh start is possible. We follow the rest of A.J’s life, Maya’s childhood in the bookstore, the books they recommend, the drama between the residents on the island. It’s filled with good jokes and reflective moments — and it’s also not very long. This is one of my favorite books! Anyone who loves reading will enjoy it.

As a fun bonus, the hardback’s cover is visible on the paperback version in the store window.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

It’s hard to find a comp title that strikes the tone of this book, but here are a few that tackle the subject of life not turning out the way you expected. In the spirit of the novel, read something else someone has personally recommended to you!

  • The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings – The emotional aftermath of a boating accident and family secrets set against the backdrop of Hawaii’s beauty. This is both sharp and humorous and the closest comp I can think of.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – More serious in tone but rich in details. The story of how a peasant girl from a fishing village is sold into the life of glamour and guile that is being a professional geisha in pre-WWII Japan.
  • Scribbling the Cat by Alexandra Fuller – Personal memoirs of a woman raised in Africa who kindles a friendship with a Rhodesian war veteran. They journey from Zambia to Mozambique meeting other veterans and reliving his past. A fascinating and heart-wrenching look into the struggle for survival on the war-torn continent.

Career of Evil

Career of Evilby Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
3 of 5 stars
Book 3 in a continuing series

Although I enjoyed this installment for the most part, it’s my least favorite in this suspenseful crime noir series. Detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, have a severed leg on their hands, and their third high-profile murder case together. This one manages to unnerve the unflappable Strike, and Robin is determined to hide her fear. The leg was addressed to her.

As they begin their investigation into three grisly men from Strike’s past, Robin tries to cope with the additional stress of her upcoming wedding to Matthew, who is still displeased with her low-paying, dangerous job.

There are elements of the things I loved in The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm—Strike and Robin’s banter, the author’s acute sense of humor and observation, and the feeling of an old, black-and-white detective show. Unfortunately, this time around the humor isn’t enough to lighten the black mood of the increasingly dark plot, and the pacing alternately speeds through important events or crawls like molasses through mundane details. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with a slightly overweight, confused cat. I’m already looking forward to the next book in spite of all that, but I’m a little wary. Still, as someone who doesn’t read many mystery/thriller novels, it’s a nice diversion.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Career of Evil is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Like so many people, this was my introduction to the acclaimed mystery author. It’s addictive and highly enjoyable, but if Hercule Poirot isn’t to your taste, I suggest her stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence or perhaps Miss Marple. All of them have a string of cases that are impossible to solve independently.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The heart of detective noir, Sherlock Holmes stories obviously have an older tone but still possess a good sense of humor and suspense. This is one of the creepier tales in the collection and a good evening’s read.
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe – Before Sherlock Holmes there was C. Auguste Dupin. Poe created the detective genre and its tropes, only to be eclipsed by a more famous investigator a few years later, but this is still worth a read and very creepy.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Set in small-town Missouri, this novel chronicles the turbulent relationship of Nick and Amy Dunne. We begin with Amy’s disappearance and possibly murder as Nick tries to piece together what happened to his wife without letting on to the public that he doesn’t miss her that much. This has an addictive plot, excellent writing, and a fantastic ending. (You can judge that statement after you’ve read it).

Backlist Bonus: The Bone Season

13636400by Samantha Shannon
Fantasy/Science Fiction
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – August 20, 2013

This 2013 genre-mashing novel was hyped as a seven-book series by a 21-year-old author slated as the next J.K. Rowling. So you know, no pressure! Although I was hesitant to believe all the gushing reviews, I knew I had to check it out. The world combines Victorian-esque England with the magic of clairvoyant abilities and the paranormal existence of the Rephaim, all set in the year 2059. The Rephaites took over the government, called Scion, and systematically hunt voyants to use for their own purposes. Ordinary people hate and fear voyants, so the only refuge for them are underground organizations, much like the mafia.

Paige is a dreamwalker, able to break into other people’s minds and steal information, which is why her crime lord Jaxon Hall keeps her safe for his use. When Paige is captured by the Rephaim as part of Bone Season XX, she discovers the hidden world within her own. If she doesn’t escape she’ll die in the service of the beings who enslaved her people.

As you may have guessed, there is a lot of information to absorb from beginning to end! In addition to the political workings of the oppressive Scion government, there is the underground network of voyants, a long glossary of terms and slang, and a large cast of characters to keep straight. It’s extremely ambitious for a debut novel and for that reason I was intrigued enough to finish it. I wasn’t “wowed” at first, but about 250 pages in, it becomes much more impressive and engrossing. What I enjoyed most was the villainous Nashira, always two steps ahead of our heroine and not prone to excessive dialogue regarding her plans for world domination.

The sequel, The Mime Order, came out earlier this year, and it was far more enjoyable, so for that reason I definitely recommend checking out this series! It’s sure to get even better as it progresses.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Bone Season is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Samantha Shannon touts this as one of her favorite books, and there are similarities in style and narration here, as well as the idea of an all-seeing government. See my review here.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – This is similar in that ordinary people are controlled through pleasure and trust in the system, and questioning that existence or treatment of other humans is rebellion.
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – In 1899 New York City, the titular characters escape their masters and try to forge an existence in a land they don’t understand. It has similar pacing, with a touch more magic, a smaller cast, and no political layers. See my review here.

Bones & All

21570066by Camille DeAngelis
YA Fiction/Horror
4 of 5 Stars

Let me start by saying this book is out of my reading comfort zone! When I first heard about the concept it sounded so unique I just had to try it. Maren is your average teenage girl growing up in 1990s America–with the slight complication of eating anyone who cares about her, bones and all. She doesn’t want to be a monster, but she can’t stop herself either. When Maren’s mother abandons her after her sixteenth birthday, she decides to find her absent father to see if there’s anyone else like her.

Maren’s narration of past and present events and her own feelings of guilt and disgust suck you in, despite the number of cringe-worthy scenes. The whole book is a series of that moment in a horror movie when you’re yelling at the TV “Don’t go in there! Don’tdon’tdon’t–Noooo you DID!” You keep watching through your fingers because it’s too fascinating to look away.

DeAngelis doesn’t rely on gory detail. She just uses the exact phrase to get your skin to crawl, the right detail that conjures up everything else from your own imagination. Her writing is superb. What kept me thinking about the story long after I turned the last page wasn’t Maren’s character arc, but the different themes woven throughout this story. The jacket cover and the author’s note make no effort to hide that some of these themes were intentional, but I found myself more intrigued by her portrayal of feminism and female sexuality than her views on eating meat (she is vegan).

It’s hard to say more without including plot spoilers. This is a fast read and worth checking out!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Bones & All is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – In a post-zombie apocalypse America, zombie “R” meets Juliet and wants to prove he’s more than a brain-eating monster. In some ways, more gory than Bones & All, but R’s narration is just as gripping.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – This author writes gritty and uncomfortable YA that uses the same precision when it comes to putting teenage feelings and circumstances on paper. Her style is simple but powerful. See my review here.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Another version of zombie-apocalypse America (closest thing to cannibals, right?) with a suspenseful narrative from the protagonist as she navigates her limited, dark world. See my review here.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – The most well-known suspense novel at the moment, but if you haven’t discovered it yet and you loved the dark twists in Bones & All, you will enjoy this!
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – This has a similar level of near-supernatural elements that aren’t fully explained. It’s not as dark or uncomfortable, but there is the same level of haunting prose. See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Three points of view (hero, liar, villain) tell you a creepy tale from a small mountain town. See my review here.

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