Lily and the Octopus

27276262by Steven Rowley
Fiction
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.
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2016 Year in Review

Time to see what I did this year!

I read 76 books this year (29,359 pages)! Not bad considering my goal in January was 40.
I bought 42 books, received 12 as gifts and 1 as a prize!

One of my goals was to read more recommendations from friends/family – I think I succeeded!

CP’s: Captive Prince, Prince’s Gambit, Kings Rising, Wolf by Wolf, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Finnikin of the Rock, The 3 Writing Thesauruses (Emotion, Positive and Negative Traits), Three Dark Crowns, Milk and Honey
Grandfather: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Mill on the Floss (partial)
Friends: Pax, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, When We Collided, The Start of Me and You

I had a few other little challenges I wanted to complete this year but I think I failed pretty much all of them!

Read one classic novel a month: 5
Read one nonfiction book a month: 6
Read the Harry Potter series again: 1

Read the 10 books on my Goodreads TBR the longest: 1
Debut novels: 14

Better luck next year, Future Me!
How did I like what I did read this year?

5 stars – 33%
4 stars – 48%
3 stars – 16%
2 stars – 4%

Out of all of these books, which one was my Best Read of 2016?

29396738

It was an incredibly hard choice – until I read Monstress! (See my review here!) I can still barely talk about this book without screaming–I absolutely love this story and I can’t wait to buy the next bound volume! It’s dark and feminist and has beautiful as well as brutal moments. The art is a bonus–every panel is lovingly detailed and kept me from reading too quickly. If you want deep world-building, flawed characters fighting for their goals, and a story that demands you keep up with it, grab this now! I enjoyed every page.

And Best Surprise Read of 2016 goes to….

22453777

I had seen this cover pop up a couple times on Instagram and I finally picked up a copy of this debut novel because I was curious about the magical realism. (See my review here!) This book had me enthralled! The themes of family, identity, growing up, traditionalism vs change, what makes a full life–Carolina and her family felt so real to me and I savored their story. It is a rare example of a perfectly packaged tale with that nostalgic feeling you normally reserve for something old. I look forward to coming back to this again and again!

What did I achieve with my writing?
1) Revised and polished YA fantasy
2) Attended my first writing conference
3) Pitched to agents for the first time
4) Chose to shelve YA fantasy and begin a new project
5) Completed the 83,000 word draft for Fox Story in 3 months
6) Learned. So. Much.
7) And of course, I posted twice a week here, rain shine or deadline!

New things coming for 2017

Give this year’s goals another chance:
-1 nonfiction book a month
-1 classic novel a month
-Read Harry Potter again
-Get through those books that I’ve meant to read for years!

THIS IS MY LAST POST FOR 2016 – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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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.

2015 – Year in Review

I read 63 books this year! (23,312 pages) Not bad considering my goal in January was….25.

I bought 31 books, received 1 as a gift, and found 1 for free (thanks, random person who gave up their ARC of The Rose Society!).

When I started this blog I had no idea what I would end up reading or if I truly would like most of the books I picked up. After a few years “off” (working too much to read almost anything), I wasn’t sure how my year would go. Which is why I thought 25 books in a year would be a lot…! As it turns out, two-thirds of the books I encountered I loved! 2015 was a great year for books:

5 stars – 24%
4 stars – 39%
3 stars – 27%
2 stars – 10%

I had a busy year!

Out of all of these books, which one was my Best Read of 2015?

six of crows

SIX OF CROWS. (See my review here!) Of all the books I read this year, the entire experience with this one was flawless, plain and simple. Characters, world, plot, pacing, the prose itself–zero complaints. And it looks beautiful! The outside reflects the inside. As a bonus, the Spotify playlist is perfect as well. So add this to your list because you don’t want to be left behind when the sequel comes out next year!

And which one is the runner-up? Best Surprise Read of 2015 goes to….

Uprooted / Vengeance Road (yes, I cheated and picked 2)

Uprooted is the fantasy novel I didn’t know I was looking for until my good friend Erin pushed it into my hands (thank you Erin!!). From the first page, I was hooked. It was truly difficult to choose between this book and Six of Crows as my best read of the year! (See my review here!)

Vengeance Road gets my #2 surprise spot because I honestly didn’t think I would like it at all going into it. If Maddy hadn’t given me her extra copy, this probably would have sat dormant on my list until….next summer? If it was lucky. I don’t like westerns, or dialect writing–but I loved this book! Breezed through it and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. (See my review here!)

These two books are the reason I’m giving recommendations higher priority next year – I don’t want to miss out on anything!

New Things Coming for 2016

I have some new things to try for 2016 – I want to read 1 classic novel a month. As stated above, I want to keep up with recommendations from my friends! They read good books too–why do I ever doubt this?? I want to re-read Harry Potter (because it’s been probably 3 years so I’m overdue). But with all these come some other changes. I’ve been writing my own novel for quite some time, and as much as I love reading and reviewing books, it’s begun to cut into the time I have for working on my own.

So next year, every Tuesday I will have a new review for you, and Fridays will be for fun: tags, monthly previews, series re-read prompts, and updates from the writing cave. This was a crazy, fun year, and a huge thank you goes to each of my followers! It’s been so fun meeting you all and seeing your blogs! I hope we all have an amazing 2016!

THIS IS MY LAST POST FOR 2015 – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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December

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Fikryby Gabrielle Zevin
Fiction
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.

What’s new this month

These are some books I’m excited about this May. Here’s a little bit about each of them:

ACOTAR5/5 – A Court of Thorns and Roses – by Sarah J. Maas

She pitched this as a re-imagined Beauty and the Beast/East of the Sun, West of the Moon/Tam Lin and I was sold immediately. I’m expecting all things Maas at an even more polished level: a badass heroine, conflicted men/fairies, magic, betrayal, destiny and more! Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale, and I’m excited to see what she does with it. This is set to be a high fantasy trilogy, releasing simultaneously with her Throne of Glass series.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon


Wrath and the Dawn5/12 – The Wrath and the Dawn – by Renee Ahdieh

The Thousand and One Nights is one of my favorite myths and I’m always intrigued by a retelling of the woman who won the brutal king’s heart with stories. Little is made of Scheherazade falling in love with the king, but in this version Shazi struggles with the knowledge that she might come to love the man responsible for so many girls’ deaths, including some of her friends. This already has a sequel slated for 2016.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon


PS I still love you5/26 – P.S. I Still Love You – by Jenny Han

I admit, I didn’t think much of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but I partly feel this is due to bad marketing. This is listed as YA but it felt very middle-grade to me in terms of character and plot (see my review here). Now that I have some idea of what to expect, I am curious to see how the dualogy ends and I think it will make a good poolside read this summer. The one redeeming quality it has (aside from the cover art) is a non-white protagonist, but this aspect is barely touched on in the first book so I’m not sure if it will be more prevalent in this one.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

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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