Book Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus

Description from the publisher:

This is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without. 

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog.

Despite the excellent reviews this book has been getting, I can’t exactly say I was excited to read it. I had a pretty good feeling the experience would feel akin to my heart being ripped from my body and cut into tiny pieces in front of me while I bawled helplessly and boy, I wasn’t wrong. This book literally made me weep so intensely I got a migraine and had to stay home from work for a day to recover.

Still, I’m not sorry I went through the beautiful ordeal of reading Lily and the Octopus. It’s a seriously lovely, charming, funny book. I didn’t want it to end (mostly because I knew what would happen when it did.)

Grab some tissues, (seriously, all of them) and read this book.

Read These

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng | “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

This book snuck up on me and I didn’t realize how affected I was until it was nearly over. Each member of Lee family became my favorite as they took turns sharing their perspective. Again and again, around and around, I found myself sympathizing and understanding and wishing they were better at communicating with each other. Honestly, this book really broke my heart, so if you decide to read it, I’d advise you to grab some tissues beforehand.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud |  David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding  what  to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier. 

I haven’t read many graphic novels. Actually, this is one of only a handful that I have read total, and one of only two I read last year (the other being Saga.) I was moved by The Sculptor more than most of the stories I’ve read recently, and anything that moves me will likely leave me recommending them to anyone within earshot.

The Sculptor is about a guy who is struggling to become someone great. He wants to make great work, and he wants to be recognized as Someone Who Makes Great Work. Many people will tell you that creative work should be done for its own sake, and while I definitely agree, I can also admit that sometimes I only wish that were the whole truth. For many, respect and earning a living and achieving celebrity are also important aspects of creative ambitions. This book gave me a lot to think about in that regard.  But, as per usual, I’m also a sucker for a love story, and the love-tinged, tragic plot line is what drew me to this story in the first place. Boy has dream. Boy makes deal with death to achieve dream. Boy meets girl. Boy regrets said deal instantly. Hijinks ensue. I really loved this book.


The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. CareyMelanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.” Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

The less you know about this book, the better, so I won’t say much except that I absolutely devoured it.


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam ToewsElf and Yoli are sisters. While on the surface Elfrieda’s is an enviable life (she’s a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, and happily married) and Yolandi’s a mess (she’s divorced and broke, with two teenagers growing up too quickly), they are fiercely close—raised in a Mennonite household and sharing the hardship of Elf’s desire to end her own life. After Elf’s latest attempt, Yoli must quickly determine how to keep her family from falling apart, how to keep her own heart from breaking, and what it means to love someone who wants to die.

This is my favorite book that I read in 2015. If you’ve ever grieved someone who has taken their own life, I implore you to read this beautiful story.

What books have you loved lately?

2015 Reading Resolutions: A follow-up

Well, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted any book-related content to this blog, now hasn’t it?!

I was going through old posts and stumbled across my 2015 Reading Resolutions:

Let’s see how I did, shall we?

  1. Cut back on buying books. Either check them out from the library or read books I own but haven’t already read. I did very, very well on this one! I think I only bought a handful of books total, which is pretty much unheard of. I did pay a tidy sum in library fees, but… no one’s perfect.
  2. Join BookTube! (I actually wanted to join last year but I’m waiting for my husband to get a new laptop instead of buying a webcam and editing software.) My husband did get a new laptop but I didn’t make any progress on the BookTube front. Maybe 2016?
  3. Host a monthly book club. This one failed spectacularly, though not for a lack of trying on my part.
  4. Read 100 books. I logged 75 into GoodReads, but probably read around 100 if you count the books I’m too embarrassed to admit having read.
  5. Read In Search of Lost Time series. Nope.
  6. Read A Hundred Years of Solitude. This is my husband’s favorite book and I’ve been meaning to read it since he finished it a couple years ago and continues to rave about it. I’d like to attempt to read it in Spanish, but we’ll see how that goes. Nope.
  7. Read a poetry collection from an unknown to me poet. I read Rupi Kaur’s entire Instagram feed. That counts, right?
  8. Read a biography. Nope.
  9. Read a Sci-Fi novel. (I’m leaning toward The Martian by Andy Weir.) I read The Martian and Ready Player One. Liked the former and INHALEDLOVED the latter.
  10. Read 1 book each month from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list: sigh.

All in all, I’d say I did slightly less than alright. And really, all of the things I didn’t do in 2015 are things I’d still like to do in 2016, so I think I’ll just extend this list for another year. That way I’m already about half done, which is pretty nice. Heck, maybe I won’t even apply years to it! Just call it Reading Resolutions.

After all, as Calvin so wisely said…

Book Review: M Train by Patti Smith

Description from the publisher: From the National Book Award–winning author of Just Kids: an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the prism of the cafés and haunts she has worked in around the world. It is a book Patti Smith has described as “a roadmap to my life.”

M Train begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, and across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations, we travel to Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico; to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima.

Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation. Here, too, are singular memories of Smith’s life in Michigan and the irremediable loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith.

Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multiplatform artists at work today.

“I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.”

I was lucky enough to get a chance to see Patti Smith in person being interviewed by NPR critic, Maureen Corrigan, about her new book on Friday, I read about a third of it before the interview and finished the rest on the metro ride home. This book is lovely. Reading it feels akin to moving through a dream. Parts were enigmatic and parts were so relatable, they made me weepy. I could write more, but I cannot do this book justice, so I will simply insist that you read it and promise you will love it too.

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids Patti Smith

From the publisher: Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe weren’t always famous, but they always thought they would be. They found each other, adrift but determined, on the streets of New York City in the late ’60s and made a pact to keep each other afloat until they found their voices–or the world was ready to hear them. Lovers first and then friends as Mapplethorpe discovered he was gay, they divided their dimes between art supplies and Coney Island hot dogs. Mapplethorpe was quicker to find his metier, with a Polaroid and then a Hasselblad, but Smith was the first to fame, transformed, to her friend’s delight, from a poet into a rock star.

Just Kids is a love story, though not the traditional kind.

It’s an ode to transformative love between two people and their shared interest in art and creating, and how this love permanently bonds them to one another. It’s a tribute to the kind of friendship that transcends time and inspires self-confidence.

The book’s title was inspired by a conversation Smith overheard when she and Mapplethorpe made it a point to dress eccentrically on a visit to Coney Island.  An elderly couple took note of their attire, and one of them asked aloud “are those people artists?” His wife responded, “I think they’re just kids.” It was a question they were trying to answer themselves, surrounded as they were by creators, writers and musicians, many of whom proceeded confidently in the artistic direction of their choosing.

I grew up with Smith’s music in the background because my mom is an enormous fan, but didn’t know much about her or Mapplethorpe prior to reading the book. I just kept hearing how wonderful it is, and how if you consider yourself to be creative, it’s a must-read. I finally picked it up and couldn’t put it down. I’m actually find it hard to put how I feel about this book into words. It moved me so much. Suffice to say, Just Kids has easily become one of my favorite books I’ve ever read and I recommend it wholeheartedly to any creative soul.