Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley


When you read 100+ books a year, it stands to reason that you’re not terribly picky.  And while it is true that I will read almost anything there are a few things that I despise.  One of them is talking animals.

Lily and the Octopus was on every must-read list I saw for Summer 2016.  Without even reading beyond the first few sentences of the book book jacket I requested it from the library and  jumped into page 1.  I was captivated by the author’s narrative style – it feels familiar and friendly.  And then I loved Lily’s voice.  Doesn’t this seem perfect for a dachshund?



The author uses the technique sparingly. It’s just enough to make Lily more real to me.  And enough to break my dislike of talking animals.

Source:  Public Library

Audience:  Adults.  Maybe teens.




Book Review: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran



Another wonderful find for my Read Harder 2016 Challenge.  I read this book for the task:  Read a book set in the Middle East.  And while much of this book takes place in Ireland, the action has it’s roots in Iran.  Persian culture is an integral part of the book, so I am counting it.

Three sisters arrive in a tiny Irish town and set up a a cafe.  The cafe serves Persian delicacies and soon most of the town is enjoying the exotic flavors of Persia.  I love how the author introduces us to all of the townspeople as they are introduced to the Marjan’s excellent cooking.  The chapters are interspersed  with recipes that hint at plot points to come.

I learned a good deal about 1970’s era Iran and how the revolution impacted individuals and families.  The food descriptions are lush and inviting.  I don’t know that I will be making any of the recipes, but I’ll be sure to seek out this cuisine when I travel.

I was saddened to learn that the author passed away before she could write the 7 novels she envisioned for the series.  I’ve already stared the second book and it is just as good as this one.  You can read abut her and a see her other books at her webpage.


Source:  Public Library ebook

Audience:  adult

Review: Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell





What a dark and lyrical book.  I didn’t think those two went together until I read this book.  Parts of the prose seem like poems and the descriptions of the raw lifestyle of the Dolly clan and absolutely visceral.

Keening blue wind was bringing weather back into the sky, dark clouds gathering at the far edge of sight, carrying frosty wet for later.


I read this book for the Read Harder 2016 challenge task:  Read a book that was made into a move.  Compare.  I don’t think I am going to watch the movie.  This was a tough story and I don’t really need the visual.  Instead I read this great article by Tina Estlin Page on Lit Review.  It’s got spoilers, so don’t go there if you haven’t read the book!


I have a feeling that this is an excellent audiobook.



Source:  Well-worn paperback from the public library

Audience:  Adults

Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman



I love the author’s style of gradually revealing contradictory bits and pieces about the characters.  It takes us a while to get to know each of them , and almost as long to decide to like them.

Britt-Marie is crotchety, snobby, set in her ways and judgmental.  Or, that’s what I thought when I started reading.  The more I read the more I enjoyed her.  Just like in the author’s previous books, our main character is far more than meets the eye.

This is a story about a middle aged woman leaving her husband and ending up in an isolated poverty stricken town.  That said, it’s pretty funny.  Here’s a line I noted as particularly clever:  “Somebody has one of the worst hairstyles Britt-Marie has ever laid eyes on, as if she’s combed her hair with a terrified animal.”  It’s also a bit melancholy:  “Britt-Marie stayed awake all night.  She’s used to that, as people are when they have lived their entire lives for someone else.”


To really appreciate this gem of a book I recommend reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.  We meet Britt Marie in that book and get quite a bit of her backstory.


Source:  ARC from publisher

Audience:  adults.  This would be a great pick for a book group.


My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman



“Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.  That’s just how it is.”  A great opening to a book that was great on every page.  The seven-year-old in question is Elsa and her granny is her best friend and superhero.  After granny dies she sends Elsa on a quest to deliver letters to many people and in delivering these letters Elsa begins to understand how her real world is completely linked to the fantasy world of granny’s stories.

This is my second Backman book and here’s what I love about them:

  1.  All the characters matter.  Even if they seem minor they have some important connection to the whole. Some don’t even have proper names but they matter all the same.
  2. The writing is amazingly clever and descriptive:  “The winter air bites at Elsa; it feels like she’s being yanked out of a boiling hot bath by her hair. “

I really enjoyed his first book, A Man Called Ove and I am looking forward to the next one, Britt Marie Was Here.

Source:  public library e-book

audience:  of interest to adults, but certainly appropriate for high school

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnsom


What a captivating story! Smart, capable Alice is thrown completely off her game when she is sent to be a minder of sorts for a reclusive writer and her son, Frank. Be Frank Wth Me shows just how challenging it is to deal with genius in it’s everyday form. As writer Mimi struggles to finish a book under contract, Alice struggles to manage Mimi’s flamboyant movie-obsessed son. I found my self slowing down to make the story last, always a good sign.

Source:  ARC from the publisher

Audience: adults

My Year In Books 2015

Some nice stats, courtesy of Goodreads

110 books

32,006 pages

Shortest book:  The Julian Chapter by RJ Palacio (84 pages)

Longest book:  Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (560 pages)

The most popular book I read was Girl on the Train by  Paula Hawkins (733K people on Goodreads read it too.)

My least popular book seems unfair – it was just published on 12/27 and I flew through it.  And it was so good!  Get out there and download it so the stats go up!    Unhappy Families by Oliver Tidy.

My own conclusions:

Favorite YA:  I’ll Give You the Sun  by Jandy Nelson

Favorite Audio: Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Favorite Graphic Novel:  Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Favorite Non Fiction:  The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

Favorite Memoir:   Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington

Favorite Mystery:  Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Favorite Literary Fiction:  The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Favorite Supernatural Thriller-ish:  Saint Odd by Dean Koontz

And special mentions to:

Elly GriffithsThe Zig Zag Girl  looks like a great new series.

Jennifer Latham:  Scarlett Undercover was so fun and dark all at once.

Gary D. Schmidt:  Orbiting Jupiter had some of the loveliest language I read all year.

Oliver Tidy:   You had three great books on my list and kept me well-entertained with your blog.  (He Made Me, Particular Stupidities and Unhappy Families)

Sophie Kinsella:  Finding Audrey was funny and informative. Anxious people everywhere thank you.  And maybe you should be friends with Jenny Lawson.  Just saying.


commentWhat were your best books in 2015?  Any plans to read one that I’ve listed?  Please leave a comment.


Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2016!

Go Set A Watchman

I am glad I read this, and I am glad that I avoided reading reviews while I was reading.

I’m not sure I have much to say that hasn’t already been said.

I particularly liked this article from Entertainment Weekly:  I wish my wit was “hatpin sharp”

The Arsonist by Sue Miller

When Frankie Rowley returns to the US after 15 years working for an NGO in Africa she struggles with the temporary nature of her lifestyle. No home, no partner, no place to belong. Her aging parents are struggling with this feeling of transience as well. After a lifetime of moving from college town to college town they have chosen to settle in an old family vacation home; making the switch from summer people to year rounders. But as a health crisis emerges their relationship changes, as does Frankie’s relationship with them.
I enjoyed the slow pace of this book, finding myself re-reading phrases and pages. While I wasn’t completely satisfied by the ending, I did note about halfway though that I really had no interest who the arsonist was. Sue Miller has created a marvelous setting and intricate character relationships.

The publisher has tagged this Mystery/Suspense.  I’ll tag it the way I read it:   Literary Fiction.
Thanks to the public library for making this book FREE for me and everyone else.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Henning Koch

I read this book in January of 2014 and today I saw (in People Magazine of all places!) that it is now available in paperback.  It’s a book that might fall under the radar, so I bring it to your attention now.

On page one you know exactly the kind of main character you are dealing with: a cranky, mean old man. You’ll expect him to learn a lesson before the book ends. Nope, that’s not even close to what this book is like. Ove will make you angry, to be sure. But you’ll laugh and cry too. I highly recommend this book.

The publisher has created a reading group guide, available here

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie rights were sold months ago, but just in Sweden.  Maybe US film makers will be interested.  They should be!

Source:  ARC from publisher

Date finished:  January 2, 2014