Book Review: Lily and the Octopus, Steven Rowley

At the start of the year, when I decided 2017 was going to be my year of getting back into reading, I compiled a starting list for myself of 12 books all from different genres. The aim was to broaden my spectrum a little, to see if I could find love for a new genre, and generally to try some books I would never have given a second thought. I’ve gone through most of that list now, but the one that’s taken me the longest has been Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley.

Steven Rowley is most notably a paralegal and a screenwriter, but after writing a short story about the death of his dog, he was encouraged by his boyfriend to turn it into a novel and try to get it published.

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Lily and the Octopus is a real life story, based on the author’s dachshund named Lily. Lily’s owner Ted is a gay male in his 40’s still dealing with a painful breakup, when one morning he notices Lily isn’t very well, and has an ‘octopus’ on her head. If you’ve ever read a book or watched a movie about a tragic dog’s tale, you’ll know what that octopus actually is.

Admittedly, I nearly gave up on this book several times. It’s just not what I’m used to, and it takes a while to get sucked into the fantasy of it all, because the story is written from Ted’s perspective, where Lily can not only talk, but also play Monopoly and make smart remarks about pop culture. It’s a lot to get used to!

However, it’s not a very long book at 320 pages, and so most experienced readers (more than I) could probably burn through the story rather quickly. I struggled to warm to Ted, he’s quite a selfish character despite his love for Lily. The best example I can give is his annoyance whilst at his Sister’s wedding when people were paying more attention to the bride rather than him, because of the news about Lily’s deteriorating health.

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I can forgive that because of Lily herself, who is a little ray of sunshine in a gloomy world. As the book approached its inevitable end, I found myself ridiculously emotional. I thought that reading the words on the page rather than watching it happen on a screen would be easier to deal with, but if anything my imagination just made it all the more real.

I’m in two minds on whether I would recommend this book to be honest, it wasn’t my favourite, but gosh darn it will make you want to hug your pets tightly if you do. Proceed with caution, that’s all I’ll say on the matter!

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Book Review: Behind Closed Doors, B A Paris

It seems weird to say now, but a few years ago I had to be convinced that a tablet was something I needed in my life. Not in the medical sense, the electronic. I just didn’t see the point; I already had a phone, a laptop, a TV and a Kindle, I counted myself lucky enough and didn’t need another piece of technology in my life. Now, I don’t know what I’d do without one. I use mine every day for gaming, reading, watching, blogging, you name it, and during our house move it’s been my best friend.

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My whole house may have been in boxes, but my sofa was sat in the living room and I had my tablet, so all was well with the world. Anywho, I digress, what I actually want to tell you about today is the debut novel by the talented B A Paris, Behind Closed Doors. It was one of the 12 books I chose at the start of the year, and my messy handwritten notes tell me it was my ‘Psychological Thriller’ choice.

That was all I remembered when I started reading, and admittedly I almost gave up within the first 10 pages. It opens at a dinner party between couples, and our main character Grace is desperate for her husband’s approval with the three-course dinner she’s prepared for the guests. Ugh. What happened to cooking together? Then she gushes about how perfect her marriage with Jack is, and shares photos from their perfect Honeymoon abroad. Double ugh. I went back to read the blurb to try and work out what tempted me to read this in the first place, and then I realised.

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You see, the seemingly perfect marriage is the whole point of the story. Grace is always immaculately dressed, the house is spotless, and she loves her husband dearly. They go on holiday together regularly, and stay in the nicest hotels. You know what’s odd though? If you ever invite Grace out to lunch, she’ll either cancel last minute or turn up with Jack in tow. You’d like her number to keep in touch? Sorry, she doesn’t have her own mobile phone. Also, why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows? Why indeed!

For a book I thought was going to annoy me, I read Behind Closed Doors in record timing, for me at least. I just had to know what happened next. At 353 pages, it’s not the longest novel in the world, and you could easily read it over a weekend if you were so inclined. To tell you any more would be giving too much of the story away, but let me tell you, I’m sure I nearly passed out during the last few chapters because I was holding my breath, I was so tense.

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I think Behind Closed Doors could make a great movie too, without the need to cut much material. The dialogue would need some work, because on paper it comes across almost pantomime-like at times, a little over dramatic I think. Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend this book to you.

B A Paris is releasing her second novel, The Breakdown, later this year, and I’m quite excited to give it a read!

Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)

Seriously, what happened to Collateral Beauty? I saw a trailer for it once or twice last year, and then it just came and went. I can only assume it got buried under all the Oscar movies and Rogue One. Anyway, my good friend Jenna came to see the new house last night, and trying to find a movie that neither of us has seen yet can be quite the challenge, so we settled for Collateral Beauty. Besides, we both love Will Smith (who doesn’t?) so we couldn’t go too wrong.

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Howard (Will Smith) suffers a terrible family tragedy that throws his entire life off balance. In his despair, he writes letters to Love, Time and Death, pouring his sorrow into the words. What he doesn’t expect is a visit from Love, Time and Death themselves (a bit like Scrooge’s visits!) which makes him see things in another light.

collateral-beauty-mixed-reviewsSomething I find really cool about this movie is how much it seems to have split the opinions of the viewers. Check out it’s current ratings chart on Letterboxd! I haven’t seen a more split opinion since watching The Fountain, which for the record, I still don’t know how to feel about. The other thing I got excited about very early on is that this movie is very different to how the trailer makes it out to be. There is so, so much more to the story that what those 2 minutes show you. This was a good surprise, rather than a “what?” kind of Passengers surprise.

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As for the movie itself, it’s messy, sadly. It has a huge, star-studded cast (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley to name a few) and each has their own complicated story. There’s simply not enough time to get to know these characters well enough, so the emotions thrown at you don’t have a chance to really sink in, leaving you feeling like a bit of a monster for not really feeling anything for them. That said, they have interesting stories to be told, and given some extra time and better pacing, it could have been so good!

What you can’t argue with is Will Smith’s acting talent. I’m not sure if he was trying to bait the Academy with this movie (he was very quiet this year, no?) but his emotions feel genuine, and I can’t stand watching people cry, only because it makes me cry too! To tell you any more about this particular scene would spill into spoiler territory, and I really think if this is something you’d like to see then you should go in as blind as possible.

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I’m sure if I watched this again I’d pick up on all sorts of plot holes, but as a one-time experience, I really enjoyed it. It’s a movie with so much heart and a lot to say, so it’s a shame it wasn’t paced very well or in-depth enough. One thing I will say is that the ending in particular is shocking; for better or worse will depend on each individual viewer, but it’s an ending I certainly won’t forget for a long time.

Whether you love it or hate it, Collateral Beauty is a movie that’ll get any movie fan talking at least. I give the movie 3 and a half falling dominoes out of 5!

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Oscars Special: Moonlight (2017), Loving (2017) & Hell or High Water (2016)

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How are we all feeling today, after yesterday’s Oscar Nominations? I was lucky enough to have them fall into my lunch break at work, so I had my tablet set up in the kitchen with my headphones. Sadly I’m in the only movie nut in the office so I got a few odd looks as I made faces as the nominations were coming in. I’m gutted for Amy Adams, but I’m not on the war path like I was when The Lego Movie got snubbed. Still don’t like the sound of ‘Oscar Nominated Suicide Squad’ though.

Perhaps it was a mercy that Silence only picked up 1 nomination, because as much as I know I should see it, I just can’t bring myself to do it. Still, we’re living in a world where Passengers has more Oscar nominations than Silence. Just let that sink in for a while, and tell me this isn’t the beginning of another 2016.

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Anyway, now the lists are out I can put my regular watch list on hold and try as hard as I can to see as many of the movies as possible! Annoyingly, 7 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees are 2017 releases in the UK, so I’m going to be pushing my luck. I’ve only been able to see Loving and Moonlight thanks to advance screenings my local cinema put on. My point is, I’m not going to have time to write full reviews for them all, so this is the first of perhaps a few mini review posts to cover what I’ve seen.

There’s a theme within a theme here, as all 3 of these movies made me sad as hell afterwards! Thank goodness for La La Land which lifted my spirits. Let’s do this, shall we?

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Moonlight (2017)

I was apprehensive about watching Moonlight, I’ll admit. I watched the trailer and read a brief synopsis, but couldn’t see much of a plot. That’s not really what Moonlight is all about though, it’s a 3 part movie that tells the story of Chiron, AKA Little, AKA Black (played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) and his struggle in life growing up with his troubled Mother in a crime riddled neighborhood in Miami. Chiron is a quiet, shy boy and doesn’t fit in at school, often being bullied for being a wimp.

Moonlight is the kind of movie that breaks your heart into a million pieces. I didn’t cry, but that’s because by the third segment I felt pretty numb. I don’t know how I expected it to end, because I don’t think I wanted it to. It’s a beautiful movie in every sense.

Moonlight has been nominated for 8 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing & Best Original Score.

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Loving (2017)

Despite it not being my usual kind of movie, I was looking forward to seeing Loving, mainly because I was completely unaware about the story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who are arrested for their marriage in Virginia, and the legal battle that ensued. I guess the saying ignorance is bliss holds a lot of merit, because it took me so long to even wrap my head around the fact that interracial marriage was illegal.

The movie was just a little too slow for me to really get immersed, and I could never get used to seeing Nick Kroll in such a serious role as a lawyer, because I’m too used to picturing him as The Douche in Parks and Recreation!

Loving has been nominated for  1 Oscar: Best Leading Actress (Ruth Negga).

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Hell or High Water (2016)

It feels like I entered 2016 having never watched a Western, and ended it having watched more Westerns that Rom Coms (I watch a lot of Rom Coms) without even realising, or trying! Hell or High Water is the best of the bunch, though. Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers robbing banks across Texas to try and pay off the mortgage on their late Mother’s ranch. Rather than hit 1 bank for the entire sum, they rob multiple banks for smaller amounts so as not to be caught. However, Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) soon picks up the chase.

This is another fairly slow movie, but the tension gets ramped up as it goes along, ending in an adrenaline-fueled final act. I wasn’t even sure who I was rooting for in the end, but it was all quite emotional. I really wish Ben Foster was given more attention for his role, I thought he was fantastic.

Hell or High Water has been nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay & Best Film Editing.

10 Movies That Made Me Cry in 2016

So, despite 2016 being one of the best years I’ve had, I did a lot of crying. I didn’t cry on my wedding day, but I cried at home making a cup of tea the next day. That scared the life out of my very new husband I’m sure! For the record, I hadn’t changed my mind, the emotions of the day just hit me 24 hours later. I cried as I walked down Main Street in Disneyland on our honeymoon, because I couldn’t quite believe I was there. Mostly though, I cried at an unusual number of movies in 2016. Perhaps I’m getting sentimental in my old age!

Whilst we’re still early enough in 2017 for it to be acceptable to still make 2016 lists, I thought I’d share with you the 10 movies that made me cry the most last year. There are spoilers ahead of course, but I’ll make the text lighter in those parts so you can easily skip spoilers for movies you haven’t seen yet.

Get your tissues ready…

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#10 Florence Foster Jenkins

This whole movie took me by surprise to be honest. I was going to skip it, but I read so many positive reviews I gave it a chance, besides, when does Meryl Streep put in a bad performance? Okay, I just realised the irony in that statement. Anyway, Meryl’s final performance on stage made me feel so sorry for her character, that I shed many tears without even noticing.

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#9 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Anyone who’s seen A New Hope should know how Rogue One was going to end, but in all honesty I didn’t expect the entire cast to be killed off. My only real gripe with this movie is that we didn’t get to spend enough time with each of the main characters to really bond with them, but I cried like a baby when K-2S0 sacrificed himself, and at that bittersweet beach scene.

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#8 The Fundamentals of Caring

This movie about a disabled teenager and his care giver could have been so much darker than it was, but I was grateful for the humour scattered throughout. Still, that didn’t mean that I didn’t panic every time Trevor faked an attack. My happyness was right on the verge of sadness throughout the second half, and I cried when it seemed that Trevor was dead at the end, just to find he was faking again!

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#7 Captain Fantastic

Whereas the previous movie surprised me with how funny it was, Captain Fantastic surprised me with just how sad it got. I have a terrible tendency to cry when other people do, so seeing the entire family crying when they learn their Mother has just committed suicide nearly ended me. I considered turning the movie off, but I’m glad I stuck with it, because it was a beautiful story.

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#6 Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Okay, okay, onto some happy tears now. No, wait, I cried sad tears when Rick’s new foster Mother Bella died. The dog too. But! After that, I laughed to the point of tears several times, including the story Ricky tells which leads to the (terribly wrong) assumption that Hec has kidnapped Ricky and is abusing him sexually. It was cringe-worthy in the very best way!

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#5 The Jungle Book

I’m one of those people who will cry for hours when an animal in a movie dies, but remain fairly stoney faced if a human does. So I guess it’s no surprise that I cried several times during The Jungle Book. What hit me the hardest though was when Baloo was mean to Mowgli to get him to leave for his own safety. I’m sniffing just thinking about it.

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#4 Room

There’s really no explanation to this one. If you watched Room and your eyes stayed dry throughout, you’re a cold hearted monster. Just kidding, but not really…

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#3 Me Before You

I didn’t read the book before seeing this at the cinema, which didn’t really matter because the BBFC rating screen before the movie TOTALLY ruined the ending for me before the movie had begun. Seriously guys, could you not have worded it a little better, to not give it away? Anyway, I cried angry-sad tears at this one, the kind of tears you normally only get when you’re shouting at someone.

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#2 Tallulah

Another movie that took me by surprise in 2016! This one’s a Netflix original starring Ellen Page, a homeless girl who accidentally kidnaps a woman’s baby. It sounds awful I know, but this baby was being neglected, and Ellen’s character never meant to actually take her away. It was the feeling of helplessness that got me with this one.

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#1 Moana

When I was in Primary School I wanted to be an actress. I’ve always had a flair for being over-dramatic, but I decided what was holding me back was my inability to cry on demand. Well, I’ve solved that problem now. I only have to think about Moana and I start crying. I can’t even explain to you why to be fully honest, Disney have a knack for tugging on the ol’ heartstrings, but I haven’t been affected like this since “Take her to the moon for me. Okay?” (Bonus points if you know that movie).

So – confession time. What 2016 movie made you cry the most?