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!

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty

I’ve been putting off writing this review for so long, that I’ve actually finished reading another book already. Thing is, I don’t like being a negative nelly, but I had such a love/hate relationship with this book. Picking a book to read is so much different than picking a movie to watch. With a movie, you know the cast, you’ve seen at least 1 feature trailer, and you’ve got a pretty good idea about the plot.

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When it comes to a book, you don’t know any of the characters, and personally, I like to make the decision from the blurb on the back and recommendations alone. It’s fun to go in as blind as possible. I haven’t read enough to know what my favourite book genre is yet, but when I read the blurb for Truly Madly Guilty, I got a little bit giddy with excitement. It sounded like my favourite kind of movie! Here it is if you’ve never heard of the book before:

“Despite their differences, Erika and Clementine have been best friends since they were children. So when Erika needs help, Clementine should be the obvious person to turn to. Or so you’d think. For Clementine, as a mother of a two desperately trying to practise for the audition of a lifetime, the last thing she needs is Erika asking for something, again.

But the barbecue should be the perfect way to forget their problems for a while. Especially when their hosts, Vid and Tiffany, are only too happy to distract them.

Which is how it all spirals out of control…”

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Essentially, you have 3 couples who meet one day for a barbecue. Each chapter focuses on the viewpoint of one of these characters, first in the present day, dealing with the aftermath of what transpired, and then on the day of the barbecue itself, and as the book goes on you slowly start to learn just what happened that has caused so much chaos and upset.

The main issue I had was just HOW LONG this book was, and how many pages were used telling me nothing at all. I think it was over half way that I finally learnt what happened, and by then my reaction was sort of ‘is that it?’. It was a terrible thing that happened of course, but given so much time to come up with theories, I genuinely thought a murder had happened that someone was trying to cover up.

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I spent every day reading this having a not so quiet rage about how I still didn’t know what happened, and when I did, I raged about how it shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. Plus, by the time I learned what went down, I kind of stopped caring all together. There was a final twist towards the very end that struck a chord with me, but it was built up to in such a way that you kind of assumed it was coming.

What also didn’t help was that every character is easy to hate at multiple parts of the story. That wouldn’t matter so much if there was a lot going on, but so much time is spent just describing these characters in their day to day lives, that they just grate on your nerves a little.

Still, I think it’s a book that’s worth reading, but the key is setting your expectations at the right level before going in. Perhaps that’s my fault for going in practically blind, or expecting a Gone Girl style twist, but I expected too much. If you can focus on every chapter and enjoy it for what it is, I imagine it would be a very enjoyable read! It hasn’t put me off Liane Moriarty as a writer though, because I’ve heard her other novels are great, so watch this space.