Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

I like octopuses. I don't like books narrated by animals. So here's a book with an octopus as one of the narrators. Anthropomorphized animals? Blech. Sounds weird, right? Not really up my usual street but I'm so very glad I read it. In fact, I was trying to describe this to a friend and she got that "you're not selling me on this" look on her face. I continued to gush anyway. Because despite all of the reasons why Shelby Van Pelt's Remarkably Bright Creatures shouldn't work for me, it was an absolute delight. If you don't believe me, ask the zillions of other people who have read and loved this unusual book too.

Tova Sullivan is newly widowed and alone. She lost her 18 year old only son many years ago in an accident at sea in what many assumed was a suicide, although Tova refuses to believe that conclusion. She has a few remaining friends but she doesn't share much personally with them, hating to feel obligated or dependent or pitied. Although she does not need the money, she works several evenings a week as a cleaner at the local Sowell Bay aquarium. She is absolutely meticulous in her work. Her life is quite circumscribed and lonely and she is determined not to rely on anyone else, making plans for her future that she shares with no one. One night, while cleaning, she discovers Marcellus, the Giant Pacific Octopus, out of his tank, tangled in electrical wires. She returns him to his tank and they become friends of a sort. He recognizes something of himself in her. He is literally a captive in his tank (aside from when he escapes) and she is a captive in her solitary life.

Cameron Cassmore has been adrift in his life for a while. Raised by his aunt after his struggling mother left him, he is 30 and can't seem to hold down a job or keep a girlfriend. He is very definitely a lost soul. When his aunt gives him a box of his mother's things, he discovers a class ring and a photograph that might lead him to the father he's never known. There's nothing holding him where he is so he heads for Washington State to confront the local developer he is convinced is his long unknown father. Cam ends up filling in as the aquarium's evening cleaner after Tova has an accident that leaves her unable to walk for a bit. It is here, in front of Marcellus' astute gaze, that Tova and Cam's stories cross and Marcellus is determined that the knowledge he has of the night that Tova's son Erik was lost at sea and the observations he's made recently must be passed on before his own short time is up.

The novel is mostly told in third person, focused on Tova and then focused on Cam, but there are first person chapters narrated by Marcellus, which gives the reader much more information than either of the two main human characters have. And Marcellus as a narrator is charming and funny and smart and just a little bit irreverent. His chapters start with his age; he always knows that he is quite elderly for a Giant Pacific Octopus. He is probably the most self-aware octopus in all of literature. Tova is matter of fact and stoic but also closed off from the people in her life who very much want to care about her. She thinks she's just an obligation to everyone when in fact she is far more than that, if she'll only let them in. Cam is decades younger but similarly stuck in life, feeling unmoored and left behind by his closest friends. As the story unfolds, there aren't any surprises for the reader but that isn't really the point of the novel anyway. It is more about Marcellus being able to break through the grief and loneliness of these two people who have no one and give them the truth they each need and want to move their lives forward. It is a heartwarming story of family, found and blood, and staying open to others, to love, and to the joys still to come in life, no matter how short or long that life may be.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Stalking Shakespeare by
Lee Durkee
The book is being released by Scribner on April 18, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: A darkly humorous and spellbinding detective story that chronicles one Mississippi man's relentless search for an authentic portrait of William Shakespeare.

Following his divorce, down-and-out writer and Mississippi exile Lee Durkee holed himself up in a Vermont fishing shack and fell prey to a decades-long obsession with Shakespearian portraiture. It began with a simple premise: despite the prevalence of popular portraits, no one really knows what Shakespeare looked like. That the Bard of Avon has gotten progressively handsomer in modern depictions seems only to reinforce this point.

Stalking Shakespeare is Durkee's fascinating memoir about a hobby gone awry, the 400-year-old myriad portraits attached to the famous playwright, and Durkee's own unrelenting search for a lost picture of the Bard painted from real life. As Durkee becomes better at beguiling curators into testing their paintings with X-ray and infrared technologies, we get a front-row seat to the captivating mysteries--and unsolved murders--surrounding the various portraits rumored to depict Shakespeare.

Whisking us backward in time through layers of paint and into the pages of obscure books on the Elizabethans, Durkee travels from Vermont to Tokyo to Mississippi to DC and ultimately to London to confront the stuffy curators forever protecting the Bard's image. For his part, Durkee is the adversary they didn't know they had--a self-described dilettante with nothing to lose, the "Dan Brown of English portraiture."

A lively, bizarre, and surprisingly moving blend of biography, art history, and madness, Stalking Shakespeare is as entertaining as it is rigorous and will forever change the way you look at one of history's greatest cultural and literary icons.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Adelaide by
Genevieve Wheeler
The book is being released by St. Martin's Press on April 18, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: In love . . .

For twenty-six-year-old Adelaide Williams, an American living in dreamy London, meeting Rory Hughes was like a lightning bolt out of the blue: this charming Englishman was The One she wasn't even looking for.

Is it enough?

Does he respond to texts? Honor his commitments? Make advance plans? Sometimes, rarely, and no, not at all. But when he shines his light on her, the world makes sense, and Adelaide is convinced that, in his heart, he's fallen just as deeply as she has. Then, when Rory is rocked by an unexpected tragedy, Adelaide does everything in her power to hold him together--even if it means losing herself in the process.

When love asks too much of us, how do we find the strength to put ourselves first?

With unflinching honesty and heart, this relatable debut from a fresh new voice explores grief and mental health while capturing the timeless nature of what it's like to be young and in love--with your friends, with your city, and with a person who cannot, will not, love you back.

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