Cute and heartwarming, if a bit of a slog in the first half. A sentient octopus, an octogenarian who needs some closure... An odd yet endearing setup.
Plot: ★★ 1/2
So I definitely, 100% picked up this novel because someone shared that it involved the antics of a sentient octopus who wrote diary entries. That's the kind of magical realism I will always show up to read.
Remarkably Bright Creatures follows the story of Tova, an elderly woman living out her days as a the nightly cleaning lady at the local aquarium. Her husband recently passed away, and her son died tragically at 18, so Tova's got to keep busy somehow as a single woman alone, and cleaning aquarium glass is something to do.
Tova's Swedish roots mandate that she do something as that's the thing "to do."
Enter Marcellous, the sentient Giant Pacific Octopus who's nearing the end of his lifespan in his aquarium tank. He knows everything there is to know in the aquarium, including where to get the best food and how to escape his enclosure. He also, to his surprise, finds out that he knows Tova too.
Tova and Marcellous form an unlikely and seemingly one-sided nightly conversation ritual. Tova talks, Marcellous listens, and when Tova's not there Marcellous plots out his next moves when it comes to Tova's unfinished business.
What will happen to Tova and Marcellous?
I'm going to stop the setup there, because literally anything else would be a spoiler, and as it is, I found this novel so extremely predictable.
That, honestly, was this novel's problem for me. It was heartwarming and charming, yes. But the dry and dull first half, combined with the utter predictability of where we were going, led to me wishing the novel would wrap itself up so I could be done with it. (Not a good way for a novel to make a reader feel.)
I wish the author had leaned into the magical realism a bit more, and leaned less on the predictable nature of the plot itself. From the very entrance of some characters, it was clear to see what their purpose was for Tova and the plot and therefore I found it very hard to care about the journey. If we had been left in the dark for longer (less POVs?) maybe I'd be writing a different review. But sadly, I just found myself wishing for more in this quaint family drama tale.
Definitely pick this up though if it's of interest—there are some gems here regardless of the plot's pacing.
PAYBACK'S A WITCH - Lana Harper
Witchy fall vibes, sapphic love, and a cute cozy town atmosphere collide in this fun rom-com. And it's the start of a series!
A short reader disclaimer: So first off, I have to SINCERELY apologize to the publisher, as I messed up and did not review this book in a timely manner despite having an early digital copy. In general, I've struggled a lot more with ARC reviews this past year due to a lot of upheaval in my personal life, but that's not this book's fault or the publishers so please keep that in mind.
On to the review!
So, did you ever watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Halloweentown, or those other adorable witchy vibe tv shows and wish they had a lot more lesbian action and just a gooey romantic plot arc?? Payback's a Witch is the novel for you.
The magical town of Thistle Grove has been the home of several powerful witch families for generations—including the Harlow family. Emmy Harlow thinks that her family's line isn't exactly prestigious or on the same level as the others, but it's still their claim to fame and Emmy's the reluctant heir of the situation.
The catch is, Emmy fled Thistle Grove years ago due to some unfortunate angst and hasn't been back to her home town in quite some time.
When she does come back for the all-important tournament that requires all of the Thistle Grove witch family heirs to be present, Emmy is met with something new: the enigmatic and wickedly devious Talia Avramov, one of the other family heirs and a reluctant partner-in-arms.
Will Emmy and Talia intertwine as they work together to bring down their mutual ex, Gareth, or will tensions collide?
Ok y'all, this was super cute. I do regret missing out on the opportunity to read this in the fall, when the vibes would have been immaculate, but this did give me a wonderful dose of the season anyway. Payback's a Witch was clever, funnier than I expected it to be, and filled with a lot of small town shenanigans.
I had some small quibbles with the pacing and lack of real stakes—it was a bit too quaint for me, a little less dramatic angst than I tend to like in my romances—but overall I do think it was a wonderful and fun rom-com to spend an afternoon reading.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
The 1960s, Greek islands, a young girl on the cusp of artistic pursuits and adulthood, and a saturated look at men and women colliding together.
Sense of place: ★★★★★
Erica's a fresh-faced young woman from London who's just arrived on Hydra, one of the picturesque Greek islands haunted by the rich, artistic, and beautiful. Its 1960, bohemia is all the rage, sexuality and the artistic are colliding together in various ways. It's heady days, and a heady setting.
A Theater for Dreamers follows Erica's journey into this rich tapestry of desires, art, lush settings, and mired interpersonal relationships. For us readers, it's an interesting blend of fact and fiction too—Leonard Cohen's real life persona meets a fictional group of folks in this window into the past. It's fantastically described, enviously set in a beautiful location, and classically portrayed through the eyes of our young and naïve protagonist.
I am, admittedly, a weird audience for this book. Every once in a while I like to step out of my reading comfort zone, if you will, and try things setting in different genres and settings. Historical fiction and destination locations/summer reads are not usually my cup of tea, so I think my rating reflects the fact that this isn't my usual read.
I found Erica to be an enjoyable main character to follow, if a bit annoyingly naïve. (I find this is often the case though with this kind of setup, so let's call it part of the territory.) Her fresh eyes experiencing this kind of sweltering landscape of sensual politics and artists in collision was extremely well done. Even though we've seen this story before, I thought it was done well.
I will say the novel lost me a bit with its sheer number of descriptions and meandering prose. I'm a "get to the point" type of reader unless it's a special case (usually in the fantasy realm) so I found myself getting frustrated with the paragraph to paragraph pacing. But do take that with the reviewer's grain of salt—I think this prose will work beautifully for those who love historical fiction/beach reads.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Stunning. These stories are raw, unresolved, crystalline, and opaque at the same time. The words ache with talent.
Emotional resonance: ★★★★★
Strength of collection: ★★★★
First off, a short callout to Call Number Box (pun intended) for bringing this short story collection to my attention. Call Number Box is a quarterly book subscription that focuses on new Black literature and is curated with a very cool librarian vibe (we get call numbers, library stickers, etc.).
On to the collection now. Milk Blood Heat was, to put it simply, stunning. I don't have much more to say on the subject without rambling endlessly, so instead, enjoy some short thoughts on each of the stories:
Milk Blood Heat - 5 stars
A heavy opener. Two girls turn 13, become blood sisters despite their skin color. Only one girl makes it through, and she's left to pick apart the duality of life.
Feast - 5 stars
This one is definitely a trigger warning: avoid it if you have sensitivity for miscarriages and bodily discussions. One woman can't move on from an early miscarriage and her obsession consumes her.
Tongues - 4.5 stars
Tackling the patriarchal nonsense at the heart of hardcore Christianity, this is another coming-of-age story packed with teeth. Shivers abound from some of those lines.
The Loss of Heaven - 4 stars
Fred is an aging man. Fred thinks he is important and that the flirting bartender authentically cares for him—it helps him avoid thoughts of his dying wife. Fred is wrong. This was a longer story and while excellent, I have to be honest, I wish this collection had been entirely female.
The Hearts of Our Enemies - 5 stars
Mothers and daughters, both realizing that the other is just a woman, making choices in a man's world filled with snakes.
Outside the Raft - 3 stars
This one was my personal least favorite of the bunch. It's a survival story of two young girls in a deadly moment on the water, and while well-told it wasn't memorable in this all-star collection.
Snow - 4.5 stars
I feel conflicted about this one. Maybe it's because I've been there before - a woman unsatisfied in her circumstance... but is she actually unsatisfied, or is she just in need of a reality check?
Necessary Bodies - 5 stars
This one was a PUNCH. A woman is pregnant, she hasn't told her mother, and she's ruminating her ultimate choices as she plans her mother's birthday party. I loved the ending.
Thicker Than Water - 4.5 stars
Obviously this collection is filled with heavy topics, so this initial road trip story is much darker than it first appears—and the beginning is already pretty grim. I liked it for its complexities, I disliked it for its complexities. Strong emotions.
Exotics - not rated
Commentary on the dehumanization of society from the eyes of the "elite." Another one with some chills, albeit small ones as this story was so short.
[Last story, which I have forgotten] - unrated
I'm typing this up away from my copy, and I've forgotten this one. Will update the review when I can.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.