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Remarkably Bright Creatures (Book Review)

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Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby van Pelt, set in a fictional town a couple hours north of Seattle, is a good read if you like: books set in the PNW, the giant pacific octopus, or feel good reads. This is a brief review.

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Remarkably Bright Creatures (Book Review)Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Published by HarperCollins Publishers on May 12, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Animals, FICTION / Family Life / General, Fiction / Literary
Pages: 360
Buy on Amazon


A Read With Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF SUMMER by: Chicago Tribune * The View * Southern Living * USA Today

"Remarkably Bright Creatures [is] an ultimately feel-good but deceptively sensitive debut. . . . Memorable and tender." -- Washington Post

For fans of A Man Called Ove, a charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope that traces a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus

After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.

Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

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Marcellus is counting his days in captivity. Currently, his is at day 1,299. At night, he escapes to avoid boredom or have a midnight snack. Did I mention that Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus, and his prison is the local aquarium?

Remarkably Bright Creatures — the debut novel by Shelby van Pelt — had me at “Giant Pacific Octopus”! They are remarkably bright creatures — though I suspect the book title might also refer to the humans. I judged this book by its cover (again, Octopus). 

Of course, the story is not just about Marcellus. It also concerns an older woman named Tova, who lives in the fictitious small town of Sowell Bay, a couple of hours north of Seattle. Widowed and having mysteriously lost her eighteen-year-old son many years ago, she confides in Marcellus as she spends her evenings working as a housekeeper at the aquarium.

And it’s also about Cameron, who is having a difficult time. His deceased mother had a problem with addiction and abandoned him as a child, his girlfriend left him, his band is breaking up as his friends move on with their lives, and he can’t seem to hold down a job. He comes to believe that he has found the father he never knew and comes to Sowell Bay in search of him — though his motivations are suspect.

I judged this book by its cover (due to the octopus) or at least its virtual cover as I listened to the audiobook version. The audiobook version is a good listen as Marcellus’ voice actor delivers just the right note of sarcasm and ennui for his character. Of course, this might be a turn-off if you dislike books with animal narrators. 

Aside from Marcellus’ parts, the other parts of the book are written in the third person, jumping between Tova, Cameron, and occasionally another character.

Tova’s character is stoic and matter-of-fact. She left me thinking of Britt-Marie in Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman. Overall, the book was a heart warmer — emphasizing the importance of family and community — and if you like Backman’s books, you might enjoy this one.


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