The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

fikryWith the death of his wife, A.J. Fikry isolated himself in the small bookstore on Alice Island that they had started together.  A literary snob, A.J. does his best to push everyone out of his life, including the idealistic and energetic sales rep from Knightley Press who refuses to be put off by his bad attitude.  But A.J.’s world is turned upside down by the theft of a valuable book of poems and an unexpected delivery to the bookstore.  A.J. is given the chance to re-examine his life and become reinvigorated by books and the people that surround him.

“We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.”

I wanted to LOVE this book, after all it is a book about a bookstore!  And while I did LIKE the book, I didn’t find it to be anything spectacular.  It was a pleasant enough read – good for a rainy day or a day at the beach.  But for some reason, I just did not connect with the characters or the situations in a meaningful way.  Many of the main story lines felt rushed and superficial.  The elements are there for an amazing story – good characters and a good plot line – it just felt underdeveloped.  Again, it’s an enjoyable story, it just seemed like it could have been much more.

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 272
Publication: Algonquin Books, April 2014

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One-Way Bridge

one way bridgeIn Mattagash, Maine there is a one-way bridge over the Mattagash River.  This is the Maine of wilderness and the moose, not the Maine of lobster and the seashore.  There are unhappy housewives, cantankerous Vietnam Vet widowers, an equally cantankerous mailman about to retire, loggers, dope dealers, and other small town characters.

I grew up in a small town and live in one now.  I’m pretty familiar with small-town faults and their quirky inhabitants.  I find them interesting and amusing, relatable and human.  But unfortunately, I didn’t find this story to be any of those things.  I believe the characters were supposed to be quirky, but they seemed stereotypical, one-dimensional, and honestly – a little boring.  I kept waiting for the story to go somewhere, to amuse me or make me sad or make me angry, but it never did.  It wasn’t awful, it was just dull.  Dull enough that I put my copy in the used book sale at the library when I was done, it’s not a book I’ll recommend to friends or family, and I’m already out of space on my bookshelves.

This is the first time I have read a book by Cathie Pelletier, and maybe fans of her books, particularly those set in Mattagash, found this a welcome return to a familiar place.  Perhaps her previous books were more engaging.  But personally, I was disappointed – I really liked the cover – but you know what they say…

 

Title: The One-Way Bridge
Author: Cathie Pelletier
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 384
Publication: Sourcebooks Landmark, October 2013

Perfect

perfectA moment in time when everything changes.  That’s what twelve-year old Byron experiences when his mother is driving him to school one morning in 1972.  The weird thing?  She doesn’t seem to recognize or remember that anything happened.  Byron goes to his friend James for help in figuring out what really happened, and what to do about it, while still protecting his mother.  Byron finds himself taking on an adult role in his relationship with his mother, a loving parent, but one who seems disconnected as she struggles with her unhappy and controlling marriage, being stuck in the country alone with her children, while dealing with everyone’s expectations of her.

Alternating with Byron’s story are chapters telling the story of Jim, a middle-aged man living in a van and struggling with his OCD and social awkwardness while attempting to hold down a job at a supermarket café.  Surrounded by an odd and interesting cast of co-workers, his story his often both sad and amusing.

I loved Rachel Joyce’s first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye, and her second work did not disappoint.  Towards the beginning of the book there is some awkwardness in the alternating stories, but it passed quickly, leaving me engrossed in both stories, how they would weave together, and how things would ultimately end.  Both Byron and Jim’s stories are wonderfully engaging and touching.  Sad, yet interspersed with humor, the ripples of an added moment move throughout time.

“Besides, the big things in life do not present themselves as such. They come in the quiet, ordinary moments– a phone call, a letter– they come when we are not looking, without clues, without warning, and that is why they floor us. And it can take a lifetime, a life of many years, to accept the incongruity of things: that a small moment can sit side by side with a big one, and become part of the same.” 

Title: Perfect
Author: Rachel Joyce
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 400
Publication: Random House, January 2014

The Signature of All Things

signatureThe Signature of All Things is epic in scope as it spans the life of Henry Whittaker from a thieving child to the wealthiest man in Philadelphia and the long life of his daughter Alma.  The story also travels the globe, from England and America and Amsterdam to Tahiti and the jungles of the world.  It addresses topics as varied as botany, masturbation, insanity, homosexuality, religion, sacrifice, abolition and family relationships.  In spite of its large and beautiful scope, at its core it’s the story of Alma, a lonely woman struggling to know and be known. Unfortunately for Alma, she was born an unattractive woman with far too much intellectual curiosity for the age.  Desiring love, she instead spends much of her life being content in taking care of her father and his estate while she studies mosses.  Ultimately travelling the globe in the desire to understand, she finally finds what she seeks, but not in the way in which we’ve come to expect.  Romance is not to be in her cards, but she can finally be known and loved instead for her mind, for her knowledge and brilliant insights. The book is very lyrical, the words seem to sing, making it an enjoyable and engrossing read.  There are parts of the middle of the book that are almost too odd, but I powered through them, still anxious to find out what happened to Alma and whether she would find what she sought.

“You see, I have never felt the need to invent a world beyond this world, for this world has always seemed large and beautiful enough for me. I have wondered why it is not large and beautiful enough for others– why they must dream up new and marvelous spheres, or long to live elsewhere, beyond this dominion… but that is not my business. We are all different, I suppose. All I ever wanted was to know this world. I can say now, as I reach my end, that I know quite a bit more of it than I knew when I arrived. Moreover, my little bit of knowledge has been added to all the other accumulated knowledge of history– added to the great library, as it were. That is no small feat, sir. Anyone who can say such a thing has lived a fortunate life.” 

Title: The Signature of All Things Author: Elizabeth Gilbert Genre: Fiction Pages: 512 Publication: Viking Adult, October 2013

Allegiant

AllegiantAllegiant is the final book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. The trilogy focuses on a dystopian society which is divided into different factions, each holding a human trait – selflessness, knowledge, honesty, bravery, kindness – as core to their values and their existence.  The books focus mainly on Tris, who has left Abnegation, where she was raised, to join Dauntless where she meets Tobias (aka Four).  Tris discovers that she is Divergent, having no singular trait which defines her.  Throw in the factionless, outcasts who live on the edges of society, power hungry leaders trying to destroy the Divergents, betrayal, mind control serums, battles, death, and the inevitable romance between Tris and Tobias, and things get interesting…

Don’t get me wrong, this is pure guilty pleasure reading, fast-paced, romantic, just plain fun.  It may not be great literature, but pleasure reading doesn’t always need to be, and this was an enjoyable trilogy.  I loved the first book in the series, Divergent, and the second book, Insurgent, was better than I expected, leaving both my daughter and I anxiously awaiting the release of Allegiant.  Were we disappointed?  Ultimately, I don’t think so – we both still love the trilogy – but there were moments…

Tris, Four and their friends are ready to head out of the city to see what lies beyond the gates.  Once they make it out it seems a bit like an M. Night Shymalan movie for a while – everything you thought you knew (and that the characters thought they knew) turns upside down and inside out.  There is secrecy and betrayal and revolution.  There are genetic experiments and societal experiments gone awry.  In the middle of all of this, Tris and Four are discovering new truths about themselves, their pasts, and their families as they try to figure out who they are and where they belong.

There is no way to review this book while ignoring how the trilogy ends, especially since it has been the focus of so much discussion.  So while I will attempt to avoid giving away all of the gritty details, consider yourself warned…

So, ultimately, the biggest hurdle to liking this book is the ending.  I had heard rumblings in the bookish world, so I was not completely surprised.  When I walked in on my daughter one morning, tears streaming down her face while she held the book in her hands, I knew that she had not seen it coming.   First impressions on reading it, from both of us, was that the death seemed pointless, done simply for shock value without any real meaning.  Given some time away from it, and a chance to chat about it with my daughter, I do believe that there was meaning there, we just didn’t like it!  But ultimately, it was about love and sacrifice, bravery and selflessness.

There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”

Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 544
Publication:
Katherine Tegen Books, October 2013