The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin
This isn’t the charming, feel-good book I was expecting from the publicity. The writing style is engaging and I found the book difficult to put down, but the tone is bittersweet with occasionally very funny sections. This is not a predictable book, and has more depth than I expected. Definitely a memorable read with wide appeal.
A. J. Fikry is a curmudgeon, although still in his 30s. Mourning his wife’s death in an accident, he has retreated from life. As he owns a bookstore on an island near Nantucket that is a problem, especially after the rare book he was saving to fund his retirement goes missing. He is very particular about the kind of books he will stock, and new publisher sales rep Amelia Loman finds him a tough sell. Then Maya, a little girl, unlocks the key to his heart, and the bookstore gradually becomes a community gathering place. I especially enjoyed the transformation of local police chief Lambiase from an infrequent reader to a passionate reader who leads a book discussion group. Eventually A.J. even finds love, as does Lambiase. Suggested for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and fans of bookstores everywhere.
A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
Cora Blake is working at the cannery in Deer Isle, Maine, when she gets an invitation to travel to France. Cora is a Gold Star Mother, having lost her son Sammy in World War I. A volunteer librarian who is raising her nieces, Cora has never stopped grieving for her son, and looks forward to the trip in 1931, with four other Gold Star Mothers, all from different backgrounds. Cora’s group gathers in New York City, and meets Lily, the nurse assigned to them, and their escort, 2nd Lt. Thomas Hammond. Immediately there’s a problem; Mrs. Selma Russell is African American and not meant to be part of their group. She is sent to a different hotel, and Mrs. Wilhelmina Russell joins the group. Once in France, they tour Paris, where Cora meets wounded journalist Reed, who wants to tell her story. It is a journey of new experiences, shared grief, and unexpected tragedy. Reed’s article also has surprising consequences for Cora. We don’t meet the ladies from any of the other groups on their ship, and at least one storyline is dropped. Cora is excellent company for the reader, but I was hoping for more depth and less drama. I think this book would be a good choice for a book discussion.
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
Romance, mystery, history, Victorian art, and rare books combine to make for an engaging read. The setting moves from the 1980s and 1990s in North Carolina and England to the Victorian era and Elizabethan England. In 1995, rare book dealer Peter Byerly has retreated from North Carolina to an English cottage after the death of his wife Amanda. Finally visiting a bookstore, he is stunned to find a Victorian watercolor portrait tucked into a book about Shakespearean forgeries. The portrait looks just like his wife, who studied Victorian art. When Amanda’s books don’t identify the artist, he is referred to an art society meeting in London, where he meets book editor Liz Sutcliffe. The mystery of the portrait and its artist are somehow connected to an Elizabethan novel Pandosto by Robert Greene, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. A copy of Pandosto with margin notes by Shakespeare and a list of people who owned the book could be proof that Shakespeare really wrote his plays; or it could be a forgery. The search puts Peter and Liz in jeopardy, while alternating chapters describe Peter and Amanda’s college years and the people who owned the copy of Pandosto. Peter’s joy in learning about rare books and his love for Amanda add depth to the story.
Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe
Mid 1980s London comes to life with Nina Stibbe’s letters home to her sister. Funny, poignant, refreshing, and thoughtful, I really enjoyed reading this memoir. At 20, Nina becomes the live-in nanny for Sam and Will Frears, who live with their mother, editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. Sam has some significant health issues, and they are mentioned but not a focus of the book. Literary celebrities like Alan Bennett frequently stop by, and this makes for some unusual dinner table conversations. Great books are discussed, as well as how to swear in German. Nina’s sister sends her recipes, and some are more popular with the family than others. Nina and the boys have adventures in London, comment on Mary-Kay’s dates, and casually refer to Nina’s trouble parking the family car. Nina is encouraged to consider college, and struggles with the recommended reading list in English literature. Even after she starts school, she maintains her close connection with the family.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
This is a well researched book by author Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist at Harvard, on a topic that is true for more than two hundred thousand people in the U.S. alone–that figure does not include their loved ones, who early onset Alzheimer’s Disease also severely impacts. Early onset Alzheimer’s is the label given to people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who are stricken with this genetically inherited neurodegenerative disorder. This fictional story of Alice (who seems to represent a composite of many real individuals) is heartbreaking–but utterly fascinating. Its intrigue factor is one reason readers might stay with the story even though, arguably, it pushes “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath down the list of depressing reads! Perhaps what will draw you into this story the most is that readers only know what Alice is experiencing through her sense of recognition. So when this once brilliant, vibrant and formidable protagonist recognizes the person who helped save her from walking into traffic as “the kind stranger,” you, the reader, have to discern that this “kind man” is actually her husband based on the fact that a moment earlier she was holding hands with him and was fully aware of who he is and what he means to her. Although the author does an amazing job in reminding us that to be human is so much more than our perceived intellect…and that love is the one thing we require to feel whole (and Alice is fully capable of loving and of being loved until the story’s end), there is no escaping the sadness of this novel.
I hope other readers feel differently and instead see this as a story that, while tragic, is still one of triumph (I did see that to some degree, but just not as much as I wish I could have).
Lisa Genova is the New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice, Left Neglected, and Love Anthony. Check out her website at http://lisagenova.com/
Suggested read alike authors include Jodi Picoult whose novels revolve around everyday people coping with difficult circumstances and controversial issues; Oliver Sacks, neurologist, and author of numerous best-selling books that were inspired by case studies of people with neurological disorders. You may even want to stop in and check out the award winning movies “Awakenings” and “The Music Never Stopped” based on Sack’s printed works!
Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Jane and David Vincent have been travelling with Jane’s family but now set out on their own to visit Venice and Murano in an alternate version of the early 1800s where magic works. The Vincents work with light and sound to create moving scenes called glamurals. Their ship is attacked by pirates, and David is injured. They arrive on the island of Murano with no money, documents, or luggage, and David’s friend Lord Byron is away. A banker from the ship offers them rooms and arranges for a line of credit while they look for glassmakers who will work with them to create glass globes with magic. When it appears that the banker has swindled them, the Vincents work with a puppeteer and a convent to unmask the criminals, clear their names, and get their papers back. Magic, Lord Byron, and a gondola race are all included, along with some romance. Their previous adventures are related in Without a Summer.
On April 15 at 10:00 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussing Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman, a remarkable true story. Here’s what I wrote about it last summer, when this title was being considered for The Big Read: On November 14,1889, Nellie Bly, an investigative reporter for the New York World, left New York City on a steamship headed east. Her goal: to travel around the world in 75 days, outdoing Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg. Traveling by steamship and train, she briefly visited several points in Europe, even meeting Jules Verne in France, then headed through the Suez Canal for points east, observing and commenting on the British Empire in the Victorian era. Traveling with only one small bag, she took the world by storm, visiting Ceylon, Hong Kong, and Japan. Half-way around the world, she was informed that journalist Elizabeth Bisland was traveling in the other direction, in a last-minute attempt by her publisher to beat Nellie Bly. Elizabeth sets out for the American west, on the new transatlantic railroad, a Southern literary critic surprised to be blazing a trail for American women. The story of their eventful journeys and the aftermath make for a great armchair travel experience for the reader.
On April 22 at 7:00 p.m., The Tuesday evening Book Group is reading Silver Star by Jeannette Walls, a novel set in 1970, featuring two sisters, Liz and Jean, known as Bean.
Growing up in California with an artistic, loving, yet sometimes neglectful mother, the girls, now 12 and 15, rely on each other. When their mother is absent from time to time, they eat a lot of chicken pot pies. When two weeks have gone by and the neighbors are getting suspicious, Liz decides they should take the bus to visit their uncle Tinsley in Virginia. Bean and Liz learn about their family’s history, and meet extended family. The Vietnam War and school integration are becoming issues in conservative mill town Byler, Virginia, and the girls will have to decide where their loyalties lie.
The Crime Readers are meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 15 to discuss Garden of Beasts, by Jeffery Deaver. The Crime Readers book group is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
Copies of the books are available now at the Adult/Young Adult Reference Desk.