Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Rant: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

"You can only live your one tiny life, but with books, you can live thousands more." A quote from Reddit. 

This is a magical book. As I mentioned before I read it, I said if it came anywhere close to Margarettown, it would be high up on my Life Favorites list. It's not as good as Margarettown, but man, does it come damn close. 

I love this kind of book. From the cover, the blurb, and the actual story, the book trumpets itself as one of those heartwarming, literary reads that puts a smile on your face and a tear in your eye. That's what it presents itself as, and sometimes, isn't it refreshing when that's exactly what a book ends up being? In the whimsical journey through the life of an eccentric bookseller and his marvelous, multidimensional friends and family, you really feel what it means to be a reader, a writer, and a lover of books. This is, as many reviewers have noted, is a love letter to book people. It is littered with references to classics and modern bestsellers that any person loiters around bookstores and libraries, hoping to meet the love of their life at these haunts instead of at a sporting event, and getting proposed to with a favorite novel, will not fail to delight in. 

This book is rare. It's hard to put my finger on it, but there are some books that are just written in a way that captures you, that transforms you. Not just enjoying a book or getting caught up in a book. I read a lot of books, and there are many that I deem good and got lost in while reading. But this is a special kind of experience. For the time you are reading, you feel as though you are exploring some magical land--you feel as though you have entered your own Narnia. I can't describe it as well as I would like to. I love those books, and they do not come around nearly often enough. I spend my life looking for them. When I find them, I rarely forget the feeling the book inspires in me. I was enchanted. I was engrossed. It is the feeling of falling in love. For those of us in the know, books and love--they are much of the same thing.

It occurred to me as I was reading, that this was really a book about nothing, a book with a plot that did not matter much, and surprises that did not surprise. You knew where it was going, you could feel it coming to an end. And when it did, it ended as quietly as it began, with little fanfare. A nothing book. But I've rarely read a book with so much heart. It sweeps you away. And at one point, A.J. Fikry asks, perhaps for a brief moment revealing the voice of the ever-lovely and wise Gabrielle Zevin, "Is a twist less satisfying if you know it's coming?"

No, dear readers. It is every bit as satisfying as it promises to be.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Books of 2014 (Part I)

LONG TIME NO UPDATE, SO SORRY. AM STILL ALIVE. Working on law school. You know the drill. Getting stuff nailed down for the summer and spending time with friends. Probably a better use of my time than hanging out on the blogosphere ranting to nobody. Although somehow I gained a new follower in the time that I've been away, so maybe there are still creepers out there?! I mean creepers in the most loving of ways. It's probably an Internet robot that is following me, but I'm going to pretend like it's a real person.

I'm still something like 7k from the end of my novel. Womp womp. I'm going to finish it this year, I swear. In the meantime, I wrote a substantial academic paper for the first time since undergrad, so that happened (things of extreme disinterest to everyone who might be reading). THINGS THAT ARE OF INTEREST THOUGH: Isla and the Happily Ever After FINALLY has a release date--August 14, 2014. My faith is blind. I know this delay will have been WORTH IT.

These are the books I've read so far in 2014. Sadly, the first eight I basically read in January, and then I severely dropped off until a couple of weeks ago. That's how I roll. I'm all about teh books for a short burst, and then I don't read for basically two months. C'est la vie. But you know what? People in law school continued to be shocked and super impressed that I read for fun still. This is good, because I am neither shocking nor impressing in any other aspect of my law school life.

I think I'm going to do a new thing where I rate the books Goodsreads-style here, because I'm obviously way too fucking lazy to write reviews. I'll have ratings in parentheses. I'm a harsh reader and things fail to impress me often, so 3 is what I consider not a waste of a read, but solid-ish and average. Anything that drops under 3 means I pretty much wish I hadn't read it. I'm not one of those people who gives 4's and 5's out like candy, guise. This all hinges on whether you believe in my memory skills and stuff, because it has likely been a while since I've read the book I'm about to arbitrarily rate.

*Will now preface every book rant with reminder that I have utter, absolute respect for authors and just because I didn't like something--and I may virulently dislike something--doesn't mean I think the book is objectively bad for everyone. Everyone should remember that I also passionately love things like One Direction yet cannot tell what is a good wine to save my life, so a preponderance of the evidence definitely indicates that I just have REALLY BAD TASTE.

1) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (3.5)
2) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (5)
3) More Than This by Patrick Ness (3.5)
4) Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen (2)
5) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (3)
6) The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (4)
7) Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4.5)
8) When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney (4)
9) Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia (4)
10) Pages For You by Sylvia Brownrigg (1.5)
11) Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart (3)

Plus, if we're going to cheat and count things I read "for fun" but weren't fiction:

12) Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age by Susan Crawford (4.5)

I realize this rating system makes my comments on "best/worst of the bunch" kind of redundant. So instead, general comments:

This collection of books should really be called All Those Things I Have Been Told To Read For Years But Never Did Until Now.

A Monster Calls was obviously freaking awesome, just like everyone has said. It is the only book I rated 5 for a reason (although Hollow City was really close! I'd give it a 4.75 if I was splitting hairs!). Holy shit, it was extremely powerful and moving, and I was reduced to tears multiple times through the book. It was surprising and illuminating and one of those things you think about for long after the book is over. Unfortunately, I think Ness tried to do the thought-provoking!concept thing with More Than This, and it read like a crappy version of the Matrix.

Eleanor & Park, I already reviewed and don't need to rehash. Wow, now going back and reading my review, I seemed to have liked it much better immediately after reading than I do now. Curious.

Bright Young Things had literally nothing interesting happen in the entire book, only people whose motivations I gave less than zero fucks about, doing things that seemed entirely irrational unless you were a 12 year old with no real concept of the world. But come on people, you live in goddamn New York City. Please grow a brain before you go out and make bad decisions, even if this is the 1920s. Maybe especially because this is the 1920s. Only a sheer stubbornness to finish (since I'd bought it on my Kindle instead of just checking it out at the library) prevented me from dropping it about a third of the way through. Also, the description is way too over the top.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, I think was perhaps not as impactful on me because I watched the movie first, and I'm no longer 15. I do think if I had read it as a teenager, I would have identified with Charlie more, but I'm just not at a moment in my life where the character or his writing resonated with me. I kept thinking, okay, this must be a trope, so as the book goes on, Charlie's writing is going to get better, right? Right? Is it not? Oh. Okay, then.

The Silmarillion was amazing, of course, but I'm a LOTR girl, so ... duh. Fun fact, though. I've never made it through The Hobbit or the LOTR series (stopped somewhere into ROTK), so I may be the only person whose never finished those books but managed to plow through The Silmarillion. I dunno, I liked The Silmarillion more; it was like a mythological bedtime story for adults.

Ransom Riggs FREAKING DELIVERS on Hollow City. I never got bored. The book runs at such a consistent level of quality and excitement throughout, it's almost astonishing. This is how all reading experiences should be. He's a veritable treasure to the YA community. Cannot wait to see how he wraps this series up. He ends on a cliffhanger, but I CAN'T EVEN BE MAD ABOUT IT, BECAUSE IT'S SO GOOD. The only reason I don't give this book a 5 is not even a real reason, which is that sometimes the book relies on rote formula of metaphorically dropping a gun every other scene to artificially generate excitement. What do I mean by this. Whenever things are getting vaguely calm, he inserts some zany problem, and the book becomes what the Percy Jackson series runs on: dispatchable monster after monster, to the point where it seems like the author is kind of just biding time until the Big Reveal for the actual plot arc at the end of the book. But as you know, I love Percy Jackson probably more than any person should love any thing, so ... I mean, I'm not really complaining. This is a crutch I'm okay with authors relying on.

Pages For You started out super promising and then turned into purpley lesbian smut for the rest of the book, with very little plot development. And I am okay with smut of any kind as long as there's development ANYWHERE, and the author doesn't find super flowery, bizarre ways to describe nipples and sex on Murphy beds. Biggest disappointment, for sure.

Up next, which I am SUPER EXCITED ABOUT:

1) The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin Bought it, preparing for my mind to be blown; if it is anywhere close to Margarettown, her other adult novel, this is going to be high up on my Life Favorites list.
2) Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke. The cover is gorgeous. I'm ready for some good horror, so bring it on, Tucholke.
3) Storm by Donna Jo Napoli. She's been my favorite author since I was eleven. I almost peed myself when I found out she published a new book recently. About the biblical story of Noah. I'm honestly pretty skeptical as to whether this will measure up to the other Noah retelling I've read: Not The End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean. That book was pretty great. Check it out if you have the chance. Just searched it on my blog. Apparently I read it in the tail end of 2010. Damn, this blog has been going forever.

Okay, that's all for now. Will check back in soon (hopefully?). There's no telling when I post, but at least I'll say that I'll probably never abandon this blog; it's a great way to keep up with what I've read.