Title: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014
Although this was published over a year ago, this is a title I’ve been seeing making the rounds on book blogs and on library carts over the past few months. It was actually this month’s book club selection for a library book club that I incidentally ended up skipping.
I fall into an odd spot with this book. My memory of the book is fonder than my thoughts were while I was reading it. This book is an ode to readers and their books. From the first page to the last, the book is filled with notions and quotes that readers will cherish, relate to and appreciate. Although those sentiments and the general story were memorable, there was still much left untouched within the story. The story begins with an awkward sell to a bookseller, A.J., from a publishing sales representative, Amelia. A.J. suffers two major losses at the start of the book. The first is his wife Nic in a tragic car accident. The second is a rare manuscript of Tamerlane, an extremely rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, said to be worth 400 thousand dollars. After returning home from an early morning job, A.J. finds something unexpected and life-changing tucked away into his store. This then starts a change in his life, taking his down different paths than what he could have ever imagined.
The characters are interesting, diverse and quite dysfunctional on many levels. Those parts of the story I liked. At times the story and the quotes were too sentimental, maudlin even. It was very purple-prose. Much of the story was predictable and many of twists were cliché. The pacing was too choppy for me. Things just happen from leaping over years, with no transition and no depth. Everything just falls into place, no trouble or effort involved. It was a cop-out gimmick. For all the drama purported through the character’s and their descriptions, there is virtually no conflict in the book. Everything resolves neatly, everyone communicates, is empathic and sympathetic all the time. Its an ideal world of fiction. Maybe that was the author’s intent?
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Source: My Copy
2015 Reading Challenge categories
- Written by a woman
- A book that can be read in a day
- A book a friend recommended
Through Homer’s epic The Odyssey, what we know of Penelope is that she is the faithful and clever wife of Odysseus. She is the wife who remains loyal and devoted to her husband after a twenty-year separation. Ten years for the Trojan War, and the following ten years it takes of Odysseus to find his way back home. Throughout her time, many suitors barge into her home in the hopes of marrying her and laying claim to all of her wealth and possessions.
The Penelopiad follows the same story, but told through the eyes and voice of Penelope. The story is told by Penelope in the afterlife (Hades) centuries after her death. I”m still unsure how I feel about this. It allowed for a modern tone & colloquialisms, but it still felt out of place with when the Odyssey took place. I think I went into this book expecting is told concurrently with the Odyssey rather than a retelling many eons later. I learned that Odysseus is a charming ass, but we already knew that. But he is only one of the few people who listens to Penelope and treats her with respect. The chapters told through Penelope’s voice are separated by chapters told through the 12 maids who were murdered by Odysseus upon his return to his palace. Although they were murder under the premise of their disloyalty to Penelope, early on we find out that it was Penelope who encouraged them to mix and mingle with the suitors, to bad-mouth their mistress in order to find out their plans. Penelope didn’t reveal her plan to Odysseus before the murder, so thus, the injustice was carried out. I liked the chapters of the maid’s point of view the best I think. They varied from prose, to song, to a trial before a judge. The injustice of their deaths was very creatively done.
© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld
How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean
Source: library copy
How Paris Became Paris is a wonderful book for anyone interested in a brief history to the City of Light. DeJean’s book covers a lot of ground, focusing on the 17th century developments happening in the city. However, she doesn’t go in as much depth as say a history book. Her writing style is much more casual, although you’ll be inundated with interesting facts about the structuring of the city of Paris.
She starts with the Pont Neuf bridge, and from there, the chapters discuss the ripple effects of this bridge on French social society. The invention of this bridge quite literally paved the way for modern French interactions, fashion as well as development throughout the city. The widened bridge became the first in Europe to be of such a width as to allow the public to parade through the streets. It is as a result of this bridge, that the French started leaving their homes to go for walks. These walks led to the necessity of being fashionably dressed. The need for fashion led to the invention of clothing stores and the hobby known as shopping. The availability of shopping allowed for people of all class caste systems to be able to dress and intermingle with people above and below their rank. This intermingling led to many more social developments, particularly in relation to women’s freedoms.
The chapters have a very easy flow to them, picking up where the previous one concluded. I found them to be the perfect length. Neither too long, nor too short. There are a number of illustrations, photographs and maps dotted throughout the chapters to break up the text and help highlight the author’s opinions. The author has a clear love for the city, and it strongly reflected in her writing. Paris can do no wrong and had apparently been an inspiration to other European capitals over the centuries. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone planning a trip to Paris. Having some historical insight will make the tourist stops that much more meaningful.
This 2015 Reading Challenge complied by PopSugar seems very feasible, for me at least. I’ve never been good with reading challenges, but I think I could accidently read a number of the books on this checklist. That’s another plus, is that its a checklist form. There’s nothing I love better than checking something off a list. I think I might print out a number of these to pass out at the library this month. What reading challenges are you signing up for next year?
I’ve been on a big non-fiction kick lately. I’m mostly interested in history right now. As well as all things European or British. (We can thank the BBC Sherlock for this obsession). I think my obsession with England is overtaking my obsession with France. In my rather insane desire to learn about all things Europe, I’ve been scouring the websites for quality nonfiction books. I want to learn something when I read. Actual facts and figures, not just opinion pieces or funny anecdotes. I feel ready to step away from fiction from a while and really give my brain a challenge. Hence, the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, someone reminiscent of my Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge I attempted a few years back. I’m quite tardy in signing up, but better late than never. Here’s hoping I find some interesting titles to add to my list in the meantime.
There are 4 levels for the challenge. We’ll see where I wind up by the end of the year.
Dilettante–Read 1-5 non-fiction books
High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Setting: London, England
In a city block sized high-rise, residents of 40 floors have access to everything they would need in this mini-city within walls. A bank, a grocery store, a junior school and a restaurant. Although the residents tolerate each other, tensions build as mechanical breakdowns start the eventual downfall of the hierarchical society and mass chaos ensues as tenants form packs and their primal instincts kick in for self-preservation.
This book is an eerie look at society falling apart & turning on each other, like packs of wild animals. Apart from being isolated in a high-rise building, it was never very clear why the society in the building decayed beyond technical malfunctions of the elevators. Of course, there was clear jealousy between the haves & have-nots with literal ties to the poor on the bottom & the rich on top. However, the actual cause was murky which bugged me for the entire duration of the book.
The women are passive and victimized in horrifying amounts and are portrayed as neglectful of their husbands and children. The men are aggressive, full of sexual frustration with urges to pee on everything to mark their territory
Did I like this book? No. Did I like how Ballard was able to dehumanize society? Yes, actually. The changes that take place over one character in particular, Wilder, were a fascinating character study to me. This transition from mild social climber to ferocious beast was gradual, frightening and seemed to mirror the entire mood of the high-rise. Most of the other lead characters (all men) where dull in compassion. Laing & Royal in particular offered very little to the book.
The book was recently adapted for the big screen. I’m curious to see what the movie will be like. There is quite a bit of violence (both physical & sexual) throughout the book as people attempt to assert their dominance & status.
© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
In the year 2044, reality is ugly & the only place of refugee is the online world of Oasis, a virtual utopia (like the Sims games). When the creator dies and leaves behind a maze of puzzles and riddles based on 1980s trivia, Wade’s new mission is to crack the code and win before the evil corporate clones do.
Although the concept of this book is incredibly entertaining, I found the characters to be annoying and the love story to feel awkward and forced. I think what bothered me the most about this book is how easily things fell into place for Wade. He was always at the right place at the right time. He knew all the right moves, had all the answers, all the motivation, all the luck. As ironic as it is to say about a sci-fi book, the convenience of all the obstacles made the story unrealistic. It took away from the drama. It never really felt like there much of a challenge up against Wade throughout the book. It’s not the best written book, but the story is entertaining and most adults will appreciate the 80s references. There are so many 80s references in this book. That seems to be a new trend, especially with YA books. I’d recommend this for folks who like Ender’s Game and other titles of that nature. The audio book is narrated by Will Wheaton, which is worth the purchase price purely for that reason alone.
*Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was originally posted at thenovelworld.com on 7/14/2014*
Jocelyn lives in a small town in France, neither happy nor unhappy with her life. She lives a life half in the past and half in the present, afraid to think about the future until she one day wins the jackpot lottery of 18 million euros. Then, she faces the tough decisions of what to do with her life now that the possibilities are endless.
The book is very melancholy, but easy to relate to. Jocelyn is the every day woman, devoted to her family, maintained by small tokens of happiness from friends, a blog, and small gestures from family. What I really appreciate is the genuine dilemma she faces having won the lottery. Questioning the motives of those around her, trying to decide if she really needs it or not, her wish list expanding & becoming more intricate as time passes. It’s a well written short novel that will have the reader asking what they would do in her shoes, or maybe realizing that money doesn’t always equate to happiness.
Find this book at your local library
*This entry was originally posted on www.thenovelworld.com on Friday June 6th, 2014*
Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate by Stephanie Lucianovic
Publisher: Perigee Trade, 2012
Find this book at your local library
Former picky eater, and now foodie/chef Stephanie Lucianovic takes a humorous and in-depth look at why and how picky eaters are picky eaters. Part memoir, part science and part humor is how she makes her point that picky eaters aren’t just fussy, but have valid medical, psychological and physical reasons for their tastes and reactions to specific foods.
She examines taste buds, she goes to a genetics lab to examine her DNA, she speaks to food behavioral therapists, parents, friends, chefs, and children in the Bay Area and around the nation. Her work is lively, chatty and informative. I bet the audio cd would be a hoot to listen to if she narrates it. I’m also a little bit partial to this book because most of her research is done around the Bay Area. She lives in Menlo Park, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she ever brought her young son to the baby storytime I did there. Not that it has anything to do with the book, but that its a small world after all if she did. =p
This is a book that picky eaters and foodies can associate with. Although it is chock-full of research, and anecdotes, there isn’t much in the way of advice other than “try new food” and “don’t push foods onto kids, they’ll just hate them all the more.” She makes a good point that kids today are exposed to a wider variety of foods via farmer’s market not to mention the super yummy creations of Ella’s Kitchen for tiny tots.
We are all picky eaters in our way. As much as I love cinnamon buns, and crave them on a regular basis, I avoid eating them because I can’t stand the sticky sauce that is poured over it, same goes for most drenched finger foods (ie ribs). Too messy = not for me. My husband can’t stand anything pickled (cucumbers, pickles, etc). We love food, love to cook and consider ourselves foodie-wannabes, but we still have our hang-ups. Everyone does! As long as it doesn’t get in the way of your health, then its really no big deal is mine and the author’s stance.
So, what food have you avoided recently?
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2013
Find this book at your local library
Franny Banks is an aspiring actress in New York. By day, she’s a waitress, and at night, she’s taking acting classes and preparing for auditions. This novel is what most can assume to be a semi-autobiographical account of Lauren Graham’s experiences as a struggling actress before becoming a household name with her role on Gilmore Girls.
Overall, I liked Someday, Someday, Maybe. Although I can’t really call it a great piece of literature. Everything about this book is cliche and predictable. But I connected to Franny (the only likeable character in this book) and I was cheering for her. Her character is flawed, insecure and very impressionable. At times it was annoying and I wished for some character development, with any of the characters really. Everyone is so two-dimensional and fit exactly into the stereotypes that we non-actors cast onto people in the media industry.
But I swear, I liked the book! Its a good quick summer read. Its a beach read. Light and fluffy with a decent sense of humor for some good chuckles. I particularly liked the doodles and small bits of comedy in Franny’s planner, used to signify the start of each chapter. Its definitely something fans of Gilmore Girls will appreciate. Its no coincidence that Franny shares a very, very similar sense of humor as Lorelei Gilmore. Amy Sherman-Palladino would be proud to see the character re-emerge as a struggling actress in New York.