I absolutely loved this novel. A.J. Fikry is the owner of a small, independent bookstore on the small Alice Island in the Northeast. He is cynical, cranky, and depressed...and not without reason. The recent death of his beloved wife has left him a widower at the age of thirty-nine. Their shared love of books seems to have died with his wife and A.J. is left behind with only bitterness.
Enter an absolutely delightful cast of secondary characters who populate the island and A.J.'s life. You're bound to love at least one - if not all - of them.
Next we have the unexpected hope and redemption of A.J. I'm not giving any spoilers here. Yes, it's a feel-good book. But it's more than that: it's a love letter to the power books have in our lives. If you have ever felt changed by a book, this novel will speak to you....you'll "get" it. And if you loved "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" or "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" you'll find lots to love here, as well - not because the plots are similar, but because of the similar feel to the novels that comes from a good cast of eccentric townsfolk, a small community, and a sense of closeness among the characters.
So I'll leave you with this: if you love reading books, do not miss this one. (I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it made into a movie!)
Lots of fiction works incorporate books or bookstores as central to their plots. Some make good use of both; I'm thinking here of works like "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore". Most, though, use a book as a sort of MacGuffin and it could just as easily be a butter dish. Or, the action takes place in a nice atmospheric bookstore that could just as easily be an auto repair shop. "Fikry", though, is different and belongs to that small category of works that really have something to say about books and bookstores and, in this case, booksellers. And that's great.
Fikry is not just a bookseller. He filters his experiences, his thoughts, even pretty much how he lives his life by reference to his favorite books. Everything he perceives has some analogue in a book he once read, and when he isn't living his life he is thinking about or talking about books. It is no accident that the first major character we meet here is a publisher's rep who begins to play a larger and larger role in Fikry's life. And, because Fikry's opinions are strong and well-informed, the book is interesting enough even if you don't care for the plot at all.
This book has been heavily promoted as "in the spirit" of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society". That's probably good marketing - "Guernsey..." is a well-loved book, although I thought it was a little bland and flabby. But, this book is a lot better, or at least more appealing to me, in one particular regard. A.J. Fikry is a prickly character with a lot of strong opinions and a not entirely likeable or appealing world view. This is not some grand multi-generational saga; it is more of a character sketch, focused on an unusual character. More important - on a thought provoking and sometimes difficult character.
So, no spoilers here. The blurbs give you a good idea of how this story develops. What is important is simply to note that Fikry is interesting and what he says and thinks about books is interesting. Bottom line - if you like amiable shaggy dog life stories, or if you don't usually but you do like reading about interesting people thinking about interesting books, then you might very much enjoy this. I did.
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
on April 27, 2014
There is nothing wrong with this book. I'll begin by saying that. It is decently written. It moves along at a fair pace. The characters are somewhat interesting for the most part. I have nothing particularly negative to say about the story.
I didn't, however, especially like the book. I didn't dislike it either. It was a nice story. It was a safe story. It was gentle and sweet and cozy and predictable. For many readers, those are all excellent qualities. But if you, like myself, prefer books with at least a few edges, a few uncertainties, a little darkness, a little messiness, and some deeper character development, then this isn't the book for you. It's simply a matter of preference.
on September 27, 2014
OK. My review now has a spoiler alert! Do not read this review if you do not want to know what is going to happen in the book.
This book started out strong with good witty dialogue and fast flowing thoughts. It slumped about a third of the way through with nobody saying anything interesting. Nobody's character developed much. The introduction of these characters sounded interesting but they didn't go anywhere. Half way through the book I lost interest.
AJ is depressed, cynical, sardonic. He regrets being mean to the book rep. But there's no cogitating on his part about her, no reflection. Just fast forward five years and he takes steps to get to know her. By this time she's engaged to someone else, but-hey good luck! She breaks up with him. That was convenient. But it also makes human lives expendable. Just throw people out of the way so the protagonist, whom we're all rooting for, can have his romance.
But is it romantic? They have sex before they even know each other. Is that a throw away action as well? I thought that was supposed to be the culmination of two people's intimacy toward each other. After that I stopped caring.
Maya is supposed to be interesting but, as someone who worked in preschool for several years, she wasn't very real to me. I've never met a three year old like that.
Finally, the supporting cast had all the hackneyed traits: divorce, adultery, blah, blah, blah. I'm not saying those things don't really happen but they seemed so perfunctory.
I can tell by the reviews most people loved it. Just not me.
on June 20, 2015
“No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World,” reads the sign on Island Books, Alice Island’s Exclusive Provider of Fine Literary Content since 1999. In this tale by Gabrielle Zevin, we meet A.J. Fikry, owner of Island Books. His wife died young as a result of an accident. Years later, A.J. is still grieving and merely going through the motions of running the bookshop. He is unfriendly to customers and sales are poor.
The only remaining joy in A.J.’s life is that he owns a valuable book, Tamerlane, by Edgar Allen Poe. He plans to auction it off one day and make enough money to have a comfortable retirement. One night after drinking too much, A.J. takes the book out of its locked case. When he wakes up the next morning, Tamerlane is missing. A.J.’s memory is fuzzy--did he forget to put it back in its case? When the book doesn’t turn up, A.J. needs to do something to take his mind off his problems so he takes up running. There’s no need to lock the store--his most valuable possession is gone.
One evening after returning from a run, A.J. discovers someone has abandoned a little girl, Maya, in his shop. The mother left a note saying she couldn’t take care of her anymore, and she wanted Maya to be raised around books. After contacting Social Services and learning how foster care works, A.J. mulls over the crazy idea of raising her himself and suddenly it doesn’t seem so crazy. The decision to adopt Maya creates a ripple effect that changes the life of A.J. and impacts other residents of Alice Island as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Zevin has done an excellent job creating a plausible plot and well-developed characters. With the setting in a bookstore and its many references to different books, I think it will have special appeal for book-lovers.
on January 8, 2015
WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Sometimes I get done reading a book and I just go "I'm not sure how well I liked this one." I can often see where the book aspired for greatness, or at least tried to touch one's heart, but somehow fell a little short. And it may not even be that the book is necessarily BAD or mediocre, just that it falls short of the gushing blurb on the cover... or the hype it's given by readers, publishers, etc. Maybe it's just that my idea of what makes a GREAT book is different from anyone else's (I still consider The Martian the best book of 2014, for example), but many times I read the "it" book of the moment and I'm left going "what's all the fuss about?"
"The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" was one of those books for me. It's gotten rave reviews and I can see where it strives for greatness, but I finished reading it and was left with a sense that this book isn't quite the life-changing novel it hopes to be.
As the title states, this book is about A.J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of the only bookstore on an island in New England. His life is in the dumps at the moment -- his wife has been dead for a year, sales are abysmal (not helped by the fact that he refuses to stock anything that he doesn't like to read), and on top of everything else his prized copy of Edgar Allen Poe's "Tamerlane," an extremely valuable book, has just been stolen. He's not sure how life can get much worse... and then a baby shows up in his store, with a note from her mother asking him to take care of her. At first reluctant, A.J. warms up enough to adopt Maya, and soon the presence of the little girl -- and his rocky but thawing relationship with Amelia, an eccentric publishing-house sales rep -- will change his life forever. But there are still secrets to both his and Maya's past, and perhaps his prickly former sister-in-law knows something about Maya that he doesn't...
Being a book lover myself, I liked the idea of reading a novel about a bookstore owner. Even if it's a well-worn premise, it's one I enjoy, and the fact that each chapter begins with the main character's thoughts on a particular real-world short story (ostensibly a collection of recommendations he's putting together for Maya) was a fun little bonus and a neat way to add character and flavor to the story. By the end of the book, however, the trick wore a bit thin, especially as some of the "reviews" really don't say much about the stories themselves.
The characters in this book... I wanted to love them, but I found they didn't have much development, and I have problems with each one. A.J. is a difficult character to get to like, even as he starts to warm up to both Maya and Amelia. I found him tolerable, but he didn't capture my interest as the best protagonists often do, and while I can understand his mindset in many areas, I still wanted to bap him over the head more than once. Amelia was a cute character, but her one personality trait seems to be that "she's quirky," and that's not enough to carry a character through a whole novel. Maya is adorable and precocious, but her dialogue is stilted and unnatural for her age, and she has a weird habit of not using contractions in her speech. Other minor characters -- a police officer who starts a book club for cops, A.J.'s sister-in-law who's trapped in a loveless marriage to a philandering author, a boozing memoir writer who stops by to sign autographs -- pop up from time to time, but again, don't have much in the way of personality, and seem to be more plot devices than anything else.
Also, the book throws in a twist about halfway through that could have been shocking and changed the course of the entire story -- except that only two characters know of it, and one dies shortly after said twist is revealed to them. Said twist is then entirely forgotten until the very end of the story, just in time to help resolve the plot. Plot twists are not to be used lightly, in my opinion, and it feels like Gabrielle Zevin threw said twist in just to ensure that the ending of the book didn't come across as a Deus Ex Machina. I feel this element of the story could have been better handled.
It's not that I hated this book -- I did enjoy reading it, even if I closed the book feeling like it could have been something more. It has the makings of a good meaty novel, but in the end feels more like fluff, as if I ordered a meal expecting it to be filling and got a plate of unsatisfying junk food instead. All the same, it's an enjoyable read if you don't go in expecting more than a light, fluffy novel.
on May 31, 2014
"We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on."
A.J. Fikry sells books. That alone made me want to read this particular book. Pathetic, I know...but there's something about stories featuring booksellers that stab me in the stomach. That Mr. Fikry was lonely and grumpy only added to my need to read.
Mr. Fikry is a widower. The author shows us his pain, his pushing away from pleasures and people. And after losing his prized, rare collection of Poe poems, the last ounce of any hope he had for himself dissolves. And then a mysterious package, with a mysterious note is left in his little bookshop. And with this package, a trace of hope flickers...
This is a book about love. Pure and Simple. Love comes in all forms, and when it unexpectedly pops up in your life, you've got to hold onto it...keep it in your heart for those days when all hope is lost. For that reason alone, I recommend this book. Fall in love. Read it.
on May 14, 2014
I always find it hard to review books that actually mean something to me. Books that leave a mark. Books that I've fallen in love with. Books that I close with a heavy heart.
It's so easy to rant and rave when you don't like a book. But what do you do when you love it? There's no amount of gushing and praising that I can do here, because it's not that kind of book. This book speaks for itself, and the story tells itself.
A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore on Alice island, called Island Books. He sells books, that's what he does. He's become grumpy, rude and disheartened since the sudden death of his wife and tries to drink himself to oblivion. He does not care much about anything anymore. He does not care about people, he does not even care about himself. He does not care about his store. Sales are dwindling. He treats people with vulgarity bordering on insolence - and Amelia, the publisher's agent who tries to sell him books, is one of those exposed to his irritable behaviour. But on a fateful night, following another fateful night where a rare book worth tons of money is stolen from his bookstore/home, he finds a baby girl left in his store with a note from the mother, telling him among many things that her name is Maya. With this sudden turn of events, Fikry's life, and his outlook on it, begins to change - and Gabrielle Zevin, along with all of her beautifully crafted characters, take us on an unforgettable journey with Fikry and Maya.
This book is about a bookseller, whose books - and Maya - change his life and that of many others. It is a literary, philosophical, love story. One that will take your breath away, and steal your heart. It is as the title says, a collection of stories from A.J. Fikry's life, and the development of his character and that of others is brilliant.
From Fikry, to Amelia, to Maya growing right before your eyes, to officer/captain/lieutenant Lambiase, and every other character that took part in this story - the character development was wonderful. The changes and growth, the unpredictability of every event. My God, when I remember the ride that Zevin took us on, I feel myself itching to grab the book again and reread the whole thing.
This is an unputdownable book. And I certainly did not put it down until the very last page.
Gabrielle Zevin, I've read your entire Chocolate series, and I loved each and every one of the books. I did not think you can impress again, but you did. You really did.
I am officially a true fan, one that will be waiting for every new book that you release.
A toddler is abandoned in a bookstore, eventually melting the icy heart of the unpleasant, widowed owner. A.J. Fikry. Silas Marner, anyone?
Each chapter begins with a commentary by the bookstore owner on a famous short story, and it's amusing to look for the connection between the famous story and the subsequent events of that chapter in this novel. I would not expect this book's audience to make the literary connections on their own, however, because readers of classic fiction are more likely to be as annoyed as Fikry is with chick lit. Indeed, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel is one of the crop of disposable titles bookstore owner Fikry would stock only out of desperation.
Bookstore clerks, English majors, and book industry workers will enjoy an unlikable "writer" side character, the author's obvious love of classic fiction, the scene of an over-the-top author reading, the theft of one of the world's most expensive books, and the Black Books - The Complete First Series type of eccentric bookstore owner.
However, heavy-handed foreshadowing initially confuses the reader and then spoils any sense of suspense. Tongue-in-cheek, self-referential criticisms also become annoying, as when a promising young writer's story is criticized for avoiding contractions and writing in third-person present tense, both of which are quirks of Zevin's herself, or when the bookstore owner says he doesn't like "orphan books" or "supposedly clever formal devices" - both of which The Storied Life includes.
The child character is the weakest link in the cast. (Practical impediments to a contemporary single man being allowed to adopt a toddler were easily dismissed.) The child begins as a bright 3-year-old who speaks in one-word commands, like precocious baby talk, as if young children who can say "downstairs" ever just stop there. The orphan, who naturally becomes a voracious reader, is an idealized nerdy, compliant, and insightful child -- just what you want for a book that seems written expressly to be a movie adaptation, to pander to both chick-lit and chick-flick audiences.
I disliked this book for the same reason I disliked The Bridges of Madison County; it's a pretentious, title-dropping book for a type of popular fiction reader who imagines herself a serious reader. This book offers a little more hope for the earnest pop fiction reader than does "The Bridges of Madison County," though, with a cop character who is slowly introduced to literary fiction via police procedurals. Literary snobbishness is mentioned often enough to wonder if the author takes herself seriously, believing she can successfully lift elements from classic novels and plop them into what is, in the final analysis, a chick-lit book, one in which plot "reveals" depend on characters keeping important (and trivial) secrets from each other ... forever. As in soap operas, "talking criminal" scenes eventually clear up all ambiguity (which is a characteristic that discriminating Fikry admits he likes, though "most readers" don't), again making it appear the author is mocking both her Fikry character and any readers naïve enough to take her book to heart.
Author Zevin appears determined to disprove character Fikry's idea that "literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying." Here, Zevin is hoist by her own petard, unless the point is that great literature only makes one fusty and unpleasant, and that when one's heart opens, one can embrace chick lit like "The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry" and consider it a book of literary merit.
on January 12, 2015
I waited with great anticipation for this book to arrive from Amazon. After all, the reviews were enticing to say the least.
I have to say I thought it good to begin with. Adjectives such as "charming", "delightful" and "sweet" sprang to mind as I read....until I got to the final chapters! This book then takes a nose dive into serious "schmaltz" with the diagnosis of a terminal illness (I won't say "who" to avoid giving anything away). And "brain cancer"? This is meant to bring out the tissues and add another dimension to the already borderline sentimentality of the story, but really destroyed it for me. To add insult to injury the medical facts are a bit skewed as well.
So, for me,the ending spoiled the book. I was disappointed and it is certainly NOT to be placed beside The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society which is a far superior book.
Having said all that I don't enjoy placing negative reviews and there will be many who love this book.
I suspect the younger reader will, and I intend to give this book to a twelve year old friend of mine because as Zevin states somewhere in the book....what you read at one time in your life will impact differently in another. How true!