Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

"People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?"

Words to live by according to Mr. A. J. Fikry, owner of Island Books, a small independent bookstore with cluttered, dusty shelves and dwindling sales. He fondly remembers those early days when eager patrons walked through the doors anticipating pleasure in finding a good book to read, certain they would never be disappointed. But dreams are sometimes shattered in an instance. When A. J.'s beloved wife, Nic, dies in an automobile accident, life suddenly seems irrelevant. Days and nights melt into one another with bouts of heavy drinking. When a valuable edition of Edgar Allan Poe's collections is stolen from the store, A.J. despairs but not for long. Soon he discovers a mysterious package sent anonymously to him at the store. It's a baffling, perplexing arrival that slowly allows a sour, dreary bookstore owner to see a whole new side of life. He finds himself making a surprising decision that will change the course of his life forever.

A myriad of characters touch and transform A. J.'s bleak and empty life. There's Amelia, the publishing sales representative who endures A. J.'s rude and obnoxious behavior only to find that he may be the love of her life.  You'll meet Ismay, the sister-in-law who feels it is her duty to save A. J. from his destructive behavior, while secretly longing for tranquility and happiness in her own life. Likable Police Chief Lambiase  truly enjoys spending time in the quiet, unassuming bookstore but is afraid to admit that reading is a passion of his; a passion that friends and townspeople would never understand. Gradually, with encouragement from family and acquaintances, A. J. begins to see that he has the opportunity to begin life anew; the chance to make it all right again.

Ardent readers will relate to this book in many ways. Even in our world that is constantly changing, there's nothing like a captivating book to erase your troubles if only for a moment in time. This charming, endearing novel has romance, mystery, humor, sadness and nostalgia from days of yesteryear. It is about hope, redemption, and the belief that the lucky ones really do get a second chance at life.

You just have to believe.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Chestnut Street

Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy

Author Maeve Binchy had a gift; the gift of observation. She watched and listened to everyday people with ordinary worries and troubles, then eloquently wrote about what she saw and heard. The end result is a collection of stories filled with joy and triumphs, sorrow and regrets, and ultimately a life lesson to be learned at the end of each chapter. This book is a treasure chest brimming with her astute reflections on human nature. It's not really a novel, rather a book of musings and contemplation.

You meet so many complex characters, each full of flaws and imperfections, always searching for a happy ending to their tangled lives. These neighbors all live in Dublin, Ireland on a quiet fictional road known as Chestnut Street. There's sixteen-year-old Dolly, plain and nondescript, envious of her own mother's enchanting beauty until she realizes that perception is not always reality. Friends Wendy and Rita dream of becoming successful entrepreneurs until they realize how foolish it is to put misplaced faith in those they trust. They begin the WR (Wronging a Right) Club. Let's see who looks foolish now. Bucket Maguire washes windows, a perfectly respectable way to make a living except when you are the object of ridicule from judgmental people, including his unsettled disrespectful son, Eddie. Yet it's Bucket's supportive and unwavering presence that saves Eddie in his darkest hour. Then there's Nan, raising three children on her own, working endless hours to carve out a meager existence when the doctors say she has a weak heart.  So odd, she thinks, because her "heart must be very strong indeed"  to endure a husband walking out on her. Nan surprisingly finds a most unlikely suitor who finds that she has a remarkable heart after all. There are thirty-six chapters of individual stories just like these told with insight, humor, and a delightful easy-going pace.

Much like her popular A Week in Winter (posted on my blog in May of 2013), Maeve Binchy proves once again that she was a talented storyteller. Upon her death in July of 2012, publishers were able to gather her many years of observations and release a final book for her devoted fans. She had an uncanny ability to create a series of memorable anecdotes representing life with all its ups and downs.

Have a cup of tea, relax and enjoy the entertaining residents who call Chestnut Street home.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mimi Malloy, At Last

Mimi Malloy, At Last by Julia MacDonnell

Maire (Mimi) Malloy likes her life just as it is; uncluttered, simple, orderly. Unexpected early retirement brings leisurely days and nights smoking cigarettes, drinking highballs, and listening to Frank Sinatra croon her favorite tunes. Alone and divorced from John Francis Xavier Malloy, few people can comprehend why anyone would walk away from a lovely home, secure pension, and a classy late-model luxury sedan. But Mimi did just that and now  lives with the constant scrutiny and criticism from her loved ones, particularly her six daughters. They say it's time for assisted transitional living, or as the brochure says, for "people past their use-by date". Admittedly she has snippets of forgetfulness and confusion; a nagging feeling that her memory is fading. When an MRI confirms that Mimi's brain is filled with dark spots of atrophy, she realizes this fight is an uphill battle. Then one day she makes a surprising find; a blue and silver pendant belonging to her beloved deceased mother. This is not any ordinary piece of jewelry. Rather it turns out to be the trigger that unlocks a mystery hidden deep in the recesses of Mimi's mind. An otherwise insignificant bauble that may be the key to unlocking horrific memories of bygone days.

Mimi and her seven sisters, (yes seven), were born during the Depression into a happy but incredibly poor Irish-Catholic family. The girls were all beauties and worshiped their father, always overlooking his excessive drinking and bouts of irresponsible behavior. Their mother died tragically in childbirth and soon after, stepmother Flanna Flanagan entered their lives. Wicked and cruel, she dressed in their mother's clothes and conjured up tales of Irish lore and mythical faeries from across the sea. The girls were prisoners in their own home, while a loving father didn't have the courage to save his daughters. Then a sister was sent away to Ireland with no credible explanation, never to be heard of again. But why? So many unanswered questions...

This is a cleverly written novel filled with wry, witty humor, a bit of mystery and even some romance. It also has moments of great sadness and sorrow. A particular audience will enjoy this story, one who can relate to the passage of time as it slowly slips away with the promise of better days to come. There are an abundance of characters so I would suggest reading carefully but not focusing on each and every name. If you are looking for a book a little off the beaten path, try this one.  It speaks of love, hope, loyalty, and a little "Luck of the Irish".