Friday, February 26, 2016


Shop Indie Bookstores

Purity, Jonathan Franzen, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015, 563 pp

Summary from Goodreads: Young Pip Tyler doesn't know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she's saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she's squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother--her only family--is hazardous. But she doesn't have a clue who her father is, why her mother has always concealed her own real name, or how she can ever have a normal life.

Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with The Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world--including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn't understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.

My Review:
I am not a Franzen hater. A new novel by him is a happy event for me. I started reading him with The Corrections. I loved it. Then I read Freedom and loved that. With Purity, he got to me again.

Since the book has been reviewed everywhere in the usual outlets and on the reader sites (2056 reviews on Goodreads alone) I am not much inclined to add to the clamor. But several of my fellow bloggers have told me they were looking forward to my thoughts on it. I will give you those.

Jonathan Franzen is a good story teller. By the time I'd read only about 10 pages, I just relaxed and settled in. I have gotten that feeling in both previous books. I am fiercely interested in finding out what is going to happen and he goes ahead and tells me.

Pip (nickname for a young woman named Purity) is a fabulous character: conflicted, damaged, but with a strong inclination to keep her own counsel and make her own decisions. Not all are good decisions but she knows she made them.

The backgrounds of her parents make for fascinating tales of their own. And the mystery for Pip as to who they are makes for gripping reading. I especially liked how he handled that.

Parts of the novel take place in East Germany under communist rule and curtailed by the famous wall. It is unusual to find a character in an American bestseller who was formed (or deformed) under a totalitarian regime.

I also liked the book length exploration of the way that the internet has influenced journalism, the proliferation of information distribution, and the near impossibility of containing secrets. Though you can find articles-on the internet-about these things, Franzen brings in his own unique viewpoints.

I participate sparingly in Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and I read an insane amount of on-line articles about writers and books. Some days it is fun, some days I learn bunches of intriguing stuff in under an hour, and some days I feel crazy. Purity just blew all that away, confirmed the superficiality of such pursuits while simultaneously making me a more savvy and discriminating internet user.

At the end of the book I felt I'd been entertained and enlightened at the same time. What more can I ask of a novel? Well, lots more and I do and that's why I read all kinds of them. So far though, through three big Franzen novels, I have liked what I got. 

(Purity is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. The paperback will be out August 2, 2106.) 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


The Drowned World, J G Ballard, Berkley Books, 1962, 158 pp
Summary from Goodreads: The Drowned World is a '62 science fiction novel by Ballard. In contrast to much post-apocalyptic fiction, the novel features a central character who, rather than being disturbed by the end of the old world, is enraptured by the chaotic reality that has come to replace it.
My Review:
Ballard's second novel, following The Wind From Nowhere, (read last year when I wasn't blogging my reviews, sorry) continues the theme of extreme environmental change and how his characters deal with it. There are a couple of radical shifts from the earlier book.
I am a bit obsessed these days with climate fiction (it even has a genre abbreviation: CliFi) because despite ISIS, racial upheaval, the circus of the Presidential race, etc etc, we won't be able to be entertained by all this foolishness if we don't have a living planet on which to play out our human antics.
While other books I am reading from 1962 are concerned with the Cold War, atomic weapons, the beginnings of the sexual revolution, and Civil Rights, there is also a growing awareness of the effects of industrial practices on the environment.
The Drowned World is not exactly a screed about our endangered world as caused by mankind. It is apocalyptic in a different sense. In this short novel, solar flares and the accompanying radiation have resulted in polar ice-cap melt and soaring temperatures so the coastal cities of the world have become lagoons.
Biologists Dr Kerans and Dr Bodkin are part of the crew of a biological testing station monitoring these changes. They are currently docked over a drowned London. Kerans lives in the penthouse suite of the Ritz Hotel because it is deserted and also above water. Dr Bodkin, his assistant, is going mad and feral, refusing to return north with the rest of the team and wanting to become one with a world returning to prehistoric times.
The heat and the encroaching tropical jungle of sixty-foot-high ferns complete with sea creatures, all create a Jurrassic Park atmosphere. Kerans and Bodkin are both having surreal dreams filled with prehistoric images. Both decide to stay behind and embrace what seems to be a devolution to an earlier consciousness.
There is more: a deranged pirate and his crew scavenging for the lost treasures of 20th century London and a beautiful former socialite named Beatrice. Of course, there must be a love interest! The whole story is creepy and psychological in the extreme. Kerans's attempt to return to "the forgotten paradises of the reborn Sun" almost gave me nightmares.
Rather than a tale of how mankind might rebuild civilization after an apocalyptic event, Ballard this time presents an apocalypse of humanity descending the evolutionary ladder. I've not read anything like it. 
(The Drowned World is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 

Monday, February 22, 2016


Shop Indie Bookstores

Sex and the Single Girl, Helen Gurley Brown, Bernard Geis Associates, 1962, 220 pp
This was the #9 non-fiction bestseller in 1962. That year I completed my freshman year of high school and started my sophomore year. Pretty much all I thought about was boys, how to get a boyfriend, my hair, my clothes, my horniness. I had convinced my mom to pick up each month's copy of Seventeen magazine and read every single page. (In those days they published short stories, my first exposure to what is now called Young Adult lit.)
But I did not read Sex and the Single Girl. The title alone would have given my mom the vapors; she would have snatched it our of my hands had she caught me with it. I was so curious to see how it held up after 54 years and you know what? It held up pretty well.

Some of the advice was a bit cringe-inducing though totally similar to tips I'd read in Seventeen. How to be what boys want in terms of body weight (low) and make up (definitely!), hanging on their every word, and being at least somewhat knowledgeable about sports.

But the stuff about sex as a single woman? Guilt free and encouraged. Having a career? Yes, indeed. And though Ms Brown found a good husband eventually, though she gives unlimited advice on how to snag one, she also fully supports a woman who chooses to remain single, not have children, but still have plenty of sex. She even gives a nod to lesbians though she forwards the old cliche about having gay men as friends because they are so good at fashion and decorating.

The book is a complete, almost schizophrenic, look at how it was for professional or working women just at the cusp of the "sexual revolution," feminism, and the great divide between hippies and straights. Next year, 1963, will come The Feminine Mystique. By 1970, The Female Eunuch, 1971 Ms Magazine, and away we go.
(Sex and the Single Girl is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, February 19, 2016


An Unofficial Rose, Iris Murdoch, Viking Press, 1962, 307 pp
Summary from Goodreads: After his wife's death, Hugh contemplates returning to his former mistress. His son, Randall, longs to abandon his shapeless marriage for a perfect partner. Randall's young daughter, Miranda, is adored by her Australian cousin Penn, but has attachments elsewhere. Her mother Ann has her own private dream, while taking upon herself the strains and pains of all the others. Impelled by affection, lust and illusion, these characters search for love within a tightly woven web.
My Review:
This is Iris Murdoch's sixth novel. I have read all six in the order in which she published them, as part of My Big Fat Reading Project. There is less humor in this one than in the earlier books but like all the others it is about moral quandaries and affairs of the heart.
The difficulty of marriage is the theme, with each major character either caught in an unsatisfactory marriage or wishing for a partner who can be truly loved. These yearnings take the form of actual infidelity or unrequited passion.
Though this may sound like any old romance novel, Ms Murdoch confounds those expectations by the depths of her characters and no happy endings for anyone. Two of the women are the scheming type with little compunction about controlling others to achieve their aims. Hugh, the widower and main character, is the victim of both women.
An unofficial rose is one that has been left wild rather than hybridized into the special cultivated sort loved by gardeners everywhere. Hugh's son Randall runs a commercial rose nursery on the grounds of his property. It is also his family's home inhabited by his long-suffering wife Ann and his devoted but precocious daughter Miranda.
Randall has lost the drive to keep the rose business going so Ann does most of the work. She knows her husband sees other women but adheres to her Christian belief that marriage is a lifelong commitment as well as a sacrament. She is, however, in love with another man herself. Is Ann the unofficial rose?
These and other characters from teens to parents to the older generation all do silly things in pursuit of love and passion. It is a fairly sexy book. Describing them all would take too long. You'd be better off reading the novel, as I am no Iris Murdoch. In a live interview from 1962, she makes it clear that she had no intention to write "comfort fiction." I like that about her because she delves into the discomforts of love and passion, yet you feel less a fool for some of the things you have done for both. 
(An Unofficial Rose is out of print. I could not even find it in any of my libraries. It is available as an ebook from Open Road.) 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The Happy Marriage, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Melville House, 2016, 277 pp (translated from the French by Andre Naffis-Sahely, published in France by Editions Gallimard, 2012)
Summary from Goodreads: In The Happy Marriage, the internationally acclaimed Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun tells the story of one couple—first from the husband’s point of view, then from the wife’s—just as legal reforms are about to change women’s rights forever.

The husband, a painter in Casablanca, has been paralyzed by a stroke at the very height of his career and becomes convinced that his marriage is the sole reason for his decline.

Walled up within his illness and desperate to break free of a deeply destructive relationship, he finds escape in writing a secret book about his hellish marriage. When his wife finds it, she responds point by point with her own version of the facts, offering her own striking and incisive reinterpretation of their story. 
My Review:
I have made a goal this year to read more literature written in countries outside the English speaking world. Tahar Ben Jelloun was born and raised in Morocco, then began to live and write in Paris after attending The Sorbonne. He is bilingual in Arabic and French but writes in French because to him Arabic “is a sacred language, given by God in the shape of the Koran, it is intimidating—one feels very small in front of this language.” (

I had read his most well known novel, The Sand Child, some years ago and was struck by a style of story telling that felt foreign to me, but elicited a strong emotional reaction. I realized then how various are the ways stories are told in different cultures and thus how various are the ways life can be lived and approached, just on one little planet.

In The Happy Marriage, perhaps Ben Jelloun is giving us a look at marriage through Moroccan eyes, inclusive of both those who live in the country and those who emigrate to France, as many Moroccans have done. The marriage in his novel is in crisis due to  patriarchal views held by the husband, the large difference in age and class between husband and wife, and the relentless encroaching of struggles by women the world over for equal rights.

The book opens a few months after the husband, a famous painter, has suffered a massive stroke. Mostly paralyzed and unable to speak, he is in despair over not having finished his life’s work. He blames the stroke on his wife and their increasingly violent arguments even though he is overweight and had been diagnosed with hypertension some years ago.

The first section is called “The Man Who Loved Women Too Much” and is the painter’s account of his life as told to and recorded by a close friend. This man has had much success as a painter and has been a continuous womanizer since even before his marriage. He thinks quite highly of himself and relates his amorous liaisons contrasted with the recriminations his wife pours on his head.

As I read I began to realize that the painter is both an unreliable narrator as well as a man who feels it is his privilege to live as he pleases, have affairs, travel the world and hoard his money, as long as he gives his wife enough to run the household. They have children whom she is tasked with raising. All he wants from them is their love and adoration.

Also, though the marriage was not arranged and supposedly entered into with love on both sides, the wife is much younger and comes from a small, impoverished Moroccan village. The painter wanted a woman to give him children and the wife wanted to move up in class and affluence. Their two families have never gotten along and this class conflict is a virulent source of trouble for the couple.

One of my favorite novels of 2015 was Lauren Groff’s Fatesand Furies. Ben Jelloun has used a similar structure for his book with a section from the husband’s viewpoint followed by the wife’s. Also similar are the husband’s obliviousness to the plight of his wife and the wife’s anger over that plight. Different here is the anger exhibited by the wife. Shortly after the birth of their first child she became aware of his infidelities and his stinginess with money and made no secret about her fury. Also different is how entertaining Ben Jelloun manages to be even while the couple wage their battles.

In the second section called ‘My Version of Events,” the wife has discovered and read the manuscript of her husband’s life story. She states, “Before giving you my version of events, I must warn you that I’m nasty. I wasn’t born that way, but when people attack me, I defend myself by any and all means.” Her rage and her willingness to spy on the painter, even to picking the lock to his safe, are beyond bounds. Surely all women get mad at their husbands and dream of ways to retaliate but this one goes ahead and does it! Even so, the husband holds most of the power except for one crucial point.

Though he has told her he wants to end the marriage, she refuses to agree and manages to outwit him with his lawyers. A stalemate of almost a year ensues. Then comes an unexpected ending, so unexpected that my admiration for the author’s insight and sense of irony felt betrayed. On rereading the ends of both partners’ stories though, the admiration returned and increased. Marriage is as fluid as any other aspect of life. It succeeds or fails due to the personalities involved no matter the society or culture. If there is any hope in the novel, it is that a woman empowered has options, even in a fundamentalist country.

(The Happy Marriage is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016


The Glass Sentence, S E Grove, Puffin Books, 2104, 489 pp
 Summary from Goodreads: Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.

Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.
My Review:
I think I have let my ability to read fantasy wane through disuse. This is the second one in two months that left me confused by the plot. But even as I write these words, it comes back to me that I have felt this way before in many fantasy novels. Dr Strange and Mr Norrell, some of the Harry Potter books, parts of the His Dark Materials trilogy, parts of the Lord of the Rings books. I think it is mostly due to the magic, which is not necessarily based on logic and so doesn't make sense in "the real world."

Other than that sense of disoriented confusion, I found much to love in The Glass Sentence: the world building that created the Great Disruption, the fantastic cartology and resulting maps, and most of all 13-year-old Sophia Tims with her disability/gift of losing track of time!

The book has been classified as for young readers 10 and up. When I told my 10-year-old grandson about a world where different continents existed side by side geographically but each one was in a different time period, he was instantly interested. But I wonder if many 10-year-old readers could understand the book. Probably I underestimate them. Probably they would sail through it like they did the early Harry Potter books.

I found a review on-line by a 13-year-old reader who loved the book and complained not a bit about being confused. I am going to read the sequels because by the end of this one Sophie had not yet found her parents. The second was published in 2015: The Golden Specific. The third, The Crimson Skew, will come out this year, completing The Mapmaker's Trilogy.

But first I am going to reread this one. After all I must have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at least five times when I was a kid. It also made more sense to me then!

(The Glass Sentence is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, February 12, 2016


In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume, Alfred A Knopf, 2015, 397 pp
In honor of Judy Blume's birthday today, I am posting the review for her last novel. I reviewed it for the now discontinued literary site, Three Guys One Book, but didn't post it here on the blog. So here it is:
All my life, I’ve had all kinds of friends, many of whom would never get along with each other. One of the best things about being a voracious reader is being able to hang out while reading with so many different kinds of writers: highly literary writers, mystery, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy writers. Those who write lovely sentences, those who help me understand life, those who keep me up all night by the power of their stories, those who make me laugh out loud, and so many more. Every one of them brings me something I need, just like my different friends.

Then there is Judy Blume, who possibly could be friends with anyone. I came to her late because while she was publishing her novels for young readers and teens, I was already an adult reader. My first Judy Blume book was Summer Sisters in which I learned that I was not alone as far as what goes on between girlfriends in their teens and how we drift apart.  Then one day I got completely blocked as a writer when it came to writing about sex in the early days of puberty. I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Deenie. I was saved.

In this latest and sadly last novel, she brings it all together. Miri Ammerman is a 15-year-old fatherless girl. Of course she has a father somewhere but she has never met him and her mother Rusty keeps it all a mystery from her. It is December, 1951 and the first of three planes to crash over Elizabeth, NJ, comes down in a ball of fire landing upside down in the Elizabeth River and killing all passengers and crew. Miri is traumatized but not as badly as her best friend Natalie who comes to believe that a young dancer named Ruby, killed in the crash, now inhabits her mind and body.

By the time the third plane in less than five months crashes over Elizabeth, Miri has met her father, has fallen in love with an orphan teen, and Natalie has landed in a home for girls with eating disorders.  Even then, secrets are still being revealed about her father, her mother, Natalie and her family, as well as her boyfriend. One might think this story contains an overabundance of incident for one year in the life of a teenage girl, but these plane crashes actually happened that year in Elizabeth, NJ, where Judy Blume grew up. And though a year sometimes seemed boring beyond belief for me as a teen, when I look back it is astounding how many changes I went through per year of high school.

I also grew up in New Jersey in what was then a relatively small town, so I am sure Judy Blume got it right as she traced the numerous and varied connections between the people in this story. It made me think about how rich life is; how family issues and events in the work life of adults and the twelve years of school between first grade and high school graduation contain so much love, heartbreak, and growth for all concerned.

The novel begins with Miri taking a flight back to New Jersey 35 years after the crashes and ends with her making the journey back to her adult life in Las Vegas. Between those bookends is the story of Miri and her teen years. She became a journalist just like her beloved Uncle. She has the complex problems of any middle-aged married woman with kids. Her first love lives in her memory as the best love ever and her life as a teen, despite all the emotional upheaval, carries the wonder and the weight that made her who she is.

If this is really Ms Blume’s last hurrah as a novelist she is leaving us with a story, told without fuss or trickery as though she were sitting right there with you. It is the story of an American woman. I think it is worthy of a Pulitzer.

(The paperback edition of this book will be released May, 2016. If you missed it before, now you have another chance!)

(In the Unlikely Event is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Riverhead Books, 2014, 564 pp
Summary from Goodreads: It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa — a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants — life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life — or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
My Review:
I like British authors. I am reading many of them in my Big Fat Reading Project. Often their novels have a certain extra something for me, possibly the literary quality, an awareness of the influence of history, as well as a uniquely British way of looking at the world. I read Sarah Water's The Little Stranger, beguiled by reviews and a possible Booker Prize nomination, but I didn't like it much. I had decided not to read The Paying Guests and then one of my reading groups picked it.
Reading this novel was a night and day difference from reading the other one. The 564 pages mostly flew by and I became completely engaged with all the characters. The love story between Frances Wray and her lodger Lilian Barber was everything a love story should be.
As in The Little Stranger, there is a decaying mansion and its resident family struggling to maintain it. Though no actual ghost inhabits the place, lost family members and past transgressions haunt the remaining mother and daughter to the point of freezing them in time and denying Frances any life of her own. Waters portrays the class differences between the Wrays and the Barbers with a good deal of hilarity.
The second half, involving a criminal investigation and court case did drag on too long for me. I think she was trying to build suspense and add some mystery, but waiting to see what would become of the relationship between Frances and Lilian, while it still kept me reading as fast as I could, was more agonizing than suspenseful.
Other than that, it is a great read.  
(The Paying Guests is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 

Sunday, February 07, 2016


House of Day, House of Night, Olga Tokarczuk, Granta Publications, 2002, 293 pp (translated from the Polish by Antomia Lloyd-Jones, originally published in Poland, 1998.)
Summary from Goodreads: Nowa Ruda is a small town in Silesia, an area that has been a part of Poland, Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia in the past. When the narrator moves into the area, she discovers everyone-and everything-has its own story. With the help of Marta, her enigmatic neighbor, the narrator accumulates these stories, tracing the history of Nowa Ruda from the founding of the town to the lives of its saints, from the caller who wins the radio quiz every day to the tale of the man who causes international tension when he dies on the border, one leg on the Polish side, the other on the Czech side. Each of the stories represents a brick and they interlock to reveal the immense monument that is the town. What emerges is the message that the history of any place--no matter how humble--is limitless, that by describing or digging at the roots of a life, a house, or a neighborhood, one can see all the connections, not only with one's self and one's dreams but also with all of the universe.
My Review:
The Tiny Book Club chose this. We are three women of a certain age. Two were raised Jewish, one of whom is a descendant of Polish Holocaust survivors, gay, well-read, and spends every summer returning to Poland to further the reconciliation of Jewish and non-Jewish Poles. The other is also well-read and has a deep understanding of literature. She is an intellectual. The third was raised Christian in America, the daughter of third generation German Lutheran immigrants. We decided to read some Polish literature and this is our first pick.
We have not met yet to discuss, due to winter colds, travels, and other things which could not be helped. I am bursting with discussion questions and topics, so hopefully soon!
Olga Tokarczuk, born in Poland in 1962, is both critically acclaimed and commercially successful in her native country. In this novel, her style is one of crystalline fragments and deep human insight steeped in mythical structures and dotted with recipes for cooking wild mushrooms.
She creates a mosaic of a town, Nowa Ruda. It is one of those little Eastern European towns kicked unmercifully from one nation to another due to wars and the redefined borders made by peace negotiations. In fact, it lies close to the current Polish/former Czechoslovakian border. When a man dies with the halves of his body splayed across that border, tension ensues.
The narrator and her husband moved to Nowa Ruda because relocation policies had made land and houses cheap there. You don't learn much about them but the sense of dislocation and upheaval hangs around like a murky fog. Besides housekeeping, the woman writes so she sets about collecting stories about the town, its inhabitants, history and inevitably its myths. Some of these people are like those found in fairy tales.
Dreams, so many dreams, pepper the narrative. Weather is a huge influence. Marta, the woman's neighbor, is a repository of the town's history. She is an archetypal ghostlike female whose rare utterances are usually non-sequitur. She is also the narrator's only close friend.
I admit that reading American, Canadian, and British contemporary fiction is fairly effortless compared to such a book as this. Of course, each country has its depths of history, oddities, and other pathos, but it is not written about much or it comes in more familiar packages. That probably has to do with our relatively longer history of stability as well as the expectations of the book market.
Reading a book like House of Day, House of Night, was not only enlightening as to how other peoples live. It had the effect on me of causing an increased observation of people in my own life, an awareness of things we just don't usually talk about. In a spirit of tolerance and compassion, Olga Tokarczuk wrote a very human book that reveals the underlying dreams and spirits dwelling in human hearts.
(House of Day, House of Night is available through independent bookstores at a rather high price. It is not easy to find in libraries. I found my copy through a used bookseller on-line in paperback for a reasonable price.)

Friday, February 05, 2016


Since my cataract surgery last year, I have to use reading glasses when I read. I keep leaving them in odd places and then sitting or stepping on them and breaking them. Just a little sharing as to why I picked this image today!

February is short and my reading group line up is light. But here it is:

Laura's Group:
One Book at a Time:

Bookie Babes:

Have you read any of these? What are your reading groups reading this month?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


The Storied Life of A J Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin, Algonquin Books, 2014, 243 pp
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
My Review:
I read this for one of my reading groups. It is one of those novels destined to be read by reading groups composed of women. Charming, heartwarming, set in a tiny bookstore on an island in New England with quirky characters, an unusual romance, and a bit of mystery. Oh, and an abandoned child. I read it in one day.
The author has written several novels for both adults and young adults as well as a screenplay. She can write, she can plot. It is just that for me, while I was entertained well enough, I was constantly aware of her recycling of familiar tropes, incidents, and social issues.
I don't begrudge women who like to read comforting stories of how the romantic human heart can be transformed after personal tragedy. We all have tragedies and we all wish to overcome the damage. We certainly all need comforting and most of us could use more romance. 
So I appreciate what the author did. I am happy if her bestseller brought her some undoubtedly much needed income. But I need more depth, more grit, and more artistry in the novels I read.  

Monday, February 01, 2016


Since we don't have snow in Los Angeles, we don't get to have snowdrops. I always loved them as a harbinger of spring when I was growing up in New Jersey. Of course, this morning, after a lovely warm and sunny week and a big rain storm yesterday, it is only 53 degrees here today with wind. It is still winter and tomorrow is Ground Hog Day!

I read 11 books in January. Not bad seeing as how I took a week off to visit my grandkids. Somehow I hardly read at all when I am with them.

Stats: 11 books read. 10 fiction; 1 non-fiction. 7 by women. 2 translated. 1 reread. 1 children's book, which was also fantasy. 4 from my 1962 Big Fat Reading Project list. 1 speculative.
Favorites: The Paying Guests, Beside Myself, Purity. 
Least favorite: The Storied Life of A J Fikry

Not at Indiebound, Open Road has an eBook

How was your reading in January? Any books I should be sure not to miss?