Thursday, April 17, 2014

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

I have a fairly established relationship with Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. She doesn't know it, but I've read two of her books in previous Dewey Readathons, and I've enjoyed both. In fact, she's one of those authors whose work I fully intend to devour any time she releases something new.

So imagine my surprise when EVERYONE started chatting about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and I didn't even realize she had a new book out. Egg on my face. Bad fan here!  Once I realized my silliness, I snapped up a copy of this little book and devoured it for the #24in48 readathon. Like so many others, I absolutely adored it, and it's definitely my favorite of her work so far. You can see reviews of her novels, Elsewhere and Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac in past blog posts. 

But back to A.J. Fikry. He's awfully unpleasant for a young'ish man. But he has an excuse: his wife has passed away. He's left to run their bookstore on a secluded island well-suited to tourists but not so wonderfully suited to a widower with anger issues. Until the day someone steals a very valuable book, and THEN someone leaves a "special package" in the bookstore, and everyone's lives change. Once A.J. gets his head out of his patoot and notices a quirky publishing rep (who he's known for years, technically), things change some more, the trifecta of BIG EVENTS is in place. And it was so so fantastic.

This is definitely a book for book lovers as the characters are constantly talking books and surrounded by them. One of Fikry's best friends, a local police chief, even starts a book club! Now I want our local police chief to start a book club, though I don't think he's sold on the idea. 

The characterization was one of my favorite parts of this story. Everyone grows in their relationships with each other and their interactions have the bookstore at their center. Even though it's quite short, each character stood out vividly and had expertly developed personalities...their flaws and their charms. And while I don't want to give away the end, I got quite the "epic" feel from this book. Maybe sprawling is a better term. It covered a lot of ground for something like 250 pages. 

Overall, damn fun. Damn fine. And it made me do the UGLY CRY! Those well-developed characters get me every time. This little gem is not to be missed. 

Pub. Date: April 2014
Publisher: Workman
Format: E-book
ISBN: 9781616203214
Source: Bought!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beloved by Toni Morrison

When I saw Beloved by Toni Morrison in our little free library at work, I knew it COULD be the book to bust my slump. That might sound odd, since Morrison's work is known to be quite dense and challenging, but that's what I was craving...something heftier than the "sea of threes" I've been stuck in lately.

Morrison delivered with this book. Technically, it was a re-read. I picked it up for the first time in 1998 or so. I was a high school junior looking for a good ghost story, but this is much more a novel about being haunted than a book about a ghost. 

In the troubled years following the Civil War, the spirit of a murdered child haunts the Ohio home of a former slave. This angry, destructive ghost breaks mirrors, leaves its fingerprints in cake icing, and generally makes life difficult for Sethe and her family; nevertheless, the woman finds the haunting oddly comforting for the spirit is that of her own dead baby, never named, thought of only as Beloved. A dead child, a runaway slave, a terrible secret--these are the central concerns of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved (from Goodreads).

At the beginning of the book, Sethe and her daughter, Denver, are navigating life alone. Sethe works in a local restaurant and Denver is lonely, kept company mostly by the spirit. Soon, one of Sethe's fellow slaves from the plantation, Sweet Home, shows up on her doorstep. Paul D, like all of the slaves, has had a rough time...first within slavery itself and then as a runaway and prisoner. He's a drifter, continually running from the past. 

All of the characters in Beloved, contend heavily with the past. They run from it, shy away from the memories, or try too hard to atone for the detriment of their loved ones. The idea of the spirit in Sethe's house is such a massive metaphor. So touching, terrible, and raw. 

Morrison's writing is difficult to grasp at times. She likes to plop the reader down in a situation, knowing very little, and let us wriggle and struggle a bit as the truth unfolds. I was totally fine with that, since the wriggling and struggling was worthwhile. Beautiful, terrible words. A lovely, terrifying story. Lines like this one...
It wasn't blacks who brought the jungle within them. It was the white folks who put it there, and it grew until it overtook them. 
That's a slight paraphrase since I don't have the book with me. I noted it as I was reading the book, and then it came up again when I had an impromptu literature discussion with a friend of mine from graduate school on Facebook. 

There were times Beloved turned my stomach with its scenes are barbarism, and there were times it made my feelings soar. The writing was just amazing, and the overall plotting was excellent. I already loved Morrison for The Bluest Eye, but I'm glad I gave this book another go at a different time in life when I could appreciate it more. I'll definitely be reading it again in the future. 

Pub. Date: 1987
Publisher: Plume/Penguin
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0452264464
Source: Borrowed!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

#CoverHo: Spring Cover Picks

The #coverhos are back again! Jennifer from Book-alicious Mama and myself are presenting you some our fave spring covers. Now, what do we mean by that? Spring releases? Covers that remind us of spring? YES!

Both Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, by Michael Gibney and The Vacationers, by Emma Straub, are spring releases, and I loooove these covers. The chunky script and vivid orange of Sous Chef were perfect for grabbing my attention. And The Vacationers is so stinkin' serene (and I love the typography). Here in Texas, we start feeling like summer halfway through spring, so this one hits just the right note for me. Swimming? Anyone? 

Now, these are a couple of books that I've already read that make me think of spring. No spring list would be complete without something by Sarah Addison Allen, and Garden Spells just happens to be my fave with all of its beautiful foliage and rich colors.  Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith is a winner with it's beautiful sky blue and gorgeous texture. I also have a tendency to shop more during the spring for new clothes and jewelry, so this book (and cover) immediately popped into my head. 

Last, but certainly not least, is Mary McCartney's cookbook, FOOD: Vegetarian Home Cooking. Our garden is planted and sprouting, so I'm already thinking of ways to use all the veggies we'll have piled up on our table soon. What better way to brainstorm than by using this GORGEOUS cookbook? The photography really is stunning. 

What are your favorite spring covers? New releases or just "springy"? 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Book Bloggers International: An Intro to BookTube!

Hey y'all! Book Bloggers International invited me to share a post all about BookTube! You can see that today, complete with a BookTube video intro, brought to you by my Texas accent. Clicky!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Truman Capote, you flamboyant hot mess, you. I read and loved In Cold Blood years ago, and it's taken me this long to pick up, Other Voices, Other Rooms. It's not Truman's fault. Totally mine. 

Joel Knox is a shy kid. His mother is gone, and he's sent from New Orleans to the enigmatic and crumbling mansion, Skully's Landing, to live with his father. But where the hell is his father? His cousin, Randolph, and his stepmother, Amy, are weird birds and they aren't coughing up any answers. Joel soon finds himself enamored of the mysteries surrounding Skully's Landing as well as a tomboyish girl named Idabel. And did I mention the ghostly figure in the window? What Southern Gothic tale is complete without one of those?

I loved quite a few things about this novel, and I had quibbles with a few, too. Let's start with love...

The setting was sumptuous and atmospheric and just absolutely kickass. I loved the tangible feel of the place. The murky woods, the mosquito-laden bogs, a crumbling hotel, the mysterious mansion. It just doesn't get any better than that. 

The characters were lovely and mysterious, too. Joel was charming in his cluelessness. Randolph and Amy have their own mysteries. Joel becomes fast friends with a troubled young servant girl named Zoo, not to mention Idabel and her neurotic sister, Florabel. While the characters added to the overall atmosphere of the story, they were caricatures at times. Though, that really didn't bother me. 

And now for quibbles...

While I enjoyed the tone of the novel most of the way through, there's a portion at the end that went ape-shit crazy. Joel falls ill, and that period of time felt like a bit of an acid trip. Totally surreal, yo. While I can appreciate a turn like this in the novel, as it led to some realizations and character reform, it was a little too out there at times. Over the top. 

This is an important work in LGBTQ literature, and while I didn't have that in my mind for a good portion of the novel, it does become way obvious by the end. Once I had that concept in my head (call me flaky, I just wasn't thinking about it early on), I can definitely see how this novel would've rocked some boats upon publication. Not to mention that sexay author photo of the 23-year-old Capote, right? Here's the pic in its entirety. 

Oh, Truman, you showman. In short, I'm glad I read this one. I liked the writing style, the feel of it, but it just got a little convoluted at the end. Try it anyway!

Pub. Date: Originally 1948
Publisher: Vintage
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0679745645 
Source: Bought it!