Category Archives: Algonquin Books

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

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (April 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1616203218
  • Source: Publisher

A.J. Fikry is…to put it gently, a curmudgeon.  After his wife passes away, he discovers his life isn’t as he planned. The small independent bookstore the couple owned on the small island of Alice is suffering. It’s peak season is summer when vacationers visit the store to stock up on their beach reads. A.J. isn’t your typical bookseller, to say the least. He’s quite particular in the books he stocks, not taking risks by only shelving what he knows will sell.  His wife’s death has left him a bitter, angry man.

When his prized book, a rare collection of Poe stories, is stolen, A.J. doesn’t think his life could get any worse. Everything changes when an item of the most unusual sorts is left behind at his store.  This delivery changes A.J., giving him the inspiration and guidance to seek a more fulfilling, happy life.  Although the life he is now living is certainly not what he expected, it is more than he could have ever dreamed.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a story meant to be read and cherished by lovers of books. Never could I have imagined the vast beauty contained within one book. It had me laughing one minute, crying the next. By the time I finished reading it, my heart was full with emotion and the satisfaction of reading a book so poignant and brilliant.

The characters Zevin creates are so genuine it’s hard to believe they aren’t real people. At the onset, I despised A.J.’s character. He was mean  and callous, uncaring about who he offended. At the end, however, he was transformed into such a tremendous character, one of my favorite fictional characters I have ever come across. As I finished reading, I wanted to plan a trip to Fikry’s bookstore and to meet the people who played such a big part in his life. While that’s an impossible notion for obvious reasons, I am comforted to know that I can reunite with them at will, simply by opening up the pages of this tremendous book.

I don’t know if I can think of an audience that would not appreciate The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. It is a book readers will devour and fall in love with, a book you will want to talk about with everyone around you. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a book about second chances, love, redemption and the love of books. Highly, highly recommended!

The audiobook production of this title is narrated by one of my favorites, Scott Brick. Guess what I’m listening to next?! Listen to a sample here.

 

 

Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (October 23, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1616201320
  • Source: Publisher

Claire Roth is a struggling young artist, making ends meet by reproducing famous works of art for an online art retailer. Desperate to get out of her occupational rut, she agrees to a shady deal with the owner of a prominent art gallery, Aiden Markel. An expert in Degas’ masterpieces, she agrees to forge a painting stolen in largest unsolved art heists in history in return for a lucrative fee and a one-woman showing in Markel’s gallery. Yet when the painting arrives in Claire’s studio she begins to wonder if it, in fact, is a forgery itself.  While studying the history of the artist and his work, Claire discovers the truth about the painting, uncovering centuries-old secrets whose answers may help save not only her career, but her very life as well.

A truly intense literary thriller, Shapiro’s The Art Forger not only provides readers with an intense read, but also a truly fascinating glimpse of art history. Never a fan of art history myself (I know, I know) I was a bit wary when I received this book for review. That said, the thriller lover in me was rewarded, the level of suspense prevented me from tearing my eyes away from this book, allowing me to finish it in mere hours. Additionally, the characters are as multidimensional as the plot. Claire is desperate to rebuild her name after an incident with her former lover/artist casts doubt on her integrity as an artist. She’s  desperate enough that she is willing to risk even more in order to obtain the opportunity to showcase her own art. Readers earn quite early on just how flawed her character is and rather than being repelled by this characteristic, one cannot help but feel sympathy for what she has been dealt.

In addition to the suspense and the incredible art history there is a good deal of steamy romance. Normally, this would put me off but I found myself becoming quite involved and invested in Claire’s love life, alternating between rooting for and yelling at her for her actions.

Bottom line, fans of both suspense and art history alike will be drawn into this incredible novel. Highly recommended.

 

Review: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

  • Hardcover:288 pages
  • Publisher:Algonquin Books (August 28, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1616200391
  • Source: Publisher

At thirty-nine, Benjamin Benjamin has nothing. He lost his wife and his children after a horrible tragedy. Desperate for a job, he enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving. In addition to the medical aspect of caregiving, the course taught him how to maintain professionalism by keeping a physical and emotional barrier up when working with a client.

After Ben is assigned to his first client, a nineteen year old boy named Trevor suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he quickly learns that his night course did little to prepare him to deal with the emotions faced by a client with such an illness. Eventually, Ben and Trev form a relationship that quickly crosses the boundaries of what would be acceptable, a close friendship. Together, Ben and Trev embark upon a cross-country van trip to visit Trev’s incapacitated father. Along the way they stop by several “must-see” local attractions. After meeting a few wayward individuals, their journey becomes quite the interesting adventure, including a birth and a several hundred mile pursuit by a Buick Skylark.

Ultimately, however, the trek across the country was more than just a physical journey, but a mental and emotional one for all characters involved. Seeing that he had a purpose in life, that his existence was meaningful, Ben learned to forgive himself for the accident that took his children from him. Trev experiences a sort of rebirth after forming a meaningful and rewarding relationship.  Additionally, the idea that his father, the man that left him and his mother after Trev’s illness got too difficult, was now too incapacitated truly healed the relationship between this father and son.

What truly makes this novel remarkable is the role vehicles have with Ben, one of the central characters. It was a vehicle that completely ruined his life and, years later, it is a vehicle that provides him the mechanism and opportunity to heal.

Evison has created a truly enriching novel filled to the brim with incredibly flawed, emotionally damaged characters. He uses flashbacks to reveal Ben’s history, but the act that truly altered his life isn’t revealed near the end of the novel. The timing of this added an intensity to the novel that compelled the reader to continue on. It wasn’t until Ben was mentally prepared to deal with the tragedy that it was revealed to readers.

What could have potentially been a truly down and depressing novel is instead a humorous, uplifting story filled with rich and quirky characters. Highly recommended.

Review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

  • Hardcover:352 pages
  • Publisher:Algonquin Books (May 24, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1565129903
  • Source: Publisher

Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon are both teen girls, growing up in 1980s Atlanta.  They are also half-sisters, both daughters of a bigamist, James Witherspoon.  Only Dana and her mother, Gwen, are aware of James’ double life.

Dana and Bunny live vastly different lives: Dana & Gwen struggle to get by, only receiving minimal financial support from James. Dana has memories of her father sitting her down, ordering her not to reveal the truth behind their “secret family.” To all concerned, Raleigh, James’ close friend, is Dana’s father. To prevent being referred to as “illegitimate,” Raleigh goes as far as to sign Dana’s birth certificate.  In Dana’s mind, however, she will always be illegitimate:

In my mind, Chaurisse is his real daughter.  With wives, it only matters who gets there first.  With daughters, the situation is a bit more complicated.

Chaurisse and her mother, Laverne, on the other hand, appreciate all the comforts of a “normal” family. James and Laverne married quite young; Laverne was unable to complete high school due to her pregnancy. Her only existence is that which she shares with James; she never had the opportunity to experience the milestones typical teen girls do.

James and Raleigh do their best to keep the girls apart, to prevent their meeting.  However, 1980s Atlanta, according to James “ain’t nothing but a country town, and everyone knows everybody.” 

I read Silver Sparrow in one sitting, unable to tear myself away from the story of these two girls. The first line: “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” This sentence prepares the reader for the drama that is about to ensue.

Silver Sparrow is told by the viewpoints of both girls; the first half in Dana’s voice and the second in Chaurisse’s. The reader can’t help but feel sympathy for Dana; she knows of her father’s “deception,” realizes there is another family who she’s forced to share him with.  the lack of a male role model forces her to make poor decisions, all due to desperation for male attention and love.

On the opposite side, Chaurisse and Laverne are completely clueless; they live years believing their family is a secure and normal one.

The insecurities each of the girls feel is quite compelling: Dana and her mother are attractive but this is not apparent in their feelings about themselves due to the lack of security they feel as a family.  Chaurisse and Laverne, on the other hand, are plain, typical women and have a sense, albeit false, of security in their lives. Each family is missing something, apparent or not.

Since Silver Sparrow is told through the eyes of Dana and Chaurisse; the reader doesn’t get to see the saga in the eyes of the two mothers, or James and Raleigh.  I believe this adds to these unique novel; had it been told by the two wives the reader would experience a completely different story.

Bottom line: Silver Sparrow is a stunning novel with several topics and themes worth discussing, making this the perfect book club choice. Highly recommended.

Review: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (January 25, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1565126319
  • Source: Publisher
  • One foggy night, two women both running from unhappy marriages, are quite literally brought together when their cars collide.  April, mother of Sam, a severely asthmatic boy, is killed instantly.  Sam escapes the accident by running into the nearby forest.  While Isabelle is not held responsible for April’s death, she can’t seem to get over the guilt of killing another person.

    As she recovers, Isabelle finds herself drawn to Sam and his father, Charlie. She walks down their street, she watches Sam at the playground.  When Sam sees her, he recognizes her from the accident but believes she’s an angel, a messenger for his mother. He, in turn, follows her back to her home, ultimately forming the first of two very complicated relationships.

    Isabelle introduces Sam to photography.  Due to his asthma, Sam is unable to participate in any sports, have any pets, but photography is one thing he can do. 

    “Sometimes photographs show things that aren’t there.  You have to learn to look deeper, to see what might be hidden.”

    The second of the two complicated relationships is between Charlie and Isabelle.  Drawn together by their shared feeling of loss and guilt, they struggle to find meaning and a place for this relationship.  All three of the characters, Charlie, Isabelle, and Sam, struggle to find happiness.  The true test is whether this happiness is found together, or apart.

    Pictures of You is a beautiful and absorbing book of love, loss, and guilt.  Each of the main characters uncover secrets or deal with painful pasts in order to seek the happiness they deserve.  Leavitt does an outstanding job of capturing the loss, the grief, and recovery they suffer.  Told in alternating points of view, while the reader gets to experience the accident in three different viewpoints, one can’t help but wonder which is the most accurate.

    Admittedly, there were times in which I grew angry at the road the author was taking with the characters. I literally had to put the book down and take a break for a few hours, even a few days.  Ultimately, however, I appreciated these choices & understood how integral they were for the overall storyline.

    Pictures of You is the perfect book for a reading group discussion, as a matter of fact it was the May selection for the book club I lead at One More Page Books.  There are so many aspects to be discussed, including how each of the characters deal with grief and recovery.  Believe it or not, we went out on a tangent and compared this book with how the family in AMC’s The Killing deal with the loss of a loved one!

    Bottom line: read it.  You won’t regret it.