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

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* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE BOOK

Do perfect books exist? Is it possible to read a book and not find anything wrong with it? I’m in no way as well-read as the characters in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, so I’m uncertain how to answer these questions. But I simply loved this book!

THE STORY

When we meet the owner of Island Books, A.J. Fikry, we learn fairly quickly he’s a cranky guy and it’s difficult to have a pleasant conversation with him even about books. However, there are a few reasons behind his nasty attitude. Not only is A.J. mourning his dead wife, business for the bookstore is bad and his beloved, rare book of Poe poems has been stolen. As a result, A.J. cuts himself off from other people, drinks himself into blackouts every night and is on the verge of giving up on both (horror!) books and life. But guess what A.J.? Life has some funny plans in store for you! When a toddler is abandoned at his bookstore, A.J.’s world begins to take some beautiful turns. He decides to adopt the charming little tot, then seek baby help from his sister-in-law and her writer husband. He becomes friends with a police officer on the island and re-evaluates his un-gentlemanlike behaviour towards Amelia, an eccentric and cheerful publishing house rep. In letting people back into his life, A.J. discovers second chances are possible. Even for a guy like him.

THE GOOD

Everything you will hear about this book is true: it’s lighthearted, warm and will speak to the hearts and minds of book nerds across the universe. From the short stories selected to introduce each chapter to A.J.’s crass opinions on genres, writers, readers, etc. to arguments over e-readers, this book is bursting at the binding with funny literary references that will make you smile and nod your head.

THE BAD

Honestly, I don’t have anything bad to say about the book. Sometimes the conversation between the characters is a little too cute, but that’s it!

CONCLUSION

Without a doubt, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I love how Gabrielle Zevin celebrates books, writers and reading in this book, as well as pokes fun at some of the snobbish and silly aspects of bookish life. Even if you haven’t read the books referred to in the story, you will understand the jokes. My favourite character was A.J. because even though he was so brusque, he had great deadpan observations, and I enjoyed reading about his journey to happiness. I don’t know for sure if perfect books exist, but this book was pretty darn perfect to me. Maybe that’s all that counts!

NOTE: Thanks to Penguin Canada, I received this ARC through NetGalley.


The Body by Stephen King

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* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE BOOK

The Body is considered a novella and it originally appeared in the Stephen King collection, Different Seasons which was published in 1982. I absolutely love the movie adaptation, Stand By Me, starring Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix and I was inspired to read the novella after seeing the movie, although I probably didn’t get around to it until a few years later. To squeeze the book in for King’s March, I listened to the audio book, so I’m not sure if that counts as a re-read.

THE STORY

Gordon “Gordie” Lachance remembers the summer in 1960 when he was twelve-years old and the biggest problem he thought he and his best friends Chris Chamberlain, Teddy Duchamp and Vern Tessio had was relieving the boredom of small town life and keeping cool in the Maine heat. All of that changes when Vern presents an opportunity for the boys to see the dead body of a kid from another town. Hungry for some adventure, the boys set off on the long walk and have a number of harrowing experiences along the way, including an encounter with a dreaded dog, playing chicken with a train and a showdown in the woods with a group of menacing older boys. The journey provides much introspection for Gordie on the dysfunction each boy lives with at home, the spirit-killing suffocation of growing up in a small town, and how nothing lasts forever – not childhood, not friendship, not life.

THE GOOD

The Body is perfect for the audio book format because the story almost seems designed for hearing. Stephen King provides such exquisite detail for life back in 1960 you get wrapped in a cozy nostalgic blanket. From how people dressed to what they listened to on the radio to the lingo of the day, you feel like you lived that summer of 1960. You feel like you wore Keds, smoked cigarettes in a treehouse and walked along the railway track to the best fishing spot. The characters’ memories become your memories and it was something that struck me about The Body from my first reading all those years ago. That’s not just skill or great writing by Stephen King, that’s magic.

THE BAD

Oy vey! I swear I’m not a prude, but the foul language in the book made my ears burn. Although, it seems very realistic to me that a group of twelve-year old boys would curse like sailors and be digging into their brains for a nastier insult to top the last one. In addition, The Body contains two of Gordie’s short stories (his character dabbles in creative writing) and, while very amusing, they drag on a bit too long in my opinion.

CONCLUSION

Once again, I bow to the king of storytelling and can’t say enough to adequately praise Stephen King. The Body is a coming-of-age story that is heartfelt and poignant, perfectly capturing the joys of friendship and youth, but also the sadness and fear that comes with the loss of innocence. Much like eating Chinese food, you feel full and satisfied after reading a story like The Body, but it’s so good you just want more and more and more …

NOTE: The trailer below also contains spoilers!


The Bear by Claire Cameron

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* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE BOOK

An interesting fact about The Bear is that it’s based on the true story of a couple who were killed in Algonquin Park. For her book, Claire Cameron added children to the story.

THE STORY

Five-year old Anna is camping with her parents and younger brother on a small island in Algonquin Park. She wakes up at night to yelling and screaming. First, it’s her mother screaming and then soon after, her father. She thinks her parents are mad at her. Things don’t become any clearer when her father scoops her out of the tent and sticks her into their huge portable fridge. He manages to get her brother, Alex, into the fridge and wedge a rock in the door so they can get air. Anna can’t see much from inside the fridge, but she hears noises and sees the fur of a strange dog. When Anna and Alex are finally able to escape the fridge in the morning, their parents are not around and the campsite has been destroyed. From there begins Anna and Alex’s harrowing experience getting off the island and surviving in the wilderness for the next few days: alone, confused and frightened.

THE GOOD

I’ve always been interested in survivor stories and I like that we get the perspective of this tale from a five-year old little girl, but Claire Cameron adds another layer by including the back story of their family. Throughout her ordeal, Anna often gives us glimpses of little, innocent moments of love she shared with her mother. She describes the secret separation of her parents and how both children achingly missed their father. Anna remembers how much she was loved and draws on these memories for hope, to find strength and courage to push on, to acknowledge her responsibility as an older sister to Alex and be bigger than she is. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful to read.

THE BAD

As interesting as it is to have Anna as the narrator, reading rambling childish thoughts for a whole book can be incredibly frustrating and sometimes boring. It is probably the book’s greatest weakness. Don’t get me wrong, Anna was often very imaginative in her interpretation of the situation, but just as often she was repetitive. In addition, I think The Bear is too long and would have been better as a novella. I think Claire Cameron wanted to touch on Anna’s trauma afterwards, but I felt it dragged the story out even more and unnecessarily.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I thought The Bear was a very good book, original and thrilling. My children are roughly the same age as the two survivors in the book, so I thought about them at almost every page. I stared at my kids, trying to imagine them in the same terrifying scenario as little Anna and Alex. I thought if I read this book it would exacerbate my already existing mom fears or I would cry through the whole thing, but I didn’t. No doubt because the story isn’t just about a bear attack and two little kids trying to survive, it’s about the love of a family and how there’s always hope to be found in love.

Have you read The Bear? What do you think?


Bloggiesta Spring 2014

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For the first time ever, I will be participating in Bloggeista which takes place March 27-30. The objective of the event is to set and complete goals related to improving your blog or life as a blogger, plus meet and network with other bloggers. I’m so excited!

Without further ado, here is my to-do list:

  • Participate in one (1) Twitter chat
  • Participate in one (1) mini-challenge
  • Learn ways to build-up an audience for this blog
  • Learn more about the technical aspects of blogging (photo rights, WordPress functions, etc.)

Are you joining Bloggiesta? Do you have any tips for me based on my list?


Joyland by Stephen King

Click to visit Stephen King’s website.

 

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

The cover for Joyland is one of the reasons I decided to read the book for King’s March. I was drawn to its bright colours and retro hard-boiled detective novel style, although I had to put the book face-down on my dresser so my kids wouldn’t get an eyeful of the redhead’s cleavage. The cover looks exciting and who can resist a story set at an amusement park? Fun with a capital F!

THE STORY

Heartbroken over a break-up, Devin Jones decides to take a summer job at an amusement park in North Carolina called Joyland. Devin quickly becomes immersed in “carny” life learning the ropes from veteran Joyland employees. He also forms a close friendship with his co-workers, Erin and Tom. During the summer, Devin and his friends hear that a young girl was murdered years ago in the haunted house and her ghost still haunts the ride. Devin is fascinated by the story since the girl’s killer was never caught. The three friends decide to try the ride for themselves and Tom sees something, but won’t say whether it was the ghost of the girl. When summer ends, Devin decides to defer school and stay on at Joyland. He can’t stop thinking about the murdered girl and even though Erin has left for school, he enlists her help to research the case. During that time, he gets to know a single mom and her sick son, Mike. Eventually Mike reveals to Devin that he “knows” things and he knows about the girl in the haunted house. Meanwhile, Devin is crushing hard on Mike’s mom, Annie, the ice queen who slowly melts at Devin’s kindness. At a private visit to Joyland with Mike and Annie, the sick boy’s presence helps release the ghost of the dead girl. Then just when Devin figures out what happened to the girl, the killer reveals himself and is willing to do anything to keep Devin quiet — permanently.

THE GOOD

Joyland is an excellent example of how Stephen King is a master storyteller. Like many of his other stories, Joyland is less about the scary mystery and more about the characters, in this case Devin Jones. The book is about growing up and fighting for the important things in life, such as friendship. I really enjoyed reading Devin’s experiences as a rookie carny and his summer of self-discovery.

THE BAD

Whether written purposefully this way or not, I’m glad the murder was secondary in Joyland because the mystery’s plot closely resembled your typical Scooby Doo episode. However, as unimaginative as the murder mystery was, it didn’t take anything away from the story.

CONCLUSION

Joyland is outstanding, a sincere and funny story about growing up one summer … with a thrilling murder mystery on the side. After not picking up a Stephen King book in years, I recently read the novella, Blockade Billy, which was pretty blah. But Joyland absolutely restored my faith in Stephen King as an iconic writer. Many years and books later, he’s still got it 100%.


The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

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I chose to read The Frangipani Hotel because I have a quite few things in common with the characters: I’m the child of a family who escaped the war in Vietnam; I’m completely Westernized, meaning I don’t speak Vietnamese or practice any Vietnamese customs whatsoever; and, I have never been to Vietnam and have an outsider’s view of the country and its people. On a side note, I love Vietnamese food and eat as much as I can (but don’t talk to me about trying to make it).

THE BOOK

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of short stories by Violet Kupersmith inspired by traditional Vietnamese ghost stories. It was interesting to note in publicity materials that she was lucky to have a writing mentor in college that believed in her writing, so much so her mentor sent a few stories to an agent who secured a book deal with a publisher.

THE STORIES

From my understanding of Vietnamese folklore, they believe that there are different kinds of ghosts walking among us and they all need something. Maybe they have a story to share or something to teach us. Maybe they will be polite about what they need or maybe they will just take it by force. Some of the ghosts or strange creatures we encounter in The Fragipani Hotel have these needs. I liked that no two stories were the same and had perspectives from male and female, old and young characters. From quite a few of the stories, you get a very good sense of what it’s like for the children of Vietnamese immigrants to be caught between worlds, with one foot in the West and one foot in East. The supernatural element in the stories was often creepy and sometimes downright freaky, more than I would say scary. My favourite story was Skin and Bones which was about an overweight teenage girl discovering the delights of bαnh mi sandwiches.

THE GOOD

Personally, I enjoyed this collection because it made me reflect on my own fragmented connection to Vietnamese culture. I think other readers might enjoy the stories because they are imaginative and exotic with wonderful descriptions of Vietnam.

THE BAD

When I first started reading the collection, the writing of Violet Kupersmith struck me as being a little awkward and lacking the substance of a more seasoned writer. I couldn’t help thinking of how some of these stories may have originated from her college days. However, the writing improved as I went along, and I began to see more depth and complexity to her style.

CONCLUSION

The Frangipani Hotel is a well-rounded collection of stories which I found very entertaining. I recommend the book to anyone looking for something completely different and exotic to read, especially if they are unfamiliar with the culture of Vietnam.

NOTE: Thanks to Random House, I received this ARC through NetGalley.


Top 5 Stephen King Appearances

For King’s March, I thought I would share some of my favourite Stephen King movie and TV appearances.

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1. SONS OF ANARCHY

SOA is one of my favourite shows right now and I’m currently catching up on Season 5. It was to my great delight when Stephen King made a guest appearance in Season 3 as a “cleaner” named Bachman (I love it!). Stephen wrote about the experience on his website.

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2. GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S THE SIMPSONS COUCH GAG

The beloved title sequence for The Simpsons becomes a masterpiece when handed over to Guillermo Del Toro for the 24th Treehouse of Horror episode. Technically, this isn’t a cameo, but the Mexican director makes a homage to The Shining and Stephen King shows up to surprise Bart.

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3.  MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE

Stephen King not only has a cameo, but directed the movie! Based on the short story, Trucks, the movie is about machines coming to life and attacking humans. I loved Maximum Overdrive when I was younger because it starred Brat Packer, Emilio Estevez, and the soundtrack seemed to be AC/DC’s entire Who Made Who album.

* * *

4. SLEEPWALKERS

Sleepwalkers is about shape-shifting energy vampires who – um – kind of look like cats. Stephen King plays the caretaker for a cemetery where a fatal picnic has taken place. In this clip, his character is working very hard to cover his butt.

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5. FAMILY GUY

Again, technically not a cameo, but I thought the Family Guy joke was funny.

What is your favourite Stephen King appearance?