Friday, June 26, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin & the New York Public Library's Outdoor Reading Room (5th Ave & 40th St)



The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • ISBN-10: 1616204516 - Paperback $14.95
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (December 2, 2014), 288 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher AND the NYPL's Outdoor Reading Room. 

The blurb:
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

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.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikryis an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Review:
I spent much of yesterday afternoon reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry on a lounge chair in front of the NY Public Library in the new Summer Outdoor Reading Room.  Weather permitting, the Outdoor Reading Room is open daily (except Sundays) from 10 am - 7 pm.  The NYPL's Outdoor Reading Room  by the lions at the Stephen Schwartzman research library on 5th Avenue, is a quiet oasis in Midtown.  Most people were reading.  #ireadeverywhere 
I do remember hearing a young girl bargaining with her mother - she was willing to leave after two more books and if they could come back the next day. 

Now is as good time as any to spread the word that thanks to an anonymous donor, donations to the NYPL will be matched dollar for dollar  from today until July 10 all donations to the NYPL will be matched by an anonymous donor.  

     

Back to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  It's a book that I'd wanted to read for some time.  The young sales agent of a fictional publishing house visits A.J. Fikry's bookstore, a small account on an island in New England.  The first meeting doesn't go well.  Fikry's gruff and rude,  upset at the news that the previous sales agent had died.  Amelia's warm recommendation of a memoir written by an elderly widower is pushed aside.    Though Fikry later regrets his rudeness, it takes some time before he warms to the young Amelia and before he revisits the book.   Fikry noticed that she was both attractive and not particularly stylish - think 90s style - and regrets his rudeness.  

Fikry's small bookshop barely breaks even but he does have a valuable and rare Edgar Allen Poe first edition which is stolen.  Fikry stops locking his store door after the rare edition disappears. One day soon after he finds an infant left in his care.  The mother leaves a note explaining her decision and asking him to care for young Mia.  

Against all odds, Fikry finds that caring for Mia suits him.  The love and close friendship between Fikry and Mia is made the book stand out for me.  Mia grows up in the bookstore, loving books, developing her way of analyzing them even before she can read.  Mia lives and breathes books, not surprisingly she starts writing as well.  Mia's presence proves a gift in more ways than one.  Fikry becomes less isolated - the neighbors come into his shop to see Mia and they often chat and leave with a book or two.  Slowly, Fikry and Mia work their magic and build a community around the bookshop.  I found myself wishing I could drop by their bookshop and, failing that, wanting to become a regular at my neighborhood bookstore. 

Overall, The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry is a tribute to books and reading, a story of love and hope and friendship.  I read the entire book while at the Outdoor Reading Room and the experience reminded me of the many things that I love about NYC.

About the Author:
Gabrielle Zevin is the author of eight novels, including Elsewhere and most recently,The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which is a New York Times Best Seller.

Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg


  • ISBN-10: 1455599891 - Hardcover $25
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 2, 2015), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty--even when Prohibition kicks in--and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.

Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"--and her irrepressible spirit--is unforgettable.

Review:
Set in the Lower East Side of New York City during the early 1900s, Saint Mazie tells the story of a young Mazie Phillips as she navigates the changes around her. Fearless, big-hearted, beautiful and loyal, Mazie changes from the good time girl to the hard worker that keeps the family together through heartache, death, war, and the Great Depression.

Through Mazie's diary entries and the thoughts of those around her, we get a strong sense of Mazie's sense of humor, her commitment to fairness, and her openness and care for the many, diverse people that populate the Lower East Side. Warning: some of Mazie's diary entries about her love affair with the Captain are sexually graphic.

Though Saint Mazie started slow, I grew to appreciate Mazie's aggressiveness and her straightforward response to all kinds of life shattering events.  The book clearly is a reader's favorite and was chosen as an Amazon book of the month for the month of June.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Devil's Bridge: An Alexandra Cooper thriller by Linda Fairstein



Series: Alexandra Cooper
ISBN-10: 0525953892 - Hardcover $28
  • Publisher: Dutton (August 11, 2015), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.

The blurb:
The Manhattan waterfront is one of New York City’s most magnificent vistas, boasting both the majestic Statue of Liberty and the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest span for motor vehicles.  But inDevil’s Bridge, Detective Mike Chapman will discover the peril that lurks along this seemingly benign expanse as he takes on his most personal case yet:  the disappearance of Alex Cooper.

Coop’s sudden disappearance is fraught with terrifying complications:  scores of enemies she has made after a decade of putting criminals behind bars; a recent security breach with dangerous repercussions; and a new intimacy in her relationship with Mike, causing the Police Commissioner himself to be wary of the methods Mike will use to get Coop back... if he can. 

Once again, Linda Fairstein proves why she is “one of the best crime fiction writers in America today” with her most intense Alexandra Cooper novel yet. 


Review:
I'd discovered Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper series during BEA 2014 with her thriller Terminal City which was set at Grand Central Station.  I soon read as many of her earlier novels as I could get my hands on.  

Alexandra Cooper is a Deputy District Attorney of New York who specializes in sex crimes or what appears on television as SVU.  Cooper and Homicide Detective Mike Chapman have a long standing professional relationship.  They bicker, they support each other, they face down politicians, dangerous criminals and terrifying situations together.  

In Devil's Bridge,  Coop and Chapman are getting used to their new romance.  Excited to be with each other,  unwilling to impose rules or demands,  there's a lot that is new to these old friends.  So, when after an awful day at work, Mike doesn't hear from Coop, he gives her some space.  It takes some time before he realizes that she might be in danger.

This time Fairstein tells the story from Mike Chapman's point of view as he desperately tries to piece together what happened the night that Coop disappears.  His investigation takes him back to the early years of Hell's Kitchen as well as to the murky waters of City Hall. We learn more about Alex Cooper through Mike Chapman's eyes and about Mike's past, it's easier to understand why Coop keeps him a priority in her life. 

Some of Fairstein's characters are remind us of the famous, political and notorious in present day New York City.  We encounter references to the mayor's wife's chief of staff whose anti-police stance and relationship with a convicted murderer interferes with a murder investigation, to a corrupt reverend that squeezes himself into volatile situations to push his political agenda,  and to  a self--aggrandizing politician whose policies have caused friction with the NYPD and may have resulted in the increase in crime in NYC.  Fairstein's jabs at this fictional mayor resonate with readers disappointed in the current NYC mayor and those looking forward to a change of administration.  

Devil's Bridge kept me riveted throughout two long flights and the cab ride back to Brooklyn. I'm looking forward to the next in the Alexandra Cooper series. 

About the Author:
Linda Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan for more than two decades and is America's foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her Alexandra Cooper novels are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow


  • ISBN-10: 1481442716 - Hardcover $17
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (September 22, 2015), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher (BEA promotion).

The blurb:
Greta is a duchess and crown princess -- and a hostage to peace.  This is how the game is played, if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. And you must keep the peace; start a war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday.  Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must.  But everything changes when a new hostage arrives, a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught.  A boy who opens Greta's eyes to the brutality of the system they live under -- and to her own power.

With her nation on the verge of war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game.  A game that will end up killing her -- unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

Review:

We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life. -J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb 
The quote above marks the beginning of The Scorpion Rules and is the inspiration for its title.

The idea of holding children hostage to their parents' good behavior in order to prevent war or revolution is not new -- Erin Bow has created a world where the different nations have grown accustomed to the idea that a princess or prince can be sacrificed.  The Children of Peace are raised and educated together in the Preceptures where they learn to farm and live off of what they're able to produce from the land.   The old national, political and geographic boundaries have been replaced with new ones, even the Earth's surface has changed dramatically.  We decipher the changes from the hostages that we encounter:

Gregori Kalvelis ("Grego"), son of the one of the grand dukes of the Baltic Alliance;
Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a 7th generation hostage and future ruler of a superpower;
Li Da-Xia,  Daughter  of the Heavenly Throne, the Beloved of the Mountains, the Pure Soul of Snow, a goddess in the Mountain Glacial States and most of Central Asia;
Thandi, heir to one of the great thrones of Africa;
Sidney,  son of the governor of Mississippi Delta Confederacy; and the more mysterious Children of the Peace Han and Atta.

The world is fascinated by these princes and princesses, but it's only those who are familiar with the Preceptures who know how the children are taught to work together, work hard and to sacrifice. Their teachers are carefully selected to be neutral and free from biases or corruption - they're different forms of Artificial Intelligence.  The Abbot who is in charge of the Precepture and the Children's eduction had been human once and more than the others he is able to sympathize and give the children balance in their lives.  They follow the Utterances, which is a book of quotations from the AI which has been assembled like a holy text; as a Child of Peace, it's critically important to know the Utterances. 

While the Children form close friendships and alliances, they never forget the reason for their being held at the Precepture.  Certainly, the many robots that listen and punish for dangerous behavior and talk are quick to remind them of their lack of power and of their obligations as Children of Peace.

Greta and her cohorts take instruction well and they prove strong despite the pressures that they face. It's Greta's stoicism (and her fondness for Marcus Aurelius) that stand out.  She's willing to accept that the growing political disputes for water make her country a likely target and put her life at risk, but she responds with calm and by keeping the Precepture running efficiently.  Though she's not one of the more vocal Children, she's the center of the group.  Her friendship with Li Da-Xia is more than a bond of princesses who have shared the same space for years, they have their own shortcuts to remind themselves and each other of the roles that they must play and their friendship gives you hope that with leaders who see each other like sisters there can be little chance of war.  "A hostage, yes. But a princess, a duchess.  The daughter of a queen."  The ties that the children can make one hope that in this fictional future war will be displaced, but The Scorpion Rules isn't so idealistic that one forgets that war comes from conflicting interests which can override the strength of diplomacy and friendship.  Overall, an imaginative and deeply satisfying read.

About the Author:
Erin Bow is a physicist turned poet turned children's novelist -- and she's won major awards in all three roles.  She's the author of Plain Kate, which received two starred reviews and was a YALSA Best Book of the Year, and Sorrow's Knot, which received five starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year.  Visit her at erinbow.com

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Shattered Court: A Novel of the Four Arts by M.J. Scott


Series: A Novel of the Four Arts (Book 1)
ISBM 9780451465399 - Paperback $ 7.99
  • Publisher: Roc (April 28, 2015), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Entangled in a court ruled by tradition and intrigue, a young witch must come to terms with newfound power and desire—and a choice between loyalty and survival.…

The royal witches of Anglion have bowed to tradition for centuries. If a woman of royal blood manifests powers, she is immediately bound by rites of marriage. She will serve her lord by practicing the tamer magics of the earth—ensuring good harvests and predicting the weather. Any magic more dangerous is forbidden.

Lady Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will be blessed—or perhaps cursed—with magic. When a vicious attack by Anglion’s ancient enemies leaves the kingdom in chaos, Sophia is forced to flee the court. Her protector by happenstance is Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard, raised all his life to be fiercely loyal to the Crown.

Then Sophia’s powers manifest stronger than she ever imagined they would, and Cameron and she are inextricably linked in the process. As a witch unbound by marriage rites, Sophia is not only a threat to the established order of her country, but is also a weapon for those who seek to destroy it. Faced with old secrets and new truths, she must decide if she will fight for her country or succumb to the delicious temptation of power.…

Review:
I read The Shattered Court and loved it so much that I searched for M.J. Scott's other books.  

M.J. Scott has created a world where the throne is passed on to women in the royal line whose magic is strong enough to keep the country bountiful and healthy.  The country's tradition and religion has established rites such that women of royal blood who manifest magical powers are directed to marry and undergo a religious rite that binds their magical power to their spouses.  The country's court and culture is much like that of Elizabethan England with its strict mores and social structure.  Our heroine is a lady-in-waiting with a distant tie to the throne but with magical powers that will prove near legendary.

The emergence of magical powers comes at on one's 21st birthday.  Lady Sophia Kendall was far from the throne, only 32nd in line.  But an attack on the Court forces her to hide with Lt. Cameron Mackenzie and she comes of into her powers unexpectedly and without the traditional rites or protections.  Not only does Lady Sophia prove to be exceptional in her abilities and the strength of her magic, she is linked to Cameron and unable to be bound to another.

Sophia is seen as a uncertain power and a potential threat to the status quo.  While the Queen holds affection for her royal cousin, powers behind the throne prefer to remove Sophia's powers and the threat that she poses.  The Queen and her court are reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth of England - powerful, jealous, and a critically important ruler for the small nation trying to rule as best she can.

The young Sophia seeks to serve her Queen and her family but is largely unprepared for the maneuvering and ruthlessness that come with ruling a nation state.  She must learn to balance her principles with political reality and must do so as she fights for her life.  

I found Sophia a winning protagonist - loyal with a deep sense of honor but thrust into an impossible situation. She tries to remain loyal to her Queen but is uncomfortably aware that while she has the Queen's affection, she is not certain of her trust.  As Sophia struggles to prove her loyalty to Queen and state, she must learn to face deadly threats and keep her head.  The love story between Sophia and Cameron adds another layer of uncertainty and fun to a wonderful, engrossing read.  I can't wait to read what happens next!

About the Author:
M. J. Scott is an unrepentant bookworm. Luckily she grew up in a family that fed her a properly varied diet of books and these days is surrounded by people who are understanding of her story addiction. When not wrestling one of her own stories to the ground, she can generally be found reading someone else’s. Her other distractions include yarn, cat butlering, dark chocolate and fabric. She is the author of the Half-Light City novels: Shadow Kin, Blood Kin, and Iron Kin, and Fire Kin.She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

F Train: A Brooklyn Crimes Novel by Richard Hilary Weber





F Train: A Brooklyn Crimes Novel by Richard Hilary Weber

Beneath Brooklyn's wintry streets, seven people are dead, slumped in their seats on an F train. Fast thinking and good fortune prevent the subway car doors from opening, spilling poisonous gas into the station. It's not long before a frightened metropolis of eight million demands answers: If this was an act of terror, where will these cruel killers strike next?The blurb:

NYPD detective Flo Ott looks closely at the victims. Each of their stories leads to another, one more colorful and complex than the last. A few of these quintessential New Yorkers catch Flo's attention: a mysterious off-duty FBI agent and the beautiful woman next to him, who may have been his lover. Then there's a Russian mobster with more than his fair share of enemies.

As Flo battles false leads, conflicting witnesses, and meddling politicians, her investigation delves into the dark side of the city that never sleeps. Flo becomes convinced that this wasn't a random act of violence, and she fears something much worse may be rumbling down the tracks.


Review:
I confess that one reason why I requested and particularly enjoyed the F train is my own familiarity with the book's setting.  Not only do I usually take the F train to get to Manhattan but I pass Farrell's and use the 15th Street/Prospect Park stop.  


The novel begins with a horrible crime on the F train and it's a retired FBI agent that keeps the loss of life from spreading.  As NYPD detective Flo Ott learns more about the victims, digs beyond the apparent relationships to find a web of relationships.  Possible extramarital affairs, Chinese gangs, Eastern European mafia, corrupt cops, and terrorists - Ott's investigation takes her to New York's diverse neighborhoods and it's uncertain whether she'll survive long enough to expose the perpetrators of the crime.

I enjoyed F Train and Weber's characterization of the neighborhoods of NY. Not surprisingly, much of the action occurs outside of Manhattan, giving the reader a glimpse into the gentrifying streets of Brooklyn.  NYPD Homicide Detective Florence Ott (Flo Ott) is a sympathetic and gifted detective.  So, if you're looking for a very NY mystery, pick up the F Train.  

About the Author:
Richard Hilary Weber, a native of Brooklyn - Park Slope born and bred - and a Columbia University graduate, has taught at the universities of Stockholm and Copenhagen, and has been a scriptwriter for French and Swedish filmmakers. He lives in Provence, France.  In 2015-2016, he has plays being produced in London and NY.  F Train is his second novel for Alibi, following his thriller In Flames.  His next Flo Ott crime novel is Fanatics.  Learn more about him and his writing at www.richardhilaryweber.com

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pierce


ISBN 10: 0545709261    Hardcover   $16
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (April 28, 2015), 192 pages.
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers program.

The blurb:
Fuzzles are everywhere. In your kitchen. In your backpack. In your underwear drawer.  Which is problem, since Fuzzles burst into flame at the worst possible moments...

Pip Bartlett can talk to magical creatures. It's a talent that nobody around her can understand.  Unfortunately, this talent can get her into trouble.  Like the time the unicorns stampeded her school.  Fortunately, Pip's aunt is a vet for magical creatures in a different town, and can take Pip in.

Unfortunately,  Pip's new best friend, Tomas, is allergic to magical creatures.  And unfortunately, Fuzzles have invaded Pip's new town, bursting into flames at all the wrong times.

It's up to Pip, Tomas, and a strange assortment of magical creatures to solve the mystery of what's going on with the Fuzzles. . . . and hopefully save the town from burning down.

Review:
Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures begins with Career Day and an incident with unicorns. It turns out that Pip is the one person who can communicate with magical creatures. After the unicorn incident, nine-year old Pip is sent to assist her veterinarian aunt in her practice of magical creatures and her unique ability results in all sorts of complications and misadventures.

We follow Pip as she makes friends with an allergy prone boy her age and charms all sorts of magical creatures. While there Pip doesn't go on a quest or big adventure, she brings fun to an otherwise quiet suburban town. Fun read!

About the Authors:

Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater first met online through their shared love of reading, writing, and adorable animal photos.  They have since become good friends, and despite living in different states, talk daily (to plan mischief) and visit one another often (to execute mischief).

With the Pip Bartlett series, they decided to join forces to tell the sort of story they wanted to read: One with clever kids, plenty of magic, and as many animals as they could fit into the page.  Maggie's favorite magical creature in the Pip series is the Scottish Bogwallow; Jackson's is the Flowerbeast.  This is their first collaboration.