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.

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.

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. 

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.


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