The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry tells the story of its namesake beginning shortly after his wife died. A.J. comes across as a curmudgeonly old man, but is only in his early 40s when the story begins. A.J. is stuck in a pattern of self pity and self righteousness about proper literary books versus any other type of book out there.

When life circumstances change, A.J. surprisingly changes with them. He develops a community of support that helps him and builds a better community around him, all dedicated to reading. Interspersed in the chapters are educational asides meant for his daughter to read certain books and what each meant to him at the time that he read it.

This was a sweet tale of a man who asks for nothing, but gives so much and ends up getting a family.

Read July 2017

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The Wangs vs. The World

Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. The World tells the story of the Wangs after their patriarch looses all their money, homes, cars, etc after a bad business venture. The time period is the beginning of the economic collapse that would devastate so many people, but this story, while it talks a little about the world’s problems, really is a story about the Wangs. For centuries, the Wangs were wealthy land owners in China. This branch of the family survived the war with Japan by escaping to Taiwan.
Charlie started fresh in the new world and ended up with a makeup empire that collapsed due to bad timing and a lot of hubris. Saina, his oldest daughter, moved to NY and became a well known artist, but recently had a crushing show that may have ruined her career. Since she bought her house on her own, no one’s coming to repossess it and the rest of the family will need to move in with her.Andrew, middle child and virgin, drops out of college since his dad can’t foot the bill anymore. Grace, an internet fashion blogger and prep school attendee, also has to leave school. Along with Charlie’s second wife Barbra, the rest of the family drives across country to begin their new life at Saina’s country home.

The novel switches characters often so we really see the impact that this move and the financial/success changes have on all the family members and how it changes how they see themselves.

There’s a lot going on in this novel since each character has to grow and change to survive this. But the love thats shared by the family will help them move on. There’s also a lot of Chinese-American culture references which I found enlightening and don’t think I’ve read anything from this perspective.

At first the switching between characters was not enjoyable, but by the end of the novel I was waiting for each family member’s perspective of the current events.

Slow, but very interesting read.

Read July 2017

Still Alice

Still Alive tells the story of a woman at the height of her career who discovers she has Alzheimer’s. Lisa Genova writes with such compassion for her characters, all of which have to learn to deal with Alice’s disease. Alice must give up her career and her autonomy when it becomes clear that her memory is affecting her ability to function. She must also learn to deal with her family members who have very different reactions and expectations of her.

This story is incredibly heart breaking watching a woman, who has so much intellect and a life full of work and family, change into someone who can’t follow conversations and who seems to be failing some of her loved ones. Its amazing to see who steps in to help her and horrifying to see those who run away.

This was a great, eye-opening read.

Read July 2017.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale tells what happens when a culture ruins their environment and steals the autonomy of women due to a decreased birthrate. Its scary and horrifying. Healthy babies are prized over a woman’s right to her own life. Women are separated by their ability to have children, higher class women, working class women and women of color are just sent away as not needed.

In the world we live, this tale is too reminiscent of politicians preaching about the sanctity of life while depriving poor people, especially people of color, basic human dignities. I originally read this book years ago and it didn’t have the same horror I felt this time.

This book is so well written and so horrifying, Read May 2017.

Silver Girl

Elin Hilderbrand’s Silver Girl is a fictional account based on the Bernie Madoff’s fleecing of his investors. In this world, Freddy Delinn plays the evil mastermind, but it’s his wife that the story centers around. Meredith Delinn hides from the public after her husbands arrest and seemingly knows nothing about any of her husband’s financial schemes. After loosing everything and about to be kicked out of her home, she begs her childhood friend to let her stay with her. Connie Flute, a widow, has know Meredith her entire life, but after  a falling out, they haven’t spoken in years. Connie agrees to allow Meredith to stay with her on Nantucket for the summer.

To Meredith is seems the whole world lost money on her husbands investment and she isn’t allowed to talk to her sons until they’ve all been cleared of wrongdoing. She and Connie work to rebuild their own relationship as Meredith is attacked from outside as a conspirator of her husband. Trying to lie low is harder than it seems, and Hilderbrand shows the anguish that Meredith is suffering at the loss of what was her whole world. Connie, while trying to help her friend, also suffers after the loss of her husband 2 1/2 years ago. Both woman need to find a way forward on their own, but aren’t yet sure if they can trust one another.

A great, emotional story of loss and friendship. And this novel has, like so many others, a friend who loves to cook wonderful meals without any help or resentment. I don’t know why so many novels have this “friend” in them, but I sure would want to go on vacation with someone like that!

Read April 2017

Klickitat

Peter Rock wrote a book about teen rebellion and idealizing an older sibling while incorporating an underworld of teen runaways on the streets of Portland. Klickitat is the street that Ramona Quimby lives on in Beverly Cleary’s world. Its also close to where the sisters Audra and Vivian live and a secret code between them.

Audra is a rebellious teenage runaway that sneaks back home to get her younger sister. They live with a strange man who supposedly has lots of experience living off the grid, but so far they’re petty thieves living under someones home.

The writing is almost lyrical with beautiful sentences and phrases. This help paint a magical setting for the sisters relationship, which is strained by mental disorders and jealousy.

This was a gripping story with unexpected twists.

Read August 2016.

The Ramblers

Aidan Donnelly Rowley’s story focused on a pair of New York couples, all successful and wealthy, either independently or their family. The Ramblers is a great name for this novel, since the couples seem to be rambling about their life trying to figure out what they should do, also for the spot in Central Park where Clio March leads her bird walk.

Clio, was born poor, but after her Yale education, she’s been living a much better life, mooching off her college roommate in her apartment off Central Park and enjoying a successful career at working with birds. However, Clio hasn’t come to terms with her bipolar mother, or her father who spent her life trying to hold her mom together, without any energy left for her and its impacting her relationship. Smith Anderson, the said roommate, was born into a very wealthy family, but her generosity is all her own. She’s still reeling after her fiancé suddenly cut off their engagement months ago and now her younger sister is getting married. She meets an old Yale classmate, Tate Pennington, who seems to revive her spirit.

Both Clio and Smith are at the point in their lives where decisions need to be made, or nothing will ever change. Will Clio be able to trust anyone enough to open up about her past, and will Smith be able to succeed without all her paternal support.

Starting this novel, I thought it would be a more serious read. It wasn’t, but it was a fun look at upperclass Manhattanites and an enjoyable story about 2 women working through their issues and consciously deciding where they want their lives to lead.

Read June 2016.