Tag Archives: bookstores

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Audio)

cover image of audiobook on CDThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a novel by Gabrielle Zevin, is about a grieving widower named A.J. – old before his time at not even 40 – whose lonely life as a judgmental, cantankerous bookseller on Alice Island (a fictional Massachusetts island much like Martha’s Vineyard) is transformed when a small child named Maya enters his life. Narrated by Scott Brick, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was one of my favorite audiobooks of 2014. Bookish and clever, funny and moving, it’s a wonderful story, even if completely unrealistic.

I started this post back in May, but never wrote up a review, so I thought I’d just share a couple of quotes from the book. Lambiase (pronounced Lamb-bee-ay-zay, as I recall) is the police detective who is investigating the abandonment of Maya in A.J.’s bookstore.

“Lambiase does not miss his wife, although he does miss having somewhere to go after work. He parks himself on the floor and pulls Maya onto his lap. After Maya falls asleep, Lambiase tells A.J. the things he’s learned about the mother.

‘What’s strange to me,’ A.J. says, ‘is why she was on Alice Island in the first place. It’s kind of a pain to get here, you know. My own mother’s visited me once in all the years I’ve lived here. You really believe she wasn’t coming to see someone specific?’

Lambiase shifts Maya in his lap. ‘I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe she didn’t have a plan of where she was going. Maybe she just took the first train, and then the first bus, and then the first boat, and this is where she ended up.’

A.J. nods out of politeness, but he doesn’t believe in random acts. He is a reader, and what he believes in is narrative construction. If a gun appears in Act One, that gun had better go off by Act Three.”

* * *

Lambiase nods, and drinks his wine. “Nobody’s saying you have to keep her.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course. But do you think I could have some sort of say in where she ended up? She’s an awfully smart little thing. Like she already knows the alphabet, and I even got her to understand alphabetical order. I’d hate to see her land with some jerks who didn’t appreciate that. As I was saying before, I don’t believe in fate. But I do feel a sense of responsibility toward her. That young woman did leave her in my care.”

If you like quirky books like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore or Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, or books that are about books and reading, you’ll probably like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry very much. Listen to an excerpt here.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Zevin, Gabrielle
Brick, Scott (narr.)
Highbridge Audio
April 2014
7 hours on 7 CDs

Disclosure: I bought my own copy of this audiobook, which is nice, because I might want to listen to it again sometime.

Other opinions on the audiobook edition:
The Literate Housewife
Words and Peace

Ready Reader One: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

book cover imageI’ve kept Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a first novel by Robin Sloan checked out from the library way too long (without breaking library rules, of course) and need to return it today without fail. I was hoping to do the book justice, and I doubt waiting so long to write the review after reading it will help.

The first problem is that I wanted to like this book more than I did. It may be that I’m too far out of the target audience for this book (20- and 30-somethings) or maybe I should have gone with the audio instead.

Problem #2: I was going to say in my review that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore tries to do for books what Ready Player One did for video games, but I’m nowhere near the first book blogger to notice similarities in tone between Robin Sloan’s adventure quest novel about ancient texts vs. Google to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, an adventure quest novel packed with geeky references to 80s video and computer games. Here are just a few of the first to pop up in a Google search on both book titles:

The Rise of the Video Game Novel on My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors

Review – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore on Buried on Indian Ground

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore on Reading, Writing, Revising

Pros and Contexts: Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore on Chicago Ex-Patriate

Lost in the Library of Life on 52 Books 52

Clay Jannon, a laid-off Web designer whose friends – unlike him – seem to be progressing in their respective fields, falls into a laid-back job at an unusual bookstore with unusual customers and an even more unusual owner named Mr. Penumbra. It doesn’t take long for Clay’s to become about the books in the shadowy upper reaches of the store that he’s not supposed to look at. After his snooping, though, he’s still pretty much in the dark. What mysterious knowledge are Mr. Penumbra’s special customers (fewer and farther between than the slow trickle of regular customers) after?

I wanted to love Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and expected it to be on my 2013 Favorites List next December, so maybe my hopes were too high. I enjoyed reading it and it belongs on any library’s list of books about books, but the characters felt flattish and the suspense seemed too contrived. The stakes never felt real if Clay and his friends failed in their quest. Also, I was more interested in mysterious Mr. Penumbra than in Clay and wish he played a larger role in the action of the story.

If you liked Ready Player One, please read/listen to Mr. Penumbra and tell me if I am just being an old fart.