Take A Peek Book Review: Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.


(via Goodreads)

Ivy and her sisters have a secret: their reclusive Great-Aunt is actually Adela Martin, inspired author of the fantasy classic, Ivory Apples. Generations of obsessive fans have searched for Adela, poring over her letters, sharing their theories online, and gathering at book conventions. It is just a matter of time before one fan gets too close.

So when the seemingly-perfect Kate Burden appears at the local park, Ivy knows that something isn’t right. Kate has charmed the entire family, but she is suspiciously curious about Ivory Apples. And Ivy must protect what she and her Great-Aunt share: magic that is real, untamable, and—despite anyone’s desire—always prefers choosing its own vessel.

My Thoughts:

In Ivory Apples , four young sisters end up at the mercy of an outsider who charms her way into their family and then takes over. Kate is a clever but overly obsessed fan of the classic children’s fantasy book Ivory Apples — not just because she loves the story, but because she suspects that the author, Adela Martin, had access to real magic as she wrote the book, and Kate wants some of her own.

Oldest sister Ivy is the only one not fully taken in by Kate’s schemes, and breaks away from the family in order to keep her aunt’s secrets, only to return in desperation when she realizes that her sisters need rescuing. Meanwhile, Kate is right about one thing — there IS a source of real magic, and Adela and Ivy both have access to it.

I enjoyed the family dynamics and Ivy herself, as well as the central role played by the book Ivory Apples and its secrets. Not all of the magical aspects made complete sense to me, and the sense of urgency throughout lagged from time to time. Still, the book is different and unusual in all sorts of ways, and Kate makes for a devious and menacing bad guy beneath her pleasant and child-friendly exterior. I’d definitely like to read more by this author.


The details:

Title: Ivory Apples
Author: Lisa Goldstein
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication date: October 15, 2019
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount: The perfect gift for the bibliophiles in your life!

If you’re looking for the absolutely perfect gift for a very special booklover, I’m here to tell you:


Bibliophile is just so, so wonderful. Anyone who’s crazy about books (and let’s face it, if you’re reading a book blog right now, you fit the category) will adore this book.

In this gorgeous hardcover, artist Jane Mount creates a reference guide/ode to great books/piece of artwork that is a pleasure to page through. I’ve had it sitting out on my nightstand for a few weeks now, ever since I treated myself to my very own copy, and I can personally attest that the few minutes I spend each day opening Bibliophile at random and soaking in a few pages at a time are utter bliss. And who doesn’t need that at the end of the day?

In my happy place

Okay, so now that I’ve raved on for a bit, here’s a little more about what’s actually inside.

Bibliophile is a smorgasbord of book-related subjects and illustrations, focusing on everything from favorite bookstores to bookstore cats, striking libraries to writers’ pets, iconic covers to books made into great movies.

The book is a gorgeous balance of illustrations and words, with full-color spreads to amaze and delight, such as the ones featured in this review on Read It Forward:

Jane Mount is a talented artist who specializes in books. You can check out her amazing work at Ideal Bookshelf, where you can find prints, notecards, totes and more — or if you really want to splurge you can even order a custom painting of your own favorite bookshelf.

Just a little taste of what’s available at https://www.idealbookshelf.com/collections/everything

By the way, you’ll probably want to check out her previous book, My Ideal Bookshelf, which features a round-up of cultural celebrities — writers, chefs, and more — describing the books they love the most, with Mount’s beautiful illustrations for each shelf.

And look at that! A post full of gift ideas for your favorite booklovers — or even little treats for yourself, because you deserve it.



The details:

Title: Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany
Author: Jane Mount
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication date: September 11, 2018
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Non-fiction/art/reference
Source: Purchased





Shelf Control #125: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Published: 2012
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything; instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends, but when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

How and when I got it:

I finally picked up a Kindle edition a couple of years ago, after having this book on my wishlist since it first came out in 2012.

Why I want to read it:

Books about books and books about bookstores are always a treat! This book sounds wonderful and weird… and now that I’ve read the author’s newest (Sourdough), I’m kicking myself for not having read Mr. Penumbra yet.


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!














Novella Review: Time Was by Ian McDonald


A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it.

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found.

Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their desperate timelines overlap.

Time Was is a haunting, lovely story of love and loss, war and suffering. It’s also a bookish mystery of sorts, all served up in a compact 176 pages.

The framing of the device revolves around a man named Emmett, a book dealer who surrounds himself with stacks of archaic volumes and keeps himself housed and fed through his EBay sales. When he’s sorting through the book-filled dumpster outside yet another failed rare book store, he comes across what he thinks may be a valuable find — an odd little book of poetry, with an “inclusion” — a letter tucked inside. Both are clearly old, and could be worth quite a lot to a collector.

But as Emmett reads the letter, he realizes there’s more to the story. The letter is between two WWII soldiers, Tom and Ben, and it’s clearly a love letter. But there’s something strange about it too, and Emmett decides to try to find out more. He tracks down another person with artifacts related to Tom and Ben, but these are from World War I. And photos show young men who don’t appear to have aged. Are they some sort of immortals? Is it all a joke? How can this be?

Emmett becomes obsessed with finding out more about Tom and Ben, and meanwhile, we see bits and pieces narrated by them as well, as we learn of their meeting during World War II and the top-secret experiment that Ben is involved in. As Emmett discovers, it would appear that something — something inexplicable — happened, and the two have become unmoored in time, using notes tucked into copies of this unusual poetry book, to find one another again and again and again.

At first, it’s hard to see how it all fits together, and yet it works. The writing builds a sense of wonder, informed by a deep, passionate love that keeps Tom and Ben forever seeking and sometimes finding one another, no matter where in time they end up. It’s lovely and mysterious, and unlike anything I’ve read lately. I do love a good time travel story, when done well, and Time Was is done very well indeed.

The best types of time travel books make me feel like starting over again once I’ve reached the last page, so I can go back and see the chronological displacements and events out of order for what they truly are, catching the hints and clues I missed the first time around. Time Was is one of those books.

Highly recommended. It’s a fast, absorbing, and deeply touching story. I only wish we could have spent more time with Tom and Ben. There’s a tragic undertone to every moment they’re together, and I’d like to think they had plenty of happiness along the way as well. If you measure the success of a story by how much the reader comes to care about the characters, then I’d say this one is absolutely a success.


The details:

Title: Time Was
Author: Ian McDonald
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: November 5, 2017
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Time travel/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley








Shelf Control #76: The Bookshop on the Corner

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: The Bookshop on the Corner
Author: Jenny Colgan
Published: 2016
Length: 368 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

How I got it:

Bought it!

When I got it:

Last fall.

Why I want to read it:

I picked up a copy as soon as a bookish friend recommended it to me. Who doesn’t love a book about a bookshop? Bookstore settings are always such fun in fiction, even though they always make me rethink my life choices. Anyhoo… I bought this book as soon as my friend told me about it, and I’ve carted it around in my suitcase on a few different trips now — and somehow still haven’t actually started reading it. So even though The Bookshop on the Corner hasn’t been on my shelf for all that long, it’s one I really need to stop waiting on and just sit down and read — and therefore definitely deserves to be my Shelf Control pick this week.


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!









Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Readers of Broken largeI’m guessing that anyone who writes or reads book blogs has a special warm and fuzzy place in their heart for books about bookstores. If that sounds like you, then you’ll need to make room for one more! The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend fits snugly alongside other “books about books”, and is a lovely example of a book that true booklovers will want to hug.

The town of Broken Wheel, Iowa is… well… broken. Hard times have driven out most businesses and bankrupted family farms. Main Street is full of boarded-up, empty shops, and the only school in town has long since closed. All this changes when Swedish tourist Sara Lindqvist shows up. Sara had been corresponding regularly with town elder Amy Harris for years, meeting first through their shared love of books, but developing a friendship and trust through their letters that culminates in Amy inviting Sara for a visit. Sadly, Sara arrives in Broken Wheel on the day of Amy’s funeral, but the townsfolk seem curiously insistent that she stay, as Amy would have wished.

Sara moves into Amy’s home, and is astounded to find that no one in Broken Wheel will let her pay for anything. At a loss as to how to repay their kindness, Sara realizes two important things: First, that Amy has thousands of books in her house. And second, that the people of Broken Wheel don’t seem to be readers… which shocks bookworm Sara to the core of her book-loving soul. So Sara comes up with an idea of how to repay Broken Wheel. She’ll clean up an abandoned storefront owned by Amy, set up a bookshop with Amy’s books (and using her own money to fill in the gaps), and will spread the joy of books and reading to all the lonely and disappointed souls of Broken Wheel.

Listen, if you’re a booklover, I’ve probably already convinced you that this is a book you need to read! Need more? I’ll keep going.

What did I enjoy about The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend? Let’s see.

Characters: The town of Broken Wheel is full of odd and quirky characters, and they come splendidly to life in this book. Sara herself is a shy, lonely young woman who really has nothing to go back to Sweden for. She’s not used to being sought out or admired, and being the sudden center of attention is a dramatic eye-opener for her. There’s Grace, descended from a line of Graces, who totes a rifle and sees herself as the town outsider, without admitting to herself just how deeply invested in the town she is. There’s Andy, who runs the only bar in town with his “special friend”, the outrageously attractive Carl. There’s George, a recovering alcoholic who finally starts finding hope again through Sara, her books, and the interconnectedness of the town. Caroline, a starchy, proper churchlady, comes surprisingly alive again once exposed to Sara’s books and the interest of a younger man. There are plenty more, but I’ll let you have the pleasure of discovering them on your own.

Of course, with books, you could have greater confidence that it would all end well. You worked through the disappointments and the complications, always conscious, deep down, that Elizabeth would get her Mr. Darcy in the end. With life, you couldn’t have the same faith. But sooner or later, she reminded herself, surely someone you could imagine was your Mr. Darcy would turn up.

Though that was assuming you were one of the main characters.

Writing: Debut author Katarina Bivald has a light and humorous touch, capturing people’s inner struggles and worries yet conveying even the sadness with a sense of honesty and hope. I love the way she captures the souls of people who love books — for example, this bit from one of Amy’s letters:

I can’t for the life of me explain why I have the bad sense to prefer people [over books]. If you went purely by numbers, then books would win hands down. I’ve loved maybe a handful of people in my entire life, compared with tens or maybe even hundreds of books (and here I’m counting only those books I’ve really loved, the kind that make you happy just to look at them, that make you smile regardless of what else is happening in your life, that you always turn back to like an old friend and can remember exactly where you first “met” them — I’m sure you know just what I’m talking about). But that handful of people you love… they’re surely worth just as much as all of those books.

The bookstore: Sara decides that the standard bookstore signage — fiction, non-fiction, etc. — just won’t cut it if she really wants to reach the people of Broken Wheel. Sara ends up setting up her bookstore with sections such as “Sex, Violence, and Weapons”, “Short But Sweet”, “For Friday Nights and Lazy Sundays”, “Gay Erotica” (more or less on a dare, but with surprising results), and “Warning: Unhappy Endings”.

If more bookshop owners had taken the responsibility to hang warning signs, her life would have been easier. Cigarette packets came with warnings, so why not tragic books? There was wording on bottles of beer warning against drinking and driving, but not a single word about the consequences of reading books without tissues to hand.

Love: In a way, Readers is a love story — the story of how an entire town fell in love with a newcomer in their midst, and how she fell right back in love with all of them. Beyond that, there are romances and relationships, not candy-coated or overly sentimental, but simply people with hopes and dreams, with disappointments and heartaches in their pasts, who find one another — for friendship, companionship, love, or lust — in all sorts of unusual ways that end up feeling just so right.

“If you don’t marry her, she’ll have to leave. And she got me a book!”

Plot: The plot of Readers is fairly simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not engaging. There are no huge surprises here — outsider arrives, changes the people around her, gives them new lease on life, etc — but it’s still charming to see it all unfold.

The author just gets readers: A major theme of Readers is how books change lives, in big and little ways. People end up with books that they might never have thought of trying, but there’s always something that rubs off, some way that a person ends up changed or enriched or bothered, that leaves a person just slightly different from how they were before reading that book. It’s such fun to see how Sara finds people just the right book to touch them, and then to realize how some of those same books have affected me in ways similar and different.

“Can you smell it? The scent of new books. Unread adventures. Friends you haven’t met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you.”

Plus, this priceless sentiment from Sara struck an absolute nerve with me and perfectly sums up why I don’t commit to reading challenges:

If you were someone who spent the vast majority of your time with books, then at the very least you should have read the Nobel Prize winners and the classics, as well as all those books people talked about but had never actually read, as Mark Twain might have put it. She had thrown herself into one ambitious reading project after another, but things had rarely gone according to plan. It was boring to think of books as something you should read just because others had, and besides, she was much too easily distracted. There were far too many books out there to stick to any sort of theme.

I’ve seen this book described as perfect for people who loved The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (review) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — and considering that I loved both of those and love Readers, I think it’s an apt description!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a quiet, sweet, quirky, and thoughtful book about people, community, books, and the way they all come together. Absolutely recommended for anyone who is passionate about books — who enjoys reading about books almost as much as actually reading books.


The details:

Title: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Author: Katarina Bivald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: January 19, 2016
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark

Thursday Quotables: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Readers of Broken large

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
(to be released January 19, 2016)

Books about books and bookstores! Awesome – am I right? I’ve read about 2/3 of this upcoming new release so far, and it’s very sweet and quirky — and sure to appeal to any booklover who’s ever dreamed of opening up his or her very own bookstore. I love the odd characters and their awkward moments:

Small talk was not something Sara excelled at. She couldn’t think of anything to say, so she stayed silent. Without realizing it, she was clutching her jacket pocket, where she had shoved a paperback just to be on the safe side. She didn’t think she could really take it out, even though Tom obviously had no desire to talk to her. People were strange like that. They could be completely uninterested in you, but the moment you picked up a book, you were the one being rude.

Watch for my review, coming soon!

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Book lovers unite! Top ten characters who NEED to READ.


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about characters who are book nerds, book worms, book lovers… you know, people like us!

My top 10, with links for the ones I’ve reviewed here at Bookshelf Fantasies:

1) Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey: Sure, her tendency to get swept up in gothic novels leads to trouble (like suspecting her crush’s dad of dastardly deeds)… Still, she’s responsible for one of Jane Austen’s most quoted booklover lines:

NA quote

2) Tyrion Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire: Tyrion credits at least a portion of his survival to wits gained through reading. “Sleep is good. And books are better.”

Wit & Wisdom

3) Jo March (and her sisters), Little Women: Is there anything better than the March sisters acting out the stories they read, or Jo’s own writing efforts? (Until Amy burns her stories. Curse you, Amy!)

Little Women

4) Leisel Meminger, The Book Thief: Does this even need explanation?

Book Thief

5) Mori Phelps, Among Others: A girl whose life revolves around interlibrary loans, and who has read pretty much every work of science fiction, ever. I love the fact that this book has its very own book list (put together by fans, I believe) of every book mentioned in the course of the story. See an assortment of bibliography links here on Jo Walton’s website.

Among Others

And some love for the bookstore owners (and workers):

6) A. J. Fikry, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A man whose entire life can be explained by the books he loves — and whose bookstore is everything I would want in my own bookstore. (review)


7) Chloe Sinclair, The Book of Secrets: Bookstore owner, with a secret past in which book-related clues hold the key to everything. (review)

book of secrets

8) June Andersen, Goodnight June: Owner of a children’s bookstore with a secret connection to Margaret Wise Brown. (review)

Goodnight June

9) Maggie Duprès, The Moment of Everything: More bookstores! Gotta love a character who turns from a high-tech job to running a dusty used book store. (review)

moment everything

10) Jane True, the Jane True series: Jane works in a bookstore with the fabulous name Read It and Weep, and when she’s not learning about her supernatural gifts, she’s busy selling books to the peculiar characters in her small Maine town.


What books about booklovers are on your list this week?

Share your link, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Book Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

18293427When I finished reading this book and then went back and looked at the book blurb:

In the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books – and booksellers – that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds.

… my first thought was “Damn.” Because in my head, I wanted to say something about this being a love letter to book lovers, and it’s already been said. Double damn.

But really, how can I complain — when I have just read a book that I LOVED so, so much?

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is one of those quiet, unassuming books that you think will be sweet and pleasant — and then BAM! It sneaks up on you, grabs you by the heart, and makes you feel so many feels.

A. J. Fikry, when we first meet him, is a sad, lonely man. A. J. owns Island Books, the one and only bookstore on Alice Island, a short ferry ride away from Hyannis, Massachusetts. The store is not doing very well, and neither is A. J. Since his wife’s death almost two years earlier, A. J. is drifting through his life, drinking himself into oblivion once a week, being grumpy to his customers, and just not finding a reason to care.

All that changes when a drunken night during which a valuable Poe manuscript goes missing triggers a bizarre chain of events which leads to the discovery of a toddler abandoned in the bookstore — who soon becomes the center of A. J.’s life.

As A. J. starts waking up to the possibility of a happy future, his business picks up as well, and little by little Island Books becomes the center of bookish activity on the island. My favorite bookish happening is the Chief’s Choice book club, started by the local police chief and consisting of a book group for cops — which no cop really can decline to participate in, since the chief is the one organizing it.

Meanwhile, a very persistent sales rep from a small publishing company seems to make a very large impression on A. J., and their business relationship slowly blooms into something more, with lots of awkwardness and false starts, but always with a shared passion for books.

Can I just say yet again how much I loved this book? Excuse me for gushing, but The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry seems tailor-made for anyone whose life revolves around reading. (Yes, that includes me, and I suspect it includes anyone reading this review!) Amidst the story of A. J.’s personal journey is a meditation on reading and how a life can be shaped and measured by the books read along the way. So much of what I feel about reading is encapsulated here, and it’s simply beautiful to meet so many characters who feel this way too.

The writing is clever without being forced, yet I found myself laughing out loud at various points, such as :

Ismay has stylishly cut, spiky red hair, pale skin and eyes, long, spindly limbs. All her features are a little too large, her gestures a little too animated. Pregnant, she is like a very pretty Gollum.


Lambiase is recently divorced. He had married his high school sweetheart, so it took him a long time to realize that she was not, in fact, a sweetheart or a very nice person at all.

And yet, even with the humorous tone always present beneath the surface, the emotions are real and visceral:

A. J. watches Maya in her pink party dress, and he feels a vaguely familiar, slightly intolerable bubbling inside of him. He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated. Insane. At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it’s love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.

Ultimately, though, what I love most about this wonderful book (and yes, I pretty much loved it all) is what is has to say to about readers and their reading passions:

When she told me it was her favorite, it suggested to me strange and wonderful things about her character that I had not guessed, dark places that I might like to visit.

People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?

Don’t miss out: Read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Filled with beauty and sorrow, love and humor, and an abiding love for books and readers, this book was an unexpected delight for me — and apparently is now one of those books: Books that fill you up with so much emotion and enjoyment that you want to run right out and start putting copies in people’s hands.


The details:

Title: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of Algonquin Books via Netgalley

Book Review: The Book of Secrets

Book Review: The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold

The Book of SecretsChildhood secrets, the ugliness behind a serene family facade, imagination unleashed by the beauty of good books — all are key elements of the exquisite new novel The Book of Secrets written by Elizabeth Joy Arnold.

Chloe’s life changed forever on her eighth birthday when she met the mysterious, wonderful Sinclair children. Scrubbed and wholesome in a hopelessly old-fashioned way, living in a secluded country home in California redwood territory, home-schooled by a kind and creative mother, siblings Grace, Nate, and Cecilia welcomed Chloe into their hearts, and from that moment on, they became the center of Chloe’s life.

As the book opens, Chloe is in her mid-forties, struggling with the tensions of her 25-year marriage to Nate. Chloe and Nate have loved each other since childhood, but a tragedy in their early days together has created a permanent hole that neither knows how to fill. When Chloe finds a note from Nate saying that he’s suddenly gone back to his childhood home to deal with a family matter, she is shocked and dismayed. That home was the site of their nightmare, and she can’t imagine why he’d consent to return. Unsure what to believe, Chloe searches for clues, and finally finds a secret notebook, filled with a coded sort of language written by Nate, tucked inside a hollowed-out copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Chloe struggles to decipher Nate’s writing, sure that it will help her understand his sudden departure — but unsure whether she truly wants to unearth secrets from their awful past.

As Chloe cracks the code through the use of favorite childhood books, the narrative shifts back and forth between Chloe’s present-day struggle to understand the secrets that have undermined her marriage and the past, full of hidden family drama and dysfunction, as well as the delights of first love and devoted friendship.

The Book of Secrets explores themes of family, faith, and imagination, and peers into the heart of a marriage — what holds it together, what makes it fall apart. The secrets revealed in The Book of Secrets are huge and devastating, and it amazes me that Chloe and Nate survived as a couple at all.

The writing in this book is quite lovely, full of descriptions that vividly convey the wonders of childhood, full of play (digging a hole to London to try to go visit C. S. Lewis), journeys to the fantasy worlds of books, puzzles, and hidden codes, and the pure certainty of love that flows between Chloe and the three Sinclair children. The book is also a charming tribute to the power of good books, amply illustrating how books can inspire and transform, provide escape and solutions.

Ultimately, there is a mystery at the heart of The Book of Secrets — what happened 25 years ago, and what has Nate been hiding from Chloe all these years? (I’m being deliberately vague, I know. This is yet another book that I think is best read with as little knowledge beforehand as possible.) The tension builds and builds, and as Chloe finds herself reexamining long-held beliefs based on new information that she uncovers, we as readers have to readjust our understanding of events as well.

The ending is tension-filled, dramatic, and just as it should be. I did more or less figure out the general shape that the ending would take well ahead of time, but that didn’t matter in the slightest. Even though I was right on the money about the “what”, the “how” and “why” were surprising, shocking, and yet made total sense in the context of the story.

This is a perfect book for book lovers. Not only is the story of Nate and Chloe and their family secrets compelling and well-written, but the obvious adoration that the author feels for reading and its magic shines through on every page.

Review copy courtesy of Bantam Books via NetGalley.