Monday, July 28, 2014

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Secrecy and Surprises in Spain (Mysterious Intrigue)

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is about a boy’s investigation into the enigmatic life of author, Julián Carax. After reading Carax’s novel The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel wants to enjoy more of his books only to discover that someone has systematically burned every copy of his published works.  As the story progresses Daniel enlists the help of a co-worker, ex-political prisoner, ex-bum, and always entertaining Fermín, to get to the bottom of this mystery.  What they discover is a puzzle that slowly reveals the entire picture as each piece falls into place. The story they unravel through the streets of Barcelona is complex filled with passion, jealousy, hatred, deception, and strong, undying love of the many various characters who are somehow connected to the tragic truth. 

This book is a well-narrated, well-crafted, intricate story that I enjoyed.  With twists and turns of complicated lives, it held my interest throughout the 487 pages and even managed to produce some goose bumps, not from terror, but from the surprises along the way.  If you’re looking for breezy, summer read, this is not that book. But if you’re ready to get swept up in intrigue, romance, and malevolence set against a backdrop of war-torn, mid-century Barcelona, The Shadow of the Wind may be the book for you.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Take a Walk on the Weird Side (Classics)

The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) by Franz Kafka is a super-short, 59-page, surreal classic.  Think—Salvador Dali in written format.  One morning Gregor Samsa wakes up to discover he had transformed into a monstrous bug. Strangely, after his first thought of “Holy, crap!  What’s happened to me?!!!,” he dwells more on “OMG, I’m going to be late for work!” Now, that’s not a sign of a dedicated employee. It’s pure and simple fear.  His boss is a real orb-smasher, if you know what I mean. In the living room, his family keeps knocking on the door asking why Gregor isn’t already on the road as a traveling salesman.  In fact, he’s so late, the head clerk shows up at his house demanding to know what’s going on. The family is very worried about Gregor and the extra pressure of the presence of his boss isn’t helping. Just when they’re ready to run and get the locksmith, Gregor manages to turn the key with his mouth and open the door.  Enter the bug.  The family is horrified; the head clerk is outta there. 

Well, bad morning or not, life goes on. Gregor starts to adapt to his new situation, and the family must too. Unfortunately, this pesky metamorphosis affects their lives more directly than just having an ugly kid. Gregor was the only bread-winner of the family.  He supported his father, who had lost his business five years prior, as well as his mother, sister, and some household staff to boot. Eventually money gets tight and they must let the help go with the exception of one tough charwoman who takes Gregor’s condition in stride. But soon, they all have to bite the bullet and get jobs.  And that bugs them.   

Life isn't easy. The family starts getting irritable. They're not so happy with the son who’s made a pest of himself. At one point in an unforgettable image, tempers flare and apples fly. So, what happens to the black bug of the family? You’ll have to read it to find out.

I’m not a fantasy/science fiction fan, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d like this book. But this novella surprised me.  I really liked it. I was amazed at how Kafka made this bug seem so real.  He described the creature’s feelings as if he knew that it would feel good to hang from the ceiling because it was easier to breathe that way and a nice tingling sensation vibrates through the body. I liked this trip to the Twilight Zone.  I may even venture there again.

You can read The Metamorphosis online at:

A bit about the author:  Franz Kafka was born in Prague, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1883. His writings are translated from German, so your version of the story may not match word for word with another translation. He was a lawyer by profession and worked as a bureaucrat for many years.  His true passion was writing, yet only a few of his works were published during his lifetime.  Tragically, Kafka died at 40 of tuberculosis in 1924. Although he instructed his friend, Max Brod, to burn his unpublished works, Max did the opposite.  Therefore many of his famous works like The Castle (Das Schloss) and The Trial (Der Prozess) were published after his death. The Trial was made into a 1962 Orson Welles movie.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Wild About Oscar (Classics)

The Importance of Being by Oscar Wilde is a brief, 55-65 page play, depending on the edition. It’s also one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous works.  First performed on stage in 1895, it is a comedy of deception and misunderstandings.  Two friends both assume the name “Ernest” to impress two different women who happen to love that name. Enter a droll butler or two, a snobbish aunt, and mix it all up with snappy dialogue and you have ready-made smiles. It’s fun. It’s short. And it’s worth a look.

A bit about the author:  
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Willis Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854.  He was a multi-talented and wildly popular witty writer and lecturer. He wrote everything from fairy tales, to poems and plays, as well as one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. He was a husband and father of two boys, and he was gay, a well-known secret.  When he was professionally at the top of his game, he had an affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas.  Unfortunately, Alfred’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, found out and was not too pleased. Alfred’s angry dad left Oscar a nasty little calling card on which he called him a sodomite, though in his outrage he misspelled it as somdomite.  Oscar took offense to the slur and sued the marquis for libel—a life-changing error on his part.  He should have let it go, let it go, or at least known the importance of having a good attorney. During the trial Daddy Douglas’s sneaky lawyer turned attention to Wilde’s alter-lifestyle. Exhibits A and B were revealing homosexual
In Merrion Square, Dublin
passages from his works and love letters to Bosie. A collective gasp ricocheted through the courtroom like a bullet; order was restored; the libel suit was dismissed; and Oscar Wilde was arrested for “gross indecency.”  Wilde was acquitted. But the Liberal government stepped in and there was another trial. Three months after the successful opening of The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde was convicted
Tomb at Pere Lachaise Cemetery 
and sentenced to a two-year prison term of hard labor in the Reading Gaol outside of London.  After he was released, he was emotionally and financially drained.  Needless to say, his wife and kids disowned him. Wilde escaped to France and the only notable thing he wrote was about his experience in prison, a poem called “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”  At the age of 46, Wilde died of cerebral meningitis.  He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, July 7, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A Life of Books (Quick and Touching)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is about a curmudgeonly bookstore owner who has slipped into depression and alcoholism after his wife died in a car accident. Without Nic, A.J. is suffering and so is business since she was the people person. At 39, he’s just looking forward to retiring, and the rare edition of an Edgar Allan Poe book is his ticket out of there, until there’s a snag.  Someone stole it. And that’s not all. In the greatest twist of fate, a baby is left in his store with a note from the mother stating that she can no longer take care of Maya and wants her to grow up being a reader.

This is a touching, quick and easy read that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I liked the setting--on Alice Island by Martha’s Vineyard.  I was already planning my next vacation there ready to sip a Queequeg at the Pequod even if the salty, fruity, fishy concoction sounded disgusting—until I found out it’s a fictional location.  I also liked all the characters in the book from Chief Lambiase, who starts a book club for cops, to Amelia, the publisher’s book rep with unusual wardrobe tastes.

One of the greatest attractions to this book was the load of literary references. A story about a book store owner is bound to drop a book title here and there. But there were a LOT of books mentioned in this novel.  I counted over seventy titles which were seamlessly woven throughout the story with additional references to authors.  It was fun to spot the ones I’ve read, and interesting to see other popular books.  Below I’ve listed the cited books that I have read with either a quick comment or a link to my review.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick **Click Title to Read the Review**

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery **Click Title to Read the Review**

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville*Click Title to Read the Review** 

Silas Marner by George Eliot **Click Title to Read the Review**

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy Published in 1891, this 500+ read is a classic.  Tess is a poor peasant girl sent to work at her wealthy relative’s house with consequences which steer her life in a difficult and heart-breaking direction. Good read.  

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout **Click Title to Read the Review**

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain A witty short story about a man who tells a story about Daniel Webster, a pet frog that could jump higher than any other frog.  Funny.  Read it online at:

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe  A short story in which a man visits his ailing friend, Roderick, in
a dilapidated house. While there, Roderick’s twin sister dies and they bury her in the tombs under the house. In the evening as the visitor reads aloud from a book they hear strange noises.  Roderick then reveals that he believes that they may have prematurely buried his sister Madeline. The ending is unforgettable and dramatic. Read it online at

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck This book about an Oklahoma family who decides to migrate to California during the Great Dust Bowl along with thousands of other Okies. It has a memorable and shocking ending. Good read. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald **Click Title to Read the Review**

The Monster at the End of this Book  Although A.J. Fikry didn’t like this children’s book, my kids beg to differ. They LOVED this Little Golden Book starring lovable, furry, old Grover from Sesame Street who is afraid of a monster at the end of the book.  I now read it to my

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – A novel about Hemingway’s first wife and their life with the “Lost Generation” in Paris in the twenties.  My book club members gave it a thumbs-up!

The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Another chilling and dramatic short story by Poe.  A paranoid man doesn’t like the blue eye of an old man. He starts watching him in his sleep and finally decides he must kill him. After he does the deed, he chops him up and stuffs him under the floorboards. But guilt gets the better of him as he starts to hear the dead man’s heartbeat under his feet.  Read it online at

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte **Click Title to Read the Review**

Book List of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

  • A Conversation with My Father by Grace Paley
  • A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  • A Little Princess
  • A Perfect Day for a Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • Brownies by Z.Z. Packer 
  • Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff
  • Caligula by Anthony A. Barret
  • Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slodbodkina
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
  • Fat by Raymond Carver
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • In Search of Lost Time by Proust
  • In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried by Amy Hempel
  • Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster
  • Ironhead by Aimee Bender
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
  • Juiced by Jose Canseco
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
  • Lamb to Slaughter by Roald Dahl
  • Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Luck of the Roaring Camp by Bret Harte
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • Old School by Tobias Wolff
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder
  • Poor Bastard by Jeffery Deaver
  • Principles of Accounting II
  • Red Pony by John Steinbeck
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by Matthew Tobin Anderson
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • The Beauties by Anton Chekhov
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Bookseller by Roald Dahl
  • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  • The Diamond as big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield
  • The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Soltzhenitsyn
  • The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
  • The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurst
  • What Feels Like the World by Richard Bausch
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
  • Where The Wind Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Happy Reading,


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