Title: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction
Overview: A.J. Fikry is a crabby middle-aged man with a not-quite-failing bookstore, a crumbling social life, and a chip on his shoulder. He’s just lost his wife, one of his few friends has just died, and he’s on the verge of giving himself cirrhosis. Just when things seem to be ready to really fall apart, a woman leaves a baby in his bookstore. Her name is Maya and, for some reason, Fikry can’t seem to give her up. He proceeds to adopt her, and, in the process he changes the small town he lives in forever.
For Fans Of: I’m not really sure. I’ll get back to you on this one.
I’m diverging from my usual format for this review because I’m not sure it fits this book. Zevin has created an artful work. I’d suggest reading her interview with NPR for some of the background in why it was written in its particular style.
I really enjoyed Fikry, but was also left a little saddened by it. It was often very funny, touching, and relatable. Fikry, I think, speaks to the crabby book nerd in us all and Maya is raised in much the same way as I believe many book nerds want to raise their children. Her prose is very well written and the plot is well crafted, if a little slow and, at times, surprisingly predictable.
It’s formed into little snapshots of Fikry’s life, jumping one year to the next without really always connecting the time in between. Fikry’s development as a character is almost more hinted at than shown. It was a bit sad, almost, that we don’t get to see the in-between moments of their life. The format almost denies any real showing of how Fikry changes. It’s interesting. At times I loved it and I often was left wanting more.
Maya is an interesting little girl. It was fun and perhaps the most translatable way I have seen a little girl’s narration done in a while. It was odd, at times, to see her as a child of ten and fifteen. Her speech patterns and thought patterns were often very much the same as Fikry’s (without the cynicism). It wasn’t wholly unbelievable, just a little strange. She was very adult at ten.
The novel was very funny, but at the beginning it was almost too aware of itself. I was surprised by Fikry’s monologue of sorts when his wife passed. It is much better towards the end. Just a bit overly aware at the beginning.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Storied-Life-J-Fikry-Gabrielle-Zevin/9781622313532
Title: Wool (The Omnibus)
Author: Hugh Howey
Publication Date: January 25, 2012
Genre: Science Fiction
Overview: Jules has lived her whole life in the Silo. No one who lives there can remember the world before it. They only know that the outside is desolate and that the cleaners (those who leave the safety of the silo to clean the cameras) always die. When Jules is picked to be the new sheriff, she finds out that the silo is not just an isolated safe haven, but that it harbors the secrets of a society long since dead.
For fans of: Orson Scott Card, Veronica Roth
World-Building: The world building was crucial to Jules’ narrative. Everything hinged on the way in which the social and technical world around her was organized. In a world in which people are stuck in silo with over 100 floors, the world has to fit together well. Howey does this well. Major equipment and mining occur on the bottom (where resources would likely be more accessible), agriculture is spread evenly throughout and operates on hydroponics, the water is both recycled and taken from an aquifer (It’s not sure where this happens exactly, but at least it exists), and the government is placed at the top. All of this does create a feasible society with a well thought-out social stratification.
Additionally, Howey makes sure to answer the more important questions about the world: what do people do for trade (gain chits), how does the air get cleaned (entire floors are dedicated to air cycling), why aren’t there elevators (I can’t actually tell you this).
Character Development: This is one of the interesting points. Jules is herself throughout, and, while she does find out significant facts about her world, it’s no real surprise that she takes on large burdens and is unafraid of the challenges that face her; her character is that way from the beginning.
Lucas, however, changes a great deal. He starts out as a simple IT support man. He doesn’t really think about the inner workings of the Silo. What I like most about his development is that he takes these revelations and ruminates on them before making any decisions. He isn’t just taking anyone’s word at face value. This makes his later decisions and changes of heart that much more valuable.
An aside: I loved how he acts at the end of Casting Off. I had all of the feels.
Plot: The plot is faced-paced and Howey keeps you moving. Some of the twists are awesome. I will say that there are times when the danger is there just to make things feel more dangerous rather than to serve a purpose to the plot. Maybe if I were reading this as the novellas came out I would have seen them as having more purpose, but I doubt it.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Wool-Omnibus-Edition-Hugh-Howey/9781469984209
Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: June 19, 2001
Overview: Shadow is just about to get out of jail and go back to his wife, Laura. Only a few days before he’s set to be released, he gets called into the warden’s office. He’s being let out early. His wife is dead.
On his flight back he meets Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday seems to know too much about Shadow. Shadow isn’t sure what to think, but accepts Wednesday’s offer for a job. He starts going around the country with Wednesday, and Shadow discovers that there’s a war brewing in America, a war of the gods.
For Fans Of: Neil Gaiman (duh)
World-Building: Gaiman constructs a hidden world within on own. The world of gods forgotten and the gods that are rising. It’s not seamless. There are overlaps that seem to go suspiciously unnoticed by the average population. However, how the world developed is extremely well done. Gaiman gives us a view of the world’s history and its members that is to die for. It’s beautifully developed and described.
Character Development: Shadow, Laura, and Wednesday are interesting characters in the plot. Shadow, as Laura says, is not always alive. Prison has made him almost brutally self controlled. But his adventures with Wednesday show what’s underneath, including a strong sense of honor and loyalty. Wednesday isn’t who we think he is, but that’s what makes him fun. Laura is interesting (she’s dead after all), but her growth is not insignificant. She stays, at her core, very much the same. But she’s also not as naive as we think she is.
Plot: The plot bends back on itself at times. It’s not a bad thing and really helps flesh out the world within worlds. Some events seem, at first, to happen sporadically, but it’s to the benefit of the plot in the long run, especially when you learn more about the war.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/American-Gods-Neil-Gaiman/9780380789030
Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Publication Date: June 20, 2013
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Overview: When Kate’s daughter is found dead after falling off of her school’s roof, everyone assumes the worst: suicide. That is, until Kate receives an anonymous text message telling her that Amelia did not jump. Kate is then launched into an investigation to find out what really happened. In doing so, she finds out dark secrets about her daughter’s world–secret clubs, tell-all blogs, and cruel text messages– that Kate is sure led to Amelia’s death.
For Fans Of: Gossip Girl, The Cyberbully
World-Building: Reconstructing Amelia is set in the present day with all its amenities. The part of the world that really takes some convincing is in Amelia’s social life and in the investigation of Amelia’s death.
I understand that Amelia is supposed to be going to a very rich private school. And while I can potentially see secret clubs existing, it’s hard for me to buy into some tell-all gossip rag about the students. I know students can be mean and malicious, and maybe it’s just my own high school experience, but I don’t really buy the idea that someone would go out of their way to chronicle all the gossip that is going on in a small school. That stuff travels fast enough on its own. Let alone that blog becoming popular.
This being said, the gRaCeFULLY blog isn’t really important to the plot at all. All of the blog entries could be taken out and the plot would still move fine, if not more smoothly.
The other part of the story I found difficult to believe was that, in this world, Kate is very active in her daughter’s investigation. This was a wholly unbelievable thing to me. That Kate was permitted to follow leads, view evidence, and come with the detective on her daughter’s case to participate in questioning was ridiculous. This would, in any case or investigation, be a totally biasing, unquestionably forbidden thing. It took me out of the story.
Character Development: Reconstructing Amelia is much less about the characters than the mystery. That being said, there are characters who aren’t built in a way that even hints at their actions in the past. I found that disappointing.
Plot: The plot was fine. It wasn’t a terribly insurmountable mystery what had happened.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Reconstructing-Amelia-Kimberly-Mccreight/9780062225436
Title: The Wise Man’s Fear
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Overview: We meet Kvothe, Bast, and the Chronicler once more. Kvothe’s story continues, in which he still is seeking mastery over the name of the wind. After a few interesting adventures at University, he leaves for a potential patron, a pseudo-king, the Maer, who Kvothe realizes is being poisoned. Kvothe must earn the Maer’s trust, and along the way fight for survival.
For Fans Of: Patrick Rothfuss, Tamora Pierce, Scott Lynch
World-Building: Rothfuss, again, shows us a very well thought out, vivid world. Magic is woven in subtly. The framing is done very well and adds to the story, allowing us to get input on the “reality” of some situations and giving other characters the power to show us dangers that are understated in Kvothe’s narrative.
Character Development: The second book shows us more of Kvothe than the impulsive young boy he had been. We see a lot more of him realizing that haste is far from universally best. He realizes sharply that clever can get you killed. On top of this, the supporting characters really come into their own, especially Devi. Though we don’t learn too much more of her backstory, we come to learn about who she is emotionally. The same cannot be said for Denna (though a few scenes seem to try).
Plot: It meanders about at times, particularly when he leave’s the Maer’s. There are a series of adventures that follow which don’t really do too much for Kvothe’s story, other than get him a sword and cape (and of course laid). When it’s on point, though, it’s very dynamic and the plot has some very solid foreshadowing and twists.
Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Wise-Mans-Fear-Patrick-Rothfuss/9780575081437