Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

This was one of my favorite books of the year. It’s about a bookstore owner, his adopted daughter, a publishing sales representative, and an assorted cast of characters. AJ Fikry owns a bookstore on an island off the Massachusetts. A young sales rep from a publishing house calls on him and he is extremely rude to her. She leaves the store and does not think anything will come of the visit.

AJ has lost his wife in an accident and is slowly drinking himself to death. He has a copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlaine which he intends to sell one day as it is very rare. After a night of drinking, he wakes up to find his apartment (above the bookstore) to find it clean and his book gone. He goes to the police where he meets the chief. They do not have a grand beginning, but slowly become friends. A baby is then abandoned in a bookstore with a note the mother cannot take care of her. AJ decides to take in the child and his sister-in-law (whose husband is a philandering writer) helps out. The story is one of these people, and books. And love. And life. And loss.

While there is somewhat of a plot twist near the end, the book is not about suspense or plot twists. It’s about a love of literature and books and people. It is the story of the evolution of AJ from drunk widower to father to husband. It is a story that shows what can happen when you open up to people and let them care about you as you care about them in return. It is a story of kindness.

There are not words enough to describe how much I adored this book. It is so well-written and such a wonderful story. I highly recommend it.

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The 12 Best Books I Read This Year

Prior to our last book club, my friend, Becky, suggested that we come up with a list of the 10 most influential books we’ve ever read. 10. My list started at 100. Despite my work at narrowing the list, it was still at 35 when we went to book club yesterday. I will write about those 35 books. But in the meantime, I wanted to post a list of the 10 best books I read this year. However, it came out to 12 and I decided not to edit it down. So here goes….(in no particular order)

  1. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry – I cannot say enough good things about this book. It’s about books and bookstores and family and life and death and despair and loneliness and so many things. It was well-written and not long. Though I would have read it if it had been longer. It is a must read. Period.
  2. The Battle for Leyte Gulf – it was not until years after my grandfather died that I started to wonder about his service in the Navy in WWII as PT Boat commander. He fought in the Battle of Leyte Gult, the largest battle in world history. More than 800 ships participated. I learned so much from this book and my grandfather’s boat was mentioned by number (PT 490). I have read a lot of books about WWII but most have been about the campaign in Europe. I don’t know that much about the Pacific war. This book did a lot to open my eyes and pointed me to some others that might give me a greater understanding of this part of the war.
  3. Swimming With Warlords – Kevin Sites has been a combat reporter for a long time. This book is about the tenth anniversary of our presence – for better and worse – in Afghanistan, told through the eyes of someone who was there at the beginning and who went back. At times harrowing, at times, funny and always humane, it is a fascinating look at the country, the U.S. Military and the journalists who cover it.
  4. The Middle Place – I was very so-so about Kelly Corrigan’s book Glitter and Glue. I was a bit put off by her relationship with her mother as it was so opposite of the one I have with mine. But it also lead me to appreciate my mother even more. It also led me to The Middle Place, which was written before Glitter and Glue and is about the author’s battle with breast cancer at a young age with two small children. To me, this book showed her humanity and imperfections. She is brave to write the way she does and I did like this book.
  5. Life After Death – I am a little late to this West Memphis Three controversy. I find as I get older, more things slip past me. But Damien Echols was on the Katie Couric show the same episode as my cousin, promoting his new book. This was not that book. But I remembered him from that episode when I came across this book in the bargain section at Barnesandnoble.com. Wow. In the simplest of terms, prison messes you up for life. And to be sentenced to death and later released? Well, that’s a different level of hell. Damien and two of his friends were arrested for the murders of three little boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Basically, they were arrested because they were different and didn’t fit in. They were convicted in what I can only call a horrendous miscarriage of justice. They spent 18 years in prison. This is his memoir of his childhood, the crime, trial, and his stay in prison. It’s brutal and heartbreaking and should be read by anyone who thinks that an innocent person cannot be convicted of a crime.
  6. The Children Act – Ian McEwan is a master. This book is not long, but is filled with so much. There is very little in the way of dialogue. It’s mostly an internal dialogue from the main character, a family court judge in London who has to decide whether to go against a family’s religious beliefs and order a blood transfusion for their son, a 17 year old Leukemia patient and the consequences that stem from that decision. The book lingered with me for a very long time – it’s beautiful language and deceptive simplicity.
  7. My Share Of The Task – I bought Stanley McChrystal’s memoir/meditation on leadership around Father’s Day and promptly put it down for other books. I picked it up again this fall and am glad that I did. It’s not a memoir of the military or the Rolling Stone story that brought an end to a storied career. It’s a meditation on what makes a good leader. And considering his military background, some of his conclusions surprised and delighted me. If more people read this book and led they way he did, the world would be a better place.
  8. The Fault In Our Stars – I will admit it. Though you have to promise not to tell anyone, I am still an insecure teenage girl at heart. This book pushed that button almost immediately. But John Green does so much more. He knows how to write like teens actually think. Not how adults think they think. The story is about Hazel, who is a teen with cancer and a boy she meets in a cancer support group. They fall in love. It’s a love story. It’s a contemplation of life. It’s existential and angsty in the best possible way. And this book will live with me for a very, very long time.
  9. A Case Of Redemption – I am a sucker for a good thriller. Double sucker for a good legal thriller. And this book was good. Plot twists abound – to the extent I actually said out loud twice, “What the hell just happened?” I’m pretty hard to surprise and Adam Mitzner did it. This is the story of a lawyer who loses his family in a car accident and decides that he’s going to quietly wither away. Then he meets a young associate at his former firm who wants him to defend a rap still who is accused of killing his girlfriend in a manner that appears in one of his songs. While the plot seems pretty basic, Mitzner manages to make it sublimely complex. The plot twists are not contrived and are genuinely shocking moments. I loved the story. There is not too much legal procedure, but enough to keep me interested. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it kept me guessing until the end.
  10. The Good Spy – Kai Bird’s portrait of Richard Ames, a CIA agent and Middle-East specialist who was killed in the Beirut Embassy bombing in 1982 or 1983. A stunning portrait of everything wrong and right with the intelligence world. Reading this book made me exceptionally sad. Not just because Ames was killed, but because there were so many times the U.S. government, due to bureaucracy, intransigence, or stubbornness, let peace in the Middle East slip through their fingers. It’s frustrating and amazing to read. It’s a fascinating look at how the CIA works and at Middle Eastern affairs. You see glimpses recent history in events that occurred well before 9/11 and the Arab Spring. I truly loved this book. And I will probably read it again.
  11. The Divorce Papers – this book is an epistolary novel. A novel told through documents. A young associate at a law firm who practices criminal law is asked to handle a high-profile divorce. The book is told through letters, emails, memos, legal pleadings, etc. I absolutely adored it. It was entertaining and funny and a good commentary on modern life and modern love and hate.
  12. I Am Pilgrim – A spy/crime thriller that was highly talked about. I came to the game late, but I’m glad I played. It’s a thrill ride. A whodunnit of international proportions. It has murder, spying, cybercrime, hacking, stalking, terrorism, cops, spies and bad guys. It’s a thrill ride and I loved every second. I will say the only criticism I had of this book was too much use of foreshadowing. Otherwise, I really liked it. I do not want to say anything about the plot because if you decide to read it, then you will be surprised at every turn.

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Inside The Criminal Mind

I obtained a copy of this book through Blogging for Books and was curious about the subject matter. I have been interested in crime and prisons for  a long time. I thought this book might give me some insight into how criminals think. It did, but not enough to keep me reading until the end.

While I understand that the author, Dr. Stanton Samenow, has been studying this area for a very long time, he seems to be unwilling to consider any information that is contrary to his hypothesis or he makes the information fit into his hypothesis when it does not. The book is largely anecdotal information presented to prove his hypothesis that criminals think differently than we do, are attracted to dangerous behavior and there is not a whole lot we can do to change that.

I was disappointed that the book did not provide a more balance presentation of the information. I think that people can be presented with differing views and still adopt the author’s view if he presents a strong argument. I did not find that happening in this book. I gave up on about two-thirds of the way through. I normally do not quit on books, but I just could not read it to conclusion.

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