Short Stories from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I have always loved short fiction and was excited to see a book built around short stories. In The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, A.J. recommends the following stories to his daughter.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have only read one of them! And I’m guessing it’s one that many of us read in high school English class:  “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. Take a look at the list. How many have you read? Which are your favorites?

Source: Wikipedia

“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl (1953)

Source: Wikipedia

“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

Source: Wikipedia

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte (1868)


“What Feels Like the World” by Richard Bausch (1985)

Source: Georgia Encyclopedia

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (1953)

Source: Wikipedia

“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County” by Mark Twain (1865)


“The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw (1939)

Source: Wikipedia

“A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley (1972)

Source: Wikipedia

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger (1948)

Source: Wikipedia

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

Source: Goodreads

“Ironhead” by Aimee Bender (2005)

Source: Wikipedia

“What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver (1980)

Source: Wikipedia

“The Bookseller” by Roald Dahl (1986)

Click here for a review of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

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

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin


A.J. Fikry is at a crossroads. He’s a prickly young widower and owner of a small island bookstore off the coast of New England. Business is bad and his favorite book rep has been replaced by the unfamiliar and quirky young Amelia Loman. Deep in grief, he spends his nights drinking in the upstairs apartment. He’s lost, but at least he still has his rare edition of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. Until it’s stolen.

He has little time to focus on the stolen book, however, because of what is waiting for him in the back of the store:  a baby, with a note attached. What to do? There’s only one answer and that is to make a new life for himself.

A.J.’s climb out of darkness is a charming tale about love, friendship and family. Each chapter begins with a clever synopsis of a classic short story, initialed by A.J.  And each story is tied to the events and characters in the book. And while Zevin’s characters are not complex, they combine to form an appealing and amusing group, including one of my favorites, Police Chief Lambiase, leader of the Chief’s Choice Book Club.

Readers will enjoy great dialogue and several laugh-out-loud scenes, including a hilarious author visit and reading. The story isn’t all light, however, and there is a lot more to this book than a simple love story. Zevin includes serious themes of hopelessness and loss and their effects on the characters. Meeting these characters first-hand is a must:  describing them in detail would ruin the experience for future readers.

In the end, the book is overwhelmingly hopeful and uplifting. I especially enjoyed it because the author’s ideas began to sink in after I had finished. Book lovers will appreciate the many references to literature and bookstores and everything in between. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a fast read, but don’t be fooled and don’t be surprised if you pick it up for a second time!

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A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning
Louise Penny


After a deadly hostage situation, Former Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has taken early retirement from the Sûreté du Québec. He’s regrouping in the cozy village of Three Pines with his wife Reine-Marie while he prepares for his new job:  Commander of the Sûreté Academy. There’s been a bad batch of cadets from the police academy, not to mention a corrupt administration, and Gamache is determined to clean house. While some get the axe, new professors are hired, including his boyhood friend, Michel Brébeuf.

Brébeuf is no friend now, however. Their bond shattered after Brébeuf’s unforgivable betrayal while at the Sûreté. Gamache also decides to keep Serge Leduc, formerly second in command at the academy and rumored to be the cruelest and most corrupt at the school. Many are nervous about the changes and wonder, is Gamache doing the right thing?

Classes begin and the cadets and professors settle into the new regime, but it isn’t long before a shocking murder upends the academy. Investigating the murder are Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste and an outsider, Deputy Commissioner Paul Gélinas from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Authorities rule out no one, including Gamache and four cadets, who have been researching a mysterious map found in the wall of the Three Pines bistro. Their relationships and personal histories make an excellent second story and I enjoyed seeing how Penny explains their motives and ties them into the mystery. As the story develops, evidence seems to implicate one of the students, the tattooed and pierced Amelia Choquet, and before long, many questions arise about her relationship with Gamache.

Published in 2016, A Great Reckoning is one of Louise Penny’s more recent Armand Gamache mysteries, a very readable and entertaining story. While it’s clear the characters have a lot of history together in her earlier books, I did not have trouble getting right into the story. She includes many of these side characters and subplots, including the residents of Three Pines and some quirky pets which enhance the story nicely, true to the genre. Her many references to tasty food may also inspire the reader to cook up something a little more sophisticated for dinner!

I particularly enjoyed Penny’s references to poetry, ancient philosophy and literature, which tie together many themes and helped me understand how police investigators think and cope with violent situations. I especially liked this line credited to a Buddhist nun:  “Don’t believe everything you think.” In addition, themes of family, long friendships, loyalty and doing the right thing run through every page, something I love to see in a book.

It is tempting to guess the finish as different characters reveal their motives and explain their involvement, but while answers flow freely in the last few chapters, the puzzle isn’t finished until the very last page.

I recommend A Great Reckoning to mystery readers because of its entertaining setting, characters and plot, but all readers will appreciate Penny’s storytelling talent.

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What’s That Book? Seized by the Sun by James W. Ure


TitleSeized by the Sun

Author:  James W. Ure

Genre: YA Nonfiction

Rating:  5 stars

What’s it about?  The life story of Gertrude Thompkins, a World War II pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. In 1944, Thompkins was flying a P-51D fighter plane when she disappeared during a short flight from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Her plane has never been recovered and she is one of thirty-eight female pilots either confirmed or presumed dead.

Gertrude was raised in New Jersey and was the daughter of a wealthy business man. Her childhood was often unhappy and marked by a debilitating stutter. These years were consumed by her father’s endless efforts to cure her of the same affliction that plagued him and her mother’s depression. After high school, she earned a college degree in horticulture and traveled the world before she discovered a love for flying. It was her confidence in the air that finally cured her stuttering.

The book describes the rigorous WASP training and explains how the female pilots flew fighter planes to bases to be loaded with arsenals before enlisted male pilots flew into battle. The author includes many interesting details about the times and women during World War II. I enjoyed learning that the reason pilots wore silk scarves around their necks was to keep their necks from chafing as they constantly turned their heads to check their course.

How did you hear about it?  I saw it on our library’s online listing of new Young Adult books. I was attracted to the cover and immediately clicked on the book description.

Closing comments:  I knew a little bit about the WASP program, but didn’t completely understand what the female pilots did in the war effort. I had never heard about Gertrude Thompkins and was impressed with her fearless ambition.

Seized by the Sun is an excellent story for readers of all ages. The book includes many photographs and interesting sidebars and offers a great way to learn about history. It is part of the Women in Action Series of biographies.

Contributor:  Ginette

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The Surrogate by Louise Jensen

The Surrogate
Louise Jensen


How far would you go to have a family?  After trying for years and two failed adoptions, Kat and Nick wonder if they will ever become parents. Kat is shattered and Nick wants to take a break, until Kat’s friend Lisa shows up.

Did you ever think about surrogacy?” she asks.

It seems like the perfect solution, but in any psychological thriller, reader beware. Nothing is at it seems.

Set in England, The Surrogate is a tale of lies, deception and secret painful pasts. Kat and Lisa were girlhood friends, but now there’s a wall between them because of a deadly car accident in which Kat’s boyfriend Jake died. Kat left town to shake off her misery and meets Nick, a chance for happiness.

Nick has his own secret past, however and something isn’t right about Lisa. What to do? Keep reading this exciting story in which even the most imaginative reader won’t guess how it ends.

As the pregnancy progresses, Lisa’s motives come into question. Why is she so evasive? Why does she keep asking for money? And something isn’t right with Nick. Secret text messages and lies about where he’s going make Kat think the worst. Is she being paranoid? But what about the scary figure lurking outside their house?

The author mixes in plenty of side characters with murky and abusive tendencies and the story proceeds with great momentum, as Kat continues to make foolish decisions that dig her deeper into a dark and complicated character dynamic.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced and entertaining thriller, loaded with twists and turns and plenty of opportunity to get mad at Kat for her bad decisions. Instead of trying to figure it out, I went along for the ride and was rewarded with a wild finish. I also love the cover, which made me want to dig right into the story.

While I thought the story was excellent, I was frustrated with an assortment of grammar mistakes, particularly involving the use of “me” and “I” as well as misplaced apostrophes. These errors take away from the polish of the story. I received my copy of The Surrogate before its September 25 release, so perhaps these mistakes have been corrected.

I recommend The Surrogate to readers who like modern suspenseful stories about relationships.

I received a copy of The Surrogate from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Sarah Woodard


Author name:  Sarah Woodard

Genre:  Children’s Lit

BookAdri’s Big Dream

Bio:  Sarah Woodard is a writer and shaman. She hopes to inspire children and adults to reach for their dreams through her writing. Sarah is a freelance writer for a variety of businesses and publications, fulfilling a life-long dream to be a writer. She lives in Nashua, NH with her cats. When she’s not writing, Sarah enjoys hiking, crafts and putting her personal touch on her home.

Favorite thing about being a writer:  Using my creativity and love of words to inspire others

Biggest challenge as an indie author:  Marketing

Favorite books:  As kid, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. Now, any and all mysteries, but especially Agatha Christie.

Contact Information:
Website: Sarah Woodard – Author
Facebook:   @sarahwoodardauthor

Are you an indie author?  Do you want to build your indie author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

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Bee books – so many out there!

Has anyone else noticed how many books about bees there are? Several recent reviews of “bee books” caught my eye and got me thinking. The more I searched, the more I realized how fascinated we are with bees. Here are a few titles but there are many more. Can you add to the list?

A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell

Published 1988 and a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year. Sue Hubbell describes in detail how she manages 300 hives and the many parts of beekeeping.

Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha

Giant picture book with detailed illustrations of bees, their habitats, honey making and role in the ecosystem. Currently sitting on our coffee table!

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

I’m cheating here a bit – this one’s about spelling bees, a coming-of-age story about a 9-year-old girl and her father. Read and enjoyed this years ago for my book club.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Not exactly about bees either, but I have seen many reviews of this one and want to read it. Here’s a quick description from Amazon:

“Sarah Summers is enjoying a holiday on a Nigerian beach when a young girl named Little Bee crashes irrevocably into her life. All it takes is a brief and horrifying moment of crisis — a terrifying scene that no reader will forget…a powerful story of reconciliation and healing”

Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross by Ben Downing

Another cheat, but with a nice bee analogy, a biography of Janet Ross. Here’s what Amazon says:

“Born into a distinguished intellectual family and raised among luminaries such as Dickens and Thackeray, Janet Ross married at eighteen and went to live in Egypt. There, for the next six years, she wrote for the London Times, hobnobbed with the developer of the Suez Canal, and humiliated pashas in horse races. In 1867 she moved to Florence, Italy where she spent the remaining sixty years of her life writing a series of books and hosting a colorful miscellany of friends and neighbors, from Mark Twain to Bernard Berenson, at Poggio Gherardo.  Spirited, erudite, and supremely well-connected, Ross was one of the most dynamic women of her day.”

Sting Like a Bee : The Muhammad Ali Story by José Torres
and Bert Randolph Sugar

“Sting like a bee” was his line and here’s the biography of heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali.

The Bee Balm Murders  by Cynthia Riggs

Book 10 of 10 of the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery Series so you may want to start from the beginning to get to know 92-year-old Victorian Trumbull. She’s a sleuth on the island and uses her wits to solve this cozy mystery.

The Bees by Laline Paull

Can’t wait to read this creative story about bee hive societies, their culture and rules featuring the rebellious bee and heroine, Flora 717.

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Here’s a new one, published in August 2017. A story of three generations of beekeepers, family and global crisis.

The Hive : The Story of the Honeybee and Us by Bee Wilson

Nonfiction, illustrated book about the history and science of humans and bees.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Great story, now on high school reading lists. Set in South Carolina in 1964, about female power, mothers, daughters, sisters and overcoming racism.

Want to know more about bees?
Click on these links for info and news articles:

Bee – Wikipedia

Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – Bloomberg news article August 1, 2017

Buzzkill: Will America’s Bees Survive? – Discover magazine article March 2017

Bees:  A collection of TED Talks (and more) on the topic of bees

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The Dinner – 2017 film adaptation

I recently watched the 2017 film adaptation of The Dinner, a drama and thriller based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s novel. The book was first published in 2009 and translated to English in 2012. I thought the book was excellent, despite the fact that the story’s characters are hateful and selfish. It’s only natural to want to see the movie too, right?

Oren Moverman wrote the screenplay and directed the 2017 film, the book’s third adaptation. This movie stars Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Michael Chernus.

In both the movie and the book, the story is set at a swank restaurant, where two couples meet to discuss a so-far unsolved violent crime that their teenage sons have committed. Paul Lohman is struggling with mental illness. His older brother Stan is a slick politician who is running for governor. And the wives come to the table with their own secret agendas. The plot revolves around their dinner courses, the unfolding details of their children’s crime and their desire to deal with what might happen to the kids if they are found out.

This movie is a perfect example of how a poor adaptation can wreck a book that offers excellent (if unlikeable) cynical characters and throws moral decisions upon them. Several changes in the story make the movie slow and ambiguous. While the book was set in Amsterdam, the movie takes place in America, most likely Washington. Endless interruptions at dinner make the movie hard to watch. No one sits at the table for any period of time and flashes to the crime and other back stories jumble up an already confused sequence. Trying to get a grip on the story is like trying to hold onto an unhooked fish in the rain.

In the movie, Paul is ready for a breakdown. Long scenes and references to the Civil War dominate a major portion of the film, with little connection to the story, except to Paul’s failed teaching career. In addition, the movie’s finish is completely different from the book, which changes the whole idea of the story. It’s no surprise that Herman Koch walked out of the premiere and did not attend the after-party. He objected to how the movie became a moral story, rather than the cynical one he wrote. He’s quoted as saying, “That after-party would have been rather awkward. What would I have done? Shake hands with everybody and tell them I hated their movie?”

So I pass on recommending the movie, but I do recommend the book. You can check out my reviews (one with spoilers) below:

The Dinner (no spoilers)

The Dinner (spoilers included)

And for information about the movie:

IMDb The Dinner

IMDb Trivia about The Dinner: 1.5 stars out of 5

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The Chessmen by Peter May

The Chessmen
Peter May

and 1/2

Rising Celtic rock star Roddy Mackenzie disappeared in the skies more than seventeen years ago. He was never found and presumed dead. The island is therefore stunned when Fin Macleod and Whistler Macaskill discover Roddy’s small aircraft on Lewis Island, submerged for years but laid bare after a wild storm and a fluke bog burst. Roddy’s ID is still in his pocket, but the pilot’s remains are a mere skeleton, revealing little, except for one shocking clue that points to murder. Fin and Whistler stare in disbelief at their close friend’s plane and wonder how Roddy, on the verge of international fame and the leader of their band, wound up at the bottom of a bog.

The Chessmen is the third and final book of Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy, which features ex-Detective Inspector Fin Macleod and is set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. In this book, Fin is living with his schoolyard sweetheart, Marsaili, following the revelation that Fin is the father of her teenage son. But it’s not all good. Fin has tried his best to put a failed marriage and the unsolved hit-and-run death of his young son behind him. But like the ever-changing landscape of the island, Fin’s future will never be certain.

Fin has a new job. He’s been hired to track down salmon poachers at the Red River Estate. Big Kenny Maclean is his boss and he has major beef with Whistler, a notorious poacher. Whistler is also a long-term tenant at Red River, but has never paid rent. What’s worse, Whistler’s wife left him years ago for Kenny, taking their baby girl with her, now part of a custody battle. The complex dynamics between these three men and the history of the ties their ancestors shared provide the backdrop for a story with many crossed alliances.

The title refers to a famous set of chess pieces, originally from Lewis, but on display off-island, as well as a specially commissioned set of three-foot pieces, hand-carved by Whistler, directly related to the problem of Whistler’s unpaid rent.

A sub-plot revolves around the Reverend Donald Murray and events from the second book in which Donald killed a man. He’s been legally cleared, but the church has him on trial for breaking the 6th Commandment.

May switches from present to past and fills in the history of Fin’s days at university. This period explains the relationship between Fin, who hauls equipment for the band, Whistler, Roddy and the other band members, including the beautiful Mairead. Friendship, family, faith and loyalty are prominent themes as clues to Roddy’s murder focus on complicated relationships and romantic rivalries.

I enjoyed reading The Chessmen because of May’s talent for joining plot and landscape in his stories. While the story is very readable, it is not as strong as The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. Once the murder investigation is underway, the poaching story line disappears. And although the reader learns about the importance of the chess pieces, I thought they would have a more important symbolic role. In addition, after reading two books in the series, I felt betrayed to learn of important new characters from Fin’s childhood that were not introduced until book three.

The book finishes quickly with a wild chase and rushed tie-togethers and although I was glad for some of the endings, I wondered what happened to other unfinished story lines.

All in all, however, The Chessmen is a must-read for those who have read the first two books and I will look for more Peter May books to add to my shelf.

Start from the beginning of The Lewis Trilogy!

Book 1: The Blackhouse

Book 2:  The Lewis Man

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The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

The Silent Sister
Diane Chamberlain


When buried family secrets surface, one thing is certain: once revealed, nothing will be the same. Twenty-five-year-old Riley McPherson has grown up believing her older sister Lisa, a talented violinist, committed suicide when Riley was two and her sister was seventeen. She’d always believed Lisa was depressed and that the pressures of her musical training and performing were what caused her to take her life. But that may not be what happened.

When Riley’s father dies, she returns to New Bern, North Carolina to clear out and sell her childhood home. Her mother died years earlier and now the responsibility is Riley’s. And now the truth lays hidden in her mother and father’s things. Was Riley’s childhood based on a lie? Is Lisa still alive? Riley wants to find out.

Her brother Danny doesn’t care and he won’t help. He’s bitter enough about being brought up in a family that tried to erase their memories of what happened. Without Danny, she feels completely alone and overwhelmed by the task. And she feels both hopeful and betrayed to think Lisa may be alive but left them all to start a new life. How she longs for someone to call family!

Diane Chamberlain has written an interesting story that is part mystery and part psychological study about the rippling effects of family members’ decisions to do what seems best at the time. Told partly from Riley’s point of view and later alternating with Lisa’s story, it’s a clever way to show the two women’s thoughts as they face different challenges. As Riley finds answers and new secrets, she must ask herself how far she should go to learn the truth.

The Silent Sister is an easy and entertaining read and, although the topic is serious, the story is light and somewhat unrealistic, yet predictable in its telling. Chamberlain’s characters are simple and stereotyped, but I enjoyed reading about them and felt happy for Riley as she adjusted to her newly-defined family.

I recommend The Silent Sister to readers who like family stories and are looking for a light and entertaining reading escape.

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