The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

Rating:
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Apr. 2014 (read Apr. 2019)

I really put off writing my review for this book, so it’s probably going to be a bit short since the book is no longer fresh in my mind.

Overall The Storied Life of AJ Fikry was a little disappointing for me. Not because it wasn’t good or I didn’t like, but because so many of my goodreads friends have rated the book so high that I went into it with really high expectations, and the story just didn’t quite live up to those expectations. I definitely liked the book, hence the 3 star rating, but it’s not going to make my favourites list.

Gabrielle Zevin has an interesting writing style – I do have an unread copy of one of her other books, Young Jane Young, on my shelf, so I would like to pick that one up soon. This one reminded me a little bit of A Man Called Ove. I wasn’t sure what to think of a lot of the characters initially, but ended up growing to appreciate them all, minor characters included.

It is an interesting book. It’s definitely more of a character driven book than a plot driven book, which I generally prefer, and it was sometimes hard to know where the story was going. I like books that can take the mundane from everyday life and make it fascinating. I really liked AJ Fikry’s character. He’s suffering from the loss of his wife and then loses his fortune, so things are really not looking great for him, but I loved his no nonsense approach to life and the logic through which he ended up welcoming Maya into his life. So I liked that I never really knew where the story was going and that it never really followed any predictable narratives. For example, when Maya showed up, I was like, “Oh, this is going to be a Fredrik Backman type book where Maya opens AJ up to love again”, which she did, but it was never really the focus of the book and the plot went to some places I wasn’t expecting.

As a book lover, it’s hard not to like a story about other book lovers and I liked the way that AJs bookstore became a sort of community centre for the people living on the island. The bookstore wasn’t really doing well after the death of AJ’s wife because people’s pity for AJ kept them out of the store, but after he adopts Maya, I guess the community felt that AJ might need their support and his bookstore became more of a community space as his customers starting joining book clubs.

To conclude, it was a nice story about community and how sometimes misfortune and the mundane can actually end up changing your life.

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What the Wind Knows

Rating:
Author: Amy Harmon
Genres: Historical Fiction, Time Travel
Pub. date: Mar. 2019 (read Mar. 2019)

Amy Harmon is such a great writer. She’s written a ton of books, most of which I haven’t read, but I’m pretty sure she started off writing romance. Then she wrote a 2-book fantasy series (The Bird and the Sword), which I really enjoyed, and lately she’s been writing historical novels. So overall I’m pretty impressed with her scope of work and that she’s not afraid to dabble in other genres. I personally love her writing style – it definitely lends itself well to romance because it is a wistful kind of writing – but it really worked well in this book.

What the Wind Knows is a bit of a genre-bending book. I’ve been calling it “Irish Outlander”, because that’s pretty much the closest descriptor I can think of, but it definitely has a very different style than Outlander and that’s really where the comparison ends. This story is initially set in 2001 and focuses on 30 year old author, Anne Gallagher. Anne was raised in America by her grandfather, Eoin, and despite their Irish heritage and the fact the her grandfather grew up in Ireland, she has never been there. When her grandfather passes away, he requests that she finally travel to Ireland to spread his ashes on the loch next to where he grew up.

Eoin was Anne’s only real family and she is heartbroken at losing him. When she rows out into the lake, she finds herself transported to another time, 1921. Her grandfather is just 6 years old and laments the loss of his parents in the Irish uprising. Anne is mistaken for his mother and becomes part of the family. Her reunion with her grandfather provides little incentive to return to future without him, but life in Ireland in 1921 is undeniably difficult as Ireland fights to be free of Great Britain and become her own Republic.

What the Wind Knows is a bit of a slow burn novel, but I loved it. The characters are well realized and the setting and time are enthralling. Books like this are the reason I keep returning to historical fiction. I really wish more authors would branch out from the WWI and WWII fiction, because there is so much other great history to be told in other regions and eras. I should absolutely know more about Ireland’s history than I do. I grew up in Newfoundland and Ireland has had a huge influence on my own history, so I should really know more about it. I knew very little about the uprising and Ireland’s fight for independence and this was a really great introduction. I feel like there’s so much more to be learned, but it does a good job at introducing you to the hardships that existed in Ireland at this time and how Ireland descended into it’s own civil war in the 1920’s.

While this story is fiction (I mean, it has time travel, so no duh), it does feature some pretty well-known Irish historical figures, the most predominant of which is Michael Collins, who signed a treaty with England to give Ireland independent status, while still being a part of the British dominion. Previously the Irish had been united against the English, but the treaty marked a split between the Irish people – those who supported the progress made by Collins in the fight for independence, and those who demanded a full Republic and split from the Brits.

This history provides the backdrop for the story, but at its core this is still a love story. After the death of his parents, little Eoin was looked after by their good friend, doctor Thomas Smith. It is in Smith’s home that Eoin grows up and Anne and Thomas develop a close relationship. Anne had done a fair bit of research about Ireland for a new book she was planning to write, so she is distraught by the history that she knows will come to pass in Ireland and whether it is in her capacity to change it. She is also acutely aware that she doesn’t not truly understand or fit in in this time and sometimes feels a pull from the loch to return to her time.

I think Harmon did a great job at capturing the history and the two sides of this conflict, but she also writes a damn good love story. I love Outlander, but it’s really more of a trashy Scottish romp than Romance with a capital R. This book is much more soft spoken and I really grew to love all the characters. There’s nothing too surprising in the book, yet I still never knew where the plot was going to go. The writing is dreamy, but there’s still a real tension between the characters that makes you both excited and nervous for them. Time travel is cyclical in nature and because Anne exists in both present day and the past, the reader doesn’t know which came first and whether one will negate the other. If this love story didn’t exist in Eoin’s history, then can it possibly exist in his future? You fall so in love with the characters, but fear for them because you don’t know whether their love is destined to survive.

Overall, I loved the book and the ending. Beautiful writing, beautiful setting, beautiful characters!

The Simple Wild

Rating: 
Author: K.A. Tucker
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub date: Aug. 2018 (read Nov. 2018)

5 Stars?! Are you okay Maria? Are you really going to give a romance novel 5 stars??

This book was so out of my element that I feel like it actually came full circle so that it was exactly in my element. I don’t read very many purely romance novels, but I definitely love a good romance subplot in other genres. However, I was drawn to this book for the setting over the plot. I’ve been obsessed with Alaska ever since I read The Great Alone earlier this year and I couldn’t turn this book down,

I say it’s out of my element because it’s romance. But the setting is right up my alley. I’ve been living in Vancouver for the last five years and I’ve become a little bit obsessed with the great outdoors. I spent almost every weekend this summer either hiking, backpacking, camping, or kayaking, so I love books with isolated settings. Even though I would have had a totally different approach to visiting Alaska than Calla did, I still found this book very relatable.

Calla Fletcher was born in Alaska, but she’s spent her entire life in Toronto. Her mom fell in love with an Alaskan bush pilot, but she couldn’t handle the Alaskan wilderness and moved back to Toronto when Calla was only 2. Her dad, Wren, couldn’t bear to leave his plane company, Alaskan Wild, and over time, Wren and Calla became estranged.

Fast forward 24 years; Calla is 26 and has just been restructured out of her bank job. She loves city life and has been pursuing fashion and lifestyle blogging with her best friend Diana when she receives a call from Alaska that her Dad is sick and this may be her only chance to finally re-connect with him and re-visit the place where she was born. She’s out of a job and her and Diana think the photos would be great for their blog, so she makes the trip up to Bangor, Alaska.

In the beginning, Calla struggles with Alaskan life. She’s used to fast paced city life, being able to get a soy latte where ever she wants, and spending lots of time every day making herself look good for photos. Next to the wild people of Alaska, she seems vapid and vain. I’m a lot different than Calla. I don’t wear very much makeup and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at wearing the same grungy outfit every day if I had to (I certainly would never bring two large suitcases on a one week trip to the wilderness). But even so, she’s very relatable. I understand her desire to look good and take beautiful pictures. She’s in the great unknown and I would definitely be posting pictures all over my instagram if I was her. But she has a hard time adapting to the change of pace in Alaska and struggles with other emotional issues, like re-connecting with her sick father.

The setting of this story was different than I expected. I was expecting the gorgeous mountain and glacier views that I got in The Great Alone, but what we get instead is a dingy little town in the middle of the flat, Alaskan bush. I thought Tucker’s description of the run-down buildings when Calla first drives through town was so great because I could just picture this little town in my head and because it doesn’t have the stunning mountain backdrop that I was anticipating, it was a lot easier to relate with Calla’s initial culture shock. This book ended up being a lot more than just the setting of Bangor, but the community of it. You really get a sense of what it’s like to live in a backwater community in rural Alaska – the way people depend on one another and support each other. It gave the setting depth. And though Calla was slow to appreciate it, she got there in the end.

This was my second romance book in the last month (recently read Colleen Hoover’s, All My Perfects) and what I liked about both books was that they weren’t solely romance novels. I wouldn’t really even call The Simple Wild romance because it has so much else going for it. This book is really about all the different kinds of love in the world. It’s about making peace with your past, being open to new experiences, and making time for the things that really matter to you. Tucker strikes a wonderful balance between Calla’s relationship with her dad, the romance, and all the different kinds of platonic love that are showcased in this book.

So on to the romance! I haven’t even mentioned Jonah yet. It’s obvious from the synopsis where the book is going, but it was a super fun ride. Jonah is Wren Fletcher’s best pilot. He’s a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he has a lot of love for his job and helping the villages scattered around Alaska get the supplies and resources that they need. He will go above and beyond to help someone in need. But this is not the person Calla first meets. Wren sends Jonah to pick Calla up in Anchorage and they get off to a bad start. Jonah has seen girls like Calla before and he doesn’t have any patience for them. He thinks she’s entitled and vapid. But Calla also has little time for Jonah. He’s rude to her from the get go and dismisses her intelligence. It’s the classic couple hates each other, misunderstands each other, and then loves each other dynamic. But it worked.

Calla is many of the things Jonah thinks of her, but she is not dumb and she does care about her dad and his business. In the same way, Jonah was many of the things she thought about him, he was very mean to her and his honesty starts them off on the wrong foot, but he is also a deeply caring individual. I definitely loved Jonah. Any guys who loves the outdoors already has brownie points in my book and I liked that he was honest, even though it was sometimes hurtful. He realized his mistakes and apologizes in his own way, but I think he also had a lot of fun bantering with Calla and kept it up because it was fun for him to set her off kilter. I also loved that he was able to laugh at himself and his joy for life.

I definitely got a kick out of all the pranks they played on one another. I was a little concerned when he stole her make-up bag because make-up is definitely a crutch for some people and has the potential to be pretty traumatizing (plus there’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving make-up). But I ultimately decided it was okay because Calla’s prank on Jonah was pretty bold and could easily have crossed the line. She pulled a prank on him that made him more attractive to her and by swiping her make-up from her, he was essentially doing the same thing.

Overall this book makes me yearn for more quality new adult fiction. I am years past lusting over the 17 year olds in YA contemporary and most YA fantasy, but I can’t yet relate to books about parents, their kids, and their failing marriages. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good family drama, but I think the romance in this book appealed to me so much because it’s actually where I’m at in my life. I’ve talked a few times about how literature needs more books about college and university (which I still think it does), but I also think we need more books about mid to late twenties, when people are out of school and starting to figure out their lives, but haven’t yet settled down into the standard family dynamic. I would love some great new adult reads. I’m sure they’re out there already, but they definitely aren’t getting the kind of love and promotion that other types of books get.

Finally, I loved the ending of this book. I love books that hit me with tough choices. Nothing annoys me more in love triangles then when the author makes one of the triangle into a jerk so that we don’t have to feel bad for them getting the axe. There’s no love triangle in this book, but I love stories and decisions that have two equal sides that are both valid. I love when the author doesn’t try to push us toward one ideal or the other or write the story in such a way as to make one choice easier or more obvious. Calla and Jonah are basically re-living her mother and fathers love story. Calla is a city girl, Jonah’s in love with the wild. They know there’s an expiration date on their relationship, but they fall in love anyways. There’s no easy answer to their dilemma. One of them has to be willing to move for the other to make it work and no one wants to be the one to either give up their life, or ask the other to give up their life. I thought the ending happened just a little bit too fast, but I really liked how Tucker approached their conflict.

So overall, I really liked this book. My only problem was that it took me a little while to get into it at the beginning. I’m not really sure why. I wouldn’t change the beginning. Overall it’s a bit of a slow burn type novel, but it reads really fast and once I got invested in the characters, I totally flew through the book!

 

SPOILER: The ending is still left pretty vague, but I really liked Jonah’s compromise. It actually broke my heart to see him in Toronto because it’s obvious he wouldn’t be happy there and that it would never work. But he wasn’t willing to give up and he was still willing to move somewhere where they might both have a chance at being happy. Would moving to anchorage so that Calla could still have a semblance of city life be enough? Maybe not, but I loved that he recognized what wouldn’t work for them and decided to try and find something that would work. With this approach, I feel like there are a lot of places that the two of them could be happy. There are many Canadian centres where Calla and Jonah could make a life and still be on the brink of rural life. It was such a simple approach and I really think it could work for them. Relationships don’t have to always be about sacrifice – they shouldn’t be about sacrifice – but about compromise, and this compromise made me really hopeful for this fictional couple. Plus I think it sends a way better message then having Calli give up her life in Toronto for a guy. Women and girls have been preached that message enough.

Love, Hate & Other Filters

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genres: Young Adult
Pub Date: Jan. 2018 (read Apr. 2018)

This was disappointing. I picked this from my library’s limited selection of audiobooks because I’ve been having a lot of success with Young Adult audiobook’s lately and I’ve been seeing some buzz about it.

To be honest, I didn’t even look at the synopsis, I just new it was about an Indian teenager who was into film. I didn’t like the Maya’s voice from the beginning and I found her such a whiny narrator to listen to. When I hit the 20% mark and this book was still just a surface level romance novel, I debated DNFing and went back to look at the synopsis. When I realized the main premise of this book was actually supposed to be about a terrorist attack and the struggles many Muslim people suffer to be accepted after any terrorist attack, I decided to stick it out.

I appreciate what Samira Ahmed was trying to do with this book. She addressed several different themes: the struggle of Indian daughters to breakaway from their parents expectations, the struggle of any teenager to pursue a career in something as unstable as the film industry, and the xenophobia and hate against Muslims and those who are “othered” in the United States. These are all great themes and I was interested in exploring the different ways people react in the aftermath of a tragedy and how some people let their hate overcome them, while others fight for those who are marginalized. But I thought the execution in this book was terrible.

Honestly, this was a romance novel with a brief look at some of the themes I’ve discussed above. It didn’t explore any of these themes in any great depth and I thought all of the characters emotions were very surface level. This book had more unyielding parents (I’ve read a lot of books of this nature lately), but the drama felt really forced and not authentic. In theory I understood that Maya’s parents were trying to protect their daughter in a world that is not very kind, but no one used any reason in this book (Maya included), except for her Aunt, and everyone felt extremely 1-dimensional. The main story was ultimately a romance and it wasn’t a very well written one. It was so cliche and I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes through the entire thing. This book just had so much more potential, but it got bogged down with a heavy romance and the author barely explored any of the complex themes she introduced into the story.

Even though this tacked something I haven’t seen addressed much in literature, I would not recommend this book. It was too poorly written and executed. Pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterThe Nowhere Girls, or The Poet X instead.

Milk and Honey

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genres: Poetry
Pub Date: Nov. 2014 (Read Mar. 2018)

I read Rupi Kaur’s second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, last year and really liked it, so I decided to pick up her first book as well. These are both poetry anthologies with feminist themes that tell short stories of heartbreak and healing, explore love and sexuality, and promote self-love. The books are also illustrated with sketches, which makes for a nice reading experience.

This is a very fast read, I read the entire book in under an hour in one sitting. Milk and Honey is Kaur’s debut novel – I definitely liked it, but I think I liked her second book a little bit more than this one and it had stronger themes.

Milk and Honey is broken into 4 parts, the Hurting, the Loving, the Breaking, and the Healing. Kaur addresses a lot of themes in this short book, looking at love and sexuality and the the heartbreak that can accompany it. I thought it had a strong start with the chapter on the Hurting, which is a devastating look at abuse, and I really liked the last chapter, the Healing, which is cathartic and empowering.

I didn’t love the middle section, especially the Loving, which I personally found a little over the top. Kaur is very descriptive of her feelings on love and relationships in both her books and love for her seems to be an all-consuming feeling which I personally find a little intense. For me love is about the little moments. Those small, every day gestures in which your partner demonstrates their love for you and the closeness you build with that one person. Kaur is very intense in her love (and her break-ups) and I just couldn’t relate because I have always felt very grounded in who I am, whereas Kaur felt a little defined by her relationships. That said, I’ve been in the same relationship for the last 7 years, so I definitely can’t relate to that feeling of “new” love anymore, which is totally fine.

However, Kaur is also very much about self-empowerment and self-love, which I enjoyed. I thought these themes, and the feminist undertones, were stronger in The Sun and Her Flowers, which is probably why I enjoyed that anthology more. Milk and Honey is still a good, quick read though and there were several beautiful passages, here’s one of my favs:

i want to apologize to all the women
i have called pretty
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is the most you have to be proud of when your
spirit has crushed mountains
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re pretty
but because you are so much more than that