Review: The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

If you like protagonists who like books about book-lovers who also happen to be booksellers who are a little persnickety and very sad and somewhat lost in the beginning and then, over time and many life-altering changes, become nearly lovable, pay attention!
Author Zevin proves early on that she is one very well-read woman by weaving into her story clever book title references and interesting writer tidbits I found impressive. Her authorial empathy for a plucky middle-aged man (Fikry) with an enormous chip on his skinny shoulder gave the story compelling turns and there is one surprise twist I did not see coming, make that two.
Before you even begin reading the actual ‘meat’ of this novel, each chapter begins with a brief short story review that at the start seemed kind of odd, but eventually made total sense. The first one is a review of the famous short story, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Ronald Dahl. You eventually learn the reviewer is the star of the book, Fikry himself. These clever inserts not only share his philosophical viewpoints, but act as a brief summation of what is to come.
As with any retail sales environment, there exists the middle world of sales reps eager to offer their wares and in this case that is one person in particular; Amelia Loman.
“She is thirty-one years old and she thinks she should have met someone by now. And yet…Amelia the bright-sider believes it is better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn’t share your sensibilities and interests. (It is, right?)”
And here is a taste of what Fikry himself is like;
“Like?” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel of the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like…”
Though he doth complain, he eventually sees someone he could love and, more importantly, someone who can love him with all his torn pages and abrupt segues. The story almost entirely takes place on a fictional island off Massachusetts called, Alice Island, and it is there that Island Books bookstore becomes the center stage for this story to unfold. This book has it all; tragedy, romance, comedy and mystery and most of all it has soul.
The only moment I felt author Zevin pushed the sentimental envelope to the edge was when a small baby was left behind in the poorly stocked Children’s and Young Adult section of Island Books. Can we say, “tired author trick?” But, this miniature bundle of pamper-filling joy left behind by her soon-to-be-dead mother holds the key to Fikry’s broken heart and will certainly change yours.
“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”
Touché!

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Book Review: Secret Santa The Mystery of the Magic Watch

Secret Santa: The Mystery of the Magic WatchSecret Santa: The Mystery of the Magic Watch by David Tank
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Secret Santa
The Mystery of the Magic Watch
By David Tank

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Retired UW-Stout English Professor David Tank, has done it—again! If you’re looking for an original, locally created gift for that little reader in your life, look no further.
Each chapter opens with a clue; a vintage photograph to tempt your imagination. Author Tank has packed this new escapade with many historical factoids and woven into the characters’ lives are enduring life-lessons. The gift of family, how stealing is stupid and whenever time-traveling always bring plenty of Milky Way candy bars to share.
This is the second Secret Santa mystery and boy are the stars of the story off on a major magical adventure! As you probably already are well aware, time travel is a really handy way to get from one place to another especially if you’re Santa and have all those gifts to deliver in only one night. Normally this may seem a nearly impossible endeavor, but Nick (alias Santa) is not only the man behind the white beard, but also an avid inventor. One of which is the Chronambulator; a time-traveling machine with many uses and as Nick’s knowledge of the invention grew, his closet-sized time machine shrunk to the size of a pocket watch.
Even Santa can be influenced by the myriad of advances in technology and in the case of his magical watch, a visit to the Apple Store was the catalyst.
“I’ve been using the Smart Watch as my inspiration, ” Nick continued. “I’m shrinking the workings for my time machine down to a size that will fit into a pocket watch, which is synchronized with the full-sized Chronambulator. Let me show you.”
Sam, who is almost 12, and his sister Abby, 7 are the time-traveling duo along with their leader, Nick. Abby inadvertently pockets the watch and literally disappears back to New York City and the year is 1922.
Besides the overall journey-through-time escapade, the reader is also given a great deal of historical facts to consider in the very real way author Tank shapes this story for his protagonists. Such as the fact that sheep used to roam Central Park. That the merry-go-round ride running back in 1922 was actually driven by steam and after befriending not only the great magician Houdini but his wife, you even learn the secret of one of his most famous tricks! Which is how in the world do you make an elephant disappear? Actually, the secret is safe with Abby.
By the time the story winds up, it is Christmas Day and since the children had been time-traveling, no one is the wiser. All in all, this mystery will not only have your kids ready to find a watch like Abby’s, but also remember that the true gift of the holidays is found wherever family is gathered and magic is possible.
Happy Holidays!

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Book Review: Killer Of The Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBIKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Killer Of The Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
By David Grann
Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson
“In the 1920’s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.”
Author, David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a bestselling author. In this well documented and thoroughly researched book, he sheds light on another dark chapter in American history.
In the early 1870’s, The Osage Indians were forced from their land in Kansas onto what was then considered a worthless rocky reservation in northeastern Oklahoma. But as the oil industry boomed, this ‘worthless’ land was just the rugged surface features atop one of the biggest oil reserves in the US. Oil prospectors paid the Osage royalties and in the early Twentieth Century, each member on the tribal roll started receiving checks. Big. Huge. Checks. They eventually got millions. This sudden wealth had equally sudden consequences.
America, fed by a racist and sensationalistic press, went bananas over stories of the Osage community’s sudden blast to the rich life. Their fame attracted the worst sort of corrupt white men with unscrupulous designs for attaining the ‘headrights’ or the heritable shares of oil royalties owed individual members of the Osage Nation
The Osage began to be killed, but the local authorities and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for the most part, failed to uphold justice or the law. The growing backlog of unsolved murders was brought to the attention of Washington in 1925 by a local lawman, James M. Pyle, who sought assistance from the Bureau of Investigation. The wealth of some of the Osage victims attracted national press and became an ‘embarrassment’ for the newly formed FBI, so J. Edgar Hoover appointed a former Texas ranger with the unfortunate name of Thomas B. White to investigate. The Osage murders were in some ways the FBI’s first big case, and one that Hoover used to help make his mark on Washington and re-create the image of the FBI as a solid investigatory agency.
Author Grann weaves a compelling tale through years of research and the staggering amount of evidence that identified one man, William Hale, as a mastermind behind the slaughter of at least twenty of the Osage. As Grann’s reputation as a researcher became known throughout the Osage community, ancestors of victims sought him out to share their stories of family members disappearing and fortunes lost. He realized the murderous rein was not limited to the government’s original estimate of 24 Osage members, but was easily in the hundreds and involved multiple murderers. Hale was finally convicted of murder in 1929 and jailed for life, but was paroled in 1947. Nearly all of the other murders remain unsolved.
After decades of mismanagement of the oil rights of the Osage by the Department of the Interior; “In 2011, the US government settled with the Osage for $380 million. The settlement also strengthened management of the tribe’s trust assets and improved communications between the Department of Interior and the tribe.”
There is no easy way for our nation to make amends to the Osage survivors. No simple explanation to explain away the prejudice that led to so much murderous loss of not only human life, but the completely illegal confiscation of wealth that was rightfully theirs. This well written chronicle goes the distance to return the Osage to their due place in American history, but will we do ours and re-write the history books?

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Do YOU Know What A Sandbakkel Is?

At every meal my dad says the Norwegian Table Prayer. Then he always follows it by saying, “Grab a root and growl.” I have always simply assumed that is pretty much part of the prayer too. At least if you want to eat at his table, it is.

 

Traditions.

 

Another one that has been going on since I can remember is the creation of Sandbakkels every Christmas season. Using the same recipe (my mom has tweaked) my dad’s mom’s mom used and with my dad mentioning before we sit down at the card table to ‘pinch’ the dough into tins,

 

“No pinchy, no eaty!”

 

Really. Every. Single. Year.

 

Once the little gems are in the oven and we’re working on pan two or three, I wonder why in the world I do this. It’s a lot of work and you have to sit still and then, once my dad is all warmed up and we’re there, his audience, I realize the why part.

 

Being together.

 

So, this coming year I will once again gather at my folks, my mom will have made the dough, adding the secret ingredient at the last moment and then off we’ll pinch and my dad will begin sharing the same stories I’ve heard a hundred times and I’ll look up and smile…

 

By the way, a Sandbakkel is a Norwegian cookie and no, we don’t fill them with anything. These are the tins we pinch them into.

 

(walnut-size blob of dough and pinch and pinch and pinch)

Book Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharp Objects
By Gillian Flynn
Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson
For Halloween I read a gripping mystery/thriller not for the squeamish. If you got a jolt of WOW from reading Gone Girl, you are in for an intense, enigma drenched shock-loaded, secret-packed page turner. This treacherous tale is driven by a pack of mean girls on steroids and the twists and turns will have you guessing all the way to the blood-pressure-through-the-roof ending. I mean, holy cow!
Phew. Now if that intro didn’t pull your reading curiosity to click over and reserve a copy of this baby, read on.
Meet Camille Preaker, a thirty-something woman with a face that could have launched her into magazine cover stardom. Instead she chose the life of a Chicago newspaper reporter with a focus on crime. Really gruesome crime. The kind that sells papers. The kind you read with the lights on. That kind.
Camille grew up in the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri and it is there she is sent by her hard-drinking chain-smoking editor boss to cover a murder. A little girl was strangled and now another is missing. This particular town is not only where Camille grew up, it’s where her younger sister Marian died. It’s also where her beyond belief rich mother still lives and it’s there that this story really rocks. And rolls.
Camille has an issue, a problem, a mental condition. I’ll let her tell you:
“I am a cutter, you see…My skin screams. It’s covered with words—cook, cupcake, kitty, curls—as if a knife-wielding first-grader learned to write on my flesh….Sometimes I can hear the words squabbling at each other across my body.”
I know. Totally bizarre right? But can you imagine a better protagonist unraveling a mystery where she grew up along with all those words carved across her body and all that history in that small troubled little town? And it gets far more intriguing too. Camille has a step-sister, Amma, who is only thirteen, but beyond beautiful and much more dangerous than any sweet little spoiled rich girl ought to be. And then there is the mother. Adora. You just can’t even imagine.
Author Flynn has a razor-sharp snap with every word she chose, her metaphors will blow you away and the dialog hits you square in the eye. Underneath the clever turn of words her journalistic background allows her to root out the motivations of the horrible things we do to one another and somehow give them justification. This is perhaps her greatest triumph as a writer. The ending, though a huge relief when it hits, left me a little slumped with disappointment in my chair. Then I learned this book is now a short series movie and I really am not sure I could re-live this crazy story. Then again, why not?

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