Drawing of Original Bray Book Shop

Drawing of original Bray Bookshop

Every town or village needs a humble book shop, a small one off, non chain affiliated outlet where one can browse like you’re in a library and not feel like you’re in a  railway station or airport terminal. Even in the large cities, everyone should seek out a place like this where they can buy a book and also chat to the staff about things they’ve read or where the staff member can recommend books without feeling they’re holding up a queue of irate shoppers. Yes, some of the larger stores are trying to recreate this charm by opening up in-store coffee shops but this just tends to end up being frequented by giggly students on mobiles, latte ladies and business types on laptops which takes away from the quiet, almost monastic feel, of a quaint haven of literature.

When I moved to Bray 36 years ago it had one bookshop in it called The Bray Bookshop, to this day I can remember its racing green front and the large windows on either side of the main door. Inside it was pokey, but still you felt the moment you entered it was a world away from that outside. The counter was up by the door and you were always greeted by the person behind as you entered or left, usually old Mrs Clear or one of her family, even if you didn’t buy anything.  Since then the business has been developed by her daughter and son-in-law, moved to a larger premises on the main street and also grown into Ireland’s largest independent chain of bookstores with 9 stores across the country and a name change to reflect the nationwide coverage, now known as Dubray Books (www.dubraybooks.ie). But the charm hasn’t left the larger premises on Bray main street, it maybe brighter and carry more stock and also do a selection of cards too, but the staff still talk to you like you’re in a two person bookgroup and even on Christmas week one feels like you’ve entered a  monastery bar the constant swish of the double doors at the front. This month’s book is centred around a book shop similar in style and ambience to the original Bray Bookshop, its The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.


Dubray Books branch in Bray today

The story centres around the main character A.J Fikry the owner of a book shop on Alice Island, a fictional island off the coast of Massachusetts, loosely based on Nantucket. Life for ‘The Island Book’s owner is in a downward spiral after the death of his wife. Things go from bad to worse when he has a run in with Amelia a single and quirky book rep and then after consuming a bottle of wine one night he is helped into bed by the ghost of his dead wife only to wake up next morning and find the house cleaned and his prized possession a first edition of Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe has been stolen. Then a couple of nights later, as he is shutting up shop, he discovers a baby girl called Maya has been left in the book store with acllcted wrks cvr note attached asking him to take care of her. He enlists the help of his sister-in-law, Ismay and her wayward author husband Daniel, as well as the islands police Chief, Lambiase. This , he manages, without very much encouragement, thanks to the bundle of joy that is Maya. How will A.J. cope when Maya has to go into care of Social services? What will become of her? Will A.J. find love again?  Will the book store survive the arrival of a newborn and the winds of change?

Published by Little Brown in March this year, this is New York born Gabrielle Zevin’s (www.gabriellezevin.com) eighth book. More accustomed to writing for young adults, she’s written two books for adults in the past, Magarettown (2005) and The Hole We’re In (2010). Her young adult books include Elsewhere (2005), Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2007), All These Things I’ve Done (2011), Because It Is My Blood (2012) and In The Age Of Love And Chocolate (2013). Gabrielle is a graduate of Harvard and the screenwriter for the cult hit Conversations With Other Women – starring Helena Bonham Carter, she first got into writing after sending a strongly worded letter to her local paper about a Guns & Roses concert which lead to a job as a music critic.

Stories involving animals and or children tend to bring a lump to my throat, I knew from the moment I saw the cover and read the blurb on the back, that at some stage, I was going to need a tissue. This is a well written story which tugs at the heart strings from the moment Maya makes her entrance, to the emotional ending. Also it had me laughing hysterically at the antics of the main characters and also the support cast of Lambiase, Ismay, Daniel and the various other residents from the island who come to the shop regularly. This book is also  ripe for adaptation as a RomCom, ten to fifteen years ago it would have had Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks names written all over it, nowadays, Hugh Grant maybe with Drew Barrymore again, or Amy Adams and any number of potential leading men.

stried life of AJ FkryThe chapters in the book are named after or at least dedicated to famous books, such as Lamb To The Slaughter and The Bookseller by Dahl as well as The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County by Mark Twain. Which I though strange at first until nearing the end I realised I wasn’t so much reading a story as a list of suggested reading material by Fikry for Maya or even a living will.


This has to be one of the best books I’ve read this year and is written by a smart witty young author, who knows how to plot a story and to keep the reader turning the pages right till the end. Even though it was a moving and memorable read to me, maybe to some of it could be seen as a bit sacchariny. There are a couple of plot twists which make you sit up and go wow and made the lower lip wobble slightly, such as the discovery of who Maya’s real dad is and also the depiction of a tragic road accident.

It’s an easy enough read at just over two hundred and forty pages long and closer to a novella then a standard book. This doesn’t take away from a truly satisfying and homely story. The blurb describes it as being a book for those who loved The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society and The Book Thief, while I see it more for those who loved Marley and Me and Secret Life of Bees. What the blurb doesn’t describe is that  the marketing people in the US saw fit to re title it The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or maybe our marketing guys over here in Europe, thought the title needed to be a bit more high brow.

So there’s not much else to say but get down to your local bookshop and snap up a copy of this book. You won’t have to leave a newborn in the children’s section, just get friendly with a member of staff and leave some hard earned cash on the counter.

Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin




sister-rosamund-lupton-ebook-e6e66You’ve got to hand it to the budding novelists of this world; it’s a little easier to get published these days with the advent of kindle and eBooks. You just write the book and it put up on Amazon and see if you can sell any outside of your family and friends or even be discovered by a publishing company. There are still those traditionalists though who get out there and write a couple of chapters and then post or email them round the myriad of publishers and literary agents and await the results of the publishing lottery. Which is awash with reams of confidence sapping rejection letters. Others like the first of this month’s two authors, cut their teeth in other media first.

Rosamund Lupton (www.rosamundlupton.com) was a copywriter and book reviewer, before winning the Carlton Televisions New Writers Competition and being accepted on to BBC’s new writer’s course. In 2010 she had her first book Sister published by Piatkus (www.piatkus.net) since then it’s won awards such Best First Novel at the 2011 Strand Magazine Critics Award as well as the Richard and Judy and WH Smith Readers Choice Award. It’s also been translated into thirty languages.

Sister tells the story of Beatrice an English interior designer now living in New York, whose wayward sister Tess goes missing. Bee jumps on the first plane home and sets about trying find out how and why her sister and soul mate just suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. The more she discovers about her sister’s personal life the more she realises that despite their weekly Trans-Atlantic phone calls, she didn’t really know her sister that well. With the authorities, her family and Tess’s friends having accepted she’s gone for good, Beatrice throws herself headlong into Tess’s life. Almost taking on her Tess’s persona, by portraying her in a reconstruction and living in her flat. All the while the search for answers takes her on a precarious journey.


This was my choice for the June meeting of the book group; I first read it back in 2012 and had held it up my sleeve like a sneaky ace for the past year and a half. From the very first page to the very end, the book lives up to the hype on the covers and. It is excellently written and Lupton’s plotting in masterful. She treats the reader like Beatrice’s shadow and you go on an eerie and compelling journey from the get go right to the very end, when she hits you square in the eyes with totally unforeseen ending.

What I remembered from my first time reading it was that I was commuting daily by train from home to work on a journey of about forty five minutes. Some books made the journey drag, but others like this had me stepping on a DART in south county Dublin and what felt like ten minutes later despairingly closing it and having to wait an agonizingly long time to get back to it in the evening.

The other members of the book group also thought this book was brilliantly written and had them finishing it in double quickGONE_GIRL time, while one member who couldn’t make it begged us not to post anything about the ending on social media or emails as she was just finishing it while on a trip abroad and didn’t want us to spoil the ending. It got what I would call in the world of book groups, a standing ovation almost and the last time a book of mine got that was three years ago when I presented them with Room by Emma Donoghue. A few found Beatrice slightly irritating, but loved the plotting and story and also a topic of discussion throughout the meeting was the comparison between Sister and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The genetics storyline isn’t new but it’s well written and shows some great research, but as she admitted herself in an interview in the back of the book, the medical side was easy due to being married to an obstetrician.  As for advice from Lupton to other first time authors, “Go for it!! And if you meet rejection just keep on it…” she admits she could have papered a small room with rejection letters before getting her first break in scriptwriting. But that’s something she won’t have to worry about from now on. Since publishing Sister her second novel Afterwards was released in 2011.


big_img10The other type of first time authors are  the ones that, after the number of rejection letters swamps the whole house, making dinner parties awkward, decide to turn their back on the industry. They go down the self publishing route. My second author this month did a variation on that. He approached Iguana Books, (www.iguanabooks.com) a Canadian publishing company which according to their own website encourages the author to “Pitch In” with covering the cost of getting the book ready for the market, by crowdfunding.  This is the act of seeking small contributions from a group of people, usually over the net.

BP Gallucci (www.bpgallucci.com) is a cat lover and Torontonian born and bred, who’s been writing stories since he was in kindergarten; his first book which was published this year is called Lexus Sam.

The book tells the story of an amnesiac, who calls himself Lexus Sam, but is convinced this isn’t his real name. Currently living in a New York apartment he gets the feeling that he might not be a local because of intermittent flash backs of a life on the West Coast. His apartment is rented out to some guy called Adam Williams and the picture on his drivers licence is the same guy he sees in the mirror every morning, but he thinks it’s all a charade. In his flash backs he also sees a girl called Sarah, so to help him discover who he is he employs the services of a shrink who tries to aid his memory through hypnotic regression, But Lexus questions the doctors motives and as the past merges with the present, he must fight to discover the truth about his past and the mysterious Adam Williams.

If you think the summary above sounds like the marriage of four Matt Damon movies, then you’re not far wrong. Sent to me by Gallucci after we hooked up on Twitter,  the book its self feels like the reworking of more then just a couple of movies, a whole video store worth to be exact. There is no beginning of sorts you are just thrown into the story and mostly I found myself flailing to find direction.

I’m all for getting the reader into the story but you must allow them to get a feeling of where it might be going.Unless it’s set in a life raft, but even then, you  imagine an island, finding a flare gun, even the hint of an engine in the distance. This book just seemed to be occupied by a series of random stereotypical characters and some vague well worn plot. Halfway through, I couldn’t give a damn if he never got his memory back, hey he has an apartment, money to buy pizzas… life’s good.

First time books are rarely instant bestsellers, but it’s like passing your driving test, some do it first time others on their second, third for fourth go . Look at Dan Brown for example it was only after The Da Vinci Code  his fourth book was a bestseller that Digital Fortress, Angels & Demons and Deception Point start making money. Even before that he wrote a number of clunky humorous self help books, one under the pseudonym Dannielle Brown and the other under his wife’s name. Also it took John Le Carre three books to find international acclaim with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

BP Gallucci

So, I’m not knocking Gallucci’s ability(especially not a bloke with all those “tats”), just the fact that this first attempt at writing a compelling piece of fiction needs a bit of work. Which I’m sure he will do and who knows down the line, he’ll be up there with the best of them.

So if you want a good summer read get up close with Sister and leave the lost boy where you found him.