Tag Archives: New York City

Book Review #62: Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye

21 Sep

This is the best mystery I’ve read this year. Set in New York City in 1845, Timothy Wilde and his unpredictable but highly political brother Val find themselves among the first police officers in NYC. One of the last major cities to form and fund a police force, the cities residents aren’t necessarily fond of the new “copper stars.”

What is the role of the police in our society? Something I’ve always taken for granted is that cops do two things: they prevent crime, and they solve crimes after they happen. In this historical fiction novel, in the early days of the police force, they had to spend their extremely limited resources on preventing crime. Protagonist Timothy Wilde proves himself far more adept at solving crimes.

During his first patrol, Timothy encounters a young girl covered in blood, and takes her home to secure her safety. This little girl, Bird, was a child prostitute working in the city who leads Timothy to a graveyard filled with the bodies of 19 children, almost surely other child prostitutes, with giant crosses cut in their midsection. Timothy finds himself trying to untangle the mystery, making enemies of politically powerful madams, his own brother, and trying to navigate the complicated religious politics (Catholic v. Protestant) of the time.  Continue reading

Book Review #61: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

15 Sep

Bright lights, big city is a phrase I’ve heard a thousand times, applied to New York. I always associated it with the physicality of New York, and the hope that people have when they move there. I haven’t seen the movie adaptation (starring Michael J. Fox and Kiefer Sutherland), and this book was unexpected. This phrase really speaks to how the bright lights can blind you and the big city will swallow you up.

Jamie Conway is kind of everything people hate about New York. He’s a fact checker for a famous magazine, and when he finally “makes it” to New York (and makes it in New York?) he can’t help but over inflate his self importance. When we meet Jamie, his wife has abandoned him and he’s living the life that many people associate with New York. Cruising the hottest bars, clubs and restaurants with his partner in crime Tad Allagash, drugging himself into oblivion and having shallow conversations and empty sex with women as soulless as he is.

We’re meant to feel sorry for Jamie. I think. Or at understand how he became the quintessential, arrogant asshole that he is. As the book goes on, and he begins to burn the “glamorous” life he built for himself with his magazine job to the ground, we learn more about the abandonment, tragedy and desertions that brought him to such a wretched place in his life. Continue reading

Book Review #58: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal

4 Sep

Sweet Valley Confidential is pure, unadulterated nostalgia. I grew up devouring the Sweet Valley High Series, following them on to college. They were a few years older in the books than my age, so I felt like they did everything first. I read about their high school adventures while in middle school, and their college escapades while in high school.

Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield have the same appeal that the characters of Sex and the City have. Everyone identifies a little bit with both sisters, because they are sort of extreme versions of character traits most of us have. Elizabeth is smart, studious, practical and down to earth. And Jessica is impulsive, emotional and compassionate.

Francine Pascal wrote this recently, and it serves as a “where are they now?” for some of the most beloved characters in young adult fiction. Elizabeth is living in New York City, estranged from Jessica because she found out Jessica was having an affair with her fiance. And yes, that fiance was Todd Wilkins. Jessica is working her charismatic magic as a PR girl in California, but struggling through a dark period as she realizes that her relationship with Todd lost her her sister. Continue reading

Book Review #48: In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

30 Aug

The Strand is one of my favorite places in NYC. I went there on a Friday night and bought three books at $5 a piece. I grabbed this historical murder mystery off the shelf because it took place in NYC and also was set during the development of criminal profiling.

Shadow of Gotham‘s lead detective is Simon Ziele, who is working in a small upstate New York town while getting over the tragic death of his fiance. When Sarah Wingate, a female doctorate student in mathematics, is found brutally murdered in her wealthy aunt’s home,Ziele is dragged back to New York to solve her murder.

Criminal profiling is a major part of this book. Ziele works with Alistair Sinclair, who has been conducting research on criminals, and criminal rehabilitation, to track down one of Sinclair’s former research subjects suspected of murdering Wingate. The validity of the research, the special favors Sinclair calls in to make his research possible, and Sinclair’s odd assortment of staffers are almost more interesting than the murder itself.  Continue reading

Book Review #44: The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison

29 Aug

This summer, I sublet an apartment in NYC from two professors. They had a wall to wall library filled with books on political science and education, with just one shelf of fiction. I had intended to tear through the shelf, but the only book I actually ended up reading from their small fiction selection was Alice Mattison’s The Book Borrower.

This book details the friendship between two women, from beginning to end. The book is told primarily in fragments of memory of the two women, Deborah and Toby. You see them meet, become fast friends, grow their families, attempt to grow their personal and professional lives, and slowly outgrow each other.  There’s intense jealousy in the friendship, as both women are teachers trying to make their way in a struggling market. There’s also jealousy over their marriages, their past times, and the new friends they make along the way.

This book shows the long, slow decline of friendships as we age. But what’s most striking is how trivial the things that chip away at friendship are. A missed meeting. Repeatedly being late. Jealousy over a promotion, or lack thereof. Just like with siblings, it’s almost impossible for friends not to compare their lives to each other, keeping a long running score of wins and losses.  Sometimes, it’s not until something dramatic happens that people realize how petty they’ve been. But it’s frequently too late.

Book Review #32: The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

8 May

*Although this book has now been released, I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the author.

Adriana Trigiani’s warm and inviting stories are about Italians living in or immigrating to America, and their families, lovers and friends. The Shoemaker’s Wife is the love story of Ciro and Enza, who meet as children in their small mountain Italian town and both immigrate to America – Ciro for punishment, Enza to support her family. Over the years, as Enza works her way up the seamstress ladder to become the main seamstress for a Metropolitan Opera star, and Ciro firmly establishes himself as an entrepreneurial shoemaker, they occasionally bump into each other, rekindling their childhood feelings for each other.

Enza was my favorite part of this novel.  She’s one of the truly strong, brave, hardworking female characters Trigiani is known for.  She worships her family, moving abroad to support them and earning enough money over time to build them a house.  She wants something for herself, something more than marriage, and along with her Irish best friend, she works tirelessly to get it. She’s kind, sensitive and wonderfully creative – I loved the chapters about her and her friend Laura working as seamstresses at the Met. It was both exciting, and grueling, to read about.

If you’re looking for a will-they-or-won’t-they love story rich in historical details, I highly recommend The Shoemaker’s Wife.  However, there were a few things I didn’t enjoy (potential spoilers after the jump). Continue reading

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