Monthly Archives: January 2012

January: New York City

 A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias

The “New York City” theme was partly inspired by my dad giving me not one, not two, but three books featuring New York for Christmas. But, the first book I read was one loaned to me earlier by a friend. This book is the semi-autobiographical telling of the author’s marriage and his wife’s battle with terminal illness. In accordance with the month’s theme the characters live in 1970s and present day Greenwich Village. Yglesias is a very gifted writer and beautifully conveys the love that he had for his wife. I think the only real criticism I had is that some parts of the book “go on” for a bit (in that you start getting tired of the main character and his hang-ups) and this tender subject could have benefited from being one of those slim novels that pack a punch. It was a great chance to be introduced to a talented New York author that I, shockingly, had never heard of, and even though by end of the book I didn’t really like the protagonist, Enrique as much as I had hoped- it was an honest and all too real portrayal.

Goodreads rating: ***

 The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

I have been meaning to read this book for ages as it was strongly recommended by my roommate. She insisted it’s a must-read for Brooklynintes, and she was right. Particularly brilliant is the novel’s first half detailing the main character’s childhood growing up in Gowanus/ Boerum Hill on the cusp of its gentrification. Lethem has a gift for capturing character’s personalities and nuances, be it the delicate dance of getting “yolked” or the hollers of “Yo” throughout the neighborhood, or the eloquent ramblings of wayward boy genius, Arthur Lomb. Lethem’s portrait of gritty and edgy Brooklyn is fascinating and protagonist, Dylan Edbus is a lovely and sympathetic child. Sadly, when Dylan grows up he turns into a bit of a douche, and removed from Brooklyn the story starts to veer off into the bizarre, but ultimately The Fortress of Solitude is great American coming of age story, and worthy of New York City.

Goodreads rating: ****

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

This is Colm Toibin’s Costa Prize winning tale about an Irish girl’s move to New York City. While the adjustment to living in Brooklyn is hard for Eilis (and Toibin does a nice job of naturally depicting her initial homesickness) she soon finds love in the arms of Tony, a lovable Italian plumber. I think I was expecting  this book to be more “literary” (yes, it looks like I’ve turned into a pretentious bitch) so I was a little surprised by the simple story that mostly centers around Tony and Eilis idilic budding relationship. But, I should say that overall I really enjoyed the story. It was like candy… but good, expertly made candy. Really expensive chocolates- Godiva, or what have you. Toibin is a simple yet gifted writer, so reading this book was truly and enjoyable breeze.

Goodreads rating: ***

Time and Again, by Jack Finney

I spookily spotted this in the $1 book rack at the Strand Bookstore, just a day after it was  recommended to me by my friend Donna, so I’m pretty sure this book has some sort of supernatural stalking powers- just saying.

One interesting fact, is that- being written over 40 years ago- the book itself provides a time machine to the 1970s complete with mild sexism (and even a few thrown off semi-racist comments). But this more or less is found in only the very beginning of the book. Once the story really gets going, the book proves it was actually a great recommendation for the theme of “New York”. Since our protagonist, Simon, is completely engrossed in the sights and sounds of 1882 New York, we are treated to painstaking detail of what it would be like to live in New York City at the time. Basically, a really fun read- as we all know, if you don’t have the ability to time travel, a book is the next best thing.

Goodreads rating: ***

Also read this month: Life as I Blow It, by Sarah Colona; The Starboard Sea, by Amber Dermot; and an unpublished manuscript, by M. Allen Cunningham.

Next Month’s theme: “In Translation” (where I try to amend that fact that I was an *English* major- thus read only works written in English and to this day have one of those English-centric prejudices). The first book up is The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.

So if you want to, feel free to read along. Or if you have any questions, comments, criticisms, crys for help, etc… by all means drop me a line!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Galley Way: Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry
I was intrigued by simply the title of this new book. I had taken an Early American literature class in college and read Sarah Vowell’s (highly recommended!) Wordy Shipmates so I was vaguely familiar with Roger Williams and the fact that he was one daring Puritan.

This book was a great treat just to get to know more about Roger Williams, who definitely isn’t as well known as an early American as he perhaps should be. One little quibble I have with this book is that it’s not until about page 136 that Mr. Barry actually focuses his attention on Roger Williams, and instead gives us a LOT of background. While it is interesting to get a little background about Coke’s (Williams’ mentor) influence on Williams, and certainly necessary to get an overview about the history of Puritan involvement in “The New World”, it is not until Barry is discussing the life of Williams himself that the story gets interesting.

Overall if you are a fan of American history (especially a chapter that is not ridiculously over-trod) this would be a good choice.

Note: This book was a Goodreads First Read.
Goodreads rating: ****

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Galley Way: The Mystery of the Missing Everything

The Mystery of the Missing Everything by, Ben H. Winters

I was very happy to have received this book. To be honest I was most drawn to it because of the cover illustration by the great Brett Helquist, but the book didn’t disappoint.

In it we are treated to a mystery of a stolen gymnastics trophy, and our main character- Bethesda- is determined to solve it. Winters does a great job with Bethesda- she is eminently capable and confident without being annoyingly precocious or conceited. Also the novel is full of fun pop culture references, especially to do with music.

I must warn that this book is actually a sequel to Winters other book: The Secret Life of Mrs. Finkleman. But if you are like me and haven’t read that book you can still enjoy The Mystery of the Missing Everything, and if anything it will spark an interest for the previous novel (I’ve since added The Secret Life of Mrs. Finkleman to my “To-Read” list, actually).

This is definitely an nice book for middle graders that is fun and not to mature while still being on the level of 6th -8th grader.

Note: This book was a Goodreads First Read.

Goodreads rating:****

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Galley Way: The Julian Game

The Julian Game by, Adele Griffin

The Julian Game is a fun, dark, quick read- definitely teen literature for the facebook generation. As I was reading it I couldn’t help drawing parallels to Mean Girls (Ella Parker IS Regina George) which is fine by me as that movie is awesome and an all-too true portrayal of bitchy girl behavior.

While this book is far from a laugh riot- and takes a bit more serious tack- just as in “Mean Girls” in The Julian Game we find a nice new girl buddy up to the school’s Queen Bee only to get burned along the way- and of course there’s a hot guy, who in this book ends up not being quite the prince charming he seems at first (which I think we can all agree is pretty realistic too).

I also couldn’t help be reminded a little bit of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series, especially in the latter books where Mia and her best friend have a bit of a falling out- but if you’ve read the series than you know that this to is good company to be in.

Overall, The Julian Game is hardly ground-breaking material, but is still an nice short read.

Note: This book is a Goodreads First Read.

Goodreads rating: ***

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Galley Way: The Very Thought of You

The Very Thought of You by, Rosie Alison

The Very Thought of You is definitely a book with hidden depths. In it, 8-year-old Anna Sands is sent away from her mother in London (in preparation for the upcoming Blitz) to stay at an impromptu boarding school for evacuees in palatial Ashton Park- home of Thomas Ashton and his wife.

On the surface the book details the lives and loves of certain Britons during WWII but once the reader gets to the heart of the book the reader realizes that he is not simply reading a ‘love story’ but instead a story that explores the notion of love- what is it? why is it? is it good or bad?

Ms. Alison is able to create characters that ring true, and put them in situations different than your typical love stories. Here we do not have the two lovers kept apart but unfair circumstances but then finally get together in the final act, but instead, character after character that can’t seem to get this ‘love thing’- that everyone else understands so easily- down. And once they do find love they are met with tragic results, of course. Even the title of the book doesn’t reference, as one would think, our main romantic paring, but instead another couple (Anna’s parents) who are a dubious love pairing at best.

While this book was ultimately a really enjoyable read, there were two odd things that I had problems with, the first being that too often Anna crops up to be at hand or get the attention of the adults at Ashton Park, such as when she’s able to eaves-drop on, not one, not two, but three intimate episodes with Thomas and his lady loves, or how she’s always at hand to run an errand- it all makes it seem a little forced and I don’t think it’s particularly necessary that she had to be that familiar with Thomas’ secrets to have formed her attachment to him.

The other thing was I got the odd feeling of wondering what or who exactly this book was about until quite near the end, due in part to the fact that the story is told from many points-of-view- from the inexplicable chapters from the point-of-view of the Nortons (nice but really they could have been completely cut out), to the somewhat superfluous points-of-view of Roberta and even Elizabeth. Perhaps simply focusing on Anna and Thomas’ experiences would have allowed Ms. Alison to more directly express the main themes of the story, as well as stream-lining a bit of the plot.

Overall though, The Very Thought of You is a nice look at what it means to love and the value of imperfect, fleeting, or even one-sided love.

Note: This book was a Goodreads First Read.

Goodreads rating:***

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Galley Way: Six Weeks To Yehida

Six Weeks to Yehida by, Melissa Studdard

This is a review that I’ve actually been putting off writing, because for all of the earnest and lovely writing from Melissa Studdard evidenced in her debut novel, Six Weeks to Yehidah, I’m afraid I actually have to be a bit hard on her.The main crux of the challenge of this book is that yet again we have a Children’s book that, while it contains some lovely language and imagery, strives too hard to be profound and eloquent- even to the point that the language is way over the head of your average child. (see my review of The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant)The book more seems to be a Children’s book written solely for adults, and if that is what it is that is fine. Melissa Studdard obviously has a vivid imagination and does create scenarios that would be humorous to the adult reader; but sadly she isn’t able to harness this vivid imagery into one cohesive message.Overall there is a certain lack of direction to this story- Annalise is constantly learning lessons, but to what end? Ms. Studdard would have probably better off focusing on one moral, one lesson, one kernel of wisdom than the hodgepodge and vastness found in Six Weeks to Yehida.

Ultimately, for all the references to other Children’s classics like The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the book is more reminiscent of that dream you had after a crazy night out- perhaps not the exactly the typical fodder for the under 18 crowd.

Note: This book is a Goodreads First Read.
Goodreads rating: **

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

The Galley Way: An Emergency in Slow Motion

An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner life of Diane Arbus by, William Todd Schutlz

A few years back I Saw the film Fur starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. (and dorky dad from Modern Family!)- a sort of dramatized imaging of how Diane Arbus came to be the photographer we know her as. After viewing this film I was of course with left with more questions about Ms. Arbus- how did she *really* come to be a photographer of such bizarre and provoking photos? So you can imagine my excitement when I came across Mr. Schultz’s new “psychobiography”.

The book doesn’t fail to deliver a full picture of the late author; and reader beware Diane Arbus’ life makes for as eerie reading as her photos. Even though this book is just a slim 216 page volume it packs a hefty punch as you are treated to the inner workings of Arbus’ mind.

It isn’t so much that Arubs was mean or cruel, but instead, distinctively sad and out of step with the world and even herself. If there is any fault with the book it might be with Schultz’s sometimes circular method of explanation and frequent repeating of several key phrases and quotes- although perhaps this is useful in keeping up with some of the denser psychological theories

Note: This book was a Goodreads First Read.

Goodreads rating: ***

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review