Showing posts with label new york city. Show all posts
Showing posts with label new york city. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelly Rowley


Title: The Ramblers
Author: Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 9, 2016
Source: copy provided for an honest review by the publisher

Summary from Goodreads

Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled.

Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.

Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit.


My Review:

The Ramblers tickled my fancy to pick up for review because you all know I just looooove a good character-driven, relationship-based drama.  This sounded like exactly the sort of thoughtful contemporary fiction that I'd be into, especially because the 3 protagonists are all in my age range (early- to mid-thirties).  And who doesn't love New York City?

In the end, I have to say I liked The Ramblers, though I can't go so far as to say I adored it.  Let's break down the pros and cons.

Pros: The prose is incredibly perceptive, peppered with insightful observations about self-actualization, the trials and tribulations of romance, and family bonds.  Rowley creates many a gorgeous metaphor between the characters' lives and the book's common plot points (birds, Central Park, photography, etc), so there's no lack of symbolism here.  Thoughtful writing: check.

I also especially enjoyed Clio as a character, along with her handsome Irish suitor, Henry.  (Seriously, if there is someone who is prime candidate for Book Boyfriend of the Year, Henry is IT.)  Clio appeals to me because she comes from humble beginnings and a turbulent childhood, so her now-privileged adulthood comes off as more unpretentious.  Her problems feel tangible, relateable.  I was a big fan of her storyline.

Cons: While the writing is perceptive, it is also incredibly verbose--borderline tedious at times.  The protagonists' long-winded introspections about their lives started to get some eye-rolling from me after a while.  It was too much, and this book could have probably cut at least 20 pages without much trouble.

Also, for as much as I liked Clio's character, I found myself rather turned off by Smith and Tate.  Smith was hard for me to find sympathy towards.  She's been spoiled by her parents for all 34 years of her life, and is now frustrated that she is having trouble getting out from under their millions in order to forge her own path.  Um, boo hoo, I guess?  I can tell that Rowley tried valiantly to write Smith as a down-to-earth woman despite her social status, but it just didn't happen for me.  Her problems felt trite.  As for Tate, he was so aloof and crass at times that I just plain old didn't like him.  As a duo, I was not digging them at all (though I guess it did seem that they deserved each other, in a way).

In the end, The Ramblers is a solid 3-star novel for me.  There's lots to enjoy here, especially the penetrating prose.  However, there are an equal number of downsides that keep this from being a stand-out read.

What's the last character you read that you felt was difficult to relate to, for whatever reason?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Review: The Race Underground by Doug Most


Title: The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America's First Subway
Author: Doug Most
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
Source: ARC received from the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

In the late nineteenth century, as cities like Boston and New York grew more congested, the streets became clogged with plodding, horse-drawn carts. When the great blizzard of 1888 crippled the entire northeast, a solution had to be found. Two brothers from one of the nation's great families—Henry Melville Whitney of Boston and William Collins Whitney of New York—pursued the dream of his city digging America's first subway, and the great race was on. The competition between Boston and New York played out in an era not unlike our own, one of economic upheaval, life-changing innovations, class warfare, bitter political tensions, and the question of America’s place in the world. The Race Underground is peopled with the famous, like Boss Tweed, Grover Cleveland and Thomas Edison, and the not-so-famous, from brilliant engineers to the countless "sandhogs" who shoveled, hoisted and blasted their way into the earth’s crust, sometimes losing their lives in the construction of the tunnels. Doug Most chronicles the science of the subway, looks at the centuries of fears people overcame about traveling underground and tells a story as exciting as any ever ripped from the pages of U.S. history. The Race Underground is a great American saga of two rival American cities, their rich, powerful and sometimes corrupt interests, and an invention that changed the lives of millions.


My Review:

I grew up in an area of Connecticut that is basically the midpoint between New York and Boston on I-95.  I've ridden the T several times, and I've logged many (maaaaaany) hours on NYC subways and commuter rails.  It's hard to imagine either of these cities without their subway systems--with such congested streets, underground travel is quick, affordable, and convenient.  So I was intrigued by a book that offered to bring to life the 100+ year history of subways in these two metropolises.

Doug Most opens the book with an introduction that hints to the important roles that Henry and William Whitney (two brothers from Massachusetts) played in the openings of the Boston and New York subways, respectively.  He then takes us through early attempts at subway designs, the engineering inventions that gradually made them more plausible, and the many struggles that builders and politicians went through in order to eventually make them a reality.  Finally, we see the subways being constructed and opening in each city (which one first? You have to read to find out!).

In terms of comprehensiveness, this book can't be beat.  Most definitely did his homework on this subject, and has provided intricate details that left me impressed by how specific his sources were.  The history of underground travel really is fascinating, and I loved getting this glimpse at how engineering innovations developed quickly within 5, 10, 50 year periods.  Makes you wonder how far we'll come by 2050.  And Most doesn't stop at giving particulars about the subways.  Every major contributor to these projects is introduced with lots of information about their pasts, families, etc., so you really get a human element there as well.

While I did appreciate the attention to detail, there were several structural elements in this book that frustrated me.  First was the formatting, in terms of how the history was unfolded.  As I mentioned before, it is implied at the beginning of the book that the Boston and New York subway systems had their beginnings with the Whitney brothers.  However, as I read on, I felt more and more that the Whitneys were not the central characters in this story.  Yes, they both played notable roles in their respective cities with the subway projects, but in the end, neither of them would be credited as anything close to the "father" of either system.  This left me confused as to why Most chose to structure the book around them, and gave it a bit of a disjointed feel, as many other (arguably more important) players were continually introduced throughout the book.

Possibly because of this odd choice in structure, the book as a whole doesn't flow very well.  There were whole paragraphs in certain chapters that seemed poorly placed, with details that weren't especially relevant to the rest of the section.

Final verdict: if you have a true interest in history, innovation, and engineering, the story that Most provides here is top-notch.  But there is a significant downside in how he chose to structure the book, which does tend to take away from the finer details at times.

Have you ever ridden a subway, reader friends?  Where was it, and what did you think?  Is it a preferred route of travel for you, or are you an above-grounder at heart?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Heaven. I FOUND IT.

First off, I know...I've been a not-great blogger lately.  You've heard all my usual excuses, I won't repeat them, but I promise I am still here, and reading, and loving you (even if I am flippin' horrible at responding to comments right now).

Anyway, a quick post is in order because I have located BOOK NIRVANA and I had to make sure you all knew about it.

This past weekend, I went to New York City for the day for my friend Liz's bridal shower.  It was a whirlwind trip.  Woke up at 3:45am, fed the baby, left the house by 5am, drove 4.5 hours to the train, took 2 hour train ride to Grand Central, arrived 12:15pm.  I had just over 2 hours until the shower, but it was way downtown and I still needed to find some food, so I didn't have a ton of time to sightsee.  Thus, I was left wondering: what cool NYC locale is situated between Grand Central and SoHo, that I haven't already seen, where I can spend maybe 45 minutes before this shower?

And it dawned on me.

Strand.
I'd never been to Strand Bookstore on Broadway, so I felt a visit was in order.  And OH MY STARS, PEOPLE.  JUST OH MY STARS.

I walked there, and first thing that hit me was the racks and racks of used books lining the outside sidewalks of the store.  Nothing over $2.  I just about died right there.
Just thousands and thousands of this.
But then you go inside, and it's three stories of pure amazingess.
This does not do it justice, but I was too book-drunk to take more pictures.
New books, used books, rare books.  Floor-to-ceiling.  Three floors.  I quickly realized that 45 minutes was not enough time.  NO TIME WOULD EVER BE ENOUGH TIME.

I frantically browsed in the time that I had, and managed to find 5 good discount books for myself, plus a cute new kid's book for Small Fry.  And a Strand t-shirt for me, because swag.

How I long to return here for hours of book-related fugue state.

Readers, have any of you ever been to Strand?  Did you love it as much as I did?  And did your shopping companions have to call NYPD to eventually have you removed from the store?  (I suspect this often happens to truly hardcore book lovers.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas



 
Title: Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)
Author: Amy Thomas
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Source: personal purchase (e-book)

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Part love letter to New York, part love letter to Paris, and total devotion to all things sweet. Paris, My Sweet is a personal and moveable feast that’s a treasure map for anyone who loves fresh cupcakes and fine chocolate, New York and Paris, and life in general. It’s about how the search for happiness can be as fleeting as a sliver of cheesecake and about how the life you’re meant to live doesn’t always taste like the one you envisioned. Organized into a baker’s dozen of delicacies (and the adventures they inspired) that will tempt readers’ appetites, Paris, My Sweet is something to savor.

My Review:

Finding my first book for the Around The World in 12 Books challenge was a cinch.  This month's country (France) has been written about from top to bottom, so the recommendations were endless.  However, the one I eventually went with was Paris, My Sweet (mentioned to me by Andi from Estella's Revenge--thanks Andi!).  I thought this was a perfect choice, because it doubles as a book for the Foodies Read challenge (nom).

Paris, My Sweet is the nonfiction account of advertising copywriter/food blogger Amy Thomas during her yearlong stint working in Paris.  After a semester of study abroad in the City of Light during college, she dreamed of eventually returning.  She got the chance at the age of 36 when her job temporarily relocated her there from her longtime home in New York City.  During that year, she experienced all aspects of the city, but especially the ah-may-zing pastries and desserts.  Amy recaps how she ate her way through Paris, while also connecting her food experiences to her personal ups and downs as an expat in France.

I feel like I have to review this as two separate books.  Because first, there's Paris itself: the history, the ambiance, and the food.  OH, THE FOOD.  Amy Thomas pulls no punches when she's describing the positively decadent chocolate, croissants, macarons, cupcakes, et al throughout the city.  I was ravenous before the end of the first chapter.  Each section usually focuses on one type of food (the chocolate chip cookie, madeleines, French toast, etc) and how she experienced it in Paris--along with how it has (or has not) taken off in the NYC restaurant scene.  The contrast between the two cities makes this better than your average food or travel memoir.  (Plus, she provides addresses for every bakery and restaurant she mentions--major score.)

And even beyond the descriptions of the food itself, I felt myself falling in love with the French method of cuisine.  "Fresh, local, and delicious was not the marketing mantra du jour in Paris.  It's just the way it was."  Thomas emphasizes how her Parisians neighbors treasured high-quality ingredients and freshly-prepared dishes, something that is unfortunately undervalued in the US.  It made me yearn for a 3-hour lunch and some local wine.  GAH, divine.

So yes, as far as Paris and the food--this book gets a major thumbs up.

However, then there is the OTHER part of the book: Amy's personal experiences.  To put it plainly, Thomas is just awful at expressing her feelings in a relateable way for readers.  Is she a poor writer structurally?  No.  But she has a complete lack of self-awareness that ends up making her sound spoiled, whiny, and outrageously stuck-up.  She spends the first few chapters recounting how phenomenal her life is: awesome apartment in NYC's East Village, hoppin' social life, amazing job.  Then she gets transferred to the city of her dreams, where she lands a ridiculously perfect apartment (which she doesn't have to pay rent for), gets to work on the Louis Vuitton account, and spends her downtime eating copious amounts of chocolate and jetsetting around Europe.  At one point, she says, "It was almost stupid how picture-perfect my new life was."  And all I could think was, EXACTLY.  Thomas shows positively no humility in these descriptions, and as a reader, I lost all interest in her as a result.  (Best part: when she complains about how she had to work SO MUCH in the summer (wait, like the rest of us?)...but oh yeah, she did have time to vacation in the Loire Valley and the Cote d'Azur.  Oh, and she got to watch the Tour de France from her office.  Please excuse me while I cry all the tears for you.)  Later in the memoir, she starts to talk about some relationship and health problems that she encountered, but by then I found her so eyeroll-worthy, it took me a long time to sympathize.

Also, Thomas breaks a well-known rule of Girl Law: if you're a skinny girl, you don't tell the world about how fat you feel.  I can say this, because I am a somewhat skinny girl, and I know better than to complain publicly about a fat day.  I will not get sympathy.  I keep that sh*t between me and my husband and/or BFF, who are the two humans who will listen to me about it without punching me in the face.  Thomas, however, spends the entire book complaining about how "fat" Parisian chocolate made her, when it is plain from every Googled photo of her ever that that is not the case.  Again, she loses reader sympathy here.

So, overall--as a food memoir (especially a dessert memoir), this book rocks my socks.  I am really glad that I bought a copy, because I'd love to take it with me if I ever visit Paris--all the best foodie spots are mentioned!  And Paris, as a setting, is gorgeously described.  It made me want to hop a plane ASAP.  However, as a personal memoir, Paris, My Sweet falls on its face.  Thomas needs to re-think how she presents herself to her audience.  She had some good stories to tell, but she just doesn't go about it with the right tone.

Foodies--rejoice!  This one is a hit.  But memoirists, you may want to take a pass.

What are your favorite books set in Paris?  How about food memoirs?
 
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