The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

rise-and-fall-great-powersI know, it’s taken me forever to get to The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. What can I say, I was saving it for the perfect moment. The Imperfectionists is a hard book to follow, so I wanted to be in the right mood to give Rachman a little leg up. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers was a really good book, it wasn’t The Imperfectionists, but it was a solid read. Continue reading

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

I am quite surprised by how much I liked The Transcriptionist by Amy RoThe-Transcriptionistwland. It is a quiet and soft spoken novel, that to me read like a short story. Days after reading it, certain powerful images continue to pop up in my brain at the most unexpected times.

The story focuses on Lena, a transcriptionist at a large New York newspaper. Here Rowland speaks of what she knows, as she worked as a transcriptionist at the New York Times before moving on to the Book Review. Overtime, the words Lena transcribes come to overtake her and inhabit her. In particular, there is one story of a woman mauled to death by lions at the zoo, that Lena cannot let go of. Continue reading

Visible City by Tova Mirvis

visible-cityI don’t know why Visible City is the first book by Tova Mirvis that I’ve read, but it is. And I loved it. It is like the books was specifically crafted for me or someone like me: urban dweller (and loves it), failed academic, stay at home mom, the list goes on. Visible City corresponded to my life like few books have. I guess what I’m saying is that I loved this book because of who I am, not because of what the books has to offer.

So what does Visible City have to offer? It is the story of several New Yorkers who’s lives overlap simply because of where they live. The main character, if there is one, is Nina, a successful lawyer who has given up her career to stay at home with her kids. She’s not happy with her life and looks to lives’ of other to fill in a gap. That’s right, she’s a people watcher. Continue reading

The Accident by Chris Pavone

the-accidentThere is no doubt about it, The Accident by Chris Pavone is a thriller – and I loved it. As you know, thrillers are not exactly my thing, but when one this good comes along it grabs you by the throat. And probably the reason I liked it so much is because it is a thriller set in the publishing industry. That’s the hook that really grabbed me.

So imagine this, a manuscript for a book that will bring down a multimedia conglomerate and put the CIA in a very uncomfortable situation if it comes to light. And this manuscript has just been delivered to the one agent who can make it happen. Almost from the moment Isabel finishes reading the manuscript her life is in danger and people around her are found dead, but she manages to stay one step ahead of them. Compelling, isn’t it? Continue reading

The Mad Sculptor by Harold Schechter

The-mad-sculptorI will be completely honest with you and say that I chose The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model and The Murder that Shook the Nation because I had it mixed up in my head with The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon. Both are New York based mysteries set in the 1930s and both use alliteration with the letter ‘M’ in their titles. Beyond that, there is little similarity.

The Mad Sculptor is about a murder that rocked New York City in 1937. Robert Irwin, a brilliant young sculptor, went to the apartment of his unrequited love interest and killed her mother and a boarder before finally killing Veronica. Following the murders, Irwin was the target of a manhunt that lasted several months. Continue reading

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

I needed another book set in the 1920s for Jazz Age January hosted by Books Speak Volumes, so I went with Katie’s (Words for Worms) suggestion of The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. Instead of being your typical flapper age, gin soaked romp, The Other Typist is a psychological thriller soaked in champagne.

So what am I really saying? First, I loved The Other Typist. Rindell is a very good writer. She presents us with a rather unreliable narrator in Rose, a plain looking typist at a police station in Manhattan. Unreliable narrators are a bit of a soft spot with me, so I was thrilled. As the story progresses, Rose drops hints that she is now in a psyche hospital for unknown, but rather dark reasons. These reason have to do with Odalie, a true flapper through and through, who comes to work as the other typist at the precinct. Slowly the lives of Rose and Odalie become so intertwined that they cannot be separated.

I don’t want to give too much away about The Other Typist. I will say that it was full of surprises. It was kind of a Jazz Age combination of The Talented Mr. Ripley and the movie Single White Female. The end threw me for a complete loop and like Katie, I’m not completely sure if I understand what happened in the end.

Who would like this book? I would not put this book in the category of literary – it was definitely a psychological thriller. It was fairly fast paced, but was atmospheric enough to give a good sense of 1920s New York. There were speakeasies and bathtub gin, a little violence and on the fringes sat gangsters. For me the best part was Rose who saw the world around her from a unique perspective.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

the-interestingsSee? This is what happens when I clean off my desk. I read The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer weeks ago and then dutifully shelved the book, and in the process I forgot to actually write the review. My thoughts are no longer fresh, but I will try my best.

The Interestings is about a group of young people who meet at a summer arts camp. The novel traces the lives of this group of six individuals as they grow, marry, have children and move into middle-agedom. Throughout this period there are some key friendships, but also some shifts. And of course, at the heart of it all there is a scandal. If you know me then you know that this novel is right up my alley.

What impressed me most about The Interestings, however, was the writing. For some reason, I had always slotted Wolitzer into the category of chick lit without having read her. Boy, was I wrong. And I should have known how wrong I was when Wolitzer called out the New York Times on their gender bias in book reviews. Wolitzer is a first class literary writer. She has a straight forward sensibility and draws characters beautifully.

Who would like this book? If you like a novel with a strong ensemble cast, then The Interestings is your book. The characters and the friendships in the book highlight many of social movements of the later half of the twentieth century. That is to say, The Interestings was not written in a vacuum. Wolitzer was clearly aware of the world surrounding her characters and brought that into the story. I think this would be a perfect read for a book club of long standing friends who came of age together during the 1970s and 80s.

Have you read The Interestings? What did you think? Send me a link to your review and I will include it in my post.

River City Reading

my little heart melodies

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

goldfinchAh, The Goldfinch, perhaps the most anticipated book of 2013. What can i say about it? It topped just about everyone’s Best Of lists, and yet I’m not sure it would have made mine if I had actually read it in 2013. That is not to say that i didn’t love parts of it. In fact, I read into the wee hours of the night on more than one occasion. But as a whole, I found it a little to long, and I felt that at times (you know when I’m talking about) Donna Tartt was writing both out of her comfort zone and genre.

To a certain extent I feel a little sorry for Tartt. Having a debut novel like The Secret History is a hard act to follow. For me it was the perfect book read at the perfect time, and it seems that almost everybody feels this way. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that i was disappointed in her second book, The Little Friend. From what i can remember of it, it was a little spooky for my liking.

The Goldfinch is a sprawling novel. I had problems getting into it at first, but once I did I was hooked. Tartt’s writing was precise and detailed. The psychological effects of what happened to our young protagonists were superbly wrought. The path his life took was inevitable, and yet I kept hoping he’d escape from his family legacy.

Once I got into the book (which took about 150 pages) I was hooked, right up until the end, in Amsterdam, where the novel once again fell a little flat for me. And this is the part when I say that Tartt was writing outside of her comfort zone, and perhaps outside of my reading zone. It was too long, too detailed. I just wanted things resolved.

Who would like this book? It doesn’t really matter what I say here, because The Goldfinch may well be the book of the year. If you are a person who reads and likes to be in the know, you are going to read it. It is a chunkster of a book, so if you like a long read, you won’t be disappointed. Although not all of the novel was set in New York, it did put me in a very New York frame of mind. Love that Manhattan lifestyle. Overall, I’d rate it a 4 out of 5, but alas, it was not the perfect novel that The Secret History was, so i can’t give it a 5.

Foreign Gods Inc. by Okey Ndibe

foreigngodsReading more diversely seems to be on everyone’s minds these days. I read to escape, so I love reading about other places and experiences far from my own. That is what attracted me to Foreign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe. The story follows a Nigerian cab driver from New York on his quest back to his home village to steal the local god. This he hoped to convert into fast cash at a posh art shop back in New York. Yeah, this is pretty far from my own experience.

I ended up having very mixed feelings about the novel. I felt that the parts that took place in New York were well written and engaging. Before I started the book I was most looking forward to the parts set in Nigeria, but to me those sections fell short. In particular, Ndibe spent far too many pages recounting the fate of an early missionary to his village. On the other hand, the speech and diction of some of the village characters was brilliant.

So where does that leave me? Well, it has been about a week since i read the book, and over all my feeling are more positive than negative. The story was interesting, the perils of an America-returned villager were well cast and the family dynamics were heart breaking.

Who would like this book? This book appealed to the traveler in me. I love the exotic and to me Nigerian village is exotic, as is the life of a cabbie in New York. In some ways Foreign Gods Inc was reminiscent of Ghana Must GoBoth recount the experiences of African immigrants to the United States, and what it is like to return home. However, Ghana Must Go was a more finely crafted novel and more literary. Foreign Gods Inc is a faster read, that still provides valuable insight.

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Inside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins

inside-dream-palaceThe Chelsea Hotel is a place of literary legend, so when I saw Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel I knew I had to read it. The Chelsea is one of those places that makes you think ‘if these walls could talk’ and that is what Sherill Tippins attempts to give you in her social history of the hotel. Starting from the early days of the Chelsea’s first conception, Tippins leads the reader through its construction, famous inhabitants and infamous scandals.

For the most part I was fascinated by what I found in Inside the Dream Palace, and given the long list of culture makers who lived there, who wouldn’t be? But I also felt a little bogged down at times. I was expecting a quick and dirty recounting of the who, what, and why of the Chelsea. At times Tippins narrative delves a little too deeply into events outside of the Chelsea. That being said, she does give a marvelous account of the social history of the time, i just would have made it about 200 pages shorter.

I didn’t know they lived at the Chelsea!

I was shocked by the variety of people who lived at the Chelsea. We all know that Sid Vicious lived there and that the 1970’s and 80’s were a tumultuous time for the Chelsea, but both before and after there were characters that I didn’t know lived there.

– Arthur Miller lived at the Chelsea for a really long time. I didn’t even know he lived that long!

– Arthur C. Clarke was at the Chelsea for years while writing 2001 and he was highly influenced by Allen Ginsberg.

– Leonard Cohen moved from Montreal to the Chelsea to find fame.

– Germaine Greer ushered in a new wave of feminism from the Chelsea’s halls.

– Sparkle Hayter penned at least one of her novels while living there in the last years of the Chelsea.

And one thing I didn’t know is that Dorothy Parker never lived there.

Who would like this book? This book is for the historian of popular culture. That goes without saying. It would also appeal to those with an interest in the philosophy behind utopian living communities, for that is how the Chelsea got its start. From here, this book will propel me towards books like Just Kids by Patti Smith and perhaps a biography of Arthur Miller.