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Showing posts from January, 2008

More books to read (and some I'd like to re-read)

Today on my lunch break I went to the Strand to browse. Well, browsing usually turns to buying, and I ended up with two more books to add to my library. They are: The Queen of Bedlam, by Robert McCammon, about a murderer in New York in the eighteenth century (I seem to be going for lots of books set in New York’s past these days); and Blood and Roses, by Helen Castor, about a family during the War of the Roses. I’d originally gone into the Strand in search of a copy of A Passage to India, but ultimately wasn’t successful (but they did have multiple, numerous copies of A Room With a View).

So here are some books I want to re-read: Sin in the Second City, by Karen Abbott; The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfeld; and Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen. I’d love to get around to re-reading some of the classics, like The House of Mirth, The Woman in White, and Sister Carrie. I’d also love to re-read the Meaning of Night, but as a rule I don’t re-read books back-to-back.

Review--The Empanada Brotherhood, John Nichols

The Empanada Brotherhood revolves around the story of a collection of Hispanic men, along with their gringo hanger-on (who also happens to be the narrator), living in the Village in the 1960s. The unnamed narrator, called "blondie" by his friends," is a struggling author who does menial jobs to pay the rent. I was extremely excited to read this novel because I'd read and loved The Milagro Beanfield War, also by John Nichols.

What I liked about this novel was character and place development. John Nichols knew intimately the New York of the 1960s, and place is key in this novel. Specific places and street corners are mentioned over and over again. Each character has his or her own defining characteristics, whether it be a porkpie hat, one hand, a burnt face, or blonde hair. Although a lot of the dialogue is in Spanish, it's that Spanish that gives the book and the characters within that air of authenticity.

Although the book is short at just over 200 pages, it's…

Review--The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury

The Gangs of New York is an introduction to the gangs which proliferated in New York, primarily in the notorious Five Points district on the Lower East Side, in the nineteenth century. We're introduced to a number of famous characters, from the mythological Mose with his superhuman strength, to Bill the Butcher, to the Whyo gang, to the tong wars of Chinatown, and to the Monk Eastman gang and Big Jack Zelig.

Although the book is introduced as a work of sociology, it's more a book of popular and cultural history. Many of the tales Asbury tells on this book are based on rumor and myth and often it's not quite clear what's factual. Also, the language itself is a little old-fashioned, and Asbury is blatantly racist at times (take this sentence, for example: "[The Bloody Angle in Doyers Street, in Chinatown] was, and is, an ideal place for ambush; the turn is very abrupt, and not even a slant-eyed Chinaman can see around a corner." (p. 286)). The Gangs of New York

Vinedom, and more bookage

Through the latest installment of Amazon Vine, I was able to obtain an ARC of a biography of Napoleon—Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799, by Philip Dwyer. It’s a biography of his earliest years and it looks like one of those books that might appeal mostly to diehard Napoleonophiles. Yes, I made up that word. It’s a book that’s 600 pages in length, minus all the endnotes and bibliography. I’m not completely excited about opening it, but I know that I’ve got to write a review about it at some point. But who knows? Maybe I’ll end up liking it.

I’ve finished reading another nonfiction book called The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury, on which the movie is based (paradoxically, the cover says that Leonardo DiCaprio was the star of the movie; and while that’s true, Daniel Day Lewis, who in my opinion is a better actor, was also in it, as Bill the Butcher). Published in 1927, the book is quite dated, but it’s an excellent introduction to the underworld of New York City in the nineteen…

Books I'm looking forward to reading in 2008

The Winthrop Woman, by Anya Seton

A Pickpocket’s Tale, by Timothy Gilfoyle

Heyday, by Kurt Andersen

Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, coming in June

Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me? Coming out at the end of February.

John Nichols’s new novel, The Empanada Brotherhood, which I ordered from Amazon Vine and which I’m super-excited about. I LOVED the Milagro Beanfield War.

Jennifer Weiner’s new novel, Certain Girls

Lady of the Snakes, by Rachel Pastan

The latest Idiot Girl book by Laurie Notaro, to be published in June

Jen Lancaster’s latest book, Such a Pretty Fat…, coming out in May

Love the One You’re With, by Emily Giffin, to be published in May (obviously, the pile of books on my bedside table is going to be quite high this summer).

And this is just a starting list…

Book review: Women of the Raj, by Margaret Macmillan

Women of the Raj is a fascinating portrait of two cultures in collision: that of the Indians, and that of the British, who occupied India in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. More specifically, this book is about the British women who populated the Raj, from the time they arrived in India until the time they left in 1947. The book explores how women thought, what they ate and wore, and how they interacted with one another. It's a study of history that gets overlooked in favor of more "important" things, and which I'm glad was covered in this book. The book draws on letters and nonfiction and fiction books by a variety of authors from three centuries.

What I thought was fascinating was the British attitude towards the people they governed, and the attitude the Indians had towards their rulers. The caste system was complicated, something that the British didn't understand and never evne tried to understand most of the time. I love how the author b…

Book Review: The Meaning of Night, by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night: A Confession is the story of Edward, whose last name varies between Glyver and Glapthorn at different points in the story. In childhood a great wrong is visited upon him by Phoebus Daunt, and Edward spends the rest of his life figuring out how to enact revenge on his wily enemy. The plot thickens when Edward then learns that he is the son of Lord Tansor and therefore heir to the great Evenwood estate. Lord Tansor, who has no natural heirs of his own, is about to entail the estate to none other than Daunt.

Set in and around London in the 1840s and ‘50s, The Meaning of Night features an extremely unreliable narrator. Is Edward’s desire for revenge justified? Or are his ramblings those of a crazy person? I was hooked on to Edward’s story, and indeed even rooted for him, despite the fact that he begins his story with the killing of a man. Written in the style of Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins, the author’s style is never dragged down by old-fashioned conventions. D…

Book review: Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart

I have to say that being a receptionist has its benefits. Sure, the pay stinks, and it’s hardly rocket science to answer the phone and sort and stamp mail, but on the other hand it leaves me a lot of time to devote to my passion, reading. I’d say that I read two to three books a week. I also love writing about the books I’ve read. So here’s a book that I finished reading this weekend: a nonfiction book called Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart.

In Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart gives her reader a glimpse into the lives of two fascinating women: Alva, the daughter of a less-than-400-family married into the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt clan and made them into what they became. She was a forcefully dynamic woman who encouraged her children to be independent, yet stifled them. Consuelo, on the other hand, emerges as a more sympathetic character; married to the Duke of Marlborough at age 18, …

Book review--Antonio's Wife, Jacqueline DeJohn

Set in 1908 in New York City, Antonio's Wife is the story of Mina, an Italian immigrant. She works an seamstress, but like all immigrants, dreams of something better for herself. Unfortunately, Mina's husband Antonio beats her and openly cheats on her with his Irish mistress, Kathleen. One day, however, Mina finds herself noticed by the temperamental opera star Francesca Frascatti, and is promoted to be the singer's dresser. Mina then falls in love with Dante, a detective playing the role of Cesca's fiancé. It turns out that both women have secrets in their pasts, secrets that make for an exciting, page-turning read.

Antonio's Wife is extremely dramatic at times, and although the emotions that the characters experience seem a bit too over-the-top, I found myself rooting for the heroine, Mina, as she struggles to overcome the obstacles that are thrown into her path--including dodging her extraordinarily boorish and not-too-bright husband Antonio. However, I thought t…

Amazon Vine

I promised a few days ago that I’d talk a little bit about the Amazon Vine program, which I was invited to join back in August and which since then has been my best friend and worst enemy.

Amazon Vine Voices, as they’re called, are invited to join the program because of the reviews they’ve written in the past for Amazon. I suspect that it’s not necessarily based on the number of reviews you’ve written, or your rank in the system, but the quality of those reviews. Having reviewed about 330 items over a period of nearly three years at the time I was invited, I was obviously honored to be considered.

At first reviewers were allowed to request three items. Because the selection of items was so limited (I think there were only five or six items available to be ordered), things went really, really fast, so that many reviewers were shut out that first month. Plus, as soon as one item was reviewed, another could be ordered, which led to a case of “bogus” reviews for products that reviewers were…

Book review--The Thief Taker by Janet Gleeson

The Thief Taker is an interesting historical mystery. Set in London in 1750, the book is the story of Agnes Meadowes, cook to the Blanchards, a family of silversmiths in Foster Lane. One evening, an expensive wine cooler goes missing and an apprentice ends up with his throat slit. It's clear that the crimes were committed by someone in the household, or someone connected with it. Agnes is asked to act as a liaison between the family and a dangerous thief taker named Marcus Pitt. Soon, two more people end up dead--a thief as well as an unlucky maid in the Blanchard's household. Agnes finds herself pitted against some very dangerous and unsavory characters, and its up to her to find the cooler and discover who committed the murders. In all, I thought that this book was highly suspenseful and not at all what one might expect from historical fiction.

Gleeson write about characters from the past without making them seem as though they're modern or have modern thought processes. …

Review: Sin In the Second City, by Karen Abbott

Sin In the Second City, by Karen Abbott is the story of the two Everleigh sisters, Ada and Minna, who came to Chicage in 1899 to begin their own high-class brothel, one of the most notorious in the Levee district of the city. The sisters come to life as they encounter a variety of adversaries: Vic Shaw, the rival madam who tried, unsuccessfully for a while, to bring the sisters down; the Weiss brothers, wo ran the brothel next door; and most of all the reformers who tried to shut the brothels down. Sin In the Second City takes place in an era when Chicago, and the United States, were changing.

Abbott brings the past to life, and sometimes I kept forgetting that this isn't fiction. The Everleigh sisters were a complicated pair of women, who actually hated men; they simply learned how to handle them. I absolutely adored this book. As a blurb on the back of the book by Sarah Gruen, author of Water for Elephants (which I admit I haven't read), says, "Sex, opulence, murder--wha…

Happy New Year! And 2008 in review

I'm in Arizona right now, enjoying some warm-ish weather (my parents have a house in the desert, so although the days are warm, the nights tend to be cold--in the 40s). In honor of the new year, I thought I'd take a look back at my list of books read in 2008, as well as make plans for 2009.

2008 Reads

January:
1. Antonio's Wife: A Novel, by Jacqueline DeJohn
2. The Winter Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly
3. Metropolis: A Novel, by Elizabeth Gaffney
4. Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart
5. The Meaning of Night: A Confession, by Michael Cox
6. The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury
7. The Empanada Brotherhood, by John Nichols

February
1. A Pickpocket's Tale, by Timothy Gilfoyle
2. Heyday, by Kurt Andersen
3. Baby Proof, by Emily Giffin
4. The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman

March
1. Speaks the Nightbird, by Robert McCammon
2. The Secret Scroll, by Ronald Cutler
3. The Queen of Bedlam, by Robert McCammon
4. A Golden Age, by Tahmina Anam
5. Revenge of the Rose, by Nicole Galland
6. Crossed, by Nicole Galland
7. A Passage to India, by EM Forster
8. A Treasury of Royal Scandals, by Michael Farquhar
9. Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography, by Alison Weir
10. A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz
11. The Pursuit of Love/ Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford
12. Remember Me? by…