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With summer/swimsuit season around the corner (though that corner is looking farrrrrrrrrrr away on this dismal day!) and more and more health issues stemming from eating habits, weight – and the effect on one’s health – is consistently a hot issue.  While much has been known about anorexia and bulimia, compulsive binging seems to be becoming more and more of an issue.  Before even hearing about this SKINNY book tour, I read an article in Seventeen magazine (don’t judge – subscription was gift from roomie’s mom!) asking “are your eating habits normal?” and they were shedding light on the dangerous binging cycle – do you hide your eating/eat alone/lie to friends, etc.

In SKINNY, author Diana Spechler introduces you to Gray, a non-descript 26 year old living with her comedian boyfriend in NYC.  Beyond the fun jacket (looked like a great beach book), I thought the similarities between Gray and myself would be interesting, since we’re the same age in the same city and I had assumed would have similar thoughts.

Ultimately, Gray and I don’t have much in common and once I gave up trying to like her, I enjoyed the book more.

Gray starts her rather sad story by sharing with the reader that she killed her father.  It was understood pretty quickly that this wasn’t a premeditated crime (I bet you knew that too, from the pretty book cover), but more an enabler of bad habits.  The death of her father sends her life into a tailspin in which she quits her job helping her boyfriend, the lovable though slightly schlubby Mikey, book comedy gigs and instead starts binge eating and working odd jobs while gaining weight.

Uncovering a cryptic connection in her father’s will, Gray sets out to be a counselor at a “fat camp” in North Carolina, with the intention on bonding with Eden, a young girl who she thinks is her stepsister from her father’s mid-life affair.  While at camp, Gray ends up in a steamy affair with a fellow counselor and dealing with a lot of pre-teen angst from the campers.

This was the first book I’d read by Diana Spechler and I wanted to be more excited about it than I am.  While I didn’t hate SKINNY, I’m not inspired to think about the characters further. I thought the ending seemed rushed and Gray never did win me over.  I did like the actual writing even though I couldn’t relate to the story, and think Spechler’s debut, WHO BY FIRE, would be more my type of read.

Even though this book wasn’t my “pint of ice cream” I do think the author sheds light on some serious issues, and if even one young woman is helped then I heartily applaud SKINNY.  Check out Spechler’s website http://bodyconfession.com/ and share it for some more feel-goodness.  Also, stop by and see where else you can find SKINNY on tour here.

I’ve been living in NYC for well over a year now and I feel pretty at home in my ‘hood – which I’d consider to be the area below 14th Street and above Canal. Having lived in the East Village and now in SoHo, I have the East -> West covered.  Once hailing from St. Marks on the verge of the  area known as Alphabet City, I would skip through Tompkins Square Park to drink Mimosas at the great brunch spot of Sunburnt Cow on Avenue C.

Author Josh Karlen recently taught me that Avenue C hasn’t always been the eclectic, colorful place it is now in his memoir LOST LUSTRE: A New York Memoir.  While I still wouldn’t hang out there alone after dark (I don’t necessarily suggest one do that anywhere, really), when he grew up on this street it was colorful due to the bruises and bleeding that would happen after his repeated beatings and muggins, and eclectic because you could buy any drug you wanted.

Karlen’s recent memoir tells of the NYC your parents used to warn you about: the grimy and dangerous, yet vibrantly alive city of the past.

Composed of separate essays, this book did have many repeating parts (I can’t tell you how many times growing up on Avenue C was referred to in varying degrees of detail) but for lack of a better term, it had a good heart.  You cared about the author as a young boy coming of age in a dangerous time, and his talented and aspiring friends.  In a vein similar to The Glass Castle, I was shaking my head at the actions (or lack thereof) of the adults in this book.  He acknowledges the lack of authority and rules, but it’s mind bogling to think that parents were that unaware, uncaring and/or oblivious.

If you’re interested in social history through the years, music, or have a tie to the Village in Manhattan this memoir may be for you!

 

About Josh Karlen:

Josh Karlen, a native New Yorker, grew up on the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village.  A former journalist, he was a correspondent in the Baltics for United Press International, Radio Free Europe, and other news organizations.

Josh lives in New York City with his wife and two children and is a media relations specialist.

I’m sneaking this post in just in time! It’s my last day at work before a four-day long Labor Day weekend, and I’ve been wearing white clothes all week.  I hate when it’s time to relegate my white pants and dresses to the back of my closet (er, shoved under my bed since closet too small), not only because it indicates the dismissal of summer, but I just love happy, bright colors.

But, if I wanted to  bring back the memories of summer – the sunshine, swimming pools, green grass, wine, cocktails enjoyed while watching sunsets from the patio <swoon>, all I would need to do is re-read Danielle Ganek’s latest novel, THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY.

I read the iconic GREAT GATSBY post college, when I was in a selfish haze enjoying my first summer as an “adult” in Chicago.  I enjoyed the story and the fanciful clothing and setting, but think I missed some of the finer points of this “Great American Novel.”  Reading the importance (er, “influence on the character) of the novel in Ganek’s latest made me want to rush out and find a copy to read again (also, to discover that elusive first edition with dust jacket supposedly worth more than $100k!).

This is a fun read, starting off with highlighting the differences between two half- sisters, thrown together for a month in Southampton in the home of a now-deceased beloved aunt.  Pecksland (yes, that’s her name), better known as “Peck” is a 32 year old NYC society gal who’s a wannabe actress (I think we all know a few of these), while Stella Blue Cassandra Olivia Moriarty (who goes by Stella or Cassie) is a shy 28-year old brought up in with conservative European ways, with no living relatives other than the eccentric Peck.

The two sisters are both adrift in their lives, as Peck’s dreams have yet to be realized, while Stella recently went through a divorce and is still reeling from the death of her aunt.  The ramshackle bungalow in Southampton brings these two characters, along with a couple other “Fools” (their aunt was very supportive of struggling artists and allowed non-paying “fools” to live in the garage) and takes a fun romp through the bustling community that’s the Hamptons in the summer.  Obviously, their sharp edges towards each other become more like sea glass (how’s that analogy?!) as they warm up and end up actually liking each other.

Now I feel all nostalgia for my summer that’s over.  Ganek does a great job showing the dichotomy and place of the Hamptons – new money vs. old, and the huge new mansions though large in size may be small in taste.  There were fewer pool parties and wine tours than I would have expected – since really, what were these people doing all day!? But she did share friendships, love interests, family drama and a little bit of mystery.  This is truly a summer read (or a firelight read when you’re trying to bring back summer thoughts), best enjoyed on the Long Island Railroad, when you have a patio, pool and beach bonfire in your imminent future.

Oh yes, and the aunt’s name is Lydia so I think I see a Southampton bungalow in my future (dad, you reading this? It’d be a great 26th b-day gift/investment!).  I’ve already had quite the Southampton summer, thanks to my bf’s share house as well as Ganek’s sumptuous novel.

Good-Bye Hamptons, hello September.

Thompson St, SoHo, NYC - aka HOME!

FINALLY!  Not only did I earn this Wordless Wednesday post through two reviews since my first WW (I told myself no WW fun unless I write a review in between), but the blood, sweat and tears involved in this door make it a very deserving share.

I may or may not have mentioned that I abhor moving, but was doing so anyways due to our past landlord raising our already sky-high rent even higher (seriously, you non-NYC dwellers would be appalled).  So, after much debate my roommate and I made the big decision to move to a different, hopefully nicer, 650 sq. foot, er, palace.

Of course moving is never as easy as one would expect or hope – and I even anticipated difficulty – but I  had not foreseen being stuck in five days of moving purgatory/HELL when our lease ended slightly before our new one began.  With a couple very nice boyfriends, neither Liz nor I was sleeping in a box in Central Park, but we did pay more than $1k for storage for a meager half of our belongings.

Now, all of our stuff is contained within the lovely, but not exactly spacious, apartment inside the wonderful red door shown above! I love red doors, always have, so think it was very serendipitous of us to find this place. Now if only someone would come find space where there is none, so we don’t look like hoarders any more…

PS you should see my bookshelf.  I plan to post a picture soon! I got rid of so many books before I moved, but one visit to the Penguin giftshop and I’ve more than made up for it.

Sisters, City, Romance, Gay man friends, Family, Cocktails and… Waxing.

A story of NYC + Sisters seems like my type of novel, especially in these hot summer months when I need to escape the airlessness that can overtake my tiny NYC pad to go lie in a shady patch of green.

But even typing “patch of green” makes me cringe a bit, as I think of the Salon that this whole story is centered around.  I’m not easily embarrassed – I’m way too clumsy to blush over the occasional trip or the bruises that consistently appear from things hopping right in my way – but WAXED details some “below the belt” happenings that I would have preferred remained un-detailed.  I found myself to be rather distracted by the, er, unique setting that it was difficult to focus on the sisters.

From the publisher:

Waxed is the story of three relationship-challenged sisters working together at New York’s hottest waxing salon, catering to socialites, actresses, and regular folk alike.

Yank. On the surface, glamorous Carolina Impresario—big sister and owner of Impresarios—unapologetically wants it all, but secretly she is caught between her successful boyfriend and the only man she has ever truly loved.

Pluck. After a painful divorce, middle sister Anna reluctantly reenters the workforce and puts on a brave face while attempting to raise her children, one of whom is decidedly different.

Tear. Newlywed Sofia is a hybrid of her two older sisters: She loves the idea of a domestic life like Anna’s, but is entranced by New York nightlife and a new best friend, resulting in some major complications at home.

There was more than just hairless talk, as the three sisters had some complicated issues – I just wish I had been able to care more.  This book was a quick read, so we didn’t get to go in-depth with any of the characters but just skimmed the surface.  Carolina is a little too cold for comfort and I wish there had been a couple more cracks in her facade (and what happened with her “surprise” at the end).  Anna was sweet enough, but nothing stellar (though I did like her interactions with JJ and the way she accepted her children unconditionally).  Sofia was exploring herself and testing boundaries and was fun to follow along, though had some questionable behaviors that seemed to be in contradiction with other aspects of her described personality (which is totally allowed, just an observation… by far my favorite sister.  And wow, what a twist – yes, that’s intended to hook you!).

The winning character award goes to JJ, the eccentric elderly widow who is determined to live out The New Yorker’s “List of Things To Do in NYC Before You Die” before her terminal illness takes her.  Though Anna is written as the sidekick, the opposite is true – JJ was the highlight of this novel.

Side note – I tried to find this list, does anyone know if it really exists? The closest result Google delivered is the Facebook page called “New York Bucket List” here.

I’m more interested in the author than the characters, and I don’t really mean that as an insult.  His official bio is “Former New York City publicist, Robert Rave, has worked on numerous public relations campaigns and high profile special events in the lifestyle, fashion, nightlife and entertainment industries.  He is the author of SPiN and currently lives in Los Angeles.” But I suggest you visit his website at http://www.robertrave.com to learn more.  It’s so curious to me that a man chose to set a book around a waxing salon.  I enjoyed this book enough to want to pick up Robert’s SPiN when it comes out in paperback (which I think would be soon), as I think the public relations setting would appeal to my apparently prudish sensibilities more.

This book is the perfect pick for a beach read as it’s short enough to carry around without being weighed down and you can read it in one sitting – though be aware you may blush at some parts!  You can pick it up on Amazon here.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for hosting this book tour!  I invite you to take a look at the list of all blog hosts available here.

I like to think I’m not a superficial book buyer or reader (I trust you fellow bloggers to tell me about books!), but if I were to buy a book for its cover, I definitely would choose 31 BOND STREET.

Beyond the jacket, the cover language of: “A Novel of Murder, Innocence and Power in New York City” is very compelling. Additionally (like I need another reason), I walk by Bond Street at least once a day, as it’s located between my current apartment in the East Village and just about every other place I go.

Though the house of the “society dentist” in this novel no longer stands, the intersection of Bond Street and Bowery is still a hive of activity, with pedestrians walking and cabs honking all day and well into the night.  Though in this novel, the setting of 31 BOND STREET was in many ways a simpler time of horse-drawn carriages, though the simple times didn’t stop evil from rooting.

Based around a murder that stole the newspaper headlines back in 1857, this novel introduces us to the widowed Emma Cunningham, struggling financially while trying to hold her place in society and raise her two daughters (less raising them than trying to rope good husbands).  When a summer trip to Saratoga (which sounded like an old-fashioned Hamptons!) introduces Emma to wealthy dentist Harvey Burdell, she thinks her future is accounted for.

Bond St & Bowery intersection today

Upon moving in to Harvey’s brownstone at (you guessed it) 31 Bond Street, Emma awaits the marriage proposal she thinks is imminent.  The short time in this abode, she alienates the servants while making the location more pleasant for her daughter’s suitors.  It doesn’t take long for her to realize that while she’s sleeping with Harvey, she may not be next in line to be Mrs. Burdell.

Then Harvey is found brutally murdered, his head almost detached from his neck.  With no witnesses, Emma is quickly the only suspect.

Filled with power, corruption and greed, this novel has many strands of historical significance weaving through.  From the “good” lawyers to political corruption to issues of slavery and power, it is not only a courtroom drama but a colorful fictional look at a different time.

Beyond the rough-edged paper, my other favorite unique aspect of this book were the fictional clips from The New York Times, which did a wonderful job setting the scene and lending a feeling of legitimacy to the time and place.

While I enjoyed the historical imagery, throughout the book I was disappointed by the lack of emotion felt by all characters.  Not once does Emma seem to consider falling in love with Harvey (or anyone else), nor does she seem to have many maternal affections toward her daughters beyond finding them a suitable husband.  I found the most feelings to be from the lawyer who seems to accept Emma’s case rather spontaneously and accept the loss of position with a prestigious law firm.  I also enjoyed the young character John.  Beyond those, I was surprised by how unemotional the book felt, when murder trials typically incite very passionate responses.

This is a wonderful book for readers who appreciate historical details and a setting painted with a talented hand.  It really did take me back to a different time period.  If you enjoyed Jed Rubenfeld’s THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER you should definitely pick up 31 BOND STREET.

You can find this debut novel for sale on Amazon, B&N, Borders and IndieBound.  I look forward to Horan’s next novel.

Thank you to TLC Book Blog Tour for planning this tour!  Hop over and visit the rest of the tour stops here.

There is endless entertainment to be found in the incorrectly, humorously translated signs featured in the “Strange Signs from Abroad” article on the NYT:

I found myself laughing in the obvious, and for the most part harmless, confusion on display as language barriers turn toilets into fishing ponds and the occasional crude translation.

But it also makes me think to my own confusion (and I admit, occasional irritation) as I try to order take out from the delicious Thailand Cafe (for you NYC’ers, make note they open their front windows and have $5 pineapple lychee mojito specials) down Second Ave, and I look at my iPhone in confusion, wondering is my voice breaking up? It says I have full service so why are they not understanding that I want pad thai and cashew chicken with brown rice?  So I speak louder, thinking if only I can enunciate enough it will be understood, and my order won’t incorrectly be beef chow-mein or spicy noodles.

Obviously, the problem isn’t my phone (though seriously, AT&T if you’re reading this, do something about my dropped calls pleasssssssssssssse) but the language barrier between my English and the order-taker’s non.  I’m not ignorant though – I only speak one language (and I think to think I speak it well, but still – single language speaker here) as opposed to these people crossing oceans and coming not understanding a single word spoken and somehow picking it up… which is just incredible.

My thoughts seem to be all over the place, but really my point is to suggest that you read GIRL IN TRANSLATION, the amazing debut novel from Jean Kwok.  A Riverhead title, I first read this book in manuscript form on my patio last year and was instantly hooked.  I could feel the pain of protagonist Kimberly Chang as she and her mother immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn and lost everything along the way.  History, tradition, language… everything was gone, and replaced with poverty and sweatshops and a freezing cold apartment during NYC winters.

What really struck me about this novel is how Kwok was able to capture the confusion of languages.  She explains how Chinese sounds to outsiders, and her mother’s struggle at understand the English language.  And in this situation, when it really is life, it’s not funny like the signs shown above.  Also incredible is how Kimberly measures cost by how many skirts she and her mother would have to clean at the sweat shop:  “…the jackets cost at least 20,000 skirts each.” – it gives a whole new value to the dollar.

So my point to  you (and a reminder to myself) is to have tolerance and patience.  My intention is not to make this book sound like a downer – it’s a lovely summer read and definitely one you can share with your mom, sister, and any YA reader in you life.  In fact, I suggest you do share it with them; it will give you lots of discussion and things for which to be thankful!

The Radiance Tea House & Books -and- The Great Jones Spa

The title should actually be “oases,” since I have plural to share, but let’s just admit the correct form looks funny and doesn’t carry the same impact as the palm-tree, sunshine and calm that “oasis” does.

This was a much anticipated weekend for me, since not only was it extended (thank you, President’s Day), but one of my best friends and much-missed roommate from Chicago was visiting for the first time.

Radiance Tea Room NYC experiences

Beyond the hugs and laughter, booze and bars, shopping and strolling, was an overall fantastic NYC experience (I like to think phase one of her eventual move here).  One of the places we visited (in addition to the New York Public Library – which was gorgeous and inspiring) was the Radiance Tea House & Books.

You all know I fear disappointment, and having been here once before with my Mom and Sister for a tea tasting that was absolutely fabulous, I was nervous that my second experience wouldn’t live up to my very high expectations.

Luckily I was wrong (and I don’t say that often).

The ambiance is tranquil, with moving water, soft scents, colorful accents and tea sets for sale and a book collection – all with Asian overtones.  Charlotte and I shared a pot of tea for two and the best soup I’ve ever tasted. Not being one for extremely healthy bittles, I was skeptical of the all natural, gogi berry, fig, chicken, broth concoction, but my new age-y side came out and I tried it – to find it absolutely delightful and rival the dumplings for my favor.

Now, for the books that compare to this delightful experience are as follows:

  • SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See: Though this book is far from tranquil as it follows the struggles between sisters as they escape China and have to carve out new lives in the different world and culture of LA in the 1930s, it’s an obvious choice due to its Asian focus and the detailed description of culture and color, which immediately bring my rich Tea House experience.
  • LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH by Emily Giffin: The obvious is that much of this chic-lit novel takes place in NYC.  But there’s also the deeper, underlying questioning we women tend to do upon making any big decision, and there’s no better solution than to talk things over with your best friends – hence this choice.
  • I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE by Sloane Crosley: Another NYC setting, but this one depicts the city in all its reality, told in a fresh and real voice.  Crosley’s essays are relevant, hilarious, often too relatable and she has that enviable skill to be an incredibly talented writer that at the same times makes you feel as if your own stories are worth sharing.

After Charlotte leaves early Monday morning, I lie in bed, drained from our activity and other debauchery.  Luckily, I happened to be swept away on a wonderful date to the rejuvenating oasis of Great Jones Spa.

Armed with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, a bikini and very pale skin (though luckily, Char and I had indulged in a nail session, so my fingers and toes were appropriately glowing) – we arrived at the “Water Lounge” around 3pm.

Needless to say, it was a decadent experience.  Traipsing between the “River Rock Sauna, Chakra Light Steam Room, Thermal Hot Tub, and Cold Plunge” then relaxing in a chaise reading while wrapped in a fluffy robe it was the perfect way to spend a snowy day off work.

I plan to make this a yearly President’s Day thing – I have no doubt the company may change, but I’m hoping the experience remains the same!

Corresponding reading material:

  • PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen: Though the Bennett sisters lacked the accommodations of the spa, there was plenty of innocent flirting taking place throughout the watery haven.  There’s no better place to read about Jane & her Mr. Darcy than drinking tea under the lights of a fake palm tree.
  • OLIVIA JOULES AND THE OVERACTIVE IMAGINATION by Helen Fielding: Why? Well because it’s fun, frothy and an escape from reality.  Though Fielding does a nice job integrating bigger issues (9/11) into this frolicking tale.  It’s an experience akin to reading The Economist (not kidding, my man friend did) at the spa.
  • ROUGH COUNTRY by John Sandford: Though Virgil Flowers may not be an obvious choice, this hilarious mystery does take part near a women’s spa/camp in Minn.  And Flowers is known for enjoying a relaxing time in his fishing boat, so I don’t doubt he would enjoy the sound of running water here.

Great Jones Spa

I want this:

Rowing in Central Park

NOT THIS:

Time for this:

(replace cold looking drink with hot toddy)

Thank you, dear work, for closing your doors to the elements at 3pm.  Time to go trek home and warm up in front of the gasping radiator, with a hot toddy and a good book (title tbd).

For those others of you heading home early on this wintery Wednesday, I suggest you make my simple hot toddy too!  Make tea (anything black tea works – I personally like mango and lemon, through raspberry wasn’t horrible), add a splash (“splash” is at your whim) of whiskey, lemon juice and a dose of honey, and watch the flakes swirl down.

I know this is rather a cop-out, but since I like to think so many of you are worried about me in my blogging absence I didn’t want to be a total failure!

Week in recap

Reading:

  • SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT by Beth Hoffman – very sweet novel of a young girl growing up surrounded by strong women.  Reminiscent of THE HELP, though not as epic.  Worth picking up – Beth Hoffman is an author to watch!
  • IMPERFECT BIRDS by Anne Lamott – My first experience with Anne Lamott, but I now understand why she has such a huge, devoted fan base.   A tough story to read about family struggles, mainly with a mom and her daughter doing drugs.  Will be sending to my own mom so she can better appreciate just how well-behaved I really was in high school! Will be available April 6, from Riverhead
  • THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak – I’ve read several WWII novels lately, and this title (told from the perspective of Death), may be my favorite.  I also highly suggest another recent read, CITY OF THIEVES (which my friend Max guest-blogged about last month).
  • Also worth noting, this coming Tuesday, 2/9, marks the release of the highly anticipated THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake – a novel based on three women with intersecting lives in the time of WWII.  This deserves a far better written review, but since I am incapable of doing such high-level things at the moment, I invite you to wander on over to Serendipitous Reading and KellyVision for their takes (if you’ve also written a review, I’d love for you to leave your link!)

Imbibed (to be filed, eventually, in my “city-imbibing” page):

  • My roommate Liz and I have a couch-sleeper for a bit, and we went out to celebrate her return to NYC with our favorite sushi restaurant, Typhoon, which happens to conveniently be located two store fronts from our apartment.  During the week all sushi is 50% off and it is delicious.  I can’t recommend highly enough the green tea fried ice cream to top off the meal!
  • Drank: a delicious Red Rhone Wine, courtesy of my classy and cultured OUB & OAD.  I’ve been informed the grapes are from Italy – the wine was so tasty I would really like to go pick some of my own grapes from the countryside.
  • Nothing like some Spanish dancing to kick off Friday early (and by early, I mean late on  Thursday night).  I have no rhythm, but after several mojitos at the Meat Packing’s Son Cubana, even I could merengue!  The food was fabulous (the goat cheese croquettes were to die for) and the live band made it feel quite exotic.

Also, in my total nerdy, authors-as-celebrities mind, I got to meet Chang-rae Lee!!!!!!!!!!  If you’ve never experienced his writing, I highly suggest you pre-order his upcoming novel THE SURRENDERED and prepare yourself to become totally immersed.

I took this picture myself - one lucky photographer!

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