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Since I’m trying to aggregate multiple loves into one blog (books, brunch, bites and booze), I have a new plan for posting reviews on my City Imbibing page.

  1. I’m first going to write my review on this main page
  2. If the experience lends itself to a book, I will make the connection
  3. I will then add a shortened review to my City Imbibing section
  4. I know this isn’t all that exciting, but it feels like a personal epiphany

My inaugural post now begins –

Shoolbred's

“Get drunk by the fire at Shoolbred’s.  We did that last winter and Fab Moretti showed up.”

— Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend Guitarist)

Shoolbreds: A neighborhood favorite (East Village – 2nd Ave btwn 12th & 13th), this bar is my go-to hangout on these cold winter evenings (afternoons, mornings…).  It boasts four coveted seats by a crackling fireplace (you have to lurk, ready to pounce as soon as the seats are available) as well as a “buy one get a token for another free one” beer and well-drink special from 4-8pm every single day.  Though not included in this special, they make a wonderful hot toddy (may beat my own personal recipe), delicious spinach and artichoke dip and lamb sliders.  Another advantage to the flocked-velvet decor is the lack of tacky illumination due to flickering TV screens – this is moving-picture-free-zone.

My beloved fireplace experiences with Shoolbred’s does lend itself well to Winter-based novels.  Two very different titles immediately come to mind:

  • SNOW ANGELS by James Thompson: I reviewed this in greater detail here, but this thrilling noir mystery set in the very cold, snow covered, 24-hours of darkness country of Finland will make you shiver and have a greater appreciation for the fireplace.
  • NERD GONE WILD: The antithesis of Thompson’s scary debut, this book is in Vicki Lewis’s humorous Nerd Series.  It’s a cozy, quirky romance set in the wildness of Alaska, with endearing character and laughable “enemies.”  This is a total guilty indulgence – get your hand out of that cookie jar and give this a try (hold the neon-colored jacket proudly).
  • THE GLASS CASTLE: Most of you have probably already read this memoir from Jeanette Walls, that became a bestseller after astounded readers all over told their friends about the author’s horrible childhood.  It’s a book that makes you appreciate what you have – and respect those who go without.  At the same time, I hated the book and found it hard not to shake it (as a way to reach the characters), since the parents were so capable and made life hell for their children, when it may not have been necessary to suffer…

I’ll leave you with these pictures our assistant took of Central Park yesterday afternoon, of the “SnOwMG” (she was brave to venture into the weather, while I was safely ensconced at, you know this, Shoolbred’s)-

Central Park 02/10/2010

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Cover Blurb:  “Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society BookSweet but never boring.  Intense but never overdone.  Inspiring but never preaching.  Loving but never raunchy.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a rare novel, one that comes into our life without a sound, but leaves having made an imprint on our soul.

Such an odd, cumbersome title, and one that may have never appealed to me personally except Random House professionals, Susan Kamil, SVP, Editor-in-Chief, and Jane Von Mehren, VP, Publisher, Trade Paperbacks, came to my NYU SPI class to share their experience and the road to success.  This title is globally recognized as this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List since publication in 2008 (read the inside story of how it achieved such fame in my column on Beneath the Cover, “The Making of a Bestseller”).  Small in stature (the trade paperback a mere 274 pages), this book may initially be cast-off as a whimsical historical fiction novel until you try to put it down… I dare you to leave it untouched for a full 24-hours once you’ve begun.

The characters are lively, quirky, and lovable as they communicate via hand-written letters in 1946, as they rediscover themselves and their world post the trauma and impact of World War II.  You find yourself wanting novelist Juliet Ashton as your own pen pal and quiet Dawsey Adams as a neighbor.  Twists and turns are discrete and natural so that you almost don’t realize when a revelation occurs and the impact in the character’s life.

This novel celebrates people who love books and the written word.  Text, language and history are embraced within remarkable friendships.

Though the era has passed, issues of love, hope, and the kindness of the human spirit will always be timeless and this book (I wager) is destined to become a classic alongside the titles of the authors celebrated in the text, including the Brontes, Austen, Shakespeare, etc… This book  appeals to a wide audience, as it is told from multiple perspectives allowing a glimpse into different psyches.  I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, above, to give yourself the gift of this book.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A
  • Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Publisher: Random House

Sundays are notoriously unproductive (is this true across the board or just for my roomies and I?), typically spent lolling around in front of the Lifetime Movie Channel or, weather permitting, relaxing on the pool deck, rejuvenating from what was undoubtedly a raucous weekend.  So it makes me proud to say that yesterday, I accomplished quite the feat: one sushi meal with Char at RA, one Lifetime movie (the disturbing & sad Natalee Holloway one), three cups of tea and two books!

Quite unintentionally, both books I read dealt with ghosts/spirits/other-worldly forms of energy.  The protagonist in Joshilyn Jackson’s The Girl Who Stopped Swimming saw the ghost come to her of the young girl who drowned in the pool while Ronlyn Domingue writes a captivating tale from the ghost’s perspective in The Mercy of Thin Air.

girlwhostoppedswimmingThe Girl Who Stopped Swimming is Jackson’s third novel, following Gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia.  Having read them all, I’ve come to realize that Jackson employs a formula in each: Takes place in the South, involves a family secret, poor relatives and a young woman.  While these traits are shared, each book is individual, offering a different story and secret to be uncovered.

The secret in The Girl Who Stopped Swimming begins to unravel once Laurel finds the body of her daughter’s tween friend floating in her pool.  After enlisting her free-spirited sister, Thalia, to help, Laurel discovers more than she had anticipated about her marriage, her daughter, DeLop (the oppressed town of impoverished relatives), the murder in her past and even about herself.  An enlightening novel that makes the reader question happiness and wonder about their own ghosts, outside their line of vision.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
  • Author: Joshilyn Jackson
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)

mercyofthinairHard to believe The Mercy of Thin Air is Domingue’s first novel.  Written with such insight and conviction, even a non-believer like myself questions reality.  Told in first person by the intelligent and vivacious Raziela Nolan after her tragic death at the turning point of her life, it tells the story of love that doesn’t die with the body.

Even though Razi dies in 1929 at the age of 22, the story carries the characters up into the 21st century, as she stays “between” – invisible to mortals but remaining on Earth. Her  tale is intertwined with the love story of a couple struggling through their relationship and hidden past, whose lives intersect with the one Razi left behind.  Interesting subplots abound: Razi’s dedication to educating women on their reproductive options when this knowledge was illegal (apparently in the 1920s pregnancy was the only job women were expected to do), the growth and development of independent women, the relationships with other souls in “between” and the life of her great love.

Both The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and The Mercy of Thin Air are more than love stories, though I do feel they appeal to women readers much more than men.  I consider myself to be grounded in reality and both these books made me more open to the presence of those we can’t see.  The next time I feel a cold draft or smell a scent that seems out of place I may have to smile, wondering if possibly a spirit is sharing in my experience. Who is to say otherwise?

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
  • Title: The Mercy of Thin Air
  • Author: Ronlyn Domingue
  • Publisher: Atria Books (Simon & Schuster)

I do, however, suggest you read these books at least a few days apart.  I had a hard time sleeping last night imagining the spirits hovering around my bed!

Whimsical.  Flippant.  Frivolous. Fun.  Light-Hearted.  Carefree.  Pointless.  Irreverent.  Humorous.  Tongue-in-Cheek.  Wishful.

“Remember Me?” is my latest guilty indulgence from Sophie Kinsella, British author of the omnipresent “Shopaholic” series, available now in a bookstore and movie theater near you.

The book follows Lexi, the lovable protagonist, through London, trying to patch together the past three years of which her memory is lost due to a car accident.  Like the fairy-tale dream many a girl has (even if we choose not to admit it!), she wakes up in a hospital bed surrounded by luxury belongings, a glossy new appearance and a gorgeous husband, though she has no recollection how they came into her possession.

Though amnesia is a serious issue, Kinsella makes the whole thing a comedy from the marriage manual (including detailed foreplay instructions) drafted by her dreamy husband, to the klepto-sister.  There are deeper issues twisting through the tale, from an emotionally distant mother, an affair that can’t be remembered and being the “bitch-boss” at work, that all lead up to a cute, if not memorable, ending.

Read this if: You enjoy escapism, and are seeking a light-hearted read to take you away from the happenings in your life.  You’re looking for a book to entertain you, not change your life.

Avoid this if: You deal in reality and have no appreciation for the frivolous entertainment provided by a true “chick-lit” book.

  • remember-me-1Title:  Remember Me?
  • Author: Sophie Kinsella
  • Publisher: Dial Press
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+

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