Tag Archives: NYC

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Word Lily review

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), 240 pages

Pearl feels like the very uncool little sister, especially compared to the great life Lexie (eighth grade) has — with a boyfriend, tons of friends, great grades — while Pearl’s only boyfriend is the cat, Bitey (the name’s not ironic), and she doesn’t even have her own key to the apartment.

I picked this up because it’s by the Ann M. Martin, the author of the Baby-Sitters’ Club books, and I’d just had a conversation about reading those books and was feeling nostalgic. It also didn’t hurt that I knew it would be a quick read! 🙂

This was a fun story about starting to know yourself and growing up, grasping some self-control. I felt for the character, who was moved ahead in school based on academic testing but perhaps before she was ready for it socially.

The “hand-drawn” lists and charts are a definite plus.

It’s been a bit since I read a middle grade book, but this one felt like it skewed a bit younger than most/some. The protagonist is (just barely) 9 years old.

Rating: 3 stars

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Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

Word Lily review

Certain Women: A Novel by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992), 351 pages

Told mainly from the perspective of up-and-coming stage actress Emma Wheaton, Certain Women is primarily a family drama. (And what a complicated family it is!) World War II bisects the narrative. Actor David Wheaton, Emma’s father, is dying, and his mind is filled with what ifs, focusing around his ex-wives and children, but viewed through the lens of something else he left undone, a play about the David of the Old Testament.

I really loved L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time — that whole series really — when I read them in my preteen years, but in the last couple years I’ve heard a few naysayers, so I was eager to experience L’Engle again and see if I still appreciated her writing. I wasn’t disappointed.

The story feels very modern, to the extent that I sometimes forgot it’s set in an earlier time.

I loved the interplay between the Baptist and Episcopal grandparents and ideas. She portrayed the back-and-forth (but ultimately unified) positions well.

The writing is splendid.

One complaint: I grew tired of what felt like harping on the connections and/or differences between the two stories, though. On the one hand, it makes sense, since Dave Wheaton is so obsessed with the biblical David, but the comparisons still felt a bit forced on me. Since the story’s told from Emma’s perspective, it might have been nicer to just let it flow.

Now, getting back to the writing (examples):

‘I listen to my characters better than I listen to anybody else. That’s not good.’ They had reached their building and he let go of Emma’s hand to reach for his key.

‘No, it’s not good, but I think maybe it’s true of all artists. When I’m working on a role I listen to my character. And I listen better than I listen to myself. Or to you.’

~page 260, Certain Women

“Maybe we have to sin, to know ourselves human, faulty, and flawed, before there is any possibility of greatness.”

~page 326, Certain Women

“I don’t have answers to the questions, at least not yet, but I have some good questions.”

~page 333, Certain Women

Rating: 4.5 stars

[I read this for the Faith ‘n’ Fiction Round Table; I posted Saturday about a theme I discovered in its pages, Serve the Gift.]

About the author
Madeleine L’Engle is the author of many acclaimed and popular works for adults and children, including the Newbery-winning A Wrinkle in Time and her autobiography, The Crosswicks Journal.

Other reviews
The 3 R’s Blog
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Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

I quite liked Certain Women, my first foray into the adult fiction by Madeleine L’Engle. The book sets up the mid-century family sired by actor Dave Wheaton as a counterpoint and entree into a closer look at the biblical David. And yet the book is really more about the fictional family. Told from the perspective of daughter Emma, quite a bit of the story centers around the stage, since acting is something Emma and her father share. (The family also includes producers, directors, musicians….)

This was the first time I’d seen the phrase (exhortation, really) in print: Serve the gift. In Certain Women, it’s almost a thread running through the entire story.

‘David truly believed that although he himself was the Lord’s anointed, so was Saul, and the Lord’s anointed must not be dishonored.’

‘The Lord’s anointed,’ Emma mused, pressing closer to Nik as a gust of west wind made her stagger slightly. ‘Do you believe that?’

‘The anointing of kings?’ Nik raised his dark brows. The wind from the river was ruffling his hair. ‘Maybe, when being a king was a talent and a vocation, not something political.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What about your father? Isn’t he in a way also the Lord’s anointed? Where did his incredible gift of acting come from? Granted, he serves it well, he hasn’t wasted or perverted his talent as some artists do, but what about the talent in the first place?’

‘Is it maybe genetic?’ Emma asked.

Nik shook his head violently. ‘I don’t want all our gifts relegated to genes and chromosomes. Although I’m sure that would have satisfied my father.’

‘And your mother?’

‘She believed in gifts. And that I have one as a writer.’

‘You do.’

‘So all I can do is serve the gift. I’d give anything if I could serve mine as well as your father serves his.’

‘He tries,’ Emma said slowly. ‘When he’s working on a role it has nothing do do with his private life.’

Certain Women, page 163

The phrase, the idea, stuck out to me because it was hammered on at Hutchmoot last year, and it’s not really left me since.

As I understand it, it means that the artist has been given this giant gift, but with it comes a big responsibility. Not everyone has this gift, and so to be worthy of it, to do right by that gifting, the artist must throw himself into his work, must prove himself worthy of the gift almost.

Which … is something I’m not sure I believe. We’ve all been gifted, with talents, skills, abilities. Why would those in artistic arenas be held to a higher standard? In my head I’m connecting this to the artist-as-genius mentality.

Now, L’Engle draws a line between serving the gift and dying to yourself, which can be seen in the quote above. But still, I’m not convinced this is right.

Maybe, despite all that, I can buy into the serve-the-gift concept, though. Perhaps the phrase draws on the idea that creativity is part of being an Image-bearer, being one made in the image of God. Enh, I’m still not sure.

What do you think about serving the gift? What does it mean to you, do you agree with the idea?

For more posts on Certain Women, please visit:
My Friend Amy Book Addiction, Book Hooked Blog, Books and Movies, Crazy for Books, Ignorant Historian, Linus’s Blanket, My Random Thoughts, One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, Roving Reads, Semicolon, The 3R’s Blog, Tina’s Book Reviews, Victorious Cafe

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Riverhead, April 29, 2010), 304 pages

Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. They don’t speak English and they’re beholden to the relatives that helped them make the journey. Kimberly is a very intelligent girl — math and science come easiest in her new environment. Her mother, in Hong Kong, was an accomplished musician. Their only ticket out of their unforeseen but deplorable situation is Kimberly’s education.

This multicultural, coming-of-age story is set in New York City. Chinatown, sweatshop. The juxtaposition of Kimberly Chang’s school world and her work/home world is stark, saddening. I don’t always like coming-of-age stories, but this one, with its many other factors in its favor, is a winner.

Girl in Translation is absorbing, I was caught up in the story and the world before the first chapter ended. It’s delightful and painful and vivid.

I love the characters, I love the story, I love the writing. Such a great book!

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how Kwok helps the reader understand, in little bits, what it’s like to feel illiterate by representing phonetically other speakers’ poorly enunciated words. For example, on page 24 [of an uncorrected proof], when Kimberly arrives at her school for the first time:

We showed her the letter from the school. “Go downda hall, two fights up, classroom’s firsdur left,” she said, pointing.

I love this!

Oh, this is just a great book. I know I’m gushing, but I don’t feel like I’m going too far; this book deserves gushing. Read an excerpt of Girl in Translation.

About the author
Jean Kwok (Kwok’s blog, @JeanKwok) was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Brooklyn as a child. She received her bachelor’s from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia. After working as an English teacher and Dutch-English translator at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Kwok now writes full-time.

Other reviews
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Devourer of Books
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Reading Extravaganza
Novel Whore

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I received this book from the publisher.

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan (Harper, March 30, 2010), 352 pages

31 Bond Street opens in 1857 New York City. Wealthy dentist Harvey Burdell is found brutally murdered, in his own home. Emma Cunningham, the widowed mother of two teenage daughters, is accused of the murder, but not before she’s trapped inside her home for weeks by officials with not-so-secret political ambitions. Henry Clinton puts his reputation and practice on the line to defend her.

Everything seemed aligned for me to absolutely love this book. A murder mystery, set in a historical framework, with racial, gender and socioeconomic issues in the fore. It touches on the impact of both the press and the law on peoples’ lives. What could be better?

The novel is a fictional account of an (apparently famous) actual murder trial, which is fun. I enjoyed the illustrations and snippets from newspapers that opened some chapters. Interestingly, my favorite characters were minor players.

I was a bit annoyed at how the narrative went back and forth in time. I had trouble keeping track of the chronology at times, although usually a nonlinear narrative isn’t a problem for me. It was incredibly slow getting around to the information that did, eventually, make me care deeply about this book. Still these are minor issues.

I found the setting absolutely engrossing, vividly drawn and fascinating. I love when that happens!

Bottom line: 31 Bond Street didn’t quite wow me, but I’ll definitely be looking forward to more from Horan. This was a fun, enjoyable read, a great story.

Read an excerpt.

There’s been talk of a movie based on the book — I think it would make a terrific film — and anyone who has read the book can enter the “Cast the Movie” Contest; the prize is handmade truffles from Bond Street Chocolates as well as a signed first edition of the book. The contest is open internationally; it closes August 31, 2010.

About the author
Ellen Horan previously worked as a freelance photo editor for magazines and books in New York City. She has a background in painting and visual art. 31 Bond Street is her first novel.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops for 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan.

Other reviews
Devourer of Books
Bookin’ with Bingo
Killin’ Time Reading
The Book Book

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I received this book from the publisher, as part of the TLC book tour.

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

The Singer’s Gun: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books, May 4, 2010), 304 pages

This book is hard to give a good overview of without giving too much away. And I’m glad I went into this without knowing too much.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this book, and I’m glad. I *had* heard much anticipation and acclaim for the story before I picked it up. My enjoyment of this story was probably hindered by my limited reading time, which came in fits and starts, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.

Atmospheric. (Whenever I use that word I’m reminded of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón — high praise, high praise indeed.) Although I wouldn’t place this book completely in that realm, there are certain similarities. This may be my favorite aspect of the book. The prose and imagery were grand.

Some sex, some violence, some profanity. And while the characters’ moral compasses were swinging wildly, these factors didn’t overpower the story. I didn’t love or even fully relate to any of the characters, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Part literary — the bonds of family! Part thriller — international crime! false identities! (Perhaps my favorite combination!) I liked this book, it was mostly an enjoyable read, with sparks of more, but I didn’t fall in love with this book.

I look forward to reading more of Mandel’s work in the future, but it won’t be on the top of my must-have list. I kind of wish I’d started with Last Night in Montreal instead.

About the author
Emily St. John Mandel (@EmilyMandel) is also the author of Last Night In Montreal. She lives in Brooklyn.

Other reviews
She Is Too Fond of Books
I’m Booking It
Lit and Life
S. Krishna’s Books
The Book Lady’s Blog
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

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I received this book from the publisher, as part of the one-year subscription I won.

Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman

Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman (Harper, March 16, 2010), 384 pages

Charlie left a high-paying position on Wall Street to open her Brooklyn yoga studio. She attends her 10-year college reunion hoping to drum up business, but while she’s there she reconnects with three former classmates, who, like her, haven’t ended up quite where they planned.

• Sabine edits romance novels but hasn’t gotten around to writing her own book yet.
• Naomi hasn’t picked up her camera in years and is now a single mom doing web design.
• Bess has always dreamed of doing real journalism but instead writes cutlines (photo captions) for a gossip rag.

Balancing Acts struck me as kind of a cross between Sex in the City and Jennie Nash’s The Only True Genius in the Family.

I really enjoyed this book. I particularly loved how Fishman used yoga to not only facilitate the story and its progression — the four former classmates agree to meet for a six-session closed beginner’s class — but also to really inform and illustrate the whole of each character’s life.

Overall, the characters are believable and likable. I loved the focus on creativity and the arts in each of their lives.

This is a small thing, but: I’m really surprised by how technologically illiterate the main characters are. I’m the same age they are (although I don’t live in New York City and I’m not in the same life stage), and I’m much more in tune with technology than basically any of these women are.

Familiarity with yoga isn’t a factor in liking this book; although I’m somewhat interested in yoga, I’ve never done any yoga (unless you count Wii Fit).

If this is women’s fiction (Oh, all these labels!), it’s the first book I’ve heard called that I’ve actually enjoyed. This was a quick read, and I’m very glad I read it.

About the author
Zoe Fishman lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband. Balancing Acts is her first novel.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops for Balancing Acts by Zoe Fishman.

Other reviews
S. Krishna’s Books
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Write Meg
Books, Movies and Chinese Food

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I received this book from the publisher, as part of the TLC book tour.