As many of you may know, I am no longer a New Yorker, so please check out my new blog A Library of My Own. If you are just reading Life and Times, you are missing out. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Non-Fiction Challenge - Complete!

Yay! I've completed another challenge, Trish's Non-Fiction Challenge. Ok...sort of. It ended in September so I'm a tad bit late...but who's counting. Not me!

The books are definitely not the ones I thought I was going to read. It's funny because these were all sort of humorous memoir type of books. Totally a new subject area for me.

Here's the list:

1. When You are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris (Finished May 19, 2009)
2. The Red Leather Diary - Lily Koppel (Finished May 07, 2009)
3. Julie & Julia - Julie Powell (Finished August 25, 2009)
4. A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut (Finished December 28, 2009)
5. Holidays on Ice - David Sedaris (Finished December 30, 2009)

**Apparently I'm also reluctant to review these, although I will. Maybe because I find it hard to critically review someone else's personal life. Hmm...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red Leather Diary Winner!

I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season! For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas Eve. Right now I'm at work. Yeah. Seriously.

So I thought I'd announce the winner of The Red Leather Diary.

The winner is...


She mentioned that she had just read the book Forever Liesl: A Memoir of the Sound of Music
I love that movie!

I hope you enjoy this one as well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Just two photos

Thanks to everyone who put in suggestions for taking NYC photos! Last Sunday after it dumped 10 or so inches on us, I took my little camera and went walking. Central Park was so beautiful and everyone was out walking and sledding. I'll post those pictures as soon as I get them uploaded.

In the meantime, here's a couple that I took with my phone.

I was definitely glad I wore my winter boots. Look at all that slush!

After walking through a bit of Central Park I grabbed coffee and breakfast at Cosi.

**More to come soon!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Your choice! - NYC photos

Today is cold here in New York City. It finally feels like winter. I haven't been much in the Christmas mood but with Christmas a week away, it's about time I get in the spirit of things. Hopefully you all can help me!

This weekend I'm going to bop around the city, picking up last minute gifts...and I want you all to enjoy the site of the city during favorite time of year.

Tell me what you want to see. Do you want to see the Rockefeller tree, Bryant Park ice skaters, outdoor Christmas markets, or fancy office Christmas trees?

Just fill out the form below and let me know! Please at least put your name so I can acknowledge whoever gives me ideas. Hopefully I can show you some fun Christmas in city photos and you can help me get in the Christmas spirit.

**This photo is my mom and me last winter in Times Square -- it was so so cold.

Thursday's Tunes

Thursday's Tunes is something I graciously stole from S. Krishna's blog. She's got a great taste in music so go check her tunes out!

Yesterday, my husband and I went to see one of my favorite bands, Stellastarr*. I first saw them five years ago in Colorado when a little up-and-coming band called The Killers opened for them. How cool is that? I love the lead singer's voice and the bass player's name is Amanda, so obviously I'm a fan. They are a New York City band so it was cool to see them her at the Bowery Ballroom (my favorite venue in the city).

Here's a few videos:

The first song of theirs that I loved. The video is so cute:

Love this artsy video:

This song gets stuck in my head all the time:

Hope you enjoyed the tunes!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

I had heard so much about Audrey Niffenegger's book Her Fearful Symmetry, that I had to check it out at the library. After I had read it, I won a copy from the book's Facebook page. How cool is that? A long long while back I had read The Time Traveler's Wife and like it. A bit sad but it was good.

But what to say about this one? I'm so torn. There are good things about the story but I think I was a bit overwhelmed by what I didn't like. That didn't stop me from devouring it though.

(Side note: I was reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman at the same time, just by chance, which was weird since they both center around Highgate Cemetery in London. Neil even acknowledges Audrey at the end of his book. Pretty cool!)

The short and sweet of it:

It's all about twins. At the beginning of the book, Elspeth, who is living in London dies. Her estranged twin, Edie, lives in America with two daughters (twins) of her own. Elspeth's will designates that her 20-year old nieces, Julia and Valentina, stay for a year in her apartment in London. The London apartment is near Highgate Cemetery and has a couple other tenants including Robert, a cemetery researcher and Elspeth's lover. It's about graves, ghosts, twins, mistaken identities, love, obsession, possession, desire....relationships. A good psychological ghost story.

Highgate Cemetery is written as almost the central character. It's got such a history, some famous deceased, and just beautifully creepy decor. I don't want to use photos without permission so just Google for some. So cool. Here's one of the entrance to the Egyptian Avenue in the cemetery (from wikipedia).
Her writing is outstanding. I really feel like I've been to the Highgate. Definitely read this book during the fall/winter months.

Oddly enough, even though this book revolves around a cemetery and ghosts...that wasn't the creepy part of the book. The relationships in this book where SO creepy. First: the whole mystery with why Elspeth and Edie are estranged....yeah weird. Then Valentina becomes romantically involved with someone, I won't tell you who. But VERY creepy. Finally, Valentina and Julia's relationship is creepy. Actually, Valentina and Julia are just creepy in general. Although they are 20 years old, they sound, act, and dress like they are five. The other cover of the book shows them in their typical creepy white garb:
So while the writing and the cemetery is amazing, the characters are just so creepy and irritating. The only character I really liked was the other apartment tenant, Martin, who's OCD tendencies were bizarre but in a weird twisted way, more normal than the rest of the characters' odd quirks.

I think I would have ranked this book higher but I just did NOT like the end. After the slow descriptive pace of most of the book, the ending was WHAM WHAM WHAM: The End. Amazingly, the creepiness of the ending surpassed all the previous creepiness of the book.

I also shouldn't have been reading The Graveyard Book at the same time because I LOVED that one. Maybe I am judging this book to harshly.

Also Reviewed By:

Stuff as Dreams are Made On...

It's All About Me (time)
FyreFly's Book Blog
Bibliolatry at Pajiba
Books I Done Read
At Home With Books
The Literate Housewife Review
S. Krishna's Books
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
All About {n}
Tales of a Capricious Reader
Books on the Brain
Devourer of Books
Stainless Steel Droppings
The Book Lady's Blog
The Book Design Review

Tales of a Capricious Reader
- Author Interview
The Book Lady's Blog - Audrey reads

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Red Leather Diary - Lily Koppel

I was asked earlier this year by Danny Goldstein of Harper Collins to read and review The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel. I read it back in May and can't believe it's taken me this long to review it, mainly because I loved it that much. The minute I finished it I wanted to open it back up and re-read it. You can browse the book over at Harper Collins website.

True story:

Lily Koppel is a writer for The New York Times who lives on the Upper West Side. One day as she's leaving her apartment, she sees a ton of old steamer trunks sitting on the curb for removal. (Side note: I love love looking at all the gems you can find on trash day in the city.) The apartment building had a ton of old trunks sitting in storage for decades and was finally getting rid of them. The one that struck Lily's fancy, though, was open and had some beautiful vintage clothes and an old red leather diary. She saved the trunk along with the diary. The following book is the story behind the woman who wrote in the diary from 1929 to 1934.

Here's a photo of Lily with some of the old trunks:
The diary isn't just any old diary. It's a diary that is meant to span five years. Each day of the month has a page. Each year has a couple of lines on that page. (Side note: I love this idea for a diary. That way you aren't required to blab on and can look back on the years and see what was going on in your life on that day.)

The diary was written by a young teenage Florence Wolfson. Lily tracks down Florence and finds the 90 year-old still alive and well today. Using the diary as a guide and Florence's memories for filler, Lily Koppel paints a beautiful tribute to a young girl living her life to the fullest in New York City.

Here's Lily and Florence:
Why did I love this book so much?

-Lily's writing. I feel like I could see what Florence's NYC was like. The sites, sounds, everything was so vivid. While reading the book on the subway and bus, I would look around the city and marvel how much things have changed...and how much they've stayed the same.

-Florence. What an amazing and accomplished woman. She was a writer too and her short lines on her everyday life are so insightful and beautiful. She tried and experimented everything. Some she failed while others she succeeded but it never stopped her from trying. She even experimented in love, both men and women (which was, I thought, pretty darn scandalous reading for back then.) She met and knew some pretty famous people as well, creating a literary salon of sorts. (Great post on her salon over at this blog.)

-The photos. I loved that the book included photos of Florence, the people she loved and knew...just a great part of the book.

-Her European tour at the end of the book. I am SO jealous. Just this part could be made into a movie. A young American girl going touring Europe, which is on the brink of war, while young European men, including an Italian Count, fall madly in love with her. Sigh.

I want to re-read it because there are so many quotes from Florence's diary that I just loved. I need to go back and write them all down. And then buy my own red leather diary because who knows, someday someone might find my little life interesting.

Here's Lily with the diary:
I wish I had reviewed this a long while back when it was all still new and fresh in my head. But I'm sort of glad I didn't, because I found the hardback copy of this book at a library sale. That means I am giving away my paperback copy!

To enter the giveaway:

1) Provide email, blog...a way of contacting you.

2) Have you read any interesting biographies or want to? If so, who?

Giveaway is open to all and through December 22nd. Good luck!

Here's the cover of the copy I'm keeping. Don't you love it?
Also Reviewed by:

Peeking Between the Pages
She is Too Fond of Books
Booking Mama
Confessions of a Real Librarian
Caribou's Mom
Bibliophile by the Sea
A Girl Walks into a Bookstore
Library Queue
Book Club Girl

Gourmet Rhapsody Winner!

Happy Monday everyone!

Without further ado, the winner of the audio copy of Gourmet Rhapsody is:


In response of what other foodie books are good, Ladytink_534 said Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen series.

Sounds interesting, I'll have to check them out! I loved Chocolat the movie.

On another note, I never heard back from the winner of The Art of Racing in the Rain...

So the next winner is:

Thanks for entering the contests!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Photographing Fairies - Steve Szilagyi

I read Steve Szilagyi's novel Photographing Fairies back in May and thought it was about time I wrote about it. I found the book at a library book sale. I think it has a pretty cool cover. Wish I could say the same for the contents of the book. Sigh.

Here's the plot:

Charles Castle is an American photographer living and working in London. He's kind of a slacker. His assistant does most of the work while Castle kind of lets things slide. One day, a Constable from a small town come to see him and shows Castle a photo of what he believes to be fairies. The Constable says that there's a couple of girls in the town who can see the fairies and can take photos of them. Obviously Castle thinks the Constable is a bit nuts but the photograph is compelling. Somehow (I don't quite remember how or why) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who is quite a spiritualist himself) believes the photo is authentic. Seeing an opportunity to make money and make a name for himself, Castle heads off to the small town to take photos of the fairies.

Interesting, right? What I like it that the story this novel is based on, the Cottingley fairies. Back in 1917, a couple of girls said they had photographic proof that fairies exist. Here's a few of the photos:

Many people, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, believed that these photos were of real fairies. It wasn't until the 1980s that the ladies came forward and said it was a hoax.

So if this book had strictly been a novel regarding the whole thing, I probably would have liked it. Instead, the book starts out with Castle in prison for murder. It starts that way! So he's looking back on the events that landed him in prison. The entire time I'm trying to figure out how a simple and touching story of a man trying to photograph fairies turns into a murder mystery. Who did he kill? Why? On top of that, I really didn't care for Castle at all. The ending was muddled, crammed, and I plain just didn't like it.

Anyway, there's my review.

Here's an alternate cover:
On a different note, there IS a movie based on this book that I wanted to see staring Toby Stephens as Castle. It's appealing because I really enjoy Toby Stephens as Gatsby, Mr Rochester, and Duke Orsino among others.

Here's the movie poster (a bit too trippy for me):

And just because, Toby Stephens. Check out his actors spotlight over at Lights, Camera...History!
**Has anyone else read this book or seen the movie? Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I had heard so many good things about Mary Ann Shaffer's book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that when I saw it at the library, I just had to pick it up. Doesn't it have the LONGEST title ever? I'm a sucker for WWII novels so I thought I'd like it. And I LOVED it. It's going on my top ten favorites for this year. It's one of those books I'd go out and get my mom, grandma, and sister to read.

Here's the plot:

London, 1946 (post-WWII)
Juliet Ashton, a somewhat comedic writer for a newspaper is promoting her new book when she gets a letter from a person in Guernsey (an island in the English Channel). He has a book that once belonged to her and they both share a mutual affection for the writer, Charles Lamb. Through this correspondence and more, Juliet becomes aware of what happened to the people on Guernsey during WWII (the island was occupied by the Nazis) and how and why a few of these people developed the Literary Potato Peel Pie Society - which is an odd name for a book club. She decides that their story may make a great subject for a new book, so she goes to Guernsey to get to know these people.

The entire book is written as a collection of letters, sometimes written by Juliet, her publisher, her friend, and the people of Guernsey.

I loved the way this book was written. The letters made it all more personal and the story develops bit by bit because you are delved out the information along with the recipient of the letters. I also LOVED Juliet Ashton. She has such a fun wit and writing style. And the Guernsey people are just beautiful and loving. I could see how and why Juliet becomes entranced by their stories. I immediately Googled Guernsey to see photos of the beautiful island.

Of course, there is a love story which was so sweet (totally safe for moms and grandmas). I'm not telling you anything more though. You'll have to read it for yourself.

**I must be the LAST person to have read this because it's Also Reviewed By:

Shelf Love
Book Nut
She is Too Fond of Books
Tales of a Capricious Reader
Books on the Brain
Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books
Maw Books Blog
Becky's Book Reviews
Hist-Fic Chick
A Novel Menagerie
S. Krishna's Books
The Book Nest
Under the Dresser
The Tome Traveller's Weblog
It's all about me (time)
Book Chatter and other stuff...
Never Not Reading
Books, the Universe, and Everything
All About {n}
Planet Books
Ticket to Anywhere
Books I Done Read
Pop Culture Junkie
Booking Mama
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
At Home with Books
Obsessed with Books
Devourer of Books
Historical Tapestry - Kailana & Marg
Historical Tapestry - Ana T.
A Reader's Respite
Library Queue
Fizzy Thoughts
Bibliophile By the Sea
Maggie Reads
Medieval Bookworm
You're History!
Reading Adventures
A Garden Carried in the Pocket
Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover
Caribou's Mom
A Girl Walks into a Bookstore

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Information Officer - Mark Mills

The Information Officer by Mark Mills is another book I won from LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It's a part serial killer/murder mystery/love story/WWII novel set in Malta.

Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean just south of Italy. Before this novel, I had never heard of the Siege of Malta. During WWII, it was pretty much the most heavily bombed place ever. Wow. The Allies were stationed on the island and were helping to fend off the Germans and Italians from invading.

Enter the Information Officer, Max Chadwick, a British officer in charge of, well, information. Obviously with all the bombing going on, morale can be quite low. So Max is in charge of keeping certain information hidden that might hurt the campaign, while promoting the heroism and valor of the Allies and Maltese.

On top of all that, Max is called in to check out the body of a young girl who was found dead, murdered. In her hands is the scrap of a officer's uniform. The coroner believes she was not the first victim. Obviously Max is in a bind: he can't let the Maltese people know that one of the Allied officers may be killing their girls. Creepily, some of the chapters are narrated by this unknown killer providing the reader with a disturbing glimpse into the killer's mind.

On top of all that, Max is in another predicament. He's been seeing one lady while he's fallen in love with someone else.

So this seems like a lot of stuff going on, but Mark Mills handles it wonderfully. The picture he paints is so vivid. Imagine constantly being bombarded day and night. Often, people just go up on roofs to watch the current wave of bombs. People have bomb shelters but they also hide in various tunnels throughout the island. They don't drive because the dust kicked up becomes a prime target. But life goes on.

I think the setting is what I loved about this book. I'm big into the history part of historical-fiction. The murder mystery is an added bonus. The only part of the book I didn't quite like is the love story part. I don't want to have any spoilers, but it was one of those things where you felt for Max but he kind of shot himself in the foot on this one (figuratively, not literally).

Here's a different cover of the book (beautiful!):

**The edition I read will be available February 2, 2010.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gourmet Rhapsody - Muriel Barbery GIVEAWAY!

Ok. This is going to be a doozy of a review.

I won a copy of Muriel Barbery's novel Gourmet Rhapsody through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. Wait. I won an AUDIO copy of this book. And that's where this gets tricky.

I rarely listen to audio books. My mind tends to wander and I end up rewinding a bunch. And then there's the issue with the narrators. A bad narrator can ruin a good book. Thankfully that was NOT the issue with this audio book. I loved the various narrators' voices. I just had other issues...mainly my own.

First of all, I tried listening and doing things on the Internet. Bad idea. Then I decided to sit and knit while listening. Better idea. Forgot to turn the shuffle thing off iTunes. Bad idea. So I listened to about half of the book in shuffle mode. Yeah.

Anyway, here's the gist:

Gourmet Rhapsody takes place in the same affluent apartment building as The Elegance of the Hedgehog (read my review). This book, however, revolves around an elderly food critic, Monsieur Arthens, who is on his deathbed. The story flip flops between the food critic desperately trying to remember a specific food or taste while he revisits old memories of his lifetime. The rest of the story is narrated by the various people in his life: wife, cat, children, etc. Some of them liked him and some absolutely loathe him. (Almost every section of the audio book is narrated by someone else with a lot of flashbacks, so you could see how I might not have known it was on shuffle.)

At first I did NOT like the food critic. Pompous. Vain. Wordy. But as I sat and knitted, I just started to salivate. I wanted to curl up with a glass of wine and listen to all the foods. (My husband just laughed at that because I am not what you'd call a foodie person.) And then I started to like ol' Monsieur Arthens. He's just on his deathbed remembering fond tastes and smells and experiences while all around him family and friends are judging him.

Anyway, there you have it. I did like it. Even after all my technical difficulties. I want to re-read it (not listen) because there are so many things said that I loved. No dog-earring with audio copies.

***Would you like my Audio (CDs) copy of The Gourmet Rhapsody?

To enter:

1) Tell me your favorite foodie book. I mean one that makes you want to eat whatever they are.
2) Your email. Or your blog. Or however I can get a hold of you.

Contest is open world-wide and open through Friday, December 11th. So hurry up and enter!

Also Reviewed by:
Medieval Bookworm

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

I have to say that I am loving Europa Edition books. Besides their cool covers, I've found some great little gems. I LOVED Margherita Dolce Vita, and enjoyed The Girl on the Via Flaminia. So a while back I went to the library and checked out Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It is originally written in French and has been translated into English.

I liked it.

The story revolves around the lives of a few people in an affluent apartment building in France. It flip flops narration between an insanely smart but suicidal young girl, Paloma, and Renée, the intelligent but frumpy concierge lady.

Both are very smart but hide what they are from the wealthy people around them. That all changes when a handsome and intelligent Japanese man moves in and helps them open up.

I really enjoyed both Paloma and Renée. Their transformations were what made the book. Sometimes overly smart kids can be a bit annoying in books and movies, but Paloma surprised me. Although she is contemplating suicide, it's not really because she's sad or depressed, but more about her own logical reasoning. But Renée was what made me like the book. Watching her open up and blossom was my favorite part.

It wasn't amazing but I liked it.

**Have you read any Europa Editions? If so, what did you think?

Also Reviewed by:
She is Too Fond of Books
Five Borough Book Review
Caribou's Mom
Books I Done Read
Books, the Universe, and Everything
A Bookish Way of Life
The Boston Bibliophile

Friday, December 4, 2009

Festive Food Cart

Festive food cart in Mid-town taken with my phone.

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Winner!

Thank you all who entered and left great comments!! The winner of my hard back copy of Garth Stein's novel is:

Carol at buddyt


Carol, you didn't leave me your email (for shame!) so please email me your address (nycbookgirl at gmail dot com) so I can ship it out to you!! You left a great comment so I don't want you to miss out!

I never heard back from Carol so the winner is Aik!


Seeing Redd and Arch Enemy - Frank Beddor

Seeing Redd and Arch Enemy are the second and third books in the The Looking Glass Wars trilogy by Frank Beddor. You can check out my review of the first book. I found a copy of Seeing Redd at a library book sale and was in the middle of reading it when I was asked by Victor at Special Ops Media to review Arch Enemy. How cool is that?

**If you haven't checked out my first review or read the first book, you might get some spoilers so just watch out.

**Please note that these books are not graphic novels and the photos are taken from the Internet, not the books.

Seeing Redd

Alyss Heart (Alice from Wonderland) is real. She was forced to go through the Pool of Tears into our world when she was young to escape her evil aunt Redd who had murdered her mother. Alyss is back in Wonderland but is not fighting against her aunt for the throne.

I don't want to give away too much, but I really liked Seeing Redd. Evil Redd just cracks me up because she is just so perfectly evil. I love her evil roses on her dress that snap at people. And her side-kick Cat is just awesome. (Best part: Redd makes an appearance in London...totally enjoyed that part in the book).

Here's some other photos of Redd (I just LOVE this series' artwork):

Alternate covers:

Arch Enemy

Alyss Heart has more to contend with than just her evil aunt. The third book focuses on her other rival King Arch who is the tribal leader of the Boarderlands. How cool is the cover of Arch Enemy?
Here's the Boarderlands:
While Alyss and Redd are in the middle of their own war, Arch sees an opportunity to take over Wonderland for himself. Arch is pretty funny too. He thinks women should not be rulers and he is so condescending.

I really enjoyed this one because it really dealt with the the idea of Imagination and what happens when Wonderlanders (especially Alyss and Redd) lose their imagination and how that affects people in our world. It was one of those books that there were only a few pages left and I got all is it going to end!?! But he wrapped it up pretty nicely. I was impressed.

Oh, and don't forget Dodge. Dodge is Alyss's love interest in the trilogy who is bent on revenge because the Cat killed his father. Here's Dodge:
And here's the tragic Heart family (Redd on the left and Alyss's mom on the right):
While I enjoyed the series, I think I am more enthralled with the art work. I'd love to see this series as a graphic novel or better yet, a movie. On Frank Beddor's website for the trilogy, it does look like there is something in the works. Yippee!

Also Reviewed by:

Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops - Seeing Redd
Bold. Blue. Adventure - Seeing Redd
A Reader's Journal - Seeing Redd
Muse Books - Seeing Redd

The Neverending Shelf - Arch Enemy