Archive

Posts Tagged ‘nyc’

Book Review: The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose (Series, #4)

March 19, 2012 2 comments

Woman smelling a spilled fragrance.Summary:
Jac ran away from her family’s traditional perfumerie in Paris to pursue a career in mythology in her mother’s homeland of the USA.  This move was spurred on by her mother’s suicide, and Jac’s own subsequent loss of touch with reality.  Years of therapy later, all is well, but when Jac’s brother and current manager of the perfumerie goes missing, Jac must face up to her demons at home, as well as scenes in her own mind.  Are they delusions or past life memories?

Review:
I requested this on NetGalley without realizing it was part of a series, but it is evident each entry in the series is about different people whose lives intertwine in a minor way.  Thus, I was able to read this book without feeling that sense of disorientation that happens when you jump into the middle of a series.  I’m glad too, because I found the story an intriguingly different plot-line for a thriller.

Essentially, there are some pottery pieces that Robbie discovers in his home that may or may not have once held a scent that allows whoever smells it to remember their past lives.  A past life therapist wants these pottery pieces, Robbie wants to give them to the Dalia Lama, and the Chinese government wants to keep them out of the Dalai Lama’s hand in their on-going quest against Tibet.  It’s a good big world plot, but the overall focus is mostly on Jac, which is how I tend to prefer thrillers.  And Jac is a great character.  She is strong, intelligent, a caring sister.  She had a rough childhood, but still has her head on straight.  Her struggle with whether or not she had past lives ends up not being as important as the reader might at first think, which I also appreciated.  Jac’s character development is about accepting herself for who she is and not making selfish choices.  It is not at all the romance I thought at first it was going to be, and that is a good thing.

Rose evokes the settings of Paris and NYC with equal aptitude.  I must say I found myself craving an afternoon at the museum and some creperies when I was done with the book.  The perfumerie business and house are equally beautiful and easy to picture, but also the tunnels underneath Paris are evoked well.  Setting and characterization are strong points of Rose’s.

I did periodically feel the book moved too slow in the beginning.  Also, I was disappointed that people who were evil now were evil in past lives and the good were always good.  Similarly, only one person had a past life as a different gender.  I get it that Rose’s point is that one needs to know one’s past lives in order to fix your mistakes that you make over and over, but I think it’s a bit short-sighted to think that if reincarnation did exist it would be that simplistic.  Also, personally, I just don’t believe in soul mates, so having that as a strong theme in the book was rather eye-roll inducing.

Overall, this is a fun worldwide thriller with educated people at the center of it that includes thought-provoking themes like self-improvement and self-acceptance.  Fans of the modern, globe-spanning thriller will enjoy it, as well as anyone who has a love of Paris.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

Buy It

Previous Books In Series:
The Reincarnationist
The Memorist
The Hypnotist

Book Review: Falling For Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love by Anna David

January 31, 2012 9 comments

Polka-dot book coverSummary:
Anna David is a successful writer in her mid 30s living in NYC when an overwhelming depression hits her.  She’s still single.  What’s wrong with her?  While fighting off tears in the self-help section, she finds a copy of Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, which was a bestseller in the 1960s.  Essentially a guide to being happy single while still keeping an eye open for Mr. Right, Anna instantly connects with Helen Gurley Brown and decides to spend the next year challenging herself and taking advantage of everything being single has to offer.

Review:
It should really need no explaining why I picked this book up.  I’ve always been the relationship type (even when I tried not to be), but I also won’t settle for just anybody, and sometimes that combination leads to some ennui.  I was hoping I would find a connection to and insight from Anna, and I was certainly right about that.

The very first chapter has Anna breaking down in line for food in her head, basically saying, “I’m going to be alone forever,” and going on from there adding that she’ll be the crazy old maid cat lady and going further and further on into ridiculousness that really doesn’t seem that ridiculous when it’s your brain saying it to yourself.  I knew instantly that Anna and I would get along.

As opposed to a lot of other single gal memoirs, the focus is neither just love yourself the way you are nor fake everything to land a man.  It’s more like….Do you have any idea how lucky you are to even have this phase in your life?  You’re single!  You can do anything, go anywhere, decorate however you want, and etc…  Anna realizes that she hasn’t been taking full advantage of the things being single affords to her.  Things like deciding to house swap and live for a month in Seville (try doing that with a baby) or taking French classes in the evening or spending the day rollerblading and winding up in a park in the sun.  So Anna isn’t just trudging along being herself.  She’s pushing herself to try new things, go new places, and yes the future Mr. Anna may be there, but even if he’s not, she’s still having a fun time doing it.

The book also addresses another common issue among single women and, well, people in general–grass is always greener syndrome.  Anna eventually realizes that she seems to think all of her problems will just disappear if and when she gets married, when that is really not the case at all if you pay an iota of attention to married couples.

One specific line in S&SG that I keep thinking of—“I’ve never met a completely happy single girl or a completely happy married one”—and how it’s helped me to see that I’m somehow convinced that getting to the next stage will make me instantly joyous.  (page 36)

The other thing that is sooo relatable that Anna talks about is how it’s so easy to become so desperate for a partner that you start trying to change yourself for him or worry constantly about whether or not you’re good enough for him, when that’s not how dating is supposed to work!

You spend all your time trying to manipulate a guy into wanting you to be his girlfriend when what you should be doing is enjoying yourself and then later figuring out if you even want him as a boyfriend.  (page 205)

There are definitely things about Anna that I don’t like or I disagree with (for instance, she eats veal and foie gras, ahem, the book almost got thrown across the room at that point), but even though we’re different, we’re also the same.  We’re two single gals who are wondering why everyone else seems to be coupling up but me?  What Anna slowly realizes over her year-long experiment is that there is no timeline for love and marriage.  It’s not like it’s a game of musical chairs and she’ll be left the only one without one.  Maybe her music is just playing at a different speed.  I think that’s a really important thing to remember and touching to see someone else struggling with, because it’s far too easy to start pressuring ourselves and the men we date into situations that just aren’t right for either of us.  It’ll happen when it happens.

This is a rare instance when I feel the need to sort of reveal the ending.  I was worried the book would end with Anna abundantly happy in a relationship, kind of like Eat, Pray, Love, which honestly would only have made me more depressed.  Like the book was all about yay singlehood but I still landed a man, right?  But no.  Who Anna falls in love with is not a man, but herself.

Here’s what I’ve come to understand: I used to not really believe I deserved thick, gorgeous panels for my windows or to pull books from a bookshelf specifically selected for my apartment. It didn’t occur to me that I was worth cooking homemade chicken soup for or dressing in beautiful clothes. I thought I was half a person because I didn’t have a partner but that when I had one, I’d do those things for him. Now I see that I’m entirely whole so that if and when I find him, we can be two whole people together, not the person and a half we would have been.  (page 305)

Yes, yes, yes!  Finally.  A book about being single and loving yourself and taking care of yourself and being a whole person as just you.  Sure, the professionals tell us that, but it’s super-nice to get to hear it from a gal who could easily be somebody I have bimonthly cocktails with.

I highly recommend this book to any single ladies in their 20s and up.  It’s a nice reminder that we’re not the only ones learning to love ourselves and be patient for the right person.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

Buy It

Book Review: The Craigslist Murders by Brenda Cullerton

August 9, 2011 12 comments

Woman holding bloody item behind back.Summary:
Charlotte works as an interior designer to the wealthiest of the wealthy in NYC.  She thus has a window into their world and attends their parties, but is not actually a part of it.  The wealthy women annoy the crap out of Charlotte as they remind her entirely too much of her cruel, social ladder climbing mother, yet she simultaneously needs the income to stay afloat in notoriously expensive NYC.  One day when attempting to purchase a designer item cheap off of craigslist, she finds the solution to her pent-up rage.  Periodic murders of the wealthy elite women via responding to craigslist ads.

Review:
I view Charlotte as the female and decidedly less insane version of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.  Both characters are a part of the wealthy, elite world that they simultaneously hate.  Both obviously have antisocial personality disorder.  Both murder people to deal with it.  The similarities end there, though, as Charlotte is decidedly less far gone than Patrick so there are no chapters of non-sensical rants.  Also this book is far less violent.  Charlotte murders by whapping women in the back of the head with a fire poker.  Her murders are about killing the women, not torturing them.

Honestly, this book reads as delicious fantasy to anyone who has ever lived in a city and bumped elbows with the craziness that is the world of the 1% (the wealthy elite).  Charlotte’s rage is our rage, and she deals with it in a way no civilized person would, but as Charlotte herself says when discussing the news of a murdered wealthy woman:

She’d been killed by her own personal assistant, news that Charlotte believed had come as a terrible shock to everyone in the city except the thousands of other personal assistants who dreamed, daily, of doing the same thing. (location 1101)

Yes, exactly.  This book rages against the privileged in a way most of us can only dream of doing.  And it works.

Charlotte is more than a murderer, though.  She’s a well-rounded character.  The reasons behind her murders and state of mental health are gradually revealed in a skilled manner throughout the book.  First we know Charlotte as a frustrated worker.  Then we see her murder.  Then we gradually start to see the real Charlotte beneath the facade.  A woman who was a little girl whose spirit was broken by her mother.  No one in her world, not even her therapist, offers her any real help, so Charlotte deals with her issues the only way she knows how.  It’s an excellent commentary on why quality mental health care and loving communities are so necessary.

The one issue I had with the book itself is the ending.  I won’t spoil it, but basically I’m not sure exactly why Cullerton went there with this narrative.  I can’t help but wonder if she’s planning a sequel.  I sort of wish she would write one to address some lingering questions I have, but perhaps that’s her point.  Perhaps she chose that ending to make the reader continue to think about the situation even after finishing the book.  If so, then it definitely worked.

I also find the cover infuriating, because the weapon the woman is holding looks nothing like the weapon used in the book, and that sort of thing that is mentioned repeatedly in the story shouldn’t be messed up on the cover.  Obviously that’s not the author’s fault, though.

Overall this contemporary fiction with a twist is a delightful read.  If American Psycho intrigued you but the graphic violence and sex turned you off, definitely give this book a read.  It features similar themes with less violence and more well-rounded characters.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Amazon

Buy It

Counts For:

Book Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

January 10, 2011 6 comments

Man's face.Summary:
Patrick Bateman is a 1980s yuppie working a Wall Street job with a dark secret.  He doesn’t connect to other people except in the moments he’s torturing and killing them.  But is he really a psychopathic murderer or is it all in his head?

Review:
I have a high tolerance for and even a tendency toward graphic violence and sex in novels, so I feel the need to warn my readers that this book was shockingly graphic even to me, and I was unphased by Battle Royale.  So take that warning as you will.  If you can’t handle graphic violence and sex, this book is definitely not for you.  That said, this book pushes those with a high tolerance for such things in their reading out of their comfort zone, which is always an interesting experience.

The book is told from the first person perspective of Patrick Bateman.  This is essential for us to see and feel what it is to struggle as him.  This, of course, is painfully uncomfortable because we are put in the head of a madman while he violently dismembers and eventually kills multiple people, mainly women.  Some people don’t ever want to be in that person’s head.  Personally, I feel it is essential to understand what drives some people to be psychopaths and Breat Easton Ellis has a frightening ability to get inside that head.  It is chilling to feel that Patrick gets the same sense of release from killing someone as I get from having a glass of wine at the end of the day.  Simultaneously, I don’t doubt this at all, because that is what it is to be a psychopath.

Bret Easton Ellis also does an excellent job of depicting Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Essentially, people suffering from this disorder are incapable of connecting emotionally or empathizing at all with other human beings.  Patrick recognizes this disconnect when he is talking with various people in his life.  He suffers significantly from this inability to find any connection with anything but violence.

My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone.  In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others.  I want no one to escape. (Location 8020-8023)

Beyond this, Patrick is completely confused about his world, and he knows it.  He is unsure what is reality and what is not.  This was one of the first aspects of mental illness to be recognized and seeing it all from the perspective of someone who is suffering from it is eloquent.

My mask of sanity was a victim of impending slippage. (Location 5975-5978)

Of course, beyond the uncomfortable identification with and depiction of someone suffering from one of the most difficult to understand mental illnesses is the depiction of the yuppie environment of the 1980s.  What a vain, vapid existence these people lead.  Extensive passages feature Patrick delineating every single designer name everyone in the room is wearing.  One of the main issues in the week for all of the yuppie characters is getting into what is considered to be the best restaurant that week.  Only the “best” alcohol is ordered.  Only the “best” food is served, and it is served in such tiny portions that the yuppies are still hungry, yet this is considered to be better than being satiated.  Frankly, I found these passages annoying to read, but they are necessary to the book.  They show what a shallow, vapid world Patrick is in; one that he feels he cannot escape.  These people are so selfish and lacking in empathy in that there is no way in hell they will ever notice anything is wrong with Patrick.  It’s a scathing commentary on the yuppie culture.

The only negative from a writing aspect I can say about the book is the random chapters in which Patrick educates us on various musical groups.  I honestly have no idea what the point of those are, and I skimmed over them.  I definitely think Bret Easton Ellis should have cut them.

Overall, this is definitely a difficult book to read.  It’s not comfortable or easy to alternate between identifying with a possible killer and being disgusted by his actions.  Feeling sympathy for a killer is not something our society encourages, yet this book makes you feel it.  Additionally, the passages depicting the yuppie world are vapid and annoying if for no other reason than because yuppies are vapid and annoying.  Those difficulties though are what makes the book work.  It takes the reader out of their comfort zone and forces them to confront things that they may not want to confront.  Killers are not simply inhuman.  They may do inhuman acts, but there are still elements of them that we may identify with.  That is the truly scary part of American Psycho.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who thinks they can handle the graphic sex and violence.  It will push your boundaries and force you to sympathize with those society depicts to us as the least sympathetic.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Counts For:

Movie Review: When In Rome (2010)

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Man and woman standing close to each other with woman biting her finger.Summary:
Beth loves her career as a curator at the Guggenheim, and she’s told her friends that when she meets a man she loves more than her career that’s when she’ll know he’s the one.  She, therefore, is shocked when her sister meets an Italian man on a plane and gets engaged to him two weeks later.  Off to Rome for the wedding, and Beth hits it off with a guy.  But when she sees him kissing an Italian woman, she gets drunk on champagne and takes four coins from the love fountain in front of the wedding.  Uh-oh!  Taking a coin from the fountain makes the thrower fall instantly in love with you, and when Beth gets back to NYC, she winds up with four very determined suitors.

Review:
Yes, I actually do watch a chick flick periodically.  😉  This one is quite stereotypical, complete with Beth declaring she’s starving and proceeding to grab a salad to eat.  Oy.  There’s also the usual slap-stick humor, such as the main suitor falling down a hole in the streets of NYC.  It also takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to believe that Beth randomly grabbed four coins, all of which happened to have belonged to men.  Uh-huh.  Somehow I feel like the statistics of that actually happening are unlikely.

However, the story itself is a bit unique, what with the inclusion of magic.  Although it’s obvious who Beth will end up with, the way they wind up together was not entirely predictable, so that was nice.  The cinematography is visually very appealing.  For instance, the scene of Beth drunk in the fountain is just gorgeous.

The acting ranges from cringe-inducing to excellent.  Danny DeVito’s presence as one of the suitors really saves the film.  That man is just always so believable in whatever film he’s in.  Kristen Bell, who plays the lead, also does a good job, although the supporting characters are a bit iffy.

Overall, it’s a fun way to pass an hour and a half if you have a soft spot for romcoms and enjoy Italian scenery.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

Buy It

Book Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (Series, #1)

April 26, 2010 6 comments

Female neck wearing a pearl necklace with bite marks against NYC skyline.Summary:
The students at Duchesne Academy in New York City appear to be your typical bunch of wealthy, elite teenagers.  Naturally gorgeous twins Mimi and Jack rule the school.  Bliss became part of Mimi’s entourage when her oil wealthy Texas family moved to NYC.  Schuyler is part of the crowd of misfits who wear goth clothes instead of the more typical Louis Vuitton.  They all gradually discover, however, that the secret to their families’ wealth isn’t just that they came over on the Mayflower.  They are Blue Bloods–vampires who retire from their human shells every 100 years or so then come back with the same blood.  Their teenage years are vulnerable ones, and someone or something out there is managing to kill some of the young Blue Bloods.

Review:
The vampire lore behind this story is not my style.  It is so much not my style that just writing the above summary made me cringe.  None of the official summaries of the book reveal much about the vampire lore, so let me tell you just in case it’s not your style either.  Blue Bloods is heavily steeped in Christianity.  The vampires are fallen angels who are attempting to atone for their rebellion.  They face hundreds of years of punishment trapped in human bodies that they must eventually retire then return in new ones.  The vampires accomplish this reincarnation by taking some of the blood from the dead vampire and implanting it into a vampire woman’s uterus.  It all rings as a bit odd when you have a teenage character who’s never done anything more wrong than sneak into a club be told that she must atone for this rebellion against god that she doesn’t even remember doing hundreds of years ago.  It really takes the bite out of vampires and makes them kind of pathetic.

Where the book is strongest is oddly where the vampire thing is on the back burner.  Schuyler and Bliss get to model for a jean company, and that scene was actually quite enjoyable to read.  If this had been your more typical murder mystery at an elite high school, I think it would have been a much better book.

Some reviewers had a problem with the presence of teenage drinking, drugging, and sex.  I actually thought the sex was handled quite well, with teens talking about it a lot but nobody actually managing to do it.  That read as very real.  The alcohol is kind of a non-factor, since vampires can’t be affected by alcohol.  My only confusion with this is if that’s the case, then why are they risking breaking the law to drink?  I suppose it seems minor compared to convincing a human to become your familiar so you can feed off them.  The drugs are entirely presented in a negative light the few times they are briefly mentioned.

What shocked me, and I can’t believe how infrequently this is mentioned, is that there is incest and the vampires accept it.  Gah!  There are times when incest is present in a book, and it is handled so that all sides of the issue may be seen–all of the accompanying emotions are delicately handled.  Here, the vampires just say that it’s the way it should be and are protective of the siblings.  Not much else is said of it, beyond a few teen vampires being grossed out, but it is made clear that their reactions are considered inappropriate by the vampires.

That said, it’s not badly written on a sentence level.  It reads naturally, which is probably the only reason I struggled through the cringe-inducing lore.  It is essentially Gossip Girl crossed with Vampire Diaries with some incest and Christianity tossed in.  If that’s your thing, you will enjoy it.  All others should probably pass though.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Buy It