Tag Archives: New York

Book Buzz: The Address

Book Buzz: The Address

I had to hide from my family for a little while.

But now that I’ve finished reading The Address I can finally resume my regularly scheduled life. Thank you, family, for indulging me and leaving me alone with this wondrous new novel written by Fiona Davis.


Book Buzz: The Address

Take a captivating morsel of New York City history, stir in the epic splendor of the famed Manhattan residence the Dakota, add a heaping teaspoon of intrigue, top it off with a juicy murder mystery and you’ve got the most satisfying literary meal: The Address.

The Address

The name Dakota may be familiar to you. Not only is it famous for its contribution as one of New York’s most interesting architectural designs and esteemed landmarks, it has also been home to celebrities, artists and the glitterati of Manhattan society. It was home to Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Gilda Radner, Roberta Flack and so many other familiar names from the entertainment industry, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Sadly, it was in front of the Dakota that Lennon was murdered in 1980.

Years ago I read a fascinating book by Stephen Birmingham, Life at the Dakota: New York’s Most Unusual Address, which apparently was also an inspiration to author Davis in creating her novel. Weaving in familiar names, dates and events from the past, she presents two storylines; one taking place in 1985 and the other in 1885.

Alternating mostly by chapter, The Address connects a scandalous event from the past to the descendants of one of the (fictional) architects of the Dakota in the present.

Because I adore historical fiction, especially of this time period, I was intrigued with the description of New York City at the time the Dakota was built, how the Upper West Side where the Dakota is located was pretty much a wasteland, and the first tenants were pioneers of sorts, taking a chance on living in this urban frontier.

In the 1800s segment of The Address, Sara Smyth, a competent young hotel employee from England, is hired as the first manageress of the Dakota and arrives to find utter chaos as the building is still under construction. She organizes a large staff and generally becomes responsible for a successful opening. Under her watchful eye, the operation runs smoothly and she is highly respected.

But her own life begins to unravel when she gets swept up in a romance that never should have happened. She is ultimately sent away and incarcerated for a manufactured reason. When she is released and attempts to return to the life she knew, things are not the same.

Meanwhile, fast forward to 1985 when designer Bailey Camden is hired by her cousin Melinda, heir to the Dakota fortune, to help with renovations to the building. While searching in the basement of the Dakota, Bailey unearths several fascinating artifacts connected to the scandal of 100 years ago and initiates some detective work on her own.

And that’s all I will tell you because I won’t reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say I was engrossed in this novel from the get go and the last 50 pages kept me glued to my reading perch.

My family will attest to that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Address. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Address from Dutton for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Small Mercies

I’ve written before about my lifelong love affair with New York City.

New York City, the Big Apple, the city that never fails to delight and entrance  me, is just a train ride away and I visit as often as I can. Which is never often enough.

So what is the next best thing if I need a bite of The Big Apple from afar? I dive into a book that will sweep me into a New York state of mind.

Many writers have captured the essence of New York City in all its iterations. Off the top of my head, I can name Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and three of my favorites: Call it Sleep by Henry Roth, The Alienist by Caleb Carr and Time and Again by Jack Finney.

Make room for one more.

Small Mercies

The writer’s name is Eddie Joyce, and you may not have heard of him. Yet.

But with Small Mercies, his genius debut novel, I have no doubt that his name will be added to the list of New York writers who, well, get New York.

Small Mercies

It is the story of a working class Italian Irish family, the Amendolas from Staten Island. The fifth and “forgotten borough” of New York.

This “everyfamily” – fierce, flawed, and loving – lost one of their own in the 9/11 attacks. Now, nine years later, they prepare for a family birthday party and over the course of one week we watch them, each one still struggling in the aftermath of that tragedy in a different way.

The nuclear Amendola family consists of Gail, is a retired teacher, Michael, her husband and former firefighter, and two adult sons. There are also in-laws, grandchildren, neighbors, childhood friends, each character orbiting through the spheres of Gail and Michael.

We hurt for this family. Just as the rest of the world felt after 9/11, we who witnessed this tragedy are part of the universal grief.

I found this story to be gripping and real and, most importantly, passes my litmus test for authentic dialogue. You know these people. You have seen them at high school basketball games, at a neighborhood bar downing a few beers, in church, at potlucks.`

Joyce tells it like it was, and a few phrases jumped out at me. For starters, isn’t this one of the best opening lines in a novel ever?

“Gail wakes with a pierced heart, same as every day.”

And I love, love, love this :

“Across the street, one of their new neighbors, Dmitri, runs out from the old Grasso house to his car  … They have two young kids, a boy and a girl, with dirty-blond hair and the pinched faces of the frequently disciplined.”

And this, describing marital sex:

“They’d gone through the bumping frenzy of early love, the safe experimentations of settled monogamy, the clinical coitus of attempted procreation, the semi-abstinence of two pregnancies, the sleep-deprived sparsity of two infancies, the temporary revitalization afforded by procedural infertility.”

Joyce has a flair with language, and the gift of storytelling. Small Mercies will stay with me as a poignant, heart-wrenching story of loss, but also a lesson in how you go on.

Eddie Joyce, I have this to say to you: wow.

I am delighted to give away a free copy of Small Mercies to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be chosen randomly. USA addresses only, please.

I received  a free copy of Small Mercies from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Eating Wildly

Nature and nurture intertwine enticingly in Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, a bittersweet and sensory-rich memoir by urban forager Ava Chin.

Eating Wildly The former “Wild Edibles” columnist in The New York Times, Chin writes tenderly of her search for sustenance as she navigates life’s unpredictable paths.

Throughout much of her life, Chin struggled with feelings of abandonment. Her father, whom she didn’t meet until she was 26 years old, had left when her mother became pregnant with her. And her mother, a former “Miss Chinatown,” was beautiful but remote, focused more on her endless list of suitors than on her attention-starved daughter.

Chin was often lonely and frightened. Had it not been for her doting grandparents, with whom she spent a great deal of time, she may never have found the love and guidance she needed to thrive.

Her grandparents’ home was filled with comfort and good food. She credits her grandfather, a restaurant worker, with developing her palate for unusual and exotic foods. Her grandmother was everything Chin yearned for from her mother: loving, supportive, proud of her.

Nonetheless, Chin had to entertain herself much of the time. She found solace in scuttling about in the dirt outside her mother’s Queens apartment building, digging for treasures in the cracks between the concrete. As an adult, she discovered the pleasure of tromping through uncultivated open areas in New York’s five boroughs, searching for edible plants and weeds.

In this quest, she developed a deep appreciation of the bounty of nature and the beauty in the improbable. Her prose is embellished with reverence for all that grows.

Any book with recipes in it gets brownie points from me, and each chapter in Eating Wildly concludes with a recipe that Chin has created using foraged ingredients such as lambs quarters, mulberries and wild honey. They sound mouthwatering, even her variation on Grass Pie. Chin’s prize winning recipe for Wild Oyster Mushroom, Fig, and Goat Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions is one that is definitely going to appear on my dinner table soon.

Chin realized through foraging that life’s timetable is not always something we can control. “I’ve learned that nature has a way of revealing things in its own time, providing discoveries along the way – from morel mushrooms bursting through the soil to a swarm of on-the-move bees scouting out a new home,” she writes.

eating wildly She rapturously describes plants that until now were unfamiliar to me. Wood sorrel, for instance. “It has folded, heart-shaped leaves, which flutter open and closed depending on the time of day, rather like slow-moving butterflies … taking a bite was a birth and lemony relief.”

And mulberries: “The ripest berry – a dark one hanging on a short stem that resembled a comma … resembling a cluster of deeply colored prunes, about the size of a cocoon.” Asiatic dayflower: “… with an edible blossom so transient that it could be a Buddhist lesson in impermanence.”

An Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction and Journalism at City University of New York, Chin’s affinity for nature is perhaps only exceeded by her fluidity with language. Her beautiful words captivated me.

I was curious to see what the plants she referenced looked like, and she has posted lovely photos of them on The Plants (and Mushrooms) of Eating Wildly.

Visit Ava Chin’s website to learn more about her life or to order her book — a perfect gift, by the way. Or go to Amazon.

Eating WildlyI am anticipating the sequel to this memoir. And I am so taken with Chin’s story that I am putting urban foraging (with a guide) on my bucket list.

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