Eighty Days to Elsewhere

Eighty Days to Elsewhere by K. C. Dyer

Romy Keene works for her uncles in their New York City bookstore, living in an apartment above the shop. When the building is sold and their rent skyrockets, Romy enters a contest to win a huge bonus and a position with a travel company. All Romy needs to do is visit the same landmarks as Phileas Fogg did in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days, without taking a commercial flight. And Romy needs to be faster than Dominic Madison, whose uncle is her new evil landlord. Romy has never been further from New York City than Montreal, and is definitely not an intrepid traveler. Many adventures later, the cargo ship she and Dominic are traveling on rescues a group of Somali refugees, and the pair find a new, mutual goal. This book is perfect armchair travel reading for summer, complete with a little romance (with Dominic, of course!). A good non-fiction readalike is Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman. This novel really kept my interest, and will be published on August 11.

Brenda

 

America for Beginners

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel about a Bengali widow who takes a cross-country trip from New York City to Los Angeles with a young Bangladeshi guide and a struggling actress as her companion. The trio stay at basic chain hotels and eat a lot of mediocre Indian food, visiting all the usual tourist sites. Pival has lost contact with her son, who may be in Los Angeles, and wants to confront his partner Jake. This is her first time away from Kolkata, India and I enjoyed seeing the country through Pival’s point of view. Rebecca, when not acting or picking up men in bars, works at a map store in New York City while young Satya is on his first tour outside the city, and is always hungry. This is a poignant, heartwarming, and occasionally funny character-driven story about outer and inner journeys. I’m looking forward to the author’s next novel, set in Mumbai, India.
Brenda

 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

April becomes a celebrity after she encounters a large metallic statue late one night in Manhattan. Her friend Andy records a video with April and the statue they nickname Carl, and the video goes viral. Sixty-four identical statues have appeared in cities around the world, including one in Hollywood. April gets a publicist and makes the rounds of talk shows, yet doesn’t know how to maintain her relationship with Maya. April, now known as April May, has plenty of adventures trying to solve the mystery of the Carls. While she definitely has some weaknesses, April thinks the Carls are benevolent, and has high hopes for the future. Fast-paced and entertaining, this first novel is a compelling, quirky read. More, please!

Brenda

The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

Clara Darden is a new art instructor at the Grand Central School of Art in late 1920s New York City, hoping to illustrate covers for Vogue magazine. Clara doesn’t get the same respect as male artists, and the Depression makes it increasingly harder for artists to make a living. In 1974 Virginia Clay, recently divorced mother of college-age daughter Ruby, gets a job at the information booth at the rundown terminal. Virginia discovers the abandoned art school, and a painting similar to one featured in an art auction catalog. While the painting may be valuable, the real masterpiece here is the Grand Central Terminal, which is about to lose its landmark status. Art, architecture, and the lives of the two women connect in a very satisfying way. Readalikes include Georgia by Dawn Tripp and The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro. This appealing historical novel is sure to be popular with book groups.

Brenda

Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Jende and Neni Jonga, immigrants from Cameroon, pursue the American dream in New York City in 2007. Jende is fortunate to find a good job as chauffeur to Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards and his family. Neni is in college, their son Liomi is in elementary school, and they are happy together in their tiny Harlem apartment. Jende hears Clark’s phone calls in the limo, Neni spends time in the Hamptons helping Cindy Edwards with child care, and they both learn the family’s secrets. Neni is pregnant again, and Jende wants her to take time off from work and school, even though their legal status in the United States is uncertain. Then Lehman Brothers collapses, the Great Recession begins, and both families are in turmoil. Jende thinks that with their savings, they may be happier back in Cameroon, but Neni really wants to stay and get her degree. The Edwards, not as resilient as the Jonga family, are even unhappier. They are not as vividly drawn as the Jongas, and I didn’t care about their problems as much. I really enjoyed reading about life in Cameroon, and the Jongas’ interactions with their fellow immigrants. This debut novel is our September book discussion selection, and is also the latest book club selection by Oprah Winfrey. I look forward to hearing what everyone else thought about this compelling novel.
Brenda

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Rich New York socialites are befriended by writer Truman Capote in the 1950s. Truman is openly gay, so their husbands don’t mind having him around on their yachts and in their villas. Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and Slim Keith freely confide in him; only C.Z. Guest doesn’t share her secrets. Twenty years later, Truman reveals their secrets in a fictionalized article for Esquire, with grave consequences. The author explores the lives and relationships of these glamorous women and the colorful writer, best known for his book In Cold Blood and a remarkable black and white ball. Gossipy, entertaining, yet often sad, this novel is a compelling read.
Brenda

Dinner with Edward

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent

Isabel, an investigative reporter for the New York Post, is befriended by her colleague’s father, Edward. They both live on Roosevelt Island, in the East River. Edward was married to Paula for 69 years, and promised before her death to keep on living. Happily, he’s a gourmet cook, and Isabel starts visiting weekly for dinner and advice. Edward tells stories about his life, shares his poetry, and turns Isabel into a foodie. She has moved many times with her husband and daughter, and her marriage is unraveling. In later chapters, Edward is visibly aging, while Isabel might be falling in love again. This charming memoir reads like fiction. I only wish that it were longer and included recipes.
Brenda

Jackie’s Girl

Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family by Kathy McKeon

In 1964, Kathy Smith leaves a miserable job to become Jackie Kennedy’s personal assistant and substitute nanny. Kathy grew up in a large family in a three room cottage in rural Ireland, sharing a coat with her sister Briege. While money was short and the children started doing chores on the farm quite young, there was also time for fun and weekend dances. Her uncle Pat’s family sent hand-me-downs and food from New York, and bought tickets for Kathy and Briege to come to America, where Irish girls could easily find work. Kathy’s interview with “Madam” was basically meeting little John and watching his dog do tricks. Generous and very kind, Jackie Kennedy was also a demanding employer, wanting Kathy to help fill the lonely evenings after young Caroline and John were asleep, and often coming up with just one more errand at the end of the day. Well trained by the previous assistant, Kathy took care of Jackie’s wardrobe, especially packing and unpacking for her many trips, and spent lots of time with the family on Cape Cod, New Jersey, and elsewhere. Still a teenager, Kathy became lifelong friends with John, and was clearly devoted to the Kennedy family, mourning along with them when Bobby died. Full of humorous anecdotes, a wonderfully readable memoir of life with the Kennedys in good times and bad.

Brenda

 

New York 2140

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Years after melting Antarctic ice has raised sea levels by 50 feet, New York City is partly submerged, with canals and sky bridges taking the place of streets, turning the city into a Super Venice. Vlade, superintendent of the Met Life Tower condo building keeps busy checking for leaks, when he’s not retrieving residents’ boats from the multilevel boathouse. Charlotte is head of the building’s condo board, and is faced with an anonymous bid to buy the building. The many and varied residents dine together, partly fed by rooftop gardens. Young orphans Roberto and Stefan have a boat and keep getting in trouble as they explore the city, and are repeatedly rescued by financial trader Franklin. In turn, the boys rescue their friend Mr. Hexter and his precious maps from a collapsing building. Inspector Gen of the NYPD, cloud star Amelia Black, who tours the globe in her blimp, and two kidnapped coders known as Mutt and Jeff round out the varied cast of characters who at first have only the building in common. When Roberto and Stefan find sunken gold in the Bronx but need help retrieving the treasure, the residents come together to help the boys, and after a bad hurricane, use the gold to help crash and remake the city’s economic system. Quite a fun, if lengthy read, full of adventure, about a possible future city with appealing, memorable characters.

Brenda

My Name is Lucy Barton

lucy barton jacketMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I don’t know if a short review can do this book justice, but I’ll try. In less than 200 pages, in silences and in words never spoken, the author tells the story of a miserable childhood and the enduring, deep love of a mother and daughter. Lucy Barton, enduring a lengthy hospitalization for an infection after an appendectomy, is surprised and delighted when her mother arrives in her hospital room for a five-day visit. In the mid-1980s Lucy is married and living in Manhattan with her husband William and two young daughters. The AIDS crisis is just beginning. Lucy’s mother tells her stories about their neighbors in rural Amgash, Illinois, where Lucy grew up, the youngest of three children. Lucy is never so happy as when her mother is talking, but they must carefully talk around and never mention Lucy’s childhood. The family lived in a garage until a relative died, and Lucy vividly remembers being cold, dirty, and often hungry. Then there was her father, who apparently went into rages when he remembered World War II. Her brother and sister still live near their parents, but Lucy escaped, thanks to a college scholarship, and is now a published writer. Elizabeth Strout’s writing here is spare and tender, and very moving, and sure to be nominated for an award or two.
Brenda