Monday, March 29, 2010

A New York Woman: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

As part of the NYC Challenge hosted at Fizzy Thoughts, we have been asked to feature a post that focuses on "women, New York, and history". I ran that meta-data through my brain and it somehow gave back Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. As I thought it through, however, it actually made a lot of sense - Jackie O is a NY woman with an indelible place in U.S. history. Although she lived in many places throughout her life - Newport, RI; McLean, VA; Washington, DC; France, and Greece, she was born and raised in NY and spent significant portions of her adult life in the city.

The intensely private Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sought refuge in NY following the assassination of her husband, JFK in 1963. I thought this quote from the New York Times offered an interesting perspective on her choice of NYC:

New Yorkers might be considered the most private of all Americans; urban apartment-dwelling grants anonymity to those who seek it. And so she moved to New York in 1964 to an apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue.
Although she fought for her privacy even in NY and was briefly driven out of the city by fears for her children's safety, Jackie returned to NYC and lived in her apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue
until her death in 1994. Jackie built a life for herself and her children in the city - in addition to working at Doubleday as an editor, she became a patron of many charities.

She dedicated her efforts, in particular, to two of her most loved NYC landmarks - Central Park and Grand Central Station. In recognition of her work with Central Park Conservancy, the Central Park Reservoir was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Overlooked by her 5th Avenue apartment, the reservoir was a frequent jogging destination for Jackie. The reservoir is literally an oasis in the middle of the Park and a favorite spot of mine for a relaxing walk or even an easy jog.

Grand Central Station (or its lesser known, albeit official name - Grand Central Terminal) is a NYC landmark and a destination in and of itself as opposed to merely a terminal that you pass through as you catch a train out of the city. In the late 70's, there were plans to erect a 55 story tower over GCT which would require the demolition of some of the terminal. Along with other city leaders, Jackie fought to preserve the landmark by legally blocking the right to erect the tower. The effort was ultimately successful and Grand Central was beautifully restored in 1994.

By dedicating herself to causes tied so inextricably to NYC, Jackie demonstrated her love for the city and was able to give back to the city that provided refuge for her and her family. Her life in NYC came full circle upon her death when her funeral was held at St. Ignatius Loyola Church - the same church in which she was baptized in 1929.

For further reading on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, check out America's Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Author Marian Keyes - Skillful Chick Lit

Author Marian Keyes was raised and currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. She has written nine novels, generally in the chick lit genre, and a number of short stories. I really enjoy her novels; although they are chick lit, they often have some deeper themes and are not just fluff. I like my fluff, believe me, but if a book is all fluff it won't hold my interest for long. I enjoy following the outrageous predicaments often faced by her female protagonists while their heart endears them to me. When asked in a Book interview about the Chick Lit genre, Keyes had this to say:

The title [chick lit] is meant to be demeaning, but it's a very important genre. It articulates (or it did in beginning) our post-feminist world, which is all contradiction and the choices inherent in that. Today women are independent --- they have money and jobs, and all are equal in the workplace, except that it's the guys who get promoted. It also articulates our obsession with body image and food, and our anxieties --- career vs. motherhood, career vs. relationships. My generation is the first generation to benefit from what the feminists had done in the '60s and '70s. We believed everything was perfect and that everything was done with feminism. And it articulates our addictions --- exercise, spending too much, etc. Chick Lit uses humor to reflect life back to us. It's a very comforting genre, and it's the first time our generation has had a voice. It's a very important genre for all of those reasons. Yes, my books do fall into this category. Of course, the genre (like any genre) has writers of varying qualities. But the way it sells shows how important it is, how comforting women find it.

Four of Keyes's novels feature the Walsh sisters (Watermelon, Angels, Rachel's Holiday and Anybody Out There)- these novels stand alone but the Walsh sisters do appear in each of the four novels. I have read all four but thought I would feature brief reviews of Watermelon and Anybody Out There since these are her first and last (thus far) novels with the Walsh sisters.

In Watermelon, Keyes introduces us to Claire, the oldest of the five Walsh sisters. Claire thinks she is married to the perfect man until, just hours after the birth of their first child, he announces he is leaving her. Discharged from the maternity ward and carrying all her pregnancy weight (hence the name, Watermelon), Claire seeks refuge with her family in her Dublin childhood home. We are introduced to the Walsh cast of characters including Claire's parents and two of her four sisters and you get a nice taste of what the other books featuring this family will be like but the story is really Claire's. Although Claire's self-deprecating humor makes for a light read, more serious themes are also addressed as Claire faces her decimated self-esteem and discovers the value of being loved for who she really is and not for some ideal she tried to project. This, my first of the Walsh sister books by Marian Keyes, definitely whetted my appetite and I promptly sought out the rest of the Walsh sister novels.

Anybody Out There?, focuses on Claire's sister, Anna. The book opens with Anna at home in the family's Dublin home recuperating from an unspecified injury. The novel then flashes back to Anna's life as a make-up PR exec in NYC and we learn more and more about her life living single in the city. As the flashbacks progress, we also learn of her courtship and ultimately married life in NYC with her husband, Aidan (he noticeably absent from her bedside in Dublin). It clear something catastrophic has happened but the nature of the incident that caused Anna's injuries and the location of her husband, Aidan are not disclosed to the reader and I was truly surprised when everything began to unfold in the last third of the book. This novel elevates chick lit by focusing on the heavy themes of grief and loss while still maintaining her signature humor and light tone. The juxtaposition of grief and humor could fail terribly but this author works with both themes well and the result is an enjoyable but emotional read.

Check out the author's website for more info on her life and a quick look at each of her nine novels. I have her 8th novel, This Charming Man on my shelf and am looking forward to diving into it!
What are your opinions of Chick Lit? Do you deliberately avoid it or are you drawn to it?

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday: March 29, 2010

Story Siren hosts In My Mailbox where book bloggers offer a peek into the books that arrived in their homes over the past week. Mailbox Monday hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page has the same objective. These memes are great in that they offer us a chance to see what others are reading- it's like candy for book addicts!

This week the collection of books that came into my home is a mix of books for review, audiobooks, wins from some great bloggers and the product of a trip to my favorite thrift store - I was there to drop off some clothes for donation but there was a book sale and . . . well, I am sure you know the rest!

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (Audio CD) by Malcolm Gladwell - I won this on
Readaholic. Thanks Bridget!

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker was win from Libby's Library. Thanks Libby!

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah - I won this ARC from Kathleen at Mommy's Reading Thanks Kathleen!

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks - this is for review from Doubleday

Lush Life: A Novel by Richard Price - I have heard good things about this author and novel and was excited to see it in the thrift store sale

Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess by Susan Jane Gilman - I picked the one up at the thrift store. I am on a bit of a Susan Jane Gilman kick these days and was happy to be able to snag this one in the sale

The Human Stain: A Novel by Philip Roth - I read The Plot Against America a number of years ago for a book club and was blown away. Many people have told me The Human Stain is one of Roth's best so I am looking forward to getting to this one (another thrift store purchase!)

Worst Case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge - this audio CD arrived from Hachette (thanks Anna!) I'll have a giveaway posted soon for this one!

Ok - off to find a place to stow these (the shelves are pretty much full) - what came into your home this week?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: March 28, 2010 - Quarterly Review

The Sunday

Hard to imagine that we are 25% into 2010 already and the closing of the 1st quarter is upon us. This has really been my first quarter of blogging (I started blogging in late Dec 2009) and it is such a part of my daily life that I sometimes forget I have only been doing this for 3 solid months. I have always loved to read but blogging about books and following other's reading blogs has really added to the reading experience for me (even though I struggle to find balance between reading and blogging and my bookshelves are teeming!).

Here is a quick re-cap of the year so far on Books in the City . . .

Fiction Reviews:
Waking Up in the Land of Glitter
by Kathy Cano-Murillo
The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
Eternal on The Water by Joseph Monninger
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro
Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
The Colour of Love by Preethi Nair
Age of Shiva by Manil Suri
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Non-Fiction Reviews:
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
The Cure by Geeta Anand
Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning by Celia Rivenbark
Live for Your Listening Pleasure by David Sedaris

A Bit O' Irish
For the month of March, in celebration of my Irish heritage, I featured Irish authors and books set in Ireland. I will post a couple more reviews before the months ends on Wednesday but here are the Irish books I reviewed this month:

I'll Know It When I See It
by Alice Carey
Blackwater Lightship and the Master by Colm Toibin
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney (Don't miss my giveaway for this book)
Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
Agnes Browne Trilogy by Brendan O'Carroll

I summarized my challenge progress at the end of Feb, so I won't re-cap here - especially since there has been embarrassingly little progress in the past month! I really enjoy the focus provided by challenges and the opportunities to see what others are reading for these same challenges.

All in all, it has been a great first quarter and I look forward to many more to come!

How has your 1st quarter been?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Author Colm Toibin: Two Reviews

Author Colm Toibin is an Irish writer and the author of many novels and short stories including Brooklyn, The Master, and The Blackwater Lightship: A Novel. Bookslut (gotta love that name!) has an interview with the author and in it he shares some interesting perspectives on writing and his works. You can also check out the review of one of Toibin's short stories by Joann from Lakeside Musing. I am anxiously awaiting my turn at Brooklyn (my Mom has it right now) but I have read a few of Toibin's works and thought I would do a double review . . .

I first discovered the author a number of years ago when I read Blackwater Lightship - I was gripped by the beauty of Toibin's prose. Although melancholy pervades this novel about a young man, Declan, who returns to his grandmother's home on the coast of Ireland as he is dying of AIDS, the writing is so beautiful that I didn't want to put the book down. The characters drawn by the author are complex which makes this novel so compelling. Declan's family, unaware of the disease he has been fighting, bring all their unresolved issues to the house; the interplay of those issues and the realization by Declan's sister, mother and grandmother that he is dying make for powerful scenes. The scenes, however, are quietly powerful which somehow seems very Irish - there are no impassioned outbursts of emotion. Another draw to the novel for me was it's setting - Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. I have family from this part of Ireland and spent some time visiting the beaches here when I was a child. Toibin described the seaside so beautifully in the novel and I felt as if I had returned.

The Master is Toibin's fictionalized portrait of the author Henry James. Before reading this novel, I had not read anything by James. I wonder if my experience with The Master would have been different if I had read some of Henry James's works or was at least acquainted with his life. Despite this ignorance, I still really enjoyed Toibin's master. Again, as with Blackwater Lightship, the beautiful writing impressed me and I felt carried through the novel by it. This is not a book, however, that you read quickly. The pace is slow and the subject, Henry James, is difficult to get to know. Although you don't need to have read James before reading this novel, I imagine the book would seem even richer with the knowledge of James and his works.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Giveaway - Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney

I read and reviewed Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney last week and LOVED it! Delaney is a consummate storyteller and I fell into this richly crafted tale. Read my review here.

The author's publicist has generously offered a copy of the book to giveaway to one of my readers - I hope you enter and get a chance to enjoy this book as much as I did.

The contest will run until March 30th at 11:50 EST. To enter, just leave a comment here telling me one characteristic a great storyteller must possess.

Slainte (Good Luck) to all entrants!

Last Song - Winners!

My giveaway for 3 copies of the Nicholas Sparks's The Last Song ended on March 16th - I am al little behind in announcing the winners. Sorry for the delay!

Without further ado . . . I chose the winners via the random number generator at (the statisticians at work would be so proud!). Here are the lucky winners:

Misusedinnocence of Emrelove
Kerry of Entomology of a Bookworm

Congrats to the winners! Please email me your mailing address so that I can have the publisher mail out the books.

Don't forget to enter my current giveaway for a copy of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show which ends March 30th!

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday: March 22 2010

Story Siren hosts In My Mailbox where book bloggers offer a peek into the books that arrived in their homes over the past week. Mailbox Monday hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page has the same objective. These memes are great in that they offer us a chance to see what others are reading- it's like candy for book addicts!

I have missed posting this for a few weeks so I am going to divide my books over a few of these posts. Here is this week's batch:

The Life O'Reilly by Brian Cohen - this arrived from the author for review

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg - I won this from Alyce of At Home With Books - thanks Alyce!

The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark - this arrived from FSB associates and looks like a fun read!

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman - I got this from Bookmooch. I loved Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven and wanted to read more by the author

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Quirk Classics: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) by Steve Hockensmith - I received this from the publisher for review. This is not my usual fare but I thought I would branch out a bit

What arrived in your mailbox this week?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: March 21, 2010

The Sunday

Spring has certainly sprung - woo hoo! The weather this weekend was absolutely beautiful! Incidentally, the Spring Reading Thing 2010 started yesterday (runs to June 20th - the end of Spring). This "challenge" only requires that you decide and document what you plan to read in the period - no other requirements. I think this will help me be more intentional in my reading and not just be governed by review and book club obligations. So my list is a mix of those obligations but also some other books that are calling to me from the shelves:

Hope everyone has a great week an enjoys the onset of Spring!