Sit down, everyone, because I’m about to tell you about a book I think you’ll love. If you’re like me and enjoy historical fiction, Victorian England, long musings on the nature of war, family, coming of age, and other universal and important themes, then The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt will be your new favorite book, if you have about three weeks to spare.
Hey all! Got a book recommendation today. If you are like me and love: New York, New York fiction, historical fiction, big-ass books, then this one is for you: New York by Edward Rutherfurd. This is the third book I’ve read by this author: the previous ones I’ve read are the ones he wrote about Paris (here) and London (here). With this book, the trifecta of the world’s greatest cities is complete!
Hi guys! Today I have a Book Lust wish list post of all the new books I’ve been hearing about recently—new books in 2017 that I cannot wait to read. I love to keep an eye on new book releases coming out the same way I like to keep an eye on fashion trends. 😉 It’s always exciting to find new books and then I get to share them here! So these are the new book releases I can’t wait to get my hands on in spring 2017.
When I first heard about The Velvet Hours, a new book by Alyson Richman, I have to admit I was like, “Great, another book about World War II. Another book about Paris. Cliche AF.” But seeing the dozens of four- and five-star reviews on Goodreads, I decided to take a chance. And this book truly impressed me. If you’re interested in excellent storytelling, historical fiction, Paris during the Belle Epoque, or just getting lost in a great book, check out The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman.
The Velvet Hours is set in two tumultuous and iconic periods of Parisian history: the Belle Epoque and World War II. The main character, a young woman named Solange, discovers that her father is adopted, and that her real grandmother is a rich, elegant woman named Marthe de Florian. Solange’s father encourages Solange to spend time with Marthe to distract his daughter from the passing of her mother, and because Solange wants to be a writer, and her father knows that Marthe has had an interesting life. Over the course of a year and a half, Solange gets to know her new grandmother, and Marthe de Florian regales her granddaughter with stories of her life, set against the sumptuous background of the Belle Epoque.
The narrative flips between Solange’s first-person narrative in 1939-1940 and Marthe de Florian’s third-person reminiscences. She tells Solange about her humble beginnings as a seamstress in Montmartre, her adolescent days performing onstage, and eventually becoming a woman of the demimonde–that half world occupied by courtesans, mistresses, and the like. Marthe meets and engages in a decades-long affair with a rich man named Charles, discovers her love for art and beauty, and becomes an elegant, accomplished woman who turns her life into a work of art.
Way back last year, I bought a bunch of Edward Rutherfurd novels that take place in a specific city/country and span centuries. These books, of which he’s written like ten, function as both amazing historical fiction and an ode to their respective places. Last August I read Paris and could not stop gushing over it. This year, I read London.
I started this book in December, weeks before my trip to London over New Year’s, but since it was Christmas and I was really busy, I didn’t finish it until I returned from my trip in January, and reading this book ended up being the perfect bookend (pun intended) to a wonderful return to the city. This book made me get to know the city’s history, even as I wandered its ancient streets.
It begins in pre-Roman, Celtic Britain, and ends in 1997. Between those 1100+ pages, six families come to life over 2,000 years. In these pages, we get to know Londinium, the Roman city, with its amphitheatre, gladiators, and rampant money counterfeiting. We see William the Conqueror invade the city in 1066, and build the impressive fortress, the Tower of London, on the banks of the Thames. We see the plague rip through the towns, the Great Fire absolutely demolish the wooden houses, and Mayfair rise up from its ashes a century or so later. The same families appear in each chapter, and the author is tongue in cheek, knowing that the readers know so much more about each family’s history and ancestry than even they know.
I have always felt that historical fiction, provided it’s as accurate as humanly possible, is the best way to learn history. I don’t think history can really be learned from history books (if you’re anything short of a historian) and Edward Rutherfurd is not only a very detailed history writer; he’s also a masterful storyteller. Each chapter is rife with vivid characters, heightened tension, excellent plot development, and the perfect set-up for future characters—and future settings. It’s like two dozen novellas in one, or as if someone had dictated their family’s history to a talented ghostwriter.
“Each year, each age, leaves something. It gets compressed, of course, it disappears under the surface, but just a little of all that human life remains. A Roman tile, a coin, a clay pipe from Shakespeare’s time. All left in place. When we dig down, we find it and we may put it on show. But don’t think of it just as an object. Because that coin, that pipe belonged to someone: a person who lived, and loved, and looked out at the river and the sky each day just like you and me.”
A character says that to another on the very last page, two archaeologists walking through the Museum of London (which I was lucky to visit when I was first there, and it’s a must-see). I love that quote.
Some people will have trouble getting into this one; it is a slow starter. But it’s absolutely worth the effort.
The book Lair of Dreams, the sequel to The Diviners by Libba Bray, was a long time coming. But since I’ve been reading Libba Bray since I was 12 all the way back in 2003, I knew her penchant for pushing back deadlines and making fans really earn the next installment in a series/trilogy. But this one, like her others, was worth the wait.
Libba Bray is the author of a book series that changed my life when I was a young teenager: A Great and Terrible Beauty and its two sequels, books set in Victorian England and featuring a female character with connections to a supernatural world of power that she can control. Bray’s new series follows along the same lines.
Set in 1920s New York, a world of flappers and speakeasies, the Harlem Renaissance and Ziegfeld girls, The Diviners is about a group of teenagers who have psychic or supernatural abilities. The second installment follows eight different main characters, each with a rich backstory, strong characterizations, a different “ability,” and distinct voices.
There’s Evie O’Neill, the quintessential flapper and an object reader. She loves the high life, and she loves being the famous Sweetheart Seer, her radio personality. There’s Theta Knight, a sultry Ziegfeld girl with a dark past. Henry DuBois, a dreamwalker looking for his lost love, a boy named Louis he left behind in New Orleans. Memphis Campbell, a poet from Harlem who can heal with one touch. Ling Chan, a resident of Chinatown and a victim of polio who finds solace in her dream world, where she can do anything she likes.
And more…each unique, each interesting. It’s truly a feat to have such a varied cast, all of them main characters, all of them with a different voice, all of them as interesting as the last. As episodic as the book is, it never feels fragmented, and I never was annoyed to turn the page and find that this or that character was now the focus. I liked them all.
Oh, and these books are also literally the scariest books I’ve ever read. They’re horror stories at heart, so in the last one there was a ghostly murderer killing people and stealing body parts so he could build himself a body. I didn’t sleep for the entire time I read it.
This installment is slightly less horrifying, but just as gruesome. When the earliest (shut down) subway station in New York is accidentally discovered by a trio of workmen deep in the bowels of New York, a ghost is awakened who enters the dreams of its victims, showing them their deepest desires and then using that dream to sap their life force. The “sleeping sickness,” as the terrified New Yorkers call it, causes its victims to enter into an unending sleep while they burn from the inside out. Scorch marks appear on their bodies as they dream and dream—until they die.
Oh, and the ghost is also snatching people and turning them into monsters with razor-like teeth, horrifying howls and screams, and jaws that unhinge to attack their victims. Imagine Gollum but ten times scarier.
Despite its horror, this book is still very much character driven. Evie especially is a character who goes through many “growth spurts,” and each character has to face an inner demon as important as the physical ones that threaten to kill them and everyone they love. Memphis struggles to be a poet and has to deal with racism in 1920s New York. Ling Chan lives in Chinatown during the height of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and also faces racism. Theta deals with her murky and violent past, Henry copes with hiding and also accepting his homosexuality, and so on. The book is so rich, steeped in history and social issues, and the characterization is never sacrificed for the sensational.
I’m seriously impressed with the writing, as well. Since 2003, Libba Bray has become a truly talented wordsmith, even more so than she was.
“Every city is a ghost.
New buildings rise upon the bones of the old so that each shiny steel beam, each tower of brick carries within it the memories of what has gone before, an architectural haunting. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of these former incarnations in the awkward angle of a street or filigreed gate, an old oak door peeking out from a new facade, the plaque commemorating the spot that was once a battleground, which became a saloon and is now a park.”
At the heart of this book is New York, a rich tapestry that becomes a character in and of itself. New York fiction is perhaps my favorite “genre.”
I really don’t have much criticism of this YA novel. I think it’s a must read, for all ages. It’s epic, important, full of truth and beauty, and just as striking as the first book I read by Bray, about 12 years ago.
I’ve never read a book quite like this one.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is almost everything I look for in a book: historical fiction, magic, excellent storytelling, a touch of the mystical, and of course, New York.
I love New York fiction, especially historical fiction, so this book was basically calling my name. It’s about two mythical figures in folklore: a jinni and a golem. A golem is a creature made of clay and animated by Kabbalistic magic to serve a master for the entirety of its existence. A jinni is a creature of fire born in the Syrian desert, and can be known to antagonize or even harm humans, sort of like a fire demon. What happens when these two beings meet in 1899 New York? Wanna find out?
Chava is the golem, a clay woman whose master dies on their sea voyage to New York. She’s cautious, timid, and eager to serve humans because that’s her nature, and her reason for existence. It’s also really dangerous, because another part of a golem’s nature is its innate and latent penchant for violence. When a golem becomes violent it can’t be controlled anymore, and has to be destroyed.
Ahmad is the jinni, who is released from a flask by a tinsmith in Little Syria. He becomes an apprentice to the tinsmith, but is forever trapped in human form by an iron cuff on his wrist, and bound to be a slave to an unknown master a long time ago. He doesn’t really remember how he became trapped, but it was at least a thousand years ago in the Syrian desert.
The one thing I want to note about this book is its beauty. Wecker is a talented writer, and the way she weaves historical settings and makes two mythical creatures appear natural to the tapestry of New York history is seriously impressive.
Madison Square Park sat before them, a dark grove of leafless trees. They crossed into it, and meandered along the empty paths. Even the homeless had left to search out warm doorways and stairwells. Only the Golem and the Jinni were there to take in the quiet.
I think the most interesting part of this book was reading about the two creatures themselves, and what humanity means to two beings who are not human. Chava is the most problematic character; because she was made and not born, and because her nature is to be enslaved, quite happily, to a human, her characterization and personality are extremely complex.
Chava is built to automatically follow the commands of her master, to anticipate his desires, and to fulfill them entirely. That is her purpose. She has also been built to be cautious and meek, as well as intelligent and curious. Her master specifically imbued her with these qualities. Does that mean she’s a robot? Without a master, Chava’s decisions and personality take on new meaning. If she’s made to be a slave, if she’s meant to have certain characteristics, is anything she does or says true to her? Does she have any say in who she is, what she does, and how she feels? The book touches upon these big-boy questions, often when the golem is in conversation with the jinni, who is her extreme opposite.
“I have no idea, [the jinni] said, “how long I was that man’s servant. His slave. I don’t know what he made me do. I might have done terrible things. Perhaps I killed for him. I might have killed my own kind.” There was a tight edge in his voice, painful to hear. “But even worse would be if I did it all gladly. If he robbed me of my will, and turned me against myself. Given the choice, I’d sooner extinguish myself in the ocean.”
Chava is earth, but the jinni Ahmad is a creature of fire, and thus has many of the qualities you’d associate with the element: impulsiveness, a quick temper, arrogance, self-absorption, recklessness, and selfishness. But he’s also capable of change and love. Of the two of them, the jinni is less complex, and seems more human. He’s also slightly less interesting. But it’s the way these two characters interact with each other, their surroundings, and the ensemble cast of vivid characters that propel the story along.
As for the story, this is a plot-heavy book with a reasonably fast pace. I also didn’t know until I had about a hundred pages left that this is only the first book in a trilogy, something that kind of disappointed me. The setup for the sequel made the last hundred pages or so less focused on the characters and more on a huge climax and a cliffhanger, and I tend to like character-driven books more, because they end with some kind of satisfaction. Instead, the intense action took away from the characters’ stories, and it felt a little contrived. Also, the second book doesn’t come out until 2018, which is endlessly frustrating! I’ve always been annoyed with trilogies and series!
So, there’s definite good and bad, and as one notable Goodreads review pointed out, there are no passages in this book that hit that emotional nerve, that a-ha quote that points at some universal truth, that makes you ache and cry and laugh with the characters. As beautifully written as it is, it also feels less passionate than it could have been, like a technically perfect dance without any heart or soul. I find that I like books better even if they have poorer plots or writing, if they manage to tug on those heartstrings. Don’t we all?
I am very excited to begin my second Edward Rutherfurd historical fiction novel based on the great, great city of New York. I’ve read Paris and utterly loved it, and now I’m going to sink my teeth into New York and see where this novel takes me.
Like Paris, this book will center on several characters from several different families and will chronicle the stories of these characters across the centuries. New York is the main character here, and I hope it’s as chock full of history as Paris was.
I’ve lived a half hour away from the city my whole life, so New York is a beloved friend. I hope this novel does it justice. The first line is, “So this is freedom.” I think I’m going to like this book.
This one is longer than Paris, clocking in at 880 pages. Follow along to hear more when I finish this epic tome!
Rarely do I get so excited about a book. Rarely do I see all of my wildest expectations come true. I really, really loved Paris. And I’m just as excited to read every single other book by Edward Rutherfurd.
Paris is built on a simple concept first established by author James Michener. The author creates several families and then tells their stories, and the stories of their ancestors and descendants over a certain period of time. Intertwined in the narrative are major historical events and people that make the reader feel like they’ve actually experienced all of this firsthand.
From the minute I opened Paris on a plane back to New York from San Francisco earlier this month, I was hooked. Despite the dozens of characters, often with the same names, and the jumps between centuries (the first hundred or so pages go from the late 1800s to the early 1300s), this book is so very easy to read. It’s so easy to get lost in, to get wrapped up in the narrative, because Rutherfurd is one thing: a master storyteller.
Each anecdote, if you can call them that, features such lively and well-developed characters. I couldn’t believe how much I got wrapped up in one 80-page story and how much I grew devoted to the characters. I loved each “flashback” so much that I was so sad to see that episode end, but with each chapter, my attention was back. I never, ever felt bored reading this book and at almost 800 pages, I can’t even express how rare that is.
I explored the building of the Eiffel Tower and I walked around Monet’s lily pond, and I felt like I had lived through the horror of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. I’m on the point of gushing here, folks.
People who love stories, read this book. People who love character development, read this book. People who love history, definitely read this book. It descends into gimmicky often, but you become so enthralled that you don’t even care. Read this book if you’re planning a trip to Paris or if you’ve always wanted to. It’ll make you get to know the City of Light on an intimate, personal level.