Book rec // The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

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 hoursThe 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.

Read More »

Bookstore Hopping: Bruised Apple Books

I love visiting new indie bookstores, especially if they stock used books, but when it comes to Westchester/Hudson Valley, the choices are kind of slim. After some searching, I found a hidden gem in Peekskill: Bruised Apple Books. I fell in love with the pictures on the website and decided I had to pay a visit. Not only do they sell used and new books, but they also have an impressive selection of used and new vinyl, CDs, and a modest little collection of popular movies in DVD form. But books are the main event there, and they’re celebrated.

Warning: long post with many pretty pictures ahead.

0 1 2 3 45 6 7910111213141516171819

I also spoke to the owner and learned that Bruised Apple Books has been in business for 20 years, no small amount of time! You can tell how much books are loved here. The owner chatted with me a bit, gave me permission to snap a few pictures, and threw in a free button with my purchase! Bruised Apple has easily become one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited (second only to the Westsider on the Upper West Side). I’ll be a frequent visitor.

This is the gorgeous music/media section:

8a b c d e

Aside from the usual collection of printed tees (which actually come in crop-top variations for the female crowd, an innovation I liked), Bruised Apple also sells little buttons like I mentioned before, vintage postcards, and the covers of vintage paperback books (mostly romance novels, which was fun!). These merchandise choices differ from the common tees-and-totes formula with sometimes a notebook or bookmark thrown in. There’s also an emphasis on travel, with a well-stocked new and vintage travel section and many, many pretty maps! It was beautiful.

g IMG_3225fh

Their fiction section was small but remarkably well-stocked. Every genre is represented here though, from Fantasy and Sci-Fi, to travel, theology, spirituality, Children’s, even gardening. It’s really fun to peruse all the sections, each with an interesting decor. I could see myself coming back and getting lost in here for hours. I think I just might.

iI bought two books:

Winter’s Tales by Isak Denisen, and Helen of Troy, by Ruby Blondell, because I’m obsessed both with winter and with Helen of Troy.

IMG_3251 IMG_3252 IMG_3257little button!

Book Lust: Lisa's Must Reads

I have been reading like a fiend so far this year but I still feel like I’m slacking, and also that there are too many books I want to read and only so many eyes I have in my face (only two). I’ve been dying to read these books. If you’ve read them and can offer insight, critical or otherwise, or if you have a fifty dollar bill you’d like to donate so I can buy these, let me know in the comments (I really should renew my library membership).

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 9.51.32 PM

1. Ender’s Game: my sister is teaching this book to her eighth graders and raving about it nonstop, and I’ll admit I’m curious about all the hype and controversy surrounding the film version. I’m never one to not read a novel/see a movie because of the personal beliefs of the artist. I believe art exists separate from its creator. Also, Ender’s Game is an undisputed classic and I’d like to experience it for myself.

2. His Dark Materials: this novel(s) is another example of being able to separate the artist’s own beliefs from the narrative and story. This trilogy is a classic fantasy piece of literature, and also happens to be a popular film. I’m noticing a pattern in my literary choices.

3. PAULO COELHO: i.e., everything he’s written. I’ve previously read By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and I loved it. I’m a third of the way through The Alchemist right now and highlighting every other line. Coelho has the ability to infuse a sense of magic into an otherwise mundane story. Santiago the shepherd and his journey to achieve his life’s purpose have me bewitched. I’m planning to read The Valkyries next.

4. 1Q84: I feel like I’ll need at least three weeks to read this tome, and I’d like to spend the necessary time with it. Hopefully I don’t put it off for too long. Maybe it’s a good plane read for my trip to and from Alaska next week. Being stuck on a plane is a great way to get some books read.

5. American Gods: I’m slowly moving my way through Gaiman’s oeuvre and loving every minute of it. Read what I thought of Stardust and Neverwhere while you’re here!

6. A Winter’s Tale: those sappy, beautifully-shot commercials for the film have made me want to read the novel. This desire may also be a symptom of the lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day feeling in the air, but I’ll take it nonetheless! I’ve heard great things about the novel, so hopefully I get my hands on a copy of this soon. (Also a movie!)

7. The Lowland: I love to read immigrant literature, especially if it’s by one of my favorite authors, Jhumpa Lahiri. I received the hardcover for Christmas and can’t wait to sink my teeth into it!

There’s nothing I love to do more during the winter season than bury myself in blankets and read, most often with some sort of spiked hot beverage 😉

Internships & Indie Books

Yesterday I began a new internship writing for Vibe Vixen, and it’s great to have a reason to put on real clothes in the morning: you know, like pants without dancing toasters on them. Actual clothes. Like these:

IMG_2066

Wait, something is missing.

IMG_2069

^^^That’s better. My train book: By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept. I’m thoroughly entranced by it so far.

IMG_2078

Sorry I look like such a goober: posing for pictures makes me awkward and I’m smiling so cheesy because my father (who took the picture) had no idea how to use my camera and it made me laugh.

What I love most about fashion/style is picking together really old pieces from your wardrobe and finding new combinations. Everything about this outfit is old, old, old but I have never worn them like this. Those burgundy tights from American Apparel have become so worn out but I still wear them basically every other week, and the taupe boots from Forever 21 need some love from a cobbler (I also have them in black). But being broke and interning means I have to recycle my old clothes and my staples and find new ways to wear them. I’m up to the challenge 🙂

And since it was my first day and therefore short, I thought I’d take some time to visit a new indie bookstore. I love finding new places and after a little searching, I found one centrally located on 47th Street between 5th and Madison: The Center for Fiction.

Photo Dec 02, 3 02 13 PM

It’s an indie and a non-profit, and they have a modest collection of Rare Books, a whole back storeroom of Used Books, new titles at 50% off, and a few self-published zines, as well as the now-common collection of printed tees and totes.

Photo Dec 02, 3 09 22 PM

Photo Dec 02, 3 09 27 PMPhoto Dec 02, 3 10 21 PM

What I found lovely about this place was the architecture of the building itself. It’s attached to a little office building so you can see the old elevators from the inside, nothing about the decor is overwrought, and it feels more like an eccentric collector’s home than a bookstore, which I’m sure is constructed but it’s charming anyway!

Photo Dec 02, 3 11 06 PM

I loved the Rare Books shelves. I found a book I wanted but it was $75. I think I’ll stick to used, thanks. The Used Books section was my favorite, which was definitely a storeroom they didn’t bother decorating, which is awesome. Bonus: no music playing so you get that creepy-quiet atmosphere conducive to book-shopping (I think!)

Photo Dec 02, 3 04 59 PMPhoto Dec 02, 3 05 17 PM

All in all, I had a pretty good Monday.

Bookstore Hopping: Boston and the Brookline Booksmith

Over the weekend I took a road trip to Boston with my best friend. It’s about a four-hour drive from New York, which isn’t terrible, and we stayed in the lovely Boston University area, in the South Campus. This is the Admissions Building all covered with changing leaves and climbing ivy. It was beautiful, but so cold! I had brought only a light jacket and immediately regretted it.

ImageImageImageOne afternoon we took a walk down to the river and what BU kids call “The BU Beach” because there’s a lawn a few feet from the water where kids do homework and lounge during the nice weather. It’s a cool urban quad.

ImageImage

Though the weather was freezing, it was so beautiful near the water and the view was spectacular.

On our last day, our friend gave us a recommendation for a great indie bookstore in Brookline, in a neighborhood called Coolidge Corner. It’s called Brookline Booksmith.

Photo Nov 24, 1 50 27 PMThe store has two floors: the top floor reminded me a bit of the Strand crossed with Barnes & Noble; there were many other kinds of merchandise there from tote bags, greeting cards, maps, notebooks, and all your various paper-type merchandise but there were also hats, gloves, and scarves and a whole Kid’s Section that definitely reminded me of B&N. It’s an indie but it feels corporate…that is, until you get downstairs.

Image

The used book cellar, and more my kind of bookstore.

ImageImageImage

It was quiet and had that library feel, as opposed to the hustle and bustle of the upstairs. My friend and I scored some cheap titles and spent a lovely half hour browsing drowsily.

ImageImage

I loved these shelves! There’s something mysterious about stacking books this way, although I’m sure it has more to do with cataloging and keeping new arrivals out of the way than with aesthetics, but it has that mystery nonetheless.

ImageI bought four books:

IMG_20281. Mary and Maria/Matilda, by Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft

2. The Awakening and Selected Stories, by Kate Chopin

3. The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre (who is one of my favorite historical figures. She was the Mother of the Renaissance, horribly overlooked and underrated, a contemporary of and a huge intellectual influence on Anne Boleyn)

4. My Antonia, by Willa Cather (I also offer for suggestion Dogfish Head’s My Antonia Pilsner, which I bought at Eataly simply because it had a literary name. I love beer, and this seemed like the perfect combination of two of my loves!)

Image

My friend and me. I had wrapped a scarf around my head to protect myself from the freezing wind! Tip: bring an actual coat to Boston in November–don’t repeat my foolish mistakes.

Bookstore Hopping aka BookPorn [SFW]

Today, I thrifted. Hard. For the last year or so I have nary touched a new book. Because I’m such an eyes-are-bigger-than-stomach kind of reader (which should read as “eyes are bigger than eyes” but that makes no sense) I have the tendency to buy books in bulk, let the volumes languish on my shelves, and then re-read like a fiend while the new books sit and stew and get jealous of the older ones. So I’d been making a conscious effort to read all the books I already own before buying any new ones.

That ended today. In a big way.

I blame the Westsider. My favorite bookstore in New York is literally a hole in the wall, two floors, and what seems like a million distinct titles jammed together so tight if you take one book out the others exhale and leave no room for you to replace it. But that’s okay, because you can always buy that book and give it a nice home, aka your already overstuffed shelves.

Books follow me home like sad puppies. And I fall for it every time.

First I hit the Strand because I had some old (read: terrible) books to sell and with the credit I received, I bought the most expensive book I could afford: a $15 copy of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. The only other Murakami I’ve read is Norwegian Wood, which I’ll review in due time. I thought it time to dive into his repertoire. Since I hardly ever read by-author (I tend to read by-interest, if that makes sense), and since I successfully just read a block of books by Eugenides and liked the experience of focusing on one author for a good amount of time, I figured this was a good place to start.

So I bought Michel Faber’s novels, novellas, and short stories because I am a Crimson Petal and the White fangirl. And then I bought a new translation of Madame Bovary, partly because of the pretty, pretty girl on the cover. And then I treated myself to one guilty pleasure: a 1968 edition of one of my favorite novels, A Room With A View. It’s green and it’s got gold lettering on the cover. And it was $7.

Then I left before I could look at the new arrivals section. They gave me a free tote bag as well, because those masterminds at the Strand know I’m a sucker for hipsteresque canvas. I’d call them evil if I didn’t love their prices so much.

Photo Nov 04, 11 44 53 PM

After a brief sojourn into a Housing Works, I headed uptown to my happy place, Westsider Books. This place is so quiet and so cramped; there are books piled floor-to-ceiling, two deep on the shelves and alphabetized only lazily, so you really have to search to find something. This place is less “I’m looking for this” and more “Wow, I can’t believe I found this.” Come with no expectations, no book list, and you’ll invariably leave with gold. It’s every book lover’s dream.

Photo Nov 04, 5 52 39 PMPhoto Nov 04, 6 16 38 PMPhoto Nov 04, 6 26 02 PM

I allowed myself five new books, each representing an author I’d like to explore deeper: McEwan, Garcia Marquez, Coelho, Parker, and as a treat, Andrea Levy’s Small Island (it was required reading for a study abroad class and sadly I left it in London when my suitcase became too packed with stolen pint glasses).

Here’s my whole haul:

Photo Nov 04, 10 41 53 PM

At least it’s out of my system. I can stop whenever I want.