A massive, fictionalized history of London!

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.

92160I know you’re probably sick of me talking about London, but hear me out.

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.

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A merry New York Christmas!

As I am SURE you know by now, Christmas/holiday season is my favorite time of year. I spent yesterday wandering around New York with my family doing Christmassy things, and here are some snapshots of the day.

We started at Union Square Park, where they set up a little winter village this time of year with food kiosks and gift booths, usually by local craft artisans and shops in New York. I did some gift shopping, but mostly just ate some stellar mac and cheese and drank glühwein, mulled non-alcoholic wine that tasted like Christmas (I imagine…).

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From there, we walked uptown to a couple of rooftop bars. We first went to Eataly’s birreria, and the whole place was decked out in Christmas decorations. And since it was an extremely hot (for December) 65 degrees out, the rooftop was open! It was so nice. We sipped cocktails and relaxed.

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From there, we went to the rooftop of 230 5th, a hotel on Fifth Ave. The view was amazing.

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Finally, we went to dinner at Virgil’s an amazing barbecue place just off Times Square, and then we got to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, a yearly tradition I can never pass up. This year, the warm weather meant that the crowds were twice as thick and aggressive as usual, so after some gazing and a quick picture or two, we had to leave to retain our sanity. Still, braving the crowds was worth it to see that amazing tree, and watch the light show on the facade of Saks.

I didn’t take too many pictures because I’ve seen it so many times before, but here are some very poor photos of the decorations around Rockefeller Center:

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Nothing like seeing that tree all lit up!

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A novel history of New York

6257535I 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!

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Bookstore Hopping | McNally Jackson Books in New York

It’s been a WHILE since I’ve done these fun little bookstore spotlights, and it’s because I’ve been so busy with all of my three thousand jobs. Recently I had a day off so I hopped a 6 to Manhattan and did some exploring. I’ve been wanting to visit this bookstore, McNally Jackson, for a while, and I took the opportunity. It’s nestled on the corner of Mulberry and Prince Street in Soho/Nolita. The space is quite large inside, decorated cleanly with wood floors, wooden bookcases, meandering aisles, a lower level, and a wide selection that’s very well stocked. Plus: it has a full cafe and seating area with a menu that boasts a variety of coffee drinks, teas, and a good lunch menu. Noise level is perfect. Decor? Excellent. I’d highly recommend this place for two reasons: you’ll find the book you want (and then some) and you’ll have a nice time reading it in the cafe. I know I did.

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Inside, the decor is rustic and features something that I absolutely adore: books on a stick. Skewered books hang from the ceiling above the cafe, something I officially disapprove of because books! but in reality it’s really awesome. The wallpaper in the cafe features images of book pages, just in case you forgot this is a real-deal bookstore. What’s also cool about the cafe is that they have banquettes set along the back wall with a retractable deskette that unfolds like a book, to hold your coffee of choice and perhaps a notebook. I went in here with some notes and set my coffee on this little wooden desk, and was at peace.

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I love the selection. They have art, design, architecture, photography, bargain books, an amazing Children’s Section (which too few bookstores have anymore, and which I love perusing), a huge History section, Mythology, and they do something really awesome with their literature: organize it by country. I love that, especially considering I was looking for Gogol and Dostoyevsky and found a neat little bookcase labeled RUSSIAN LITERATURE. Hey thanks, McJ.

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But the coolest bit of this bookstore is the Espresso Book Machine. Espresso. Book. Machine. They have their own freaking printing press, which they call the Espresso Book Machine because it prints books really fast. Get it? Eh? I love it. You can buy blank notebooks that have been freshly pressed and self-published works. Really cool.

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Address: 52 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

Go check it out.

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Book Lust | New York, Paris & London Historical Fiction

The danger of a bookstore is that everything you could ever want to read is yours for the taking. I love online shopping when it comes to shoes and clothes, but I hate online shopping for books. I love the feeling of entering this inner sanctum of stories and having the freedom to sift through them, pick them up, and take some home with you. It’s a little bit like magic. Tonight I went to Barnes & Noble and wove through the stacks with a wobbling pile of books on my arm and a gift card in my wallet. I chose books well over the limit enforced by my $100 gift card so I had to make cuts. Unfortunately, the cuts I made were three books from Edward Rutherfurd oeuvre: Paris, New York and London. Has anyone read these books and would like to share what they think? Cause I’m dying to read these.

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I’m a lover of cities as if they’re friends or lovers. When I visited London, I left a huge piece of my heart there and think of it as a home. Paris was similar; even though I spent so little time there, there was something about the city which embraces you. Paris changes you. And of course, I live on the outskirts of the greatest city in the world, and constantly find myself entranced by New York as long as I’ve lived in its shadow. Rutherfurd has taken three living, breathing cities with gargantuan histories and turned them into characters. His stories promise odes to the three major cities of the world, containing not only thousands of years of history, but fictional and fictionalized characters to populate these disparate worlds. I imagine it’s so easy to lose yourself in these books and be carried away to different times, each set against the backdrop of New York, London or Paris.

But since I couldn’t leave the bookstore without all three, and since I ran out of B&N gift card credit, I’ll have to wait to score these. Breathe, Lisa. Breathe.

Fashion | New Romance

I love H&M. I got this warm, soft, beautiful blush sweater there and some dangly necklaces I can layer and tangle. ‘Fast fashion’ has a lot of critics but it’s lovely for me to be able to change my style often without emptying my bank account. And as always, the quality is what you pay for. I don’t make a secret of not being inclined to buy high fashion or even middle-brow brands (or whatever you call it!) and I love the affordability of places like H&M and Forever 21. This outfit is full of both.

I wore this to Eataly with my family for my sister’s birthday, and stuffed myself on gnocchi with a duck pate sauce and cremini mushrooms. God, I love Eataly. Luckily, the skirt stretched 😉
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skirt and boots from Forever 21 (both old), necklace and sweater from H&M

Christmas in New York

Every year at Christmas I turn into Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 and see the city with new eyes. New York sparkles at Christmas. It’s concentrated in Midtown where the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree holds court and the Saks Fifth Avenue windows glitter beyond the crowds. But it’s also the small things: the trees wrapped in twinkle lights, lampposts adorned with wreaths and bows, storefronts decorated with garland and those Starbucks red cups. I’ve been able to spend a couple evenings doing some quintessential New York at Christmas things this season and it’s been great, especially since I usually don’t get around to doing these things until Christmas is over: like visiting Bryant Park and of course, seeing the tree.

Here are some photos of why I love New York at Christmas:

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I also got the chance to see a new show on Broadway, Side Show, which I absolutely adored. I got tickets for free in exchange for a review on this blog (gotta love the perks) and I’m excited to share the story of the Hilton sisters with you guys. It was a moving musical with an amazing book and even better music. See more on that tomorrow! And follow along on my Instagram to see what other awesome Christmassy things I’m doing this season. And of course, whatever holiday you celebrate this season, I hope it’s happy and full of love.

December Reads & Recs // The Theme of Magic

I go crazy this time of year with Christmas. So when I thought about what books I’d like to read to make the season merry and bright, I thought of magic. But not Harry Potter-type magic, but rather the kind of magic that’s related to fate and love. So for the month of December I’d like to read these three books:

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1. In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin

I tried reading this book three times and didn’t get far, for some reason. But it has everything I love: a romantic story, a cheesy magical plot, history, war, flashbacks, et cetera.

2. Forever by Pete Hamill

I first started reading this book when I was a senior in high school. I think my bookmark is still wedged somewhere around page 100. Even though I stopped reading it inexplicably halfway through, the story stuck with me. I have been meaning to read it again for the past couple years, and I think December is the perfect time.

These two books also have another thing in common: New York. I’ve been on a New York-themed kick this year with my reading and I’m eager for it to continue. It also reminds me of Christmas in New York, which is a magical experience—despite the man-eating crowds. Nothing is more poetic to me than a snow-blanketed New York, when even the stoplights look festive and everything glitters with twinkle lights from every window. Christmas in New York is one of my favorite feelings.

And lastly:

3. A Christmas Carol

This is my yearly tradition, reading Dickens’s classic story right before Christmas Day. It gets me thinking about the true spirit of the season.

What’s on your reading lists this month?

First Snow

We just had our first snowfall this season. While the blizzard hit places up north harder, here in New York we had only one inch or so. It was beautiful to see the world in white again.

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Lily Bart Broke My Heart // A Review of 'The House of Mirth'

The House of Mirth stole my heart—and then bitterly shattered it—all in a neat 347 pages. I loved this book, but I’m never trusting Edith Wharton again. I suppose Ethan Frome should have been my first clue.

The House of Mirth features the dazzling, beautiful, manipulative yet endlessly charming Lily Bart, a New York socialite who has been raised and pampered to be nothing other than the decorative wife of a rich man. At 29, Lily’s time—and her beauty—is running out. To cement her place in high society she must marry, but at each opportunity to marry a rich man she runs away from the opportunity, her instinct and unfortunate morality taking precedence over her one goal: to catch and marry a rich man.

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She’s sometimes arrogant, always charming, putting on a show to satisfy the theatre of a world she lives in. She is aware of her beauty and flaunts it, using it as a weapon against women and men, to either charm or assert her dominance:

To Miss Bart, as to her mother, acquiescence in dinginess was evidence of stupidity; and there were moments when, in the the consciousness of her own power to look and to be so exactly what the occasion required, she almost felt that other girls were plain and inferior from choice. Certainly no one need have confessed such acquiescence in her lot as was revealed in the “useful” colour of Gerty Farish’s gown and the subdued lines of her hat: it is almost as stupid to let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them proclaim that you think you are beautiful.

Despite her bad characteristics, Lily is also wise and sad. She constantly displays her penchant for discovering and pointing out uncomfortable truths about the society that made her who she is: an unskilled, yet intelligent, woman who believes, accurately, that her only function in life is to be a wife:

“From the beginning?” Miss Bart gently mimicked her. “Dear Gerty, how little imagination you good people have! Why, the beginning was in my cradle, I suppose—in the way I was brought up, and the things I was taught to care for. Or no—I won’t blame anybody for my faults: I’ll say it was in my blood, that I got it from some wicked pleasure-loving ancestress, who reacted against the homely virtues of New Amsterdam, and wanted to be back at the court of the Charleses!” And as Miss Farish continued to press her with troubled eyes, she went on impatiently: “You asked me just now for the truth—well, the truth about any girl is that once she’s talked about she’s done for; and the more she explains her case the worse it looks.—My good Gerty, you don’t happen to have a cigarette about you?”

When she develops feelings for a man named Lawrence Selden, she begins to widen her horizons and expands her beliefs. Even though Lily wants to be free, she has no means to escape the world she lives in. As a woman, she can never be free and independent, a horrible fact that becomes cruelly apparent when Lily is shunned from the society she tried so hard to join. When Lily falls from grace, she learns that she has no skills to support herself, no true friends to help her, no family to support her. Even though she is the shining star of New York, admired and envied by all, Lily is ultimately completely helpless.

That didn’t stop me from falling completely in love with Lily. I loved her because she was honest with herself about her flaws; she knew how to charm people into falling under her power; she knew that she was unskilled and only fit to be a wife; she knew that she had the capacity for evil, but time and time again, almost against her will, Lily’s goodness won out, and society crushed her as a result.

The House of Mirth is a tragedy about a beautiful, capable, charming woman whose myriad talents and beliefs could not save her from being buffeted and ultimately broken by the crashing, rough waves of a hostile New York society.

And it gave me another literary heroine to admire and mourn.