Book rec // ‘New York’ by Edward Rutherfurd: a must read!

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!

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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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2015 Book Roundup // My favorite picks of the year

2015 was a good book year. My total count is at 40, which is pretty standard for me. Every year I try to read a book per week, but I’m a notoriously slow reader, and I also try to have somewhat of a social life! So here are my top 5 favorite books of 2015:

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5. Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation

I loved this book. Helen of Troy as a myth is one of the most interesting cultural concepts to me. This book explored most of the ways Helen of Troy was written about in ancient Greece, and what she continues to mean for a modern audience.

4. Paper Towns

LOVED Paper Towns, because it was an exploration of what it means to know someone, what it mean to fall in love, and what it means to love an idea more than you love a person. And for the record, I adored Cara Delevingne as Margo in the movie.

3. Paris

One of my favorite genres is historical fiction, and Edward Rutherfurd’s novel about the city of Paris is historical fiction at its peak. It tells the story of half a dozen families in Paris from the middle ages to the 60s, and the main character is the city itself. I adored it.

2. The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood, this novella retells the story of The Odyssey from the viewpoint of Penelope. She’s hanging out in Hades in the fields of asphodel, and decides to tell her side of the story, especially the guilt she feels about the hanging of her twelve maids.

1. Trilby

Number one this year was George du Maurier’s Trilby, about a tone-deaf artist’s model who is hypnotized by the greasy, sinister Svengali. I loved the setting of 1870s Paris, the commentary about the corruption of the world, and the innocence that was Trilby and her love for Little Billee. She was an innocent soul ruined by the world.

What were your favorite books this year?

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Wandering around a bookstore

One of the most therapeutic things I ever do is take an hour or two to wander around my Barnes & Noble. The best days are the ones that I don’t have much to do, anywhere to go, and nothing specific in mind. Especially when there are exciting new releases, I love to go and explore the shelves and see what stands out to me.

This is how I used to buy books when I was kid: there was no Goodreads or Amazon in my life, and no recommendations from friends. I had to pick books based on feelings, and yes, the covers. I try to do that more often: just wander around, pick books up and see what jumps out.

Today I did that, and I found some gems. Here’s what I bought:

I picked up The Golem and the Jinni from those New Releases tables, and the thing that first hooked me was, I won’t lie, the weight of the book. I think there’s something so much better about reading a physical book that feels good in your hand. When the binding is weak and the pages are light, I’m less satisfied with buying a book. I like it to feel weighty. And then I read the inside flap and decided to had to have it.

The first paragraph of the inside flap: “Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.” Seriously, so excited.

The second was a must-have: The Occupation Trilogy, three novels written in 1968 about the Occupation in Paris during World War II. This won a Nobel Prize in Literature. I’ve been fascinated with learning more about the Occupation ever since I read Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris, so this seemed like the perfect place to start.

I’m really excited to get into these! What’s your favorite way to find new books?

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3 Quotes in 3 Days Challenge: Day 3

The last quote I’ve chosen is from Sabrina, my favorite movie, starring Audrey Hepburn. Sabrina is a young, impressionable girl and the daughter of a chauffeur. She falls in love with the son of her father’s employer, and then goes to Paris to attend school. She comes back brimming with life, elegance, and confidence. She says:

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A glowing review of Edward Rutherfurd’s ‘Paris’

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.

18730321Paris 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.

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"Never a briefcase in Paris and never an umbrella"

Those words are spoken by Audrey Hepburn in my favorite movie, Sabrina. I watched this movie when I was very young with my family, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. It came to mind because I’m beginning Edward Rutherfurd’s long epic novel about Paris…called Paris. It spans the history of the iconic City of Light, and I can’t wait to spend a thousand pages in Paris. (Yah, it’s long 🙂 )

18730321I’m bringing the book on the flight with me to San Francisco and if you’re reading this, I’m probably carrying this book onto the flight back! I’m so excited to read this book (and for my trip, of course). Just a quick scan at the table of contents shows that the book will chronicle the lives of the citizens and visitors of Paris throughout the centuries. It’s like historical fiction on steroids.

This is the first passage:

Paris. City of Love. City of Dreams. City of splendor. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety. 

Sink of iniquity.

In two thousand years, Paris has seen it all.

Eek! Can’t wait to read more.

Bonus: some photos of when I visited Paris for two days when I studied abroad in college. One of the best feelings I’ve ever had was waking up in a Paris hotel room and hearing the sounds of the city first thing in the morning. Paris was a waking dream.

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Two thumbs way up for George du Maurier's 'Trilby'

George du Maurier’s 19th century novel Trilby has been on my TBR list for years. I finally read it this past week and it totally stole my heart. You may know the premise: in 1850s Paris, a young artist’s model named Trilby meets a group of artists in the heart of bohemia. She falls in love with one, a sensitive young man nicknamed Little Billee, but because of the society they live in, cannot find happiness with one of his class. Instead, she falls under the hypnotic spell of the evil Svengali, who controls her. It sounds more serious than it is; it’s rather a mix of comedy and utter tragedy.

Trilby is one of those characters who you immediately fall in love with from the first description. Trilby is honest, kind, charismatic, childlike and wholly untouched by the corruption of the world around her. She is an artist’s model who sits “for the figure” a.k.a. a nude model. She also has the most beautiful feet in the world (which is weird) and the most beautiful voice even though she’s tone deaf, a characteristic that the sinister Svengali takes complete advantage of.

As the creature looked round at the assembled company and flashed her big white teeth at them in an all-embracing smile of uncommon width and quite irresistible sweetness, simplicity, and friendly trust, one saw at a glance that she was out of the common clever, simple, humorous, honest, brave, and kind, and accustomed to be genially welcomed wherever she went. Then suddenly closing the door behind her, dropping her smile, and looking wistful and sweet, with her head on one side and her arms akimbo, ‘Ye’re all English, now, aren’t ye?’ she exclaimed. ‘I heard the music, and thought I’d just come in for a bit, and pass the time of day: you don’t mind? , that’s my name—Trilby O’Ferrall.’

Trilby-firstYou may have heard about this book—that Svengali, an evil musician and accomplished hypnotist, controls the tone-deaf Trilby with his voice and his gaze, turning her into the world’s most famous and talented singer. Trilby travels with Svengali for five years and when she is finally free of her captor, remembers nothing of her illustrious singing career which threw the whole of Europe into a frenzy, and catapulted the unknowing Trilby into fame.

What really struck me about Trilby is how well developed her character is. She’s the most fully developed character in the novel, and her descriptions constantly make clear that the men (and women!) in the book don’t love Trilby just because she’s beautiful. In fact, she’s unconventionally attractive, as tall as a man, and she’s remarkably shameless about her body and about how she expresses her freedom.

She bore herself with easy, unembarrassed grace, like a person whose nerves and muscles are well in tune, whose spirits are high, who has lived much in the atmosphere of French studios, and feels at home in it.

This strange medley of garments was surmounted by a small bare head with short, thick, wavy brown hair, and a very healthy young face, which could scarcely be called quite beautiful at first sight, since the eyes were too wide apart, the mouth too large, the chin too massive, the complexion a mass of freckles…

Also, she had a very fine brow, broad and low, with thick level eyebrows much darker than her hair, a broad, bony, high bridge to her short nose, and her full, broad cheeks were beautifully modelled. She would have made a singularly handsome boy.

As an artist’s model, she’s anything but a respectable “lady,” but Trilby doesn’t realize she’s supposed to feel shame about being a nude model until the lesser, immoral people of the world make her feel shame. She’s pure and clean of the world’s biases and prejudices, but she’s also very impressionable, and is the ultimate example of what happens to pure creatures when they are corrupted by evil.

Written in the 1890s and set in the 50s-60s Paris, this book beautifully, comically captures bohemia. We meet funny, multidimensional characters with names like Taffy, Little Billee, Gecko, the Laird, and many others.

The ending totally wrecked my heart. But this book gave me one more amazing literary heroine to adore and mourn. I completely fell in love with Trilby, just like every other character in this lush, rich and vivid novel. You feel transported to Paris in the 1800s and feel like you know these characters, like they’re old friends.

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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.

My Favorite Books: "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"

This may seem like an odd choice for a “My Favorite Books” entry, but hear me out. It’s not your typical murder story (what is a typical murder story, anyway?). Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is not your average serial killer. And that’s the sheer brilliance of this uncomfortable novel.

Never was there ever such a pretty book about such a gross topic. This is a book about a Victorian man who kills virgins, shaves their heads, and bottles their scents. Could anything be grosser? Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is our “man,” a murderer and perfume apprentice in search of the perfect scent, and he finds it in London’s untouched women.

8497492Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a gross, horrible character. His mother gave birth to him while working at a fish stall, and she leaves him there to die among the fish offal. Grenouille cries out and is rescued, but his childhood is marked with the unnatural revulsion of his protectors and peers. A priest who holds baby Grenouille calls him the devil when he realizes that little Jean-Baptiste has no scent at all. Despite his conspicuous and somehow sinister lack of scent, Grenouille grows up with a superhuman sense of smell. He can distinguish individual scents from miles away, using his sense of smell to memorize the streets of Paris.

One day, when he is exploring Paris as a young apprentice, he catches a whiff of smell he hasn’t ever experienced before, something quite unlike the dirty, mucky smells of Paris. He follows his nose and happens upon a fourteen-year-old girl, a virgin, slicing plums. Grenouille is entranced by her smell, beholden to it, obsessed with it. It is the beginning of a calculated mania.

Completely devoid of knowledge of good and evil, cold and unfeeling as he is, Grenouille smothers the girl and smells her corpse until the scent dies with her. Grenouille is now wholly obsessed with finding “good” smells: finding them and bottling them. He apprentices himself to a perfumer, and with his unnatural skills, makes his master the most popular perfumer in Paris. But Grenouille leaves his master shortly after to pursue his perfect scent, and to find out more efficient ways to capture the smells of things only he can discern.

Grenouille realizes that the more he interacts with humanity, the more he hates people and what he thinks is their ignorance. He formulates a new goal: to control humanity with the world’s best perfume. To accomplish his task, he kills 24 virgins and shaves their heads, capturing their scents in oil. Then he discovers his crown jewel: the most beautiful young woman in Paris, a girl named Laure.

Disgusted yet? You haven’t heard the half of it.

I don’t know why I loved this book so much, and continue to think about it all the time. Why? Is it just me? Thankfully, a quick scan of Goodreads disproved my alleged perversity. No, I think the genius of this book is how it manages to hypnotize the reader until you’re almost as curious about the “perfect scent” as Grenouille is. It makes some startling statements about sexual depravity and desire. But at the heart of this novel is the question of identity, and how humankind relates to each other. Grenouille has no scent of his own, and is completely and utterly invisible to others when he is not wearing a perfume of any kind. His total ostracism from others causes his cold-blooded cruelty. What he is not a part of he cannot understand. Things like love. Or humanity. It’s a curious, gross little book that I really love.