Y’all know how much I love books that take place in New York (thankfully, so many do). It’s been my home for almost four years, and I can’t imagine life without it. It’s not just books that take place here, though. I love those that really capture my feelings toward this place, the ones that identify its grandness but also don’t skirt around the anxiety, the annoyances, the exhaustion. Sure, everyone who lives here loves it, but that doesn’t happen the moment you step off the plane; nothing here is ever instantaneous.
Anna Pitoniak exquisitely describes all these feels in her debut novel, The Futures. Maybe it’s the play on words in the title (for my colleagues, #sfiseverywhere) that really roused me. Or maybe it was that one of the two main characters works in finance. Maybe it’s the sprinkling of chick lit. Really, though, this book gets four flames because I felt a sense of myself in the two main characters. Their hardships were mine. Their triumphs were mine. Their love-hate relationships with this beautiful place were mine. I’m not saying The Futures is my life, but Pitoniak gets pretty damn close.
As a book blogger, you’d think that I thrive on book reviews. Quite the opposite. I know this sounds backward (and doesn’t exactly promote Big Little Literature), but I try to avoid spoilers and/or getting my hopes up when possible. But I struggled to stay away from one book in particular this year. Manhattan Beach hit me like a bang. From the mind of a best seller, this historical fiction novel made a huge impact on the reading scene in 2017. New York even included it on its anticipation index multiple times before it was released (probably because it took 13 years to finish), and I’ve seen it on many best-of-2017 lists so far. Let’s just say, it made some big conversation.
Of course, I made sure I put it on my library holds as soon as it was released. My favorite genre, a bad-ass author, and praise all over. I came home beaming the day I got it. I can’t say the smile stayed on my face for the book’s entirety. So here’s the truth from my red lips: A top contender for the best of 2017 didn’t make my list.
Somebody read my gift guide–thanks, Honey Bee!
- What: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
- Who: Betty Smith
- Pages: 493
- Genre: Classic literature
- Subgenre: Coming of age
- Published: 1943
- The lit: of 5 flames
Every New Yorker has his or her favorite neighborhood spots. While living in my first Brooklyn apartment, mine was the grilled cheese place that opened the same year. Erin had a knack for finding cute little coffee shops as well as a love for the Brooklyn Museum a few blocks away. Jamie’s was Ample Hills, named for Walt Whitman’s words. And we all reveled in the days we ate at Tom’s without an hour wait. It’s these places that we recall in our memories.
Francie Nolan had those places too. In early 1900s Brooklyn, it was McGarrity’s saloon, where her father fed his addiction. There was the shabby yet charming house that the Nolans falsely used as their address so Francie could transfer schools. Carney’s junk shop was where she and her brother, Neely, would lug their knickknacks to earn a penny. And of course there’s the library whose librarian didn’t look at Francie her entire childhood.
These places are remembered because they’re where we grew up; we all have them. It’s this connection of coming of age, as well as strong characters and a touching theme, that earned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn four flames.
By: Dana Tong
Do you ever have those days when you’re scanning through channels on TV and you hit upon How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and even though you’ve seen it 200 times, you turn it on anyways? That’s how I feel about Sophie Kinsella books. I know how they go; I’ve read several of them multiple times, but I get sucked in with every read. Chick lit earns a bad rap, but honestly, do you want to read something depressing and dark every time you pick up a book? I love a good thriller and a good sob as well (Cutting for Stone elicited one of the Great Cries of 2013), but I also love a warm and fuzzy, funny, silly book just as much.
After a string of not-so-amazing reads, I picked up Sophie Kinsella’s My (Not So) Perfect Life. The story centers around Katie, a young 20-something trying to make it in the big city after a life on the farm, climb the career ladder, build a social life—and make sure everyone knows via social media how successful she is at all of these things. When Katie gets fired from her job by her constantly frazzled manager, she tries to keep up the appearances she has built while also helping her family turn a corner in their lives and build a successful glamping business.
- What: Modern Lovers
- Who: Emma Straub
- Pages: 353
- Genre: Contemporary adult fiction
- Subgenre: Chick lit
- Published: 2016
- The lit: of 5 flames
When a book takes place in a state, town, or neighborhood where I’ve lived, I always dive in (see my four-flame review for The Nest). I love the nostalgia that I feel and deciphering how accurate the author described the places I know so well. This is why I naturally gravitate toward novels set in New York. Outsiders might argue that too many stories have an empire state of mind. But the five boroughs are much too expansive and offer so many intricacies, odds, and ends that “too many New York stories” is just unfathomable to me. That’s like saying there are too many restaurants in the city. Just stop.
So when I read that Emma Straub’s third novel would take place in Ditmas Park, two blocks from and on the same street as my second New York apartment, I instantly put in a hold at the library. I shared a great three years with Brooklyn, and I wanted to see what perspective Straub would bring to my old ‘hood.
I have to say, she nailed the setting. The descriptions of the streets, residents, and vibes found in Ditmas Park resonated with me. It reminded me of the jokes my roommates and I would make of Church Avenue, of the Himalayan restaurant on Cortelyou that Brian discovered, of the giant Victorians that took you out of New York’s anxiety and speed. Nostalgia was about the only thing, however, that Straub nailed in my opinion.