Tag Archives: New York City

Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon by Terry John Barto, illustrated by Kim Sponaugle

A young dragon, Nickerbacher, wants to be a comedian while his father wants him to pursue the more traditional occupation of guarding the princess. Princess Gwendolyn enjoys Nickerbacher’s jokes and encourages him to pursue his dreams. When Prince Happenstance arrives, the dragon tries to slay him with his humor then ends up assisting in Gwedolyn’s rescue. It seems the prince also has a dream, to play professional baseball, he even has his mitt ready. With no princess to guard, Nickerbacher is now free to go to New York City where he eventually becomes a successful stand up comedian, finally making his parents proud of his accomplishments.

Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon by Terry John Barto is a ridiculous story which makes no sense. Small children won’t get the jokes and the moral is questionable. While I’m all for pursuing one’s dreams, it’s not sensible to encourage a child to believe they are going to grow up to be a prima ballerina, a professional sports player, or a rock star. The only saving grace in this picture book is the compelling illustrations by Kim Sponaugle which are sure to delight both young and old. Colorful and detailed, they capture the humor the author attempts to impart to the reader. My favorite picture is the Princess climbing out of her tower down the dragons scales into the Prince’s arms. Four plus stars for the artwork, but only two stars for the story, for a total average of three stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley and AuthorHouse in exchange for an honest review.

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Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Everyone in Brooklyn was a Dodgers fan at Ebbots Field, at least until the team moved to Los Angeles. If you lived in this borough of New York City from 1951 to 1952 you probably attended Brooklyn College (my father did) and spent time at Coney Island eating a hot dog at Nathan’s. The sand was hot, the ocean cold, the beach was so crowded you had to stake out a good spot, but it was home.

In Brooklyn you lived in a building, often in tiny apartments, saving up money to move where you could have a plot of land of your own. (Actually our apartment was large, inherited from my grandmother who was the original tenant – gotta love that rent control). Having a house with a yard was a dream which every child carried in their heart (and we had to move to a suburb in Buffalo to get that house).

Despite being a large, crowded city, the neighborhoods kept life intimate. You knew the people in your building and the vendors in the local shops, mainly family owned. Yet in between was the busyness of Brooklyn which carried a flavor not found in the surrounding small towns in upstate New York.

Being a diverse metropolis, the rules were a little different. While the various ethnic groups congregated amongst themselves, the shopping centers had to be open to all, whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or Black, especially here where so many immigrants settled after making the trip across the Atlantic.

This is the city where I was born (at the Caledonia Hospital on Caton Ave). It’s not necessarily the exact place described in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, but my childhood occurred a few years later. (My grandparents were also born in Brooklyn, but their folks came over from Eastern Europe at an earlier, even more desperate time in the late 1800s). Yet, the feel is recognizable.

Enter Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant from the small town of Enniscorthy, who is sponsored by Father Flood in her move to his Irish Parish. He sets up a room for her in an Irish Boarding House with 5 other Irish girls, and arranges for a job as a salesgirl at Bartocci’s, a local department store. Then when Eilis gets homesick, he signs her up for night classes at Brooklyn College to earn her certificate as a bookkeeper, a subject she studied back in Ireland. She meets a nice boy at the Friday Night Dances at the Parish and her life seems perfect, but “stuff” happens.

Eilis is the type of person who goes along to get along. She’s from an era and a culture where women don’t have much of a say in their lives. They are obedient children who marry, keep house, and have children of their own. Ellis seems to go with the flow, unable to speak up when events spin out of control forcing her on a path which she isn’t sure is the right one for her. Her first job back in Ireland is at a local grocery store and the owner simply sends for her, unasked, when she discovers Ellis has a talent for figures. Rose, Ellis’ older sister, arranges for her to travel to America, and “surprises” her with the “fait accompli”. Her behavior at the rooming house is dictated by the owner, and her free time is guided by her housemates. It takes feigning an illness to get out of the Friday night dance, since Ellis doesn’t have the courage to outright refuse to go. Even her beau decides when their relationship should go to the next level and she just guesses that this is okay, although in her heart she is unsure. Fate seems to be her guideposts, and the tide of life sweeps her along its path to the next steps on the most convenient road.

I’m not judging, since her life doesn’t seem to be a hardship, one just wonders what “might have been” and the author even gives us a taste of that before he pulls the rug out from under the reader and has circumstances steer Ellis’ direction back on track.

A delightful and easy read on a bygone era in a beloved (for me) spot. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve Lost My Way by Gale Forman

By the time a child graduates from high school and reaches the magic age of eighteen we give them the right to vote, access to the armed forces, and the title of adult. Perhaps the term of Young Adult would be more accurate. Whatever the name, these youngsters are still children tied to the apron strings of their parents, just playing acting at the game of grown up until such time as they are able to actually grow into the role.

In I’ve Lost My Way, Gale Forman takes the lives of three such individuals who are facing the cusp of adulthood and all the issues which go along with the job description. Each encounters a dilemma which will affect the direction of their entire future. Not only do they need to deal with their personal issues, but wrapped up in the process is their relationship with their parents and the changes which will occur as they pull away from the family nest to pursue their own future path.

This however is just one day where their lives accidentally intersect in New York’s Central Park and they develop the sort of friendship with a youthful exuberance that can make a difference. Only the young can enjoy the camaraderie of strangers, as they come to each other’s rescue not knowing the whys and wherefores on a life changing day. Freya, a singer on the cusp of greatness, faces a glitch in her future plans, while Harun is looking for a way to escape an inner secret which he knows will lead to turmoil with his parents. Then there’s Nathaniel, armed with a backpack and a map, far from home and overwhelmed by the hustle of The City. Through their own voices we find out their backstories and what has brought them to this current moment in their lives. This diverse, unlikely trio discover the joy of an unencumbered friendship which doesn’t judge, but uplifts each of them at the lowest moments of their eighteen to nineteen year existence.

A smoothe read, easily completed in one sitting (you won’t be able to stop yourself from finishing this one), with a set of strong characters and a somewhat open ended conclusion which makes anything possible. As an aside, I’m giving a shout out to fans of Tolkien who value the sanctity of his Lord of the Rings – Ms Forman, Nathaniel’s actions could easily be considered sacrilege. Please, honor the ring!

Five stars and a thank you to both Netgalley and Edelweiss for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

You know, there are other cities in the world besides New York?” Not if you’re a Manhattanite! Meet sex and the city without the sex, just a bunch of upscale families who live in a set of Brownstones on a one way/dead end block on the Upper West Side of “The City”. Not filthy rich, but definitely comfortable with the ability to afford a private school education and hire servants to care for the kids, cook the meals, and keep the house in good repair. An in-kind neighborhood where everyone meets up while walking their dog, using their free time to gossip over coffee and plan their lives so as not to miss the biyearly “hospitable” get-togethers – the Memorial Day BBQ and the January “Holiday” Party. Once you’re invited you know you have been accepted as one of the clique.

In Alternate Side, author Anna Quindlen brings us into the fold, placing us in a location where we can watch events unfurl. We see the world through the eyes of Nora Nolan, eyes that she often feels like rolling, such as when her husband Charlie is finally granted a coveted spot (and not a very good one at that) in the mini community parking lot – invitation only. No more playing the Alternate Side Game twice a week where you have to get up at the crack of dawn and move your car to the other side of the street to avoid getting a ticket. A sport that city dwellers, at least those with cars, are forced to play, since there’s no arguing once the meter maid puts pen tip to paper so as to fill the city’s coffers with fine money. Fortuitously, the nearby parking lot eases the pressure and makes Charlie feel like he belongs at a time when he isn’t quite certain this is the place he wants to be. Nora doesn’t need this affirmation, she knows she’s a New Yorker through and through, even though her childhood home was in Connecticut. She considers the greatest gift that she has given her twins is the ability to say they were born in Manhattan. Everything is going great, there’s still passion in her marriage, her son and daughter are set to graduate from college, her friendships are solid, and she has a fulfilling job managing the growing niche Museum of Jewelry. Then her sense of sublimeness is marred by an incident which seems to change the dynamics of the neighborhood and Nora finds herself reexamining the direction of her life as she tries to maintain an equilibrium that is threatening to fall apart despite her best efforts to keep an even keel.

If you are looking for action and intrigue, this is not the book for you. This is a simple story of the ebb and flow of life as one individual tries to navigate the course without losing her integrity. Nora is the woman we all want to be – living a life she loves in the city she loves doing what she loves to do. She’s privileged, yet recognizes she needs to be more inclusive. She’s kind, yet acknowledges the unavoidable drawbacks of her chosen lifestyle. She’s discerning, yet accepting of her ultimate fate. The men in this novel are not shown to advantage, although to be fair, I’m not sure the women are either.

The downside to the novel is keeping track of all of Nora’s friends and acquaintances which gets challengingly confusing at times. Perhaps a handy who’s who guide at the beginning or end of the book would help the reader figure things out. I’m also not sure if readers who don’t have a New York connection will appreciate the sentiment surrounding an urban subsistence or understand the intensity of Nora’s feelings towards a way of life that must seem artificial and exclusive. This could detract from the anticipated audience, but I, for one, who was born in Brooklyn, really relate to this book (even though I now live in a suburb of Buffalo). I get the close family feeling of the neighborhood and I also understand it doesn’t last forever, that various regions in New York City grow and change over a relatively short period of time. Peoples lives are also fluid, not static, forcing new adventures even on reluctant participants. Most of all, I get the Alternate Parking, since in my childhood the family car was parked in a lot about a mile away from our apartment, forcing us to make a deliberate decision to drive rather than walk/take the subway/catch a bus. My dad didn’t play the Parking Game, but I knew other parents who did and I didn’t envy them their crack of dawn dart out the door to maneuver a vehicle which was just going to sit there positioned in the same spot until the next “moving” day. I sometimes think about those metropolitan dwellers when I pull into my own driveway just steps from the front door. Yet, many are willing to put up with the inconvenience in exchange for the ambiance of life in “The City”.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Despite the spate of novels recently published dealing with the topic of WWII, the subject matter never gets boring. There are so many facets to the war that each book can easily tackle a new concept to explore. In Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly the author utilizes the lives of three intersecting characters to explore the Holocaust, two based on real people and one a fictionalized version representing true events.

Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite devoting her life to helping the orphans in France. Working full time as a volunteer at the French Embassy in New York City, she assisted individuals in securing visas in order to escape France before the war began. In German occupied Lublin, Poland, Kasha Kuzmerick and various friends and family members get swept up as political prisoners. Sent to Ravensbruck, Kashia and her sister Zuzanna, end up the subjects for a medical laboratory experiment involving battle wounds, which leaves Kashia with a permanent limp. The surgery is performed by Herta Oberheuser, one of the few female doctors in Germany, who was recruited to work at this Women’s Concentration Camp and assigned to perform the operations which permanently maimed or killed the Polish “Rabbits”. Her attitude is fascinating as Herta convinces herself that working for the Nazis is a positive position which furthers the aims of the Fatherland. Yet before the Allies take control, she is involved in a plot to hunt down and murder these covertly hidden patients in order to remove the evidence of her actions. Even at the Nuremberg Trials, Dr Oberheuser still refuses to accept blame for her inhumane behaviors and resents her prison sentence.

The Lilac Girls also explores the after effects of WWII, both immediately following the war and ten years later. Unfortunately, society wanted to move forward and forget the atrocities, but luckily there were many philanthropic individuals ready to help the afflicted integrate back into a somewhat normal life. While this was possible in parts of Europe and the United States, the countries taken over by the Soviet Union, including Poland, went from one oppressive state to another. Caroline, with her connections, is able to find a way to coordinate medical treatment for the “Rabbits” in the United States and encourages the bitter Kashia to find closure.

Alternating between the three female characters, Kelly integrates fiction with information from historical documents to create a realistic scenario. It is heartwarming that women such as Caroline and her mother were able to use their influence for the public good with a focus on those suffering abroad. At the same time, one wonders how Herta could reconcile her actions with her conscience. There is evidence that her outward bravado covered a guilty heart when her visit with a psychiatrist revealed a predisposition for self mutilation (cutting her arm). The fictional sisters were an astute representation of the Polish girls who survived the “Rabbit” experience. While it was heart wrenching to read about their treatment in Ravensbruck, it is a reminder that war can bring out the evil in people, especially when dealing with prisoners of war who are viewed as subhuman. This is definitely not a book for those with sensitive stomachs.

I have several confessions to make. First, I did not necessarily read the chapters in order. Kelly often left a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter and then jumped to one of the other women, but I was impatient and skipped over to the continuation of that particular plot point, then went back to pick up the storyline. I also thought the entire book dragged at times. I didn’t mind the fictional romance for Caroline, but for a book close to 500 pages, I thought some of the irrelevant details could have been eliminated. There was plenty of subject matter without adding fluff. The most compelling part of the book was the girls’ daily trials in Ravensbruck which were both difficult to read and, at the same time, hard to put down. While the therapeutic visit to the United States was anticlimactic, the concluding chapters seemed a fitting way to wrap up the loose ends. I appreciated all the specifics in the author’s note which indicated the amount of research (including interviews and traveling to the various locales) necessary to blend real events with her imaginings, although to get further details about the inspiration for this book you need to go to Martha Hall Kelly’s website. Ultimately, the entire reading experience was worthwhile, especially since I learned something new about the Holocaust. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

50 Cities of the U.S.A.: Explore America’s Cities With Fifty Fact-Filled Maps by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Sol Linero

Although I received an electronic advanced reader copy of 50 Cities of the U.S.A.: Explore America’s Cities With Fifty Fact-Filled Maps by Gabrielle Balkan, this is one of those books which would be better pursued in hard cover.

Utilizing an A to Z format, the 112 colorfully annotated pages, illustrated by Sol Linero, highlights each of 50 cities with trivia focusing on famous people, inventions, foods, and historical/cultural tourist destinations, to introduce and perhaps whet ones appetite to visit these locales. Each city spans two pages chock full of vibrant details or info graphics laid over a map. This is a perfect introduction which parents can share with their children prior to a trip or which can assist families in reliving their vacation at a later date. There is a follow up Trivia Section at the end of the book to test ones knowledge of famous sites throughout the country. Selected cities include Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. as well as numerous other venues.

While I thank Netgalley and the Quarto Publishing Group for providing this partial ARC for a book which appeals to people of all ages (in exchange for an honest review), I was disappointed that my hometown of Buffalo, New York didn’t make the cut. Four stars.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Children can be cruel, especially middle school age kids. It’s the reason that most teachers choose to work at elementary or high school, they can’t deal with the angst involved with the hormonal surges of pre-teenagers. It takes a special breed to actually enjoy that age group, children who once they find a weakness in their peers have no qualms in exploiting that fact, whether real or imaginary. “Your nose is too big”, “Your hair is greasy”, “You’re too fat”, “You’re too thin”, “You smell”, You’re stupid”, “You’re smart” . . . Now imagine that you really do have a physical “abnormality” which is front and center and impossible to ignore? Wonder by R. J. Palacio explores the reaction of a private school community to August Pullman, a ten year old boy with a rare congenital defect which has distorted his facial features.

August was home schooled, both due to the recovery periods from his twenty seven surgeries and also to shield him from the reactions of his peers. However, by the time he was ready to start fifth grade, his mother wondered if it wasn’t time to consider a school setting, Beecher Prep, a private school in New York City with a “limited” population. August is leery, but he agrees to check it out. Three of his incoming classmates are chosen to show him around prior to the start of the school year. While Jack and Charlotte seem nice, Julian is outright nasty. After much discussion, August decides to give it a go. The whole experience is not an easy one, neither for August, his parents, or his older sister Olivia Pullman. The adjustment involves not just August, but his classmates, as everyone learns to deal with one another – a process fraught with tension, not just from the kids but also from some of the parents. It’s a time of growth for all, and August develops from a spoiled child into a self assured young man over the course of the year despite or perhaps because of the challenges thrown his way.

What I really liked about this well written, age appropriate children’s book (which should also be read by adults) is the narrative approach Palacio uses to tell August’s story. While it was Auggie’s tale to tell, his life also affected others so we get to hear the point of view of various events from his sister Via, her “best” girlfriend Miranda and boyfriend Justin, a couple of August’s friends – Jackalope and Summer, and even his nemesis – Julian Albany. While we mainly hear August’s voice, it was also important to get the perspective of the people who surrounded him.

Even if you go into this book feeling aloof, eventually the uplifting message grabs you and pulls at your heartstrings. While some might question the happy ending, remember that there was a lot of cruelty along the way. I can only imagine what a tear jerker the movie version evokes. I also appreciate how the educators were cast in a positive, supportive light – they even impart some knowledge on the reader. The additional chapter from Justin’s point of view is a good counterbalance with a surprise revelation which creates a positive outcome for all concerned. Although a little lengthy, it’s still a perfect book for fifth grade ELA! Five stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.