Book Review: New York Dolls by Catherine L. Hensley

I have never read this genre of novel before, but was drawn in by the sample chapters on the publisher’s website. I subsequently bought the e-book, wanting to see what happened next. And I’m so glad I did, for this was an adorable read! For a geeky, sheltered stay-at-home mom such as myself who has zero sense of style, no experience in any corporate profession, and is utterly freaked out by cities (or anywhere outside of a 10 mile radius of farmland, really…), I wouldn’t have expected to relate to a story about a young fashion/celebrity magazine journalist in hustlin’, bustlin’ New York City. But I found the protagonist, Denton, to be so down-to-earth, funny, self-deprecating and relatable (not to mention, she loves desserts as much as I do), that I couldn’t help but root for her and keep my eyes glued to the Kindle to see what else would happen to her.

New York Dolls brought me back to a place and time I’d entirely forgotten about: my adolescence, when my awesome big sister (who is perfectly stylish and social – in other words, the opposite of me) would routinely force me away from my library of enormous fantasy sagas to watch chick flicks and romantic comedies with her. Begrudgingly, I usually ended up enjoying them. So I smiled and laughed, and thought of those days the whole time I read through this cute story, feeling like I was curled up on the basement sofa next to my sister watching “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days” or “The Devil Wears Prada” or “No Reservations.”

As per the writing itself, Hensley’s descriptions of NYC are breathtaking. She actually made me reconsider the way I feel about the city by effortlessly conveying its charm and appeal in the narrative. She writes with a *lot* of humor, which is refreshing, and I found nearly every one of her characters realistic and likable. I especially nursed a soft-spot for Amber Donovan, the young, redheaded Lyndsay Lohan-esque pop star/party girl. She reminded me so much of one of my oldest friends (you know who you are…), and I thought Hensley did a great job of making her very sympathetic. I also appreciated Hensley’s keeping the story relatively clean; there is some language and a few f-bombs, namely just for emphasis or to depict a character’s personality in dialogue, but there’s no graphic or gratuitous sex. And the story is better for it.

Overall, this tale has heart. It’s not just about celeb gossip and fashion tabloids, which the author does a great job of both glamorizing yet poking fun at, but a sweet narrative of a young, independent woman in the city just trying to find herself. If you like chick lit, New York City, and stories of friendship among modern young women, this is the book for you. But even if you don’t, you can still enjoy it – as I did. I will end this review by saying that, if it ever gets made into a chick flick, I’m flying down to my big sister’s house and making *her* watch it with *me.* 🙂

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

foerI picked up Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close after being fairly entertained by author Jonathan Safran Foer’s preceding novel, Everything Is Illuminated. This story is about Oskar Schell, an unusual young boy whose narration is eccentric and quite Holden Caulfield-like. Oskar is shockingly inventive, intelligent, and mature beyond his years. But in other ways, he’s socially underdeveloped, insecure, and hypersensitive. It’s ambiguous whether Oskar has Aspergers syndrome. The driving force behind his obsessive thoughts and extreme emotions is the death of his father on 9/11.

When Oskar finds a key with the name “Black” in his father’s closet, he’s convinced that his deceased father left him one last task: to find the key’s corresponding lock. So Oskar sets off on a quest around New York City to find every person with the surname Black, hoping to uncover the mystery behind the key. Also sharing the spotlight with Oskar is the story of his German grandparents, paralleling the Dresden bombings – which they witnessed – with the events of 9/11. This book stretches the parameters of the traditional novel, in that it features colors, pictures, font and format variations, and even blank pages – all representing Oskar’s own unique and outside-the-box perspective. An original work of contemporary fiction, which I would recommend.

Book Review: Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker (New York City, 1909) by Deborah Hopkinson

hear-my-sorrow-2In this beautiful yet doleful tale, we follow Angela Denoto, a Sicilian-born teen at the turn-of-the-century in New York City. Although Angela is bright and the only member of her family who can read, as well as speak and write in English, her father’s physical condition requires her and her elder sister, Luisa, to work in his stead. As Angela begins her job at a shirtwaist factory, she experiences the awful, unfair, and even dangerous working conditions, including workers having to pay for their own needles and thread, their bosses prohibiting them from stopping and stretching or resting even after injury, seventy-two hour work weeks without overtime pay, dangerous fire and health hazards, and more.

Soon, Angela befriends fellow seamstress Sarah Goldstein, a “fiery” Jewish girl who is involved in the women’s labor union. Sarah soon coaxes Angela into various union activities and a strike, in order to fight for better working conditions for the women factory workers. Angela’s striking from work does not come without a high cost, however, as her family struggles without her pay. The author does a good job of describing both the miserable working conditions and the need for unionizing, as well as the girls’ and their families’ need to work to eat and survive, despite the terrible conditions. This book closes with the fatal events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, which, coupled with other significant deaths in this book, adds to its melancholy overtone.

A sad story devoid of really any cheer, and rather bare-bones at times in terms of character development, but poignant and emotional nonetheless.

Book Review: Dear America: One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping, The Diary of Julie Weiss (Vienna, Austria to New York, 1938) by Barry Denenberg

oneyeThis book is most unlike the other books in the series. As it begins, Julie is a privileged, well-to-do Jewish girl in Vienna, the daughter of a successful doctor, when Hitler annexes Austria and her world is turned upside-down. After witnessing the heinous atrocities committed by the Nazis upon their Jewish neighbors, Julie’s father sends her overseas for her safety, to live with her estranged aunt and uncle in New York City. While Julie starts out as a rather snobbish girl, boasting of her own intelligence and concerned about trivial matters, the reader, knowing where history is headed, expects a major transformation once the girl loses her luxurious lifestyle and witnesses the terrors of the Nazis. But the expected transformation does not exactly occur; instead, Julie goes from being snobby, verbose and unlikable, to completely depressed and withdrawn.

What pained me about this story most were its many blunt adult references that I found to be most uncharacteristic of the DA series, including Julie watching her maid take a bath and remarking upon her large “bosoms” floating, a boy looking up Julie’s skirt, swear words, the suicide of a main character, teen pregnancies, and babies out of wedlock, Julie’s blunt denial of belief in God and ceasing to capitalize the word ‘God’, and learning the American term “make whoopee.” While this is relatively light stuff to most adults, it was off-putting to find in a DA book, especially since these references were unnecessary for recounting the history or advancing the plot. As well, we never do find out the answers to so many mysteries the author had set up, nor even do we find out why the book is called “One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping,” as the phrase is never mentioned anywhere. I was also disappointed that this book recycled a theme from Dreams in the Golden Country, where the narrator – ironically, also a Jewish immigrant in New York City – takes to the stage and finds her passion in acting.

To say something good about this book, it was very readable and still difficult to set down. Perhaps on its own, outside of the DA series, it’s a solid YA WWII read.