Book Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

The Address
by
Fiona Davis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories set in New York and have been meaning to read The Address for a long time. In this 2017 novel by Fiona Davis, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden live in New York, one hundred years apart. They are connected in indeterminate ways to the 1885 murder of the fictional architect Theodore Camden. Set in 1884 and 1984, their narratives revolve around the famous Dakota, an apartment building in New York.

The Dakota is a real place. Located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, its tenants include famous musicians, artists and actors. It’s also where John Lennon was murdered in 1980. When it first opened in 1884, the Dakota was actually in a remote part of NYC, if you can believe it. Designed to attract the newly wealthy, the building opened its doors to a full staff and plenty of luxuries.

Sara’s story begins in 1884 when Theodore Camden recruits her from the London Langham Hotel to become the first managerette (how do you like that job title?) of the Dakota. Unmarried and in her thirties, Sara works as the head housekeeper. She’s ready for a change, however and drawn to Theodore’s charms, despite the fact that he’s married with three young children. In a bold decision, Sara quits her job and crosses the Atlantic to start a new life during New York’s gilded age. She lives at the Dakota and confidently manages a large staff of housekeepers, porters, maintenance crew and the tenants’ maids. Unable to resist their mutual attractions, Theo and Sara begin an affair that leads to Theo’s ultimate death and the end of Sara’s career.

Jumping to 1984, interior designer Bailey Camden must rebuild her life after a struggle with drugs and alcohol. Out of rehab and jobless, she visits her wealthy cousin Melinda Camden, who lives at the Dakota, in the same apartment where Theo was murdered. Bailey’s family connection to the wealthy Camdens began when her grandfather became Theodore Camden’s ward. Melinda will soon inherit trust money, but Bailey, whose family has learned to live without, will not. In a gesture of seemingly good will, Melinda hires Bailey to redesign her apartment and agrees to let her live there until she gets on her feet. When Bailey discovers personal items belonging to Sara and Theo’s family, she will soon learn more about the affair and just how she fits into the Camden lineage.

I enjoyed this novel which is part mystery and part historical fiction. Davis explores the messy themes of money, class, inheritance and family and entertains the reader with images of New York’s upper and working classes and the city’s development and its varied architecture. In addition, a special appearance by investigative journalist Nellie Bly provides an up-close look at the horrors of Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum. I recommend The Address to fans of New York stories as well as readers who like historical fiction, interesting characters and themes of money and class.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Audiobook Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room
by
Chris Bohjalian

Rating:

Kristin Chapman has agreed to let her husband, Richard host a bachelor party for his younger brother, Philip. She’s sure there will be hired entertainment, but she trusts Richard, even though Philip and his friends are a bit on the wild side. After all, Richard and Kristin are settled, in the prime of their lives and enjoying the comforts of wealth and success. Philip is a managing partner of a New York investment banking firm, Kristin is a respected high school teacher and they live with their young daughter in an upscale neighborhood in Westchester.

But wild is not the word. Before long, the burly and intimidating bodyguards who accompanied the “dancers” are dead and the girls, Sonja and Alexandra, have fled the house, leaving Richard, Philip and the rest of the guys in a wrecked house with the two dead men.

When morning comes, Richard begins to grasp how much trouble he’s in. Shame and horror fill him when Kristin learns of her husband’s transgressions and their young daughter is exposed to a sordid and dangerous world.

The repercussions of these events are endless. The story explodes on the internet, news reporters hound him and friends keep their distance. Richard is put on leave at work, Kristin shuns him and their daughter worries her parents will divorce. And it’s soon revealed that the Russian girls, possibly underage, had been kidnapped and were brought to New York as sex workers. Richard also faces lawsuits and a blackmail scheme, but the worst is the damage to his family. Or maybe the worst is that Richard is haunted by his encounter with Alexandra.

As detectives chase down the Russians behind the girls’ kidnappers, as well as the girls, Richard, now understands Alexandra and Sonja’s situation, tries to do what’s right and fix his marriage, leading to the inevitable confrontation between the story’s players. Throughout the story, both Richard and Kristin, whose voice is strong in the story, struggle with their decisions as they face their losses.

I enjoyed the audiobook version of The Guest Room, narrated by Grace Experience and Mozhan Marno, who switch between Alexandra’s story and the third person voices in the alternate chapters. I was especially drawn into the story by Experience, the voice of Alexandra. Through the author’s story and Experience’s voice, the audiobook provides a sobering look into brutal sex trafficking crimes. Marno has great range and deftly manages the other characters’ personalities, with subtle changes in her voice. Through both voices, I felt I knew the characters well.

I also enjoyed the author’s smart descriptions of the Chapman’s home and their lives. The fact that many of their things are ruined is a great reflection on how their lives may also be wrecked. Bohjalian is also great at presenting different points of view and showing his characters’ weaknesses. I felt the dread of each of the characters, even the ones I didn’t like.

I listened to The Guest Room during my many walks this week and recommend it to listeners who like stories with characters who make bad decisions.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me Once
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Here’s a fast and easy-to-read mystery/thriller about a tough-acting female veteran who is battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from tours in the Middle East and is caught in a twisted story of power, corruption and murder.

As an army helicopter pilot in Iraq, Maya Stern Burkett always made smart, calculated decisions, until one went horribly bad. Now she’s back in New York, trying to keep it together, but she has a lot of problems. Her sister, Claire is dead and she’s just buried her husband, Joe, the victim of a Central Park shooting. On top of that, debilitating nightmares about her final mission wreak havoc on her mental state. Maya’s only comfort is her two-year-old daughter, Lily.

As Joe’s widow in the ultra-wealthy and powerful Burkett family, Maya’s position has changed. She hadn’t questioned their involvement in Burkett family controlling decisions, including hiring Isabella as a nanny. But her suspicions rise when a disturbing image appears on the nanny cam.

Police are also investigating the murders and wonder if they are connected, while Maya digs in rogue style, always packing a concealed weapon. This mystery is full of slowly revealed secrets, some from happenings at Joe’s elite Main Line prep school outside of Philadelphia. It’s not sorted out until a showdown in the final pages, keeping true to the genre.

While Fool Me Once is not a heavy read, Coben explores serious issues, including the jarring difference between serving in the military and returning home to a normal life. He raises questions about how best to treat PTSD and other mental illnesses, noting that these are not things a person can just “shake off.” In addition, through Maya’s character, a serious gun-lover, he explores the hotly-debated subject of Second Amendment rights.

Coben introduces many suspicious side characters to the story, making it hard to guess where the plot will go. I like this technique because it gives the reader a lot to think about. Coben’s books are normally set in the New York and New Jersey and, having grown up in that area, I enjoy the references to towns and places I know. He also throws little nuggets of local knowledge into his stories, like where the good malls are, and I like this humor.

I thought Fool Me Once was entertaining, but in the end, just okay, due to many unbelievable plot developments. The movie is also in the works, starring Julia Roberts. I would recommend it as a good book to read on an airplane or on vacation or as a light read when you’re curled up on a couch. This is my fourth standalone Coben book. He also writes the Myron and Mickey Bolitar series, which I have not read. I still enjoy Coben as an author and will likely read more.

Have you read any books by Harlan Coben? Have you read his series? Leave a comment and check out these Harlan Coben reviews:

Caught
Run Away
Tell No One

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room
by
Megan Goldin

Rating:

When Vincent deVries of Stanhope & Sons summons his Wall Street investment banker team to a compulsory meeting, the last thing they expect is an escape room activity in an elevator. They grudgingly put their plans on hold. Sam has missed his flight to Antigua and his wife is livid. Sylvie might still make her flight to Paris to meet her boyfriend, but she hasn’t packed. And Jules has downed a couple whiskeys on his way over. The group has intense, cutthroat relationships with each other and there are rumors of looming layoffs. Each knows they can’t afford to miss the meeting, which by the way is in an unfinished office building. Even Vincent, their boss, is unsure who really called them together.

In a locked and stalled elevator, the group goes to work on the cryptic clues, encouraged as they advance to the next levels. But soon they suspect they are trapped and begin to turn on each other. As time passes, dynamics between Vincent’s team deteriorate, leading to shocking power plays. What kind of life or death exercise is this?

In alternating chapters, we meet Sara Hall, a former Stanhope banker, who tells of joining Vincent’s team and enduring the grueling hours and impossible deadlines that are part of the ultra-competitive banking scene. Sara’s story advances as the elevator exercise deteriorates, and the reader must wait for the big reveal.

I enjoyed this modern and original setting that uses a tried and true dynamic – forcing people who hate each other into dangerous and confined situations and seeing what happens. I’ve always been a reader who likes to simply go along for the ride, instead of working out the angles, and I like how the conflicts between Sylvie, Jules, Sam and Vincent develop. I think the author does a great job showing how Vincent continues to try to lead the group, despite the hatred between its members.

Although the finish was a little far-fetched, I was otherwise satisfied with how the author tied up the loose ends and I liked reading about the double-edged flash and glamour of the investment banking world. I recommend The Escape Room to readers who like mysteries and thrillers in which characters are pushed to the extreme.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Simon Greene is desperate to find his daughter Paige, who has dropped out of college, is addicted to drugs, and on the run with her user boyfriend, Aaron. Acting on a tip, Simon sees her in Central Park and is sure he can save her. But Paige runs and Simon may never catch up.

Harlan Coben’s latest action thriller looks at a seemingly normal family with highly successful parents and smart children as they struggle with one daughter’s addiction. How right it had all seemed when Paige went off to college! Now the future is anything but bright.

Before long, Simon and his wife, Ingrid are deep into trouble and surrounded by highly dangerous people. Murder, conspiracies, family secrets, paid assassins and a cult cloud and threaten their search for Paige and before long, Simon is packing a weapon.

I enjoyed this fast-paced story, with a plot that’s hard to explain without spoilers. Coben gives the reader a view of a happy marriage that comes close to crumbling and a family that, like many families, isn’t what it seems. As in the two other Coben books I’ve read, I like the author’s references to New Jersey and New York, an area where I grew up.

Run Away is entertaining, but the reader will need to accept several far-fetched plot developments. I was okay with them, but did not feel the story was as good as the other Coben books I’ve read (see below). Despite this comment, I would recommend Run Away to readers looking for a fast-paced, not-too-deep summer read and, since summer has just begun, the timing is right!

Looking for other Harlan Coben books? Try Caught and Tell No One

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

New York Books – the list is growing!

photo: pd4pic.com
photo: pd4pic.com

I didn’t realize until now just how many books I’ve read
that are set in New York.  If you’re in “a New York state of mind,”
take a look at some of my favorite Big Apple books!


Just added a new one:
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Great 5-star read!


The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin  – light 1800s historical fiction about billionaire American families who match up their daughters with poor European dukes and princes.

 


Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow – intelligent and well-written historical fiction about 1930s organized crime in New York City

 


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – a character sketch of a lonely nineteen-year-old girl trying to escape a sad past

 


Brooklyn by Colm Toíbín – moving love story in which a young Irish woman leaves home for a better life in Brooklyn

 


Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy – second book in the entertaining Mary Handley Mystery series about New York’s first female detective

 


The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout – story about a buried secret and painful family dynamics between adult siblings

 


The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott – historical fiction about a young English maid and seamstress who survives the Titanic

 


Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. – fascinating biography of Huguette Clark, a reclusive heiress who spent the last twenty years of her life in a hospital bed and gave away huge amounts of money to her caretakers and advisers

 


The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – terrific story about a talented New York architect who refuses to collaborate

 


 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – classic love story about a mysterious tycoon during the wild party atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties

 


The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – great historical fiction about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were the only civilian Americans to be killed for spying for the Russians

 


The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky – a modern-day Artemis solves a murder in New York in a world of mortals, gods and goddesses

 


The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – Time traveling love story about finding happiness in an alternate life

 


The Inquisitor’s Mark by Diane K. Salerni – second book in an exciting Young Adult series about a secret eighth day where allies and adversaries abound

 


The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – a look at the lives of six talented teenagers who meet at a summer camp for the arts in 1974


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan – fantastic historical fiction during the Depression and World War II. Egan’s characters try their best to navigate between right and wrong.


My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – How do you put the hushed experiences of your childhood into words?  Character reflections on family, marriage and friendships.

 


Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight – debut novel about the secret life of teenagers at an elite private school in Brooklyn

 


Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – working class girl meets a handsome banker and climbs the social ladder in Post Depression New York.

 


Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy – first book in an entertaining historical fiction murder mystery series about New York’s first female police detective

 


The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – great book about Truman Capote and his relationship with high society socialites in New York.


Tell No One by Harlan Coben – fast-moving, highly entertaining crime thriller set in the suburbs with a wild chase scene in New York


The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland – interesting a story about an emotionally unsettled newspaper woman and a commentary on the business of reporting news

 


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – a look inside a family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease

 


Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk – terrific story of a young author from Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist – Book Club Mom’s All-Time Favorite! (Click here to view Book Club Mom’s Top 10 Faves.)


I think it’s fun to sort my books by different categories.
Do you often read about the same place?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach
by
Jennifer Egan

Rating:

How exciting to choose a book you know nothing about and immediately love it! I had seen Manhattan Beach on display at the library where I work, and the other library book club had already read it, but I never asked my work friend what it was about. And I blindly selected it for my own book club. Talk about being a pantser!

Manhattan Beach has a 3.8 star average rating on Amazon, with over half of the reviewers giving it a 4 or 5, but the rest of the reviews are 1-3 stars. This book is a winner with most and not so much with others. Well, it’s a winner with me! It’s full of complex characters, twisting plot lines and overlaid with the conflict between doing the right thing and doing what you have to do, with heavy consequences on both sides.

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins in 1937 with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl. In these early years, Anna has a strong bond with her father, Eddie and she shadows him on mysterious work errands. At home, her mother cares full-time for Anna’s crippled younger sister, Lydia, a source of guilt, shame, resentment and love in different measures for each of them. On one errand, Anna meets the powerful Dexter Styles and without knowing why, senses an important connection between the men.

Eight years later, Eddie is missing and Anna has a job measuring parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the hub of wartime repairs and preparations. And then she meets Styles again at one of his nightclubs. Determined to understand his relationship to her father, Anna sets off on a dangerous course in both her personal life and at work, where she has become the first female civilian diver. In this section, Egan includes interesting descriptions of how divers trained and worked, a dangerous activity and much different from resort dives of today!

What I liked best about Manhattan Beach is the way the author allows the reader inside the heads of her characters. I understood them much better, knowing how they made their decisions and I sometimes liked the ones with questionable morals more, because I could see their predicaments. Several of them grapple with the ethics of their work, and a few will do whatever it takes to protect their family. I particularly liked the slow reveal of Eddie’s character, who travels with many of the wrong people, but has a lifelong desire to do what’s right.

I also enjoyed the way Egan describes New York during this time period. It’s loaded with regular people, gangsters, bankers, and laborers, trying to get by in any way they can and, even when they are at cross purposes, there’s a sense of unity to win the war. Who gets by and who has the upper hand can quickly change, and that’s what kept me happily reading to the finish.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

Book Talk – Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of books that catch my eye.

I got a beautiful hard cover edition of Modern Lovers last summer, a freebie when I signed up for our library’s summer reading challenge. I got to choose from a bunch of books on a cart and I went straight to Straub’s Modern Lovers because I had just read and really liked her earlier book, The Vacationers.

Modern Lovers was published in 2016 and is about three friends from college who are approaching fifty and how they try to hold onto the identities of their youth. Once members of an edgy band, they’re now raising hormonal teenagers with active social lives. The story is about three friends, but it’s also about the rise and fall of a famous fourth band member who left them years earlier.

Set in Brooklyn, where the three friends live near each other, the book jacket describes Modern Lovers as “a richly satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions—be they food, or friendship, or music—never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.”

I had forgotten all about this one until today. I hope I can get to it soon. Take a look at your bookshelf. Do you have any you’d forgotten? Leave me a comment and tell me which one!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

New York Books – Something for Everyone!

photo: pd4pic.com
photo: pd4pic.com

I didn’t realize until now just how many books I’ve read
that are set in New York.  If you’re in “a New York state of mind,”
take a look at some of my favorite Big Apple books!


The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin  – light 1800s historical fiction about billionaire American families who match up their daughters with poor European dukes and princes.

 


Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow – intelligent and well-written historical fiction about 1930s organized crime in New York City

 


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – a character sketch of a lonely nineteen-year-old girl trying to escape a sad past

 


Brooklyn by Colm Toíbín – moving love story in which a young Irish woman leaves home for a better life in Brooklyn

 


Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy – second book in the entertaining Mary Handley Mystery series about New York’s first female detective

 


The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout – story about a buried secret and painful family dynamics between adult siblings

 


The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott – historical fiction about a young English maid and seamstress who survives the Titanic

 


Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. – fascinating biography of Huguette Clark, a reclusive heiress who spent the last twenty years of her life in a hospital bed and gave away huge amounts of money to her caretakers and advisers

 


The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – terrific story about a talented New York architect who refuses to collaborate

 


 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – classic love story about a mysterious tycoon during the wild party atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties

 


The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – great historical fiction about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were the only civilian Americans to be killed for spying for the Russians

 


The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky – a modern-day Artemis solves a murder in New York in a world of mortals, gods and goddesses

 


The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – Time traveling love story about finding happiness in an alternate life

 


The Inquisitor’s Mark by Diane K. Salerni – second book in an exciting Young Adult series about a secret eighth day where allies and adversaries abound

 


The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – a look at the lives of six talented teenagers who meet at a summer camp for the arts in 1974


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan – fantastic historical fiction during the Depression and World War II. Egan’s characters try their best to navigate between right and wrong.


My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – How do you put the hushed experiences of your childhood into words?  Character reflections on family, marriage and friendships.

 


Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight – debut novel about the secret life of teenagers at an elite private school in Brooklyn

 


Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – working class girl meets a handsome banker and climbs the social ladder in Post Depression New York.

 


Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy – first book in an entertaining historical fiction murder mystery series about New York’s first female police detective

 


The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – great book about Truman Capote and his relationship with high society socialites in New York.


Tell No One by Harlan Coben – fast-moving, highly entertaining crime thriller set in the suburbs with a wild chase scene in New York


The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland – interesting a story about an emotionally unsettled newspaper woman and a commentary on the business of reporting news

 


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – a look inside a family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease

 


Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk – terrific story of a young author from Kentucky who arrives in New York and becomes a hugely successful and prolific novelist – Book Club Mom’s All-Time Favorite! (Click here to view Book Club Mom’s Top 10 Faves.)


I think it’s fun to sort my books by different categories.
Do you often read about the same place?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!