All 380 New York State books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
Heather Ann Thompson,
Why this book?
When Zinn published his book in 1980, the tumultuous events of the recent past were too soon for him to explore in much detail. One of the more horrifying events of the 1970s was the crushing of the Attica prison riot in 1971. Heather Thompson tells this story with great attention paid to the activists fighting for dignity behind bars and the indifference to the lives of prisoners from politicians, the police, and much of the public. With police violence and incarceration major political issues today, Thompson’s book is a must-read to gain historical context that will both inspire and…
Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past
Why this book?
First published in 1957 (and re-issued with a welcome epilogue by historian Michael P. Onorato), the book vividly portrays the storied seaside’s heyday. McCullough was Coney Island royalty: His grandfather was one of its earliest settlers, his uncle was among its greatest showmen, and his dad owned a dozen amusement-park shooting galleries. The family’s love of the place seeps through these pages (a sub-sub title reads “the most rambunctious, scandalous, rapscallion, splendiferous, pugnacious, spectacular, illustrious, prodigious, frolicsome island on earth”—which about sums it up). Particularly moving is the heartbreaking fate of the show animals on the night of a tragic…
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008
Robin Jaffee Frank,
Why this book?
Created in conjunction with a 2015 exhibition, this volume is a visual feast -- a tribute to the way Coney Island inspired artists and endures as part of the public imagination. Paintings, drawings, posters, artifacts, and photographs spanning 1861-2008 fill its pages; artists include Diane Arbus, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Red Grooms, and many others. Accompanying essays explore the seaside resort’s cultural significance.
Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century
John F. Kasson,
Why this book?
This short book, filled with delightful illustrations, is so much fun that you don’t immediately notice that it’s a powerful history of how urbanization and industrialization led to a new mass culture. The particular focus is on the rise of the amusement park, and the controversies that arose over how people “should” spend their leisure time and discretionary income. When the Russian revolutionary Maxim Gory toured Coney Island in 1907, he concluded that in America, amusement (rather than religion) had become the opiate of the masses. This book, a classic, remains relevant, inspiring thoughtful analysis concerning the ongoing power of…
Immerso’s book provided confirmation of a rumor I’d heard—that back in the late 1880s, the first thing a newly arriving immigrant making the transatlantic crossing would see wasn’t the Statue of Liberty—it was in fact Coney Island, and specifically the ridiculous edifice known as the Elephant Hotel. A bad idea from the get-go, the novelty, pachyderm-shaped hotel was converted into a brothel until even the hookers checked out and it burned to the ground.
Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art
Why this book?
Mary Gabriel, an incredible storyteller, does a masterful job uncovering the extraordinary lives and artistic contributions of five very different Abstract Expressionist painters: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. I’ve done a lot of research on this movement with a particular focus on Elaine de Kooning, but I never felt that Gabriel was rehashing the same material. With her engaging style of writing, she brings a fresh perspective to a story that needed to be told. This group of women artists has largely been left out of the canonical versions of Abstract Expressionism. Some…
In this evocative memoir, the first in a series of three and a New York Times 1982 best book of the year, Simon, a travel writer, captures the world of an immigrant child growing up in the Bronx in the 1920s. Their fathers were harsh disciplinarians; mothers knew abortion to be the most effective birth control; and daughters saw poor scores in math crush their dreams. A story of triumph over the odds, of female rebellion, and of the many ways of learning, this memoir evokes a bygone world that also feels very contemporary.
In 1951, Sydney Taylor invented the memorable Brenners—papa, mama, five sisters, and baby brother—a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in turn-of-the-century New York. Taylor’s words and Helen John’s illustrations in this book, the first in a series, set the scene. A calendar in the parlor announced that it was 1912. Tenements lined city streets. When I read these novels as a child, I did not yet know that they were closely based on Taylor’s own life. When the entire series was republished in 2014, I quipped: I became a Jewish historian because of these books.
What happens after you survive the atrocities and randomness of war? Chang-rae Lee examines the deep intricacies of this question and its ramifications, portraying three survivors (Korean War, Sino-Japan War) whose lives mesh at an orphanage somewhere in South Korea after liberation. From that common crossroad, the lives of Sylvie, a missionary wife, Hector, a G.I., and June, a Korean orphan, are forever intertwined, shadowed by pervasive doom pitted against the human need to endure. Lee’s intense focus on physicality seems to reflect the characters’ bodily will to continue life, even as their hearts are blackened by tragedy. It is…
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Why this book?
Hamilton’s memoir recalls her turbulent family history, her sexual ambiguity, her love of Italy, and more unexpectedly, her Italian mother-in-law, who nurtured her passion for cooking. It doesn’t hurt that outside the kitchen, Hamilton earned her M.F.A in fiction writing from the University of Michigan and can write about the devastating fallout from her parents’ divorce with the same acuity and poetry she deploys about cooking an egg. In the waiting room, where her galloping curiosity and generosity of spirit suffuse you, be reminded that there is a whole world out there, and that past this unhappy day, there…
Although I loved the city of New York more than ever after 9/11, it was sometimes hard to feel optimism and hope about the bigger picture and humanity as a whole in the first several years of the new millennium. This book was one of several things that helped restore my faith, since Moehringer so lovingly portrays the community where he grew up in Long Island—an area profoundly impacted by the attack on the World Trade Center. While I was fact-checking the title, et cetera, I discovered there’s a movie version coming out in early 2022. Obviously I haven’t seen…
The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free
Why this book?
Maple was the architect of the tactics that allowed the NYPD to lower homicides by 60% in two miraculous years from 1990–1992. This book is easy to read and often funny, which doesn’t obscure Maple’s tactical genius. The story of how a lowly transit cop who fancied suits, vests, bow ties, and homburgs became Assistant Commissioner of Police in New York is astonishing. You can only regret that Maple was never able to use his fake “Gun-Sniffing Dog” ploy to flush suspects with concealed firearms. It was sheer genius.
The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic
Why this book?
This book describes the harum-scarum changes to the NYPD that made possible an astonishing reduction in crime and homicide in a city in the midst of the crack cocaine wars. When Bratton began promoting hotshot cops on merit rather than seniority, half the senior commanders retired in horror. The result? A lot of fat ex-cops retired to Florida and the renaissance of New York City.
This book is similar to mine, following a team of high school basketball players through a season, but it’s set in an urban environment: Brooklyn’s Coney Island. The boys it focuses on are African-American, the off-court struggles they and their community face (crime, violence, drug use, the lure of the streets, and the corruption of college basketball recruiters) differ from those that challenge the kids in remote Alaska, but the joy and solace they find in the game itself are the same. The writing is terrific—lucidly and intimately bringing to life the four boys whose lives it focuses on.
The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team
Why this book?
A gripping, fascinating story by Matthew Goodman of the 1949-1950 City College of New York Men's basketball team, the only team in history to win both the NCAA and NIT tournaments in the same season (teams have long since been barred from competing in both). Led by the legendary coach Nat Holman, the 15-man squad of working-class kids comprised 11 Jews and four African Americans. Goodman weaves a tale of corrupt big-city politics, the extraordinary engine of upward mobility that CCNY was mid-century and the tragic downfall of the team, as several of its star players became implicated in a…
This is the first of 11 books featuring Myron Bolitar, a hotheaded but tenderhearted sports agent. He is one of the most fascinating and complex heroes in suspense fiction.
Bolitar is poised on the edge of the big time. So is Christian Steele, a rookie quarterback and Myron's prized client. But when Christian gets a phone call from a former girlfriend — a woman who everyone, including the police, believes is dead — the deal starts to go sour. Trying to unravel the truth about a family's tragedy, a woman's secret, and a man's lies, Myron is up against the…
In this 1965 memoir, the late Claude Brown recounts his experiences coming of age on the mean streets of Harlem just after World War II as part of that first generation of black refugees from the south to resettle in New York. Besides ranking as a classic of black literature, Manchild provides plenty of adventure for fans of true crime with an inside look at juvenile gangs, incarceration, and, ultimately, the redemption Brown enjoyed, reflecting themes that remain relevant into the current century.
Eric W. Sanderson,
Markley Boyer (illustrator),
Why this book?
This natural history of Manhattan is about the natural “skyline”—the flora and geography that was converted from a natural wonder to the world’s most amazing city. Sanderson’s re-creation of Manhattan before it was Manhattan is a tour de force. While the book is not directly about the Manhattan skyline, a deep understanding of Manhattan’s geography and natural environment before European settlement is actually crucial to understanding how the skyline rose in the 20th century.
Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History, this book is the essential guide to New York City history from the days of the Dutch colony to 1898, the year New York expanded to become the city of five boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Despite its length, Gotham is eminently readable, thanks to its hundreds of colorful characters and fascinating stories of politics and culture in a rising world city. The wealth of research that went into this book—over twenty years’ worth—gives us by far our most complete single-volume account of how New York became New…
This gripping, cinematic tale of a watershed workplace disaster immerses you in the grueling, gritty world of young immigrant – Jewish and Italian – women workers in early-20th century New York City. The horrific fire in a shirt-waist factory saw workers jumping to their deaths, revealing that “a huge and vulnerable world existed far above the street.” It created a cauldron of outrage and empathy, bare-knuckle politics, and leftist ideology leading to reform. You most remember the gumption and survival instinct of these young women, far from home without even the right to vote, coming together in the Ladies’ Garment…
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
Robert A. Caro,
Why this book?
Arguably, no single person has shaped the built environment of New York City as much as Robert Moses. To some, he was an evil dictator imposing his will on the urban fabric; while to others, he was the man who got things done. In his four-decade career, Moses oversaw the buildings of beaches, parks, highways, bridges, tunnels, public housing, slum clearance projects, and World Fairs. Caro’s work is a detailed chronicle of Moses’ life and projects. Five decades later, one can quibble with Caro’s conclusions, but it remains a jaw-dropping tome about how Moses reshaped New York, for good and…
This book opened up a whole new universe for me, not just because its dazzling portrayal of Jamaican street life is so far removed from my own world but because the writing is so free and expressive. Its eye-opening use of Jamaican street slang and lack of traditional grammar makes this a thrilling read and taught me that even hard-to-decipher prose can be powerful and expressive as long as the voice is authentic.
A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York
Timothy J. Gilfoyle,
Why this book?
If you read one biography/memoir of a Gilded Age criminal, make it this one. It tells the story (often in his own words) of the celebrated pickpocket George Appo, an odd little half-Chinese, half-Irish, one-eyed fellow who could make $800 in a few days when most working men made less than that in a year. Appo would rivet New Yorkers when he testified about his second career as a “green goods” con man, working to swindle gullible out-of-towners who came to buy purported counterfeit money at a discount, only to discover that there was nothing but sawdust inside the packages…
No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement
Why this book?
It’s easy to forget that many women, as well as men, actively opposed women’s suffrage. Susan Goodier details the anti-suffrage movement in New York State, but her analysis of its motives, victories, and ultimate defeat reveals much about the philosophies and implications of conservative movements nationwide. This is a fascinating study of the women who joined together in a political movement to keep women out of politics. A highlight is how these women fared after the vote was won.
Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops
Why this book?
Musical theatre fans delight in reading about the famous and not-so-famous disasters in the genre. Mandelbaum covers nearly 200 of these musical flops that opened (and often quickly closed) on Broadway between 1950 and 1990. It is a lively read, well researched, and has plenty of "what were they thinking?" attitude. Not much copy is given to one musical (except the title musical Carrie) but the coverage is comprehensive. A favorite among musical theatre fans,Not Since Carrie was the inspiration for Mark Robinson and myself when we continued Mandelbaum's chronicle with our own Musical Misfires.
Thomas’s memoir is a seminal text of Nuyorican Literature (a sub-genre of Diasporican Literature) and the Latinx canon. It also belongs to the urban literature genre that emerged in the 1960s. His, however, was the first Latinx version of a narrative that depicts, some would say sensationalizes and exploits, the gritty, raw life of the inner city. As such, it had a tremendous impact on developing Latinx writers who had few role models at the time. His work, along with others of that genre, still holds influence stylistically and thematically with some Latinx authors. Written in the traditional Augustinian autobiographical…
The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York
Why this book?
In 1924 husband and wife team Celia and Ed Cooney, with a new baby on the way and not enough money, turned stick-up artists, with meek-looking, bobbed-hair Celia wielding the gun. The tabloids couldn’t get enough of the “flapper turned bad” storyline and for a time every bobbed-hair flapper and her swain in New York was under suspicion.
Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
Why this book?
Sullivan’s narrative nonfiction illuminates the New York that the city’s rats have conquered, and it’s a humbling, fascinating place. One of the epicenters, for Sullivan, is Wall Street, where he began doing research a few months before 9/11, blocks from the Twin Towers. The book isn’t about the aftermath of 9/11, its sticks to rats, but at moments it does become a chronicle of the city during this shocking and disturbing time, when going underground with the rats seems like a reasonable idea.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
Why this book?
If you’ve ever wondered how those big parade balloons came to be, this book explains everything. You’ll meet Tony Sarg, a talented marionette artist who crafted puppets to entertain on the Broadway stage as well as Macy’s Department store window in New York City. Tony’s ingenuity really soars when he is called upon to create something special for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Something that would change the face of the parade forever.
The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984
Marvin J. Taylor (editor),
Why this book?
This is the primer for everything Downtown during arguably Downtown’s greatest era. The contributions are first-rate, by people who were on the scene, and it’s a handsome book to hold. If you’re interested in anything from Punk and Patti Smith to Haring, Basquiat, and Afrika Bambaataa, this is the place to start, without nostalgia, agenda, or hype.
Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City
Nicholas Dagen Bloom (editor),
Matthew Gordon Lasner (editor),
Why this book?
For my money, affordable housing is the biggest issue New York faces right now and this book was one of the happiest, most fascinating surprises in my research. No one should utter that phrase—“affordable housing”—until they read this book, a comprehensive, overview of all the different kinds of affordable housing created in and by New York over the last century. With fabulous imagery from photographer and sociologist David Schaillol, it ultimately becomes an alternative history of what the city has done, which made me hopeful about what it can do if we choose to.
A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself sounds like a self-help book but is actually a comic thriller/touching character study set in the world of the New York mob. Rena, the widow of a wise guy, lives a quiet life in the Bronx until the day she cracks a would-be suitor over the head with an ashtray and steals his vintage Impala. It’s a mob caper, an elderly gals wild road trip, and a Grandmother and granddaughter reunion story all in one. Big fun.
Invitation to an Inquest: A New Look at the Rosenberg-Sobell Case
Why this book?
The Schneirs did not write the first book on the famous case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, New Yorkers who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951 and put to death by the U.S. government in 1953. But for 20 years after its publication in 1965, their book became the definitive version of how the Rosenbergs had been victims of a grave miscarriage of justice, convicted of a crime “that never occurred”.
When the Schneirs published a revised version in 1983, its claims directly conflicted with those of another 1983 book, The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh and…
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
Anika Aldamuy Denise,
Paola Escobar (illustrator),
Why this book?
In this story about Pura Belpre, the Puerto Rican librarian, we learn about her journey of planting story seeds throughout the country. It all starts when she moves to the United States. Working as a bilingual librarian assistant, she notices there are no Puerto Rican stories. So, she writes her own and plants also dream seeds. This is a sparse, lyrical book with vivid and sweet illustrations.
While this book is about New York, it offers great insights into the role of women in urban spaces that are relevant across the world. Stansell weaves together statistical and official records, court reports, press stories, and paints detailed pictures of the lives of women in the nineteenth-century city. This includes the range of employment women took, and their various strategies to resolve disputes, run businesses, and manage their lives. In a city as diverse as New York, this included women from all over the world.
The book challenges our assumptions about evil on every page. Shriver writes it so that Kevin can simultaneously be viewed as a hardwired psychopath driving his mother out of her mind, or as a poor little twerp who goes bananas because his mum is such a highly strung nightmare. It absolutely crackles with a dark foreboding energy.
Have you ever had a nightmarish boss? He or she cannot possibly be as bad as Miranda Priestley. Rumor has it that Weisberger got her inspiration from real life as she was working as an editor’s assistant at Vogue, and some of the situations in this novel are so far-fetched they have to be true.
Andrea Sachs is the average small-town girl who wants to make it big while keeping her integrity, but the moment she gets a job at Runway Magazine, she learns that life can be a living hell. And her new boss is the devil. Absurdly demanding,…
Marathon Mouse is a fun story for our littlest runners. Most of the mice living under the bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island didn’t like the commotion of Marathon Day. But Preston did. Preston braved the crowds and big shoes to run the Marathon himself. And near the finish line, his family, who had told him races weren’t for mice, were there cheering him on.
Marathon Mouse is the only one of my book recommendations about an animal marathon runner. But, as with the books here about people, Preston, the Marathon Mouse, has perseverance and determination and feels joy when…
Anyone who is curious about other cities and cultures will love the complete series of the This Is… books by Miroslav Sasek. They are filled with exciting facts and the colorful illustrations are truly delightful. From New York, to London, to Hong Kong, and many more, these books will inspire you to travel the world!
The classic, quintessential Mafia novel – and with good reason. The first in a trilogy about Corleone crime family, it features a romanticized look at organized crime but is notable both for the sweeping scope of the story, as well as the fact that it introduced mainstream America to such now-familiar words as caporegime, Cosa Nostra, and omerta.
While not especially realistic compared to some works, I enjoyed that The Godfather is a crime fiction reader's power fantasy dream – there are only bad guys here, so there are no consequences for anything that happens to them.…
Emma’s Poem is a lovely book about a girl who had plenty of everything and grew up to work for those who didn’t. The words are simple and well-chosen, the art is bright and vivid, and I was amazed to realize that one poem by one woman has had such a huge and lasting impact. Without Emma Lazarus, the Statue of Liberty would be just a giant metal sculpture, rather than a beacon welcoming the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma taught generations of Americans who we are at our best. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,…
The true-life story of the ’70s and ’80s in New York City and the world of theatre—when the Great White Way was basically slated to become a parking lot—as it is saved by a colorful host of characters (and a boardroom coup!) is just begging for a musical of its own. Until that happens, we will have to be content with this page-turning book from a saucy and witty theatre columnist, which chronicles the entire amazing ride of how Broadway was reborn.
Along the way, we get a thorough probing of Broadway history and the highs, lows, and everything in…
Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George
Why this book?
I don’t think I could put together a list of books for next-level Broadway lovers without a Sondheim entry. There are many books to choose from but this one sweeps you off your feet and into the world of creating a Broadway classic. “Behind the scenes” doesn’t even begin to cover this journey into not only the Pulitizer award-winning show but also the intergenerational friendship between Sondheim and Lapine. That relationship and their creative collaboration are curated through script notes, personal photos, and sketches, giving you a glimpse into genius Broadway minds.
Money is a quintessential novel of the eighties, on a par with Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. John Self is a director of ads, but also a drunk, addicted to porn, prostitutes, and food, and a spendthrift. Invited to shoot a feature film in the States, unlike the typical Englishman, he feels at home there. The hedonism, materialism, and excesses are second nature to him. Self goes from one scrape to another, but, as his name suggests, identity is a key theme, and it turns out that he is not who he thinks he is. There is even a…
“I saw a little boy on the street today, and he cried so eloquently that I will never forget him.” Maeve Brennan wrote for the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section as ‘The Long-Winded Lady’ from 1954 to 1968. She roamed the city’s streets, bars, and restaurants, eyes wide open, weaving stories of vivid emotional detail from the most seemingly mundane moments. None of these are too long – in the waiting room concentration can be fleeting – but each sketch engages. Her story of the crying boy ends this way: “He might have been the last bird in…
“My family struck me as larger than life, bigger than news,” Volk once said. This memoir imbues her relatives’ stories with all the wonder and glamour children confer on the mere mortals who raise us. In the waiting room, you may still feel that way about the person inside. Volk’s family ran restaurants in New York City – her grandfather owned 14 – and four generations lived within five blocks of each other. The details of their clothes, their couches, and their craziness (Uncle Al had an affair with Aunt Lil for 11 years then refused to marry her because…
Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt,
Why this book?
This is a book about finding unconditional love with a dog when you never got it at home. Lauren and I both had aloof mothers. Mine was lost in post-divorce depression and hers to alcohol and pills. For daughters like us, the unconditional love of dog isn’t just nice, it’s vital. Lauren takes her 160-lb English Mastiff to college, and afterward to a micro-apartment in New York, making every ridiculous accommodation she can for her giant dog. But when Gizelle gets sick, Lauren creates a bucket list full of steak dinners and winter beach visits to make sure her most…
Girls is not written by a Nordic author but feels very Nordic Noir… so I am giving it an honourable mention.
Jack and Fanny’s baby daughter has died, and they are struggling to cope. Jack, a Vietnam Vet, is trying desperately to find ways to bring them back together. A fourteen-year-old girl goes missing, and Jack turns his focus to finding her, as if this could be their redemption.
Girls is the perfect read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Clean prose, irresistible characters so finely drawn. Voices that resonate. Add to this a very suspenseful plot…
Lizzie Demands a Seat! Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights
E.B. Lewis (illustrator),
Why this book?
More than a century before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott, a schoolteacher named Elizabeth Jennings did the same on a streetcar in New York City. Her act of courage didn’t lead to a mass movement, but it did lead to a court case—which she won with the help of her lawyer, future U.S. president Chester A. Arthur.
I chose this book because it’s so important to recall that segregation wasn’t only in the South, and that the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s built on a long history of resistance…
Once again, personal history meets drink history with this book about nightclubbing in New York’s Greenwich Village during the 1980s. Musto escorts readers through the hotspots that made Manhattan’s nightlife tingle and zing. Fuelled on vodka, vodka, and a side of whiskey and beer, Musto races through the Cat Club, Area, Limelight, Max’s Kansas City, Mudd Club, CBGB’s, Indochine, and other hideouts that kept the pre-cocktail revival night culture alive and kicking.
John Corey is a wise-cracking NY cop who joins an FBI task force where he works with FBI Agent Kate Mayfield to take custody of a Libyan terrorist known as the Lion. The Task Force is at JFK waiting for the terrorist who is flying in from Libya on a 747. When they lose communication with the pilot, they realize something is wrong. The rest is a rollercoaster ride all the way to the end. You will not be disappointed.
Make Room! Make Room!: The Classic Novel of an Overpopulated Future
Why this book?
Written in 1966, Make Room! Make Room! was the basis for the 1973 film Soylent Green—it’s one of those great books that (like The Exorcist) was totally overshadowed by its equally great film version. It’s set in 1999, in a grossly overpopulated and polluted world in which people are scrambling for ever-diminishing resources. It mainly follows the life of NYC detective Andy Rusch and his elderly roommate Sol—who has finagled a bicycle-powered generator to run the TV and refrigerator in their small apartment. Rusch falls in love with Shirl, the young mistress of a rich man whose murder…
This book took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of it, nor was I familiar with the author. It was one of those books that’s like finding a pot of gold. The pacing is excellent; the character development unique and well done. I found this book to be quite different, and engrossing, for reasons I cannot describe. Be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart.
I met Lee Child within a few weeks of this book being released. I had never read anything by Child and honestly, hadn't even heard of him prior to that meeting. I bought his book, got it autographed, and read it. His style was different from any other author I had read to that point. I liked his rogue character, Jack Reacher, and the way Child put that character into more and more peril as the story progressed. Having said all that, I had a character in my writing that, in many ways, resembled Reacher. Lee child's writing had a…
William Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for this novel. An interesting study in the use of internal reflection, as well as explored levels of consciousness and complex timeline. The protagonist is Francis Phelan, a former professional baseball player who left Albany in shame after dropping his infant son Gerald to his death. It is the third book in Kennedy's Albany Cycle. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (for Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress in a Leading Role (for Meryl Streep). The novel is rich with dramatic tension.
This book is a haunting and haunted story of the young Edgar Allen Poe when he was a cadet at West Point in 1830. Already a published poet at that point, young Edgar is a moody and very unlikely candidate for the army, but his inclination for the darker side of human life comes in handy when a cadet is found hanging—with his heart cut out—and Edgar is chosen to help the big city detective who comes on campus to solve the murder. I just learned this was made into a movie! I loved the book, read it years ago,…
The Spectral City series by Leanna Hieber is for those who like their Gaslight era New York history mixed with ghosts! Narrated by a young woman with the gift of ghost communicator, she sees spirits beyond the veil of our corporal existence. And what a world is there! Her mystery-cracking team helps her confront the dark world. Don’t worry—attention to historical details is spot on, and so is police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt’s confidence in his sleuth. I love a ghost story where the ghosts have afterlives of their own, don’t you? Enjoy these detective stories with unique sidekicks of their…
Like many of the Potter books, this book is sort of a puzzle box built around an object that is governed by clear rules. The main character, Molly Moon, discovers a book that teaches her to control animals and people around her with the power of hypnotism. The book drops Molly's character into a clear set of rules and then has fun watching what she does with it, in a way that reminds me a bit of Hermione’s use of that special object in Prisoner of Azkaban. It also is a fantasy about unlimited power. Seriously, what if you…
When I was a boy I picked up this book and the effect was life-changing. It carried me into the 18th century as an era of struggle, rugged determination, and individual liberty. Both informative and exciting, and written in a classic style, the book is a terrific experience of the times leading up to America’s War for Independence.
Chance’s novel is a subtler take on hysteria, which I liked because not all horror, or abuse, is outright horrific. It’s often subtle and subversive, so much so, that victims often believe they are the problem, and most women diagnosed with neurasthenia (neuroticism) or hysteria believed they were broken. In fact, the term “gaslighting” comes from a film set during this historical period. Chance’s novel gives a look into how fathers, husbands, and fiancés used hysteria as a method to “fix” or get rid of inconvenient women. It also highlights that hysteria was not only tied to mental health but…
If only half of Cook’s medical exposures were true, we would probably never voluntarily go to a hospital again. But his forensic pathologists (a married couple team) go out of their way to prove him right. And in this 2008 thriller there are enough warnings about looming pandemics to make a reader wonder why covid came as such a surprise. The cadavers told us to be wary.
Joe Gould first came to the world’s attention when Joseph Mitchell published two articles about him in the New Yorker in the mid-twentieth century. A self-described bohemian, he was an eccentric denizen of Greenwich Village who claimed to be writing “The Oral History of Our Time,” a massive, revolutionary book that Gould said would be read by generations yet to come. Or, was he really just a heavy drinking raconteur who ingratiated himself among some of the leading artists, poets, and writers of his day? Jill Lepore pushes Gould’s story beyond Mitchell’s original version, finding darker truths behind it.
Taking place in New York City after the Civil War, this novel is filled with fascinating historical information about the beginnings of the woman suffrage movement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the life of free love advocate Victoria Woodhull, and the challenges a Jewish immigrant woman faced making a living selling condoms. At the same time, this book provides a great deal of context in which to understand how Antony Comstock, as a special agent of the U.S. Post Office, succeeded on March 3, 1873 in banning birth control, contraceptives, abortifacients, and other items he determined to…
I found this memoir about rescuing a starved and abused mare an honest and touching account of a healing journey for both horse and human. Richards’ experience of the non-judgmental, forgiving nature of the mare she takes in brings her profound insight. She says, “In a crazy way, it felt like Lay Me Down (the rescue horse) had been taking care of me since I got her… By her gentle affection, I felt restored to the status of someone who mattered, someone who was needed.” These sentiments are at the heart of the book and have been felt by many…
This book was one of the first I read that featured a main character who looked like me. I love the humor, honesty, and insight of Virginia, which is perfectly captured in the diary format of the writing. And the book takes a hard but hopeful look at the ideas of perfection and expectations and all the ways we are flawed, but also worthy of love.
Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability
Why this book?
David Owen cares about cities and climate change, but the solution he suggests may seem counter-intuitive. At least it seemed so to me, until I began to look around at my own relatively sustainable city, Montreal. Owen argues that dense cities are really more environmentally friendly than spread out ones, and if we're going to get a handle on carbon emissions we are going to have to live closer together. He doesn't advocate high rises all over as Le Corbusiier would, but a mixture of housing heights tied to effective public transportation. He presents workable ideas that can change the…
This collection of short stories is really about how sexual desire and social ambition can lead to all sorts of compromising and bizarre situations. I originally was drawn to it because I’d loved the filmSecretarybased on one of the short stories in the collection. I related to it because it is nearly all from a young female P.O.V – a kind of potpourri of trying to make it in NY in the 1980s. It's the perfect illustration of how powerful short story as a form can be in terms encapsulate an event, mood, and era – It…
Luz Cordero lost her brother in a police shooting. Anger and grief burn within her for her brother's tragic death, and this young girl must battle through her emotional pain toward forgiveness during her stay at a Boys and Girls home. This is one girl's story as she pulls herself from the life of gangs and violence toward forgiveness and ultimately peace. I couldn't put it down.
This charming parallel universe story is like two contemporary realistic novels in one. Fifteen-year-old Summer Everette makes a choice at the beginning of the book (no spoilers, here!) that will either take her to France or keep her in upstate New York for the summer. So why not see what would happen in both worlds?
This book has all the elements I love. A relatable protagonist, two adorable love interests, and tons of heart. Add the French countryside element and voila! Parfait!
Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic: A Novel of the Titanic
Why this book?
I love a historical fiction novel. Give me every iteration of Pride and Prejudice, give me old time-y things, give me Great Gatsby flapper dancers. I love it. Distant Waves is a really fun YA novel focused on five sisters who meet as they find their way onto the Titanic and befriend famous inventor, Nicola Tesla. The sisters come from a mother who is in the spiritualist community and they have a feeling the ship will sink, but they hop aboard anyways with a very sweet boy named Thad. There’s paranormal stuff and kooky inventions. Gotta love a sprinkle…
Scoundrels in Law: The Trials of Howe and Hummel, Lawyers to the Gangsters, Cops, Starlets, and Rakes Who Made the Gilded Age
Cait N. Murphy,
Why this book?
Shakespeare wanted to kill all the lawyers, and this book will give you a reason to. On second thought, be glad that these two roguish lawyers, William Howe and Abe Hummel, lived to fill this book with colorful stories of the criminal underworld in late nineteenth-century New York and how the crooks got away with it. Howe, a flamboyant, heavily bejeweled (and heavy) trial lawyer, could reduce juries to tears, while his gnomish partner, Abe Hummel, counted P. T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill Cody, and other celebrity hucksters among his clients. Between them, Howe and Hummel were in on almost every…
Trust me; you’ve never read a book like Billy Bathgate. Not only does it have a high-stakes plotline full of peril on every page, but Doctorow’s breathtakingly explosive prose is as volatile and alluring as the characters themselves. Fifteen-year-old Billy Bathgate transcends his street urchin existence in the 1930s Bronx by endearing himself to (and falling in love with the girlfriend of) the outrageously violent and unpredictable Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz. Billy’s genius is far-reaching—juggling, scamming, acting, evading the wrath of police and rival mobsters including Lucky Luciano. Based loosely on true events, this one will supercharge you emotionally…
What setsThe Amityville Horrorapart from other haunted house stories is that it is supposedly true. The objective facts are that 24-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his parents and four siblings while they were asleep in their home. At his trial, he claimed that voices in the house told him to do it. The Lutz family moved into the home the next year and vacated the house 28 days later. According to Jay Anson’s book, the same spirits that possessed DeFeo were still doing their thing when the Lutzs moved in. A priest was told to “Get out!” and…
This mystery takes place mostly in the New York Museum of Natural History. I loved that the museum itself was so well-defined and so detailed, to me, it became another character in this dark thriller.
Be warned: Enjoying this book may get you hooked on the entire Pendergast Series, starring what I’d describe as a present-day supernatural Sherlock Holmes. This book started it all, and while the majority of the series’ books are excellent, this one is the best, and my personal favorite.
Having worked for a jewelry designer in the Washington, DC area, The Gem Thief caught my eye. The story took me back to my days in the shop (good memories!), and the author has obviously done her research, because her accuracy is impeccable. I liked all of the characters, but I bonded with one of the secondary characters so much that I felt we could be friends in “real life.” I’ve been to New York City often, so I also enjoyed revisiting the city. The book was both comfortable because of all the associations to “past lives,” and exciting as…
Every book on my list has changed my life in some way, but this novel probably had the biggest impact. When I first read it, my life had followed a similar trajectory to the protagonist. I had become disillusioned with the meaning of life, quit my job, and left home to travel the world for a year or so. This book explores a lot of big themes in deceptively simple language. I re-read it any time I feel a bit lost in life. It always helps me to feel better, and see that things fit together, in just the right…
I’ve described this half-jokingly to adult horror fans as “baby’s first Misery.” When young Alex is kidnapped by a wicked witch named Natacha, he must tell her a new scary story every night... or face the consequences. More than a fun, shivery adventure, this book Is a godsend to kids who love scary stories, assuring them that there’s nothing weird or wrong about their interests (and scaring them silly in the process). Even if your children have seen the movie, the book adds new layers to the story and its themes, and it’s delightful to hear Kirby Heyborne offering…
Can’t Get There from Hereis another stark look at the realities of kids living on the street. Strasser quickly drew me into the life of Maybe and her tribe of friends Maggot, 2Moro, Rainbow, and Tears. Their day-to-day existence is one of scrounging for food, looking for a safe place to sleep for the night, and avoiding those who would harm them. Adults have hurt these kids so many times and in so many ways that their reluctance to trust the police for help is totally understandable.
Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories about Jenny Linsky
Why this book?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the main character (and in fact most of the characters) in this book is a cat it’s only for very young readers. This charming and elegant story, the first of a series, takes place in Greenwich Village, where a small black orphaned cat named Jenny finds a home with a sea captain and a community with her neighborhood felines. Jenny’s explorations of the then-dicey neighborhood and encounters with less fortunate cats are ridiculously poignant and moving, and her foot-high view of her city feels entirely authentic.
This coming-of-age novel-in-verse beautifully captures the dynamics of survival in tough neighborhoods in a way that honors the humanity and nuance of the community—details that are too often lost in media and forgotten by the people that “make it out.” Through the lens of the Puerto Rican-American protagonist, Sarai, her family, and the neighborhood characters that are all too familiar, I was brought into the heart of pre-gentrified Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Puerto Rican culture to go on Sarai’s journey of self-discovery. We are sitting on the stoop, at the foot of the bed, in the back pew in conversation with…
A friend only recently introduced me to this amazing, slight novel about two close friends who work together the summer they’re fifteen at the Storyland amusement park. With Moore’s beautiful descriptions and nuanced depiction of the complications of friendship and growing up, this is really one of the truest accounts of teen girlhood I’ve ever read, and it plays into my own fascination with amusement parks as spaces where fantasy and reality interestingly overlap.
I’ve never forgotten Theo Decker, the thoroughly engaging protagonist and narrator of Tartt’s third novel. Although I relished Tartt’s earlier work, I became wondrously lost in The Goldfinch. She won the Pulitzer for this book, deservedly so, which centers around Theo’s theft of a painting, TheGoldfinch of the title, and the percolating adventures that follow Theo, his associates, and the painting itself. Tartt is superb at juggling both plotlines and timelines—and entertaining to the end. It’s one of the most engaging novels I’ve ever read. I will read it again.
Joe Keenan’s madcap farces made me want to write my own. They’re the kind of books that make you laugh so hard you just have to read lines from it to the person sitting next to you (preferably someone you know because strangers on mass transit don’t appreciate that kind of thing). As zany as they are, his novels are rooted in the real, doing-whatever-you-can-to-make-it lives of theater people. So they’re not as far-fetched as you might think. Life in New York City really can be that wildly glamorous. And hilarious.
There is history quite literally buried beneath the concrete of New York City. This book tells the almost-forgotten story of the city’s first underground train, built before the subway system as we know it today was constructed. Alfred Ely Beach managed to secretly dig an underground tunnel and use a fan-powered pneumatic tube to move people back and forth on a train car. Though his invention quickly came to an end— likely due to complicated city politics— it remains a fascinating reminder that there is often a story behind the story and that new technology evolves from the ideas of…
Someone once referred to Central Park as the “lungs” of New York City. When the grid plan for the streets of Manhattan was designed it left little room for greenspace. Human beings need nature, and respite from the crowds, so a contest was held to design a park. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted came up with the winning idea. This lushly illustrated book tells the story of how their Greensward Plan became Central Park— the first landscaped public park in the United States. I love to think about how the two designed the placement of every tree, bridge, and…
I read this BIG book many years ago, but it influenced my own writing greatly. Tom Wolfe's scathingly jaundiced view of the workings of Wall Street and the American political scene is an object lesson on how to write with anarchic abandon, yet brilliant satirical and intellectual insight at the same time. Once again I go back to the theme that the best authors always have an ironic eye on their subject and its participants, surveying them and their eccentricities with objectivity and often cynical amusement. If you can keep your readers amused whilst at the same time enthralled, as…
Before reading this book, I had no idea city-based fantasy novels could draw me in as powerfully as stories with more “traditional” fantasy settings. But Mr. Older’s depiction of Brooklyn as a living, breathing landscape made me a new believer in urban magic. And the main character Sierra’s shadowshaping feels like its own form of beautiful, youthful rebellion. Art can save us, if only we breathe our power into it. I stop and stare at most graffiti murals now, waiting for them to move a little.
Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy—comprising of City of Glass, Ghosts,and The Locked Room—originally published in 1985-86, carved out a niche all its own, what you might call existential noir. Here, the essence of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, is given a philosophical facelift, with Auster transforming the classic detective novel into a meditation on identity and self, as reflected in a house of fractured mirrors. As someone who grew up in Brooklyn—a fan of noir in film and literature, and of works that are speculative and mind-bending—my discovery of The New York Trilogy was like stumbling…
Patrick Dennis’s “hyperbolized” version of his life with his aunt and legal guardian, Mame Dennis, has a history both on Broadway (“Mame” portrayed by Lucille Ball) and on the silver screen (“Auntie Mame” portrayed by Rosalind Russell). It was the film that led me to the book, which Dennis admits is filled with hyperbole and imaginary details. It is, however, based on the sometimes outlandish and often controversial life of his “progressive” aunt, who believed “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving.”
It’s hard to tell where reality ends and fiction begins, but in truth you won’t…
Colson Whitehead takes us into the bowels of 1960s Harlem, where slick operators, ruthless conmen, and aspiring citizens rub shoulders. I liked Ray Carney as soon as I met him and felt bad that life kept tossing him curveballs. Like his cousin Freddie, who dragged him into a life of crime and high anxiety. The book is funny, poignant, fast-paced, and utterly absorbing. And the prose, like all of Whitehead’s writing, dazzles and delights.
We read several popular novels that explore competitive school environments. One of the best in this sub-genre is Small Admissions, by Amy Poeppel, which provides a fictional glimpse into the cut-throat world of Manhattan prep school admissions and ultra-competitive parents. Poeppel crafts a fun, wicked read with sharp dialogue. We could easily imagine what would happen when the children inSmall Admissionsapply to college…their parents would fit in well with the characters in our book.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
Why this book?
Love Goes to Buildings on Firelooks at the New York music scene from 1973 to 1977. What makes this period (and this place) so fascinating is that so many different styles of music emerged from and evolved through it: punk, hip-hop, jazz, and the more traditional rock ‘n’ roll of Bruce Springsteen. What makes the book so fascinating is that Hermes examines how the different movements informed and energized each other. If you really want to understand the roots of contemporary music, this is the book you need to read.
Nobody's Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls
Why this book?
We read this biography/call to arms while we were researching our book. There’s very little written about revenge pornography and cyber crimes in this modern age. And Carrie Goldberg’s memoir/rallying cry for privacy justice was an eye-opener. The crimes committed almost exclusively by men online are 1,000 times worse than we initially assumed. But thanks to Goldberg’s funny, brisk, and foul-mouthed prose, you’re able to absorb the information without throwing up or screaming at the book. An impressive lawyer, survivor, and writer.
Yet another book I chose based on the cover. I dove into this book knowing that I would love the storyline since I adore all things time travel. Timeless is very descriptive and history based, which pulled me in right away. I will say I didn’t love our main character from the beginning, but as I got to know her I understood her quirks. In this book, we are tossed between the current time and 1910, my favorite era. Michele, our main character, is having dreams about a man with blue eyes and a skeleton key, which is all revealed…
Shakespeare, cream puffs, escaped rats, cross-country track, soggy camping trips, family strife, and the historic events of the late 1960s are expertly woven into a boy-finds-his-inner-hero tale as Holling Hoodhood (yes, that’s his name) navigates the tribulations of seventh grade at his Long Island school. Another Newbery honoree, this clever story is filled with sly wit and tons of heart; it draws you in and won’t let go. For my money, Gary Schmidt is the Bard of adolescent boyhood. Once you’re a fan (and you will be after reading this), check out his other superb chronicles of impending adulthood: Lizzie…
Richard Price’s propulsive plots revolve around crime, but the novels are always about something much bigger, andLush Life merges many of his favorite themes into one masterpiece: ambition and compromise, race and class, gentrification and crime, the push-and-pull of a city’s progressive leanings against reactionary forces for law and order and property values. Price’s city is constructed on a bedrock of conflict between those who’ve come to New York struggling to create art, those who were born here struggling to get by, and the cops struggling to hold the middle, in a spectacular kaleidoscope of a downtown scene at…
Mackenzie Corbett is an ambitious second-year corporate associate at a Manhattan law firm; but when she finds herself being thrown under the bus in an investigation that could ruin her career, she has to ask herself if life in Biglaw is worth it? This book is part exposé, part life-affirming self-discovery. Cameron made me laugh out loud at the absurdity of associate life (it’s totally crazy and yet so real) and at her depictions of the various intense personalities at the fictional firm. This book is a funny, fast-paced rollercoaster ride that ultimately asks, What does success mean? I highly…
This is an endearing book with soothingly simple charm. It is a tale of a shy cat celebrating her birthday with a gang of cat friends set in 1950s Greenwich Village. In this quiet book, the sublime high point of action is a double page spread of the cat celebrants earnestly dancing “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” in a moonlit Washington Square Park.
After watching the film version of The Bone Collector, I searched out the book, knowing it would be for more interesting structurally for a fellow writer. When reading the novel, I was most impressed with the massive amount of research Deaver must have done before writing the book. Weaving technical information into fiction is a tricky thing—it can get rather tedious and boring to the reader if not handled well--but Deaver does it with finesse. As a crime fiction writer, I came to realize that I had to be more meticulous with my research to maintain veracity in my…
Medicine loves stories about heroic men who made breakthroughs that have saved lives and given us the life expectancies we have today. It has never celebrated women and yet it was a woman, Josephine Baker, who in two decades starting in 1908, by focusing on antenatal and postnatal care, laid a basis for saving lives that has given us the life expectancies we have today. She did so against fierce opposition from doctors who argued that creating conditions that make infants and children healthy would be bad for medical business. Now that life expectancies are falling, and were falling before…
The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld
Why this book?
In the 19th century, the Bowery and the Five Points neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan were twisted warrens of saloons, brothels, opium dens, and gambling houses, home to gangs of criminals like the Plug Uglies, Bowery Boys, and Dead Rabbits. It’s a complex ecosystem but when it comes to lowlifes Herbert Asbury is an extraordinary naturalist. His book covers a bewildering number of hoodlums, scams, bawdyhouses, convictions, and murders, and the sum total makes a larger impression than any one part. (Although highlights include the depictions of the crooked Tammany Hall political leadership and a chilling account of the New York…
This is a book that makes you feel like you’ve been whisked away to another era completely and on top of that it also transports you to a new place. I always love going somewhere exciting and full of adventure and this is exactly what happens. The story also shows us a hero who won’t be limited by her disability – Vita suffered from Polio as a little girl and this has made her more determined. She’s brave and forthright and will do anything to save her family's fortunes.
I had someone in my language class in my master's program whose whole life changed by being one of the stories from the book Humans of New York. I was so inspired and realized the power of one single image. I also like this book because every time you open it you learn something new. Not many photo books can do that.
Firstly the cover says it all. “The true story of how one baby found his home.” A baby abandoned in the subway is found by Danny, who falls in love with the little guy and convinces his partner to be a foster parent. The couple is broke, but the family rallies with diapers, a crib, etc. I love seeing a gay couple fully loved and supported by extended family and even the justice system. I read this book by myself and smile every time. This is the way the world should be. All accepted and loved. I wish I could…
This book is written by the late, great Maya Angelou and it is a must-read. As an African American woman the wisdom passed on by our matriarchs is not only needed but essential. Letter to My Daughter, is just that, a letter to me. It encompasses the wisdom of a well-lived life and a strong desire to pay it forward. This is not just a book it is a teaching tool that will leave its reader with a sense of grounding that only a long afternoon conversation with a wise elder can. Grab a glass of sweet tea and…
Nobody writes complicated families the way that Fox does. The novel describes a going-away party that is an emotional crime scene of unvoiced (and voiced) resentments by neglected, grown-up children. The book (along with Fox’s memoir, Borrowed Finery) is not just an examination of dysfunction, it is a journey into the dark heart of family, and a portrayal of the damage that is perpetuated and never undone.
I was a religious studies minor in college and love reading about traditional religious practices. When I met Nigerian American author Okey Ndibe at a writing retreat in Kenya, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of his second novel. This satirical novel gives new life to the meaning of worship. When statue buyer, Ike Uzondu steals an African sculpture from a New York shop and sells it in his ancestral village in Nigeria, the two worlds collide and we witness the cost of modernity to the human spirit
Rage of Angels introduced me to kidnap crime thrillers and inspired me to write my own. I fell in love with Sidney Sheldon after reading this and went on to devour every book he wrote. Sheldon’s character development is brilliant. If you don’t fall in love with and root for Rage of Angel’s Jennifer Parker, then you’re not human. This is a page-turning whirlwind of a tale. You’ll question her morals, your morals, and you’ll ask yourself what you would do in her situation. You’ll love characters you shouldn’t and exhaust yourself trying to figure out Sheldon’s next twist.…
As books by academics are apt to be, this wonderfully rich account of the history of New York’s Finger Lakes region is replete with references, quotes, and poetic stories. Tall begins with the manner in which the Iroquois Confederacy was divided and driven out during the Revolutionary War, and progresses through the influences of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a heavily guarded military base, and struggles with blight in Geneva, New York. “Place” is explored through the lenses of the natural environment, language, religion, psychology, racism, and more. Indeed, Tall’s approach to understanding the community she adopted can be replicated…
Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story
Why this book?
Here is an example of a work that leaves no stone unturned, and does the job properly. There is an excellent introduction on the historical signage of the Subway, a proper explanation of why a new wayfinding system was necessary, the most comprehensive history on why Unimark was chosen to improve the signage and all the images you need of how their 1970 'Graphics Standards Manual' was implemented. Shaw rightly explains the move from the Standard Medium typeface to Helvetica and why it superseded Standard Medium and the fate of the original Unimark system.
In a 2019 interview with NPR, Etaf Rum—the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York—said one of her struggles in writing the book was the fear that she was in a way confirming stereotypes about Arabs and Middle Easterners, including “oppression, domestic abuse, and terrorism.” Thankfully Rum overcame these struggles to deliver a courageous, beautiful, and incredibly authentic debut novel that follows the lives of three generations of Palestinian-American women trying to find their voices and identities within the confines of patriarchal and conservative milieus. In a way, the struggles of Rum and…
Captain William Kidd is one of the most fascinating characters in modern history. Ritchie, an academic historian by training, produced a highly readable book that places Kidd within his era, describing in often fascinating detail the events and people of the time and how they affected Kidd’s life and the course of piracy. This is a book that focuses on the late 1600s and very early 1700s, and, therefore, does not cover the 1710s and 1720s, when the real pirates of the Caribbean terrorized the Atlantic. After reading the book, you can decide if Kidd was a pirate or just…
Laying Waste: The Poisoning of America by Toxic Chemicals
Michael Harold Brown,
Why this book?
Brown lays out some of the major crises that fueled modern environmentalism and in so doing helps the reader to understand the passions that drove the movement. I remember when Lois Gibbs, a leader of the Love Canal residents, came to Centralia to give a pep talk to residents there about fighting government inaction.
Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street
Why this book?
McClintick makes the Hollywood boardroom scandal that began with David Begelman’s forgery of Cliff Robertson’s name on a $10,000 check, into a compulsively readable account of power run amok amongst Hollywood-Wall Street executives. An expose of theft, cover-up, and blackmail, it is also a beautifully written, incisive portrait of men and women seduced by the glamor and power of Hollywood fame.
I have to admit, I almost didn’t read this book. The first fifty pages are so dreary and difficult, with domestic abuse, racism, and excruciating poverty, with no science fiction to be seen. But then, suddenly, the main character is teleporting to another world or also has guests from that world visit her in ours, and things get very interesting. The alternative world has non-binary gender, it is not capitalist but communal, and they have eradicated most of society’s ills, from killer automobiles to cigarettes, domestic abuse, poverty, racism, and so on, and have replaced these with loving relationships, complex…
The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder
Why this book?
Similar to my second choice, this American study explores the impact of a sensational unsolved death on early Victorian New York and America in general. In 1841 Marie Rogers, an attractive young woman who worked in a tobacco shop, was found dead in the Hudson River, suspected to be a victim of murder. The case was well covered in the press and exposed weaknesses in the city’s system of policing. The author details how Edgar Allen Poe furthered early detective fiction in his story The Mystery Marie Roger, which although set in Paris borrowed heavily from the New York…
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Why this book?
This now-classic catapulted Bourdain to celebrity status when it came out in 2000. I devoured it in high school, and it played no small part in my decision to pursue a career in restaurants. It glamorizes the crazy, counter-culture chef life without over-sentimentality—it remains refreshingly real. Bourdain’s quick punches, humor, and vulnerability make Kitchen Confidential a true joy to read even more than two decades later.
102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers
Why this book?
102 Minutes chronicles the critical moments of the 9/11 attack on New York’s World Trade Center, introducing us to characters whose survival, as often as not, turn on simple luck-of-location and early decisions made by them. Authors Dwyer and Flynn know that it’s necessary to occasionally “press the pause button” between chapters of stomach-tightening tension. They understand that the reader simply cannot sustain this story’s relentless pace without some relief. (It’s a technique that I borrowed for Killer Show, interspersing “lesson chapters” about the economics of rock tours, the science of pyrotechnics, and developments in burn medicine with the…
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909
Melissa Sweet (illustrator),
Why this book?
The title of this book hooked me right out of the gate: Brave Girl. I knew it was a story for me. How could it not be? Young Clara Lemlich stood only 5 feet tall, but she was a spitfire. Her story will inspire boys and girls alike when they learn how she fought for equality, raising her voice against powerful factory owners in the early 1900s. Another reason this book is such a treat is that it was illustrated by Melissa Sweet, one of the most creative children’s book illustrators around. The art in this book is a…
Nellie Bly was one of the great muckraking reporters in American history. She pretends to be insane and is admitted to the “mad house.” Along the way, she exposes the horrible treatment of those suffering from mental illness, but of her treatment in a boarding home, where spoiled beef was served.
Many at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Roosevelt Island suffered no mental illness; they simply didn’t know how to speak English, she wrote. “I left the insane ward with pleasure and regret—pleasure that I was once more able to enjoy the free breath of heaven; regret that I could…
The Agitator: William Bailey and the First American Uprising Against Nazism
Why this book?
In this deft work of nonfiction, Duffy tells the life and times of William Bailey, a rough-hewn, big-hearted longshoreman turned Communist activist, and how on one summer day in 1935 he and several compatriots came to stage a remarkable protest by hauling down a swastika flag from the SS Bremen, the flagship of Hitler’s commercial fleet. Events unfold as the deluxe passenger liner, which was heartily patronized by many Americans and Europeans, hosted a glitzy party while docked in Manhattan harbor. It was years before the outbreak of World War II, but Hitler already had commenced his anti-Semitic and…
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
Why this book?
The information we have about the five immigrant families who lived in the tenement block at 97 Orchard Street is scanty but I love this book because Jane Ziegelman brings to life the food world of this area of New York inhabited by waves of immigrant Germans, Irish, German and East European Jews, and Italians. We learn about the krauthobblers who in the autumn went from door to door carrying a special knife which they used to shred the hundreds of cabbages the German housewives needed to prepare the barrel of sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) which saw their families through the…
The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
Why this book?
I rarely read books a second time, but this book is an exception. McBride writes with charm and humor about his family of twelve children living in the projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn. His mother refused to admit she was white while raising her children with her Black minister husband. Coming-of-age, racial identity, and family secrets are ever-present themes in this powerful and poignant narrative.
Two Black teenagers in New York are thrown back in time to the Civil War era. Suddenly the similarities and differences of what it means to be Black in America are also thrown into relief, past and present both converging and clashing. Genna is our first-person narrator, and through her, we live fully in two worlds—one in which she struggles to go to college and leave behind the dangers of her Brooklyn neighborhood and one in which she struggles to stay alive in a volatile society which offers little support to the poor and vulnerable of any race.
The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Ninetenth-Century New York
Patricia Cline Cohen,
Why this book?
Helen Jewett was a sex worker living in New York in the 1830s. She worked in a brothel under a matron, which should have been a safe enough situation—she wasn’t out on the street, at least, and others knew when she had clients. Early one morning, however, others in the house wake up to realize there’s a fire in Helen’s room, and that she’s dead. Was it a murder committed by her last client, a man quickly identified as Richard Robinson, or was it a suicide? If she hadn’t died so brutally, we wouldn’t know Helen Jewett’s name, so she’s…
Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock
Why this book?
While not just a Bob Dylan book his presence and that of his powerful manager Albert Grossman dominate this history of the period in the sixties in the artist’s retreat which gave its name to the Woodstock Festival. Hoskins reveals a wealth of fascinating detail of Dylan’s sojourn between his last UK tour of 1966 and his Isle of Wight concert three-and-a-half years later. This was the most crucial period of his artistic development after achieving superstardom in the mid-decade. Holed up in Woodstock with The Band, he remained there until the notorious festival effaced the privacy of his sanctuary,…
This is a novel about a man who wanders ruminatively around New York a couple of years after the 2008 financial crisis. One of the reasons it works, I think, is because everything we see about New York, every person we meet or interaction we overhear or street we observe, is through the eyes of the story’s narrator. Getting to know him means getting to know the city, and vice versa. He has a relationship with New York, which is charged and at times deceptive, which felt true, if nothing else.
This is an elegant, finely written memoir by a former writer and editor at Vogue, Mademoiselle and the New York Times that offers an interesting hook: her story is set in five different apartments in Manhattan as her life progresses from single working girl to professional and personal success and hardships including motherhood and divorce. If you’ve ever dreamed of working at a magazine in New York City - particularly during this golden period, then this is the book for you.
Though it is set just after the war, the characters in this novel cannot escape from their memories of the Holocaust or guilt at having survived. Yet they are also stuck in a comic scenario—through a complex series of events, the Jewish protagonist Herman has wound up with three “wives,” his first wife from before the war who he mistakenly assumed dead, the Polish Catholic peasant who hid him from the Nazis and he married out of gratitude, and his mistress and fellow survivor he met upon relocating to New York. The novel is both hilarious and heart-breaking—a potent reminder…
Mordden has written books about musicals from several decades of the Twentieth Century but my favorite remains Make Believeabout the 1920s. Too few American musicals from that decade are still performed today. Show Boat and No No Nanette are two memorable exceptions. So most of the shows in the book are not familiar to theatergoers. But Mordden brings these musicals to life with his vivid writing and enthusiasm for what was a Golden Age for the art form.
Saturday Afternoons at the Old Met: The Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, 1931-1950
Why this book?
One of the greatest series of books ever written about the early years of live broadcasting from the Metropolitan Opera. Jackson’s detailed analysis of the existing broadcasts is informative and fascinating. Even better they can be read by themselves, or even better, when listening to the actual broadcast. The amount of information in this series (3) is unbelievably vast and fascinating. All three are recommended.
In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863
Leslie M. Harris,
Why this book?
The history of colonial and antebellum New York, in Harris’s hands, becomes a map of Black activism. This book moves beyond a history of slavery and abolition to offer a sweeping historical narrative of Black life in New York City,starting with the arrival of the first enslaved people in 1626 and culminating in the brutally violent draft riots of 1863. Harris works creatively with little-studied sources to chronicle how, even in the direst of circumstances, Black New Yorkers created vibrant communities. While Harris certainly depicts the obstacles that Black New Yorkers faced in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries,…
This beautifully written history focuses on another nineteenth-century Black New Yorker who defies expectations and deserves our attention. Like Educated for Freedom and Black Gotham, White’s story places us in historical moments surrounding the 1827 law ending slavery in New York State. White puts us on the vibrant, noisy, streets of the city, inviting us to see both hope and defiance in how Black people dressed, how they walked down the street, and what they did at the theater. At the center of this history emerges James Hewlett, a man whose life is worthy of at least one feature…
Suddenly, for reasons no one can quite explain, five ordinary New Yorkers become-slash-embody the city’s five boroughs. For example, a newcomer named Manny discovers he *is* Manhattan; he feels and sees its streets and crowds. Through telling these five people’s stories—and chronicling their efforts to save the city from a powerful evil force—Jemisin tells the story of New York. It’s sort of sci-fi, it’s very funny. It’s also a portrait of the city today through regular, non-wealthy residents.
The new version of Maximum Ride is fantastic!! I ate this book up in one weekend. I haven't read like this since I read the Maximum Ride series. I think there were some parallels drawn from real life into the book. With everything over the last few years, a lot of things seem hopeless and lost, just like in Hawk. I can’t wait for the next book!
I’ll bookend this list with what I consider to be a sort of updated take on Larry Clark’s Tulsa. Serbian photog Boogie has published similarly solemn collections on Moscow and war-torn Belgrade. With It’s All Good, he arrived in New York’s most violent neighborhoods circa 2010 to document the hard and often tragic lives of urban youth. Gangsters pointing their guns into the lens or jabbing their veins with needles might not make the most appealing coffee table book, but the photos themselves are even more sublime than anything shot by Clark, making this book a worthy successor.
Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
Why this book?
The “urban culture” mentioned in the subtitle of this book will remind us of themes in other books about the modern city: the urban experience as one of flux and diversity, uncertainty and possibility, community and alienation, class and gender, sex and violence. Chauncey focuses on urban geography and spaces, especially boundaries, interstices, and enclaves. Most astonishing, and an important discovery, are the many spaces of “ambivalent toleration” for sexual and gender difference in pre-1930s New York. This meant spaces like the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Broadway, and Harlem, but also working-class, immigrant, ethnic, and racial subcultures where dominant normativities could…
I am a sucker for dark, broody, and mysterious heroes. And Private Property is a promise of rough emotions mixed with shattering sensuality that will take the reader to the most unexpected and amazing journey. I was so consumed by the mystery, deeply entangled in this dark story that took over my head and soul. Mr. Rochester is a brooding billionaire consumed by secrets and our plain Jayne is an innocent nanny. Both characters’ souls are broken in a way that only the other can fit the empty spaces of their souls. Enter here a permanent and continuous storm, salty…
They Both Die at the End does exactly what the title promises. They both die. At the very end. Despite that, it’s a really beautiful novel. Rufus and Mateo both have a lot to teach the reader on their last day on earth, and plenty of time to fall in love before it’s over. It’s heartbreaking that they don’t get longer. You can read my other recommendations to mend your soul.
Good action isn’t just powered battle armor fights, guns going off, or well-executed martial arts, magic can be pretty damn impressive too. An Unkindness of Magicians opens with a woman auditioning for a spot in a magic dueling tournament by levitating traffic in the middle of New York, and it just gets crazier from there.
I’ve described the book to some as Mortal Kombat with wizards. Magic users in New York face off for an elimination-style tournament where people can die in the matches. It’s not just brute force with fireballs either, any kind of magical ingenuity is on the…
Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin
Why this book?
Maples, magnolias, oaks, and ailanthus: from the native to the exotic, from the carefully cultivated to the weedy and unwanted, Dümpelmann tells the history of the trees that line our city streets in two complementary case studies. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, trees became yet another technology of urban planning, bent to human designs by tree surgeons, dendroscopes, and all manner of other fantastic inventions. Dümpelmann avoids the pathos of the solitary tree sandwiched between asphalt and concrete. Instead, her story is one of flourishing mutualism: as trees became urbanized, cities became naturalized. Urban trees tell very human stories…
This is one of my all-time favorite YA novels. Set in NYC in 1989, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, it tells the story of three teens: an Iranian boy who is just realizing he is gay, a fashion-designing girl who loves him, and an out gay teen from a conservative family. Speaking as someone who remembers those years very well, the portrayal of these characters rings true: gay identity, AIDS, and homophobia were so tangled up together for us as young adults. This is a very beautiful book about love, friendship, activism, community, and families—the ones we are…
The House on Beartown Road: A Memoir of Learning and Forgetting
Why this book?
I was a new mother when I read this Alzheimer’s memoir and immediately felt that I’d found a friend. Elizabeth Cohen is funny, lyrical, and sometimes (understandably) frustrated as she takes on the bruising balance of managing a career while simultaneously caring for her aging father and her young daughter. The book is a testimony to the healing power of story and provided a valuable model to me as I sought to make sense of my own family experience by committing my memories to the page.
Henry Cole (illustrator)
Why this book?
It is hard to imagine that And Tango Makes Three was revolutionary and controversial in 2015 when it was published, but it was. However, it is one of those books that paved the way for greater diversity in children’s literature. Like so many powerful books, And Tango Makes Three is based on the real experiences of two male penguins raising a baby penguin. It is a staple book for the personal libraries of all families interested in promoting family diversity.
More Haunted Northern New York by hometown girl, Cheri Revai, examines the region’s ghostly tales with a journalistic eye. History and horror go hand-in-hand in such stories as “DocRoc’s Z Bar,” “Spanky’s Diner,” “The House at the Racket,” and “Burrville Cider Mill.” Photos of each haunted place help bring these horrors to life.
There are so many nice things we, as humans, can do for others. Especially people we know! It simply takes a little time and effort. In The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Oliver and his siblings decide to grow a garden in an abandoned plot of land in Harlem, something his elderly neighbor “has been hinting at for years”. Before long, it’s not just the Vanderbeekers who are helping with the garden. And I dare you not to smile when the whole neighborhood sees it bloom.
This is a fun read about a girl who ends up at a very special library. It’s fantasy yet realistic... a bit Harry Potter-esk in its magic as well as an exciting page-turner about evil forces trying to close libraries and block the path to learning. But the best part is the questions that the librarians get asked are real questions. You think you know the answer but you soon learn how important it is to do research and double-check. As I was reading, I googled and discovered the problems are real ones with unexpected answers. I learned so much!…
Ruth Behar writes for both adults and children and is a multi-award-winning writer and a Cuban-American Anthropologist. She’s also Jewish with Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots. Based on the author’s real experiences, we follow ten-year-old Ruthie and her family who are recent Jewish-Cuban immigrants trying to make a new home in 1960s Queens, NY after Castro comes to power. Just as Ruthie is adjusting to school and making new friends, a devastating car accident puts her in a body cast for a year. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring story. I particularly loved her friendship with recent Indian immigrant, Ramu, who…
This book blew my mind when I first read it because I had no idea there could be such a thing as a hilarious novel about addiction. I will never forget this line she has in it about how recovery groups will be comprised of “middle-aged men in sweaters.” It was also the first time I realized that people in recovery outside of the US were just as hilarious as those here. The story is a fun sort of Bridget Jones romp if Bridget loved cocaine and men in leather pants but it’s the voice—self-deprecating, self-aware, and funny AF—that’s always…
When an A-list actor gets called out in the press for bad behavior, he needs a little help with his reputation and enlists the waitress at his favorite restaurant to help him out. This story has laugh-out-loud moments, as well as sexy, swoony scenes that will leave your heart pounding. The chemistry between Patrick and Norah is sizzling. For a lighthearted sexy read, this is such a great choice!
A painful examination of all that’s at stake when kids make bad decisions, This Beautiful Life made me reflect on the pressure contemporary kids feel to be beyond reproach while growing up amid the instant connectivity and permanent consequences of the internet age. Like Testimony, Schulman’s novel begins with a video, this time one whose ramifications are amplified and complicated as it goes viral in a matter of hours.
A gripping early scene dramatizes the split second when fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot makes the fateful choice to forward a video he’s received to a friend. The scandal that ensues threatens not…
This is a photo-illustrated version of Jon Katz’s bestselling memoir life with dogs on a picturesque upstate New York farm. I fell immediately for this charming picture book, where each dog has their own important job. Border collie Rose herds sheep. Second border collie Izzy (a rescue with a sad-then-happy history) is a therapy dog who visits hospitals and nursing homes. Tough-looking Frieda guards the farm. But what is Lenore’s job (goes the refrain)? We finally learn that the essential job of fun-loving black lab Lenore is simply to bring love and joy to everyone. This book is basically the…
There are two reasons I picked up this book. Firstly, that title. I’m a happy sucker for oxymorons. Secondly, and embarrassingly, more importantly, someone I really fancied recommended this book to me. And I have no regrets.
Anyone with a more sensitive constitution is easily offended and can’t find humour in darker subject matters is kindly invited to stay away. This book hilariously tackles the moral quandary of how to deal with someone you -- and the world -- thought dead. Worse still when they are an awful roommate who you desperately want out of your house.
The Cloister: A Novel by James Carroll (Anchor, 2019) is a gripping, magical novel that dramatizes the connections between the medieval and modern worlds. Father James Kavanaugh meets Rachel Vedette at the Cloisters, the famous museum and gallery in upper Manhattan dedicated to the art of the Middle Ages. He is a parish priest with doubts and worries; she is a Holocaust survivor; and their relationship brilliantly conjures up the forbidden love affair between the medieval philosopher and “rock star,” Peter Abelard, and Heloise, an immensely talented nun. James Carroll, a former priest, is also the author of Constantine’s Sword…
Sometimes second chances come with a steep price, which, in Candace Chen’s case, means the apocalyptic annihilation of the world’s population. I wouldn’t call this book a pick-me-up, though it is funny, but it is an incredibly moving story about what it means to move on. Ling Ma moves her characters between time, writing about Candace’s parent's decision to leave behind China and her own decision to stay in New York as the deadly fever takes hold. Some of the most beautiful writing is about New York City, a place I dearly love. “New York is possibly the only…
Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community
Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy,
Madeline D. Davis,
Why this book?
First published in 1993, Kennedy and Davis focus on working-class women who were part of the butch-femme lesbian bar culture in Buffalo, New York from the 1930s to the 1960s. Through 45 oral histories, Kennedy and Davis allow their subjects—Black, white, and Native American—to speak poignantly for themselves. They help the authors argue that far from emulating traditional heterosexual relationships (which had been an accusation often hurled at butch-femme couples), these women were pioneers of resistance; and that far from living lonely lives (drowning in a “well of loneliness”) they formed a vibrant community.
This story, of restless Tom Wingo, his troubled twin sister Savannah, and their struggle to triumph over the tragic legacy of their childhood, is the most incredible account of sibling love I’ve ever read. It centres around a series of conversations between Tom and Savannah’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lowenstein, and no other novel has come close to describing the anger and frustration that I myself showed during the years my sister was being treated for her eating disorder. I am genuinely in awe of Pat Conroy, and his ability to put words together in such a beautiful way.
To be honest, I don’t love Holden Caulfield as much as a lot of people do, and if this book were set somewhere else I might not like it at all. But I love the way Holden tries to act out his fantasy of a sophisticated Manhattanite during his time alone in New York City, almost like he’s living out some post-war version of the Sex and the City tour. As he fails to fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything other than an innocent, sheltered prep school kid, he reveals how lonely the city can feel when you’re trying…
Oh, this one? It is everything. The villain is a virgin! Which deep down we all want. Seraphena is promised to him since childhood, groomed into marrying him and killing him in order to save her country. When the wedding night comes – he rejects her, leaving her behind. People blame her. If she hated him before, she loathes him even more. Until he reappears into her life to save her and they both fight this attraction. She still has a mission, and this is her excuse to try to seduce him. He is a tough nut to crack. He…
Doug Orlando is a conflicted New York City detective with a past, and that gives him a lot of psychological depth. Originally published in 1992, this was one of the best of the wave of gay mysteries. I loved it because the police procedures seemed so authentic and Doug seemed like a guy I’d want to know, and want on my side in case of trouble.
Writing about the internet is notoriously difficult but Sudjic swings it, sublimely. Although ostensibly set between London and New York, Sympathy almost transcends setting with its focus on millennial Alice Hare’s online haunting of writer Mizuku Himura. After becoming infatuated with Mizuku over Instagram, Alice maneuvers an IRL friendship, which spirals into sexual obsession and possessiveness. It’s a brilliant character study and meditation on alienation, online personas, and the algorithmization of attraction.
New York Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Big Apple
Why this book?
Last but certainly not least, Amanda Schuster’s recipe collection spends more time weaving a fantastic fabric of anecdotes and origin stories about a range of famous and infamous mixed drinks made in Manhattan. From familiar concoctions such as the Cosmopolitan’s New York origin stories and the eponymous Manhattan to more contemporary classics such as the Penicillin and the Purple Rain, readers will find inspiration in mixing and conversing about the drinks and the people who mixed them in the city that never sleeps.
I picked up Narcisa in Portland’s legendary Powell’s bookstore over ten years ago on a whim and it ended up worming its way into my top ten books of all time. The prose is chaotic, evocative, drippy, disgusting, engaging, fantastic. Narcisa is a predatory, magnetic mess of nature and like the narrator, you’ve got to keep flying with her until she throws you down. I was floored and inspired by Shaw’s ability to tame such a blizzard of turmoil between two thin paper covers.
Connor introduces us to the McKinney brothers with this emotional single mom romance. This book tugs are your heartstrings, making you fall in love not only with Matt and Abby, but with Abby’s kids and the entire McKinney clan. Once you’re done with the McKinneys, you’re going to want to dive right into the Walkers—whose sister is featured in book two of the McKinney Brothers series!
The main character Ellie is strong and resilient. I loved that she went to America to make money for her injured husband’s sake, was flung into a world in New York City that was so unlike rural Ireland, met with temptations, and found her way out. Ultimately, it’s a love story (not romance per se) and I found myself rooting for Ellie throughout the whole book.
The story begins with a mystery and then we are taken back to Dublin, Ireland, to the character’s childhood. He comes to Ellis Island alone and is taken in by an Italian family. The immigrant experience is compelling in this novel and I love a story where you go back in time to try to figure out how the character got to the place he’s in and what happened on his journey. This is a page-turner for sure.
Song of Erin: Cloth of Heaven/Ashes and Lace (Song of Erin Series 1-2)
Why this book?
This is a gritty story of the peril young Irish immigrants faced when coming to America, along with the hardships they were escaping back in Ireland. The fact that others were waiting to abuse and exploit the immigrants is certainly historically accurate. However, B.J. Hoff’s stories are always filled with hope and shine a light on hope in God. It’s Christian fiction, so readers should be aware of that. Also, this new edition includes two stories, a great deal. B.J. Hoff passed away in 2021 but left a long legacy of inspirational historical fiction.
Another great book from a consistently great writer. Coben has a knack for dragging you into a story until you almost feel responsible for the outcome. This book is a stylish read, with glossy characters and seriously nasty bad guys. The protagonist is hard to read which adds an extra dimension, can you trust her? A great book if you like to be kept guessing right to the very end.
This book goes all the way back to my childhood. It is one of the few books that I can remember being read to me in my earliest years. I resonated with all of Peter’s adventures in the snow. Like Peter, I understood how important snowballs, snow angels, and snow mounds were! Yet even though much of the book takes place outdoors in the snow, it is also a cozy book, a book about home, a book about mom.
For those of us who lived through 9/11, it’s easy to forget that kids in school today weren’t even born in 2001; to them, the events of 9/11 are ancient history. I Survived is the kind of book that can jump-start their interest by dropping them right into the thick of the events of that day. Lucas is a football-obsessed teen who makes a series of completely relatable bad decisions that leave him right at Ground Zero just as the planes hit the towers. Told in age-appropriate but heart-stopping detail, this book captures a perfect snapshot of the confusion, fear,…
Monster Island is the first book in the first book in Wellington’s Zombie Island Trilogy, followed by Monster Nation and Monster Planet. I loved it because while it starts as a traditional zombie apocalypse novel, Wellington takes the story into some exciting new areas. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but one of the zombies becomes more than a mindless flesh-eater. Much more. Suffice to say, Wellington provides readers with a very fresh take on zombies. A lot of horror trilogies start with a strong first book and then go downhill from there, but the Monster Island…
Oskar Shell is the 9-year-old narrator living in New York City at the time of 9/11. His father has just died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th, 2001. He describes his feeling of depression at the loss of his father “as wearing heavy boots.” Shortly afterwards, in his father's closet, Oskar finds a key in an envelope inside a vase that he accidentally broke; in the key shop, he finds the name Black and thinks this has something to do with the key. He sets out to contact every person in New York City with…
Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a Jumanji-inspired mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand and it’s up to them to defeat the villainous architect of the game and save themselves and all those trapped inside. This fantasy story set in a Middle Eastern and Bangladeshi-inspired world is nail-biting to say the least and Karuna Riazi’s lush prose with descriptions of taste and smell transported me straight into the story and deadly game (and also left me very hungry!). Besides, when there are red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats who wouldn’t want to…
This one is set in the early 20th century. Coralie, works at her father’s Coney Island freak show as a mermaid and has extraordinary swimming abilities but is as sheltered as a goldfish in a bowl. She meets and falls in love with a photographer who is on hand to document the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This is for readers who like their historical fiction touched with that kitchen-sink magical realism that Alice Hoffman is celebrated for. Turn-of-the-century New York sparkles throughout. This one is closer to my own Melting Pot roots and its eccentric characters seem so New…
Oreo (originally published in 1974, then out of print, and finally repopularized by Harriette Mullen and republished in 2000), a satirical novel by Fran Ross, a journalist and, briefly, a comedy writer for Richard Pryor, is widely considered to be “before its time.” This aching and hilarious, experimentally structured story is about a girl, Oreo, with a Jewish father and a Black mother, who ventures to New York City to find her father only to discover there are hundreds of Sam Schwartzes in the phonebook, and then goes on a quest to find him.
Chains tells the story of the enslaved during a revolution for independence. The irony of the enslaved risking their well-being for a new nation whose founding and ideals fell short of granting all men and all women “certain inalienable rights,” is not missed in these pages. In fact, it is masterfully delivered for all readers – young and old. Anderson is a master weaver. She beautifully threads stunning strands of real history within the tapestry of her modern classic. Most Americans are not aware that the mayor and other leaders of New York nearly succeeded in ending the rebellion against…
This is a wonderfully romantic saga focusing on a young woman in the East End of London in the late 1800s, and how she works her way up to run her own business empire, facing tragedy and treachery along the way. Set alongside the Jack the Ripper murders, it has plenty of intrigue and mystery, as well as romance, perfect for fans of Downton Abbey or The Gilded Age. A true saga of the kind that was popular in the 1980s—a big, glitzy, wonderful, passionate book!
Evie O’Neill has been sent to live with her Uncle Will when she can’t obey the conventional rules of her hometown. The good news is that he lives in glitzy New York City during the 1920s, but Will runs a very different scene, operating the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. After a girl’s body is discovered with clues indicating that the murder was motivated by the occult, Evie, her uncle, and a few new friends find themselves involved in the investigation. A Young Adult book, what I particularly love about this novel, is the way Evie evolves…
No graphic novel has ever blown me away like Unterzakhn(which means “underthings” in Yiddish). The story takes place in the early 1900s on the Lower East Side of New York, and the black-and-white bold strokes illustrate the bleakness of the lives of the new immigrants. Twin sisters find themselves taking roaringly divergent paths: one works in a whorehouse before becoming a star of the stage; the other assists the “lady-doctor,” from whom she learns about birth control and abortion. With strong feminist themes, I found it impossible not to root for both sisters. This is the only graphic novel…
I fell in love with this series and its intrepid heroine Molly Murphy on page one. A young, penniless woman who has to rely on her own wits to make her way to America at the end of the 19th century, and a sea voyage that ends well enough until she becomes a murder suspect as soon as she arrives in Ellis Island - this impeccably researched historical mystery has all the ingredients I could want. It’s a satisfying mystery and a scathing social commentary, the tone of voice is clever and funny, and I didn’t just want to follow…
This slim but dense book chronicles the ups and (mostly) downs of a young woman’s life in Montréal and New York in the 80s and early 90s, a scuzzy time capsule full of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Doucet’s maximalist, punk-inflected art packs each and every claustrophobic panel to bursting, a perfect fit for this tale of a suffocating, toxic relationship playing out in the shadow of the Cold War. It’s no exaggeration to say that Doucet, who recently won the Angouléme Festival's Grand Prix, is one of the most important figures in modern comics, she was one of…
Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice
Why this book?
Better, Not Bitter is the inspiring story of Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five (now Exonerated Five), who was arrested at fourteen and wrongfully incarcerated for seven years. While in prison, Yusef drew strength from his newfound faith—a faith that helped him survive the dangers he faced daily. In time, Yusef came to see that he was “born on purpose, with a purpose.” A powerful story of redemption and resilience, of one man’s mission to motivate others to make a difference in the world.
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Why this book?
A fun romp through many famous cases where “he done her in” (or vice versa) by such varied poisons as arsenic, strychnine, potassium cyanide, cyanide of mercury (even deadlier than potassium!), with an analysis of the policing and chemists’ methods used to nab the perpetrators. Not as common today as in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, death by poison was once the preferred, most devious, means for people to eliminate their enemies, ex-lovers, husbands, and wives. Taste that drink before you down it!
Today most people associate Chinatowns with restaurants and tourism. In the past and for many Chinese Canadians, Chinatown was a ghetto and place of exclusion. But for many Chinese and other first-generation migrants, Chinatown was simply home. It was where friends (and sometimes families) lived and socialized, operated businesses, and felt a sense of belonging through mutual support networks and devotion to Sun Yatsen at KMT and other political meetings and events. Peter Kwong’s The New Chinatown tells a complicated narrative of Chinese political, social, and cultural life and dispels many Chinatown stereotypes. In my book, I tried to…
Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Turano's historical romances. Playing the Part is my favorite; it is about a 19th-century New York City actress who hides away at a friend's country estate. Every character is quirky and engaging. I laughed out loud, over and over, at the myriad of crazy situations they got themselves into.
I’ve covered rock, classical, a capella, and new wave in my list, so I thought I’d round it out with sugar-sweet pop. Kill the Boy Bandis a darkly hilarious journey into fangirl obsession filled with quirky characters and sitcom situations that are as fun to read as they are improbable. The boy band in question is The Ruperts, a quartet of British heart-throbs with an eerie resemblance to One Direction. When four superfans score a room in the hotel where The Ruperts are staying, they hatch a plan that goes awry fast, leaving the band with one fewer…
Lyricism porn? Wordsmith porn? I don’t know what you call this, but here’s how Lionel starts Double Fault: “'The serve was into the sun, which at its apex the tennis ball perfectly eclipsed. A corona blazed on the ball's circumference, etching a ring on Willy's retina that would blind-spot the rest of the point.” Sigh. If I could write 10% as well as her, I’d die a happy man. This is the only novel in this list of five, and that alone should be reason enough to read it. Tennis novels are few and far in between; savor them…
Welcome to the sweet romance of Isa, a dancer, and Alex, a baseball player, teenagers in New York with very different upbringings. Isa is a blonde, half-Cuban/half white, private school girl from a well-off family that’s falling apart behind the scenes. Alex is Dominican, attends public school, and divides his time between his divorced parents. He’s also a secret poet and leaves his poems for Isa to find on the subway train where they first met. Both have professional sports potential, but the reality is more complicated. The couple navigates challenges with their families and neighborhoods, including mental health and…
Have you ever met someone for the first time, and felt like you’d known them forever? I have. On multiple occasions. Not just love interests, but friends, mentors, and others who have come and gone from my life at times when they were most needed. This particular story struck me hard as something I can identify with in this way, as it explores that phenomenon, and takes it one step farther toward the possibility of reincarnation, and the idea that we all have a single soulmate who we are meant to meet in every lifetime. I loved this idea, and…
I have a deep love of history and all stories that feel historical, specifically when royalty is involved (call it my royal roots, if you will). This story is a little bit like royal history, only in a fantasy setting (which, let’s be honest, is part of the draw of history) with a strong, deep female heroine who is able to save herself, along with the boy who broke her heart, and her entire kingdom along with them. What’s not to love about that?
Flora Illustrata: Great Works from the Luesther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden
Susan M. Fraser (editor),
Vanessa Bezemer Sellers (editor),
Why this book?
This is a satisfyingly large tome with sumptuous prints and illustrations from ancient texts, gardens, and herbals that spill out on every page and give it a sort of timelessness. Flicking through it now, the page that opened in front of me features a facsimile of a 1748 book, complete with foxing; it is so real I could reach out and touch it. This is something I’d put on top of the coffee table book pile and feel happier just to know it’s there, replete with its botanical treasure.
Mystery, intrigue, and an exploration of the dark underbelly of a community kept me turning the pages of Manhattan Beach. There aren’t many books written from the point of view of a woman working in a man’s world on the World War Two home front, and Egan paints an intimate portrait that puts the reader inside her protagonist’s head from the first page. A fascinating, detailed account wrapped in a compelling narrative.
I like the grittiness and real-life issues addressed in this story. The pressures and joys of being students at an elite performing arts high school are described through the eyes of five friends: two actors, one writer/director, and two dancers. Aspirations, disintegrating friendships, budding romances, vengeance, and addiction interweave as the students forge ahead to the career-making (or breaking) Senior Showcase. Tragedy enfolds the friends in a dark ending as the dangers of the outside world pierce their high school bubble.
Theatre Quotient: Medium. Plot is split between dance and theater, and the show gets minimal pages.
As a teacher of History and Musicals at NYU, I’ve seen how theatre students are most interested in the shows they know, which typically means those produced in their lifetime. So I try to meet them where they are and then journey backwards into the past. While Singular Sensationmoves forward in time from the 1990s, it shows how the Broadway we know today came to be. And who could resist reading about Patti LuPone throwing a floor lamp out her dressing room window when Andrew Lloyd Webber fired her fromSunset Boulevard? So I hope you’ll come back…
I loved this series because it took a person who was struggling in life and brought them into a new and more deadly world where her struggles became more intense and real. She had to grow, trust herself, and learn how and who to trust in this new world. It was filled with Runes magic and though character driven it had a plot that pulled you along.
The bad boy falls in love with the young innocent girl, and for her sake, he fully intends to keep her at a distance. The only problem is she won’t stay away. It’s the heart deep inside of the bad boy that we are always drawn to, that need to protect her, but finding she’s too stubborn for her own good so the only way to protect her is to be with her.
On the surface, this book reads like a detective novel. Lionel Essrog suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome. An orphan raised in a boys’ home in Brooklyn, when the story opens, Lionel is in the employ of a small-time gangster, Frank Minna, who has hired Lionel and three other troubled boys to staff his quasi limo service/detective agency. When Minna is abducted during a stake-out in Manhattan and turns up stabbed to death in a dumpster, Lionel makes it his mission to find his killer. So much of the pleasure of reading this book comes from the plot twists and the inventions…
This one is literally about a wastedwoman. It’s a fascinating non-fictional journey to be taken on by the author, who has led a fascinating, glittering New York life working for Conde Naste and other high-profile jobs. A life that she is consistently self-sabotaging through the abuse of drugs—particularly the ones prescribed to her by her father when she was a child. She is smart, sharp, interesting, interested in the world around her, and yet she continues to burn everything down time and time again.
This is a wonderful study into the self-centered, alternately angry/happy mind of children. Boldly illustrated with a touch of whimsy and great ambiance, and Berger’s simple, clever text with a sweet ending, it’s spot-on for kids to relate to, and for parents trying to understand their kids.
While I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War, there was something in The Mouse that Roared that really spoke to me. The way that it takes an already absurd reality to an extreme really spoke to my own sensibilities and humor. History books tell the facts, but stories like this reflect how absurd the geopolitical culture must have felt to most people. It’s akin to Dr. Strangelove, not only in being a Cold War satire, but in the absurd and extreme nature of the farce. It influenced my own political satire heavily.