Book Review: City of Girls

City of Girls (2019)

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead
Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Pages: 470
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: December 16, 2019

Goodreads Description: Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time, she muses. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is. Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

My Review: At the beginning of this decade, I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, so it felt fitting that I would end this decade with a new Elizabeth Gilbert book. I loved Eat, Pray, Love, a book about loss, uncertainty, adventure, finding oneself and love. It was unique, heartfelt and contained a lot of depth and feeling. Unfortunately, I felt those qualities missing from City of Girls. It did contain strong female characters, but it really felt just like reading Sex in the City if that took place in the 1940s. I enjoyed trying to figure out who the main character was telling her story to, but I am not sure solving that mystery was worth reading that book in its entirety. It was too long and not very exciting.

Recommendation: If you enjoy reading historical fiction that takes place in New York City with strong female characters, I would recommend Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen over City of Girls. 

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 


Book Review: The Coldest Winter

The Coldest Winter
Author: David Halberstam
Genre: Nonfiction, Military, History
Publisher: Hyperion (NYC)
Publication Date: January 1, 2007
Pages: 733
Format Read: audiobook & book
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app & bookstore
Date finished reading:  February 24, 2019

Goodreads Description: “In a grand gesture of reclamation & remembrance, Mr Halberstam has brought the war back home.”–NY Times
Halberstam’s magisterial & thrilling The Best & the Brightest was a defining book about the Vietnam conflict. More than three decades later, he used his research & journalistic skills to shed light on another pivotal moment in our history: the Korean War. He considered The Coldest Winter his most accomplished work, the culmination of 45 years of writing about America’s postwar foreign policy. He gives a masterful narrative of the political decisions & miscalculations on both sides. He charts the disastrous path that led to the massive entry of Chinese forces near the Yalu River & that caught Douglas MacArthur & his soldiers by surprise. He provides vivid & nuanced portraits of all the major figures-Eisenhower, Truman, Acheson, Kim, & Mao, & Generals MacArthur, Almond & Ridgway. At the same time, he provides us with his trademark highly evocative narrative journalism, chronicling the crucial battles with reportage of the highest order. As ever, he was concerned with the extraordinary courage & resolve of people asked to bear an extraordinary burden. The Coldest Winter is contemporary history in its most literary & luminescent form, providing crucial perspective on every war America has been involved in since. It’s a book that Halberstam first decided to write over 30 years ago that took him nearly a decade to complete. It stands as a lasting testament to one of the greatest journalists & historians of our time, & to the fighting men whose heroism it chronicles.

My Review: In school I remember studying World War I and II and also the Vietnam War, but I don’t remember discussing the Korean War at all. It is truly the “Forgotten War.” However, if there is anything that David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter taught me, it is all the lessons that can be learned by studying the Korean War. Lessons that might be as valuable in today’s world, as they were in the 1950s.

With the end of World War II, the United States was just coming to terms with its new role in the international community. We had military in Europe and Asia. The U.S. was now seen as a world leader and with that power comes great responsibility. To be honest, I don’t believe the US knew what that responsibility was, but the U.S. did feel threatened by China and Russia’s power. China and Russia both had plans to increase their power, and it was not just to spread communism. Through some coaxing of a few U.S. military individuals in the Pacific region, one being General MacArthur, President Truman decided that we needed to prevent some of China’s actions in Asia, as their forces and influence were moving into the Korean peninsula. On June 30, 1950, President Truman gave the order for ground troops in Korea.

Though these actions would have support from the United Nations, there were quite a few issues with this order. First, many military men had just fought a hard and painful (both physically and psychologically) war (World War II) and were not anxious to fight in another war, especially not in a region that they were unfamiliar with. The U.S. military was not at all prepared to fight the massive Chinese forces. Troops were ill-equipped and under-trained. The battle in Chipyong-ni in February of 1951 “was one of the decisive battles of the war, because it was where the American forces finally learned to fight the Chinese.” Prior to that, US soldiers were losing their lives at a rapid speed. They had completely underestimated their opponent. In the words of Commander T.R. Fehrenbach, they were “fighting a war they didn’t understand. They knew neither their ally nor their enemy.”

The Coldest Winter brings to light so many elements of the Korean War, one being the politics and relationships among countries at that time. Stalin and Mao both were leaders of communist countries, but that did not always mean that they were always on the same side. “To Mao, the Soviets might be communists, but they were first and foremost Russians.” They both displayed a nationalistic side that doesn’t leave a lot of room for diplomacy.

There are so many things to take away from this book, that I hope I have absorbed at least 10%. I found the insight into General MacArthur really fascinating, especially his relationship with Washington and President Truman. It was quite dramatic. In 1944, General Joseph Stilwell stated, “The problem with MacArthur was that he had been a general too long. He got his first star in 1918, and that means he has had almost 30 years as a general. 30 years of people playing to him and kissing his ass and doing what he wants.” He did not always accept the orders from Washington and in the end, President Truman did fire General MacArthur.

The Korean War was really the beginning of the Cold War, as U.S. military and political leaders realized that the Soviet Union had many powerful weapons, including nuclear weapons. This was also the beginning of a division on the Korean Peninsula that continues to this day – a conflict that does not seem to be over as North Korea continues to concern the international community.

Even though The Coldest Winter reads like a textbook, if you want a comprehensive look into the Korean War and its players, this is a must read.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Book Review: The Library Book

library-book-medTitle: The Library Book
Author: Susan Orlean
Genre: Nonfiction History & True Crime
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publication Date: October 16, 2018
Pages: 318
Format Read: Kindle ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley
Date Finished Reading: January 12, 2019

Goodreads Description: On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

My Review: I loved this book for many reasons, but the biggest reason is that it felt like a love letter to libraries with a side true crime story. Like a true nonfiction writer, Susan Orlean dives into the history of the Los Angeles Public Library. This helps you visualize the importance of this building as a staple in the Los Angeles community. Then she follows this up by relating the details of the Los Angeles Public Library fire, from interviews with staff, who worked at the library at that time, to the entire process of cleaning up and rebuilding after the fire. Like so many people I have talked to about this book, I was not aware of the 1986 fire, and as far as I am aware, this book is the only literature out there that discussing this historical event in detail. What I found really interesting was the section that described how the water-damaged books were recovered and restored and the methods used to do so. It was somewhat a relief to know that at least some books were saved.

Just as I am sure it was hard for the author, it was equally hard for the reader to read about the author’s experience burning a book, but the visual was important. I do agree that choosing Fahrenheit 451 was appropriate too. As hard as it was to read about one book being burned, how could anyone set a whole building of books on fire?!!! The author investigates the theories of suspects, as this crime is still unsolved. She gives us background into Harry Peak, who was a suspect, including interviews with people who knew Harry.

She really wants you to care about the Los Angeles Public Library fire and care about libraries in general. The author describes in detail the daily tasks of librarians. No…it is not just shelving books. I learned first hand a few years back when I took a temporary job working in my local public library. Libraries have always been important to me and continue to be a special place that I love to visit. When I received an opportunity to work in one, I couldn’t help but think: “Dream job!”. Like I said though, it was not just shelving books, it was helping members of our community. I spent a lot of time helping library patrons navigate sites on the computer when they were trying to apply for jobs and many other important tasks. We were also one of the first buildings in our community to open up after a hurricane caused tornado and massive flood damage to most of our area. We opened to provide library patrons with computer access to start applying for FEMA aid. I had never had to do such a thing in my life, but I quickly tried to learn how the FEMA system worked, so I could help as many people as possible. Those were such rewarding moments, when you know that you are truly helping people in need. However, my favorite moment in the library was when someone came up to me and asked me to help her find some Jane Austen books. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and I was so excited to get that question. I could then follow-up with a question of whether she wanted works by Jane Austen, books about Jane Austen or Jane Austen inspired fan fiction. My enthusiasm must have been contagious, because the patron smiled and said, “How about all of the above.” That one-on-one relationship and service is so important. Yes…as stated in the book, I also got my share of unusual phone calls. For example, there was an individual who would call the library almost every day, give us a word, and ask us to use that word in a sentence.

Libraries do not just provide books, but they provide services. I am glad that this author brought to our attention a historical event unknown to most of us, that also expresses the importance of libraries. I highly recommend this read!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

WWW Wednesdays – September 12, 2018


What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

Currently Reading

Finished Reading

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel


I’m assuming that if you are reading this blog post, you enjoy reading. This is the book for all you readers. It touches on developing one’s reading life and what/who inspires it (aka libraries, bookstores and friends/family). It talks about the comfort of bookshelves and the act of giving/receiving book recommendations. I’d Rather Be Reading contains so many beautiful lines:

“For everyone who’s ever finished a book under the covers with a flashlight when they were supposed to be sleeping.” (Her dedication)
“I’m grateful for my one life, but I’d prefer to live a thousand.”
“My simple rows of library records may not be as pretty as personal photographs, but when it comes to remembering – well, they take me right back.”
“Reading is personal and never more so than when we’re sharing why we connect with certain books.”
“Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts.”

This book will be gracing and beautifying my bookshelf for a long long time. I hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I did!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls


I recently read the book Educated by Tara Westover and really enjoyed it. I felt for the main character who grew up in an extremely sheltered and ignorant world with a very abusive brother. I found similarities in reading The Glass Castle. This book was an even more intense read in my opinion. Trigger warnings for individuals who have a difficult time reading about sexual and alcohol abuse. Mostly I think I found it heartbreaking how the parents used their (and sometimes their kids’) money to feed their own addictions instead of their kids’ stomachs. When I read memoirs like this one and Educated, it puts a lot of my own feelings of my childhood into perspective. I don’t know that anyone has a perfect childhood, but I am grateful that I had a childhood that contained a stable roof over my head, food on the table and a good education.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr


I literally just finished this book last night. It was a quick read for me, as I really enjoyed it. It was a thrilling true crime story with a taste of what New York was like in the late 1800s with Theodore Roosevelt in charge of reforming a corrupt NYPD. (Trigger warning: graphic details related to the murders, including mutilation.) I especially enjoyed the character of Sara, whose main ambition is to be the first woman in the NYPD. The men all try to be delicate around her, but then she will shock them by cursing. It is a wonderful cast of interesting characters with a thrilling and mysterious plot. I am hoping to get access to the TNT series (based off this book) soon. Also, if you are interested in audiobooks, Edward Herrmann – for all you Gilmore Girls fans – does an amazing job!

Reading Next

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading lately?