Category Archives: Destinations


DESTINATON: New York City — NYC — New York, New York –Manhattan — Brooklyn – Central Park

New York Skyline from Liberty Island on a rainy day
New York Skyline from Liberty Island on a rainy day


After recently reviewing a mystery novel about a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn and another about the area around Grand Central Terminal, I got curious about how many books about New York City I (or guests) have reviewed in the past five and half year. Answer: A Lot. Here are links to the reviews, and a tiny bit of what we had to say about each.

A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York by Keven C. Kirkpatrick.  “Skeptical, witty, cynical, smart, fashion conscious and status obssessed–it is hard to know whether Dorothy Parker accurately reflected New York City, or created our image of New York City.”

Night view from Warwick Hotel, NYC
Night view from Warwick Hotel, NYC

The Warwick Hotel.  This is not a book review, but a travel experience about a hotel I loved in Manhattan. One of my all time favorite articles. “Over 78 years the Warwick Hotel has seen plenty of brash newcomers come along, blocking its views and dwarfing its 36 stories. But the location still can’t be beat.”

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott.  An Irish-American family in NYC. “McDermott has written a small miracle of a book.”

Blood Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. In this guest review by food writer Casey Barber, we are introduced to a memoir of the creator of the NYC restaurant PRUNE. Casey says, “With each successive trip to visit her Italian in-laws, Hamilton’s desire to become familial and to please the clan with perfect dinner party, recapturing the expansive, welcoming lamb feasts of her youth and the ‘salty, sweet, starchy, brothy, crispy’ simplicity of meals at Prune, becomes all-encompassing.”

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Not for Parents: New York City, A Lonely Planet series.  This guest review by Jennifer Close shows how the guidebook for kids appeals to the younger set. “This isn’t your typical guidebook. It doesn’t list locations, cost or hours of operation but that is okay because it is meant for children and your children will be with you on the trip, right?”

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais. “This new novel, like meditation, encourages calm thoughts and some new insights into oneself and one’s culture. But it brings  some laughs, too.”

All Those Things We Never Said by Marc Levy. Maybe you’ll like this father-daughter, semi-fantasy more than I did. Or just see the movie Just LIke Heaven with Reece Witherspoon. About the book, I said, “Instead of thought-provoking moments, we get a collection of fortune cookies from her father.”

Mumbai New York Scranton by Tamara Shopsin.  The author, a graphic artist, is part of the family that has a venerable restaurant in NYC, Shopsin’s , on the lower East side. “Mumbai New York Scranton is like a painting by  Juan Gris–the artist combines simple objects and each viewer recreates meaning as they view it. So this memoir of a year in the life of a native New York artist  leaves plenty of room for the reader’s own thoughts.”

42, movie about the life of Jackie Robinson, guest review by Jane Boursaw, gives a historic view of Brooklyn. Although Ebbetts field no longer exists, you can still visit Brooklyn. Jane says, “Even if you’re not a sports-movie nut, “42″ is an amazing, inspiring film and also a great history lesson.”

Central Park

Another section of The Mall at Central Park.

Central Park, edited by Andrew Blauner, is a collection of literary works set in Central Park. This photo post features my own images of Central Park approached as a literary journey.

I Never Knew That About New York by Christopher Winn.  A guidebook with a difference. “Now the British know-it-all has invaded New York City.  Does he know things about New York that even dedicated New Yawkers haven’t discovered? We’ll wager he does.”

Terminal City by Linda Fairstein. A crime novel set in Manhattan. “Fairstein has done enough research to fill a separate book about the history, the dimensions of the building , the tunnels, the hidden spaces, the art work, the homeless who live underground, the pattern of transportation in and out–moving people on foot and by rail.”

Invisible City by Julia Dahl.  A crime novel with a murder in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn and the inner workings of a New York City tabloid. “Rebekah picks her way through a minefield of people (newspaper editors, cops, Hasidic Jews) who never seem to be telling the whole truth.”

What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton.  Although her 31 Hours, which I have not reviewed here, is set entirely and chillingly in New York City, What Changes Everything is mostly about Afghanistan with key portions in Brooklyn. I recommend both. Here’s what I said about What Changes Everything,  “The culture of Afghanistan and the culture of a tagger in Brooklyn are portrayed with loads of detail because Masha Hamilton knows them both.”

New York with Murder, a Rookie Journalist and Hasidic Jews

Destination: Brooklyn, New York

Book: Invisible City by Julia Dahl (NEW summer 2014) [Review of MacMillan audio book read by Andi Arndt]

I’m back in New York City. Unfortunately it is only an armchair journey, but certainly an interesting one . I’ve moved from Terminal City in Manhattan, which we discussed a couple of weeks ago, to Invisible City in Brooklyn, a worthy first mystery novel by Julia Dahl.

In Invisible City, you will become acquainted with two worlds that may be as foreign to you as a small principality in Asia, even though it takes place in the middle of the quintessential American City.

The first, less exotic but nevertheless holding plenty of “I didn’t know that” moments, is the world of Rebekah Roberts, a young journalism graduate who works as a stringer for a sensationalist New York newspaper.  She is learning her craft on the hoof as she sets off each day to follow whatever story the newspaper editors assign her — interviewing people, gathering facts, but not actually writing a story. Someone in the newsroom does that.

Hasidic Jewish Men
Hasidic Jewish Men, photo from Flickr

Until, that is, she becomes embroiled in the murder of a Hasidic woman in Brooklyn, and as she becomes more confident in her judgment as a journalist, she also grows in her understanding of her own life.  Rebekah’s mother was a Hasidic Jew, who gave birth to Rebekah as a result of a temporary experiment in living outside the faith.  While the girl was still very young, her mother, Aviva,  left her with her father and Rebekah knows nothing about either Aviva or the Hasidic Jewish culture.

So we follow along as Rebekah (who has kept the Jewish spelling of her name, despite never practicing Judaism) learns what it is like to be a Hasidic woman and why her mother may have left the community, and even more puzzling to the motherless girl, why her mother returned to her faith, abandoning Rebekah and her father.

Rebekah picks her way through a minefield of people (newspaper editors, cops, Hasidic Jews) who never seem to be telling the whole truth. A key character is Saul Katz, a police liason to the insular Jewish community who knew her mother.  That brings up the question of whether Rebekah  spends so much time on this story  because she is seeking justice for the murdered woman, or seeking her lost mother. She  not only gains some maturity as a journalist during her investigation of the murder, but she gains in personal maturity as well.

Hasidic Jew Family
Hasidic Family. Photo from Flickr
Hasidic wedding
Hasidic wedding. Photo by Eliot Margolies

There are many surprises–even shocks–awaiting Rebekah, and the reader about the way the isolated Hasidic Jewish community functions.  Particularly the lives of the women.

Personally, I also was surprised and nearly shocked by the practices of the journalistic community as well.

Author Julia Dahl has worked as a journalist for various newspapers and websites, and like Rebekah has a Jewish mother and a Christian father.  She lives in Brooklyn, which makes for vivid recreation of the life of the city.

In listening to an audio book, frequently the voice of the reader can make the difference between sticking with the book, or giving up on it.  At first I thought I would find Andi Arndt’s high pitched rendering of Rebekah to be annoying, but ultimately it worked to remind me constantly of how young and naive Rebekah was. Plus, Arndt was able to present a variety of characters and clearly delineate them for my ear.

Invisible City will be a great audiobook for you to slip in the CD player as you head off for a road trip this summer, or a good book to curl up with in print on electronic form as you chill out. And you just may get hooked by Rebekah, and be waiting for the next installment of her journalistic adventures in NYC.

This interview will fill you in on her process in writing Invisible City, and give you a suggested book in case you want to learn more about the ultra Orthodox Jews.

Note:  MacMillan Audio sent me an audio book for review. However, my opinions are always my own and I am not obligated to review the books they send.

You will find links to Amazon here, as well as links to informative articles.  The Amazon links are affiliate links meaning A Traveler’s Library benefits when you shop through those links. Thank you.




Bastille Day Look at Haussmann’s Paris

Destination: Paris

Book: Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City by Stephane Kirland. (New 2014)

Here is a book that entertains as it educates, and will give you a peek behind the pretty face of Paris.

My headline repeats the commonly held belief that the shape of Paris today owes its classical beauty to the Baron Haussman.  Naturally, in a project so enormous, there were many players. In Paris Reborn, Stephane Kirkland makes a strong case that Napoléon III should have top billing.

If you read I Always Loved You (reviewed here), you got a glimpse of what it was like to live through the rennovation of Paris in the 19th century. Aside from the disruption of muddy streets and buildings torn down, not everyone was delighted to lose the historic Paris-most notably Victor Hugo, who devotes a lengthy preface to the Hunchback of Notre Dame to the Medieval Paris that was passing away.

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who was elected in a Republican form of government, but wrested power away from the people to become a dictator as Emperor Napoléon III of the Second Empire, wanted to bring Paris up to the standards of London, where he had lived in exile for thirty-three years.

As far back as 1749, Kirkland says, Voltaire had written:

We need public markets, fountains that actually give water, regular intersections, performance halls; we need to widen the narrow and filthy streets, uncover monuments that we can not see, and build new ones to be seen.

Kirkland also quotes a British guidebook to Paris, publised in 1839:

Paris is inferior to most of the other capital towns in Europe as for the width, cleanliness, and general appearance of most of its streets are concerned.

Even new world cities in America had better amenities by the middle of the 18th century.  As Kirkland says:

The air was foul, the drinking water was unsafe, and the traffic ws chaotic and dangerous. The city lacked key amenities, such as a proper market, a sufficient number of bridges, strutured embankments, and a reliable supply of drinking water.

 Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was a liberal thinker, intent on changing that, and providing services for the poor and needy as well.

They say that one should never watch two things being made–sausage and laws.  In Paris Reborn, Stephane Kirkland shows us a third–the modernization of a city.  As you are standing on a Paris bridge at twilight, watching the lights twinkle on the Eiffel Tower, or strolling down the Champs Elysées, you don’t want to be thinking about the graft, favoritism, illegal takings by the government, greedy developers, insider dealing, use of brute power by a dictatorship, bribery, and other shifty politics that enabled Paris to become the most romantic city in the world.

Paris at night
Paris at night

On the other hand, I guarantee that you will learn things you did not know about the city, and feel more at home there, after you have read this book.

It was a long, complicated and expensive proposition, but at the end, Kirkland tells us, the Second Empire had

  • built 85 miles of new streets with an average width of eighty feet (three times as wide as the old streets);
  • built 420 miles of sidewalks;
  • increased street gaslights from 15,000 to more than 32,000;
  • increased the number of trees along roads from 50,000 to 96,000;
  • knocked down 27,000 buildings between 1852 and 1870;
  • built a new Opera House;
  • Created the Market of Les Halles;
  • displaced 117,553 families /350,000 people (20% of the population of Paris)
  • constructed and expanded parks
  • planned neighborhoods and streets to complement the new train stations.

Though there were dozens of people involved–architects, artists, developers, financiers, politicians–behind the plans were two main movers.

The Visionary: Napoleon III, who had a wall-sized map hanging behind his desk that showed his vision of a new Paris.

The Enabler: Baron Haussmann, who worked all the angles, from planning traffic patterns to financing with a never-say-die (although frequently compromise) attitude.

Now a book about city planning and politics could be deadly boring, so let me assure you again, emphatically that this Paris Reborn is lively and interesting. It deserves a place in any travelers’ library.

Note: This book was provided to me by the publisher for review.

There are links from book titles and cover to A Traveler’s Library is an affiliate of, so when you shop through our links, we get a few cents. Thanks for the support.

The photo is my own.