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Posts Tagged ‘NYC’

Somehow it’s May tomorrow – and I have been reading up a storm. Here’s the latest roundup:

How to Find Your Way HomeKaty Regan
Emily has spent years scanning every crowd for her estranged brother’s face – but she never expects him to walk in the door of the housing office where she works. She invites him to stay, but reconciling is complicated, even for two siblings who love each other deeply. A sweet (though heavy) story of family, secrets, birding and forgiveness. I read it in one day.

Lost & FoundKathryn Schulz
Eighteen months before she lost her father, Schulz met the love of her life. In this gorgeous memoir, she weaves those stories together beautifully, and muses on losing and finding, grief and love, and the ways all those things are intertwined. Stunning writing and lovely insights – every page felt important.

Four Aunties and a WeddingJesse Q. Sutanto
Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan is finally marrying her true love – and her zany mom and aunties are supposed to just be guests. But when shenanigans ensue with the family of wedding vendors they’ve hired, Ma and the aunts step in to save Meddy’s day from disaster (and murder). I laughed out loud at this sequel to Dial A for Aunties (Komodo dragons on fascinators!) and especially loved that it’s set in Oxford.

The Year I Stopped to Notice, Miranda Keeling
I loved this sweet, funny collection of Keeling’s observations over a year in London. Lots of overheard comments, conversations on the Tube and poignant (or odd) glimpses of people’s lives. Charming and so very British. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Witch for Hire, Ted Naifeh
My partner gave me this graphic novel for Christmas. It follows Faye, a young witch and determined outsider at her high school, as she tries to track down the source of some increasingly malicious pranks. Reminded me a bit of Veronica Mars.

A Shoe Story, Jane Rosen
Seven years after college graduation, Esme Nash and her never-worn Louboutins head to NYC to pick up the life she thought she wanted. She spends a month in the Village, dog-sitting and finding her way via quirky neighbors and her host’s stunning shoe collection. A fun, lighthearted story and a love letter to my favorite part of the city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

A Sunlit Weapon, Jacqueline Winspear
Kent, England, 1942: a female pilot narrowly escapes death when someone shoots at her from the ground. But when her friend isn’t so lucky, Jo (the first pilot) engages Maisie Dobbs to investigate. Meanwhile, Maisie’s adopted daughter is facing trouble at school, and two young American soldiers are caught up in a conspiracy much larger than themselves. I loved this 17th entry in Winspear’s series; Maisie is thoughtful and wise and one of my favorite sleuths.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key, Gigi Pandian
After an onstage incident that nearly killed her and ruined her career, magician Tempest Raj is back home in Northern California, nursing her wounded pride. But when her stage double is found dead inside a supposedly sealed wall, Tempest and a motley crew of friends old and new tackle the case. I loved the ensemble cast (especially sweet Grandpa Ashok) and the references to classic mysteries. First in a new series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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March is nearly halfway done – and has included a wild mix of weather, as usual. The daffodils are sprouting, though. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Wide Starlight, Nicole Lesperance
When Eline was six years old, her mother disappeared under the northern lights on Svalbard. Ten years later, Eline – now living on Cape Cod with her dad – starts receiving strange messages, and goes back to try and find her mother. A complex, atmospheric, magical (sometimes creepy) story about family, loss, and the unexplainable at the edges of things. Found at Copper Dog Books in Beverly.

The Last Dance of the Debutante, Julia Kelly
I enjoy Kelly’s historical novels about female friendship. This one follows several of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth in the late 1950s. Protagonist Lily Nicholls, who has always felt like an outsider, learns to navigate the swirl of the Season amid various family secrets. Compelling (though a little sad) and a fascinating slice of history.

Shady Hollow, Juneau Black
Nothing much ever happens in Shady Hollow – until the local curmudgeonly toad ends up murdered. Vera Vixen, a reporter with a nose for news, and her friend Lenore (a raven who runs Nevermore Books, naturally) begin to investigate. A totally charming murder mystery set in a village full of different creatures. First in a series and I can’t wait to read the others.

Our Last Days in Barcelona, Chanel Cleeton
Cleeton returns to the saga of the Cuban-American Perez sisters in this lush historical novel. It flips back and forth in time between the 1960s, when eldest sister Isabel goes to Barcelona to find her sister Beatriz (and do some soul-searching of her own), and the 1930s, when Alicia – the Perez matriarch – finds herself in Barcelona as the Spanish Civil War escalates. There’s romance here, but what I really loved was Isabel’s inner journey, and Alicia’s, too. Cleeton writes strong female leads so well. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 24).

A Trip of One’s Own: Hope, Heartbreak, and Why Traveling Solo Could Change Your Life, Kate Wills
Travel writer Kate Wills spent years relishing her solo trips – but when her marriage fell apart, she found herself thinking about travel very differently. I loved this frank, funny memoir that weaves together Wills’ own experiences with practical tips and the stories of other intrepid female explorers. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 3).

Homicide and Halo-Halo, Mia P. Manansala
Lila Macapagal is getting ready to open the Brew-ha cafe with her friends – but she’s also still dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic murder case and judging a local beauty pageant (as one does). When one of her fellow judges is murdered, Lila gets pulled into the case and is also forced to confront her complicated feelings about pageants. I loved this second cozy mystery from Manansala – yummy food descriptions and more depth than the first one.

When You Get the Chance, Emma Lord
Millie Price is going to be a Broadway star – just as soon as she rocks the prestigious precollege program she’s been accepted into. But when her dad refuses to let her go, Millie embarks on a Mamma Mia-style search for her birth mom. This was the most fun theater-kid YA rom-com, with serious themes of identity and friendship. I loved Millie’s journey.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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I love a good reinvention narrative. There’s something empowering about watching a character, especially a real person, steer their life in an entirely new direction. But some of my favorite reinvention stories aren’t necessarily 180-degree turns. Rather, they involve a series of changes (some drastic, it’s true) that lead the protagonist to become more fully the self she’s always been meant to be. 

Trina Moyles had always loved the Canadian boreal forest where she grew up, but she never expected to spend multiple summers there, spotting smoke from atop an isolated fire tower. Moyles’ gorgeously written memoir, Lookout, dives into the logistical and emotional challenges of that life of deep solitude. She charts not only the ground around her fire tower, but her own internal growth during a difficult but formative season. (This was an impulse buy at Sundog Books and one of my favorites of 2021.)

Growing up in rural Maine, Erin French spent a lot of time at the diner her dad owned, but she wasn’t planning (then) on running her own restaurant one day. French’s memoir, Finding Freedom, chronicles her journey of culinary and personal discovery, and the founding of The Lost Kitchen, the restaurant she now owns in Freedom, Maine. 

Memphis-born Elizabeth Passarella didn’t leave behind her Southern identity when she became a New Yorker. Rather, her adult life–and her memoir, Good Apple–centers on learning to reconcile the two, or at least laugh at the tension between them. In short, punchy essays, Passarella takes readers through the highs and lows of her life in Manhattan: rats in her bedroom, public marital disputes, the Rockettes, and the trickiness of navigating politics (electoral and cultural) with grace. (I forget where I heard about this one, but it made me laugh so hard and say “Amen” every few pages.) All three women write with humor and insight about the situations that have shaped them into their truest selves. 

What are your favorite reinvention stories?

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran this past December.

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Here we are at the end of this strange, long year. I may have more to say about 2021 soon, but for now, I wish you a gentle transition into 2022. Here’s what I have been reading:

25 Days ‘Til Christmas, Poppy Alexander
This was an impulse buy at the Trident in 2019, and I loved it just as much this time. Widowed mum Kate is barely making ends meet with her job selling Christmas trees, while Daniel is struggling after the death of his sister. They meet, become friends (and maybe something more) and help each other figure out how to move forward. Sweet, witty and heartwarming.

Swimming with Seals, Victoria Whitworth
I found this at the Booksmith a while back and have been reading it sloooowly over breakfast. Whitworth is an archaeologist and cold-weather swimmer who chronicles her swims on Orkney, along with musings on the island’s ancient cultures, her relationship with her mother, and humankind’s relationship to the sea. It dragged a bit at times but the writing is lovely – so many good sentences.

Peach Blossom Spring, Melissa Fu
As the Japanese army advances through China, a young woman named Meilin flees with her son, Renshu, and their family. This absorbing novel tells their family’s story: Meilin’s constant efforts to keep Renshu safe and happy; his eventual emigration to the U.S.; and the life he builds there as a scientist and a father. Thoughtful and vividly described; a haunting tribute to immigrant families and being caught between worlds. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 15).

All I Want for Christmas, Wendy Loggia
Bailey Briggs, Christmas fanatic, can’t wait for the holiday – but she wants to kiss someone under the mistletoe. This YA rom-com features plenty of cheer, though the plot is a little thin. Still fun – Bailey works in a bookstore, and her friends and family are sweet. Found at the charming Book Shop of Beverly Farms and saved for this season.

Marvelous Manhattan, Reggie Nadelson
I picked up this collection at the wonderful Three Lives (my favorite NYC bookstore, which is featured!) in August, and have been sloooowly reading it since. Nadelson gives an insider’s tour, peppered with history (some of it personal), cultural commentary and yummy food descriptions. I want to try a lot of these places. Mouthwatering and enjoyable.

The Body in the Garden, Katharine Schellman
English widow Lily Adler is trying to figure out what to do with herself after her husband’s death – and stumbles (literally) on a dead body. I enjoyed this first outing in Lily’s adventures; the Regency London details are fun and I like Lily herself and the other characters. (I read the sequel, Silence in the Library, earlier this fall.)

The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
It’s 12 days before Christmas and Lily’s holiday spirit has all but disappeared – so Dash hatches a scheme with Lily’s brother, Langston, to bring back the cheer. I loved this sequel to Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – sweet, funny, full of NYC Christmas magic, and a sensitive exploration of how the holidays can be tough when you’re struggling, for whatever reason.

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, Mindy Thompson
Poppy Fulbright adores her family’s magical bookshop, Rhyme and Reason – she feels safe there. But strange things start happening when her brother’s best friend is killed in the war and her father falls ill. A bookish middle-grade fantasy novel with an engaging protagonist.

Intimations, Zadie Smith
I heard about Smith’s pandemic essay collection a while ago, but I wasn’t ready for it then. But I picked it up at the delightful Crow Bookshop in Vermont this week and read the essays in one sitting. I think she does tiny details – tulips in a New York City garden, the small encounters in “Screengrabs” – better than high philosophy. But she also writes well about love and work and isolation.

The Last Chance LibraryFreya Sampson
Shy librarian June Jones has rarely left her home village or tried anything new – especially since her mother’s death, eight years ago. But when June’s beloved library is threatened with closure, June joins a ragtag group of protesters fighting to keep it open. An engaging British story about a woman finding her own voice and (of course) the power of libraries. Found, fittingly, at the BPL.

These Precious Days, Ann Patchett
Patchett needs no introduction from me. I picked up her new essay collection at my beloved Three Lives in NYC. These warm, wise, tender essays explore friendship, marriage, dogs, her relationship with her father (and father figures), her love of literature and so much more. A perfect book to end the year.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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Suddenly October is upon us – I can’t believe it’s today. The leaves are starting to turn, and Trader Joe’s looks like a pumpkin factory exploded. I have been raiding the middle-grade section at the library, and here’s the latest list:

Tune it Out, Jamie Sumner
Lou Montgomery has a powerful singing voice – but she hates crowds, loud noises and uncertain situations. When a car accident separates Lou from her mom for a bit, she meets some new folks who help her name and address her struggles. A sweet middle-grade novel – well done, but it made me so sad for Lou and her mom.

Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York, Elizabeth Passarella
I loved every page of this memoir-cum-reflection on being a Southerner in Manhattan, and other complicated identities. Passarella is from Memphis; she’s around my age and I laughed out loud at a lot of her adventures, and related to most of them. Funny, smart and warm.

Summer at Meadow Wood, Amy Rebecca Tan
Vic Brown is (reluctantly) spending her summer at camp while her home life is falling apart. Despite her resistance, she ends up enjoying it: working on the camp farm, being “big sister” to a precocious seven-year-old, and learning a few things about herself (and Eleanor Roosevelt). Loved this one.

Every Missing Piece, Melanie Conklin
Ever since her dad died in an accident, Maddy Gaines sees danger and deception everywhere. But is the new kid at school really the kid she saw on the news who went missing six months ago? A sensitive middle-grade novel dealing with anxiety, domestic abuse and big family changes.

Rewilding the Urban Soul: Searching for the Wild in the City, Claire Dunn
Claire Dunn once spent a year living in the Australian bush – but after moving to Melbourne, she wanted to find ways to seek wildness in the city. This memoir charts her experiments in foraging, exploring, learning about local species, kayaking a city river and more. A bit too long, but well written and lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 7).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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It’s no secret I love a solo trip to NYC. Some of my favorite memories of the Big Apple are from weekends spent wandering the streets by myself. My last trip there, though, was kind of a failure: it was January 2020, just days after my divorce court date. I thought I wanted an adventure to look forward to, but once I was there, all I wanted was to be back home. I came back early and didn’t regret it, but I’ve been wanting to revisit NYC alone (and basically unable to do so) ever since.

I hopped down to NYC a few weekends ago for my shortest trip to date: I was there for just over 24 hours, and it was a hot, humid whirlwind. But I loved wandering my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village, browsing bookstores and drinking my weight in iced tea. Here, a few highlights:

My beloved Three Lives & Co. is in a temporary space due to renovation, but I made sure to walk down West 10th to visit their new digs. I had a long browse and a lovely conversation with Nora, one of the booksellers, and bought a fabulous compendium of essays about Manhattan.

I headed straight for Bryant Park (see above) when I arrived, for lunch and a lemonade. But once I made my way to the Jane, where I stayed, I stuck to Chelsea and the Village all weekend.

I walked and walked – to Pink Olive, to Chelsea Market (above), to various shops that looked intriguing. I popped into cafes for iced tea and took photos of flowers and street art. And I had dinner at Roey’s (the most fantastic burrata pizza), and sat outside on one of my favorite corners in the city, sipping a gin cocktail and scribbling in my journal until nearly closing time.

Sunday morning meant a long run through the Hudson River Park (the High Line wasn’t open yet, but I loved discovering a new-to-me running route). Then I had a fantastic sandwich (with iced chai) at Three Owls Market, and wandered up to 192 Books, where I’d never been.

I grabbed some snacks for the train, walked around some more, and headed back to Penn Station to catch my train home. I was exhausted and delighted, and so glad I went. The city is waking back up, and it felt like mine again.

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We’re sweating in a heat wave over here – and nearly halfway through August. I’m finally getting a little reading (and reviewing) mojo back. Here’s what I have been reading:

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, Elle Cosimano
Annie recommended this one as “an absolute blast” and she was right. Struggling author and recently divorced mom Finlay Donovan is meeting with her agent when a woman mishears their conversation and assumes Finlay is a contract killer. Suddenly Finn and her nanny (Vero, whom I adored) are scrambling to stay ahead of the mob while tangled in a murder investigation. I loved this smart, zany romp and can’t wait for the sequel.

Fearless, Mandy Gonzalez
Monica and her abuelita have come all the way to NYC for Monica’s big shot at a Broadway show. But the Ethel Merman Theatre might be cursed – and it’s up to Monica and her new castmates to save their show. A cute middle-grade theater story from one of the stars of Hamilton and In the Heights.

Goldenrod: Poems, Maggie Smith
It’s no secret I am a Maggie Smith fan: her tweets and her book Keep Moving have helped save my life this past year. Her newest poetry collection is full of startling images and hard-won wisdom and flashes of beauty. Some poems spoke to me more than others.

No Memes of Escape, Olivia Blacke
Odessa Dean is loving her life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But then her traveling aunt comes home early, and Odessa and her friend Izzy are (almost) witnesses to a murder in an escape room. I enjoyed Odessa’s second adventure (the sequel to Killer Content); she’s a quirky, fun amateur sleuth. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 5).

Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life, Sutton Foster
This fun memoir is exactly what it sounds like: an exploration of Foster’s life and career through the lens of crafting. She shares her adventures in crochet, collage and cooking, alongside anecdotes from her time on Broadway and TV, her love life, her journey to motherhood and her complicated relationship with her agoraphobic mother. Breezy and enjoyable. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 12).

The Year of the End, Anne Theroux
In January 1990, Anne Theroux and her husband Paul decided to separate. Anne kept a diary that year, and in this memoir, she revisits what was really happening behind and around those brief entries. A thoughtful, poignant exploration of divorce and rebuilding a new life; also a detailed snapshot of a moment in time. Quiet and moving. I received an advance copy; it’s out Oct. 12.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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It has been a strange July: hot one minute, pouring rain the next. I’m still struggling to find a rhythm at my new job – I am enjoying it, but so much to absorb! Meanwhile, here’s what I have been reading:

A Deceptive Devotion, Iona Whishaw
Lane Winslow and Inspector Darling are finally engaged – but before they can get married, they have to solve a murder (naturally). This one involves an elderly Russian countess, a pair of hunters (and former friends), and a perhaps overeager new constable. I adore this series and this entry is so good.

A Most Clever Girl, Stephanie Marie Thornton
Double agent Elizabeth Bentley had a long career spying for the Soviet Union and then informing for the FBI. Thornton’s novel unravels her story in the form of a long conversation with Catherine Gray, a young woman who tracks Elizabeth down seeking answers about her own mother. The narrative – like Elizabeth – rambles a bit, but eventually picks up speed. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 14).

New Girl in Little Cove, Damhnait Monaghan
Reeling from her father’s death and a bad breakup, Rachel O’Brien takes a teaching position in rural Newfoundland. She’s greeted with equal parts welcome and suspicion – and this story of her first year there is completely delightful. The blurb compares it to Come From Away, which I adore, and that’s true – the island’s culture shines through. Found at the wonderful Excelsior Bay Books in Minneapolis.

Take Me Home Tonight, Morgan Matson
Best friends Kat and Stevie, both theater kids at a posh Connecticut high school, head into NYC for a night of adventure. Things quickly go wrong; the girls end up phoneless (with a Pomeranian in tow) and then get separated. But their individual escapades force both of them to reflect on their friendship and other parts of their lives. Funny and insightful.

Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind), Rebecca Seal
British journalist Seal has worked alone for years – it can be hard, and also rewarding. This warm, wise, insightful book dives into the pressures and joys of working alone. So helpful and validating as I’m working on a hybrid model after 18 months of profound isolation. I’m going to check out her podcast too.

A Scone of Contention, Lucy Burdette
Hayley Snow and her policeman husband are headed to Scotland for their honeymoon (with Hayley’s 80-something friend Miss Gloria in tow). Once they arrive, there’s plenty of family drama – and then murder – to go along with the scones. I love this cozy mystery series and it was fun to see Hayley in a different setting than her Key West home. I received an early copy; it’s out Aug. 10.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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cobble hill Brooklyn NYC

One of my favorite things about NYC: there are endless new neighborhoods to explore.

I love returning to my well-loved haunts there. I’ve spent some time in Fort Greene, and I was happy to revisit Park Slope (especially the Chocolate Room) on this most recent trip. But on Saturday, I decided to walk a few blocks west and wander Cobble Hill – partly motivated, you will not be surprised, by a bookstore.

Novelist Emma Straub opened a bookstore, aptly named Books Are Magic, a while back. It was an easy walk from my Airbnb, so I headed that way, grabbing an iced tea and popping into a few shops. I bought a long green dream of a dress at Something Else, then headed for the bookstore. It was well-lit and well-stocked, a little bit funky and yes, a little bit magical.

I browsed for a while, dipping into novels and mysteries, and saying “amen” to a fellow customer who was recommending Anne Lamott to her friend. (Bird by Bird!) I picked up a fun kids’ mystery featuring Agatha Oddly, then went down the street for an early dinner at Jolie – the only French-Mexican bistro I’ve ever seen.

Even though I’m living in Eastie, land of delicious tacos, I rarely pass up an opportunity for good Mexican food. The enchiladas, the fresh guacamole, and the late afternoon light at Jolie were all perfect.

My next stop was Whisk, which I discovered a while back via their store near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. That location has closed, but their main store is in Cobble Hill, so I popped in to buy a couple of new tea strainers. (I can always use them.) From there, I headed for the subway and my Saturday-night plans: Come From Away, which I adored.

I was a little bit worried about coming to Brooklyn: it holds some tender associations for me. But I was very glad to discover a new pocket of it for myself, and make some new memories.

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Penelope NYC interior restaurant

I spent my Labor Day weekend in NYC, staying in a little apartment near Park Slope and wandering in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. The trip, like most of my New York weekends these days, was a mix of familiar and new: a long browse at the Strand, a fantastic musical I hadn’t seen (Come From Away, which made me laugh and cry), a lovely Friday evening in my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village. (The bookseller gossip at Three Lives continues to be the best.)

I went back to the Chocolate Room, which I visited on my first-ever trip to NYC for a retreat led by Jen Lee, years ago. I finally went to Books Are Magic and then tried out Jolie, a French-Mexican cantina in Cobble Hill. I had brunch with dear Abilene friends (both of whom I’ve known since I was a college student and they were just kids) at Maman in TriBeCa, which was new to all of us.

And on Sunday night, I went back to Penelope.

Like so many of my NYC loves, Penelope was a gift from Allison, my dear friend who used to live in Queens and periodically take me to all her favorite NYC spots. Penelope is the kind of place we both love: cozy and inviting, with simple, homey comfort food and yummy desserts. We first ate there on a frigid January weekend, and it lived in my memory as twinkly and delicious.

There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of restaurants in NYC, and I love trying multiple new ones every time I go. Part of the adventure is simply walking into a new place that looks interesting, on whatever street I happen to be on. But I am also both a creature of habit and a person who and delights in repeating joys. When I find something I love, I generally want to enjoy it again and again.

A couple of years ago, during a work conference in midtown, I trudged over to Penelope for dinner one night, dry-eyed from staring at PowerPoint screens and nearly voiceless from a lingering cold. I sat at the bar, which was festooned with twinkle lights, and ate a bowl of spicy, orange carrot-ginger soup. The waitress, after hearing my scratchy voice, brought me a mug of hot water with honey and lemon, a vibrant yellow slice floating on top. Her kindness choked me up (even more than my sore throat). It was such a gesture of care.

I’ve spent enough time in New York now that parts of it feel like mine: there are places I can throw off the tourist mantle for a few minutes, neighborhoods I know well enough not to second-guess my every step. Much of it, of course, is either unfamiliar or constantly changing; the city is huge and dynamic, and even if I lived there, it wouldn’t stay the same. But I’ve drawn immense pleasure from coming back to my favorite places, including Penelope.

This time, it was late on a Sunday night and the place was nearly empty. But the waitress still had a smile for me, and I sat and read my book, savored my sandwich and glass of rosé, and relaxed into the quiet familiarity (and the nineties jams on the stereo). I walked back to the train through Murray Hill, with my leftovers in a brown paper bag, sleepy and footsore (I’d been walking for three days) and entirely satisfied.

Do you like going back to favorite places in cities you’ve visited? Or would you rather try something new every time?

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