Yes, it has been quite a bit since I last posted. Truth be told, I am in a reading slump. I read a few back-to-back excellent books then the last one I felt indifferent about.  I thought I could re-set my reading flow by reading another royalty biography, but even that is a slow go.

And I am OK with that.

If you are a reader then you may understand that not reading for a long stretch of time feels like you are failing in a way. Like a body builder who enters and wins a fitness competition and then stops working out and indulges on all the food she deprived herself of during competition prep. It is all a matter of allowing time, allowing yourself to explore other aspects of your interests and not holding yourself to a standard.

Instead, I have been watching Reign on Netflix. I have a deep interest in history and European history. I used to watch Game of Thrones but it got to be way too violent and some of the characters bored me to tears. Image result for reignFor me Reign satisfies my need for a story, royalty and history all in one. I can tell it is for a younger audience, but it is really well done.

While I haven’t been reading, I’ve been getting my stories from many places: podcasts, television shows, YouTube, etc.  I am a Reader but even people like me get reading fatigue. And while at first I was not OK with this, I am now. I know the right book will come along and reignite my passion, but for now the reading pilot light is weak.

 

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WHAT I HAVE BEEN ENJOYING LATELY

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  • Discovering “new” music: my father is a huge music fan and while I have always listened to the music he loves, I’ve been exploring it more deeply.  I have been consumed with the song “Soon” by YES.
  • Cooking: Exploring other culture’s cuisine and making them in the kitchen. Last night I prepared dough to make a Polish dumpling. And this weekend I will be making an Irish potato and cabbage meal.
  • House Hunting: My husband and I are looking to move into a new home so I am researching what I want in a house.
  • Walking and Rebounding: I workout several times a week but I noticed that I was losing my drive (just as I am with reading). I have not been as consistent as usual and after a while I decided I needed to mix it up again. I’ve been more into the outdoors and more cardio than doing strength training. I do have to keep my strength training, but listening to my body is what will keep me going. Forcing my body and mind to do what it doesn’t want to only makes me avoid it.

 

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ENJOYING LATELY?

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(Note: As with my reviews, I will not give a plot summary. I will get right into my thoughts.)

This was one of those books that I wanted to finish for no other reason than to finish it. I didn’t feel any connection to the characters, I didn’t feel like I was rooting anyone on (more on that later). In fact, there were two times during my reading that I took the book mark out and decided I wanted to move on. However, I kept reading.

The book itself is much like the Evelyn Hugo character: you do not know what it is about it that makes you want more. For me, I think it was the writing and editing. This book was edited and written so well that the words and pages flowed effortlessly. While I decided twice to abandon it, I kept reading because it reads very fast.

 

What I liked:

  • Very original plot, main character and story. Although it is an older woman telling a story (which we’ve seen) this was done in a fresh approach.
  • The writing and editing made for an effortless read.
  • The time period and genre is also a setting I have not seen done in my reading life. I’m sure there are some out there, but this is the first time I’ve seen “old/classic-Hollywood” used as a setting

 

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It felt like the supporting characters were archetypes. I do not want to give anything away, but I found little authentic depth with the characters as individuals. The way the author writes the relationships is, however, very well done.  I think that is the reason I kept going.
  • Some “Author…I can see you!” moments (which I really hate).
  • There is one sentence during one of Monique’s sections where I had to go back and revisit the tense. ***POSSIBLE SPOILER**[Obviously, Evelyn’s sections were flashbacks/retellings. But Monique’s were not written that way nor introduced as such. Her parts are written as if it were an on-going action, not a memory.  What threw me off was at the end of one chapter Monique says (paraphrasing) that she didn’t know then that in one week she would hate Evelyn and in fact want to kill her.  I thought, “Wait a second…”  and flipped back to earlier pages. Perhaps it was my own confusion but I thought I was reading a “live” telling since Monique’s parts were written in present tense but in fact it isn’t? Was it? I wasn’t sure. I decided to let it go and chalk it up to maybe I misread. If you read this and have thoughts on this, please let me know.]*** SPOILER END***

Would I recommend this? I think so.

The way in which it is written and edited makes this a reasonably quick read for an almost 400 page book.  It is very entertaining, it deals with interesting characters, a fresh plot, and time/setting. I can see why a lot of people gave this a high rating. I do not disagree with those high ratings.

My Good Reads review does not have a star rating. It is simply marked as read. The Review reads: tbd…

Because while I liked it, there is still lingering feelings of dislike: much like Evelyn Hugo herself!

I think this is one I will decide on a rating many months later.

So, to be continued…

Disclaimer: This post will not contain spoilers, just feelings & thoughts.

I am taking James Patterson’s Masterclass on writing a novel. I am plugging away on an idea that came to me and it is interesting to see how much it is transforming and how ideas come at the oddest times.

In this course, he discusses how to end a book. He asks the students to analyze our favorite endings in both books and movies. Instantly three book endings came to mind that I want to share.

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

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“The Age of Innocence” is probably my favorite book of all time.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 (first woman to win) and it is well deserved. This was the first book my Wharton I’ve read and have read it twice so far in life. I could go on and on about my love for the whole thing, but for the sake of this post (and your attention!) I will stick to why it is my favorite endings.

The first time I read this through, I closed the book, went up stairs and fell across the bed and said to husband, “This book…and the ending…” It was very dramatic the way this happened but no shame. I actually swoon over the ending. The way Wharton writes and how she sets everything up and her characters just make this one of the most perfect endings ever. Even thinking about it now I watch to clutch my heart with both hands and bow my head.

When I read through it a second time, I remembered the ending but I still held out hope for a different ending. Kind of like when you watch the movie Titanic and you hope the boat misses the ice burg, or when in Office Space as Peter is saving his work for the day. You still hold out hope that the computer will save before he runs into Lumburgh.

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Although the ending, of course, never changes, I still have that heart-clutching feeling at the end. Well done, Edith Wharton….well done.

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THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD by Elena Ferrante

To be fair, the ending of this book is the ending to the entire Neapolitan novels series. And I felt it to be quite satisfying. It isn’t swoon worthy, but I felt it was a great way to conclude the series and the book as a stand-alone.  Image resultThe best way I can describe the feeling I had was a solid, single head nod. A resounding, “Yep!” comes to mind. One that I feel made sense and made all 4 of the novels wrap up nicely and worth reading. It felt real, true, and honest.


THE WHISPERER by Donato Carrisi

A book not for the faint of heart. It is violent and unnerving but so so good. Another Italian author (Ferrante the other) on this list so I assume Italians know how to do an ending! At least Italian writers.Image result for the whisperer

Because this book is not for the faint of heart, the ending isn’t either. I found it to be awesome. I can’t give it away but it is pretty wild and original.

What are some of your favorite endings?

I do not know who Elena Ferrante is – nor does anyone for that matter – but she has written a series of novels that have latched into my heart and brain and will stay there. Like other characters in books that I love, the characters are what stay with me. If a writer can create a story around people who you forget are fictional, they have done a great job indeed.

I am not one to retell the plot in my reviews. Instead I like to get right into it.

First of all, the covers. They always say not to judge a book by its cover and honestly I judged these and judged them hard. I’ve seen them in my local bookstore many times, but skipped over them because, frankly, they look like boring Chick-Lit. Not that there is anything wrong with Chick-Lit – I used to be a huge Emily Giffin fan in my early 20s – but it is not a genre I enjoy anymore because I can never relate to or sympathize with the characters.  With these covers I assumed that they would be fluff, written about women who are cliche and lead boring lives.

I was way wrong.

I had heard a few podcasts mention how great these were but I was skeptical. Finally, while visiting someone in Ohio, I stopped off at an independent bookshop determined to buy something to lend my support. I saw “My Brilliant Friend” (Book 1)  on display in the center of the store. As my husband tried to rush me out, I thought, “Why not?” I took it to the register and walked out with the book in hand. It took me a few weeks to begin reading it and once I did I couldn’t stop.

I read the first three novels back-to-back with other shorter books in between. I did not start on the fourth right away because I wanted to savor the last book, these characters and the story Ferrante weaved.

The characters are flawed in a very real way. Every single person you feel like you could know or have known, could be a neighbor or even someone in your own family. Hell, they could even be yourself.  I found myself rooting for and against every character, even the “bad guys.” In my opinion there were no good or bad guys. There were, of course, more obvious bad guys but when it came down to the root of the story, everyone was trying to survive the best way they knew how and the only way they knew how.

They all embarked on lives, careers, marriages, and parenthood in a way that is honest.  People fall on hard times, people grow apart and back together, marriages happen out of convenience or out of trying to escape. We have all had a friend we loved but also hated, felt safe with and feared, celebrated yet resented.  We’ve all idolized people or a life we long for, the what-could-have-beens and the what-should-have -beens.

This book has all of those things and so much more.

The Neapolitan Novels are not filled with jaw-dropping moments (although, I admit, I did at least once), I doubt anyone will cry their eyes out. I also believe that these are autobiographical novels…. But what will capture you are how real these people and their stories are. The plot is not one that is a “what happens next!” kind but somehow Ferrante kept me engaged so deeply that I felt I was in Naples, Italy growing up along side Lila and Elena. I felt their pain, their loss, their struggles, their joys, their lust, their anger…all of it.

When I read the last pages and last sentences, I felt like I had experienced an entire life. In fact, these novels span and entire lifetime from a very young age to old age. I’ve read a few books like this (most recently “Panchinko”) but none have done it so successfully as these novels. They are deep and engaging.

If you are looking for a real, gritty, honest set of novels about two female friends and their lifetime together, this is for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

I would not call myself a “traveler” nor would I classify it as a hobby. I do love to visit new places but I don’t want to “see the world.” I am blessed to live in a country that is expansive and filled with interesting cities, people, and history in their own right. Although all of this is within my reach, most of my travel within the United States has been strictly East Coast.

I have traveled to Europe. In 1999, at the age of 14,  I visited Paris and London. For my honeymoon in 2015, my husband and I took a tour of Ireland.  I’ve been to the Bahamas twice and Punta Cana. You could say that there are lots of places to check off on my list but one thing always struck me: there is a huge country just to the west of me and I want to see it!

One of the places on my list was California, but not the typical L.A., Hollywood, Beverly Hills visit. I wanted to see the Pacific Ocean and The Redwoods. After a few weeks, my husband booked and planned out our entire trip. We would fly into San Francisco, drive up the coast to Mendocino, down to Gualala and back home through San Fran Airport. 

 

As we drove up the winding coast, I would look at my phone – as one does out of habit – and noticed I had zero service. I should note that I do not have any social media apps on my phone except Twitter. That’s right: No Instagram, No Facebook, No Facebook messenger, no Snap Chat…nothing. So my checking my phone was not to check for push notifications but simply to see if I had any text messages or missed calls.

As usual, I had none.

And though I do not have apps on my phone, I will post photos or check Facebook through the web browser. So I would see a beautiful shot like the one above and think, “I need to share this!”

But I couldn’t. And I was OK with that.

My service was spotty at best throughout the 5 days and while I took photos on my phone, it was only because I wanted to capture the moment for myself. My husband had the “Big Boy” camera so I took way more shots on that than my phone.

This trip was last month and I feel ready to write about it and share it. The most remarkable experience was the Redwoods. I do not have photos of those to share now because, frankly, capturing them on a real camera is hard enough let alone of a itty-bitty phone camera. More importantly I didn’t want to. Being in those Redwoods made me feel powerful and powerless all at once. They are powerful, strong, natural structures that you have to see to believe and experience. To look up at a tree and not be able to see the top, knowing it has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years is quite humbling. I didn’t have a life-altering experience with these bad boys, but I realized that having zero service was the best unexpected gift the California coast gave me.

 

Far too often we spend most of our experiences with our phones in our hands and our eyes looking through a screen.  We never take the time to experience life through our eyes and take it as a moment that doesn’t need sharing immediately.  Our “followers” can and should wait. The best moments like the ones “captured” in California would not make the best Instagram shots that would gain me thousands of followers and sponsorships.

 

 

Like in the photo below when I visited Jessica Fletcher’s house. Happening upon this house was a complete accident. It was not until after the trip was booked that I learned the 80s-90s show Murder, She Wrote was filmed right where we were staying in Mendocino.

I couldn’t send this to anyone.  I couldn’t post it online. I couldn’t text it, email it, or Tweet it. It was MY moment. And while I am sharing it with you now, the “no service” has taught to give me pause. 

Pause before you think to jump on that app and share a photo of a delicious meal or a beautiful scene. Soak it in. Welcome it into your brain and your experience. Once you’ve done that…then, share away.