I am VERY proud of myself for January. I read four books.

Oh, yes four. I’m usually a 1-2 books per month which always makes me miss my end of year reading goal of 30 books. This year I set my sights a little lower at 23 books.

The key change I’ve made to increase my reading is to read in bits and pieces throughout the day. I wrote a post on 20 Not-So-Obvious Reading Opportunities and while at the time it was a silly post, it is not after all.

I was inspired listening to the What Should I Read Next Podcast #112 where the guest, Lauren Vanderkam, talks about time tracking and how to squeeze in more reading time.  I realized I don’t have to have an entire hour to sit and read. I can read 15 minutes here and there.

In another unrelated effort to reduce work stress, I set an alarm to go off throughout the day to assign 15-minute breaks. During those breaks, I grab my book and read as many pages as I can. On average this is 10 pages per 15-minutes. Average 3 breaks per day and that is 30 pages. Plus my one-hour lunch break where I usually knock out as many as 20 pages. Then at night before bed I read about 10 pages. That means that my average page count per day is 60-100 pages depending on many factors such as the size of the font, the ease of reading, etc.

January was a reading life game-changer. And I am into February and already 100 pages deep into “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Lauren Hillenbrand

 

Now, onto what I read in January:

Image result for City of Mirrors Finished this trilogy. Finally! These are long books. And while this one was not my favorite of the 3 the series as a collective was pretty good.

Book Score: 3/5

Series Score: 4/5

I love Brian Tracy’s You Tube videos and lectures. This book is a quick read filled with what I would call the “core” of his work. I learned a lot from it.

Score: 4/5 stars

 

Image result for Death on the nile Anyone who knows me – whether in life or online – knows I am a Poirot fanatic. For Christmas my dad got me this book and the next one on this list. I knew the story from watching the series, but reading it was just as enjoyable. Agatha Christie is a fantastic story teller.

Score: 4/5 stars

 

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The second book I got for Christmas was Sophie Hannah’s take on a Poirot tale. I went into this with caution as reading re-imagined books is something I’ve never done before. I do not turn my nose to them, but I had never given it a thought. I see them in bookstores but I feel indifferent. I’m so glad I got this as a gift. It is easy to go into this with expectations, but I did not. This book was a truly great story and book. With or without Poirot, this book stands on its own. I really enjoyed it. Sophie, too, is a great story teller.

Score: 4/5

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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 noticed over the last year or so that I really love fictional detectives and their stories. It isn’t just the whodunit part of the story I enjoy but the way these characters are and how they function in the world. While I could list a lot of my favorites, I will leave this post my top two.

KATE BECKETT

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Kate Beckett came into my life through a book but wasn’t really book to start. It’s hard to explain… Let’s just say Richard Castle is a fictional crime novelist and the brilliant minds at ABC published the books shown in the show in real life for sale.

After reading the book (and trying to understand the whole author isn’t real thing) “Castle”  became my all time favorite show. Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic, is a force. She is fearless, powerful, intuitive, perceptive of even the tiniest of details, a justice-seeker while being feminine, playful and beautiful.

As a fiction character, she is a personal hero of mine. Despite the many times she has almost gotten herself killed when seeking justice for her mother’s murder, she never ever lets anyone see her sweat. She stands firmly on her two feet and speaks with confidence even when she is terrified and her voice is shaking. She is respected by everyone she comes into contact with and gives the same respect to those back. She stops at nothing to do the right thing but the beauty of  her character is that is there are moments that her desire for justice gets the best of her and she almost does the way wrong thing. But she is able to bring herself back to reality. Or leave a little piece of fear behind in those who wish to instill fear in her. Stana Katic gave life to this woman and here is one of my most favorite scenes that shows every aspect of what I wrote:

HERCULE POIROT

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I discovered “Poirot” only about a year ago. I hadn’t read anything by Agatha Christie except “And Then There Were None…” Granted, the series staring David Suchet began its 25 year run back when I was a toddler. So when this name “Poirot” kept popping up I decided to check it out.

I freaking adore Poirot.

What I love most is the selfless dedication he has for others. Although he is very particular about details many of us over look, he has a passion and desire for true justice. What I notice as I go through the series (The books are next!) is that he has set aside the “traditional” life of being, say, a husband or father. He, instead, dedicates his life to others. While he takes himself way too seriously at times, he has a heart of gold. What I like about him most is the way he gives to others and expects nothing in return…but maybe quiet, to use your little gray sells, and clean up after yourself.

 

It has been quite a while since I last posted and I have several ideas for posts to come over the next few days. I plan to be more consistent with posting and content. Lots of reading updates, of course.

But first, something completely different.

I was inspired to write this post after seeing on Twitter a series of “attacks” on women I follow on You Tube. They create mostly beauty and fashion content. I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, most of my outfits consist of jeans and basic tops with sneakers or at work dress pants and a nice top and the same boring (usually unseasonable) shoes. But I find these woman fascinating and aspiring. I watch to be inspired to up my fashion game, as it were, not to bring their game down.

Which leads me to the title of this post: Social Media Influencers and You.

When I was a teenager back in the 90s and early 2000s, social media did not exist. Oh, it was such a beautiful time. This isn’t to say that the Media wasn’t prime with standards or “influencers.” Back then they were simply spokes models. I remember when Jennifer Love Hewitt was the spokes model for Neutrogena. I bought so much Neutrogena and to me it was Luxury to buy a Neutrogena shampoo or lipstick that Jennifer Love Hewitt wore in a magazine shot from Cosmo or desiring that Hanes teeshirt just to match with a long red skirt (I’d never have the nerve to wear the red skirt but I wanted it!) With my Neutrogena shampoo and lipstick (I never quite made it to that Hanes teeshirt) I felt special knowing I was on par with Ms. Jennifer. Because SHE was (and still is, quite frankly) the most beautiful girl, in all the movies, all my guy friends thought she was hot, and so on and on.

Then came Britney Spears, Jennifer Aniston, and before all of them Cindy Crawford made me think if only I drank Pepsi instead of Coke….

Cut to today. Social media has extended its manicured nails and / or talons across the whole planet, gripping us all so tightly that celebrities – who were once unreachable except if you found their PO box in the latest issue of Teen Bop – are accessible. What is more, there are a lot of very talented people who are celebrities in their own right due to the number of followers across these social platforms. It isn’t an accident as these people all have one thing in common: they sure know how to market and create a brand. And some even are college educated in this field.

In my opinion, these so-called influencers are the newest spokes models for me. At the age of 32 I am still a sucker for an endorsement (or “sponsored”) item.  At heart, I am still that little teenager who wants to be like all the pretty girls. Brands now have a wider net to cast as people today fast forward through commercials and no longer subscribe to magazines. Brands have to get creative and find their market. That market are the men and women creating content online. Not all brands have pockets deep enough to pay a Jennifer Aniston, but maybe, just maybe, they can get this beautiful internet girl to try their product and talk about it. Hell, maybe we’ll even ask for a campaign. These campaigns are no different than commercials on TV; the only real difference is the people creating, editing, producing, (what else!) the campaign are the people in campaigns.

So what does that mean? These brands expect Quality. It used to be people discussed a product in a sit-and-chat video, but the internet has evolved. I can only assume no brand wants people to take half-assed shots on a cell phone or a poorly edited video. Brands hire these men and women and expect a return on their investment.

I’ve read comments that You Tubers, et. al. are not/should not try to be up to standard with the likes of Vogue’s content, but why the hell not?! I don’t know about you but seeing half-dead/strung out ads for Dior or overly fake tanned shiny lipped chick on a beach doesn’t make me want to buy a $100 lipstick. With the demand for Quality these brands expect, these 21st century spokes models need to bring on people to create that quality if they themselves cannot. And the better content they can produce, the more they are hired, the more brands are exposed, the more products sell. That is the bottom line.

Of course, there are some people out there who will create a video for sandpaper toilet paper, but not all are like this. I’ve come across many who insist on only talking about brands or products they actually like and it is pretty damn easy to sniff out the fake ones if you just open your eyes and ears a little. But the ones creating content that is true to their style or lifestyle are those we need to not attack. I’m not saying we need to attack the sandpaper toilet paper pushers either. I am simply stating that there is a brand new sales market for brands and they have tapped into this resource. Some allow it to go to their heads, but many MANY do not. For these people, to up their quality and content game with hired photographers or editors is not a crime and should be encouraged! As long as you can tell they are staying true to themselves in other parts of their posts, you can simply skip the ones that say “ad” in the title, which is something I do personally. If it is titled something that doesn’t interest me, I don’t watch. If I start to watch a video and suspect it is sponsored I scan the description box to confirm. If it does appear sponsored and doesn’t state it in the description box but it gives me an uneasy feeling I move on to another video, or I keep watching because, hey, that dress does look nice and I kind of want it…but I don’t wear dresses…but I’ll keep watching.

As non-influencers we have a choice: to engage or not.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt icky watching something and thought of something to say to them. But truly, why rain on someone’s parade? Why be cruel for the sake of being cruel? The internet is FILLED with content I prefer to see so I go there instead.

As for influencers: there has been a lot of back and forth. I don’t follow or even know many but I see the utter nastiness among those who create. It is as if they feel like their territory is threatened and if they do not bring this person down they will lose EVERY follower, every brand support, every dollar they worked for. The internet is a big place and there’s room for everyone and their way of doing “it” just like there is  a huge planet and different ways people choose to live. Right or wrong, like it or not, that is just how it is. By attacking fellow influencers you are hurting your own brand and content, not the person you are attacking.

Blogs, videos, Instagram photos, Tweets, are simply this: For Entertainment Purposes Only.

If it is your job too create online content, you are providing a source of entertainment. If you are a viewer, is it to escape the brutal reality in which we live and are exposed to 24-7. There is enough unnecessary hate and violence in this world… we don’t need to bring hate and violence to a woman or man who tapped into a new industry, gained exposure from hard work and LOTS of patience. You may disagree with how they do their business, but handle your own business and conduct yourself professionally: brands and your viewers are watching.

I’ll leave you with this thought: If your favorite brand (whatever it is) starting to attack another brand that sold a similar product (one you like, know, or not) in a ruthless and petty way, which brand would you continue to support? Or which brand would you BEGIN to support?

That is all.