Book Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (2013) 5 Stars ***** (Book 3 of The Neapolitan Novels) 

An excellent source book for women’s studies and sociological patterns.

Intelligent. Insightful. Thought Provoking.
Elena Ferrante will be remembered as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Lenu, the narrator, and her closest friend, Lila, are now in their twenties and thirties. Their relationship is still characterized by push and pull—to all appearances polar opposites who really are not so different after all. Both are strong, determined, ambitious, sexual in different ways, feminists, victims of unwanted sexual advances, social activists, politically aware, searching risk takers, reluctant mothers who act independently with decisions that further their personal goals at the expense of family obligations. They both upset the peace as they turn their backs on traditional expectations and seek out situations to place themselves at the top of their games. Which one do you think is more generous to family and friends with time and money? You might be surprised, but then again, maybe not!

This book and the whole series are set against the backdrop of the eternal political battles in Italy among Christian Democrats, Socialists, and Communists. Political views interfere with relationships. When violence erupts, it is their family, friends, and neighbors who are at the center. Mistrust abounds but the characters do their best to pretend they don’t see or don’t suspect, not wanting to believe the worst or contribute to information leading to capture by the police.

Lenu now lives in Florence with her good, but boring and aloof husband and two daughters, at first enjoying fame from her critically acclaimed book and public lectures on feminism and the plight of women. Lenu then hits a low point in her creativity as her popularity declines and she temporarily devotes herself to household responsibilities. Needing a catalyst to jump-start her life, Lenu rekindles a relationship with an old flame which destroys the tranquility of her family life.

Lila has remained in Naples now working at the sausage factory, and having left her husband, is living in near poverty with her son and an old friend, Enzo, who accepts the lack of reciprocal love and happily offers a modicum of financial support and protection. Lila becomes an advocate for the workers at the sausage factory and her outspoken, demanding ways result in a restructuring of her place of employment. The relationship with Enzo gradually grows as they study together to learn new skills to improve their plight. While Enzo initially is thought to be the superior one, Lila quickly overtakes him as new opportunities and demand for her services pull Lila out of her financial slump.

While people admire the accomplishments of those who succeed, there is always the feeling of abandonment. Sure, you’re rich and famous but you turn your back on the rest of us who need you in our lives. What would happen if we all walk away? We helped raise you up, and where are you now?

 

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym for an author who wishes to remain invisible. As a matter of fact, writing is not her full-time job. She writes these wonderful books in her spare time—when she’s not at her day job. Is she even really a woman? No one knows. In any event, her Neapolitan Novels series contains four books: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.  My Brilliant Friend has already aired on HBO. Although I do not know the time frame, books two and three are scheduled to be made into mini-series to give us closure on Lenu and Lila’s story. Hopefully, the fourth book will be added to this HBO series. I look forward to reading and reviewing the last book in the series.

The review for The Story of the Lost Child will be published on January  16, 2019.

Ciao bella!

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 4 Stars ****

It’s such a pleasure to read a book written on an adult level with sophisticated vocabulary, complex ideas, and memorable phrases. I loved it and was captivated by the story and the writing.

The book starts out in the 1930’s with eleven year old Anna Kerrigan who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York with her mother, father, and developmentally and physically disabled sister, Lydia.  Anna’s mother is obsessed with caring for Lydia. Anna and her father, Eddie have an unusually strong bond, so much so that he often brings his daughter with him when he acts as a bagman for local gangsters and dock and union workers.

He teaches her to be strong, to hide the truth, and keep her mouth shut. Anna brings these qualities into adulthood as she works for a defense plant during WWII. She decides she wants to become the first woman diver to aid the war effort despite the push-back she encounters during training and missions. She excels and becomes well-respected. Anna lives independently and with purpose but the reader is not privy to Anna’s heart and head to really understand how she comes to choose this job over others that might be equally as helpful to society and challenging.

It’s hard not to do Spoiler Alerts when discussing the plot. Let’s just say there are many twists and turns in the story, but yet they are expected. The story is told by a narrator but the action alternates with Anna, her father, and gentleman gangster Dexter Stiles. Lots of back stories on these three. Why? Maybe the author is trying to highlight the complexity of character and how even “bad” people have redeeming qualities in parts of their lives and are capable of great intelligence in specific areas? Maybe a little too much?

The reader sees a lot of street smarts and heroism on the part of characters whose lives are less than admirable. Too much tell and not enough show. I believe the author could have devoted the time to developing Anna’s character with transitions, conversations and diary entries rather than using the narrator to fill in motivations for decisions rather than filling the pages with extraneous details about lesser characters.

The ending? Not really a surprise, but then again….I wanted to hear Eddie’s rationale about some poor choices he made. Why did Dexter Stiles make a sloppy decision that endangered his position? If the author did not want to complete these characterizations, she should not have included the events that led to these questions.

There are also some unrealistic events.  For example, Eddie’s escape, Anna’s strength despite weighing a little over one hundred pounds, Lydia being carried up and down six flights of stairs by one person, near drowning victims not struggling while being saved by Eddie who is not a large man but still demonstrates the strength of a superhero.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Book Review: A Clean Death by Adriaan Verheul 5 Stars *****

Book Review: A Clean Death by Adrian Verheul  (2017) 5 Stars *****

A disturbing but seemingly accurate story of wanton violence in an unnamed part of the world where the guys with the biggest guns and the smallest consciences reign supreme. This almost reads like a memoir rather than a work of fiction. Details, explanations, actions, behaviors, and streams of consciousness that seem to reflect the soul of the author are on point—feeling like a recounting of what actually happened rather than a list of fabricated events. This author knows his stuff.

The author, Adriaan Verheul, ” worked as an academic with the Dutch navy, as a United Nations human rights officer and peacekeeper, World Bank official, and independent foreign affairs consultant. His work took him to conflict and disaster zones on four continents. Somehow, he ended up in the business of demobilizing rebels and soldiers after civil war.”

Oliver, the main character, takes a leave from his position as a banker to recover and bring home the body of his father Johan from a God-forsaken jungle land plagued by violence. Johan was on a mission to supply great sums of money to Captain Christmas, a vicious war lord, in exchange for the surrender of guns. Promises were made, but not kept. Oliver discovers that everyone is on the take—from government officials to the police and morgue employees. Want to go home with your father’s body? It will cost you. Want them to tell you who killed your father and why? It will cost you. Want to meet up with the powerful warlord, Captain Christmas,  who has all the answers? It will cost you. The problem is, money is paid out but answers do not flow in.

A clean death is swift and painless without needless suffering. Johan was shot twice in the heart, giving him a clean death, demonstrating that whoever killed him, liked and respected him. It’s almost a sign of affection and deference in a violent society. Hmmm.

This brings us to Davey, a young, idealistic American proponent of an armed citizenry. He believes that guns are for self-protection and disarmament is a tool of the establishment to suppress its people. Davey travels to the City By the Water to verbally support the armed marauders. You see, Davey has no idea of the horrors Captain Christmas and his terror group have inflicted on the innocent: gutting, body mutilations, rapes, beheadings, parents being forced to eat the intestines of their dead children to name a few. Oliver and Davey cross paths. Davey learns his lesson, and returns to the United States as a broken man. On the other hand, this jungle fiasco acts as a magnet for Oliver, capturing his mind and heart.

I tried to surmise the setting by Googling what I thought might be clues: City By the Water, John Cabrero aka Captain Christmas, V6, Skipper Boutique, Colonel Neptune, local drinks mentioned. Nothing. Dead end. (By the way, the author stated in a published interview response that he actually has met people who go by some of these names.) I entered the topography of the region and got a few bites. By process of elimination, I decided war-torn Africa is a likely location. Further research pointed to Democratic Republic of Congo where a heavy United Nations presence led to more harm than good, according to local officials. This is in the midst of Rwandan genocidal Hutu maniacs fleeing to DR Congo, inflicting even more pain and horrors on their already desperate country. Also ignored are the efforts at peacekeeping, reconstruction of country and military, democratic elections, and the aid in rebel opposition. According to the DR Congo government, the helpers didn’t help—just made things worse. Huh? This little bit of history corroborates the events in the book.

I don’t know if I am correct in my guess of settings. Maybe as a clue or a red herring, the cover photo is attributed to a photo taken at the DR Congo. But, what I do know, like the book and as in real DR Congo history, the government benefitted from the chaos, and they were not sincere in wanting it to end.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All Rights Reserved 2018

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers- (YA) 5 Stars *****

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers (2018) YA) 5 Stars *****

This book is an important read for women with children at home.

Holy Moly! This story is gut-wrenching like a punch in the heart when you least expect it. The book is half pod cast and half novel. The story unfolds in alternating objective pod cast format and the contrasting first person account as told by the main character, Sadie, a nineteen year old troubled girl living in a trailer park in Cold Creek, Colorado, population 800. Sadie’s thirteen year old sister, Mattie, has been murdered and Sadie knows who did it. Sadie is determined to hunt this guy down and pierce his side with a switch blade. She overcomes a myriad of obstacles to find him. “I’m going to kill a man. I’m going to steal the light from his eyes…” The story with the truth of the situation unfolds slowly.

Sadie’s mother is a deadbeat runaround—alcohol, drugs, party girl, shunning responsibility for her young daughters while bringing a long list of men home and oblivious to what’s going on. In particular, there’s Keith, as he is now calling himself, who poses as a God-fearing stand up guy when he is actually a violent pedophile who has put the moves on Sadie since she was a little girl. Why didn’t she tell her mother? Keith said he’d move on to Mattie if she didn’t keep her mouth shut. Sadie’s mom and Keith break up after he has a chance to turn his attention to young Mattie. Coincidence? As their mom abandons them, Sadie obsessively takes on the role of the caretaker of her little sister, dropping out of high school and hiding their secret from Child Protective Services. Sadie agonizes over her guilt in Mattie’s situation because Sadie refused Keith’s advances when she just couldn’t take anymore. Unfortunately, Sadie knew Keith would go to Mattie but her need to protect herself in that instant overtook her need to protect her sister. The girls are grateful for their next door neighbor and surrogate grandmother, May Beth, who provides them with food, love, and guidance. Sadie has made Mattie her life obsession, but Keith returns to the trailer park years later with intentions of victimizing Mattie. Suddenly, Mattie is dead.

Sadie disappears from the scene. A devastated May Beth enlists the help of the at first reluctant pod cast announcer/ investigator, West McCray, to find the missing Sadie. “I can’t take another dead girl.” May Beth’s words convince West McCray to follow clues across state borders to find Sadie. Sadie uncovers a covert pedophilia group and a conspiracy to help keep Keith’s many false names and identities secret. In the end, Sadie has her wish but the author leaves us with an ambiguous conclusion as to Sadie’s fate. This drove me crazy!

This book is an important read for women who invite men into their homes, especially when children of any age are left alone with these strangers. Of course, this is not true of everyone, but ladies, keep your eyes and ears open. If your kids don’t like the man in your life, they might be hiding things that are too terrible for them to share. Keep the lines of communication open.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All Rights Reserved 2018

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka
4 Stars ****   (MG and YA)

It’s been ages since I’ve read a SATIRE and here is a new and modern example to serve as a model for students of writing. Not only is it entertaining, but the reader learns about the idiosyncracies of living in a doorman apartment building in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. What fun!

Satire:  the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Anyone who knows anything about a doorman building knows the doorman knows EVERYTHING that goes on. Packages, deliveries, visitors, daily habits are all under the nose of this very special person who presides over his realm and stands guard over those who enter. Relatives and friends of the residents become acquaintances of the doorman and in turn, all become interconnected. According to Mr. Bunchley the doorman, ” a connection is made when at least one party would feel the lack of the other.”

The funny thing, of course, is the privileged, quirky lives of the residents. Unusual demands must be addressed without upsetting anyone. The book is divided into ten stories about the doorman, crazy? or maybe not? Fred who presides over the pigeons, the requisite opera singer who loses her voice at an inopportune time, the walled up music room, the cultured, educated mice who spread their time among the different apartments and who travel to the country during the summer, the revered Number 2 elevator named Otis, the temperamental boiler, hot water for baths and tea, and the doorman’s repose—a state of rest, sleep, or tranquility—which comes after all is said and done.

The book is written with a tongue-in-cheek. So serious about nothing really. So accepting of the craziness that abounds. So true in its portrayal of this segment of New York City life.

I recommend this book to serve as a model for satire. It’s appropriate for middle grade and young adult readers. Cute. Different. Unique.

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

 

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (MG) for reading level, (YA) for content 5 Stars *****

What a terrific book for sophisticated MG and YA readers! This book is totally modern with its Harlem slang, supportive lesbian mother, mostly absent caring father with a new girlfriend, an idolized older brother who was shot to death in a nightclub in the Bronx, gang bangers who terrorize the younger, unassociated kids, conflicted desire for a better life, friends who teeter on the edge between right and wrong, friendship with an autistic girl which started out as dislike, rivalry, then evolved into a healthy cooperation to achieve excellence and fame, and a helpful community center counselor. This book has it all.

Twelve -year-old Wallace (Lolly) Rachpaul, who  lives in Harlem in the upper east side of Manhattan, is obsessed with keeping his possessions from being “confiscated” by the thugs who frequent 125 St. Despondent over the death of his twenty-year-old brother, Jermaine, Lolly begins to give up on life and loses interest in his school work. His only interest is constructing buildings with his individual Lego kits. When Steve, a young man who serves as a positive role model for the neighborhood boys, gives Lolly a book for Christmas entitled A Pattern of Architecture, Lolly is inspired to innovate. He combines all the Lego pieces, integrating the blocks from all the kits, with his imagination on fire. His mom’s girlfriend brings bags full of Lego pieces from her job at a toy factory. Ali, the counselor at the community center, encourages Lolly to build with his Legos and gives him a private room to construct the imaginary alien world of Harmonee. From this activity, Lolly utilizes math and creative writing. The other kids become involved and Lolly’s mutually beneficial relationship with autistic Big Rose begins. Lolly and Big Rose find a common area in which to gain public recognition.

At the end, Lolly is able to come to terms with his brother’s death, his parents’ separate lives, his loyalty in friendships that don’t always run smoothly, and his desire to excel in life and avoid the trappings of the life around him. Lolly tells us how much he has changed from the beginning of the story, “Since then I had learned the most important thing: the decisions you make can become your life. Your choices are you.”

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Book Review: Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Book Review: Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (MG) 4 Stars ****

Thirteen-year-old eighth grader Claire lives in present day Bethlehem, Pennsylvania experiencing all the angst, teasing, insecurities, and disappointments that comes with that age. Written in the first person, Claire is vocal and direct about what she does not like about her school mates, her teachers, her parents, and her brother. Claire’s incessant complaining comes to a stop when her father suffers a debilitating and life threatening stroke. Claire is at home alone with him at the time and her quick thinking call to 9-1-1 saves his life and gets him the emergency care he needs in this time sensitive situation.

This well-researched book takes the reader through the warning signs of a stroke, immediate emergency care needed and the long, painstaking road to recovery with help from therapists and family members. Claire’s father loses his will to fight the limitations of his condition, but Claire manages to reach him in a special way so that they both might reach their goals. Claire’s father struggles with physical therapy and speech exercises while Claire struggles with dance exercises so she may be promoted to a dance group with kids her own age rather than with the younger kids with whom she is now matched. Claire explains, “This is what love is, I think. Daddy was strong for me so that I could learn to be. Then I was strong for him until he could relearn his own strength. Now, here we are, strong together.”

Anyone who has experienced severe family illness will be able to identify with this story. The patient’s needs overtake everyone’s life. Nothing is as it was before. Everyone’s energy is focused on the patient’s recovery while personal goals and desires are put on hold.

Claire is a hyper-complainer. I found myself getting hypertense while reading this book because of the frenetic energy with which the story is told. Too many quips and one-liners for my taste. I would opt for a calmer presentation

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Book Review: The Road to Ever After by Moira Young (MG)

Book Review: The Road to Ever After by Moira Young (MG) 2 Stars **

We meet thirteen-year-old Davy David, orphaned at birth, now living on his own in Brownvale in the graveyard where his mother, who died giving birth to him, is buried. Davy doesn’t know quite where, but he chooses a spot he likes, tends to a briar rose bush he plants in her memory, and considers this his home. Davy was in an orphanage that went out of business so to speak, and he was left at the age of nine to fend for himself, grateful for the sporadic odd job that enables him to buy food and for the negligible kindness of some local adults.

The mean-spirited parson is a hypocritical, secret drunk who cheats on his wife. The neighborhood boys bully poor Davy. A homeless, scruffy dog attaches himself to Davy. Davy does not attend school but is a frequent visitor to the public library where he educates himself, especially about angels found in classic books of art. Davy is also an exceptional artist who leaves etchings of angels in the dirt wherever he goes. Just as his “home” is destroyed by the nefarious parson, Davy meets wealthy Miss Elizabeth Flint, an about to turn eighty, witchy, crotchety old woman who drafts Davy into her service. She pays him for driving her to her ancestral home to attend to her important business—” a three-day passage of the soul to its final embarkation point to the great beyond.”   A friendship develops and Davy’s life is changed forever.

Does this remind you of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist?

While this is a somewhat charming book, I’m not sure how relatable this story is for today’s young reader. The book has a copyright date of 2016. It has an old-fashioned feel but the setting’s time and place are ambiguous. The reader must suspend belief to accept that thirteen year old Davy can suddenly drive cars, motorcycles, and trucks while being chased by their rightful owners and the police. Is this child actually living unattended on the streets and in a cemetery of this unholy town?  Where in the world is Brownvale, anyway? The book is meant to portray a spiritual journey—Davy helps Miss Flint’s spirit travel to its final resting place. After all, Miss Flint is already dead!  Yes, and they even hold a wake with Miss Flint’s restless soul, Davy, and George , the dog, in attendance. Let’s not forget that Miss Flint is now aging backwards and has the beauty and physical stamina that were hers when she was in her twenties. Admirable, of course, but the entire book lacks spirit and has so much thrown in, it’s a hodge-podge of many different books. Disjointed. Disconnected. Out of context. Everything comes out of left field.

By the way, I hate, hate, hate the ending. SPOILER ALERT! Guess who inherits all of Miss Flint’s wealth and property? BUT, Davy will still be alone in the world, although next door to kindly Mr. Blye, his sweet wife, his mother-in-law, and his friendly, loving four children. Is this supposed to be a satisfactory ending for an orphan, still only thirteen years of age, to have great neighbors? Is this supposed to fill the hole in Davy’s heart?

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Book Review: The Confidence Code For Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

Book Review: The Confidence Code For Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (MG) (YA) 5 Stars *****

By the way, I don’t see why this book wouldn’t be helpful to boys also.

What’s the message of this book? ” Taking Risks, Messing Up, & Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self!” This is a how-to book with lots of visuals—cartoons, speech bubbles, different fonts, cute little quizzes and assessments, outlines for setting goals—with input from women in a multi-generational, high achieving family with their heads on straight. Great for middle grade and high school girls who need a self-confidence boost and/ or a guide for setting and achieving goals despite negative comments and subversive actions from people who need to be ignored! A fun and helpful, user-friendly read.

“What is confidence, anyway? Confidence is what turns our thoughts into action. You can think of it like a math formula:
Thoughts + Confidence=Action.

“One big thing that confidence is NOT: It’s not about how you look. It’s about how you act, and who you are.

* Find Role Models-look for daring, incredible girls and women
* Look Out For Fakers-those who put others down to puff themselves up
* Shout It Out-praise others who show confidence by taking positive action

“Break it down, assess risks, break out of comfort zones, take small steps, get comfortable being uncomfortable, be your own coach, don’t be afraid of failure, stop trying to be perfect, set goals, ask for help, and say it like you mean it!”

That’s all? Yes, it’s as easy as that.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2018

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

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