Review of Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Eleanor Book Cover Eleanor
Jason Gurley
Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
Currently self-published - Acquired by Crown Publishing (U.S.), Harper Collins (U.K.), Editora Rocco (Brazil)
June 27, 2014
Print, Kindle, Epub
450

1985. The death of Eleanor's twin sister tears her family apart. Her father blames her mother for the accident. When Eleanor's mother looks at her, she sees only the daughter she lost. Their wounded family crumbles under the weight of their shared grief.

1993. Eleanor is fourteen years old when it happens for the first time... when she walks through an ordinary door at school and finds herself in another world. It happens again and again, but it's only a curiosity until that day at the cliffs. The day when Eleanor dives... and something rips her out of time itself.

And on the other side, someone is waiting for her.

BUY IT ON

Amazon  |  iTunes  |  Barnes & Noble

Visit the Author on Goodreads

Author’s Website @ jasongurley.com

MY REVIEW OF ELEANOR

This book had an odd effect on me, both emotionally and psychologically. I can’t explain exactly why I enjoyed it so much, especially considering how strange so many aspects of the story were. If someone were to give me a full synopsis of the book, including all the of major details, I’m pretty sure I would have never picked it up.

But I’m so glad that I did. It’s a beautifully written story with a heartbreaking tale of family drama and supernatural events based on a past grief that has ripped them apart. This was an emotional roller coaster of a story, with some of the weirdest paranormal and supernatural elements I have ever come across. You know what? It works. It totally works. I was reminded a bit of Lilith by George MacDonald, not in theme or storyline, but in the storytelling itself. Much of it doesn’t make complete sense, but somehow it still works.

Had the author chosen a different style of telling this story, I might have balked at the concepts he touches on, possibly placing it in my “Did Not Finish” pile. I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, and I don’t think it would be for everyone. If you have read and appreciate the dark storytelling style of Lilith and enjoy books with magical realism and paranormal elements, you should definitely check it out.

I can’t explain it, but I truly enjoyed this book. I’m excited to read more by Mr. Gurley, and I can see how Eleanor became a bestseller on Amazon so quickly, even as a self-published book. Good luck to him!

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Corporate Con: A Cunning Clasp on Creativity

You like my title, don’t you? I know you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  🙂

It’s amazing how prevalent this type of fraudulent practice has been throughout history to some extent or another. Even more amazing that it still thrives, feeding on the gullible and desperate.

Disclaimer: The following was not written by me, but I found the post very interesting. This is from a blog I follow. I think it’s important that we all educate ourselves.

**Reblogged from David Gaughran | Let’s Get Digital

How Jessica Mitford Exposed A $48m Scam From America’s Literary Establishment

Posted on December 16, 2014 by davidgaughran

Cerf

Jessica Mitford took on the American funeral industry, the California Department of Corrections, and the Ku Klux Klan, but it was her 1970 exposé of The Famous Writers School which led to Time calling her “The Queen of the Muckrakers.” And if a courageous editor hadn’t reversed his decision to kill her story, it might never have happened.

Mitford had been aware of The Famous Writers School’s existence for some time. Anyone who was a frequent reader of newspapers, books or magazines would have seen its ever-present advertisements, inviting aspiring writers to cut out and apply for the free aptitude test. While Mitford was suspicious, she didn’t have anything concrete until her lawyer husband took on a new client.

Bob Treuhaft was approached by a 72-year old widow, living on Social Security, who had cleaned out her bank account to make a down-payment to The Famous Writers School. On the same day Mitford heard the widow’s sorry tale from her husband, she received a book in the mail for review: Writing Rackets by Robert Byrne, which also mentioned the school.

Mitford had lunch with Bill Abrahams not long afterwards – then the West Coast editor of The Atlantic. She shared tales from Byrne’s book on literary frauds and the story of the cheated widow, and Abrahams asked her to write a short piece for The Atlantic covering both.

A still of Rod Serling taken from a Famous Writers School television ad (view here).

A still of Rod Serling taken from a Famous Writers School television ad (view here).

The following day Abrahams called to say that the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, Robert Manning, had decided not to run the piece after all. While Manning agreed that the bold claims made in The Famous Writers School’s advertising were “probably unethical,” he pointed out that The Atlantic had made “many thousands of dollars” from those self-same ads and felt it would be equally unethical to run a piece criticizing the school.

Mitford was aghast and asked Abrahams if he would kill a piece on lung cancer on the grounds that The Atlantic took ads from tobacco companies. He accepted her point and said that he would try again with Manning, and that if anything changed he would get in touch.

A week later, Mitford had no further response from The Atlantic but now had the bit between her teeth. She queried the articles editor at McCall’s who was extremely enthusiastic and wanted a full investigation of The Famous Writers School, commissioning a 7,000 word piece. Mitford was delighted and threw herself into exhaustive research.

The Famous Writers

Mitford soon realized that the well-known faces attached to The Famous Writers School’s advertisements played a very different role than suggested. She knew she was going up against some powerful individuals – some of the leading lights of America’s literary establishment.

The Guiding Faculty of The Famous Writers School consisted of people like Paul Engle (long-time director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop), Rod Serling (of Twilight Zone fame), mystery writer Mignon Eberhart, Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Catton, and romance author Faith Baldwin. Day-to-day operations were managed by Gordon Carroll (Reader’s Digest editor) and John Lawrence (former president of William Morrow publishers).

The biggest name of all was the man Mitford would later describe as “the ringleader” – Bennett Cerf, founder and president of Random House, and household name in America since his long-running stint on What’s My Line?

Knowing that Cerf could cause her problems, Mitford decided to interview him last.

How The Scam Worked

Part of an advertorial in New York Magazine, June 1969

Part of an advertorial in New York Magazine, June 1969

Mitford investigated how The Famous Writers School attracted students – focusing on those ubiquitous advertisements featuring the Guiding Faculty. Along with Baldwin, Eberhart, Serling, Catton, Engle, and Cerf, there was also John Caples, Bergen Evans, Clifton Fadiman, Rudolf Flesch, Phyllis McGinley, JD Ratcliff, Max Shulman, Red Smith, and Mark Wiseman – all noted writers in their fields.

The ads promised a free aptitude test which would “help you find out whether you can be trained to become a successful writer” and gave the impression that the Guiding Faculty would actually grade your test. The promotional materials also led potential students to believe that Cerf and his famous friends would act as their tutors and mentors throughout the course, and greatly exaggerated the market for freelance authors as well as the likely financial outcomes for students. Nowhere in the ads was the cost of the course mentioned.

After talking to various members of the Guiding Faculty, Mitford confirmed that they had nothing to do with either grading the aptitude tests or tutoring students. When Mitford presented Faith Baldwin with an ad which claimed the opposite, she responded with:

Oh, that’s just one of those things about advertising. Anyone with common sense would know that the fifteen of us are much too busy to read the manuscripts the students send in.

Mitford asked Mark Wiseman about why the ads claimed the market for freelance writers was in rude health when the opposite was true. He said:

That’s just a fault of our civilization. You have to over-persuade people, make it all look optimistic, not mention obstacles and hurdles.

Paul Engle was even more forthcoming about the actual role of the Guiding Faculty:

I only go there once in a great while. There’s a distinction between the Guiding Faculty, which doesn’t do very much, and the teaching faculty, which actually works with the students.

What the Guiding Faculty did do was provide some of the teaching materials used in the course. But it’s clear their main role was to make the course sound more attractive to potential students. In return, the faculty members received substantial stock holdings and a 1.6% cut of the school’s annual gross revenue.

 

BaldwinBoth these forms of compensation turned out to be extremely lucrative for the Guiding Faculty. Revenues for the school (together with its parent organization the Famous Artists School) rose from $7m in 1960 to $48m in 1969, while the stock improved from 5 to 40 over the same period.

The school was able to generate such staggering revenue (approximately $310m in today’s money) because of the huge enrollment numbers and the absurd price of the courses. 65,000 students were enrolled in 1970, including nearly 2,000 veterans via the GI Bill. The cost of the course – only revealed when a salesman came to your home to close the deal – was $785. That was a considerable sum in those days so most students went for the payment plan, pushing the cost up to $900 (approximately $5,800 in 2014 dollars). Mitford estimated this as roughly twenty times the cost of similar correspondence courses offered by universities at the time.

Mitford also established that the school was taking on students which had no place being on a professional writer’s training course: non-native English speakers with a poor command of their adopted tongue, those with no flair for language or composition, the barely literate, the penniless. The pass rate for those taking the free aptitude test – 90% – was so high because the bar was set ridiculously low.

Robert Byrne, the author of Writing Rackets, submitted an aptitude test under an invented name with deliberately mangled prose; the applicant was accepted in glowing terms. And when Mitford’s husband asked his widow client to write out an account of her experiences with the school, it was “garbled” and “semiliterate” – very far away from the level of someone suitable for such a course. Nevertheless, the widow was also deemed to have passed the aptitude test “with flying colors” by The Famous Writers School.

 

 

Test ApplicationAfter being presented with complaints about the high-pressure sales tactics, The Famous Writers School said that its salesmen were carefully screened, that they received rigorous training in ethical salesmanship, and that every effort was made to ensure that their presentation of the course was both accurate and truthful.

 

But Mitford was never one to take such claims at face value and secretly arranged to witness one such salesman closing the deal in her neighbor’s living room. The salesman told a series of outrageous lies regarding the school. He said the Guiding Faculty spent a lot of time at the school grading assignments and mentoring the other teaching staff, that one of the faculty would personally review her assignments, and that the staff-pupil ratio was uniquely favorable – 300 instructors for 3,000 students – when in fact there were 55 instructors for 65,000 students (and 800 salesmen). He then disingenuously dangled the possibility of a publishing contract and made false claims about the success of graduating students.

The dropout rate for these courses was extremely high. Through looking at the company’s books and running the numbers, Mitford estimated that only a tenth of students completed the course. However, not all of this was down to unethical salesmen targeting the unsuitable.

Mitford spoke with a whole range of competent students who had enrolled and dropped out, with many citing the poor quality of both the course materials and the feedback given on assignments – particularly that a different person graded each piece of coursework. Those who attempted to get out of their contract without paying the remaining installments were threatened with legal action, but otherwise The Famous Writers School seemed unconcerned at the high dropout rate.

Indeed, Phyllis McGinley, a famous poet who was one of the Guiding Faculty, admitted to Mitford:

We couldn’t make any money if all the students finished.

Bennett Cerf’s “Appeal to the Gullible”

 

Now that Mitford had established exactly how the scam operated, it was time for the final interview. She met Bennett Cerf in his “wonderfully posh” office at Random House, where he remained president of the company he started despite selling his stake to RCA. Cerf explained how he helped found the school and put together the Guiding Faculty.

We approached representative writers, the best we could get in each field… The idea was to give the school some prestige.

He admitted that he did no teaching, wasn’t involved in recruiting the teaching staff or establishing standards, and didn’t supervise the school’s operations.

I know nothing about the business and selling end and I care less.

Cerf refused to disclose what compensation he received from the school, but described it as “quite generous.” When confronted with the inaccurate claims made in the advertisements bearing his name, Cerf said:

I think mail-order selling has several built-in deficiencies. The crux of it is a very hard sales pitch, an appeal to the gullible.

When Mitford asked him how many books by Famous Writers School students that Random House had published, Cerf replied:

Oh, come on, you must be pulling my leg – no person of any sophistication, whose book we’d publish, would have to take a mail-order course to learn how to write.

With Cerf interviewed, Mitford’s research was complete and she submitted the final piece to the articles editor at McCall’s. But the tale didn’t end there.

Killing The Story

Bennett Cerf on the cover of Time Magazine, 16 Dec 1966

Bennett Cerf on the cover of Time Magazine, 16 Dec 1966

 

On reading the contents and seeing the famous names mentioned therein, the editor-in-chief ofMcCall’s balked and refused to run the story, wary of angering Random House and Bennett Cerf, and conscious of their advertising relationship with both the prestigious publisher and The Famous Writers School itself.

Later on, Mitford discovered that Bennett Cerf exerted direct pressure on McCall’s to kill the story, despite his explicit promises to the contrary when interviewed. But Mitford knew none of this at the time, all the editor-in-chief of McCall’s told her was, “I don’t think it’s very good.”

 

Despite her ostensible opinion of the piece, she paid Mitford’s research expenses and the full agreed-upon fee for publication, instead of the kill fee that was standard in such situations.

Two years later, that McCall’s editor admitted the truth to More magazine.

I did not want to offend Bennett Cerf at a time when McCall’s was trying to improve the caliber of its fiction.

Mitford was undeterred by McCall’s rejection (and pay-off). In fact, she was furious, more determined than ever to get her exposé published. She queried Life Magazine – who were extremely keen and promised that it would be a major story, with photographers deployed to take pictures of the school. But the piece was killed when Life’s advertising manager revealed that he had just agreed a $500,000 ad campaign with The Famous Writers School to cover the next six months.

 

 

AtlanticIt seemed like Mitford’s investigation would never see the light of day, until Bill Abrahams at The Atlantic said that Robert Manning had a change of heart: he had cancelled The Atlantic’s advertising contract with The Famous Writers School and wanted to run the story. True to his word, Manning published it as the cover story in the July 1970 edition, under the title Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers.

 

The article is a classic piece of investigative journalism, a complete dissection of how the scam worked as well as a delicate filleting of the famous faces profiting from this misery.

But even the most optimistic reporter couldn’t have predicted what happened next.

The Aftermath

 

In her wonderful book Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking, Mitford explains that she had written articles on controversial topics for The Atlantic before, but even a piece like her coverage of The Dr. Spock Trial or the secret medical tests being conducted on Californian prisoners only generated “six to ten letters a piece” from readers.

 

Even before the July 1970 issue hit newsstands, The Atlantic had received an unprecedented fifty letters from subscribers who were privy to early copies of the magazine. After the issue went on sale, a further three hundred readers wrote in to share their experiences with The Famous Writers School.

 

Congressman Laurence J. Burton

Congressman Laurence J. Burton

Mitford had touched a nerve. Robert Manning told her that this issue had the largest newsstand sale of any in the The Atlantic’s history. Her article was subsequently picked up by the Des Moines Register and the Washington Post, and Mitford herself was invited onto The Dick Cavett Show to talk about the famous names involved with this scam.

 

As law suits from Attorneys General in several states were being prepared against The Famous Writers School, Congressman Laurence J. Burton of Utah read a copy of Mitford’s piece into the Congressional Record.

In his introductory remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives, Burton said the following:

I have written to both the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Deceptive Practices, and the Veterans’ Administration, registering my concern, and requesting that they provide reports on the activities of the Famous Writers School. […]

High-pressure tactics and misleading information should not be used to gain enrollments for a course which would not attract enrollees on its merits. I believe the people of this country are entitled to protection from such unfair practices.

All this negative publicity had a profound effect on the fortunes of The Famous Writers School. Its stock plummeted from 35 to 5 before trading was suspended in May 1971, and the operation formally went bankrupt at the start of 1972 – a few months after the death of Bennett Cerf.

 

A Temporary Success

 

“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” – Jessica Mitford

“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” – Jessica Mitford

Mitford later called it “one of the clear-cut successes however temporary in my muckraking career. She felt the qualification “temporary” necessary because The Famous Writers School reappeared a few years later. In fact, it’s still in existence, although it has never quite operated on the same staggering, and lucrative, scale.

The spiritual successor to The Famous Writers School is another matter. Author Solutions is undergoing a massive international expansion under its owners – Penguin Random House. And there appears to be no one in today’s media with the courage of Jessica Mitford, and her editors at The Atlantic, willing to investigate its operations.

However, Penguin Random House’s uncanny ability to avoid press attention on this matter can only last so long. Author Solutions will face a class action for deceptive practices next year.

 

**Reblogged from David Gaughran | Let’s Get Digital

Wool by Hugh Howey

Review of The Silo Saga by Hugh Howey

Wool Book Cover Wool
Silo Saga
Hugh Howey
Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Simon & Schuster (Print), Broad Reach Publishing (ebook)
January 25, 2012
Print, Kindle, Audiobook
528

In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.

His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising.

A New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller, as well as Kindle Book Review’s 2012 Indie Book of the Year, the self-published eBook blockbuster Wool will now be available in paperback from Simon & Schuster.

Buy it on Amazon
Visit the Author on Goodreads
Author’s Website @ hughhowey.com

MY REVIEW OF THE SILO SAGA: WOOL (Book 1), SHIFT (BOOK 2), and DUST (BOOK 3)

Okay, so let’s get the weirdness out of the way.

I haven’t written in a few weeks, I know. There has been a lot of negativity in my life, and this caused some mental shifting on my part. Things don’t go as planned more often than not, and trying to remember that “it takes all kinds” is difficult at best when life fast-pitches you some lemons straight to your face.

So, to combat all that negativity, here’s a bit of positivity to brighten up everyone’s day. Without further ado, I give you my review for a book (series) that has affected my life in more ways than I can count.

Hugh Howey is my new best friend. Why? Well, certainly not because he write a thoughtful reply to the email I sent him in my out-of-character (for me) fangirl moment a few months ago. No, he didn’t personally respond to the email, but he did have an extremely hilarious auto-response email set up for any and all who would like to shoot him an email (I’m not officially encouraging this, but the automatic reply is pretty darn funny!). No, he is my new best friend because he came into my life as a result of one comment, and nothing has been the same since. Now, he may or may not actually be aware that he is my new best friend (I’m guessing not unless he reads this review), but he has made a huge impact on me as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being.

I took a chance and purchased the Omnibus version of Wool (the first book in the Silo saga) because of a comment in a review for my book. Someone stated that my book reminded them a little (in certain ways) of his book. This got my attention, as I had never heard of it before. Therefore, I bought it and began reading what would become what one might call “my life” for days thereafter. I devoured this story of humanity at a threshold, of human perseverance tested beyond its limits, of the simple act of human kindness in a world where people need it most. I’m not going to lie. I cried. I cried buckets throughout the entire series as I read all three books back-to-back. I haven’t been this excited about a book in years. His story touched me in a way I can’t explain. My husband is currently reading them (he’s reading Shift now, the second book in the saga) because I pestered him to death about reading them. I couldn’t explain why. I just needed to be able to discuss these books with someone I know. I knew he’d be just as captivated as I was, but I dread the moments when he hits a sad part and gives me that look that says, “Why am I reading this, again?” But the highs and lows of Howey’s book are all part of the experience. And it is an experience. Something that seems so insignificant or fleeting will later become the crux for a major plot development. Yeah.

I noticed a little while back that some people had rated it low because they were disappointed in the science fiction label, which they felt was inaccurate. I can understand their frustration because if you are looking for hard sci-fi, this is not it. This is a dystopian world built within a science fiction setting in order to portray a story that transcends all genres (I know I sound like his publicist or something, but I swear I’m merely a lowly fan). I think the reason this upsets people is that the fans of traditional sci-fi are looking for a story built around an intricate science fiction setting as opposed to what Howey offers us: a sci-fi setting built around an intricate story. That isn’t to say that science fiction can’t have intricate stories. I love all forms of speculative fiction from fantasy to sci-fi, but you need to come to this book with the understanding that he didn’t write a science fiction novel. He wrote a story about people who just happen to live in a dystopian world. The message, as opposed to the world around the characters, is key. As a side note, I’ve read a little of his more “hard” science fiction (which many seem to like and has won awards), but I wasn’t really into it. Another novel of his, Sand, is very similar to the Silo series in style. I truly enjoyed it and look forward to the sequel-in-progress. But I digress.

This book resonated with me so strongly that it has taken me months to write this review. I feel like I can’t do it justice. I tell my friends and family to read it. I can’t say enough good things about the entire series (Wool, Shift, and Dust). I can’t really say anything at all without giving away too much. But if you are willing to take a chance here on something new and different, you can find something you love no matter your normal genre of reading. This series isn’t for “science fiction” readers; it’s for humankind.

I usually try to keep a balanced review and point out something that I felt detracted from the story. But you know what? Any issues I came across must have been trivial because I can’t even remember them.

No negativity here.

(Okay, seriously, you have to go read these books! And mine! Can’t forget to throw that in there…)

The Royal Wizard by Alianne Donnell

Review of The Royal Wizard by Alianne Donnelly

The Royal Wizard Book Cover The Royal Wizard
Dragonborn, Book One
Alianne Donnelly
Fantasy—Romance, Epic
March 3, 2013
Print, Kindle, Epub
341

The kingdom of Wilderheim stands bastion between the world of humans and the Otherlands. It is ruled as much by people as it is by creatures Other and as such, it must always have a wizard at the right hand of its king. Nico has seen three generations of rulers sit the throne; he knows he will not see the fourth. Desperate to find a worthy apprentice, when Nia appears like a godsend in his path he wastes no time taking her under his wing as his last sworn duty to the young king Saeran.

But Nia and Saeran have many trials ahead of them. With destinies converging toward an inevitable battle for power, countless lives hang in the balance, including theirs. As love brings them together, so strife tears them apart and as the balance between justice and magic shifts, the royal wizard and her king get caught in a maelstrom of colliding forces. Nothing is ever as it seems with a trickster hiding in the shadows. When the gods begin to play, mortals tremble… 

New Adult appropriate.

Buy the book on Amazon
Available on Smashwords
Order it from your local bookstore
Visit the Author on Goodreads
Author’s Website @ aliannedonnelly.com

MY REVIEW OF THE ROYAL WIZARD:

Wizards, and dragons, and gods. Oh, my!

I have to admit that I’m a big fan of mythology. I’ve always loved the weaving interconnections between cultures and stories that exist because we, as humans, all have a shared history to some degree. Way, way back at least.

That’s one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book. The author uses some basic elements of Norse mythology and creates a unique story that involves original characters who come into contact with some well-known major players from the ancient Norse tales.

And she doesn’t shy away from showing both the light and dark sides to those characters and elements. I loved the way that ideas from several different types of stories were used in original ways. I loved the world she creates.

I only have two gripes, one being the relationship between the two main characters. The main characters, in my opinion, act ridiculous and silly when it comes to their relationship with one another, a fact that—when used sparingly—can lead to heightened suspense in the reader. However, in this case, it goes a bit overboard and becomes annoying. It didn’t really ring true to me as a reader (and yes, I realize this is fantasy, but characters should still act according to some semblance of normal human behavior). But maybe that’s just me.

My other issue is with the editing. Let me start by saying that it isn’t terrible, and there aren’t errors on every page. I’ve seen worse, and I’ve seen better. It can be distracting at times, though. I know that I can be a bit nit-picky because I am an editor (and an English teacher), but I’m pretty forgiving when written for style or effect. As an author myself, I know how successful these things can be when used properly, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. When it’s a small typo here and there, fine. There were quite a few blatant errors, many of which were repetitions of the same problems, something that could be fixed by an editor. I will say, though, that I’ve noticed more and more errors in TRADITIONALLY published books that would presumably have PROFESSIONAL, EXPERIENCED editors looking them over (it’s scary at times). In those cases, I don’t really blame the author, as it isn’t their job to fix the problems, and they don’t usually have a lot of say-so when they are contracted through a company. However, if you don’t hire an editor (or you ignore what the editor tells you to fix), you have to own those mistakes yourself. So, I don’t feel that this author is much different from popular authors in her writing ability (which is strong), but I do think she should take the time to make corrections.

In the end, though, the story is engrossing enough to keep you going. The ending made up for the slower beginning segments and answered many questions, leaving you with a clear sense of a satisfying ending to the story. I would be interested in reading the next book when it comes out, and I do have another of hers on hand to start soon. The Royal Wizard was worth the time and money spent, and I look forward to more of her work (and artwork, which she certainly has a gift for). I like her writing style and her ability to weave a great story, so I do recommend this book with a solid 3.5 stars.

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Part 5 (The One that Stole My Heart)

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Not Your Mama's Spaghetti and Meatballs

I’ve kept you waiting far too long. I’m sorry. But there is more Italy to come, with tons of pictures in this edition of “Not Your Mama’s Spaghetti and Meatballs!” On to part 5….

Venice may be considered the Serenissima (most serene), but Tuscany is where I found my peace.

And Pinocchio. A whole lot of Pinocchio.

photo courtesy Ivana @ rgbstock.com

photo courtesy Ivana @ rgbstock.com

When we first began seeing little knick-knacks, pictures, objects, images—all featuring the dear little wooden boy—we were at the beginning of our journey, back in Lake Como. We assumed it was just the fact that we were in quaint little towns with quaint little shops. I mean, I knew Pinocchio and Geppetto were Italian, but he was EVERYWHERE (The entrance to the area leading up to our b&b contained a giant bust of a boy with a feather in his hat. At first, we thought it was Peter Pan or something. We learned pretty quickly after visiting the nearby towns.)

Then we began to suspect the cheeky little monkey was following us. Every town we visited—practically every shop—contained something with his likeness. When I looked it up, it turned out that they were from an unnamed town in Tuscany. So cue Tuscany.

And even MORE Pinocchio. They don’t play around with their Pinocchio.

Despite their fascination with him, he was not the heart and soul of Tuscany for me. This was the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. I couldn’t explain why exactly, but I begged Jason to fit it into our trip. It was a place I’d always dreamed of visiting.

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Six days and nights on a mountain overlooking the town of Lucca. We stayed at Casa del Belvedere. a beautiful farm where they produce their own olive oil and figs, among other things. The owner greeted us at the farmhouse we were renting through Airbnb with a bottle of homemade olive oil, homemade fig jam, and a bottle of homemade dessert wine to go with the delicious cake his mother-in-law had baked us as a welcoming gift.

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Talk about wow.

The vineyards were literally everywhere. Rolling hills, quaint little farms, spectacular vistas. Italy is the most amazing country I have ever visited, and Tuscany has sealed itself as my absolute favorite destination ever.

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Of course, you can’t visit Tuscany without seeing the Leaning Tower. We spent a day there, taking a tour up the tower (cue more climbing and more of my foot problems…but it was my decision not to miss out on anything) and visiting the surrounding attractions and museums.

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We even managed to catch another geo-cache there (did I mention the geo-caching yet?). We did at least one in each area we stayed at, but if you don’t know about geo-caching, you should definitely look it up. I thoroughly enjoy it as a side adventure when you are out and about sightseeing.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre was our next stop, and let me tell you: the picture may look just like all the others ones you’ve seen online, but it doesn’t do it justice. The colors are so vivid.

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Thankfully we opted out of the cliff-diving and instead did some sightseeing then spent some time on the beach before having dinner by the seaside. When we finally decided to brave the water, it was freezing. Freezing. This is the Mediterranean, people!

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Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. The very essence of my soul. This was where I wanted to go more than anywhere else. I was so excited, not for any specific thing, but just for what the city represents.

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I had been going on and on about Florence since before we even started planning the trip, so there was no way I was missing out on it. There’s so much art and culture there, so many old buildings that ooze history. The Campanile, or Bell Tower, in Florence, is part of the Duomo complex, which includes the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) and the Baptistery. After the Duomo, the Campanile is one of the most recognizable buildings in Florence. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe climbed the Campanile (my feet were in HELL at this point, but I refused to stop) to check out the view of the top of the Duomo and the scope of the town, which was well worth it. It was incredibly windy, but you could see for miles. As we stood there, I began to cry as a feeling of missing something I’d only just obtained swept over me. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

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The Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) is a Medieval stone arch bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy, noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common. (Wikipedia)

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Statue of Dante Alighieri

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San Gimignano, admittedly, only came up on our radar because of its connection to Assassin’s Creed. The town is small, but we decided to check it out due to our familiarity with it, as well as the online images and descriptions. San Gimignano, known as the Town of Fine Towers, is a famous walled medieval hill town in Tuscany, in the province of Siena. The streets were cobble-stoned and narrow, and the architecture certainly lived up to the medieval feel. We spent some time at the top of the large tower, and ended our day in the gardens strolling as we listened to the man playing music in the main courtyard. At one point, we got sneaky and went scrumping up a tree for a plum 🙂

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No travel guide will ever do justice to the magnificence of the Tuscan countryside.

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Stay tuned. Next up, Rome…