‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’, Marian Keyes

‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’, Marian Keyes

I have read pretty much everything that Marian Keyes has written, and this book is, by far, my favourite. I couldn’t put it down. The Brightest Star in the Sky has a myriad of interesting and unique characters, all live at 66 Star Street, the narrator bounces between characters, homes and stories, and in this way, you get to know the intimate details of the comings and goings at 66 Star Street.

The Brightest Star in the Sky is written from an unusual perspective, that of an unborn child.  For most the book, I thought that it may have been written from the perspective of death, it was not until the final chapters that I realised that couldn’t be the case. The narrative voice just seemed too bouncy and chatty to be death…

The story moves at astonishing pace, and tells the story of individuals almost poetically. And you quickly realise that not all is what it seems at 66 Star Street.  It made me smile and cry in equal measure. Keyes tackles deep issues, rape, estrangement, death, and suicide. Albeit difficult to read these scenes are necessary and by weaving these events into her work Keyes is helping to bring attention to issues that remain taboo.

Conceptually, the novel is very different to Keyes’ usual style, the narrator is not yet born, the time line moves quickly, and the rapidity of the pace is reinforced by short chapters. Some fans of Keyes may not like this change in narrative style.  There are two very definitive tones used in the book – the first half of the book lulls you into a false sense of security, creating almost idyllic representations of the lives of those living at 66 Star Street, mirages of perfect lives crack suddenly in the second half of the book. The narrative voice switches to one that is angry and exposes the heartbreak behind the perfect façade.  You learn of Maeve’s rape, and the subsequent decline of her marriage, and the attempted suicide of Maeve’s husband. You learn of Jemima’s cancer, and Lydia’s struggle to look after her mother.

The book ends with Maeve and her husband coming back together, and the narrator ‘finding’ its family just in time. The Brightest Star in the Sky is a very different Marian Keyes book, Keyes has never written just ‘chick lit’, her books are intricate, and her characters flawed but flawless, this book is no different. The characters are complex, and evoke strong emotions in the reader.  Loss and life come together in this book in a unique way and in spite of its differences to Keyes’ other work, and the polarised opinions it has given rise to, it is one of Keyes’ best works to date, and I highly recommend it.

My Weekend in Washington

My Weekend in Washington

So this weekend I ventured to Washington D.C,  I left on the Friday morning and came back Sunday evening. I’ve always always wanted to go to D.C so it was literally a dream come true!

On the Friday I got of the bus and headed straight to the White house, when I arrived it was busier than I expected, and the security was crazy, and it was then that I realised that it was actually President Obama’s birthday party… Probably the worst day to be at the White House. The front of the White House was significantly less busy than the back! And I managed to get some pretty good pictures! I only spent enough time there to look and take a picture before I headed to look at the National Monument and to check into my hotel. The National Monument became a directional landmark for the two days I was wandering around – my hotel was super close to the national mall. Friday evening was super random, I walked to The Capital building (pictured), and ended up watching the U.S army’s Jazz and Blues band play… it was such a beautiful setting, and such an unexpected evening!

As the only full day of my trip Saturday was jam packed – I had such a long list of things I wanted to see! I started the day by visiting the Capitol building in daylight and exploring the grounds before heading to the Library of Congress. If you are planning on going to D.C I definitely recommend going into the Library of Congress. The inside is breath taking, literally. As well as going into the great hall, you can also walk through and view the main reading room. I can’t believe people actually get to work in there! I’d get too distracted by my surroundings to do anything remotely productive! The library also has an exhibition gallery. The Library of Congress is free to look around, and is a worthwhile addition to any agenda! It is also linked to the Capitol Visitor centre. I then headed to get some lunch before embarking on the longest walk of my life…

I went to the Smithsonian Institute on the way to the Jefferson memorial, which was a worthwhile detour, it has some interesting exhibits and is in the most beautiful building! I then headed to the Jefferson Memorial. Its on a lake, in fact, the whole park where the monuments are is insanely beautiful. After this there was a whole lot of walking and a whole lot of monuments! The FDR monument was a personal highlight and the Korean War memorial was really moving. I spent the last part of the day at the Lincoln memorial… I have always always wanted to go here, and it was the most memorable moment of the trip!  There was just something about seeing something that I’d always wanted to…  I ended the day soaking my feet in a fountain and sunbathing on the national mall!

I really didn’t want to leave! Washington is so so so much more ‘me’ then New York! It is clean, open, less crowded and most importantly green! There are actually open spaces! I’ll definitely be going back!

x

Where does the time go?

Where does the time go?

Time is flying by unbelievably quickly! I can’t believe that I have been in New York for a month now! And I’m starting to feel super settled in the city and in my internship.

However – starting my internship does mean that I have had a lot less free time to explore the city, I literally get back from work, eat dinner, and just want to chill out! So I’ve making sure that I try and do lots of things on the weekends so I don’t ‘waste’ my time this side of the globe! Its been super hot here the past couple of weekends so I’ve spent a lot of time in Central Park (turtle watching and reading), and at the Highline (sunbathing). However I did get time to pop down to the beach! I went to Coney Island which is probably the most accessible beach in NYC, you can take the metro from midtown all the way there. Its what I would call a ‘party’ beach – there is music, volley ball pitches, basket ball sections, a fun fair, food places and shops! There are people just sunbathing and chilling out but its not peaceful. I LOVED IT. The atmosphere is just really really nice which surprised me, when I saw the funfair I was like ‘oh crap its just going to be like Skegness…’, which I am pleased to report its not!

Aside from the beach I’ve spent a lot of time in museums and art galleries, New York just has so many! And they all offer completely different things! I went to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), last week and although I spent most of my time looking at nineteenth to mid twentieth century paintings, and in the Degas exhibition, it is a place I would visit again. MoMA has a really really large collection, three floors are reserved for 21st century art, sculpture, photography, and architecture, and the top two are special exhibitions and the core collection of the gallery. The Degas exhibition was beautiful… and it shows a side to his work that I haven’t seen before… whilst the Monet room in the core collection was just absolute perfection. I was also super happy to see Van Gogh’s work!! Intellectually I can’t discuss art and I am in no way experienced in talking about paintings or the way that they are curated but I love just looking!

I also got to experience my first New York sunrise – completely by accident! I fell asleep straight after I got back from work so woke super early, and it was so bright outside I just had to go to the roof garden to see what was going on and I am so glad I did! It was beautiful! Sunrise + New York skyline = memorable.

I’m also super excited that I will be taking a trip to Washington next week! Its someplace that I’ve always wanted to go, and I thought while I’m here why not? There are lots of lovely things happening in August, namely two of my best friends are visiting! So its going to be a fun filled month!

x

Things Everyone should know about NYC

Things Everyone should know about NYC

So I’ve been here a month (I know a whole month) now, and there are some things that I think everyone coming to New York to intern/to work/to live for the first time should know…

  1. Its a Mani-Pedi City – ok so bare with me on this one… everyone I know here  gets a mani-pedi or one or the other. To some extent I get it – open toe shoes in summer you need your feet to look good right?! And people actually look at other people’s feet…  But the amount of nail places here is crazy, almost every other store front is a nail place… People go on their lunches, before work, after work – its a thing and you will join in with the thing at least once.
  2. The roads work differently – I’ve nearly died a couple of times… I don’t have the best road crossing  abilities anyway but here people can turn on a red light – while the crossing is telling you to cross. So to put this in UK terms – the light turns green – you cross – but as your walking cars can still turn – cutting directly across where you are walking…. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, I’m sure there is a reason and I’ve just failed to see it… but roads are hard here.
  3. Every New Yorker can seemingly breathe easily in Metro Stations – New York is hot in summer, sometimes unbearably so, the Metro stations absorb all this heat and when combined with every unpleasant odour imaginable it creates a gross and rather stifling type of air. New Yorkers don’t seem to notice this – so when your trying not to breathe in because its so hot its burning your throat and the smell is making you queasy they seem unfazed. I need this skill.
  4. Salad is a thing – I’ve never met so many people who genuinely enjoy salad and I’ve never seen so many places that turn serving salad into an art form. I will admit though – its pretty good salad – and there definitely not skimpy with portion size so you can find yourself pretty full after lunch.
  5. Avenues run north/south, streets run east/west – Ok so this still confuses me but basically New York is a grid city – with the exception of Chelsea and Greenwich village where it gets a bit confusing. But the basic idea is that avenues are run north to south. Some avenues have numbers some names – and this can be quite confusing – but basically if you walk east the avenue number gets smaller…. Streets run across… It essentially means its quite hard to get properly lost.
  6. Eat Out – This seems like an odd one, but New York is one of the best food cities that I’ve ever visited, and you can pick up some really cheap dinners. Lots of places have online coupons, special offers, special event nights. Some restaurants even have random free eat nights. There are lots of sites that will have this information so follow all the facebook pages etc that you can, and check them regularly. There is also this thing called Meal Pass, and you can get lunches for $6.  I have done nothing but eat since I arrived, and tip – try the Mexican food – Yelp is super useful for finding places… and so is Open Table.
  7. Nothing is strange here – So on the Metro the other day I saw an individual in Gold Spandex hotpants, glittery (naked) torso dressed essentially like a Unicorn… full on Victoria Secret style wings too and NO ONE, I repeat NO ONE batted an eyelid… It was great! New York is full of wondrous random moments like this, embrace them.
  8. People put pets in prams – I’ve seen people put small dogs/cats in bags/pet handbag type things, but never before have I seen so many pets in strollers, I saw a handful in Central Park in the same afternoon. This is something I can’t quite understand but I guess if someone wants to put a pet in a stroller than that is their business. On a similar note I have also seen a Pomeranian wearing shoes. Tiny little dog shoes. Like I said – embrace it.
  9. Fashion designers, celebrities come with the territory…. Its normal here – people just don’t get excited – I was super super happy to bump into Diane von Furstenburg outside her store in the village but everyone else was suitably unimpressed… its New York – they are EVERY WHERE.

There are so many more – so I’ll be sure to keep adding them on as I go…

x

 

Photo Copyright: Author, New York Sunrise.

‘Somerset’, Leila Meacham

‘Somerset’, Leila Meacham

 

Until I picked this book up I had never heard of Leila Meacham, and when I asked around no one I knew had read anything by her either. After reading this book I went out and bought everything else she’d written. It is that good. If you like historical fiction, romance, and a deep narrative, then you should pick up this book. The book starts slowly, but the characters creep up on you and it quickly becomes hard to put down.

Somerset is a prequel to Leila Meacham’s first novel ‘Roses’,  and is set in nineteenth century America. Somerset tells the story of Jessica Wyndham, an outspoken abolitionist, and her marriage to Silas Toliver. The marriage is one of convenience, Silas needs money, Jessica’s father has money and wants to get his daughter out of South Carolina, a slave dependant state. As Jessica accompanies Silas on his journey to the unruly and dangerous state of Texas she slowly works her way into the heart of her husband and step-son, Joshua. The journey to Texas is one riven with danger and challenges, and Meacham cleverly weaves in historical detail to evoke a realistic image of America in the 1830s.

The narrative unfolds in various ways. The use of diary entries, change of character perspective, and character narration add to the richness of the story that Meacham creates. Meacham artfully weaves together a rich American history with a story of pain, passion and triumph. The narrative spans sixty years, and the reader is placed as an observer at the centre of Jessica’s life witnessing births, deaths, and marriages. The book ends with Jessica’s death, and exactly where Meacham’s first book, ‘Roses’ begins.

 

Nicholas Sparks, ‘The Longest Ride’.

Nicholas Sparks, ‘The Longest Ride’.

I’ve never really enjoyed reading Nicholas Sparks, the books seemed predictable and samey… that being said I actually really enjoyed reading ‘The Longest Ride’, I read it quite quickly, in a day in fact, and if your like for something easy to read, on a beach, or in a park, its kinda perfect. No thinking required.

The novel tells the story of two couples whose lives come together in a profound, although slightly predictable today. Ira Levinson is ninety-one years old, a widow, and trapped in his car that has veered into a ravine during a snow storm. During the time he is trapped in the car he sees his wife, and it is in this way that the story of his marriage, and his life with Ruth is told. It is the image of his wife that keeps Ira alive, and alert. In the same town a student of Wake Forest University, Sophia Danko, is about to meet Luke, through whom she is introduced to a different world. One of life and death. As Sophia and Luke’s relationship grows, Ira grows weaker, and he sees his wife more and more frequently. The two couples are separated by experiences and many years, but their lives converge when Sophia and Luke find Ira trapped and injured in his car.

The book is written in three different narratives. And although at points the narratives feel rushed, all three entwine to create a powerful narrative. Although I would say that Ira’s story is perhaps the most beautifully and poignantly written, the other narratives do contribute a different perspective to the story. The discovery of Ira by Sophia and Luke is somewhat predictable, it was only the events of the last few chapters that surprised me.

The book is essentially light reading, and although some parts are beautifully written, those parts are few and far between. Its more what I would think of ‘teen’ reading I guess…

Am I a New Yorker yet?!

OK – so I have to admit this week has been a tiny bit boring – I’ve spent my entire week filling in forms, getting in queues and trying to figure out where I can go to scan and print documents… U.S bureaucracy is crazy, and ALL done on paper… what is that?! Surely you should be able to do things online? Anyway, I got everything done, I am now the proud owner of a social security number, a bank account and a library card OH and I have a dry cleaner. I think that means I had a successful week.

I did have some time for some time for nice things however, I made sure that I spent the majority of each day walking around, or taking the metro to places, even if I didn’t really need to go there. I’m determined to feel comfortable being in the city without getting ridiculously lost each time I step out of my place. On Sunday I went to watch some of the NYC pride parade, and it was wonderful! The atmosphere was super fun, and everyone was happy!! And it was nice to hear music instead of blaring sirens (this city is so noisy – the amount of times I walk down the street and jump when people blare their horns is crazy -everyone needs to take a Xanax).  Monday and Tuesday were admin/forms/go to offices type days, so I won’t bore you with those, although rushing all over the city really taught me how to use the metro. It’s hot and slightly gross, but at least the actual trains are air conditioned (TFL take note… AIR CONDITIONED trains…).

The last part of the week was more exciting, Wednesday was results day, I naively presumed that because of the time difference I would have my results in the morning, I spent the morning refreshing emails every twenty seconds, it was agonising, they arrived around lunch time here and I was very pleasantly surprised! I spent the afternoon at the High Line, its a park suspended above the city. The park utilises disused railway lines that transported things from the docks into the city, the architects and gardeners built the tracks into the design. It really is a unique way to view the city! The park is quite large and extends quite far into the city, your walking in between skyscrapers, which is pretty cool. OH, and I spent a couple of hours sitting on the loungers they provide and got very, very, very sunburnt. But not all over, just on one side of my body…. To continue the celebrations I went to the DvF store in the Village – and who just happened to be there? Diane von Furstenberg herself… Wednesday was the best day…

And today – well today I was super grumpy when I woke up, and then streaky bacon for breakfast well it just worsened my mood – have American’s never heard of back bacon? Like normal bacon, the bit with the actual meat on?! Anyway, I was very much disliking life this morning, so I went to The Met. The Met was on my list of things to do in New York, and it pulled me right up out of my mood. As soon as I got there I headed straight to the Manus x Machina exhibition, organised by Apple and Conde Nast. It was exquisite. I’ve been to a couple of ‘fashion’ exhibitions, and I have to say, for me, it even topped the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A. The curators have done a wonderful job of organising the space so that you can wander from piece to piece. The selection of dresses is varied, and traditional techniques are showcased alongside futuristic and technology driven designs. The dresses themselves are displayed pretty much against a blank canvas, the space is white, with very little writing. Some of the more show-stopping pieces have a video backdrop. I spent a couple of hours in the exhibition, you can get pretty close to all of the dresses so you can get a really good view of the workmanship and the finer details that you just couldn’t get from looking at images. I longed to touch every single piece. But I think they’d take issue with that…. haha. I did notice though I was drawn to the pieces designed by Raf Simons at Dior the most… After the show-stopping pieces of the upper floors, the exhibition moves downstairs, and this is where techniques like pleating or lace making are showcased, I spent more time in the lace section than in any other – the details are just beautiful. Manus x Machina is an exhibition worth visiting, its one to go out of your way to visit. If you’re in the city, or the exhibition moves to you – visit. Especially if it ends up somewhere like the V&A, they always do a wonderful job of curating exhibitions like this.

After spending hours in the Manus x Machina exhibition I decided to wander around the rest of the museum – I didn’t really have a plan, I just wandered, and I think that’s the best way to visit somewhere like The Met. There are so many rooms, and so many exhibitions, that unless your there to see something specific, it is impossible to decide what to see and what not to see. Wandering frees you from the decision making. Saying that, however, I did make a point of wandering in the direction of the modern and contemporary art galleries. I love art, and painting, so seeing the Picasso’s, the O’Keefe’s and especially the Salvador Dali’s were really important to me… and I was not disappointed! I will definitely be taking a trip back to the Met with a sketchbook and some paint, for the first time in a long time I actually have time to paint!

So basically – I SURVIVED MY FIRST WEEK ALONE IN NYC…Although I haven’t worked since the second week of June – and I’m starting to go slightly insane – I’ve never had so much time! I’m very ready to start my internship on Tuesday!

x