Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 21, 2017

Book review: The Trophy Son

Trophy SonThere was a lot of publicity around this novel by Douglas Brunt when it was released this summer, and I was curious to read it.

In this novel, we follow the story of tennis prodigy Anton Stratis, who is pushed into professional tennis by his overbearing father, who tried and failed to create a tennis star of his older son, but hits the bull’s eye with the second.

Although the story of obnoxious tennis parents is a familiar one – Andre Agassi, Steffi Graff, Jennifer Capriati, to name a few – I felt this story started out well, but seemed to drop the thread a little too quickly. It was too much a carbon copy of Agassi’s own story, but Anton is quickly able to use his father’s wealth to procure trainers and an entourage, thereby sidelining his father, and one major problem (and the one that provides the novel with its title) seems to disappear suspiciously quickly.

The book is well organized, following Anton’s ascent into the tennis world, showing how he will do everything it takes – including steroid use – to make it to the top. It’s a fast-paced and easy read, especially suited to summer reading.

What didn’t work for me were two elements. The first is that too many characters  – including the protagonist, sadly – seemed strangely flat. This was a shame, because at the beginning, I was drawn in as a reader by a strong sense of voice. But this didn’t seem consistent throughout the novel. We are in Anton’s head, seeing the matches and the competition from his perspective, yet I often felt we were at arm’s length.

Perhaps it’s because Anton is always telling us things, rather than seeing them ourselves. There’s one segment where we are introduced to the fact that he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. This seems dropped fairly quickly, and then it’s mentioned in passing that he’s living with this but doesn’t suffer from it anymore. A forgotten thread? Even the romantic element was a bit flat, and I didn’t feel very interested in whether or not it would work out in the end.

As a reader, I was also bothered by the use of real tennis players’ names when there are allegations of steroid use. Up until that point, real tennis players are named in passing, but the top-seeded players/Anton’s rivals are fictitious. The author could have used that formula for the doping allegations, too.

I suspect it generates more ‘controversy’ to use real names, but as a reader I found it gimmicky, and too close to defamation for comfort. I hope this won’t become the norm in contemporary literature.

For me, these two elements kept this novel from being much better than it could have been, but it’s still a quick and enjoyable read.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 18, 2017

Sand, sun, sports (and Roman poets) in Formia

Formia, ItalyI had never been to Formia – in southern Lazio, very close to the border with Campagna – before dropping my son off there for a track and field camp.

The seaside town of about 38 000 people is in a dramatic spot, developed along the sea with Mount Altino rising dramatically just behind it. This position is said to create a favorable climate.

It is also only a few kilometers from the town of Gaeta (see my earlier post), and there are fabulous views over that medieval town from Formia.

Formia, ItalyIn Ancient Roman times it was known as Formiae, and it was an important community along the Via Appia – still an important thorough-way today.

Mecenate, the wealthy patron of the arts in Ancient Roman times had a sumptuous summer villa here, as did the famed Roman poet Cicero.

Formia, ItalyIt was to this villa that Cicero would retire when he was placed on a death warrant over his writing opposing the power in Rome.

Unfortunately, it was in Formia where he would die – at the hands of the soldiers supporting Marc Antony who came for him on 7 December 43 B.C.

Formia, ItalyCicero did not try to defend himself or flee from his attackers.

Legend has it that, before he bent his head, his final words were: “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”

Formia, ItalyCicero was beheaded and his right hand (the hand in which he wrote the criticism of Marc Antony) were cut off and displayed in the Roman Senate. His tomb is just outside Formia.

Anyone who tells me that politics today is more divisive than at any time in the past clearly hasn’t studied his or her history…

In more recent times, the town was also a summer retreat for the Italian royal family, and their former residence has now been turned into the Hotel Miramar.

Formia, ItalyJust across the street from the Hotel Miramar is the Italian Olympic Committee’s (CONI) training center, where my son had the luck to train in track and field for two weeks, and to meet many top Italian and international track and field athletes. The Center dates back to the 1950s, and the campus is beautiful.

Can’t say I’m surprised many international athletes choose to train in this perfect spot, with its sports facilities, its beach, and its warm Mediterranean breezes.

This CONI Campus seems like heaven, and my son certainly agrees.

So don’t miss out on Formia when you’re travelling your way along the Lazio coast.

Formia, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 14, 2017

It’s not nosiness – it’s research

“I’m a gossipy person—I like looking at people and how they get along with one another.”

-Jane Smiley

Love these words by the brilliant novelist Jane Smiley.

And I think this is an important trait for a novelist, after all, they are delving into the inner lives of the characters they create on the page. To do this well, it’s clear they have to take an interest in the lives of others, their innermost thoughts and dreams, their looks, their mannerisms, how they speak and how they interact with others.

When I read authors – such as Smiley – who do this extremely well, I suspect they must be good about ‘eavesdropping’ on the lives of others. Being, well, gossipy and nosy, I suppose.

After all, it’s not nosiness, it’s research. Wouldn’t you agree, writers?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 11, 2017

Not quite ready to say Auf Wiedersehen – Demel at Vienna airport

Vienna Airport DemelThere are so many things to like about Austria’s capital city of Vienna. Many years ago, I lived here for a short time, and now I enjoy getting back for visits.

Perhaps it’s better that I don’t live here, because when I do return I simply can’t resist all the wonderful sweets on offer.

I’ve already written about Vienna cafes, and I always have to squeeze as many as I can into my visits back.

Vienna cafes

The ‘real’ Demel in downtown Vienna

When I was back with my kids, I discovered that one of Vienna’s famed cafes even has a small outlet at the airport. My boys and I were thrilled to stumble upon Vienna airport’s Demel.

When we arrived, they had just finished the last piece of Apfelstrudel, but they told us we could wait for the new strudel arriving straight from the oven.

You bet we waited, and we all enjoyed piping hot strudel and vanilla sauce before our flight back to Rome — proving that it is awfully difficult to say Auf Wiedersehen to Vienna (and its desserts) …

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 7, 2017

All roads lead to Rome – for literature!

If you find yourself in Rome in the next couple of weeks, you may want to take part in the Eternal City’s literature festival – the Festival delle letterature.

This year is the Festival’s 16th edition, running from 20 June through 21 July.

It’s an interesting mix of Italian and foreign authors, and most events bring in actors and musicians.

For more information, you can see the programme here.

So if you’re in Rome in these days, why not take in some of the events of the city’s Literature Festival? Enjoy!

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 4, 2017

Imperial charm in Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, AustriaI adore the postcard-perfect city of Salzburg, in Austria, where I have been numerous times.

But as we were driving back from a summer vacation in Austria and the Czech Republic two summers ago, my husband and I decided to play tour guide to our sons, who had never been to Salzburg before.

Salzburg, AustriaWe only had a few hours, since we were just embarking on the long drive back to Rome, but we were thrilled to stretch our legs and visit this city named as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1997. It is recognized for its wonderfully preserved baroque architecture in its old town.

Not surprisingly  – given its name – Salzburg originally became wealthy thanks to the salt mined in its surrounding region.

Salzburg, AustriaThe barges taking the salt through the Salzach River would have to pay a toll in Salzburg, and the wealth of the town grew rapidly.

The castle that dominates the town was constructed in 1077. We hiked up here and took the our around – although my kids were most certainly “castled” out by that point.

Salzburg, AustriaThe views over the city are wonderful from this vantage point, and shouldn’t be missed when you’re stopping through.

Although, if you experience a hot day like ours, you’ll get a pretty good workout trekking up. Alternatively, a funicular seems to be very popular with the tourist groups.

Salzburg’s most famous son is Amadeus Mozart, and between the statue, the shops with the Mozart candy on display, the names of restaurants and hotels and cafes, you’d be hard-pressed not to realize this on your visit.

Salzburg, AustriaMy children were disappointed not to have time to visit his birthplace, so I owe them that on our next visit.

Mozart was born here in 1756, but as a child prodigy he quickly gained favor with the Court and – after travelling extensively to display his musical talent – transferred to the capital of Vienna in 1767.

And fans of big budget musicals will recognize it as the setting of the film “The Sound of Music”.

Plenty here to amuse all. We were sorry our stop-off was so short, but I definitely look forward to getting back with my kids to Salzburg.

Slazburg, Austria

Luckily, the only Salzburg invasions these days are by tourists and music lovers.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 30, 2017

Book review: The Two-Family House

The Two-Family House coverI devoured Lynda Cohen Loigman’s debut novel, The Two-Family House, this past weekend.

I spent last Saturday on the beach reading about this complicated, large Brooklyn Jewish family in the 1950s. I loved getting into the minds of these well-drawn characters and watching how attitudes and thinking changed along with the changing times.

The main characters are two married couples – brothers Mort and Abe, and their respective wives, Rose and Helen. Two of the children – Judith and Nathalie – are also brought in as narrators, and provide a new perspective to the story.

Mort and Abe work together in the box factory they inherited from their father, and they purchased the home where they now raise their rapidly-growing family. These families include three daughters for Mort and Rose and four sons for Abe and Helen. At the outset, Rose and Helen are as close as sisters as they raise their children in one, close-knit environment.

But a decision taken when the two women are in labor during a blizzard starts to slowly chip away at this idyllic facade and the ties that bind these two women.

This novel does an excellent job of examining the strains this choice places on these two women, their husbands and their children.

The multi-narrator telling of this story is highly effective, and provides us insight into these characters from multiple angles. My one gripe is that the wives may not have been developed enough as characters, and I found myself confusing them more often than not as I switched to their chapters. Nevertheless, this was a beautifully told story, and one that keeps you quickly turning pages.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 27, 2017

Spring/summer mountain biking in Abruzzo

Mountain biking, Ovindoli, AbruzzoIt’s been far too long since I’ve managed to get out to my little mountain escape from the city, in Ovindoli, Abruzzo.

I’ve been dying for a weekend escape mountain biking on this picturesque high plain in the Apennine mountains.

Mountain biking, Ovindoli, AbruzzoI wrote about my last biking trip out here in the autumn.

Although I never meant for it to go so long, work, kids’ sports activities, exam schedules, etc all colluded to keep me away until now, but my kids and I managed to get here for an enjoyable weekend in the mountains.

Mountain biking, Ovindoli, AbruzzoSports events still kept us away longer than I would have liked, and we didn’t even reach the town until after midnight.

The town of Ovindoli is nothing like Rome on a Friday night. We whispered all the way on our walk to our house to not disturb the utter silence. Something we never feel the need to do in the chaos of weekend Rome.

Mountain biking, Ovindoli, AbruzzoSadly, over the weekend, home repairs kept me too involved in more mundane matters, so my kids got to enjoy the trails far more than I did.

But I did get a chance to join them and we enjoyed perfect weather, blue skies, and abundance of wildflowers and (as always) stunning views over the surrounding mountains.

Mountain biking, Ovindoli, AbruzzoWeekends mountain biking in the fresh mountain air never fail to revive me.

The landscape may have changed from the autumn colors I saw on my last visit, but the sense of wellness and peace remains the same.

It was very tough to have to pack up our things and leave once the weekend was through. Already looking forward to the next visit out here for more mountain biking and hiking. Until then, urban walks will have to fill the void …

Mountain biking, Ovindoli, Abruzzo

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 23, 2017

A slice of heaven: mountains and a book

Abruzzo readingJust thinking back to my last weekend. After many of months of kids’ exams, kids’ sports competitions and my own work keeping me away from my preferred weekend getaway in the Apennine mountains of central Italy, I finally (!!!)  managed to escape the city.

The weekend was short, but enjoyable.

Here I am out-of-frame in this photo in happy camper mode.

You can’t see me, but I assure you I have a big smile on my face, as I’m taking a break along our bike ride from one medieval mountain town to another.

My kids are playing with a vortex (for those who follow track and field, this is what kids use to train for the javelin throw when they are younger), and I am happily lost in the pages of my novel, with this dramatic mountain backdrop all around me.

Not a computer, a Smart phone, a tablet or any similar electronic device anywhere in the vicinity. Just my kids, my sore muscles from all the biking, the occasional ‘traffic’ of  sheep passing by, the rustle of the mountain breeze through the wild flowers, and a good book.

In other words, a slice of heaven.

Wish I were back there right now. Happy reading to all – wherever you are …

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | June 20, 2017

My first opera visit in running gear and sneakers – in Oslo

Oslo Opera, NorwayOn a visit to Oslo, Norway, I was a daily visitor to the opera. In theory, this shouldn’t be odd as I love opera and try to go when and wherever I can.

But a busy work schedule meant I didn’t actually have time to ever get to a performance, not even one.

Oslo Opera, NorwayNevertheless, my daily visits were carried out like clockwork: at dawn. I visited the Oslo Opera early each morning to jog over its distinctive ‘flat iceberg’ shape.

For this opera house is known for its distinctive modern design, with its sparkling white Carrara marble plunging dramatically into the Oslofjord … very much like an iceberg.

Oslo Opera, NorwayConstruction on this opera house began in 2003, with a design competition won by the construction firm Snøhetta.

It was completed in 2008. Not surprisingly, the design won the EU’s Prize for Contemporary Architecture.

Oslo Opera, NorwayThe sloping roof is wide and a walk up provides striking views over Oslo. A jog up becomes urban hill training, but I always had time to catch my breath at the top for views over the Scandinavian capital just waking up.

I was told that concerts are sometimes played directly on the roof.

Oslo Opera, NorwayThe marble is topped by an exterior of cool glass, with glimpses inside of warm oak.

It looked very inviting – and I can’t wait to get back (both for morning jogs and evening performances, the latter not in running gear and sneakers, obviously).

If you’re in Oslo, be sure to make it to the opera. For other Oslo tips, see my earlier posts on jogging in Oslo, visiting the Nobel Peace Prize Museum and Oslo’s City Hall.

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