After I finished The Seamstress of Sardinia, which was Book 9 of this year’s series, I went online and searched for other books about this Italian island. That’s how I found Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander. I ordered a used copy, and texted my friend “this better be the most dramatic book I’ve ever read.”

And it is! Which is the problem. It’s too much.

Carmela is a dress maker engaged to the son of the wealthiest man in town. She should be happy right, right? What more could a gal want? A lot, it turns out. To quote Belle, feels like she’s meant for more than this provincial life (or: life on an island trying to figure itself out after WW II).

Even though I didn’t really like the overblown story (and stories around her, since there’s drama all around), it does highlight why I had a problem with A Thousand Days in Venice, Book 15 of this year’s series. You can click on that review but tl;dr some of that author’s descriptions of the locals, and how they were satisfied with their station in life, sounded, well, ignorant. Carmella is seen the same way by British vacationers and American vacationers military personnel, like something to photograph as part of the local scenery.

But again: too much! It’s like Alexanderover salted a dish. It doesn’t mean that the rest of her books are like this. Pam Jenoff’s early works had the same problem, and she got better over time, not necessarily by dialing it back, but becoming more focused. Sometimes less is more, because it makes what is on the page shine brighter.

Now, back to the cover. In addition to screaming “drama!!!!” it looked familiar — or at least the woman on the boat did. When my copy of the book arrived, I figured out why.

In 2017, I took a very long road trip to see the 18 states I hadn’t been to yet, a solo adventure that was one of the more incredible things I’ve done in my life (it’s also where I found my dog, in Idaho, hence her full name of Annie Oakley Tater Tot). I stopped at a Walmart in Colorado to buy more supplies and came across a copy of All By Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark. Here’s the cover.

Egads! I was all on my own and having a wild adventure! So my friend made an edit for me.

It’s the same woman on the cover. They used a stock image, which is common — and fine! But it was fun to see how it was used in two completely different ways.

Whenever I’m taking my Italian lessons, I also think about this lady of mystery on the cover (who I suppose is Carmela, but doesn’t seem anything like the woman in the book). The Italian language does not have the letter “J,” and Italians also don’t generally do one syllable names, which means “Jen” isn’t going to work that well when I’m there. Instead of using an Italian version of Jennifer (I never use Jennifer in real life), I may just pick an entirely different name, and have a dramatic adventure worthy of that photo.

And also: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, which was Book 34 of last year, casts a long shadow over other books about Italy, doesn’t it? I know one book will reference another successful one often (I just wrapped up the first draft of my book proposal, where that’s a requirement), but the almost same titles is just a weeeeee bit too close there.

Nail polish: Sunny Business by Essie.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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