Category Archives: Life

On Life, Romance, and New Projects

Hey everyone.

I know. It’s been a long, LONG time since you last heard from me. I’m not even sure if anyone’s still here to read this post. If you are, thanks for not unfollowing two years ago when I suddenly dropped off the face of the earth and left without much of an explanation.

So. You’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half. And while the answer is far from simple (part of it comes down to the fact that I’ve been raising two awesome boys who are now 4 and 2), it can be boiled down to this:

I’VE BEEN WRITING.

I finally gave writing a serious try, and now, almost four novels (and some 300k words) later, I’m finally getting ready to self-publish my first paranormal romance in January 2019. You can add TRUST THE WOLF to Goodreads now! It doesn’t have a cover yet but the blurb is there.

The reason I’ve been quiet here and on all my social media accounts is that I’ve created a whole new pen name – and all the things that come with it (I even have Facebook now!). Writing and maintaining a presence online takes a surprising amount of time, and though I’m still reading tons of books (duh), blogging had to be pushed aside to make room for what has now become my favorite hobby/work ever.

If you’re still here, reading this, I’d like to invite you over to my website, where you can meet me – Zoe Ashwood – and maybe follow me on your preferred platform, and possibly give my books a try when they’re out in the world. And if you’re a romance reviewer, I’d be happy to send you an ARC if you’d like.

This site has been a wonderful, wonderful place where I met hundreds of interesting people – you were amazing. You made me understand that I wasn’t weird for sometimes preferring books to people, and I’m certain that without being part of the bookish community through my blog, I never would have gone on to write my first novel. So for that, I thank you. Thank you for all the book recommendations, comments, and general kindness. I’ll miss this place, and I hope you’ll say hi over at Zoe’s.

The site is HERE.

Lots of love,

Kaja/Zoe

Movie Review: Me Before You

me-before-youMe Before You (2016) – based on the novel by Jojo Moyes. Starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

IMDb. Movie page. Book (Goodreads). Book (my review).

 

In case you’ve missed it, I recently read and reviewed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, which I’d wanted to read for a while but never got around to it. Then I saw the trailer for this movie and decided that if Sam Claflin wasn’t enough to make me finally commit to the book, nothing would work. And I read it and liked it a lot.

Now, this movie review will contain SERIOUS SPOILERS for both the book and the movie (really, discussing one without the other is kind of weird at this point), so please be warned. If you want to read and/or watch these without being spoiled for anything, you should really stop reading right about now. Sorry.

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As I said, I really liked the book. It was heartfelt and powerful without being sentimental, judgemental, or any other -mental you can imagine. It dealt with a very serious topic, that of Will’s decision to end his life after an accident has left him paralyzed from the neck down, in a very down-to-earth way.

But I can see how people could disagree with the general idea of the book. It’s a book that allows a suffering man a choice to end his life on his own terms. While I agree that choices should be left to individuals, I understand why this would upset people, especially if you’re religious and believe ending your life (in any circumstances) is a grave sin. I have no such reservations about this topic – and yet the portrayal of this issue in the movie left me feeling very unsatisfied.

Movie Will (as we shall call him) is very different from Book Will. Book Will suffers a lot. Constantly. His life is a series of humiliations, pain, and diseases that very nearly kill him each time. He is depressed, hurt, and very sure he wants to die. Movie Will, however, is a gorgeous young man who just happens to be immobilized and is bemoaning the loss of his playboy days. The reasons given for Book Will’s decisions held much more weight than the reasons Movie Will gave: he mentioned not wanting to get used to this new life. Look, I can’t judge anyone for making a decision either way, I have no idea what it’s like to be in a similar situation, and thank the gods for that, but the difference between the book and the movie is profound in this regard.

And I know it’s hard to transfer a 500-page book into a 2-hour movie but I really missed Lou’s narration. She thought a lot about Will’s decision, she followed news concerning two other cases where two invalids decided to end their lives in a similar manner, along with the media shitstorm that followed. The topic is serious, as serious as it gets, really, and it’s sad to see it reduced to this whimsical option of nearly romantic escape. 

What seems interesting is that it was Jojo Moyes herself who wrote the screenplay! I wonder what made her change her opinion – or viewpoint, rather – from the book to the movie. Was it the criticism of the book? The pressure of the filmmaking company? A wish to make the story more appealing to a wider audience (though the book itself was a bestseller already)? I wish I knew.

There’s still the issue of Lou’s transformation. I mentioned it in my review but I think it was even more explicitly stated in the movie – she says something like “I changed everything about myself for you and I’m still not enough.” This, combined with Will’s superior manner, chafed a bit.

I was impressed by Claflin’s performance, though I imagined Will to be rougher around the edges – but the poor man can’t help being gorgeous, now can he? :) I was less satisfied with Clarke, who, though undeniably one of the most beautiful actresses of this generation, seemed too sentimental and even pathetically emotional at times. Her acting was okay for the most part, she captured Lou’s essence admirably, but when it came down to the really hard scenes that were supposed to make my heart bleed, I could only sigh.

The movie itself is a thing of beauty, though. I’m sure the filming location will be mobbed by hordes of fans for years (I wouldn’t mind visiting it myself). I lack the expertise and the correct words to describe what, exactly, I liked so much, but the movie was bright, shiny, and colorful. I’m not sorry I went to see it, even my husband liked it, but I wish it was truer to the original story.

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Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

Have you ever found a movie to be better than the book?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Summer by the Sea

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Today, I wanted to share a non-bookish glimpse into my life with you. If you’re following me on Instagram, you may have seen some of these already – but they are all nicely collected here.

We spent a week in Fažana, which is a small coastal town in Istria, a Croatian peninsula not far from Slovenian border. We visited other places up and down Istrian coast in previous years and we decided to book a place in this auto camp because it had nice, new mobile homes (they’re like tiny apartment houses with a verandah out front). My husband and I are very fond of camping (in a tent) but since I’m seven months pregnant, I really had no desire to sleep on the floor and to have to walk to communal bathrooms twice a night with a headlamp.

jellyfish-pula

The week began with some poor weather, so we took a trip to Pula, which is the largest town of the region (very pretty in its own right, we’ve often visited). But we needed a good entertainment option for Kiddo, so we picked the aquarium. I had no idea it was this large and well-appointed! It also has a sea turtle rescue center where they keep injured sea turtles (the big ones!) until they’re well enough to be released back into the sea.

Kiddo was very, very happy with this choice – especially since we’d just watched Finding Nemo yet again and we found a special tropical tank with Dory, Nemo, and several other fish from the movie. We also saw sharks, which were fascinating to him. For me, the best display was a lit-up tank of jellyfish, which I would be terrified of meeting out in the open sea, but they look so beautiful like this.

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We had a very nice lunch at the Fažana marina, where we could watch boats coming and going and some gulls looking for fish. The weather was so hot it was actually a bit tiring for me – pregnancy and heatwaves don’t mix well. But I spent the afternoon in the shade, which was nice. My husband is the best, he takes really good care of me and our kid.

sunset-fazana

The last evening, I took some time to walk along the beach, listening to an audiobook while A. put Kiddo to bed (we alternate nights). It was still hot but not unbearably so and the sky was cloudless, so it was easy to take a series of slightly clichéd photos of the sunset. :)

Kiddo then stayed on for another week of the holidays with his grandparents (my mom and dad) while we returned home to get some free time. As I’m writing this, he’s still there and I miss him so much already but I’m also looking forward to sleeping in and having some time to really dig into my work.

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Are you planning on visiting the beach this year? Does this mean the sea or a lake for you?

What are your favourite ways to relax during the summer?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Gone to the Movies: The Breakfast Club

gone-to-the-movies

Gone to the Movies is a monthly occasional feature that I do with Becky from A Fool’s Ingenuity. We decided to watch some old favourite romance movies (and some we’ve never seen before) together – and talk about them a bit, kind of like we would with books. You can also check out our previous chat on Romancing the Stone and When Harry Met Sally!

The movie we picked for this issue is The Breakfast Club(IMDb) We picked it because it’s a classic, though not exactly a romance – and because I hadn’t seen it before! It’s also extremely comforting to say that this movie is older than I am. :)

Don’t forget to check out Becky’s post right hereI believe she has seen it before so you’ll get a different perspective for sure.

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I liked The Breakfast Club a lot. It’s a very 80s movie, that goes without saying, and probably wouldn’t work as a blockbuster in the 21st century but I definitely see its claim to popularity. I liked the dynamics of this high school scene, it was very well done, I thought. The introduction of that horrible teacher as the authority figure that unified an otherwise incompatible group of teenagers was really good.

I have to say, though, that this kind of social segregation isn’t familiar to me. I always watch these American high school movies with some bemusement (the same goes for books) because our high schools are run in a very different manner. Of course, there are differences and cliques and all, they’re just more accidental than thematic.

Let me explain: here, you have the jock, the geek, and the beauty queen, for example. The queen would be a cheerleader these days (I don’t remember if she was actually a cheerleader then?). And it’s their extra-curricular activities that determine who they hang out with, right? Who they sit with at lunch?

In Slovenian high schools, the first thing you have is a class that stays together for the entire school day. Apart from separating girls and boys for PE classes, the entire class has the same exact schedule. So there’s no “Hey, aren’t we in English together?” going on. And if people do sports or learn other languages or belong to drama clubs, they do that in their private time after school and these activities are conducted at private establishments/clubs/whatever. So it’s very unlikely, actually, that you’d be in a football team with people from your school.

There’s usually no cafeteria, either – most people go to a nearby supermarket or sandwich shop for their snacks, and people eat lunch at home after school. So there’s no fretting over sitting positions, either. :)

Also, we don’t go to schools according to whichever is closest (we do for primary school): I picked a school in the centre of Ljubljana even though there were at least 7 high schools closer to my home. We pick them according to our grades and our interests (my high school was very, very good + offered great language courses and I went there because I had very good grades). A lot of people commuted from all over Slovenia to get there or they stayed in student housing during the week.

So what I’m trying to say is that you pick who you hang out with at school based on different criteria. My group of friends included my two closest friends from primary school (but we didn’t go to the same classes) + people with, say, a similar taste in music, some people from another school from the other side of the town and even some younger folks. I’m not even sure what kept us together.

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So this detention (oh, right, there’s no detention of this kind, either!) scene is somewhat weird for me. I mean, I’ve seen them in other American high school books/movies, it’s just not something I ever went through as a teenager.

I liked how the characters’ personalities clashed and how they explored their reasons for being the way they are. How their prejudices worked against them, how they would never have even talked if it wasn’t for this Saturday of mandatory boredom.

What I didn’t like (but is probably normal considering the movie is 30 years old) is the fact that the pathological liar receives a beauty makeover and is instantly made attractive to the jock. *sigh* I also thought the plaid-shirt-wearing asshole (sorry, I’m terrible with names) was too extreme at times – I would have punched him on his crooked nose long before he had the chance to say any of those things to me. But hey, what do I know of teenage dynamics in the 80s, right?

It was a good movie to watch, I’m glad I finally decided to see it. It has definite re-watch potential, too – more on which you can find in Becky’s post, so don’t hesitate to head over there for a different point of view! :)

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Have you seen The Breakfast Club? Do you consider it a classic, too? 

What was your high school experience like? 

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Spring & Sea

Piran, Slovenia by Of Dragons and Hearts.This weekend, we finally got to see some sun after two weeks of almost non-stop rain and snow (not the cool kind of snow that you can play on with kids, but the wet, soggy kind that makes you want to stay in). I’m all for quiet afternoons spent with a book but having a kid means you have to find some activity or they get bored out of their minds. A bored toddler = an annoyed toddler (fact).

piran2We drove out to the seaside, to Piran, which is one of the several small towns that dot the Slovenian coast. We only have some 47km of coast right at the top of the Adriatic sea (between the Italian Gulf of Trieste and the Croatian Istria) and I think it’s both quite pretty and quite underrated.

piran5The day was windy and sunny – the best kind of a spring day. Some of the fruit trees (apricots, probably) were already in bloom and there were seagulls and splashing waves and Kiddo had a great time making “woosh” sounds at the waves.

piran3We also visited the small but interesting aquarium – A. came up with the idea after we watched Finding Nemo with Kiddo and he loved it. We’ve seen it about 3 times now (in smaller sections, we don’t let him watch tv for an hour and a half) and he keeps saying “biba” (“riba” is “fish” in Slovenian). So we went to see the fish and he was so happy. He kept returning to one tank with a really large fish and yelling his version of “Hello, fish!” at it. I’d love for him to see a really big aquarium, so we’ll be looking into that if/when we travel.

piran4We’ll definitively be returning to the seaside more often in the spring, it’s just an hour’s drive away but it makes such a difference from the gray, wintery Ljubljana.

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Do you ever go on day trips?

What are your favourite destinations?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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Gone to the Movies: When Harry Met Sally

gone-to-the-movies

Gone to the Movies is a monthly feature that I do with Becky from A Fool’s Ingenuity. We decided to watch some old favourite romance movies (and some we’ve never seen before) together – and talk about them a bit, kind of like we would with books. You can also check out our previous chat on Romancing the Stone!

For February, we chose another great movie, When Harry Met Sallyfeaturing Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. And let me tell you, there is some epic 1980s goodness here (the clothes! the hair!).

harry-sallyFirst of all, Meg Ryan is gorgeous. She’s one of my favourite actresses and Becky and I will probably watch another of her movies sometime soon. She plays Sally to perfection, she’s this control freak with emotional issues but she’s incredibly sweet and a great friend and probably one of the most loveable characters ever. And I absolutely love the fact that she’s always critical of Harry, she tells him he’s abominable and she doesn’t want to settle for anything less than love.

I have to say that Billy Crystal isn’t your typical romance hero. His character, Harry, is even less of one – he’s a cynic and his divorce makes him the worst person ever. But their romance is somehow not just completely believable but the nicest possible thing you can imagine.

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There’s this big issue in the story (and I don’t think it counts as a spoiler because it’s first mentioned like five minutes into the movie): Harry claims that men and women can’t be friends without sex getting in the way. And I want to shout balderdash or nonsense or something similar, but the fact is that I haven’t retained a single male friend that I meet up with on my own (as in, not on a double date with our significant others or something).

I had lots of male friends at University, even after I started seriously dating my husband (then boyfriend, we’ve been together since the end of our first year at Uni), but somehow we drifted apart or they got girlfriends that I didn’t necessarily get along with – or they didn’t get along with me, or they moved away or whatever. And that makes me sad. And I think that if I made a new male friend right now, I wouldn’t be able to… I don’t know, go out for drinks alone without somehow feeling

And I think that if I made a new male friend right now, I wouldn’t be able to… I don’t know, go out for drinks alone without somehow feeling guilty, even if wasn’t remotely attracted to him – because we’ve been told so many times that this just isn’t done. Or that he will certainly misconstrue my intentions – or I his. Or that people will think we’re together. And this makes me so angry! Why should we miss out on half the population just because their genitalia look different from ours? Okay, this got way out of hand but I’m conflicted on this subject. Back to the topic! :)

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I can’t even find a bad thing to say about this movie. And you know me, I always find bad things to say, I feel like I need to balance out my gushing (except when it comes to Rainbow Rowell. Then all bets are off.). But When Harry Met Sally made me relive the first time I watched this movie (with my parents, when I was probably waaaay too young to fully appreciate the iconic diner orgasm scene) and the dialogues are funny and real, and it made my insides clench in that perfect way that only the best-written romances doThis is SO RARE, people!

So I urge you to re-watch this if you haven’t seen it in a while, because yes, it’s as good as you remember. And if you haven’t seen it yet, please do, it’ll make for a perfectly entertaining night when you just need something nice.

Check out Becky’s post and join us in March when we’ll be writing about The English Patient – and don’t forget to bring tissues! :)

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Have you seen When Harry Met Sally? Is it a favourite of yours, too? 

Do you have any similar recs for me?

Do YOU think that men and women can be friends without sex getting in the way?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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