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Book Review: Heal Yourself with Journaling Power by Mari L. McCarthy

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In Mari L. McCarthy’s latest book Heal Yourself with Journaling Power, she outlines the many personal benefits of starting or continuing to journal.  Heal Yourself with Journaling Power offers writers and non-writers a concise overview of how journaling can be used to help resolve all kinds of personal issues through daily journaling.  The book itself serves as a roadmap and call to action for anyone desiring change or left wanting more out of life.  I expect nothing less from the author/creator behind CreateWriteNow.

Mari begins by describing the true power behind journaling:  daily habit.  It did not surprise me that she begins by mentioning morning pages.  The same concept fuels one of my favorite websites:  750words.  Deceptively simple, the humble act of writing daily drives later change.  Once journaling becomes a daily habit, the real work begins.  However, all true healing through journaling hinges on writing consistently.

In the book, Mari provides readers with an outline on how to use this power to heal their own lives.  She includes different aspects of her personal story and anecdotes of others who have had similar experiences to drive her points home.  In addition, she provides readers with journal prompts in each chapter.  As a result, it can easily be viewed as a textbook by anyone wanting to use journaling to fundamentally change his or her life.  Part memoir, part writing manual, and part self-help book, I would recommend Heal Yourself with Journaling Power to anyone remotely interested in self-improvement, journaling, or writing generally.

In fact, a few simple tools will put anyone on the path to healing through journaling.  Personally, I would recommend using 750words or another online journal to get started journaling daily.  Add in the community and resources over at CreateWriteNow along with a copy of Heal Yourself with Journaling Power to keep motivated and moving forward.  I don’t see the need for much else when it comes to journaling, although different prompts are always fun and often provide insight that moves the process along.

As a writer, I found myself largely agreeing with Mari throughout the book.  While I haven’t experienced some of the more dramatic physical changes she attributes to journaling, I have journaled consistently enough during various stages of my life to attest to its power.  I particularly agree with Mari that journaling provides a clarity that is difficult to find anywhere else.  The clarity that comes from journaling consistently can help writers overcome a myriad of obstacles that may be in their way, no matter what they might be.

While I would recommend Heal Yourself with Journaling Power to any writer, non-writers may benefit from it message to a greater degree.  The techniques outlined in the book can be used by anyone to help identify roadblocks and move forward on any goal, dream, or ambition.  Using the journaling process to help organize one’s thoughts and formulate a plan of action may not be obvious to non-writers.  The power of journaling needs to be experienced to fully understand just how lifechanging it can be.

Stay tuned!  Next week I will be interviewing Mari L. McCarthy.

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About the Author, Mari L. McCarthy

Mari L. McCarthy is the Self-Transformation Guide and Founder/Chief Inspiration Officer of CreateWriteNow.com. She is also author of the international-bestselling, award-winning book Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live.

Mari began journaling to relieve the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) over 20 years ago. Through journaling, Mari was able to ditch her prescription drugs and mitigate most of her MS symptoms. Now she teaches people throughout the world how to heal, grow, and transform their lives through the holistic power of therapeutic journaling.

She lives in a gorgeous beachfront home in Boston, where she has the freedom, flexibility, and physical ability to indulge in all her passions, which include singing and recording her own albums.

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Book Review: “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg

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It isn’t every day that I can say a book fundamentally changed the way I view writing and how I write.  Such is the case with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Somehow, I thought I read the book nearly a decade ago.  No. No I didn’t. That became clear when I picked it up recently.  I wish I read it ten years ago! Better late than never, I suppose.

I finished the book several weeks ago at this point, but I couldn’t quite capture the impression it left.  I took my time reading her essays and highlighted (in my Kindle version) what I perceived to be the best writing advice contained in each essay.  That is one feature I love about this book. Her advice is all nice and neatly wrapped up in small essays that make you feel as if you know her. So, how did it change the way I write?

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Well, here are a few changes that I made as a result of her book:

  1.  I finally got journaling right.  Finally.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have had a love/hate relationship with journaling for as long as I can remember.  I love the idea of journaling every day. Better yet is starting a new journal. Add online journals into the mix, and the entire thing is one huge mess.  I collect journals. I hate actually writing in the more beautiful ones at times. Beautiful journals call for beautiful words. No one gets it right the first time.  After a short period of time, I always wanted to start all over again. Repeat.

So, what changed?  Well, I started acknowledging there is a need to get the junk out of the way first.  That is where 750words comes in. By writing daily in this online journal daily – no frills, just the junk that comes to mind – I tend to become much more focused when I write a blog post or in one of my beautiful traditional journals.  I limit what I write in a traditional journal to one short page a day. It is much more focused.

Natalie refers to the “junk” as monkey mind, and that concept deserves its own blog post. The idea is that we all tend to think in circles. We have to write through our wandering thoughts before we can write something meaningful.  She discusses this concept throughout several of her essays.

  1.  Find What Works for You.

This seems so cliche, but she suggests experimenting to find what processes work for you.  No judgement regarding pen versus typing, morning versus evening, and so on. Writers need to write when and where they can.  She provides several wonderful examples of this and how the local atmosphere can seep into writing.

What really made the difference for me was her discussion of what works for her – writing in cheap one subject notebooks until she fills them up.  She goes on to say that the tools truly do not matter. While I knew that wouldn’t work for me, it did get me thinking. It finally hit me. A three-ring binder I could decorate with my favorite writing quotes and fill with tab dividers and loose-leaf notebook paper would work well.  I could plan, write, and revise blog posts without having to worry about destroying bound notebooks. A binder would allow me to reorganize different pieces as I see fit. So far, I love it. I also included some of my favorite blog posts, lists of topics, and writing prompts – anything to keep me writing.

  1.  Don’t Beat Yourself Up.

I would love to write full-time.  The reality is that I substitute teach, spend summers working in the family business, and so much more.  I am trying hard to find time to write everyday, but every once in a while, I don’t. I am learning to just pick up the next day.  I don’t need to stress about it. It is a little thing, but it helps. Creating a simple writing routine helped simplify everything.

I love the fact that she embraces the fact that everyone writes garbage.  We have to work through the garbage to get to the good stuff. Authentic details are everywhere.  Even when not writing, we are still hard at work collecting details, situations, characters, stories, ideas, and so much more.  In fact, that is one reason why I started blogging: I wanted to experiment with and collect different story ideas – to think out loud.

  1.  Write Everywhere and Anywhere.

Write.  Write. Write.  Writers spend so much time avoiding writing.  Plotting, planning, organizing, and even cleaning are all brilliant distractions from the actual writing itself. This is one reason why I head somewhere else when I actually want to get something done.  I can always find something to distract me when I am at home. Natalie goes so far as to offer tips on how to effectively use cafes and coffee shops as places to write. My dream is to have a wonderful coffee shop near my house.  It won’t happen any time soon, but a girl can dream.

Conclusions

Writing Down the Bones may mean different things to different writers, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves to write.  I think there is something in there for everyone. It is a book I will come back to time and time again. Writing Down the Bones already fundamentally changed the way I write.

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“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

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Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.

It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.

Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.

I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!

As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

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Book Review: “The Stage is on Fire” by Katie Steedly

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It isn’t often that a book comes along and grabs you by the jugular.  Katie Steedly’s The Stage is on Fire did just that.  At the same time, I’ve struggled to write this review in the weeks since I finished the book.  I related to and adored the first two-thirds of the book.  The last third left me angry and upset, which I will get to later.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, there are certain people I feel need to read the book, namely girls and women with Turner Syndrome.  Actually, I would recommend it to anyone struggling to find their place in the world.  That said, it is not for everyone.

Let me start with what’s working.  Almost immediately, Katie’s voice struck me as authentic and powerful.  She writes spirituality well, and never gives up on her quest to find her place in the world and create her own definition of home.  In the book, Katie details several moves across the country, her experiences in academia – good and bad, and her experience participating in the study of women and girls with Turner Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.  Turner Syndrome aside, I couldn’t help but relate to Katie throughout the book.

I am still in awe when I think of just how much Katie and I have in common.  We both taught at some point.  We are both writers.  Both of us have moved across country to pursue new opportunities and a new life.  In addition, both of us struggled with the idea of home and family at various times.  I could go on and on.  In the end, this is why I felt so disappointed in the ending.  It seemed to unnecessarily divide people.

There are several things that stood out and continue to stand out in the book.

  1. Her first teaching experience did not end well – hence the title of the book. Oh, I can relate.  In Katie’s case, she took the opportunity to further her education, eventually landing at the University of Texas in Austin.  She did what everyone needs to do when facing failure:  Get back up and try again.  She does this many, many times throughout the book, always seeking something more.
  2. She captures the journey to find our place in the world, peace, and meaning in life beautifully. I may not agree with her completely when it comes to religion, but I can fully relate to her need to explore what religion and spirituality mean to her.
  3. It took incredible courage for her to participate in the National Institute of Health study. It is much more intense and in depth than I ever dreamed.  Her description of what she felt emotionally while having an ultrasound knowing she will likely never experience pregnancy will stay with me.  I only wish I had written it.  Even though I experienced many of those same emotions as a child when I had an ultrasound, I wasn’t mature enough to fully express them at the time.  Now, as an adult, the fact that those feelings have been so beautifully put into words is a true gift.
  4. Did I mention courage? During her time in Austin, Katie decided to walk/jog a marathon.  A marathon.  Prior to this, there is not much mention of any athletics in the book on her part.  She is much more interested in drama, writing, and education.  Yet, she did it.  She accomplished the goal she set for herself, even if it was out of her element.

Oh, and dating.  It is worth mentioning.  Katie is far more adventurous in the dating  world than I will ever be.  At the time, she had yet to meet the right man.  I get the impression that that may have changed.  Her determination to not give up on love is inspirational – and something I desperately needed to read.

There is so much more in the book, but I will leave it for readers to discover.  It is important to note that the book is written as a series of essays.  I believe they are largely in chronological order.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much.  Katie clearly grows throughout the entire book, as does her definition of home.  It may seem to be a small point, but I wish the formatting of the Kindle edition included a full title page between essays.  Instead, they include small titles similar to chapter titles at the very top of the page.  In fact, in writing this review, I had to check my Kindle version to see if each essay included a title at all. Each essay stands alone so beautifully, it is a shame that this feature of the book isn’t more prominently displayed.

Now to discuss what isn’t working.  Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the last third of the book at all.  I almost put it down.  It became far too political for my tastes.  It is one thing to pick up a book on politics, knowing what you are about to read, it is quite another to dive in head first after reading a seemingly different book in the beginning.  I get why she wrote about politics.  It became an important part of her life at that point in time.  I don’t believe it was handled very well.  I left feeling as though she couldn’t even begin to understand anyone who didn’t agree with her politically, which is truly unfortunate.  No one has a monopoly on political truth.  No one.  I wish it had been handled with more care and less judgement.  I get the feeling that Katie would be the last person to think of herself as judgmental, but that is how the political aspect of the book comes across, whether that was her intention or not.

Politics aside, I am happy I read the book.  I am grateful that Katie can connect emotionally with people through her writing.  Her writing is just beginning to teach me how to express what I thought impossible.  For that, I am truly grateful.  I love the fact that I can annotate and highlight my Kindle version of The Stage is on Fire.  I will be coming back to it as I continue to write.  You can find her website and blog here.

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Book Review: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser

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As an avid fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work, I felt I had to read Prairie Fires:  The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.  While it is marketed as a new biography and even won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, it seems to be so much more.  In her work, Caroline Fraser not only takes the time to ground very personal decisions made by Laura and her husband Almanzo into the larger backdrop of American history, she takes it several steps further.  She analyzes decisions made by Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father, and Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter, against their political leanings and larger political climate.

Frankly, if a book looks at least reasonably well-written (not fan-fic) and promises new insight on anything related to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and work, I am likely to pick it up.  However, that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything or there aren’t inherent biases in such work.  As much as I enjoyed Prairie Fires, there is one overarching issue I believe is being overlooked.

Before I get into the issue, which, as with all things controversial relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her work, involves her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, some background is needed.  First, I read this book this past spring.  I enjoyed it, and it just fermented for a while.  I couldn’t quite figure out what bothered me about the presentation of politics throughout the book, until I happened to witness another conversation about the book.

A month or two after I read the book, I happened to be having lunch with some friends from Mid-Michigan Writers when two other women came to have a conversation with my friends.  One woman began gushing over Prairie Fires and stated that she would love to have a political conversation around the book. While I do not know this woman well, her politics proceeded her due to several mutual acquaintances.  I didn’t join in the conversation other than to say that I loved the book; however, it finally came to me why I felt something was off.

For those who don’t know, Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane is one of the founding members of the modern Libertarian party and all that that entails.  In fact, Rose deserves her own blog post or even series of blog posts.  There is that much material.  Early in the 20th century, Rose was the famous Wilder.  The political legacy she left is messy and quite complex.  While my own personal politics lean more towards that of Laura and Almanzo (center-right), particularly when considering fiscal matters, than Rose, I don’t feel that the Caroline Fraser understood any of the politics completely.  Caroline Fraser seemed to analyze the political tendencies of the Ingalls and Wilder families through a modern liberal lens.

The most glaring example of this bias for me comes when Fraser implies that Laura is perhaps a hypocrite for serving on a local farm loan board near her home in Mansfield, Missouri while not supporting the sweeping federal farm loan programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Actually, I completely get it.  Laura and Almanzo favored local control of government.  I do as well.  The implication and omission of this distinction stood out to me.

If Fraser didn’t understand the politics of Laura and Almanzo, she didn’t know what to make of Rose Wilder Lane.  In all fairness, I don’t if anyone will ever completely understand her life.  In her life, Lane goes from supporting elements of communism and fascism to standing up for the founding principles of the United States of America.  She did all of this, of course, while helping her mother complete her famous series of children’s books.

Perhaps we will never know where Rose’s influence began and ended when it comes to the Little House books.  It is an enduring debate surrounding the series.  Fraser comes right out and describes the mother and daughter writing relationship as “incestuous.”  I came to a stop for a minute at that description, silently accusing Fraser of sensationalism.  Then I thought about it.  As I stated earlier, there is no way to know precisely what role Rose played in the series.  While I do not believe that Rose largely wrote the books, I do believe that the books would not exist in their current form without her influence.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book.  Political bias aside, Caroline Fraser extensively researched her material.  Prior to reading Prairie Fires, I found Rose Wilder Lane to be a fascinating character.  After reading the book, I left even more intrigued.  As a fiscal conservative with libertarian tendencies, I can relate to some of Lane’s political ideas.  I love the fact that she promoted individualism, personal liberty, and self-determination.  Those ideas still hold value and are needed today more than ever in the face of increasing collectivism.  Can individualism and self-determination be taken too far?  Absolutely, and so can collectivism.  We need a balance.

By the way, I find talk surrounding the book to be politically divisive.  You can read a Slate review here (the reviewer really doesn’t get the politics).  In the book, Lane’s political activism is compared with the other two “mothers” of the libertarian movement:  Ayn Rand and Isabel Paterson.  You can read more about them here.  If you are interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder, American history, or politics at all, Prairie Fires is a must-read.

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Book Review: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

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I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis per my sister’s recommendation.  Actually, it all started with the meme above.  I then found out that my sister loved the book.  Of course, it immediately moved to the top of my to be read pile.  I love the fact that I belong to a family that shares and recommends books!

Here are a few gems from the book and my thoughts. There are many more I could share here, but I will leave you to discover them yourself.  I highly recommend the Kindle version of the book as it allows the reader to highlight important passages without defacing a physical book.

Sometimes choosing to walk away, even if it means breaking your own heart, can be the greatest act of self-love you have access to. – Page 53.

This just seems to sum up the process I put myself through this summer.  The sad part is that I should have definitively learned this lesson years ago.  I wish everyone, women and men, knew this before heading off to college – or shortly thereafter.  It ultimately would have saved me so much time and heartache.

I knew I was letting my fear control me, that the worry about giving my heart away again only to have it stomped on kept me from taking a next step.  In the midst of such heartache, it’s hard not to worry.  I cried so many tears, thinking, Lord, why would you put this desire on my heart if it wasn’t ever going to come true?  And, God, if we try again, you’re not actually sending my heart out to be slaughtered, right? – Page 108.

Oh, have I been there!  More than once.  There are times when I still wonder how I will ever be able to trust again.  It is not easy to pick ourselves up and try again.  Yet, we must.

I want you to see someone who kept showing up again and again, even when it was tearing her apart.  I want you to see someone who kept walking in faith because she understood that God’s plan for her life was magnificent – even if it was never easy.  And even if it wasn’t easy, she was bold and courageous and honest even when the truth was hard to share. – Page 173

I admit, lately I have struggled to have faith that God does indeed have a plan for my life.  I am currently slogging through it all to figure out exactly what that plan is.  If I am meant to have a family of my own, why haven’t I been able to make it work yet?  Why is that the big unnegotiable of my life if, indeed, it is impossible?  I ask myself questions similar to this all the time.  Ultimately, it is not my timing, but God’s.  It will eventually work out.  Until then, I just need to be patient and keep working.  It will never be easy.

As you can see, I loved the book.  It is a great example of a book that came into my life at the exact time I needed to read it.  I happened to read it just as I was struggling with these questions.  While I would recommend the book to every young woman I know, it doesn’t mean I think the book is perfect.

If fact, in one sense, the book left me feeling unsettled.  It is a feeling I get whenever I get too involved in anything related to religion.  What no one seems to address in organized religion – and Rachel seems to unintentionally fall into this – is that not all women will end up married and become mothers.  Singles in the church, particularly those no longer in their twenties, seem to get left behind.  Whether explicit or implicit, the focus always seems to be on marriage and family.

While I think Rachel was right to spend much of her book focused on marriage and motherhood – after all, this book shares her life experiences – she doesn’t address what happens if you do end up alone.  She doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the possibility even though she goes out of the way to address situations not her own.  This may not be true, but it appears she assumes everyone will end up married and a mother.  A simple acknowledgement would have served the book well.  Then again, maybe I am reading way too much into this and too sensitive.  It doesn’t matter.  The book itself is great, and I highly recommend it.

By the way, I love how she addresses adoption in this book.  I am so glad I read this book before I started the adoption process.  Her family’s story related to foster care and adoption is not an easy one, but it does have a wonderful outcome.  In the end, that is all that matters.

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JoJo Moyes: “Me Before You” Trilogy

I’ve read so many wonderful books over the last few months.  They helped me get through this endless Michigan winter.  Recently, over spring break, I finally read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, as well as the other books in the trilogy, After You and Still Me.  I don’t normally read romance, but there is something about these books I truly love.  They will stay with me for quite some time.

It is not my intention to review the books individually here (which I may do later), but simply discuss the series itself, and specifically, its protagonist Louisa.  I will try not to give anything away.  I would recommend all three books to anyone who enjoys an entertaining story.

First, a little background is needed.  I heard the title Me Before You thrown around for years before I actually read the book.  I had no idea up until a week or so before diving in that it was the first book in a trilogy.  Shortly before spring break, I read a review of Still Me.  The reviewer enjoyed the books enough to convince me I needed to read all three books.  More on that review later.

Where do I begin with Louisa?  First, throughout the entire series, she reminded me of Bridget Jones, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.  Indeed, I view Louisa as a more mature, more capable Bridget.  This comparison led me to view Louisa as older than she is intended to be in the series.  Somehow, I began to view Louisa as in her early thirties and Bridget in her late twenties.  Really, it is the other way around.  There is a difference.

In general, Louisa seems to have a deeper relationship with her family than Bridget has with hers.  I could relate to Louisa’s relationships with her parents and sister, not to mention her grandfather, more easily than Bridget’s.  I am not quite sure why.  It may simply be that those familial relationships of Louisa’s were more fully developed.

Another reviewer (the one mentioned above) felt that while he enjoyed the series, Louisa kept dealing with the same issues and didn’t appear to learn anything.  I take exception to this.  I don’t agree.  While I don’t believe Louisa grew or changed as much throughout the novel as others (the end of the trilogy not withstanding), she eventually gets it right.  In short, there is a learning curve.  Considering the fact Louisa experiences several deeply emotional and dramatic changes in her life, both personal and professional, she needs time to process all that has happened in her life.  Most of those changes are outside of her control, even as she tries so hard to exert it.

That fact and Louisa’s history throughout the trilogy endears her to me.  In fact, on a certain level, I can relate.  Hopefully my life will one day come together as well.  Unfortunately, I am not quite there yet.

While I didn’t enjoy the sequels to Bridget Jones’ Diary, I did enjoy the entire Me Before You trilogy.  I like to think that Bridget and Louisa would become fast friends in London, even if they travel in different circles.  I would recommend the Me Before You trilogy to anyone who loves to read, even readers who normally shy away from romance.  It is one series that rewards readers for staying to the very end.