Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Travelogue: Taking the Oregon Trail to Olympic National Park...and beyond

Just returned last Friday from a two-week journey from Colorado to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

Boulder to Brigham City, UT - I-25 to the 287 cutoff west of Fort Collins meant we didn't make it up to Fort Laramie, one of the rest/refuel stops on the Oregon Trail so I had to be content with following the contour of the trail as it arced up to Casper, WY and then dropped down to cross the continental divide at South Pass. We crossed the Divide ourselves after Rawlins (where we ate lunch in pretty Washington Park) and before Rock Springs.  We hooked up with the trail at Ft Bridger, and then left it to stop over at Brigham City (north of Salt Lake) where we spent a glorious morning at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and a glorious afternoon at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met on May 10, 1869. We talked to an awesome ranger there who told so many entertaining historic stories.

Brigham City to Boise, ID - A short drive to Boise took us along the Snake River, which the trail followed closely.  We had a wonderful stop at Glenn's Ferry (Three Island Crossing), where thousands of pioneers attempted to cross the Snake, and some made it. We got to Boise with plenty of time to visit the World Center for Birds of Prey, which has a successful condor breeding program, helping to bring condors and other endangered birds back from the brink of extinction.

Boise has loads of charm - We stayed at the Modern, which is a revamped 1950's era motel, and felt hip and healthy (one of the very best hotel breakfasts ever!).  We enjoyed walking around the downtown area, watching lots of people catching Pokemons.

Boise to Hood River, OR - Mostly followed the trail, and had a great stop in Baker City, OR where we visited the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center and bought way too many books.   Lunch in Pendleton at the Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Company, which is a favorite stop on our frequent treks to WA.  Then, we hit the Columbia--what a gorgeous river.  By the time we checked in at our river view room at the Vagabond Lodge, we didn't want to leave so we just hung out, watching the river slowly fade to darkness (it gets dark late up here in the summer!).

Hood River to Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park - Hood River was also a charming little town and we explored it a bit before heading down river, only to get sidetracked at the Bradford Island Visitor Center, just west of Cascade Locks on the river.  They have underwater viewing of the fish that migrate upstream, lots of info on locks and dams and other nerdtastic stuff.  After leaving the trail at Portland, we headed directly to the coast and had lunch at the Buoy Bar in Astoria, before heading up to Lake Quinault, our first stop on the Olympic Peninsula.

Lake Quinault - Absolutely gorgeous.  Two days of hiking through temperate rainforests with enormous trees that were shaggy with moss.  Stayed at the Lake Quinault Lodge--love the national park lodges, and this one had tons of charm and personality (i.e., almost non-existent wifi, tiny bathrooms, windows that don't want to open, but lovely and old and mellow).

La Push  - Moved on to stay oceanside in the fishing village of La Push, which is part of the Quieleute (pronounced Quil-lay-ute) reservation.  Hiked on the beaches, which were rocky, saw at least a dozen bald eagles, and lived without wifi!  Visited the Hoh rainforest and the Sol Duc falls, both of which were magnificent.  Drove up to the Makah reservation in the nw corner of the peninsula, and walked out to Cape Flattery, the most nw point of the contiguous 48 states.  Spotted a river otter grooming on a rock, more bald eagles, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, cormorants, and a murder of crows and a conspiracy of ravens!

Port Angles - Three nights here, with hikes up Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park, and whale watching in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The captain of the Puget Sound Express (out of charming Port Townsend) heard we were birders (or twitchers as our UK friends call us) and he swung by Discovery Island so that we could see puffins!  For dinner, let me recommend the Next Door GastroPub - a fun place, with outside dining, great service, and outstanding, upscale pub grub.  We went there twice!

Heading home - we stopped in Tacoma, one of our favorite towns, and where our oldest went to college for a wonderful stay at the awesome Silver Cloud Inn.  We did a pass through Point Defiance Park, with a walk through the bloomless rhododendron garden, and then we did more walking along the shore of lovely Commencement Bay.  We spent the night in Boise again, and retraced the Oregon Trail back to Fort Bridger, stopping this time in Park City instead of Brigham City.  I wasn't thrilled with Park City--I think Colorado does the mining town to ski resort thing better than Utah, but then I am prejudiced and probably ready to be home!

Loved, loved, loved our trip.

Happy trails to you!

Monday, July 25, 2016


I just returned from a wonderful road trip from Colorado to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, traveling through WY, UT, ID, and OR along the way.  Enroute we listened to most of Centennial, by James Michener, having started it on a road trip in May.  It did take two road trips because it's a long book, over a 1000 pages in the mass market paperback version I have on my shelf.

It was first published in 1974, anticipating the 100th anniversary of Colorado's statehood and the 200th anniversary of the USA's nationhood in 1976.  It is dated, with some quaint bits explaining how cassette players work in cars and the use of the term Chicano, which I haven't really heard much in about 20 years.

Centennial is a framed story, which I wasn't expecting.  The idea is that the first-person narrator is a historian, hired by a magazine to vet the research done by its staff on an article series on the Platte River, and its role in the shaping of Colorado.  The historian visits the fictional town of Centennial, which was located north of Greeley and east of Fort Collins, on the Colorado prairie, and sends back chapters that tell the story of Centennial, in his own words and based on his own research. It's a cute premise, and one that reflects what I know about how Michener set about writing his own massive novels--a team of researchers who put together the material that he drew from to create his own narrative.

As with most Michener works, Centennial begins with the formation of the earth and we get stories about the dinosaurs, prehistoric horses, bison, beavers, snakes, and eagles, all before Michener gets around to the human inhabitants of the land we know as Colorado.  Then, he describes the various tribes of Native Americans, focusing in on "Our People," the Arapaho, who lived in the part of Colorado where I live.  I loved hearing about Lame Beaver and his wife Blue Leaf and their daughter, Clay Basket, who married the two trappers who ventured into Arapaho lands to hunt and trade.  As a native Coloradan, I know the geography well that Michener describes, even though he changed many place names.

The rest of the story, from the trapper days to the present, was structured around real events and real people that Michener renamed and reformed to suit his story arcs.  For example, he moved the Sand Creek Massacre from southern Colorado to the northeastern plains.  Once I stopped protesting and accepted the fact that Centennial was pure fiction inspired by history, I enjoyed it.  My favorite character was Ellie Zendt, Levi's first wife, followed closely by Charlotte Lloyd, the British heiress who fell in love with the Colorado prairie and found Bristol boring by comparison!

Believe it or not, I've never actually watched all of the TV series (one of the first mini-series to come out), so I will be embarking on that project tonight.  But taking it slowly.  I know that the production values are as dated as Michener's narrative, but it is a veritable cast of 1970's stars, which should be loads of fun to see again).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates, is a fictionalized account of the short, sad, weird life of Marilyn Monroe, that is, Norma Jean Baker.  It was my first novel by JCO, and while at times I thought it brilliant, I was so relieved when I finally finished it. It was a long 700 pages.

There is no doubt that Norma Jean was enormously talented, as well exploited, abused, intimidated, and victimized.  Most of the story was painful to read, and while JCO managed her themes adroitly, I couldn't help feeling that the novelist was just one more person exploiting Norma Jean.

I did spend a lot of time on my iPad looking up images of the various people who played a part in Norma Jean's life--JCO usually used initials or nicknames or labels, such as the Playwright for Arthur Miller, and the Ex-Athlete for Joe DiMaggio, which I found a bit irritating and not a little coy.  I am inspired to watch some of her movies, particularly Some Like It Hot, which I have never seen, Bus Stop, which I caught on a Saturday afternoon matinee when I was about ten and was mesmerized, and The Misfits, which was her last completed movie. But, time, being in chronically short supply, I probably won't!

I definitely had mixed feelings about this book--I admired the writing and the storytelling, but I found it sad and tedious and was happy to close the book and swap it on paperbackswap.com for something a bit more positive to read.

This is the first book completed in the Big Book Summer Challenge, and another book to check off my TBR Pile Challenge list.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wilde Lake

I read Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman with the GoodReads TuesBookTalk ReadAlongs group.  The only other Lippman novel that I'd read was The Girl in the Green Raincoat, which was the 11th in the author's Tess Monaghan series) and so I really didn't know what to expect as this one was not part of a series.

I hadn't read any reviews of Wilde Lake so the first thing I noticed was the connection to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  At times Wilde Lake really reminded me of the Austen fanfic I used to read (and write)--the names were altered a bit and the setting modernized, but the characters, their relationships, and basic story arc was all there ready to be tweaked and poked and prodded in the process of exploring the themes that the characters and their story set out.

Lu Brant is Scout--and she tells her story both in the present and remembering when she was a child, mainly a nine-year old when her older brother, AJ, broke his arm.  We learn in flash backs the circumstances that led to the breaking of the arm.  We learn about Lu's and AJ's friendship with the precocious neighbor boy, Neil (i.e., Dill/Truman Capote), and the charges brought against AJ's friend Davey Robinson, an African American accused of a raping a white girl.  Lu is a newly elected state's attorney, following in the footsteps of revered father. The family, of course, has a devoted housekeeper, and Lu even has a chifferobe!

Honestly, I think I would have liked the book better if it wasn't a riff on TKaMB.  I read an interview with Lippman:
How did the idea for this book come to you?Well, it’s a little bit of a convoluted story. It began when the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow story surfaced again. I read a lot, and I thought a lot about it. The conclusion I came to is that as an individual, I was going to believe people who said they were sexually assaulted. I just decided for my own humanity that I would start always at a place of saying, 'Yes, the victim is telling the truth' . . . But then I thought, if you really embrace this idea, how do you deal with the story told in To Kill A Mockingbird? Big disclaimer: I don’t think Tom Robinson is a rapist. He’s clearly innocent. But, I thought, what if you thought of it differently, but not in the pre-Civil Rights era? And where would this story be most interesting? It’s about an African-American man who is handsome and is generally seen as a good person. He is accused of raping a young woman who’s seen from being from the other side of the tracks, not as being a particularly well-thought-of member of society . . . I thought about the era in which I grew up, and the place I went to high school, and I began thinking, 'This is a story that really fits Columbia in the 1970s.' I took that and I ran with it...It was probably between April and May of 2014 when I started writing this book, and I can usually write a book in about 11 months. 
That's all well and good, but I have to wonder if the discovery of Lee's Go Set a Watchman and the resultant controversy that was bubbling in 2014 before the book was published in 2015 wasn't wasn't also a factor in the development of the story.  Without being too cynical, I have to wonder whether Lippman didn't think that perhaps she could provide a sequel to TKaMB too, because that's essentially what Wilde Lake is.

As a mystery it was okay--and I never really liked any of the characters and didn't feel invested in their story.  In a way, it seemed as if Lippman was intent on showing that all good, heroic people have a dark underbelly.  Maybe I just resented the characters I loved in TKaMB being treated so disrespectfully.  Sort of the way I felt when Kevin Sullivan trashed Anne and Gilbert in his final Anne of Green Gables movie.

The best thing about Wilde Lake was the nostalgia I felt for the flashbacks to the 70's.  I started junior high in the fall of 1970 and graduated from college in the spring of 1980, so I definitely enjoyed the trip down memory lane when Lu was remembering the time when she was a child and AJ was a teenager.  I also enjoyed learning about the planned community of Wilde Lake, which is a real place in Columbia, Maryland. That bit of social history was interesting, and I think a novel set in the time/place is a great premise.  But the TKaMB foundation undermined the whole book for me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph - Tuesday Intros: Blonde

Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph - Tuesday Intros, a meme that I like but that I don't often do.  I've been reading long books lately, so not too many opportunities to blog about finished books these days, so I thought I would share the intro to the book currently consuming my reading time.

I'm reading Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates, a fictionalized account of the life of Marilyn Monroe.  It's good, it's sad, and not only because we all know the ending.  Interestingly, the novel begins at the end.

There came Death hurtling along the Boulevard in waning sepia light. 
There came Death flying as in a children’s cartoon on a heavy unadorned messenger’s bicycle.
There came Death unerring. Death not to be dissuaded. Death-in-a-hurry. Death furiously peddling. Death carrying a package marked *Special Delivery Handle with Care* in a sturdy wire basket behind his seat.
There came Death expertly threading his graceless bicycle through traffic at the intersection of Wiltshire and La Brea where, because of street repair, two westbound Wiltshire lanes were funnelled into one.

This is a pretty typical quote from the book, which is told from Norma Jeane's perspective.  I'm only 200 pages into this >700 page novel, and she is still 18, but Oates does a good job of maturing the language and the thought processes as the character develops.

Friday, June 10, 2016

2016 Big Book Summer Challenge

Sue of Book by Book reminded me of her annual Big Book Summer Challenge and I'm glad she did because I enjoy this challenge so much, being a lover of chunkster books.

The Details:Hey, it's summer, so we'll keep this low-key and easy!
  • Anything over 400 pages qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge runs from Memorial Day weekend (May 27) through Labor Day weekend (Sep 5).
  • Choose however many big books you want as your goal. Just 1 is fine!

There's also a Goodreads group to sign up for the challenge, post updates, and show which Big Books you are reading!  I love Goodreads groups.

And, there's a Big Book Giveaway at the end of summer. 

Help spread the word on Twitter with #BigBookSummer (you can follow Sue at @suebookbybook).

So now to the nitty-gritty...what am I going to read for the challenge?  Trouble is, I just finished Roots, am close to finishing Dragonfly in Amber, and am already working on Centennial.  All books that clock in at well over 400 pages but started well before Memorial Day.  Luckily I have lots of big books on several 2016 reading lists to choose from.

Not sure how many I will finish, but from my TBR Pile Challenge list, here are the candidates:
  • Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates 
  • The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton  
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini  
  • Time and Chance, by Sharon Kay Penman
From my Back to the Classics Challenge list, here are some possibilities for the summer:
  • The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton
  • The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope 
  • Behind a Mask by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Salem Chapel by Mrs. Oliphant
And then, of course, there are the new books that haven't distracted me from my reading lists but are sure to!

Happy summer reading and join me in the Summer Big Book Challenge!

Friday, June 03, 2016


When I heard that the History Channel was doing a remake of Roots, I decided that I better buckle down and read the Alex Haley blockbuster from the 1970s so that I could watch it.  I only saw bits and pieces of the original Roots, since mine was one of those families that didn't always have a TV while I was growing up.

Anyway, Alex Haley's Roots was one of the several chunkster books that I read in April and May and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few observations...
- I had no idea that more than half the book was Kunta Kinte's story, with a very large part taking place in Africa before he was captured and brought to America as a slave.  I really enjoyed reading about life and customs in the village of Juffure in the Gambia.  I blush to confess that I didn't know that the people in that part of the world at that time (mid 1700s) would be Muslim, but once I learned that it made sense.  Just had never thought of it before.
- The part of the original series that I watched and remember best was the story of Chicken George, and this was my favorite part of the book as well.  Such a colorful character, literally, though cockfighting is a truly appalling activity.
- The writing wasn't the best, even though Haley did win a Pulitzer prize for Roots.  For example, I thought it awkward and clumsy the way Haley told the history of the U.S. by having one of the slave characters recount what he or she overheard the white characters discuss. Although it did help to provide a timeline for the main characters.
- I thought it a bit frustrating although realistic how we didn't learn the full fate of Kunta Kinte and his wife Bell.  Once their daughter Kizzy was sold, she never saw them again or heard of their fate, and neither did the reader.
- Having read 12 Years a Slave last year and several novels about slavery, I was prepared for the violence and cruelty but it's never easy reading.  I couldn't help remembering how much I loved Gone With the Wind when I was young and what an insult I now consider that novel to the African-American experience.
- I've been doing a fair amount of genealogy work on my own family, so it was very interesting and moving to read about the author's journey of family discovery.  I love history, and I love stories, and so family history and individuals' stories are near and dear to my heart.
- Final quibble - I am reading the version I chose for my opening image, and there were a lot of typos.  Amazingly and disappointingly so.  How hard is it to get the words right in a 30th anniversary edition?

I've been recording the new series and look forward to starting it this weekend.  However, I have to say, 4 2-hour installments doesn't seem nearly long enough to do the book justice.  But then, I'm used to Outlander, which has been so faithful to the books that I'm afraid nothing else will be able to touch it in terms of getting it right.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Striking Out

I usually have pretty good luck with books, especially since I started blogging and reading other's blogs and scanning GoodReads for books I would like, but just this past week I had two disappointments.  Maybe I wasn't in the mood, but I read the obligatory 50 pages, and found I was completely uninterested in continuing.  And what were these duds?

At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier - I've just loved all her other books I've read: Girl with the Pearl Earring, Remarkable Creatures, The Lady and the Unicorn, The Last Runaway.  But this one just fell flat--I found the couple distasteful and uninteresting and the tone just seemed grim.  I was so looking forward to this book, but the magic just wasn't there.

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro - I liked this one slightly better, probably because it seemed like reading a Grimm's fairy tale or Germanic folk story, but again it just didn't seem to be the way I wanted to spend my time right now.  As with the other book, I've really enjoyed Ishiguro's other novels that I've read, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but this one just didn't work for me.

I might revisit both at some time in the future.  Maybe I'm suffering from a surfeit of books underway (see Juggling) and just wasn't hungry for a new story.

Happy Mother's Day to all of us--those with children, those who don't, those with mothers still living, and those whose mothers have passed on.  We're all in this together!

Sunday, May 01, 2016


I'm in one of those times where I am reading a lot, enjoying what I'm reading, but in the middle of muliple books, most of which I am purposely reading slowly, and so have nothing to really review.

So here's an update on what I've got in progress...

Dragonfly in Amber - rereading for the third time book 2 in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  I'm a few weeks ahead of the STARZ broadcast of the TV series, and so far enjoying refreshing my memory as to who's who and how things work in the book.  I have to say that Gabaldon was right to hold out for STARZ--so far they are really staying true to the books in characters and story line.  A few variations, but not much.

Roots - I'm doing a read-along at True Book Addict in anticipation of the new TV series which starts Memorial Day weekend, I think.  I never read this Alex Haley when if first came out in the 1970s, so really enjoying it now.  I just passed the half-way mark and we're still on Kunta Kinte's story.

Bel Canto - this marvelous novel by Ann Patchett is my audio book these days, and it is fascinating. Again, the theme of "everyone has a story" really resonates with me.

The Coming of the Third Reich - first in a trilogy by Richard J. Evans, it is well written and very interesting.  I finally feel like I am getting the foundation I need to understand the 20th century. Reading very slowly--just a section a day--so that I can retain more of the vast amount of info contained in this book.  I plan to read the entire trilogy, but it will take awhile.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death... - by John Kelly, the fiction selection for May in the GoodReads Tuesday BookTalk Readalong group.  I am loving it, so interesing--it's a perfect mix of history, science, social history, and geography.

Emma - reading this Jane Austen classic for the upteenth time and loving it all over.  I'm planning to go to the JASNA AGM in Washington D.C. in October, so this is homework!  Reading about a chapter a week, though I will pick up the pace so that I finish by my region's June meeting on Emma.

Onward and Upward in the Garden - this set of essays by Katherine White, wife of Charlotte's Web author, E.B. White, is lovely.  Reading an essay every week or so, I intend to read this all year!  Her analysis of seed catalogs makes me smile and makes me nostalgic for the good old days of printed catalogs.

The good thing about having so many good books underway is that there is always something I am in the mood for, the downside is that I have to choose amongst so many excellent options.

Hope everyone is having a marvelous spring (or fall, if you're down under), and I can't wait to get back to my garden, if it ever stops snowing here in Colorado!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling

I am a Bill Bryson fan--I've enjoyed his travel books, social history books (At Home is one of my all-time favorites), and his book on Shakespeare is absolutely excellent.  I like his humor, snarkiness notwithstanding, and I love his appreciation for nature.  Politically, we're pretty well aligned too. And his walking treks always inspire me to do more.

So, I eagerly awaited the audio version of his latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling.  Like many, I have to give it a mixed review.  While so much of what I like about Bryson is still there--the love of walking, nature, Britain, and quirkiness in general, I think he indulges in a tad too much ranting at inanities, which makes him come across as a grumpy old guy, a persona he is wearing like one of his old sweaters, but that gets tiresome after awhile.

For the most part, I did enjoy the book--it's a tour, bottom to top, side to side, of Great Britain.  He revisits some places covered in Notes from a Small Island, but mostly goes to places he didn't get to yet but always wanted to.  Listening to his rambles made me want to book passage and pack my bags for a similar tour.  I really like to travel as he does, skipping the crowded tourist attractions and finding the local haunts and hidden gems.

One place in particular that I want to go is the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.  It sounds enchanting.  I also loved hearing about Gilbert White and his naturalist writings--I ordered an abridged copy The Natural History of Selbourne.  I'm not up for reading 40 years worth of his journal entries but I wanted to get a flavor of his observations, especially now that spring is here and I really need to get weeding.