September 7, 2021

Summer Reading Book Blog - Part 2

Summer break is coming to an end. I recently heard on the House of Ed Tech podcast that August is one long Sunday night for teachers. I tend to feel torn between the excitement of a new school year (as I write this in early August, I have already looked at my rosters for the new year) and longing for more quiet time to relax and read. So I tried my best to focus on my most anticipated reads in my TBR pile. 

I finally finished War & Peace!  Continues to be more about the war than about the peace.  The final, and fourth, Volume of the book reads like non-fiction. Tolstoy is philosophizing on the decisions made during the Patriotic War of 1812 (as it is known in Russia) and the outcomes of those decisions.  He goes on about how victory is not based on the generals’ decisions, but on the morale of the military.  He reasons that Napoleon suffered defeat in Moscow due to the disorganization of the thousands of soldiers (pillaging the homes of Moscow even after many were burned to prevent just that.) Tolstoy then goes on to discuss Enlightenment theory on the free will of men as well as how power is earned. It reminds me of Machiavelli’s writing in The Prince. Tolstoy does not write as much about the characters in the second half of the book as opposed to the first half (Volumes 1 & 2.)  While the Epilogue finishes up the stories of some of our main character families, there are still several characters whose stories are left unfinished.  (What happened to Madame Bourianne? She just kinda disappeared.) As a reader, I was disappointed because I liked the characters & Tolstoy’s prose style. 


The three books being reviewed in this blog illustrate my diverse interests in reading.  The first novel is by one of my favorite humor writers and his series that spoofs Shakespeare. I continued to include Black authors in my reading list.  The second book is an Afrofantasy novel.  The third book is a historical fiction novel taking place in the United States during the Civil War Era. (Click on cover images for Goodreads links.)


Fiction/Satire - Christopher Moore’s writing is hysterical.  I was introduced to him by a friend who lent me “Island of the Sequined Love Nun.”  Shakespear for Squirrels was published in 2020 (at the beginning of the pandemic.)  I kept waiting for my library to get it in, but they never did.  Maybe it was too bawdy? There is quite a bit of ‘frolicking’ and snogging.  But bawdiness aside, it is a humorous take on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream (one of my favorite plays by the Bard.)  Pocket of Dog Snogging, Moore’s protagonist from Fool (King Lear) & The Serpent of Venice (The Merchant of Venice), returns in full motley with his puppet Jones, his apprentice Drool, and his monkey Jeff to take on Athens.


Pocket of Dog Snogging washes up on the sun-bleached shores of Greece and into deep trouble. He encounters a pair of runaway lovers defying the Duke and his minister. Meanwhile, the rascal fairy Puck is murdered. When Pocket is found with the body, he is arrested as the suspect and faces certain death. Queen Hippolyta, set to marry the Duke in three days, offers Pocket his freedom if he can find out who killed Puck. Pocket receives help from fairies on his quest to find the truth, save his neck, and ensure that all ends well. 


Fantasy - Kingdom of Souls is Book #1 in the new trilogy by Rena Barron. I heard about this book from BookTuber Elliot Brooks, who included this title in a list of buddy reads for 2021. Like myself, Elliot Brooks is an avid Fantasy reader. This recommendation led me to explore the Afrofantasy genre as I continue to support Black authors. Not to be confused with Afrofuturism (ex: Octavia Butler and NK Jemisin) Afrofantasy includes myth, lore, and magic used to make up a world inspired by African cultures and the Black experience (Casira Copes, 2020.) Rena Barron did just that in a gripping Young Adult story about coming of age in a world with magic, demons, and personified gods. There are two primary themes 1) the desire to please one’s parents while also pursuing a destined quest, and 2) teen romance between rival households. It was difficult to put this book down! Arrah is a remarkable protagonist. I look forward to reading Book #2.


Heir to two lines of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah has yet to show their gifts. Under the disapproving eye of her mother, the Kingdom’s most powerful priestess, she fears she may never be good enough. But when the Kingdom’s children begin to vanish, she turns desperately to a forbidden ritual: trading away years of her own life for the power to find them. Arrah’s borrowed magic reveals a nightmarish betrayal. Now she must unravel her own mother’s twisted ambitions before the fight costs more than she can afford. 


Historical Fiction - I only recently learned about Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley in an article I assigned to my students for Women’s History Month this past March. As I was browsing books at a local library books sale, my eye was caught by the title Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. This book by Jennifer Chiaverini is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley who was First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal dressmaker.


I must admit, I was very disappointed by this book. For the majority of the book, Keckley is an observer telling the stories around her instead of telling her own story. Additionally, the story reads more like non-fiction than historical fiction. There was not enough character development and perspective, for example, little was said about the harsh treatment she received as a save. For the entire second half of the book, I became angrier and angrier at Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Elizabeth was a free woman, Mrs. Lincoln used manipulation to enslave Elizabeth to her. Mrs. Lincoln did not expect this from her white family and friends. To summarize my thoughts on this book, here is a quote from an article by Linda Thompson of NPR on the HBO show The White Lotus: “Hiring someone whose profession is in the realm of ...domestic work and then transforming that bond into a personal one when it suits you is a pattern that has haunted relationships between rich white women and women of color for decades and centuries.”


In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American History, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, he earned her freedom by the skill of her needle and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. This sweeping historical novel illustrates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days. 




*Pictures owned by me except book covers via goodreads.com.


August 10, 2021

Yosemite National Park Hikes

In 2000, I visited Yosemite National Park nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  The park was the destination of a drive across the United States. I spent three days there, camping in a tent overnight, exploring the park’s beauty. The magnitude of Yosemite’s natural beauty left an impression that still exists twenty years later. 

National Park Service logo
The National Park Service was established to oversee federal land set apart and dedicated “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." Though the first National Park was established in 1872, it was the Organic Act of 1916 that created a unified National Park System. The Yosemite valley became a popular tourist destination during the California Gold Rush. President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, placing it under the protection of California in 1864. Yosemite became a National Park in 1890. 

Yosemite National Park includes nearly 1,200 square miles of mountainous scenery, waterfalls, and mighty sequoia trees. I approached the park from the west, having stayed in the Pacific Ocean the night before, drive into the valley following the Merced River. The first landmark I saw was El Capitan rising up to my left. It was a truly amazing sight! I could not believe how high, and steep, it was! A climber looked so tiny in comparison. I then drove to the other end of the valley to get a spectacular view of the famous Half Dome rock formation. To hike up Half Dome requires a special permit and 10 to 12 hours of time to hike round trip. I was told the hike begins at 6 am. As exciting as this sounded, I knew I was not up for this challenge. Instead, I took a variety of shorter hikes throughout the park to see its beautiful sites.


El Capitan
Half Dome

The hike that stands out in my memories of Yosemite is that of Sentinel Dome. This granite dome rises to 8,122 feet above sea level. The hike itself is only a 1-mile from the parking area, but the trail has a steep incline with switch-backs working around and up the dome. When I got to the top, I held on to a large boulder while the wind billowed around me in this moment of Zen. I was 3,500 feet above the valley with a bird’s-eye-view. Sentinel rock was off to my right. I could see half-dome from across the valley. 


Yosemite Valley 
Sentinal Rock

This hike is not for those with a fear of heights, and specific hiking shoes are strongly recommended. But the view is magnificent! My photos don’t do it justice. I wish I had taken more photos, but this was before digital photography and I was limited by the number of rolls of film with only 24 photos each.



*Pictures owned by me except the National Parks Service logo.


July 13, 2021

Summer Reading Book Blog - Part 1

Summer break began the first Friday in June. Feeling completely drained from this past school and the extra burdens brought on by the pandemic, I spent my first weekend off sleeping and reading followed by a week at the beach and more reading. Not having energy for much else, this escape to made-up people and places helped me relax and refresh.

Stack of books

I continue to trudge my way through the magnum opus “War & Peace" written by Lio Tolstoy. I checked it out from my public library in January, and I am 75% finished. As I mentioned in my last book blog, War and Peace is divided into four volumes. As the name implies, Tolstoy combines both historical fiction and literary fiction. Volume One interweaves these two genres as the reader learns about the primary fictional characters as well as Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempts to conquer Eastern Europe in 1805. Volume Two elaborates on the key families during a seven-year period of peace. Volume Three fully embodies the “War” part of the title as Tolstoy recounts the events of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia. This work of historical fiction gives dialogue, thought, and insight to both Napoleon and Russian General Kutuzov. Occasionally, the characters of the novel make appearances, for example, Prince Andrey Bolkonsky and Count Pierre Bezukhov, but the 364-page volume primarily focuses on the battles of the war. I am hoping that Volume Four returns to the characters’ stories.

Open book

It is not unusual for me to be reading multiple books at the same time. The three books being reviewed in this blog are ones that grasped my attention so much that I devoured them in a matter of a few days. The first novel is book three from the Broken Earth trilogy. Unique in itself, it was a satisfying conclusion to this series. The other two are contemporary fiction, one is satire and the other is a mystery. (Click book covers for Goodreads links.)    

Fantasy - N. K. Jemisin concludes the Broken Earth Trilogy with Book 3, The Stone Sky.  Beautifully written conclusion to a magnificent trilogy! Similar to book three, you follow three different perspectives: Essun, Nassun, and the addition of Hoa, the Stone-eater. world-building - ancient civilization - before the Moon was sent out of orbit. Essun, must find her daughter and use the obelisks to bring the Moon back in orbit. Nassun sees the world as corrupt - conflicted over saving Earth or destroying it. The Overdue Podcast episode on the 3rd book not only explores each protagonist’s story but also delves into themes such as oppression and slavery.


The Stone Sky Book Cover
This is the way the world ends... for the last time. The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun inherited Alabaster Tenring’s power. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe. But will Essun get to Nassun in time?




Fiction/Satire - I was first introduced to the satirical, environmental writing of Carl Hiaasen when a friend lent me the book Sick Puppy fifteen years ago. The protagonist was on an environmental crusade to save Southern Florida from litterbugs. I was hooked! I have since read all of Hiaasen’s other books, with the exception of a few of his YA novels. Published in 2020, Squeeze Me puts the satirical spotlight on the previous US President, his wife/First Lady, and their wealthy fanatics. And hungry pythons!  

Squeeze Me book cover
A prominent high-society matron, a fierce supporter of the President, and founding member of the POTUSSIES has gone missing. She is later found dead in a concrete grave. The President immediately declares Kiki Pew the victim of rampaging immigrants, which is far from the truth. A bizarre discovery in the middle of the road brings the First Lady's motorcade to a halt. Enter Angie Armstrong, wildlife wrangler extraordinaire, who arrives at her own conclusions when summoned to deal with a mysterious influx of huge, hungry pythons.


Mystery - Titles continue to attract my attention in the Mystery section of my local library. In search of a good ‘beach read’ I came across the murder-mystery Marry, Kiss, Kill by Anne Flett-Giordano. In addition to the title, I was drawn in by the blurbs from people like David Hyde Pierce. I was not let down by this book. The story, setting, and protagonist Nola MacIntire, Deputy Chief of the Santa Barbara Police Department, reminds me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone but living in the 21st century with all of its technology and pop culture.   

Marry, Kiss, Kill book cover
Movie stars are in Santa Barbara for the film festival, and powerful business interests are at stake. Detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, Tony, must untangle the complicated web behind three seemingly unrelated deaths - from a homeless shelter to an obscenely over-the-top mansion, an Air Force base to a beer-soaked UCSB student apartment. They follow every lead to unravel the mystery and save their idyllic beach town. 




*Pictures owned by me except book covers via goodreads.com.

June 29, 2021

Hiking in the Sky at Minnewaska

In September 2012, I traveled up to Burlington, Vermont to see Magic Hat and Ben & Jerry’s.  While there I did quite a bit of hiking, which I chronicled in my post Hiking Burlington VT, published in September 2017.  On the way back home, I made a few stops in Massachusetts and New York.  A friend and avid hiker recommended I stop in the Shawangunk Mountains, also known as “The Gunks.”  After doing some research, I decided to visit the Minnewaska State Park Preserve located on a ridge of “The Gunks.”  I am so glad I made that stop.

                         Lake Minnewaska
I parked my car in the Upper Parking Area (see park map below) right on Lake Minnewaska, a sky lake with pristine, clear water.  “The Gunks” were formed during an ice age that lasted from about 110,000 to 12,000 years ago. Glaciers had moved down from Canada, gouging out softer rock along the way.  The rocky outcroppings left behind are made of "quartz and more quartz" conglomerates and sandstones.

I decided to take the hike out to Gertrude’s Nose. Hikers can follow a looping trail that is about 7.5 miles in length.  The trail starts off sharing the Lake Minnewaska and Millbrook Mountain carriage roads.  The Gertrude’s Nose trail breaks off as a footpath about a quarter-mile from Patterson's Pellet, a large boulder left by a receding glacier. 

        
I experienced a difficult section where I climbed down a rocky crevasse, then back up the other side. After reaching Gertrude's Nose, I chose to hike back the same way I came, which was about 6 miles total.

With the sun shining on my face, I hiked along the cliff's edge, 1200 feet high overlooking Palmaghatt Ravine and Palmaghatt Kill. The rush of being on the edge was amazing. As I looked out over the surrounding mountain range and valleys, I felt close to heaven. When I reached Gertrude's Nose, I sat on a boulder, ate my granola bar, and meditated on the amazingness of nature, creation, & our part in it.

  

I definitely recommend this hike to anyone traveling in Southern New York State. Minnewaska State Park Preserve opens daily at 9:00 am year-round. Closing hours are posted at the Park Preserve entrance and are adjusted seasonally. There is a small fee of $10 per car.


Minnewaska State Park Preserve Map

*All photos taken and owned by me with the exception of the Park Preserve map

May 11, 2021

First Quarter Book Blog

How do you Self-care?  I like to do yoga or jog, but teaching this year during the pandemic has been exhausting and this Winter was really cold.  Most of my self-care time has been spent reading.  My local library opened back up to browsing which helped supplement my depleted TBR (To Be Read) pile.  The arrival of Spring also gave me an excuse to get to the Midtown Scholar’s Saturday sidewalk sale.  Located in Midtown Harrisburg, this independent bookstore has been offering these Saturday sidewalk sales during the pandemic.  Included are a mix of new and used books, and I purchased a mix of 2 new and 3 used books.  It was nice to pick out some books I probably wouldn’t have known about otherwise.


Since the pandemic is still placing a limit on things to do outside of the house, I chose to finally borrow War & Peace from my local library.  This magnum opus by Lio Tolstoy has been on my TBR list for over 20 years. I checked it out on January 21st. To date, I am halfway finished.  War and Peace is actually a book in four volumes.  Each volume is about 250-300 pages, so being halfway finished is like having two novels read.  I will have an update in my next book blog!


The three books being reviewed in this blog include two fantasy novels and one mystery.  Both fantasy novels are part of a trilogy.  The first trilogy is one I absolutely love, and I look forward to reading more books by this author.  The mystery novel is part of a series, each with its own ‘who done it.’  Like a TV mystery series (like Monk or Murder She Wrote,) books do not necessarily need to read in order to be understood.  In contrast, both trilogies to be discussed take the reader on a journey that must be read in order. (Click book covers for Goodreads links.)



Fantasy - Last month, the Overdue Podcast did an episode on the 3rd book of the Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin.  That episode is perfect timing because I just started to read Book 3, The Stone Sky.  I will be telling you about it in my next book blog; here I am going to tell you about Book 2, The Obelisk Gate.  In this book, the reader learns more about the history of the Stillness, the Guardians, and the mysterious obelisks floating in the sky. 


The Obelisk Gate Book Cover


The Season of Endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long, cold night. Essun has found shelter, but not her missing daughter. Instead, there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request that would seal the fate of the stillness forever. Nessun, Essun's daughter, is on her own mission to find Found Moon and meets the Guardian Schaffa.



Fantasy - If you like combat, battle, and fight strategies, Eric Winters Rage of Dragons is for you. Winter does an excellent job building the world of Omehi and its people.  For me, the constant reference to revenge and numerous fight scenes was too much.  I still gave the book four stars because it was very well written; just not my style.



The Omehi, a society built around war, has a strict caste system.  Young Tau, a member of the Lessers, seeks to escape the war until the fateful day
when those closest to him are brutally murdered. His grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to becoming the greatest swordsman to ever live, willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill those who betrayed him. His pursuit inadvertently leads Tau to become his people's only hope for survival.


Mystery - Cozy mysteries continue to find their way into my reading list.  My favorite part though is the ‘punny’ titles.  They crack me up.  Diane Mott Davidson’s protagonist Goldy is a caterer who is continuously caught up in a murder mystery.  The first book I read was Chopping Spree, a title I couldn’t resist. Sticks and Scones is the third book I’ve read in the A Goldy Bear Culinary Mystery series.  This has been my favorite so far and received 4 stars. There was a medieval castle in Colorado, stamps, and a ghost!   


When the sound of broken glass shatters her sleep, Colorado caterer and meddling sleuth Goldy Shultz doesn’t know what to think.  Is it a gunshot?  An earthquake?  Her husband Tom is away working a stamp theft case for the Colorado police department.  Goldy is on her own, and the timing couldn’t be worse, with an important catering gig only a few hours away.  The gig is an Elizabethan luncheon at a Gothic chapel on the grand Hyde Estate of nouveau rich Eliot & Sukie Hyde. Meanwhile, a ghost haunts Hyde Castle. 



*Pictures owned by me except book covers via goodreads.com.

March 9, 2021

'What I’m Listening To' Update

A few years back, I wrote a blog post answering a question posed by the Etsy Success Team: “What music do you listen to while you make?”  At the time I wasn’t really into listening to music while I work, but primarily listened to podcasts.  Beginning in March, I found myself working and teaching in my home office. Throughout the first half of this school year, I've been either working from home or working from an empty classroom while my students meet with me remotely.  Every now and again, I need silence while I work, but most of the time I need something in the background. As the 2020-21 school year proceeds (in its own unique ways) into the second half, I thought this would be a good time to take another look at what I’m listening to.

            

Listening while I work falls into two categories, while lesson planning and while commuting home. Most of the time, my ‘listen while I work’ go-to is still Podcasts, though the ones I prefer have changed.  While lesson planning, I tend to listen to interviews or history podcasts. On my commute to and from work, which is about 45 minutes each way, it's time for trivia as well as books on CD.  Though this technically isn’t ‘while I work’ it is my decompress from work time and I like having my focus redirected. Lastly, I recently busted out my old boombox and cassette tapes. I took it into my classroom where I listen to 90s grunge rock while I work.


So what are the podcasts I'm listening to these days?  When I want to connect to my interest in history I listen to Miss Information or The History Chicks. When looking for something cheery, I like Dear Hank & John featuring the Green brothers of Crash Course fameMy trivia podcast of choice is Triviality. When I need something calming, I turn to LeVar Burton Reads or Overdue.  

  


What are you listening to while you work?


February 9, 2021

2020 Goodreads Challenge Wrap-up

finished the 2020 Goodreads Challenge with 51 books read!  That’s 11 more books than my goal of 40 and 6 more books than I read in 2019.  Part of that growth can be attributed to the pandemic this year, but I think part is also creating more time for self-care.  Immersing myself in fictional worlds is one of the best ways to remove my daily stresses.  For the 2021 Goodreads Challenge, I decided to stick with 40 books. 

At the end of 2020, my bag of books in the closet was almost empty.  My bag of books contains used books purchased at the public library &/or local non-profit used book sales.  I usually attend two or three of these events each year and leave with a canvas grocery bag full of books.  It’s thrilling walking along the rows & rows of tables filled with books scanning spines for particular authors and interesting titles.  It’s like a scavenger hunt!  But due to the pandemic, these were canceled in 2020.  To restock, I’ve purchased a few new reads from the independent bookstore, Nowhere Bookstore, and borrowed books via curbside-pick-up from my public library.  I’ve already begun one of my new books, “Rage of Dragons” by fantasy author, Eric Winter (nice last name.)    


My favorite genre to read is fantasy.  My first book feature for this post is actually the first two books in my new favorite trilogy, N K Jemisin.  The New York Times’ honors Jemisin with this statement: “the most celebrated science fiction and fantasy writer of her generation.”   My next recommendation is a contemporary fiction novel that was made into a movie in 2019.  Lastly, I thought I would have a ‘cozy’ mystery recommendation, but the ones I picked up during the last couple of months of 2020 turned out to be just ok with three-star ratings.  So my mystery recommendation actually goes back to earlier in the year when I read a series of twelve Sherlock Holmes stories.  (Click book covers for Goodreads links.)

Fantasy - I first heard about N K Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy from The Overdue Podcast.  They did an episode on Book 1, The Fifth Season.  Jemisin creates a unique world called the Stillness that experiences disastrous seasons that last generations.  The magic system called Orogeny allows Orogenes to feel, or ‘sess,’ and control the earth’s movements.  As much as I tried to savor these books, I devoured both books 1 & 2.  Book 3 is on my shelf waiting to be read.  

In a single day, Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter.  Meanwhile, a great red rift has been torn into the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years.  Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land.



Fiction - Where’d You Go, Bernadette is one of those books that everyone was reading.  It had a resurgence in popularity in 2019 when the movie was released.  I finally got around to reading it in 2020 and I’m glad I did.  Is it realistic, no.  Is it over-the-top, yes.  Did I love it anyway, yes.  This book was so hard to put down, which in part is attributed to the various points-of-view of these fantastic characters.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown.
 
   
Mystery - I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in ebook format via iBooks.  These stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were much shorter than I expected.  After watching the BBC tv series’ 90-minute episodes, I was expecting each story to be novel-length or at least novella length.  Instead, each story is about 30 pages long.  These twelve stories are told from Dr. Watson’s point of view (and yes I pictured Martin Freeman in my head the entire time.)  This collection starts with “A Scandal in Bohemia'' and includes favorites like “The Five Orange Pips” and “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”  It is clear that Conan Doyle’s style has served as the model for contemporary mystery writing. His clever writing kept me engaged and paying attention to each detail as I tried to solve the mysteries along with Sherlock & Watson.


*Pictures owned by me except Goodreads logo & book covers via goodreads.com & iBooks.