Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut ~ Fiction Review

book4What can I say about Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle? Well, since it was written over fifty years ago, everything’s probably already been said at least once (not that I’ll let that stop me from adding my opinion to the mix). As a whole, not my favorite genre, not my favorite literary era, and not my favorite style. Despite all the things working against it, the book still retains a timeless luster.

Cat’s Cradle is one of Vonnegut’s less popular works. The thing about pieces of satire such as this, is that they are so open to individual interpretation that you can read into them whatever you want. Few things are worse than being trapped in a discussion with an overzealous reader who has turned an author’s ‘open to interpretation’ work into the personal manifesto by which they live their life – especially when their interpretation is an outlandish affront to your interpretation. I think that Vonnegut’s work has (or had) a tendency to fall prey to this sect. cradle

The Cat’s Cradle is a satirical social commentary. To some extent, what the reader will construe as Vonnegut’s intended targets – science, religion, war, peace, poverty – will vary. To me, it’s the barefaced statements hidden within the nonsense, slices of reality so accurate that they still ring true today, that makes this piece a timeless classic. Everyone should try a taste of Vonnegut at least once.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ~ Fiction Review

book5Gone Girl. The books that launched a thousand articles that began with, “If you loved Gone Girl. then . . .” And now, I know why.

I did love it, as in, ‘I must immediately read every book this author has ever written‘ kind of love it, which I haven’t felt since I was introduced to Tana French. That was actually only earlier this year, but it seems like forever ago because I have now read all of French’s books and am stuck waiting for the next one to be published. Imagine my relief to have found another author that I enjoy so much. And to think, it almost didn’t happen.

I rarely ever see the movie before I read the book. Like never. But I watched the movie for this book several months ago. Even more rare – I really liked it. Enjoyed it enough where I thought, ‘If the movie is as close to the book as everyone says, then I’ll really like the book. Maybe I should read it. Even if I already knows what happens.’ This is not a conversation I often have with myself. Part of the joy of reading is surprise. Sometimes it’s guessing what’s supposed to be the surprise. Sometimes, the shampoo bottle says, ‘wash and lather,’ but it doesn’t say, ‘repeat.’ Shocking, I know.

So, what makes me really, REALLY know I love a book? The biggest compliment that I can give an author (in my occasionally humble opinion)? It’s, as a writer, being jealous that I didn’t write it first. Would I be proud to have written a tricky little plot twist like this? Yes. Which leads me to the second biggest compliment that I can give an author. Your book inspires me to keep writing, keep getting better, and to keep thinking of the most twisted, unexpected plots that I can. Thank you, Gillian Flynn.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold ~ Book Review

book3How do I feel about this book? I finished it several days ago and I’m still not quite sure. I’m confused.

This is the same author who wrote The Lovely Bones, a book which I thought was, well, lovely. Fresh voice, fresh story, and I never understood how so many people could find it so horribly depressing. Little Susie Salmon gets reunited with her dog up in heaven. Made me happy.

But this is no Lovely Bones. I’m not sure what this is. I thought, perhaps, that it was supposed to be irreverently funny, which is how I read it – as satire. At times I laughed out loud. But a part of me thought this may be inappropriate behavior on my behalf, so I did what one does when they have questions about their behavior. I called my mom.

(Spoiler alert ~ but what’s revealed is all read in the first chapter.)

Me: “I’m reading an Alice Sebold book. You know, the author who wrote The Lovely Bones.”

Mom: “How depressing is it?”

Me: “Well, that’s the thing. I think it’s supposed to be funny. But I’m not sure.”

Mom: “Well, what’s it about?”

Me: “A mother and daughter. I thought it was going to be kind of a Thelma and Louise type relationship, but the daughter kills her mother on the first page.”

Mom: “I don’t think that’s meant to be funny.”

Me: “But she does it right after her mom messes herself. It makes it easier for the daughter to clean her.”

Mom: “Well, usually if there’s poo, it’s meant to be funny. Why aren’t you sure?”

Me: “Because it seems like she’s trying to write it seriously, but it comes off as deadpan to me. Do you think I’m the only one who’s read this that finds it funny?”

Mom: “Yeah, probably.”

So here’s my verdict. I HATE to give bad reviews. I think it’s important for readers and writers to support each other. I read pretty much everything and can usually find something enjoyable about the experience. Did I like this book? You know what? I read it as a farce, a novel with a streak of Vonnegut, and I enjoyed it up until the last page. I don’t like ambiguous endings. If you’re going to end the book, end it. Otherwise, keep writing until you end the book.

Will you like this book? I really can’t say. If you’re going to read it as a serious novel, probably not. Everything about this book – the storyline, the characters, even some of the dialogue – was humorous to me. Which may just be me making the best out of a bad situation. Or a disappointing book. Three stars.

Walking Over Presidents ~ Mounts Pierce & Eisenhower

mountpande1It was a beautiful August day in New Hampshire and the time had come for us to venture into new territory – the much anticipated Presidential Range. We started our hike at the first parking lot off of Mount Clinton Road, just a few hundred feet from route 302. The plan, and we were determined to not be deterred from the plan, was to hike Mount Pierce, backtrack to Crawford Path, hike up, over, and down Mount Eisenhower to the road, where we would walk a couple of miles back to the car to make a loop.

mountpande6What sets the Presidential Range apart from the rest of the White Mountains, (in essence they are the elusive holy grails of the New Hampshire 4000 footer mountains), is not that they’re much more difficult to climb. Rather, the prestige lies in the greater risk, and the risk comes from the weather. Being so far north, and at such a high altitude, the weather can change quickly.
mountpandeIt’s possible for it to snow in July and August. Even a bit of wind and rain can turn conditions deadly for the unprepared hiker. The warmest daily maximum temperature for Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the range (and New England), is only 54 degrees at the height of summer. mountpande4
Thus, hiking the Presidential Range calls for a bit more preparedness on the part of the hiker. It means packing extra food, extra water, and extra gear. Carrying cold clothes and rain clothes. All while still being able to hike with the added weight in your pack.

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Although the range is said to have the worst weather in America, and for this reason is used by climbers to train for K2 and Everest, we were fortunate enough to have ideal conditions for our hike. The trail up Mount Pierce was well maintained, and almost entirely within the treeline, making for an mountpande7enjoyable trip. The 1.6 miles between the summits of Pierce and Eisenhower, however, was mostly exposed. At times, with the sun beating down on you, it felt like being lost in a rocky desert wasteland (without being lost, or in a wasteland, or a desert for that matter). All drama aside, when you’re over 4000 feet closer to the sun than usual, you can feel it.

mountpande8The small amount of discomfort was worth it, however, when we finally reached Mount Eisenhower‘s peak. The view from Pierce was great, but from the top of 4780 foot Eisenhower, it was AMAZING. Well worth the climb. Note ~ when hiking up Eisenhower from Pierce, the trail to the Edmands path is to your right. It’s not marked, but a junction about a half mile from the summit will point you in the right direction for the rest of your descent, a hardscaped path to the left.

mountpande2This was a great loop, challenging at times but not at hard as I expected. We did the 10 miles in 6-7 hours (I forgot to check the end time) and this includes a break at each summit and several stops to talk with other hikers. Besides being a beautiful day, it was also a friendly day on the trails which is always a great bonus that adds to an enjoyable experience. This was by far my favorite climb of the year.

Fiction Review ~ Mo Hayder “Skin” & “Gone”

mobook I very rarely read two books by the same author in a row, but by some strange twist of fate the stars aligned and I 1) had the next book in the series already waiting to be read on my shelf and 2) was so disappointed by Skin that I knew I had to hurry up and read Gone. Please don’t get me wrong – Skin is a good book. It kept my attention, was entertaining, and my all means would probably have been a five star book for me IF it hadn’t been written by Mo Hayder.

As those of you who have read a Mo Hayder book before know , this British author is absolutely brutal. A courageous, take no prisoners, leave no line uncrossed, write the absolutely unthinkable type of author. For those of you who haven’t read Hayer’s Jack Caffery series, you should – if you have a strong stomach and like your detective mysteries vicious, cruel and ruthless. You’re not going to find anything cozy in these books.

mobook1That’s why I was so shocked by Skin. It was kind of tame, focusing more on the two main recurring characters, Detective Inspector Jack Caffery and Sergeant Phoebe “Flea” Marley than on the book’s namesake storyline. In fact, this book was more of a character development of the two, moving along the subplot that’s developed between them. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Under normal circumstances. But when I pick up a Mo Hayder book, it’s because I want my earth shattered. I want to lose my breath over the atrocities on the pages.

Which led me to suspect that since Skin was so tame, Gone would be a wild riot. And it was. If you like a book that makes you flinch, hold up your hand and read through splayed fingers, Hayder’s your girl.

Mount Tom

tom2tomA couple of months ago, we intended to peak bag Mounts Willey, Field, and Tom to knock three more 4000 footers off our to-do list. It didn’t happen. We hiked up Willey and then over to Field, but by then it was too late in the day and the dark clouds churning in the sky told us to not push our luck, so Tom remained free of our bootprints. There was also the little issue of starting on the more difficult side, on the most difficult trail. I hate leaving things unfinished, so this past weekend, when we finally got the time to hike, we returned to Crawford Notch State Park to conquer Mount Tom.

tom4The trail for Mount Tom, which is also the MUCH easier trail to take if you want to peak bag Tom, Field and Willey, can be found at the Crawford Depot Station, a tiny yellow building where the train stops in Crawford off of 302. The beginning of the Avalon trail is home to several trailheads, which makes it a great path for people watching. Men in loafers, women carrying purses, tourists not accustomed to traveling far from their car – these are not the type of characters you usually see on a trail leading up a mountain. Listening to people complain about the dirt, the rocks, the bugs, the trees – basically everything that makes a wooded mountain trail a wooded mountain trail – makes for some amusing eavesdropping.

tom1tom3The Avalon leads to the A-Z trail which will take you to the Mount Tom spur. At 4052 feet, Tom was one of the easiest 4000 footers I’ve hiked to date. There are several shallow river crossings that can easily be traversed without getting wet. The trail is almost entirely wooded, leading to lovely, if limited, views. The true summit is marked by a stone cairn and can be found by taking the path to the left. We took our time, had a snack break, and were trapped several times behind slow moving groups of sightseers, and still made the hike in less than four hours. I would recommend this hike to those looking for an easy introduction to the  White Mountains.

The Agony of the Query Letter

Woman with thoughtful expression writing a letterThere is nothing quite like the agony of writing the query letter. Imagine – you pour your heart, soul and time into writing a novel. You’ve overcome hundreds of insecurities, millions of excuses, and managed to convince yourself that the 80,000 words that you’ve strung together amount to something that other people may actually want to read. Now you have to get the right person to do just that.

query1

Thus, the query letter. Writing a 200 word blurb that will seduce a literary agent into reading your manuscript. It doesn’t matter how good the novel is (or isn’t). If you can’t jump this first hurdle, getting your work into the hands of one of the major publishing houses is next to impossible. You have to make every word count. Every word.

queryIf that’s not enough, you have to research all the agents. Find out who is taking on new clients, and of those few, who reps books written in your genre. Personalize each letter. And try to ignore the odds. Because, odds are, you’re going to get rejected. Repeatedly. Odds are that your query letter will be a work in progress, undergoing constant rewrites in your quest for the golden query.  Odds are, the query might break you a little. Maybe even make you cry.

wpwrite4Maybe you’ll send it off to the query shark. Maybe you’ll pay another writer to review it. Maybe you’ll decide to self publish. Or, maybe, you’ll succeed. Maybe an agent will ask you for your entire manuscript. Maybe more than one agent. And maybe one of them will ask you for a synopsis. DOH >.<

Review ~ My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

keeperI find that, quite often, I’m not the one reading the hottest new book as it hits the shelves. But chances are that, as time passes, as my reading tastes change, and as the title finds its way into the boxes at library book and yard sales, it will eventually fall into my hands. I’m glad that My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult found its way into my to-read stack.

I really enjoyed this novel. Simply written, it’s an intimate, emotional account of a family’s ordeal with leukemia. Picoult strips the flesh and reveals the tender meat below as she delves into the difficult choices that have to be made to save one child at the expense of another, and how years of struggling takes its tole on each member of the family.

I must add that even though I expected and had prepared myself for a  certain ending, the author blindsided me with the way she made it happen, leaving me in tears. Although I haven’t read many books by Picoult, the ones I have read have had endings like that – you think you’ve prepared yourself and built up a tough exterior, but she manages to surprise you in such a manner that she strips your fortitude away, leaving your heart exposed and at her mercy as she squeezes. I look forward to reading more of her books.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – Nonfiction Review

book1 I initially had some reservations about reading this book. I had heard a lot of hype about it, both good and bad, and it seemed like most people who read it focused on judging the decisions made by the subject, Chris McCandless. It’s definitely tempting. An educated young man from an affluent family decides to live as a bum, ultimately ending up in the wilds of Alaska where he dies, seemingly from his own recklessness, when he could have opted for one of the many opportunities at his disposal instead and had a bright and successful future.

Well, there are no guarantees in life. McCandless could have died just as easily while crossing the street. He could have seized the more conventional opportunities that life presented him with and ended up living a miserable, if lucrative, life. Who’s to say which is a better choice for someone else to make? So as I read this book, (with the exception of noting that the book is well researched, and the author seems passionate about getting the facts straight), I considered it a work of fiction, thereby freeing myself from making judgements about McCandless and worrying that my comments would in any way be construed as condoning his behavior.

book2Jon Krakauer has an easy writing style that holds the attention. He tells the tale of a young man who seeks a deeper meaning which can only come from within. In order to achieve the level of introspection needed to accomplish this, the young man leaves his family and hits the road, learning to live in solitude, off the land, and in extreme conditions. The man enjoys the company of others and is by no means a recluse, but seems to feel that the answers he seeks can only be discovered when stripped of company and comforts. It is by no means a new tale, as narratives abound in which man turns to nature to answer the questions that burn within his soul, but it is a retelling that I enjoyed very much.

Building Fences

fenceMost couples (I think) do something special for their anniversary. An evening out, a romantic getaway, something relaxing. For our anniversary, my husband and I built a fence.

fence1The fence was something that I really wanted, and had wanted
for a long time. The fence would free up so much time and alleviate so much frustration, because the fence would be used to create a yard where I could let the dogs out to play. Never again would I have to chase a naughty Jack Russell around the house until I managed to corner her and get her harness on several times a day. No longer would my elbow get wrenched, my shoulder get yanked out of its socket, or my neck be violently snapped while being fence6jerked around by a care bear schnauzer turned raging hellhound, the mere step over the threshold triggering a Jekyll-Hyde change. I would be free!!!!!!

Neither of us had ever put up a fence before, and it seemed a bit daunting. So much so, in fact, that we actually got quotes to see how much it would cost to pay someone else to do it. When the labor estimates came back at over three times the cost of materials, it really should of told us something (like how much fun erecting a fence really is). fence5

Let me start by saying that they don’t call New Hampshire the granite state for nothing. Every time one of us drove the post hole digger into the ground for our next 4×4 – clink. Every. Single. Time. Sometimes it was small rocks that we could dig up. Sometimes we dug up big rocks. And sometimes, after revealing enough of our underground foe to discover that is was a boulder way too big to remove, we were forced to get creative. So maybe a few fence panels don’t have posts at the very end. Maybe we had to buy a few extra 4x4s to support the fence wherever we could get them into the ground. At the end of the day, (actually, two), we got the job done. It took us a third day to get the fence stained.

fence2Now the dogs have a great yard to run free and play in and I have the luxury of reading while they get their fresh air and sunshine (they still have to be supervised). It was a fantastic anniversary present, and best of all, we spent quality time working together to achieve our end goal. Next year, I’m thinking we’ll build a garage.