Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Audio Books - Do I Love Them, or Do I Just Love Letting Someone Else Do the Work?!

As part of my belated acceptance of technologically aided reading (AKA, exiting the stone age and reading something other than a paper book), I recently decided to give audio books a try. Honestly, I never thought I ever would make this leap. But I guess that is what I said about the Kindle too, and look where that got me.

The first book I have tried is One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd. From the start, it seems I was unable to comprehend the length of an audio book, because I realized, with about 3/4 of the book remaining, that I only had 6 days left on the library loan and 7 hours of "reading" left. Apparently that nice voice coming out of the iPod will not in fact read faster if I need her to. Strike one for audio.

I am also trying to wrap my head around not being able to SEE the story in front of me. I never realized before how much this mattered to me, but apparently it drives me bat poo crazy. I have picked up the iPod countless times, thinking I will be able to read the words that are being read to me. Apparently that does not work either, because I guess then it would be a regular book and not audio. But can't I have both? Where am I supposed to highlight and scribble?! Strike two for audio.

 That said, I can fortunately say that so far there is no strike three. Actually, quite the opposite. Despite these quibbles, I have to admit that there is something amorous and wonderful about letting that nice voice do all of the work for you. You mean I don't have to actually hold up the book?! Yes, this may sound silly, but don't your hands get cold in the winter when they are sticking out of the blankets? Outside those glorious blankets ONLY because you want to keep reading but have to hold the dang book?! I know I am not alone in the joy of laying snuggled up in bed and letting that nice recorded lady do all the work. Brownie point one for audio.

Even though the strikes are officially winning, I'm going to say the jury is still out on whether audio and I have a long happy relationship in our future...there is definitely a lot to be said for not being cold.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Aviator's Wife - Mesmerizing, Intriguing and Making Me Add Too Many New Books to my TBR List!

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Loved it! I very much enjoy the fictional bio/autobio style and Melanie Benjamindoes it so well! A pretty significant number of people are already familiar with many aspects of the life of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, but so much of it just the most basic details, since they tried so hard to shield the details of their lives from the world. In this novel, Benjamin helps us to imagine what the intimate details behind the events might have been. And I ADORE the fact that she doesn't let little details like facts get in the way. Sure, she does diligent research and gives you the accurate essentials, but she also lets her imagination run amok in the name of a good story. She puts it out in the open that she does not mean for her works to be taken as non-fiction, so she doesn't let her stories be weighted down if it is going to take away from the interest and intrigue. I read a quote from Benjamin at where she says "My biggest reward as an author is when I hear, "Now I have to go buy more books about this person!" and she certainly succeeded with this one...I have spent several hours both while reading and since finishing this asking the Google machine more questions about the Lindbergh's, as well as looking up her novel (Gift from the Sea), his memoir (The Spirit of St. Louis and several of his biographies to add to my reading list. For facts and figures, I will read those...for good, intriguing storytelling I'll stick with Benjamin. I am excited to see who her next subject is!

My only boo on this one, and what kept it from 5*, is that I felt a bit drawn down by how severely Anne was portrayed as the martyr at times. Yes, this is the point and I get that the story would have gone a completely different direction had it not been for these details, but I definitely had to stop the my internal dialogue from falling into a case of the "blah, blah, blah's" on a few occasions. I think all of the events and descriptions involved with these times were important and worthy, but just that they could have been summarized a bit and not drawn out quite so much, quite so many times.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker - Ragged Edges Need Some Tailoring

Mrs. Lincoln's DressmakerMrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*Advanced Read from NetGalley*

2.5 Stars

This is a fictionalized account of the true relationship between Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker and confidante, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, set largely just before, during and immediately following the American Civil War. As I personally have read very little regarding the First Lady to our well-known and generally loved 16th President, the premise and subject matter of Jennifer Chiaverini's first novel was instantly intriguing to me and so many things jumped instantly to mind that I thought would be inspiring and educational about this story. Sadly, while I somewhat liked the book, it left me feeling as though much of that potential was unfulfilled.

There were some areas of this book that were excellently written, but unfortunately they were inconsistent and left me feeling detached from the story, when what I really wanted was to gain some insight and feeling for Elizabeth and Mrs. Lincoln. Heartwarming moments that were usually too brief would lead into several page sections that read more like a history text than a novel loosely based fact. While some of the facts, figures and historical events were necessary to further the story, many of them came across as more of a space filler and served only to distract me from the characters (in fact, I noted several times while reading "where is Elizabeth?" and "why does this matter?"). The result for me of the inconsistent story line was that I really felt nothing for the characters, and cannot pin point any specific time where I actually felt like I was let into their lives as much as I would have liked to be.

Following the war years, the story did improve a bit with more personal interaction between Mrs. Lincoln and Elizabeth, but this did not occur until nearly 75% into the novel. By this point I was merely reading to finish the story, and knew that there was not nearly enough material left for me to ever love this book.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Unbroken - Striking, Horrifying, Poignant and Beautiful

Unbroken: A World War II Book of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Book of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Not only was I drawn in by the details of this striking, horrific and beautifully written tale, but also by the willingness of Louie Zamperini to share it.

With literary skill that I'm pretty sure cannot be taught, Laura Hillenbrand managed to share Louie's experiences in a way that at many times I felt I had to have been reading a novel, and not events that occurred in the life of a real person. His experiences from the POW camps may have been difficult for me to read had this subtle and warming written not been there to guide me through, as they were often so heinous that I was reminded of "truth is stranger than fiction'...but in this case, truth was more horrifying than any fiction I can conjure. Along with helping me through the tough parts, I found myself engrossed in smaller details of WWII that I had not known, or even cared about. Who would have thought that I would ever stop reading to look up a WWII bomber?!

"Louie ran through the place where cages had once held him, where a black-eyed man and crawled inside him. But the cages were long gone, and so was the Bird. There was no trace of them among the voices, the falling snow, and the old and joyful man, running."

Through Louie's life as a bungling teen, Olympic races and hopes, adventures learning to fly, misery (that word does not even do it justice)as a POW and the subsequent recovery from those experiences, it is impossible not to fall in love with this incredible human being. His strength is more than many people can ever aspire to, and his story is one that I will venture to share with anyone who will listen.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Weekend Wanderings - Montana Forest Fires of Summer 2012

While every summer in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem means hundreds of thousands of acres of forest ripe for forest fires, and most of us understand the necessity of these fires to the health of our beautiful forests, it is always a bit harder when it is closer to home than on the other end of our sizable state. Summer 2012 was one of those years.....

This first set of pictures shows the fire that hit Hyalite Canyon, a strikingly beautiful mountain area just SW of Bozeman, MT. Hyalite Canyon holds a reservoir that provides drinking water for the city as well as a plethora of recreational opportunities (the Hyalite Peak trail allows access to something like 7 waterfalls in 11 miles!) in addition to the natural beauty. These photos are taken from the Paradise Valley (eastern) side of the ridge where the fire fortunately didn't have too much of an impact on the residential areas dotting the hillsides as most of the fire stuck to the west side of the mountains.

Looking towards Hyalite from Daley Lake - Emigrant, MT

Toward Hyalite from junction of Sixmile and East River Roads least 2 hours before sunset - Emigrant, MT

This next set of photos hit even closer to home, in the Pine Creek area of Paradise Valley. In addition to the fire damage done to a much loved scenic wonderland, several homes were lost and many people evacuated for extended periods of time. This fire occurred about 40 miles north of my little town of Gardiner, in an area populated by many people who commute those 40 miles to work in Yellowstone National Park and Gardiner, including many friends of ours. One evening towards the beginning, when the fire was spreading quickly, saw me frantically washing sheets and prepping the guest room for my 7 months pregnant best friend whose husband had just received word from neighbors that their neighborhood was on evacuation standby. Wind was on their side though, and while the air wasn't much for breathing and lent to more time spent inside than usual for the summer, they never did have to leave. Another inspiring story came across my path this fall, about a local hiker from Livingston, MT who miraculously made it out of harms way, along with his loyal pup, by hiking through the night up and over the ridge into the watershed east, in some cases less than a mile ahead of the fire that had just ignited that morning. They were dog tired but happy to be safe when they wandered up to the cabin owned by a family member around daybreak the next morning.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Library of My Life

A gal from one of my book groups posted the challenge to list the books that define "you" - may they be the most memorable, influential, or just stick with you in terms of helping make you who you are.

So, here is the "library of me"!

Where the Sidewalk EndsShel Silverstein
I received this as a gift from my aunt on my 6th birthday, and could recite my favorite poems by heart from reading them with my parents so often.

The Night Before ChristmasClement Clarke Moore
One word meaning to this one….Dad J

The Baby Sitter’s ClubAnn M. Martin
As a pre and early teen, these books got me reading again after losing interest for a good couple of years and I devoured them!

NightElie Wiesel
The first book I ever “had” to read for school that I completely understood why it was required reading. It was also my first introduction to sympathy vs. empathy, because it made me understand that I could never actually empathize with the experience of the holocaust.

Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen
The first historical fiction I fell in love with and set loose my grandiose ideas of old-school love and romance

North and South Trilogy John Jakes

This trilogy set in stone my love of historical fiction and is one of the few long trilogies I have re-read multiple times

The Celestine Prophecy James Redfield
Though not what I personally believe and I was raised from the beginning to be open-minded to the beliefs of others, this book was an amazing lesson in opening my mind even further to what the term “higher power” can mean to different people

The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein
Just an all-out inspiring book about finding love and friendship in different ways

Desert SolitaireEdward Abbey
The beautiful writing of this book has always hit home with why I love the outdoors and why the greater Yellowstone area has the magnetism it does for me and many of my beloved friends and family members

Yellowstone TrailsMark Marschall
This hiking guide was given to me by a roommate during my first summer working in Yellowstone and it opened my world to places and experiences I would have never imagined before coming here

The National ParksDayton Duncan
This companion to the PBS documentary landed on my doorstep at a time when I was questioning my next step and where it would take me. It reminded me why I had chosen to be where I am in the first place and help me decide that my next step (for the time being at least) was to stay right where I was.

The AlchemistPaulo Coehlo
A good friend of mine took a copy of this book and wrote numbers 1-100 on the inside covers with the instructions to read the book, add your name and pass it along, with the final person sending the book back to her so she could see where it went and who it reached. Though not one of my all-time favorite books, her passion for it and this great activity helped teach me that many books I do love are better off being shared than collecting dust on my bookshelf  

What does your "library" hold?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Following Atticus - Quirky, Inspirational, Heartwarming and Oh-So-Memorable!

Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary FriendshipFollowing Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the world of 'feel good' stories, this one is tops. In a time where too many people do not take the time to smell the roses anymore, Tom Ryan not only realized that he was one of them, but he took the steps necessary to change that. With the help of his adorable and adventures miniature schnauzer, Atticus, Tom decided to tackle all of 48 of the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire's White Mountains and prove that "if an overweight middle-aged fellow with a fear of heights and a twenty pound miniature schnauzer could hike the 4,000 footers, nearly anyone could".

Not only did Tom find the love he had been looking for himself through his friendship with Atticus, he was able to share it with us so that we can fall as much in love with this little dog as he has. Tom treats Atticus the way he would want to be treated, encouraging him to be himself so that they can be successful together. Several times throughout this novel, I found myself thinking of Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain - Atticus cames across as almost human in Tom's descriptions, and I can picture Atticus and Enzo in front of the television, arguing over whether to watch auto racing or Nat Geo (except of course that Atticus would like be out hiking and not watching television!).

Tom is openly candid about his faults, his families faults and the faults of just about everyone around him, but he writes it in an honest and sincere way that does not offend, but just lends more weight and substance to his already inspiring story. He is not trying to tell us he is perfect, or that he expects anyone else to be. Instead, through simple but moving lines like "Magic is where you find it; the only thing that matters is that you take the time to look for it", he is telling us to be the best that we can be.

This is a 5 star story for me, but my only qualm is the 3 star writing (hence my 4 star rating). While much of the writing is straighforward, humorous, candid and easy to absorb, a few things keep hanging me up. First, and while I know this is not personal or likely intentional, he has a knack for repeating key items a few too many times, making the reader feel as though the expectation is that we won't be able to remember something told to us 3, 4, 5 times already. Second, his flair for the dramatic is a bit overboard in a few areas, such as the foreshadowing of "big" events to come that seem to appear at the end of at least every other chapter.

Overall, a fantasitc read that I would recommend for anyone who loves dogs, loves the outdoors, likes to see the best in people, or just wants some good old fashioned inspiration and reminder of the power of the human spirit.

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Kindle Revolution...and Thoughts on E-Book Lending/Borrowing

Despite all of my previous aversions to e-books, I have finally given into the times and now have a Kindle...and I must admit that I dearly love it. Now don't get me wrong - I will still always love holding a book in my hands, feeling the paper, getting ink smudges on my fingers and turning real live pages, but I'm learning to be more open minded about how I get my literary fixes.

One of the biggest issues I have had, and still have, with e-readers is the concept of lending and borrowing, which coincidentally is what finally pushed me over the edge to getting one since there is finally some progress being made. That progress, however, is slow, cloudy and outright messy. The last time I checked, there was nothing illegal about lending an item that I OWNED and PAID FOR (may it be a book, DVD, or a casserole dish) to a friend to their temporary use. When I buy a book in it's physical form, I am not only getting a tangible object, but I also own that item and am free to lend, beg or borrow with it as I choose. Yet when I buy an e-book, not only do I get a digital copy of the content and not physical item, I also miss out on the opportunity to share that book with others (and most of my sharing is initiative by my love for a book that I am eager to introduce to others), though in many cases the e-book edition is only slightly less in price than the physical copy would be. Yes, I understand that I am also paying for the convenience of skipping a drive to the book store, but what else am I getting to make up for what I am losing? To me the opportunity to share a beloved book with someone who may otherwise have never heard of it, or had the chance to read, is priceless. And to be honest, the fact that my closest bookstore of any consequential size is a 150 mile round trip is the only reason that this convenience is of a significant value to me, as many friends who have moved to larger areas in the past couple of years have commented that their Kindle/Nook use has dropped dramatically now that the bookstore and library are not a full day trip.

The fact that some lending and borrowing is now possible was a driving force behind my conversion, primarily because my most local library (55 miles away) has recently joined the Montana Library2Go networks via Overdrive, finally making it feasible cor me borrow library books. Now that I am more in tune to the e- book world, I have been getting caught up on the lending/borrowing scenarios and am quite frankly outright annoyed. Publishers who can't agree on how to offer e- books, others who won't offer them at all, and those who do using completely different models, rates and methods would make you think that the concept of a library was a new and foreign concept to them. I have heard countless news stories lately about their fears of lost revenue, not being able to control who ultimately gets their content and whether it was paid for. The most choice of all though was one I read the other day in a blog post about a recent library association conference that include representatives from the 6 big publisher representative actually stated that one of their concerns is that whether increased access to e-books would actually benefit the less fortunate, who cannot always afford to purchase the books and who the libraries are meant to serve, or whether it would just be an outlet for those who could afford to purchase the books to sidestep that option and get them for free. Really?! He has certainly never been to a library, or at least any library that I have been to, and that is a lot of them. First of all sir, since when are libraries there just for the less fortunate? Last time I checked, a publicly funded library was there due to the tax dollars and donations of EVERYONE, and therefore in place to serve EVERYONE in their area. Of course I use the library to get books for free...isn't that the point? And yes, I do in fact also spend money on books, but am not able to afford every book I would ever like to read, as is probably the case with a good portion of the American library frequenting public. Why should a digital version of a book be any different than a physical copy, if the borrowing is handled in the same way - x number of copies, one person can borrow one copy at a time, for a predetermined period of time, and when they are done someone else can use it. Sure, they may find a way to share it with their friends. But I might also take a physical book out from the library and lend it to 3 different friends before returning it.

To sum it up - get over it Big 6. Sit down, make some decisions, get on the same page, and accept the digital revolution. If us die-hard lovers of the real thing can open our minds, so can you.

The Orchardist - Deeply Profound, Utterly Sad...and I loved it

The OrchardistThe Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is one where I could definitely utilize a ½ star option – 5 stars for writing quality, 4 stars for story (though on a quality scale this is a 5 also, I just have some personal beefs with the path the author chose to take some characters!) for a grand total of 4.5
This novel follows the path of a non-traditional “family” unit from the beginning of their relationships through much of their formative years together in the late 19th/early 20th century time period. The story is told using many changes of perspective, a very unique and flowing writing style that was almost dreamlike and well-conceived/portrayed characters. It is well-crafted, deeply moving, and profoundly heartbreaking. The pace is slow though not tedious, and even with the slower pace, there is such an ominous atmosphere built up both on the surface and between the lines that you hold a constant and suspenseful feeling of doubt and foreboding, as though something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, despite the overwhelming sadness that seems to follow everyone around like a stray dog, you cannot help but be moved by and develop a strong feeling toward the characters. While there are definitely some aspects of the story that I did not care for (couldn’t she have interjected SOME hope or happiness?!) but overall I cannot help but be impressed. To write a story with characters so scarred, flawed and detached that can still be so moving is truly a feat of exceptional storytelling and skill with words.

That said…..I hated the ending, and from this point forward may just have to convince myself to remember it the way I had hoped it would be.

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