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A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson
The Appalachian Trail, a little over 2,000 miles of challenging terrain, is a test that hikers of all ages, genders, and experience levels attack in various ways. There are parking lot visitors; they drive in, look around a bit and perhaps picnic, but do not actually hike the trail. Section hikers traverse parts of the trail at various times with a few completing the whole trail over the course of a lifetime. Then there are a few hardy souls who are full thru-hikers; they keep at it from south to north until they complete the trail.
As you might imagine, hiking the Appalachian Trail is an endeavor that requires a lot of planning and the purchase of expensive equipment to get the lightest weight gear possible. Carrying a forty pound backpack all day over rough terrain with formidable ascents and descents is a difficult task indeed. Author Bill Bryson who has written a number of travel books relates in A Walk in the Woods his experiences on the Appalachian Trail with Stephen Katz, a former school chum he had traveled around Europe with twenty-years prior. Much of the book describes the harsh realities of the hike and the delightful relief of their occasional forays into civilization to replenish supplies and sleep in a real bed. Some of the book relates their changing relationship as they confront the trials of the trail together as well as anecdotes about the interesting people they meet along the way.
Bryson’s writing style is comfortable. The descriptions are detailed without being overblown, and there is just enough history of the trail to give the reader an understanding of why it is the way it is. Often humorous, it provides an interesting read taking the reader into a once in a lifetime experience on the Appalachian Trail.
Notes: Some profanity
Publication: December 26, 2006 (first published May 5, 1998)—Anchor Books
But even men far tougher and more attuned to the wilderness than Thoreau were sobered by its strange and palpable menace. Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as “so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.” When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.
I was beginning to appreciate that the central feature of life on the Appalachian Trail is deprivation, that the whole point of the experience is to remove yourself so thoroughly from the conveniences of everyday life that the most ordinary things—processed cheese, a can of pop gorgeously beaded with condensation—fill you with wonder and gratitude.
And all the time, as we crept along on this absurdly narrow, dangerous perch, we were half-blinded by flying snow and jostled by gusts of wind, which roared through the dancing trees and shook us by our packs. This wasn’t a blizzard; it was a tempest.
Over the last few months, I have been implementing a huge change in my life. For the last six years, my husband and I have been living in México most of each year. We initially moved to Ajijic, Jalisco, where the climate is close to ideal. Unfortunately, it was like living in Little America, rather than México, with so many expatriates from Canada and the United States. After two years, we took the plunge and moved to the mountains of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. We spent four years there in a quiet, rural, gated community, learned a little Spanish, and enjoyed the culture and the kind people we encountered.
We are now in a different season of our lives. A four day trip with two dogs in tow, twice a year, has become increasingly difficult physically and more stressful. If you are following the news, you know that the trek is also fraught with dangers from cartel activity and random acts of violence. Mexican drivers are generally untrained and adhere to their own set of rules. My husband and I are both licensed to drive ALL vehicles in Mexico including semi-tractor trailers, merely because we paid a fee. A bribe was not involved. On our last trip north, we witnessed the aftermath of several different accidents involving multiple trucks. It was sadly clear that some drivers would not be retuning to their families—ever. Road hazards include often unmarked and unexpected speed bumps called topes on the highway, drivers converting a two-way, two-lane road into a three and a half lane road according to custom, and small herds grazing unfettered. Due to these dangers, as well as the increased potential for criminal activities, the general recommendation is to not drive at night.
So now, we anticipate winters in Farmington, New Mexico, and summers in Chama, New Mexico. To travel between houses we have a two and one-half hour drive rather than four days. We can enjoy either house whenever we choose, dependent only on snow conditions. We are already getting involved in local activities that in México we would not have participated in due to language limitations. Great shopping is available seven minutes away rather than one hour. We feel free to drive to restaurants and civic events at night.
We enjoyed our time in México and the everyday challenges of living in a different culture and communicating in a different language. We will miss friends we made in Ajijic and Pátzcuaro. It was not easy to arrange the movement of some possessions and decide what to leave behind. We also wanted to return with some mementos of México to decorate our new home.
I don’t know what the future holds for us. Perhaps more community and church involvement, excursions in the Four Corners area to explore ancient Native American cultures, motorcycle trips from our two home bases, time to explore our hobbies and, after life settles down a little for us and for some of the countries we would like to visit, maybe some trips abroad. Argentina has terrific Italian food!
I did a happy dance and a cheer as I crossed the international border and felt the immediate relief of having survived the journey and the elation of being home again. It was an oddly different feeling from returning to the U.S. for a few months as in the past. “Welcome home,” the border seemed to say: home, sweet home.
To my fellow bloggers:
I was more or less (más o menos) without Internet for a month during this transition. Internet was installed for us about a week ago. I have over 600 emails to deal with, and I have only rarely been able to post on my blog. Even my reading has slowed way down. Please forgive my absence, and be patient as I try to establish a new normal at the same time that I review books I have already committed to. I am looking forward to reading your posts and reviews again. I will still occasionally write posts about my experiences in México and my views on education.
As a bellwether for my productivity in the immediate future, I should note that I started writing this post a week ago. Much to my frustration, life has not settled down yet as we still have purchases to make, installations to schedule, and so many decisions to make. I must declare, however, that all of this is easier in my home language, and I am enjoying that change.
The Puppy Who Knew Too Much
by V.M. Burns
Chattanooga, Tennessee, is my hometown, and it is also the setting of V. M. Burns’ The Puppy Who Knew Too Much. Although I know Chattanooga has changed since I moved away from the South, this book became a trip down memory lane. There are many factual details that make the book more realistic—the scary winding roads leading up to beautiful and tony Lookout Mountain, interstate highways that ease traffic across the Scenic City, and greasy burgers and delicious shakes in East Ridge. Other aspects are altered but have a basis in truth, particularly the fictional Chattanooga Museum of Art, situated on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and backed by the Hopewell family. When I lived in Chattanooga, it was actually the Hunter Art Gallery. From there you can see the Walnut Street Bridge, now a pedestrian bridge, that I crossed every day in our family VW to attend school. Other authentic tips of the hat are extended to Moon Pies, Southern hospitality, and great weather (compared to the Midwest and Northeast). As well as providing me with an outlet for my nostalgia, all of these smile provoking memories are related to reassure the reader of the authenticity of the setting.
As to the other aspects of this cozy mystery, the plot is intricate with several murders and the strong possibility that the crimes are related. Lilly has recently moved to Chattanooga with her toy poodle, Aggie, to push the restart button on her life. Just a few moths prior, she was jailed for the murder of her philandering husband. She is convinced by her friend Dixie to relocate in Chattanooga, and she finds a temporary job as an accountant at the museum. Life becomes “interesting” for her quickly as she informally investigates a murder with the help of her lawyer daughter Stephanie and her friend Dixie. Along the way, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officer Red joins forces with the group and romance is on the horizon.
The best part of this book is the role of various dogs. There is a lot of information about dog training to be picked up by osmosis as Dixie is a dog trainer. The story features a K-9 officer and Aggie, a smart puppy desperately in need of training. There is also a rescued dog with a surprise involvement.
The Puppy Who Knew Too Much barks out: Welcome to the South, one that has moved along with the times, but has retained beautiful views, the friendliness it is famous for, as well as a slower pace of life!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Dog Club Mystery Series, but works quite well as a standalone.
Publication: February 12, 2019—Kensington Books (Lyrical Underground)
…she had the You poor pitiful thing look in her eyes that she always gave me before she said, “Bless your heart,” which I’d learned was Southern speak for You’re an idiot.
I always thought the Midwest was a relatively friendly area, but two weeks in Chattanooga showed me the South was on a totally different level of friendliness. Complete strangers talked to you.
“It’s a Southern thing. We’re always trying to feed people and get them married off.”
“Honey, you’re in the South. We believe in hugs.”
by Margaret Mizushima
The action starts in Burning Ridge in the first chapter where readers also get filled in on the series background and meet some of the characters. From a rough and tumble bar fight, this novel moves on to a bright and sunny horseback ride for Cole, the local veterinarian, and his daughters in the Colorado mountains. The family ride turns dark and the mystery begins.
Margaret Mizushima has written a K-9 police procedural. No cozy mystery, this work of fiction looks at an evil-plotting mind plagued by excesses of greed. Main characters Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo find themselves in danger as she tries to solve a horrific crime that turns personal. Many are involved in finding the murderer, and there are a variety of suspects. Get ready for a surprise ending. In the process of the investigation, Mattie discovers parts of her past that she never knew as well as secrets buried deep in her psyche. She learns to accept help and to expand her ideas of what constitutes a family.
Burning Ridge is a page turner as are the other books in this fast moving series. It contains lots of information about K-9 officers shared in a non-didactic fashion.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Thriller
Notes: 1. This is #4 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series. It is good as a standalone, but be aware that each book reveals a little more about Mattie’s past as she comes to grips with it.
2. This contains more upsetting violence than I usually read, but it is within the acceptable boundary for me. Everyone is different so be aware that it contains some torture.
Publication: September 11, 2018—Crooked Lane Books
An occasional clump of young aspen shot up toward the cloudless blue sky. Spring leaves, bright green and as yet unblemished by summer dryness, quivered at the ends of branches, their spade-like shape seeming to catch even the slightest of breezes. “Look at the aspen leaves, girls. They’re dancing.”
Robo lay on his cushion, his eyes pinned on her every move. She’d learned from experience that her emotions went straight to her dog.
“Life can be full of regrets if you focus on them. We make decisions for whatever reasons we have in the moment, not because we have some superhuman vision of what will happen in the future.”
Recently my husband and I decided to go on a ride on our dual-sport bikes into the New Mexico mountains between Chama and Tres Piedras. Perfect distance–not too long, not too short.
My husband is famous for transporting unlikely things by motorcycle. Like the time he brought me a dozen red roses in a vase inside his motorcycle jacket. So, while I envisioned a couple of sandwiches, some fruit and water, he prepared barbecued ribs, roasted corn, deviled eggs, bolillos, and watermelon. It was a delicious picnic with an awesome view of the mountains and valley below.
It was a little breezy and cool on top, but really a perfect ride. This is a great destination for those suffering from the August heat. When done, we decided to venture further and found a great backcountry road in the Carson National Forest. It was warmer there, the road was in great shape, and peace and solitude abounded. This is an area we plan to return to.
by Elizabeth Gunn
With the interruptions common in daily life, I never finish a book in one sitting, and I rarely complete a book the same day I start it. Burning Meredith was an exception. I did stay up late to finish reading it because it was such a good mystery. Due to its focus on police investigative techniques, it is considered a police procedural by those who like to subdivide the genre.
Burning Meredith centers around a huge forest fire in the south-central Montana mountains, destroying many acres and threatening little Clark’s Fort. If it is possible for a bad thing to be good, then this forest fire was it. The disaster breathed new life into the little weekly Clark’s Fort Guardian and provided opportunities for young, local photo-journalist Stuart Campbell to shine. Not afraid of hard work and familiar with the mountains, he manages to put the Meredith Mountain area on the map nationally.
I like the journalist character, but I truly associate with retired teacher Alice Adams who works for the paper as an editor, initially only a few days a week. As she says, “After thirty-two years of catching kids passing crib notes, you didn’t just stop on a dime. Shouldn’t there be a twelve-step plan for this transition?” She is a respected fixture in the community, as she has taught English and social studies to several generations of Clark’s Fort middle schoolers. She encourages her nephew Stuart in his journalistic efforts, and she provides invaluable assistance in solving the mystery of an unidentified man whose body is found after the fire has been controlled.
There are two major threads to this plot; the author initially shares these in separate chapters as unrelated storylines. The reader gets caught up in the reporting of the fire, and then suddenly there is this other direction that appears like an itch waiting to be scratched. Author Elizabeth Gunn’s writing is excellent in terms of the general plot and how it plays out and also in her turn of phrase. Some of Gunn’s prose is so good that I found myself rereading parts just to enjoy her choice of words, her descriptive excellence, or her metaphors. Many mysteries do not allow for much in the way of character development or they expend too much energy on the characters at the expense of the plot. Gunn hits the mark with her writing style. Her main characters are developed and interesting; her minor characters provide a nice backdrop.
Elizabeth Gunn has two series of police procedurals. Will Burning Meredith begin a new series? I could find no indication that it would or wouldn’t, but my opinion is that this book is a good basis for one.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Police Procedural
Publication: June 1, 2018—Severn House
Like a bonus for a job well done, Clark’s Fort got a second freaky dose of luck. A surprise deflection in the polar vortex brought cold, moist air and a drastic dip in air pressure down across Canada and pouring into Montana.
“As you well know, Clark’s Fort doesn’t generate much news.” “For sure. My street gets so quiet on August afternoons, I swear I can hear the bluebirds planning their trip south.”
She gave him the English teacher look that had brought silence to rooms full of eighth-grade miscreants for a generation.
…when the weather warmed up the country roads became mud-holes even more impassable than the snow-drifts had been. People still had to get around, so they chained up and churned out, making ruts you could lose a spring calf in.