Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Want to Get Away? Places to Visit

The fall is a perfect time to reflect on your next travel destination.  Here are some places to think about.

Travel Recommendation:  SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA

For those seeking warm sunshine this winter or spring, Cheryl A. recommends, " Scottsdale, AZ. Since it is also my former home for 11 years, I may be partial to this southwest city, however, I can guarantee that there is something in the area for almost every traveler.

If you enjoy warm weather, appreciate the beauty of the desert and like to site see, this may be your place. You can horseback ride, eat and drink well, relax by a resort pool, watch spectacular sunsets over the mountains which surround the Valley of the Sun, eat any meal outdoors most of the year and even visit a casino. Several hundred golf courses and free recreation parks with walking paths, biking trails, exercise stations are part of the attraction. Museums, theatre, symphonic and two stepping music await you. Wear your cowboy boots, hat and jeans or dress up with mink and diamonds depending on which culture you select. If you forget something, then shop until you drop in large malls or small boutiques.

June through early September can be beyond hot for many (116 degrees is not unusual), however, late September, November and even December are more moderate. If you want to see cactus bloom then March or April is your month. "

Travel Recommendation:  BEND, OREGON

Travelers for winter sports or summer fun might look at Cheryl's recommendation:

"Bend Oregon is an outdoor-lovers retreat! We visited there for the first time this summer and saw beautiful scenery driving up the mountain and down into the town. Locals and visitors alike are hiking, biking, walking, paddle boarding, tubing, canoeing, camping, etc. It is a Mecca for micro breweries, too.

Only drawback is how to get there. We drove up/back from Arizona and it is a long 2 day marathon. Few gas stations along the way and only mom and pop 50 style motels.

If you fly, you can go into Portland and rent a car or fly directly into Redmond Airport via 2
or 3 other stops.

Plan on at least 5-7 days to see it all – Lava Land, Mt. Bachelor, Sun River Resort,
Deschutes River area, boutique shopping, Harley shop.

Winter is snowshoe time or skiing; while summer is floating on the rivers, hiking and shooting.

Great for families or couples.

Travel Recommendation:  ALASKA

 Pearl recommends, "Alaska, particularly Denali National Park. If you combine
the inland and crurise tour, we found that going north first for the inland part of
the tour before the cruise works best. First of all it is cheaper, secondly you know
people of the cruise ship."
Others who have also made the 'once in a lifetime' trip to Alaska agree.  Beautiful scenery, glaciers, eagles' nest, whales, so much to see.  Plan now if you want to make the trip next summer.

Travel Recommendation:  STAYCATION

For those looking to enjoy this week in Pennsylvania, the scenery is still spectacular.  From the Kinzua area of the Allegheny National Forest south through the Pittsburgh area, trees are still showing their fall colors. 

In your area, the trees may look bare, but a short drive north, south, east or west produces some surprises.  As you round a bend in the road, a beautiful stand of red and yellow-leaved trees appears. Enjoy!

Travel Recommendation:  MENTAL GETAWAY
Can't leave the area?  We have the perfect way for you to relax.  You can tone up, gain strength and flexibility, and also reach that supremely relaxing meditative state.  Sign up for a yoga class with Jean F and float away to your very favorite place. Want an endorsement of the powers of yoga?  Ask Marty, Julie, or Linda L.

Thanks to Cheryl A. and to Pearl B. for recommending Scottsdale, Arizona,  Bend, Oregon, and Alaska. And to Pearl for the great pictures of Alaska.  We're grateful to both of you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Finally! Time to Read: 35 Suggestions For Your Next Reading Experience

We’re all addicted readers so this time we’re listing what we’ve been reading. Fortunately, many of us are willing to take a few minutes to rate and recommend (or not) what we’ve read lately.  We're using a simple ranking format of 4 to 1, with 4 as the best of the best.

(4) must read (3) worth the time to read (2) read only if you have no other reading material of any kind (1) don't bother reading at all,

Non Fiction Suggestions with a Rating of 4-Must Read

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba-as suggested by Marty J.

• The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. (Suggested by Joan H.) Joan writes, “ If you are into the history of the German takeover by Hitler you will love this book.  This is the story of a small southern professor who becomes the Ambassador from the US to Germany and his alerts to the US Gov. about what was happening in Germany as Hitler was coming into power. Great read!”

• Helmet For My Pillow:  From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Lecke. This is an autobiography listed by Bob A. who writes, “ After viewing the HBO miniseries entitled The Pacific, I immediately became interested in the heroes depicted in that production. I seem to have an abiding interest in the Pacific theater probably because I was stationed there twice during my military career.”

• I'm Staying with My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC by Jim Proser-the second of four recommendations on heroes of the Pacific Theater by Bob A.

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. This choice was also given by Bob A who describes it as “The true and almost unbelievable biography of Louis Zamperini. The most remarkable and impressionable book I read. It was outstanding. A resounding 4 rating. You are probably aware that Laura Hillenbrand also wrote Seabiscuit, which was a good film as well.”

                           Nonfiction with Recommendations of 3-Worth the Time to Read

• With The Old Breed by E.B. Sledge(autobiography)--3+ One of Bob A’s picks from the heroes of the miniseries The Pacific

                           Fiction with a Rating of 4-Must Read

• Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson.  Joan H. writes, “This is a good story about a woman who has lost her memory (accident) and her therapst is trying to help her. She is seeking help against her husband's knowledge for good reason. Ends with a good twist.”

The Confession by John Grisham and suggested by Peggy.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese suggested by Linda S.

• The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke--4. Another series set in Louisiana and suggested by Bob A.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. A suggestion from Linda S and reviewed earlier in the blog on 01/05/10.

In the Name of Honor by Richard North Patterson. Peggy notes, “This outstanding novel reminds me that I need to go back and see what else I might have missed by R. N. Patterson.”

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera. This historical novel has been suggested by Marty J.

Sarah's Key by Tatiania de Rosnay. The only fiction title to be suggested by three of us.-Joan H., Marty J. and Linda S. Joan H. observes, “This story took place in France and the main character was given a project by her magazine co. to write about the French police rounding up the Jews for the Gernman concentration camps. Great story.”

• Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. This recommendation comes from Linda S.

A Skeleton in God’s Closet by Paul Maier as listed by Marty J. and described by reviewers as a ‘theological thriller.”

Still Life by Joy Fielding suggested by Linda S.

                           Fiction with a 3 rating-Worth the Time to Read

• Back of  Beyond by CJ Box--3. Bob A. notes, “I also have enjoyed his Joe Picket series of novels, but its best to read them in sequence. At least that's true for someone as mildly anal retentive as I am.”

• Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand recommended by Marty J.

City of Light by Lauren Belfer. Marty also suggested this historical novel.

• A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin-Peggy writes, “This is a very good read, and the fifth in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Anyone who watched the HBO miniseries, A Game of Thrones, is aware of the first book in the series. Memorable characters are complex individuals; those who manipulate and use brute force to gain power, others who struggle to be honorable and loyal to both family and king, and still others who know that playing the game requires calling to the fore all of the complexities of human beings. Starting with the first book and working up to A Dance With Dragons allows the reader to watch a characters fight, manipulate, reflect on, and regret their parts in the game. Peter Dinklage won the 2011 Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of the pivotal figure, Tyrion Lannister.

Eyes of a Child by Richard North Patterson and suggested by Peggy.

• The First Day of the Rest of My Life by Cathy Lamb. Peggy notes, “This novel examines two sisters, their adult professions, and the ways they cope as adults with abuse suffered in childhood. It describes the family’s wrenching recognition of their grandmother’s descent into dementia, and the uncovering of the mysterious background of the grandparents who escaped persecution in France during WW II.  The book is a record of the resulting courage, humor, acceptance, and renewal that each of the sisters achieves.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This historical fiction selection comes from Marty J.

Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer. Peggy notes, “The Culper Spy Ring was organized during the Revolutionary War to provide information to George Washington. Meltzer’s Inner Circle links the original Culper Spy Ring to a contemporary version of the same small group on whom the President depends for vital information. For the reader who enjoys the interweaving of historical information into persent-day mystery, the Inner Circle doesn’t disappoint.”

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn. One of Marty’s recommendations, this is the first novel in a trilogy. Ishmael has been described by reviewers as a ‘philosophical novel’.

• The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Linda S. has suggested this fictional ‘autobiography’ of the second wife of Ernest Hemingway.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake has also been recommended by Linda.

Things Unspoken by Anitra Sheen. Recommended by Peggy, “This novel was published in 1998, but I missed it altogether. On a flight West this summer, a seatmate finished it and gave it to me. I was grateful that she did. The story of a little girl, puzzled by her own family during childhood and growing into confusing adolescence captures the reader’s interest and compassion. As Jorie deals with her family, she struggles to handle the heartbreak she experiences because of a father who by his own admission, loved her best when she was 5. At the same time, she tries to provide some semblance of normalcy for her family. The only problem making this a 3 instead of a 4 is that the last part of the novel seemed to be sketchy and just tacked on by the author in an ‘Oh, I forgot to say what happens to Jorie and her brothers’ moment."

A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion. Joan H. writes,” Another good book that touches the heart.”

• Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen as recommended by Marty J.

Worth Dying For by Lee Child--3+ . Bob A. observes, “Again, another series with Jack Reacher as the protagonist/anti-hero. Of course, I've read the entire series.” Peggy also writes, “The Reacher series has been described as fiction written for a male audience. However, Reacher’s integrity, courage, sensitivity to the weaknesses of others, and the ability to create in other characters to will to be more than they think they can be all appeal to me.. I might not know anything about the speed of a bullet or the force exerted by the swing of a 250-lb., 6 ‘ 5” former Army officer, but I have to admire the intellect of the character who analyzes all situations and confrontations based on such knowledge and then acts without remorse to help anyone who needs him. From beginning to end, the Jack Reacher series entertains and uplifts.

       Fiction with a 2 rating- Read Only if You Have no Other Reading Material of Any Kind

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve as noted by Marty J.

Hell’s Corner by David Baldacci.  Peggy says, “I was disappointed in this most recent book featuring John Carr,  known as Oliver Stone to his small circle of friends, and the Camel Club. I love to read Baldacci, and I usually enjoy the Camel Club series, but this was too superficial.”

Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwall. Peggy observes, “I’ve been a fan of Cornwall’s Scarpetta in the past and was disappointed by the lack of depth, both in characterization and plot, in this offering."

It is amazing that only two novels, Sarah’s Key and Worth Dying For were listed by multiple contributors. Issuing a call for reading suggestions has really illustrated the wide range of reading enjoyed by all of us.

If you’d like to submit suggestions but haven’t done so yet-or if you have more to recommend-please send them in for posting.

Remember that many of our contributors have already reviewed books for the blog:Thanks to Joan H., Linda S.,and Cheryl A. for several of the contributions below.  Readers can find these reviews in the blog search box or by blog archivedate as listed. on the right side of the home page.

The Outliers-07/28/09-nonfiction
The Guernsey Literary and Poato Peel Pie Society 07/17/09-epistolary novel

Still Alice 7/17/09-nonfiction
Fearless Fourteen-06/27/09-fiction
The Lost Symbol-10/04/09-fiction
The Red Tent-10/25/09

The Art of Racing in the Rain-05/23/10-fiction
Fiction Works(3) of John Hart-04/07/11
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-05/28/10-fiction
The Second Opinion-03/09/10-fiction
Tonight in the Rivers of Pittsburgh 04/08/11-nonfiction
Woods on Fire-04/08/11-nonfiction
Zelienople Road-04/08/11-nonfiction
The Help-01/05/10-fiction
What the Dog Saw-07/10/10-nonfiction

Thanks to all of you who contributed your suggestions. With a list like this, we’ll always have books to read next. And we'll have a literary roadmap when we want to move out of our own comfort zone into works by authors we have yet to experience.