Wednesday, September 22, 2021

More good Middle-Grade Books I've Read this Year

 If you saw my posts for The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling and 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr, you'll know that I've been reading some awesome middle-grade novels (and graphic novels!) recently.  Though the two above are my favorites of 2021 so far, here are some other good ones:

Class Act, by Jerry Craft.

Though I didn't find it quite as funny, charming, and subtly powerful as the first book (New Kid), I really enjoyed this graphic novel about a kid navigating both 8th grade and the social/racial/economic divides between his friends.

I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but this is one that makes me want to keep reading them.

Which leads me to...

Pájaro Blanco (White Bird) by R.J. Palacios

I thought it was a bit misleading to call it a Wonder novel, and I had a few issues with the ending, but the main story itself was fantastic.

I started at a little past midnight and finished at 2:30 am.  Reading that long is not something I do much anymore--and I needed to get up at a decent time in the morning--so that's really saying something.

Warning:  because of the content, if you're a parent of a child reading this, you might want to read it too and discuss.

The Great Hibernation,  by Tara Dairman

So, I found rather a lot of plot holes in this book.  But...

It was very interesting watching these kids try to act like adults and keep society going, and I LOVED the creepy downhill slide into oppression.  Chilling...yet it rarely felt heavy handed.  Nicely done. 

I also liked the characters and setting quite a bit. 

A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

This book tackles big issues (bigotry, depression, finding belongingness when you feel caught between two countries).  But it also serves a heaping helping of good food and friendship.

The alternating first-person points of view needed to be more distinct, but the writing was engaging.  

Soul Lanterns, by Shaw Kuzki

Some of the writing in this felt clunky and pedantic--especially the parts with the kids 25 years later learning about their own history--but some of that might have been the translation.

The stories of the people who survived--and didn't survive--the nuclear bomb blast in Hiroshima were heart-wrenching and beautifully told.  I cried.  A lot.  It takes a really good book to make me cry.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Bryce Canyon National Park--Figure-8 Combination Hike

I LOVE Bryce Canyon.  Granted, it was the first time I'd been out of my home state since the pandemic began, and that made it extra special, but seriously...the place is gorgeous.  The pictures are pretty, but they don't do it justice.

Bryce Canyon from the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise Points

Hiking Route:  I only had time to do one big hike, and I chose a good one with a slightly boring name:  the Figure-9 Combination Loop.  I started at Sunset Point, walked along the Rim Trail to Sunrise Point, then headed down into the canyon, following the Queen's Garden Trail to the Peekaboo Loop (which I did clockwise, as you're supposed to do in summer).  When the Peekaboo Loop looped back, I took the Wall Street Trail back up to Sunset Point.  By then I was a little hot and tired,  but I didn't want to stop, so I walked the Rim Trail up to Inspiration Point.  

Queen Victoria in the distance from the Queen's Garden Trail

Hike stats:  Figure-8 Combination Loop Stats: 6.4 miles, 1631 feet elevation gain.  Add another half mile or so and a bit more elevation if you go up to Inspiration Point.  The elevation gain isn't exceptional.  What makes it difficult is the elevation you start at.  Sunset Point sits at about 8000 feet.  So, unless you live at high elevation, you'll find yourself out of breath faster than normal.      

Trail snaking between hoodoos on the Peekaboo Loop

Hiking time:  The NPS brochure recommends 4-5 hours for the Figure-8.  It took me just over 3 hours, including a short lunch break. This is the point where I normally feel proud until some hiking friend says, "I did it in 2 hours."  Anyway,  what matters is the enjoyment.  If you want to take 6 hours, then you'll just have 3 more hours of enjoyment than I did.  

The Wall of Windows on the Peekaboo Loop

Hiking stars:  6 out of 5.

Only problem:  It's not exactly isolated.  The Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop parts are quite crowded.  "Disneyland trails" I call them, because there are so many people.  However...the Peekaboo Loop was a different story.  There were people, of course, but in the whole loop (3.5 miles) I only met about six sets of people coming the other way and kept leapfrogging with one set of people going the same way I was.  By the end, we'd struck up a bit of a friendship.  Ahhh...trail life.

The slot canyon part of the Wall Street Trail

I really recommend a hike down into the canyon, even if you don't have time/energy/inclination to do a long hike.  Walking among the hoodoos and seeing them tower over you is a very different experience than seeing them only from above.

Options for shorter below-the-rim hikes:  Take the Queen's Garden train down as far as you want and then retrace your steps.  It's considered the easiest descent into the canyon.  Another good route would be the Navajo Loop.  

And of course do some along-the-rim walking too. 

Heat:  Try to start early, especially if it's a warm day, and carry plenty of water.  Many trails are quite exposed.       

Monday, August 30, 2021

Red Canyon, Utah

Red Canyon, Utah.  If this looks like Bryce Canyon National Park, that might be because it's right down the road, along scenic Highway 12 between Highway 89 and Bryce.  These pictures are from the super short Pink Ledges trail.       

There are a whole host of other trails near here that I want to try someday.  There's also a campground, a visitor center, and a bike path all the way to Bryce Canyon.  

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Arizona--Land of Variation

Here are a few pictures showing the amazing variety you can see in Arizona in one day.  These are from Sunset Point (rest stop north of Phoenix) to a lookout on the road to Page, just north of Bitter Springs.  This is a distance of only 200 miles, and here is only SOME of what you see:

Sunset Point--high enough to be out of the saguaros,
but with smaller cactus and brush

Between Sunset Point and Flagstaff--
greener than usual thanks to our actual monsoon season this year

Sunset Crater area, just north of Flagstaff

The red cliffs on the road to Page
(not technically the Vermillion Cliffs, I believe, but neighbors). 
Down in this valley is the beginning of the Colorado
 River's greatest carving job:  the Grand Canyon. 

Pictures taken on this same route (and a little bit north and south) on different days or different years:

Just north of the northernmost point above:
Horseshoe Bend, a short hike from the highway.

Approaching the San Francisco Peaks
(near Flagstaff) from the north
Also greener than I've ever seen it

Lake Powell, from a viewpoint off the highway
just north of Page

And an example of the area between Phoenix and Sunset point

And  I can't find a picture of the area that looks like a bunch of purple and gray hills of wet sand, some eroded so they look like elephant feet.  Such an impressive drive!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr

I've been reading some really good middle grade novels recently.  This was definitely one of them. 

Of course, it doesn't hurt that I love Alaska and am fascinated by bush life.

The settings, characters, and emotions were all really well drawn.  The writings was good.  The author drew me into the story and kept me engaged. 

And I loved the crow.

I will absolutely read more by Cathy Carr. 

Rating: 4.5 stars. 

Cover:  Lovely

Monday, August 2, 2021

Monsoon Season!

 Monsoon season in Arizona is generally July and August.  When I was a kid, we'd have afternoon downpours at least two or three times per week.  The sky would be blue.  Then within half an hour or so, it started pouring.  It could be absolutely torrential.  Twenty minutes later it would stop.  The sun would come out.  An hour later, you'd never know it had rained.  And our swamp coolers would lose all effectiveness in the humidity.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that regular.  But that's what it feels like in my memory.

Last year, we hardly had any rain at all during monsoon season, leaving our plants and animals to languish.  This year, monsoons have caused flooding.  Weather is a powerful force.

I don't have good pictures of the last storm, because there's no way I was taking my camera out in such weather,.  It soaked my pants in about 15 seconds.  The bike path was a literal river that knocked several strong young men off their feet as they were trying to cross.  

A few nights before that, we watched the lightning storm across town.  There must have been three or four flashes per second for some of it.  

Another day I got to eat my lunch at a rainy lakeside park where the ducks seemed very confused about what was falling from the sky.  It's all been amazing.  Just no amazing photos.  

Here, at least, are some clouds (which we sometimes don't see for months):