Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah


I read this because I'd seen it mentioned on a review of another book in which Alaska was just a flimsy and unrealistic backdrop for a love story.  The Great Alone, the review said, was an amazing depiction of life in the Alaskan bush.  The review wasn't wrong.  Whenever I read a book set in Alaska, I expect Alaska itself to be one of the characters.  And here it certainly is.  In fact, it's one of the main characters, complex and compelling.  A fascinating, beautiful, brutal place.

The human characters in The Great Alone are also interesting and multi-dimensional and imperfect.  I loved most of them—despite their flaws—and hated (yet somehow felt sorry for) one of them.  I think the book also sheds light on the struggles people go through and the dangers of certain types of relationships. 

The plot is often dark, but there are moments of light.

The details of survival on an Alaskan homestead are really interesting.

The writing is powerful and really transports you to Leni's Alaska.  At times the prose gets a bit repetitive or long, but it's a minor issue.
  
Overall, a great book.  Highly recommended, especially for those interested in how life was in an isolated part of Alaska in the 70s.  

I will certainly read more by Kristin Hannah.

4.5 stars.  Almost 5.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Guest Appearance on "My Writer's Life"




Fellow writer and artist, Deborah Lyn Stanley, recently hosted my new book on her site. 

https://lynstanleyart.com/writers-blog/2019/05/03/hiking-in-alaska-melindas-blog-tour/

Go check it out and look at some of her non-fiction and fiction, linked on the bar across the top.  I'm especially impressed by her article "Creating Hair for Portrait Art Quilts"

 https://lynstanleyart.com/writers-blog/creating-hair-for-portrait-art-quilts/

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

La gran fábrica de las palabras by Agnes de Lestrade

This is a beautiful book--both the story and the pictures.  It takes place in a world where you have to buy words, and where some words are more expensive than others.  It's just as profound as it sounds.  And sweetly touching.

Es un libro hermoso--ambos el cuento y las picturas.  Toma lugar en un mundo donde se tiene que comprar palabras, y unos son más caras que otras.  Es tan profundo como sueña.  Y muy dulce. 

The author, Agnes de LeStrade, and the illustrator, Valeria Docampo, did a fantastic job. 

It's originally in French, with a title that I believe translates the same as the Spanish version:  "The Great Word Factory." 

English speakers, sadly your title ended up "Phileas's Fortune:  A Story about Self-Expression."  Seriously, what sort of marketing choice was that?  But check it out anyway.  It's a
beautiful, beautiful book.

Now I want to check out more books both this artist and illustrator.

Phileas's Fortune on Amazon
La gran fábrica de las palabras on Amazon
 


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Alaska Cruise Highlights

One of my favorite things in the world is cruising to Alaska.  The nature is gorgeous.  The history is interesting.  And cruising allows you to approach it all from the water…with a minimum of fuss.  Here are some of my highlights. 

1)  Watching for Wildlife



Most Alaska cruises have one or two at-sea days and a glacier day.  Plus, summer light lasts long into the evening and the sun rises early.  All this gives you a lot of time to hang out on deck or by a window and watch for wildlife.  How much wildlife you see depends a lot on luck, but it also depends on how good your eye is and how much time you spend watching. 

Some amazing animals you have a good chance of seeing from the deck of your ship:
Humpback whales
Orcas
White-sided dolphins
Dall's porpoises
Sea lions
Harbor seals
Otters
Bald eagles 

You might also see more elusive creatures like these:
Puffins
Mountain goats
Bears (yes, I saw one swimming across Glacier Bay once, and a mama with cubs on a distant shore)

Others you may see while you're on shore:
Pretty much all of the above, plus
Salmon
Deer
Porcupines
Moose
Marmots

Obviously you're not going to see all of these in a week (unless you're very, very lucky and eagle-eyed), but through my various cruises I've seen most of them, and on some cruises I've seen at least glimpses of all of the major marine mammals listed above.

2)  Hiking



I love hiking anywhere.  It's one of my favorite hobbies.  But Alaska is a particularly spectacular place to do it.  You can hike through old-growth forest or across streams jumping with salmon or up to ridges above the treeline with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, water, and wilderness.  You can walk to a glacier.  You may even be able to walk ON a glacier.  It's paradise for hikers (both for casual walkers and hard-core enthusiasts…and people like me who are somewhere in between).  Many trailheads are easily accessible right from the ship, and plenty of others are possible with public transport.
 
Some of my favorites:
-Deer Mountain in Ketchikan
-Perseverance Trail in Juneau
-Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway
-Portage Pass in Whittier
-Harding IceField in Seward

For more on these an many more trails, check out my book, Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports



3)  Glaciers


I love the miniature icebergs floating in the water as you approach a glacier.  I love the seals that rest on those bergy bits.  I love the massive walls of ice.  I love the sound of "white thunder" as the glacier calves.  I love the bright blue that peaks out of the crevasses.  I love the sound of growlers squeaking against the prow of the boat as you steam slowly through the ice.  I love thinking about how many years it has taken this ice to make its slow-motion journey from the place it fell as snow, miles away.  Glaciers are a magical thing.  Whichever glacier/s you go to on your cruise, be sure to bundle up and spend a lot of time on the deck absorbing the grandeur of nature.


4)  Skagway



 Skagway is touristy, no doubt, but there's a reason:  it's a darling town with a fascinating history you can explore for free through the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park's various free museums and sites. They also give free walking tours full of stories of Soapy Smith, Skagway's most notorious con man and criminal.  Add to that the gorgeous surrounding and top-notch hiking, and you have one of my favorite ports

5)  Salmon



These tenacious fish amaze me.  How do they know how to return to their place of birth when it's time to spawn?  How do they find the strength to make such journeys, often long distance upstream or over waterfalls and through rapids?  Do they realize that the only thing that awaits them after this long journey is the chance to procreate…and then die?  Yes, salmon are amazing.  So is the lifestyle people have built around them.  So is seeing Ketchikan's Creek Street or Juneau's Steep Creek or Sitka's coastline or many other places boiling with the homeward-bound fish.  If you want to see them in action, consider planning your trip late in July or August. 

Alaskan cruising is an awesome thing.  To read more about how to discover (or rediscover) it for yourself, check out my book, Cruising Alaska on a Budget.  



Saturday, May 11, 2019

Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports

If you like hiking, and you like Alaska, I have the perfect book for you:


Inside:
-Great ideas for hikes, walks, and strolls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Homer, Kodiak, Whittier, Seward, and Anchorage. 
-Practical information on the trails, including distance, difficulty, elevation gain, and how to get to the trailheads.
-Pictures
-Trail stories
-A few longer routes for those traveling independently
-Tips on hiking safety, offline maps, etc. 

Only $1.99 right now:  Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports

Monday, April 29, 2019

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I loved this when I was little.  I loved it again last week.

It's funny, because it really doesn't have much of a traditional plot. The stakes feel quite low (though I suppose the true stakes are survival). The characters are all unrealistically perfect and good and there's not much character arc.

But...I couldn't stop reading.  It only took me a day and a half to finish (when that length of book would usually take me a week or two).

I kept telling people all about it and all the things I learned.

I suppose the amazing draw of this book is a combination of the simple but warm and beautiful writing and the fascinating details on how frontier Americans knew how to make everything and do everything.  I have no idea how to make cheese or smoke meat or weave straw hats. They had such clever solutions to problems we solve by turning on a switch or going to a store or searching the internet.  It's absolutely fascinating.

Now I want to read the others again.