Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 8: Kauai

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I realize this post is a VERY long time coming, but since it's about my favorite day of the trip and my favorite island, I hope it will be worth the wait.

Confession: I knew Kauai would be my favorite island long before I ever stepped foot on its emerald shore. I've had a slight obsession with it for several years now. In the novel I'm currently writing, there is an island with a similar topography to Kauai's, and I have pictures of the Na Pali Coast and the Mount Waialeale crater posted around my office as inspiration. I will watch any movie set in Kauai, no matter how terrible it is. (I've seen A Perfect Getaway more times than I can count.) When we went to see The Descendants, I admit that one of my main motivations for seeing it was because it was set in Kauai. Of course, only part of it is in Kauai, which I didn't realize until the movie began (and then I was a little disappointed), but it was a great movie nonetheless, and it was fun seeing so many now-familiar places in Oahu and Kauai and thinking about the fact that I was just there two months ago.

I'll admit, too, that my biggest motivation for wanting to honeymoon in Hawai'i was that I wanted to go to Kauai, and that was the main reason I decided to book a cruise (that gave me two days on the island) as opposed to just booking a land vacation to Oahu like so many other honeymooners do. So as you can imagine, I was too excited to sleep well the night before we arrived in Kauai, and I was up and ready long before we docked--early enough to watch the whales that were there to greet us as we came into port and to get some shots of the island in the early morning light.


Of course, of all days, this was the one day we were up and ready in plenty of time to get off the boat at its scheduled docking time (8:00) and ALSO the one day the ship was late! We didn't dock until around 8:15, and by then the Deck 3 hallways and staircase (where we were standing) were pretty congested. Once we finally got off the ship, we assumed we'd be able to make the first Thrifty shuttle and that it would already be waiting for us outside, but there were NO car rentals shuttles waiting. After another ten minute wait, they finally began arriving (and the port here was much stricter on the drivers, making them get out and searching some of them before they would allow them to enter and pick us up). So even though we'd done everything we could to get a head start that day, we ended up not getting into a car and beginning our day until around 8:45--the same as the other days when we HAD been running late! Still, besides this little snag that made us miss twenty or thirty more minutes of touring time, we had an amazing day.

When I'd originally begun planning for our trip, I basically had one goal in mind--to hike the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach. It's long been a bucket list goal of mine to hike the whole Kalalau Trail, but I knew that wouldn't be possible on this trip, so I at least wanted to get a taste of it. Unfortunately, as I watched the forecast for Kauai during the week leading up to our arrival (mainly concerned about our helicopter flight the next day being cancelled), I saw that Thursday's forecast called for rain on the north shore of Kauai. The trail can already be pretty wet and nasty even during normal conditions, so hiking it in the rain didn't sound appealing, and I knew that if we got soaked and muddy we wouldn't feel like doing much touring afterward. So instead, the night before we arrived in Kauai, I created a new game plan based on the southern, drier side of the island.

The first thing you need to know about Kauai is that it's almost round...


...and there is basically one main road that runs almost entirely around it. Circumnavigation, however, is thwarted by the colossal cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, so if you drive as far west as possible (say, to Polihale Beach or the Kalalau Valley Lookout) where you are truly just a few short miles from the north shore, there is no way to cross that short distance without driving all the way back around the island, which can take a couple of hours on the narrow, windy road that is often full of traffic. Instead of driving all the way north to the end of the road and trying to hike Kalalau only to be disappointed by rain, we decided to head south and west instead, to Waimea Canyon

It was a lovely day, sunny and warm with a clear blue sky, and I was wondering where this rain was that I'd read about. (You can never trust the Weather Channel.) Of course, it could have been raining on the north shore, but it was hard to imagine that on such a small island it could be cloudy and overcast just a few miles from where we were experiencing sun and clear skies. (Although in Kauai it's highly possible that it was.) Traffic that Thursday morning was light to non-existent, so we made it to the 550-A turn-off to Waimea Canyon in only half an hour or so.
Waimea Canyon forming to our left as we drove up Hwy. 550-A.
Hwy. 550-A/550-B is the scenic drive alongside the canyon, with lots of lovely lookouts and places to pull-off. We used our Lonely Planet guide to Kauai to direct us along the route, and it's great about telling you which pull-offs to stop at (most are unmarked) by directing you via mile markers. We had no trouble finding most of the stops we were looking for, except the book didn't tell us about this one:


I'd seen other travelers' pictures of this waterfall on travel boards, but I wasn't sure exactly where it was. We almost missed it because it is off to the left side of the road, right across from a pretty nice pull-off for the canyon, so it's fairly easy to get caught up in looking at the canyon and completely miss this really interesting little waterfall. We saw lots of people flying past it only to turn around and come back because they hadn't realized it was there. Fortunately, I was on the lookout for it, so we didn't have to do that.

After taking many, many pics of the waterfall (it was fun to play with shadows on the red dirt here), we stopped at several other pull-offs to look at the canyon.


It wasn't until much later in the day that we realized our new circular polarizer, the one we'd just gotten to work the day before, was leaving black rings around our pictures! Unfortunately, many of the pictures from that day have them.

We stopped at all the major Canyon and Na Pali lookouts--Waimea Canyon Lookout, Pu'u Hinahina, Kalalau Valley, Pu'u o Kila. 






Waimea Canyon Lookout gave the best view of the canyon, we thought, but it was fairly crowded with bus tourists. This was one of the places that reminded me of why we prefer to DIY instead of taking bus tours. There were a lot of bored-looking tourists waiting around for their tour groups to reconvene. We were able to explore the different levels of the lookout at our leisure and were still back to the car and on our way long before some of the buses who had gotten there before us. Between the Waimea Canyon and Pu'u Hinahina Lookouts we tried to see Waipo'o Falls from some of the pull-offs along the road, but we never could find it. We actually thought it might have dried up temporarily, but then we saw it during our helicopter tour the next day, so I'm not sure how we missed it.



When we reached the Kalalau Valley Lookout, I was almost bouncing because I knew I was about to get my first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast! Thankfully, our view that day was not obscured by clouds the way it often is, and after waiting a few minutes for our turn at the railing, we were awarded this view:

Kalalau Valley and the Na Pali Coast
Pretty much postcard perfect. The Kalalau Valley Lookout is the view of the Na Pali that is most famously portrayed in pictures of the coast, so I knew seeing this view would (mostly) make up for not being able to hike the Kalalau Trail. 



There's a nice parking lot at this lookout, and there were only a few other people there, but there are only a couple of good places to see the valley and cliffs along the lookout railing because there is so much brush growing up and obscuring the view. 

After we left the lookout, we headed for the end of the road, the Pu'u o Kila Lookout and Pihea Trailhead, and even though parking was difficult (since the trailhead is here, there are far more people parked for far longer periods of time) and the angle of the lookout wasn't as good as Kalalau Valley, the view was much more open. We first went up onto the little viewing platform, but we discovered the view was much better if you walked a little along the wide-open trail. 




The trail is dirt and has washed away in some places, so it isn't easy to traverse, but it was worth it to have sweeping views of the valley unobstructed by...anything. There are so many amazing-looking trails in Kauai, a part of me almost wishes we had just skipped the whole cruise and gone to Kauai for a week.

It was lunchtime, so we drove back down to Hanapepe after that. We stopped at a local drug store to pick up some supplies and then went to Hanapepe Cafe & Bakery for lunch, a little local joint recommended in Lonely Planet. It's in the downtown area of Hanapepe, where the Art Walk is held every Friday evening. There's a big indie bookstore there too, Talk Story, which we didn't have time to explore. More reasons to return to Kauai in the near(ish) future. 

After a light lunch (soup and salad), we went for dessert at Lappert's. This was one of the highlights of the day, and in a day full of wonderful things, that's saying something! Lappert's has a huge variety of handmade ice creams and sorbets, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that my scoop of Tutu's Anniversary was the best ice cream/sorbet I've ever had. Tutu's Anniversary is a combination of coconut ice cream, raspberry sorbet, and Auntie Lilikoi's Passion Fruit sorbet. I'm drooling just thinking about it. I can't remember what kind T.J. had (I think there were mangoes involved) but it was almost as good as mine.

You can order Lappert's to be shipped to you on the mainland, but at $20 a pint and a minimum order of six pints, I think I'll be back in Kauai before I have another taste of Tutu's Anniversary.
After savoring every last drop of ice cream, we headed for Port Allen because I wanted to find Glass Beach. This was a really short drive, just a few minutes from Lappert's, and we first decided to stop at a little shopping center down near the harbor so we could try some sweets from Kauai Chocolate Company. 


This is a really small shop where they also make chocolates right in front of you, and we picked up an assorted box of chocolates with mango, coconut cream, and other kinds of filling. As I mentioned in another blog, we waited until we got home to eat them, and then we were each allowed one a day. They were pretty phenomenal! In winter (when they won't melt), you can also ship them to the mainland, which is nice.

After leaving Kauai Chocolate, we drove to Glass Beach, which was a little tricky to find. You have to drive past some factory-type place onto a dirt road where it truly looks like you shouldn't driving (and are probably on private property), but luckily there wasn't anyone around to tell us we weren't allowed back there. We stopped at the first beach access we came to, even though the road continued onward, and at first we looked around wondering, "Is this Glass Beach?" We honestly couldn't tell at first, but as we walked down to the shore, the sand began to change.




Oh, yeah, we were definitely at Glass Beach. We combed through the sand for a while, looking for larger chunks of glass that the surf hadn't completely obliterated yet, and we found a few shards of green, blue, white, and orange/brown glass to bring back. No chunks of red, which I'd read in Jessi Kirby's Moonglass was the rarest (and hence the color I most wanted to find, even though it's one of my least favorite colors). At first we weren't sure what to do with a handful of random pieces of glass, but T.J. suggested we put them on top of the sand in our sand ceremony jar from our wedding, which I thought was a brilliant idea, so we kept our beach finds.

While we were there we had the beach pretty much to ourselves, but a woman showed up just before we left who was obviously also a tourist. She too wanted to know if she was in the right spot, and she started combing the sand as we left.

The worst thing about the "sand" on Glass Beach was getting it off! It stuck to everything--hands, clothes, feet--and didn't dry and dust off the way regular sand does. If you tried to brush it off, it just clung to whatever you tried to wipe it off with, so we decided to search for a place to clean up. We'd seen a parking lot with a bathhouse down by the harbor (where it seems a lot of people leave to go diving) so we sneaked down there to use the outdoor shower to rinse off. I'm not sure if we were technically allowed down there (it seemed like a "members only" kind of place), but no one said anything to us and at least we were clean afterward!

After that our plans were kind of up in the air. We thought about driving down to Po'ipu to see the Spouting Horn, or driving through the eucalyptus tree tunnel. I really wanted to head up to the north shore, though, and I knew it would be quite a drive, so we saved Po'ipu for a future trip and headed north!

Our first stop along the way was Wailua Falls, made famous in the opening credits of Fantasy Island. This was just a quick stop, and honestly, if you're pressed for time, it isn't a super important one. It's a pretty, 80-foot double waterfall, often with a rainbow in the mist below, but compared with Akaka Falls (or any of the waterfalls we saw on the helicopter ride the next day), it isn't too special. The lookout limits your view of the falls and the angles from which you can shoot. You can hike to the bottom, but I didn't see anyone doing so. It is a muddy, dangerously steep path, from what I've read.
Wailua Falls
After maybe five minutes at the lookout, we backtracked to the main road and continued our journey north. Even though the island isn't very big, it's a slow trip up the east coast because A) it's the only road north, and B) the speed limits are low and there various little towns and tourist areas you have to drive through, limiting how fast you can drive. The towns are interesting, though, and I'd love to go back one day and spend a few days on each side of the island--the south, the east, the north, and hiking the west.

Our next stop was Kilauea Lighthouse. This was also a short 10-15 minute picture stop because we now had a new plan in mind--make it to Ke'e Beach (the end of the road) in time for sunset. It was already getting late in the afternoon and we still had a ways to drive, so we couldn't make too many stops after this one.
Kilauea Lighthouse
We did stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout, though, which ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the trip...
Taro fields in Hanalei Valley
...and we stopped at Hanalei Bay briefly, although by that point the setting sun was messing up the lighting.


We drove through Hanalei, which is a charming town I'd love to visit and stay in for some time (also where most of the Kauai scenes in The Descendants take place), and then navigated the series of one-lane bridges leading to the far north/northwest beaches. We didn't have time to stop at any of them, although I did try to keep track of them on the map as we passed by, and we did stop briefly at Maniniholo Dry Cave, which is right across the road from Ha'ena Beach Park.


We made it to Ke'e Beach just before sunset and fortunately found a parking space. I also got to see the Kalalau trailhead!


Ke'e Beach is pretty much the only place to watch the sunset from the north shore, so there were people scattered all along the beach for probably half a mile. The parking lot deposits you at the far end of the beach, right beside the beginning of the Na Pali Coast, so you have some room to spread out from there, and the further down the beach you go, the better the view of the sunset, I would imagine. We walked maybe 300 yards or so before picking our spot in the sand.






Watching the sunset on that beach was the perfect end to a perfect day, and it's one of my favorite memories from the trip. As amazing as watching the sunrise at Haleakala was, in some ways this sunset was even better because the place meant something more to me. So often when I do extensive research on a place and build up almost impossible expectations in my head I end up disappointed, but Kauai was even more beautiful and peaceful than I had imagined. I'm not a very spiritual person, but for me it was a spiritual place, a place where I could be happy taking things a little slower, sitting back and doing nothing but appreciate the natural beauty all around me. I can become a bit misanthropic when I travel, growing annoyed at loud, inconsiderate tourists, people who are so absorbed in their conversations, cell phones, or travel books that they fail to notice what's in front of them and to appreciate how fortunate they are to be in that place at that time. But (with the exception of the bus tourists at Waimea, who I mostly felt sorry for) I didn't feel that way in Kauai. Kauai seems to invite a very different kind of visitor, the kind who can sit enraptured watching the sun set, who linger long after the last embers have melted into the ocean, who stay to watch the stars wink into being in the twilit sky. The kind of visitors for whom nature is a tangible thing, not just a vista framed in a camera viewfinder, but something to hike, to climb, to swim, to sink your hands into. That's the kind of visitor I long to be to Kauai, and even though we were there for such a short time and rushed through so much in our two days, it was sitting on Ke'e Beach at sunset that I really felt like I was beginning to understand the island, that I was finally becoming the kind of visitor worthy of it.

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On the Death of Adrienne Rich

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Celebrity deaths sadden us for a variety of reasons. Some, like Heath Ledger, are mourned because they are lost too soon, at the very height of their creative powers, when there is so much left for them to accomplish. Other deaths are less shocking (Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse) but leave us wondering what if? What if they hadn't gotten involved with the wrong people, weren't harassed by the paparazzi, hadn't started taking drugs, were left alone to create their art? Would they still be with us? Would they still be creating? We are forced to ask these questions, to continually relive these deaths, as we wait for toxicology reports, read interviews with grieving family and friends, and watch elaborate funerals full of sobbing celebrities eulogizing their dear departed friends. 

Adrienne Rich's death saddens me for a different reason--because she isn't receiving the attention her body of work deserves. Now, I know a writer's death is never going to receive the kind of media attention the deaths of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson received. But most important writers receive at least some recognition in major headlines. I still remember when J.D. Salinger and David Foster Wallace died, remember the headlines and the articles that speculated for weeks. (Would we finally learn what Salinger had been writing and hiding in his vault all these years?) Often I will see small headlines on MSN or Yahoo that say "Author of Random Book/Play/Movie Dies at Age ____." The author's name isn't famous enough to grab attention, but the work itself is, at least among a certain population. But what's interesting about Rich's death is that she isn't receiving either type of headline. 

I learned of her death through Facebook, which is where I learn of most celebrity deaths, but instead of a myriad of "RIP Adrienne Rich"s greeting me on my news feed, I found only links to two obituaries by two former colleagues. Both, of course, are English professors or English professors-to-be. When I went looking for coverage of her death, I found no link, no matter how minor, on the Yahoo homepage. I scrolled through all 60 top stories, which highlighted such devastatingly important topics as how hot Kate Winslet is at 36 and how James Franco now resembles K-Fed. (Yahoo does have an article on Rich's death, but it's hidden in Yahoo News under the Entertainment section.) The MSN homepage hasn't been working for me the last few days, so I next turned to Huffington Post, my tried-and-true news source. Unfortunately, there were no mentions of Rich's death on their main page either, and I had to hunt down the obscure "Books" page to find an article on her death. Even then, her death was not the primary headline. No, that was reserved for an article on a new book about a CIA sting to capture "9/11 mastermind."

Is the lack of media attention because Rich was a poet? Because she was specifically (as both headlines made clear) a feminist poet? Reading the (always bigoted) comments on Yahoo leads me to believe so. It certainly isn't because she wasn't famous enough, important enough, loved enough. As the Yahoo article mentions, "her books have sold between 750,000 and 800,000 copies, a high amount for a poet." She won the National Book Award and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton (which she refused). Her poems are in nearly every anthology of twentieth-century poetry (by a scholarly press) you can find. 

I was eighteen and in my second semester of college when I discovered Rich. She would later become required reading in countless poetry, creative writing, and women's literature courses I took, and was one of fifteen twentieth-century authors I was required to read for my master's-level comprehensive exams. But it's that first time I was introduced to her, sitting in my dorm room, lonely, lost, and trying to figure out who I was and what it meant to be a writer, that I sat down with my Intro to Literature textbook and read "Diving into the Wreck." The same poem that I have named not one but two blogs after (and have discussed here), that is so achingly beautiful and intimidatingly profound that my heart races every time I read it. The poem that I am going to leave you with today.

Diving Into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

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Age and Illness with a Touch of Ennui

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Thursday I turn 29, and lest I forget that I'm getting ever closer to the big 3-0, my body decided to self-destruct yesterday. After months of dealing with lower back pain (which I blame on my awful desk chair at work, which I have to sit in 7+ hours a day), said lower back muscle seized up and spasmed yesterday when I was getting out of the shower, bringing me to my knees. I could barely move much less sit or walk, so needless to say I didn't make it to work. After a full day of lying on a heating pad and popping the anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers my doctor had previously prescribed, I managed to make it to Urgent Care, where they gave me a steroid shot and a referral for physical therapy. I'm feeling much better today, but I still can't walk or sit for extended periods of time, so I took today off to rest as well.

This whole experience is particularly frustrating because until I moved to Pennsylvania, I prided myself on my good health, on the fact that in the past ten years I'd been to the doctor maybe five times, and even then usually left the doctor's office feeling as though I'd just wasted my time (and co-pay) and my body could have easily healed on its own. Since I made the big move last August, however, I have been to more doctors' offices and taken more medications than I did in the previous 28 years combined. Still, I hadn't had to take a single sick day this year (or ever, come to think of it) until yesterday.

I have to rest as much as possible over the next couple of days, though, because on Thursday T.J. and I are going to Niagara Falls for a few days. We've been before but got a really great weekend package deal from Living Social, so we couldn't pass it up. It will be nice to get away from here for a few days. We haven't really gone anywhere since we got back from our honeymoon at the beginning of January, and I think being cooped up here in this little mountain town is starting to get to me. I've been even less productive than usual lately, and even when I find myself with hours of free time, I can't motivate myself to do ANYTHING, not even read or watch TV. That's not to say I haven't been reading lots and keeping up with all my favorite shows, because I have, but just that I could be doing so much MORE than I'm doing. Call it depression, ennui, whatever you want, but I need to escape for a few days so I can hopefully come back refreshed and get my act together. I'm hoping that's what this little trip accomplishes.

I've also decided to do one of those 365 photo logs so many people do, but instead of basing it on the calendar year, I'm going to chronicle my last year as a twenty-something. So look out for the first picture on Thursday (either here or on Facebook; I haven't decided).

Despite my lack of desire to do ANYTHING, much less ALL THE THINGS, I have made good progress on a new short story, and I'm going to be doing a writer's talk/reading here at SFU next week (with a dinner in my honor!). So those are all good things. And I had two stories published in the last couple of weeks, "Black & White" in Southpaw Literary Journal and "The Trappings of Mice" in The Vehicle, both of which I'm really excited about.

Despite my ennui, I'm ahead of my reading goal for this year. So far this month I've finished Lauren Oliver's Pandemonium and side story Hana, Margaret Atwood's I'm Starved for You, Rachel Hawkins' Spell Bound, and Megan Mayhew Bergman's Birds of a Lesser Paradise.

 
Spell Bound was a fantastic conclusion to the Hex Hall series. (Although I thought the battles and some other really important scenes felt rushed and imprecise, and I still feel that Cal is total Dullsville as a second leading man. That's okay, though, because Archer was hotter and snarkier than ever!) Still I loved the book and gobbled it up as quickly as I did the first two. Sophie was her witty, sarcastic self through and through. More and more I find myself getting annoyed with YA heroines, but Sophie never lets me down.

 
Birds of a Lesser Paradise is Bergman's debut story collection. I kind of felt about this book the way I felt about Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness (which I reviewed last month); there were some truly moving, memorable moments, and some fantastic lines, but overall it was lacking something. The first story was very strong (and appeared in Best American Short Stories 2011), and I liked the two that followed it, but I thought the stories kind of went downhill from there. Overall, though, I'm excited to see what Bergman does in the future and I have to say that even when her stories left me wanting something more, I still was somehow inspired by them, and I've spent the last week jotting down more short story ideas than I've had in years--enough for a whole collection if I wrote them all.

 
Lauren Oliver's Pandemonium is the second book in her Delirium series, so I was a little wary of it at first. The whole sophomore slump thing and all. In almost every YA series I can think of, the second book is my least favorite (I think Beth Revis's A Million Suns is the only exception). And I didn't like Pandemonium as much as Delirium, but it was still a strong book. Parts of Lena's personal journey were a little unbelievable, I think (I don't want to spoil anything, but I found some of her boy-related decisions to be a bit forced), but overall this book had lots of action, new characters, and new scenery that made it a compelling read on its own.
 
After I finished Pandemonium, I downloaded the companion story (novella?) Hana. I love that so many YA authors are doing these little side story e-books that give us a different perspective on events that happen in their books or let us see into another part of their world. Carrie Ryan did it with Hare Moon and Stephenie Meyer did it with The Second Short Life of Bree Tanner. I had high hopes for Hana, too, because I was hoping that it would let us in on what was happening in Portland after Lena left, but instead it was just a retelling of part of Delirium of Hana's point of view. I was pretty disappointed in it at first, but the last couple of lines made up for any disappointments I initially had. In its own way, Hana does give insight into what happens after Lena leaves, and it explains a lot of questions I had about Hana's character in Delirium. So for those reasons alone I think it's worth the read.

 
As much as I love the side-story e-books by YA novelists, I love the shorts Byliner is publishing even more. These are "shorts" (something between a short story and a novella) written by famous writers, and I was super surprised and happy to see one by Margaret Atwood a couple of weeks ago! This is a fantastic piece of speculative fiction, simultaneously imaginative and frightening, as all good dystopian stories should be. Byliner fictions are meant to be read "in one sitting," and I easily read Atwood's in one evening. If you're a fan of hers, and especially of her speculative fiction, "I'm Starved for You" is definitely worth the $2.99.

There's still time for a couple more books this month, and next on deck I have Kirsten Hubbard's Wanderlove, which I started earlier this evening. Tomorrow it's back to work and I hope that getting back into a routine will help me get over this unproductive period I've been going through the last few days. After all, I only have one day to get all my work for the week done and then I'm off to Niagara Falls for three days!

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February Reading Update

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's March already (where has the time gone?!), so that means it's time for a reading update! Last month I posted about my one resolution for the year--to read 52 books for fun, one for each week of the year. I'm happy to report that we are nine full weeks into 2012, and I have already read nine books, so I'm right on track!

I have had to alter my reading agenda for the year, however. In order to stay up on current trends in fiction, I originally planned to read twelve new YA novels and twelve new works of literary fiction this year (one a month of each). While it's been easy to find new YA novels I want to read each month, new literary fiction of interest has been a bit more difficult.** I'm not saying that there isn't anything being published I would want to read, just that if there is, I don't know about it. I don't have time to keep up with what the small presses are doing (although I would love those sorts of recommendations), so I'm pretty much reliant on the GoodReads and Amazon newsletters each month to see what's being published, which books the editors have spotlighted, etc. I've even tried downloading the first chapters of several books on my Kindle, but nothing has really compelled me to keep reading yet, and I'm not going to force myself to read something I'm not interested in when there are so many other good books in the world to be read. So I've decided to modify my original resolution: instead of reading twelve brand new works of literary fiction, I just have to read twelve that are fairly recent. With those new rules in play, I'm pretty much right on track for the year.

This month I read four disparate titles: Julianna Baggott's Pure (post-apocalyptic YA), Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness (contemporary short stories), Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides (literary novel), and Margaret Atwood's In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (essays, book reviews, and short "tributes" on science fiction). I enjoyed all of these works immensely. How could I not? They are by four writers I love and respect, including two of my all-time favorite writers (I'll let you guess which two). I don't have time to give lengthy reviews of each, but I thought I would briefly give my thoughts on them.

First, Pure:


GoodReads summary:

We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . . 
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run. 

Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . 
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. 

When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.



The good: I've been waiting for this book to be released since I read on Julianna Baggott's blog that the film rights had sold for a hefty sum--long before the book was even published. Baggott's post-apocalyptic novel is the darkest and grittiest vision of the future I've read--and I mean that in the best way possible. Her heroine is uniquely damaged and flawed--not your cookie-cutter YA protagonist--and most of the supporting characters are as well. Baggott skillfully shows that even "villains" have a capacity for good--but heroes also have a capacity for evil. In a world like this one, normal standards of morality don't apply. Her world building is phenomenal; the writing is gorgeous, poetic and cinematic; and the plot/action keeps the book moving swiftly along. Clear a weekend for this one because once you start, you won't want to stop. It's also the first book of a trilogy, which means more Pressia/Partridge/Bradwell/El Capitan/Lyda goodness to come.

The not-so-good: The majority of the story alternates between Pressia's and Patridge's POV (both written in third-person), but occasionally El Capitan and Lyda are given chapters. I found this to be jarring and disruptive (and Lyda's chapters to be particularly annoying). It seemed to me they should have either been used more often (so that their voices didn't take me away from the action so much; until the end, it felt like Lyda was slowing down the action instead of contributing to it) or else used less--as in not at all. I understand why Baggott felt the need to include these chapters, and I think the character will play bigger roles in later books, but in Pure their chapters seemed to interrupt more than add to the narrative. (Although I admit that I enjoyed getting to know El Capitan better. Perhaps more of him, less of Lyda is the solution?) My only other complaint is about how (un)believable all the fused creatures were. To me, speculative fiction (post-apocalyptic worlds, dystopias, etc.) should operate within the bounds of reason and science, should be believable as a possible future. That's what makes them so scary. While I can believe in the possibility of Baggott's Dome, Detonations, OSR death squads, Special Forces, and survivors fused to inanimate objects and even, within certain bounds, other people, I thought the Groupies, Beasts, and sand creatures were a bit much. Still, these are small criticisms and the book is definitely worth picking up.

Final verdict: 4.5/5 stars

GoodReads summary/review:


Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers—the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize. 

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky—a late-nineteenth-century Russian √©migr√© and mathematician—on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

Too Much Happiness is a compelling, provocative—even daring—collection.



The good: Munro is the queen of the contemporary short story, especially ones involving everyday people living in rural Canada. Several of these stories deliver moments and situations that lingered with me long afterward, such as in "Dimensions" and "Free Radicals." My favorite story, though, was probably "Fiction" (though probably only because there is a writer in it and therefore fun jabs at writers and publishing).

The not-so-good: I don't think the stories in this collection live up to her usual standard. There were no stories that reached "classic" status for me, the way I've come to expect from a Munro collection. There were fewer moments of insightful revelation, fewer breathtakingly beautiful descriptions and turns of phrase. The stories themselves meander more than usual, spend pages and pages developing characters and seemingly banal situations before finally delivering the moment of crisis just before ending. Although that's kind of Munro's style, these stories seemed to take that structure to a whole other level and often felt like they were unraveling instead of coming together.

Final verdict: 3/5 stars

GoodReads summary:

This beautiful and sad first novel, recently adapted for a major motion picture, tells of a band of teenage sleuths who piece together the story of a twenty-year-old family tragedy begun by the youngest daughter’s spectacular demise by self-defenestration, which inaugurates “the year of the suicides.”

The good: Okay, first, that summary is a bit misleading because a) it isn't a bunch of teenage sleuths, it's a bunch of middle-aged men piecing together a story from their teenage years, and b) it isn't really a year of suicides. I'm not going to say more than that because I don't want to give anything away, but I found that description to be misleading, and if you read the book, you'll know why. On to the good...this book is gorgeously, sumptuously written. Eugenides is a master of nuanced description and building interesting, three-dimensional characters from small, seemingly insignificant details. The point of view (1st person plural) is also fascinating because it's so rarely seen in fiction today. In many ways, this is a tragedy in the traditional sense (from the very first page, you know everyone will be dead by the end), but the character development and story structure is so interesting that knowing the conclusion doesn't really take away from the joy of reading the story. In fact, like in any good tragedy, it contributes to it.

The not-so-good: There wasn't really anything "not-so-good" about the novel, except maybe the last couple of pages felt a little too forced or preachy. I'm actually working on a suicide story (a couple of them, in fact) and coming to a different conclusion than Eugenides, so maybe that's part of the issue. That's a relatively minor complaint, though, for a novel that's pretty close to perfect. (Strangely, even though the Sophia Coppola-directed adaptation is pretty faithful to the book, it doesn't affect me in the same way. I didn't find it memorable at all after watching it back in college, and after rewatching it last weekend after I finished the book, I appreciated it more but still felt like it was lacking something. Heart? Empathy? I'm not quite sure.)

Final verdict: 4.5/5 stars


GoodReads summary:

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination is Margaret Atwood's account of her relationship with the literary form we have come to know as "science fiction." This relationship has been lifelong, stretching from her days as a child reader in the 1940s, through her time as a graduate student at Harvard, where she worked on the Victorian ancestors of the form, and continuing as a writer and reviewer. This book brings together her three heretofore unpublished Ellmann Lectures on 2010 - "Flying Rabbits," which begins with Atwood's early rabbit superhero creations, and goes on to speculate about masks, capes, weakling alter egos, and Things with Wings; "Burning Bushes," which follows her into Victorian otherlands and beyond; and "Dire Cartographies," which investigates Utopias and Dystopias. In Other Worlds also reprints some of Atwood's key reviews of other practitioners of the form and thoughts about SF. She also elucidates the differences (as she sees them) between "science fiction" proper, and "speculative fiction," as well as "sword and sorcery/fantasy" and "slipstream fiction." For all readers who have loved the work of Margaret Atwood, especially The Handmaid's TaleThe Blind Assassin,Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood - not to mention Atwood's 100,000-plus Twitter followers - In Other Worlds is a must.

The good: The first three essays in this book come from the Ellwood Lectures Atwood did at Emory a couple of years ago (which I am still mad I missed). Since I'm reading so much speculative/sci-fi and even writing it now, her musings on the subject, on her own history with the genre, and on how she distinguishes between different subgenres, were both fascinating and thought-provoking. Her reviews of so many foundational works of science fiction also educated me on so many aspects of the genre that were previously unknown to me, as well as doubling my current TBR list. The "tributes" she included were fun experiments with the form and subject matter of science fiction.

The not-so-good: More please! Seriously, that's my only complaint. Perhaps I wish there were less book reviews, and more of her new, original content--fictional tributes, essays and meditations, whatever you want to call them. Just more of Atwood thinking, musing, talking, suggesting, telling stories from childhood. There's a reason I paid an exorbitant amount for a signed limited edition copy of this book--Atwood is my idol, and I could listen to her talk about her life, thoughts, and philosophies indefinitely.

Final verdict: 4.5/5 stars
Atwood's doodles in the inside cover.

March looks to be a busy reading month, with two highly anticipated YA sequels coming out: Lauren Oliver's Pandemonium (sequel to Delirium) and Rachel Hawkins' Spell Bound (the final book in her Hex Hall series). I received Pandemonium last Tuesday and finished it Sunday night, although I'm waiting until the next reading update to review it. Also on my reading list for the month is Northanger Abbey and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which I started reading tonight, so I'll be back with my impressions of all four books at the end of the month.

Until then, happy reading, everyone!

**Disclaimer: Since I started writing this post, you know, a week ago, I have discovered there are so many interesting-looking literary novels and short story collections coming out this month that I may just have to change back to my previous reading resolution. For those of you looking to read a new release this month, these look promising: Arcadia by Lauren Groff (author of The Monsters of Templeton), Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman, Carry the One by Carol Anshaw, and Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung. If you're looking for a new non-fiction read, I'm really looking forward to this one: Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.

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Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 9: Last Day in Kauai

When I first started planning our Hawaiian honeymoon, there was one thing I knew we had to do. If you read my earlier post "What would one man do for love?", you'll know that "thing" was taking a helicopter tour of Kauai, a must-do when visiting that island. After reading hundreds of reviews of all the major helicopter tour companies in Kauai (and booking one tour only to cancel it later), I finally decided to book with Mauna Loa Helicopters. Here's what sold me: 1) Mauna Loa is not only a tour company (and not even primarily a tour company), but is a helicopter flight school; they train many of the pilots other companies on the islands use; 2) you can have the doors off or on, depending on your preference, and I definitely wanted the doors off; and 3) for only a fraction more than you pay for one of those other helicopter tours, you get a private tour of the island. Mauna Loa uses four-seater helicopters, so they can only accommodate parties of two or three people. That means you will never be going up with strangers, never crammed into the middle and having to look over someone to see the view. You have no say in where you sit on a helicopter tour (seating is determined entirely by weight), and it was important to me that on my honeymoon I a) get to sit next to my DH, and b) that we both get to sit by a (non-existent) door. So once I learned about Mauna Loa, going with anyone else really wasn't an option.

Because our second day in Kauai was really only a half-day (the ship sailed at 2 p.m.), we decided against renting a car on the second day and didn't bother planning any activities other than the helicopter tour. When I sent a reservation request into Mauna Loa back in November, one of their staff, Daniela, called me that very night to confirm and I got to ask her recommendation about when to fly. Originally, I'd thought about taking one of the earliest flights--8:30 or 9:00, in order to have time to shop or go to the beach afterward. Helicopter tours in Kauai are frequently cancelled due to rain, and sometimes fog rolls into Waimea Canyon or Kalalau Valley and erases visibility, so I was trying to avoid these situations as much as possible. I'd read the fog often came in around lunch time, so I knew I wanted to go out much earlier than that. Daniela talked me into doing a later flight though (the 10:30 one), because she said the lighting would be better than early in the morning. In winter the sun doesn't come up until nearly seven in Hawai'i, and of course that's on the east side. The west side, where the Na Pali Coast is, can lie in shadows for much longer. The lighting, as you'll be able to tell from the pictures, still wasn't great (we were dealing with glare a lot), but it was a lot better than it would have been at 8:30, so I have Daniela to thank for convincing me to book a later tour. Ideally, under clear skies and no fog, the tour would be great at lunchtime I think, with the sun directly overhead. But it's hard to plan a tour with perfect conditions, especially when you have to book weeks or even months in advance and have no idea what the weather will be like when you go. The weather in Kauai was the number one thing I worried about on our honeymoon and while I was planning for it. More than anything, I didn't want our helicopter tour to be cancelled. But how fortunate we were that we had near-perfect conditions that day--bright, sunny blue skies and not a drop of rain in sight.

Kauai Day Two was the only day the whole trip that we got to sleep in a little (until eight, I think) and eat a leisurely breakfast. Afterward, we took the Harbor Mall trolley to the Mauna Loa offices. We had to be there about 45 minutes before our flight time, I think, so we could watch an instructional video and get weighed. Everyone in the Mauna Loa office (and, indeed, all their employees) was super helpful, friendly, and just genuinely nice--they all made the experience wonderful from beginning to end. Maren took care of us in the office, and then she turned us over to Jim, their driver, who took us out to the helicopter pad at the Lihue Airport. 
Our ride for the morning.
There he introduced us to Adam, our pilot, who got us all strapped in and ready to go. It was so nice having a personal pilot because he could ask us questions about things we particularly wanted to see and point them out along the way, and we had headsets and mics so that we could all communicate with one another. Adam had to do most of the talking, though, because once we were in the air, I was speechless!
All bundled up and ready to fly! 
I had never been in a helicopter before (much less one without doors!), so honestly I was a little nervous. Probably not as nervous as my heights-hating husband, but a little anxious nonetheless. Helicopters do crash all the time (a Blue Hawaiian one had crashed on Molokai just weeks before we arrived--somehow I forgot to mention that to T ;-) ), so they are much more dangerous than planes, but they are so much more fun. In Adam's capable hands (and with perfect weather to boot), I needn't have feared anything. The flight, from lift-off to landing, was nothing short of amazing.

Since that word is pretty subjective and meaningless, I'm going to let you decide just how amazing it was, and let the pictures do the talking (even though they are so inferior to the real thing it's almost laughable). (Side note: The following pictures have not been processed in any way. They were taken with either our Canon T3i DSLR w/ standard 18-55mm lens and a circular polarizer filter, or with my Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot, which, for the record, takes terrible, washed-out moving shots. So when the colors look really bright or saturated, they are probably twice that bright and saturated in real life, and when they are washed out and blurry, just blame my limited photography skills and budget camera.)
We have lift-off!

First, flying towards Nawiliwili Harbor in Lihue.

The Pride of America, our home for the week. I think I can see our balcony from here!
So. Many. Waterfalls. (In Hanapepe Valley)
Even more waterfalls. 
Flying towards Manawaiopuna Falls (try saying that five times fast), otherwise known as "Jurassic Park" Falls, in Hanapepe Valley. It's that little white line in the far right center.
Getting closer!
And closer!
So close!
More waterfalls in Hanapepe Valley. Because they are everywhere in Kauai.
How Green Was My Valley? Probably not as green as this one.
Heading for Waimea Canyon
Perspective shot: See that little blue dot in the center 2/3s of the way over? Yeah, that would be a Blue Helicopter.
Oh, there's that waterfall we were looking for yesterday! How ever did we miss it? (Wai'alae Falls, seen at the top and bottom of this photo)
Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the West. Err, the Pacific.

Now entering the realm of the Na Pali Coast...
The Na Pali Coast! You know, only that thing I'd been waiting my whole life to see.
"Inside" the Na Pali Coast. There was a waterfall back here (one of many), but somehow I didn't get any pictures of it.
More Na Pali Coast



Looking back at the Coast
Ke'e Beach stretching into some other beaches I don't know the name of.
Hanalei Bay
Another view of Hanalei Bay
Can someone get this poor camera some sunglasses?
Rugged, green terrain on the way to Mount Wai'ale'ale, one of the wettest spots on earth
Oh, look, another waterfall.


Entering Mount Wai'ale'ale Crater


The Wai'ale'ale Crater is full of waterfalls, usually far more than what we saw. You're surrounded by black scars in the rock where water often flows. Unfortunately, most of the scars were dry when we were there--the only downside to being there during an unusually dry rainy season.

Twin falls of Wailua, which we'd driven to see the day before.
Back on the ground, safe and sound. Can we go again?
Wow, it's much warmer here on the ground than it was flying through the sky at a hundred miles an hour!
Jim was waiting for us when we landed to take us back to the Mauna Loa office, so Adam took a couple of pictures of us with the chopper, and then we were on our way. Once back at the office, I bought a Mauna Loa hoodie (I couldn't resist), we said good-bye to Maren, and then we decided to browse the shopping center. Jim had offered to take us directly back to the ship, but I knew I wanted to buy a hoodie, and the trolley driver that morning had told us about several stores that sounded interesting to me. Unfortunately, once we started looking around, we didn't find much of interest. There's a hobby store there with all kinds of model trains and things if you're into that kind of thing, and I did buy a vase at the Chinese jewelry store, but we probably spent less than half an hour looking around. Then we took the trolley back to the ship.

We had lunch in Skyline for the first time, and it was really good--good service, good food. For every course, I basically ordered what the waiter recommended, and he never steered me wrong. Afterward, we decided to go ahead and start packing our bags and shower for dinner before the sail-by, especially since we had six o'clock reservations at Lazy J.

When we first sailed away from port, we were pretty close to shore for a while, so I was able to get some nice shots of lighthouses.



But after that we headed out for deeper waters until we reached the Na Pali Coast on the other side of the island. By that time, we had gotten pina coladas and were relaxing on our balcony, feet up and camera on the tripod so we didn't even have to get up to shoot. T.J. had his remote attached, so whenever we wanted to take a pic, all we had to do was click the button without even going near the camera. A pretty nice way to end the cruise.



As we got closer to the Na Pali Coast, we started seeing whales--lots of them, diving and slapping their tales. They were really frisky and totally stealing the show away from the gorgeous scenery. 

Tail-splashing whale



During the entire sail-by, I was waterfall hunting. We had the binoculars out, too, and they are truly a must-have for the sail-by. They were great for watching the whales, and they were even better for spotting small, trickling waterfalls running through the nooks and crannies of the Na Pali. 







Overall, it was a perfect day, and I'm so glad that we flew with Mauna Loa and we went with the doors off. It made everything feel so much closer and the experience more immediate, and we both loved it. Even T.J. said it was the best thing we did the whole trip, and he was scared to death to do it beforehand! I'm glad we waited until the second day to take the tour, too, because we'd seen so many of the same sights the day before from ground level, and from the air I felt I could appreciate them in a whole new way. Seeing the Na Pali Coast had been a dream of mine for years, and I feel privileged that I got to see it (and so many other places in Kauai) from three different perspectives--from the ground, sky, and sea. The sail-by was the perfect way to end a pretty perfect vacation, and certainly an amazing two days in Kauai, an island that I intend to return to again and again. 

Lastly, I'll leave you with a few pictures that have been processed a bit in order to give a slightly more accurate idea of how colorful Kauai is. Next up: our last day in Oahu. :-( Until then, aloha!







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