Book 32

Faithful Place by Tana French.

I already wrote about the other Tana French book I read this year, The Likeness.  This is the third in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series.  The series is cool in that each of the books (at least so far) has a different main character.  The main character in The Likeness is a love interest / partner in Into the Woods.  The main character in this book is a supervisor / side character in The Likeness.

This one may be my favorite of the three books.  The place, the cold case of a murdered teenager who had stood up the main character (now a detective).  The difficult family dynamics on Faithful Place make me feel that my clan is downright functional.

It’s been a while since I read the book, so my non-spoilery memory of the details is fading.  I will say that like French’s previous works, resolution of the crime relies to an insane degree on coincidences and dumb luck.  The detective’s young daughter just happens to have been snooping at exactly the right place, just a few weeks before the wheels of the investigation are set in motion.   And how did everyone not know that Rosie was dead?  In the internet age, there’s no way that she would have no digital trace, no record that a cop could find in his years of looking.  And the family was somehow sure that she’d send a birthday card this year though she never had before?  I guess folks can be delusional, but this seems like a whole other level.

In any case, there seem to be already two more books in the series, and these are some of the most genuinely mysterious mysteries that I’ve read in a while.  So I’ll keep going with it for now at least.

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Book 31

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I was a bit torn on Gone Girl.  I liked the book much more than the movie, and found the he-said/she-said (via diary) structure of the first part very effective.  But the characters were just all so completely unlikeable, it wasn’t clear what to root for.

But I heard (probably on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast) that Sharp Objects was a better book.  I liked Gone Girl enough to try it.

I think Gone Girl is technically a much better book.  The way that Flynn tricks the readers (most of us fell for it, surely) is masterful.  But I did like the story of Sharp Objects better.  In this case, I did figure out the twist, sort of.  There’s a central murder mystery, and I had a couple of different theories about what might have happened.  One of my theories turned out to be pretty close to the right one.  It did seem to me that this book suffered from my mystery pet peeve: a key fact is glaring obvious to a smart reader who’s paying attention, but the whip-smart protagonist misses it for a really long time.

I do appreciate having a main character to root for.  I’m ok with antiheroes; I don’t need my protagonists to be good people necessarily.  But I need to want something on their behalf.  That was missing from me in Gone Girl… I just wanted them all to get caught or suffer or just get the hell away from each other and me.  But Camille is a main character you can root for.  Flawed, full of bad decisions, and yet fundamentally good, curious, and (except for a huge blind spot) pretty smart.  My kind of woman.

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Kaunala Loop Trail

Another Humane Society hike got me out on the trail with the husband and the younger dog.  It was a long drive (a bit over an hour) to the trailhead, but we love the North Shore so why not get up a little early and get out there on a beautiful Saturday morning?

As usual, pup #2 was excited for the car ride, a bit unsure about the big group of dogs at the trailhead, and then ecstatic when we actually hit the trail.  The Kaunala Loop Trail is a 5.5 mile (ish? I can’t really find consistent info on the web) loop where the back half (or more) of the trail is a gravel road and then an actual road.

Apparently on last year’s hike, there was much grumbling about the total length of the trail, so this year’s plan was an in-and-out rather than the full loop, with a plan to take 2-ish hours total.  Our little crew ended up doing the whole loop instead, for kind of weird reasons.

Here’s what happened: The pup pooped early in the hike.  Husband cleaned up while I stayed with the front pack of hikers & dogs, with the idea that he would catch up with us.  But 15 or so minutes later, he hadn’t caught up, and I got concerned that he had missed a turn or something.  So I hung back and waited for him.  Lots of hikers and dogs passed us by, and I still waited.  Finally, he caught up.  He took the dog and went up ahead (I did tell him to because she was pulling), and I fell behind a bit.

So here’s the thing: I’m a slow hiker.  I hate being the slow fat girl in the back.  But it’s a fact, that’s me.  Part of why I’m a slow hiker is that I’m not in very good shape.  But I’m also clumsy.  I’m really, really clumsy.  I’ve broken many bones in my life, and in my childhood I was always the one who fell.  I was the one on the school field trip who slipped on the rocks, fell into the stream, and was soaked the rest of the day.  I was the one who took her high school boyfriend on a hike by the beach, fell, and broke her ankle badly.  Yeah, I’m that one.  So I hike slowly and carefully so that I’m at least not the fat girl who falls down comically.  I hate being fat & slow, but I hate more being fat & clumsy.

But the husband and dog were getting farther and farther ahead, and I was once again in the back of the pack.  I was kind of pissed… I was only back there because I had stopped to wait for him.  I had been fine with the lead group, but once I’m in the back I stay there.  I was getting more and more upset as I felt myself falling further and further behind, so I started trying to hurry on the easier bits of the trail.  There were a few nice relatively flat or easy downhill slopes, and I tried an almost jog.  And of course I fell.  Hard.  Badly.

It’s a bit of a blur, but I’m pretty sure that my foot hit a root (the trails in Hawaii are really, really rooty… I have no idea how anyone does trail running here, but they do) and I lost my balance.  Ordinarily, I would have recovered my balance easily, but I was carrying a too-heavy backpack (we threw a bluetooth speaker from the car in because we had been warned about break ins) which took me over.  What I felt as a I fell was the backpack hitting my head, hard.  It really hurt, and I was shaken up.  A mother and daughter were just up ahead and asked if I was OK.  I got up, brushed myself off and laughingly said yes.  But I wasn’t OK.  I was really shaken up.  As I kept hiking, I felt very unsteady on my feet.  My ankles felt like they were turning every time I hit an uneven spot.  My jaw hurt, and my head ached where the pack had hit it.  And then my right hand started hurting a lot.  Throbbing.  And the husband & dog were nowhere in sight.  I got even more angry and a little panicked.

Finally, there was a switchback in the trail, and I could hear the main group nearby.  I called out and asked the husband to wait for me.  “Are you OK?”  “No! Just wait for me.”  The woman and daughter were still just ahead of me, and I could see the mom was a little surprised at my answer of no, but at that point I was tired of caring how I appeared to strangers.  Really, I wasn’t OK.  I didn’t want to be hiking on my own at the back of the pack any more.

When I got up to where they were, I broke down crying, told him about my fall, and complained about being left in the dust.  He said (rightly) that I had told him to go up ahead, but of course I hadn’t meant so far ahead so quickly.  And he doesn’t really know the kind of shit that comes up for me being the one at the back all by myself.  He wanted to call it a day and head back, but I really didn’t.  I felt pretty sure that if we turned back, I wouldn’t want to hike again… I would just be frustrated and sad and humiliated and done with it all.  And I didn’t want that.  I insisted on pressing forward, but together.  And with him carrying the pack and holding the leash most of the time.

We went slowly.  Eventually we caught up with about half the group at their turnaround point.  We had been promised sweeping views of the North Shore at the planned-for turnaround point, including the windmills and the whole coast, which folks who knew the trail said was about a mile more up the path.  So after a water & snack break, we pressed on.

We continued our slow pace, and we ran into the other half of the group on their way back.  They told us that we were “almost there” and that we could really turn around at any point.  But I had come this far and I wanted the damn views.  Onward.

Not too far past that, we did get a nice North Shore ocean view.

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But this was just a peek through the trees, not the sweeping views we had been promised.  So we continued, crawling over, under, and between three large trees that were down across the path and getting covered in ants in the process.  The end seemed much further than the “almost there” we had been promised, but we finally reached the gravel road and we saw… nothing.  Just a gravel road with an arrow pointing to the right for the hiking trail.

I had already been thinking that, while I was glad we continued the hike and had some good times to wipe away the bad memories from the start, I wasn’t totally sure I was up for redoing the same hike on the way back.  At our slow and oft-interrupted pace, it had taken us about two hours to reach the turnaround point.  My legs still felt shaky and unsteady, my hand hurt as much if not more than right after the fall, and I was getting hungry.  I had a gut feeling that the second half of the hike would be less than pleasant.  So I suggested that we complete the loop instead of turning around.   Even if it was longer, I said, I would feel a lot more comfortable on a wide and relatively smooth path, where I was unlikely to fall.  So instead of turning back, we turned right and hoped for the best.

And not much further on, we were rewarded for our decision, with the big sweeping North Shore views.  (Clearly the hike leader had forgotten where along the trail those views appeared, so we were the only ones who got to see it.)

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The rest of the hike (or, rather, the walk it had become) was uneventful, except for the lack of certainty that we were going the right way.  But we were.  There was some uphill on the gravel road, and then a lot of downhill along the road itself.  Eventually we were dumped back onto the start of the trail, right near the turn that I thought the husband might have missed, just a few yards from where I stopped to wait and the whole thing went (temporarily) to hell.  This route even retraced enough of the early part of the hike that we could pick up the dog poop we had left at the side of the trail, and neither of us had to double-back for it.

The whole hike took us 3 hours and 45 minutes.  So the back end was shorter than the trail part, and almost certainly shorter than the whole hike would have been if we had chosen the in-and-out option.  I’m not sure, in fact, that the in-and-out route selected was actually any shorter than the full loop… I wonder what the route will be next year.

I any case, it was a good call to continue the hike.  My hand still hurts, almost a week later.  But not too much, and mostly when I pick up a full mug of coffee.  Of course if we had turned back right away, my hand would still hurt now.  But we wouldn’t have felt good about the hike; we would have missed the views; and the pup wouldn’t have looked so contented on the way home.

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And I feel good enough about it that I would willingly hit the trail again soon, though maybe not in a big group.

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Book 30

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

When you see that a book is by Alan Cumming, you expect a rollicking good time, right?  Even if the book is about his abusive father and difficult childhood (intersperse with a few anecdotes about his coming to terms with same as an adult).

You expect famous-person name-dropping and lots of funny stories and maybe even some sex.  You get a tiny bit of the first one, very little of the second (way more sad stories), and as far as I remember none of the third.

I enjoyed the book overall; I really did.  But in the same way that NPH’s memoir had too much light and laughter without any darkness at all, this one had too much darkness.  I mean, he’s in a happy relationship now, and there’s a nice “closure” scene at the end with the whole family.  But none of it is “light” at all.

I know, I know… not what this story is about.  It’s not really his autobiography, but really a very particular thread followed through his childhood and tied off at a particular point in his adult life.  But somehow I wanted just a bit more.

I also found the structure of interlaced “then and now” chapters.  A situation would be set up in the “now” timeline and then take seemingly forever to resolve itself, partly because the storytelling is so obstinately linear in that particular timeline and partly because of the interspersed (and less linear) “then” chapters.  I understand what he was trying to do, but I think the structure was less than successful.

Still, Alan Cumming is charming and it was nice to hang out with him for a bit.  I hope next time he’ll bring some more uplifting tales.

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Book 29

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

I’m way behind in my book blogging.  I wish I had written about this one right away, because I highlighted lots of phrases throughout.  But since it was a library book, those highlights are lost now.  Oh well.

This is a supposedly-not-autobiographical novel about a girl who becomes a music journalist written by a girl who became a music journalist.  I loved so much about this book.  The fat girl protagonist who didn’t fit in but still felt she was special . The trying on of different personalities.  The imposter syndrome upon landing a dream job.  And the stuff I couldn’t relate to: the journalistic fear of being a fan instead of a critical observer, and how that affects enjoyment of art.

Johanna is a badass.  I loved the book.  I remember thinking while I was reading it that I wish it were a memoir, because this is what I want memoirs to be like, and none of the ones I’ve read really are.  Of course, people’s real lives don’t happen in nice narrative arcs.  But a good author should impose the narrative arc after the fact, no?  I should find more books like this, and dump the celebrity memoir reading perhaps.

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Book 28

Swamplandia by Karen Russell.

This is one of those books that I checked out of the library because I heard about it three times in a week in three different places… I think it was two podcasts and one article I read, but I’m actually no longer sure.  (I should probably not put quite so much stock in these podcast coincidences, since the authors seem to make the podcast rounds when their books come out, so of course I hear about the same book / author a few different times!)

Based on what I had heard, I thought I would really like this book.  But I found it super hard to get into it.  In fact, I think I ended up checking out and renewing the book three times (so that’s a total of six: check out & renew, repeat two more times) before I could get myself to finish it.

I really enjoyed the beginning stuff with the family running Swamplandia… this depiction of a weird childhood very different than anything I could have imagined.  But that all ended, and there’s this whole middle part of the book where the family is falling apart, the kids are going their separate ways, and it’s … just … so … boring.  I kept putting it down to do other things, or even falling asleep while trying to read it.

I did finally finish.  The big chase scene(s) (such as they were) at the end picked up a bit.  There’s some darkness in the start of the book, with the mother’s illness and death, and the father basically abandoning the kids and letting them fend for themselves.  Still, I never saw the serious dark scenes near the end of the book coming.  And they felt… I don’t know… unnecessary?  It didn’t forward the story, really, or the character.  It was just horrible and gut-wrenching for the sake of being horrible and gut-wrenching?  I mean, maybe that’s what rape is really like.  But it basically is totally forgotten or at least never mentioned again as the story wraps up… no lasting impact (or no more than anything else that happens).  I don’t think that’s what rape is like.

This book and the author got all kinds of great press, and she’s written several other books, including a book of short stories one of which became Swamplandia.  I don’t know if I’ll pick up any of her books again.  I’d probably like the short stories… the beginnings of a bunch of novels where I never have to get to the boring parts, maybe?

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Hikes: two “failures” and one success

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I’ve been neglecting the blog.  That’s the joy of blogging for absolutely no one.  I can just ignore it if I don’t feel like it.  But I do like the idea of having a record of my adventures during my sabbatical year.  (Note, however, that I have recorded nothing about work — even my fairly extensive work travels — here.  That’s not an accident.)

I haven’t been doing nearly so much hiking as I had hoped, but there has been some.  In March, the Humane Society hike was the Maunawili Demonstration Trail (well, just a couple of miles of this much longer hike).

Since the hike was on the windward (rainy) side of the island, we checked the weather forecast.  All looked good, so took the older dog on a short walk, packed up our stuff and the younger dog, and headed out for the trailhead.  You can probably guess what happened.

The rain started right as the group set out.  As we hiked, it the rain got heavier.  By the time we returned to our car a few hours later, the two people and one dog were soaked and muddy.  We did what we could to dry off with just one tiny doggy towel in the back of the car.

Overall, it was actually a pretty nice hike.  I’d like to go back on a nicer day, because I suspect there are some pretty views.  There were a couple of spots where the trees cleared and we were treated to a wide expanse of … clouds and rain.  But on a pretty day we should see the ocean, the Mokes, and lush greenery.

The April Humane Society hike was to be the Waimano Valley trail.  When we woke up that morning, the weather looked terrible.  It had clearly poured all night, and was still cloudy and threatening.  All weather reports pointed to sustained rain throughout the day.  Rather than another muddy rain-soaked hike, we stayed home, doing chores and cooking.  And of course the clouds broke, the sun shone through, and it turned into a beautiful day.  And we missed what sounds like a really cool train that we haven’t been on yet.

So… two weather-related failures because it’s so impossible to say what’s actually going to happen on an island full of micro climates.  Hiking in the rain when it’s warm isn’t really so bad; we should just go for it in future, muddy car seats be damned.

The success was an old standby hike: Pillboxes.  It’s the one hike that never fails to impress visitors.  It’s a real hike, not just a stroll on a paved road.  The start is a bit challenging (steep and loose rocks), and you do some significant elevation.  But the reward of the views from this ridge hike is spectacular.  The picture at the top is the view of the Mokes.  Below, looking up the hillside to the “Pillbox” where the hike takes you, and a view towards the southern tip of the island from the trail.

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Plus, you can combine it with a trip to Kailua or Lani Kai beach and / or Kalapawai cafe.  (My houseguests from Iceland and I did both beach & lunch.)

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