Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon 16 - Book Clubs

The Sunday Salon I’ve come to realize that book clubs come in all shapes and sizes. The book club that I belong to is a work-affiliated group and in our current form we’ve been together for a year. There are six regular members and we all have different reading tastes and styles. We each have a month (in rotation) and for our month we are responsible for picking the book and the meeting location.

Since we are all so different, we have read a wide range of books over the past year: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ The God of Small Things ~ Eat, Pray, Love ~ Ride the Wind ~ The Art of Racing in the Rain ~ The Zookeeper’s Wife ~ The Last Lecture ~ The Woman in White ~ Miles from Nowhere ~ A Year in Provence ~ The Glass Castle ~ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ~ Boy’s Life ~ City of Thieves ~ A Golden Age. Next month we'll read Shadow of the Wind.

Book Club
Over the past year we’ve had some good discussions, but we’ve also had some books that didn’t lend themselves as well to discussion. As it’s about to be my turn to pick a book (for October), I thought I’d ask you lot what you think makes a good book club book.

So, Sunday’s questions:
Do you belong to a book club? What makes your book club work? How do you choose the books you read? Do you have a moderator or use a list of questions? How do you work around the inevitable lull in conversations? Is there something you would suggest to improve your book club? I'd love to hear anything you have to share, and hopefully we can all learn a little something!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful week. I can't believe it is going to be September in just two days--where did August go?

Happy reading,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Twilight of Avalon - Anna Elliott

Title: Twilight of Avalon
Author: Anna Elliott
Published: 2009 Pages: 426
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Let me preface this review by stating that my knowledge of Arthurian legends are foggy at best. I've heard of Tristan and Isolde and have seen the movie with James Franco (yum!), but I don’t know the details of the story. I was going into this book with a nearly clean slate. For me this was a positive, but I wanted to note that Elliott’s retelling deviates a little from the most common elements in the Arthurian legends. In this book, Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, had an affair with Arthur’s son Mordred and mothered Isolde.

Twilight of Avalon is a beautifully told story of Trystan and Isolde and the beginning of their relationship during a time of change and tumult. As the story opens, Isolde, the young High Queen of Britain, is mourning the loss of her husband King Constantine. Since the time of Arthur, the kingdoms of Britain have faced constant pressure from the Saxons and with their High King dead the kingdoms need to quickly reunite in order to present a strong front against a possible Saxon invasion. After several days without a High King, Lord Marche finally takes the throne, but Isolde suspects him of murdering Con.

With Lord Marche's rise to the throne, Isolde's position in court becomes questionable, especially after advances come from the new king to be his wife and she is repeatedly facing accusations of sorcery and witchcraft from others in the court. Isolde flees the palace for her safety, and she runs into a small band of outlaws, among them Trystan, who she entrusts with her knowledge of her husband's murder and Marche's traitorous actions. I suck at summaries--this makes the book sound very soap-operay but I didn't find it to be so. Moving on to the part I'm good at--telling you what I liked.

Isolde is a strong character, even in her moments of weakness. Her grandmother Morgan (also Arthur's half sister) has passed her the ability of Sight but more importantly the knowledge of medicines and herbs. Even when her Sight fails her and she is left without being able to see her distant past or future, she relies on her quick-wittedness for survival. Her ability to mix salves and heal wounds not only helps save the lives of others but also her own. The question of whether Isolde is a witch surfaces throughout the book, and even though she does not necessarily have powers, so understands how to use the fears of others as an advantage.

Many of the other characters, though, were sort of a blur to me. Elliott does provide a glossary of names at the beginning of the book, but I forgot who many of them were and had to flip back through the story to see when they had appeared before. This is probably my biggest complaint about the book, and even then it is a minor complaint as the major characters are all well-developed. I enjoyed watching the characters interact with one another, especially as Trystan and Isolde's friendship and trust developed throughout the novel. The further I got into the story the harder it was to put the book down, and even though the plot might have been a tad predictable it was still very engaging.

I would recommend this book to those who like Historical Fiction, Arthurian retellings, or just plan adventurous love stories. The writing, character development, and plot all came together very nicely and evenly in this book, which was refreshing after reading several books that were out of balance in these three things. Elliott's writing is beautiful and if I hadn't been so absorbed in the story I would have a nice quote to provide for you. Twilight of Avalon is the first in a trilogy, so there are several loose ends left in the novel but the ending was satisfying enough to hold me over for a few more months. I didn't get quite enough of Trystan and Isolde in this book (romance speaking), so I look forward to that in the next edition. Hopefully.

For a balance of opinions:

(Let me know if I missed yours)
Many thanks to Anna Elliott for allowing me to experience her retelling of this legendary love story.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

South Dakota/Yellowstone Roadrip Pics

South Dakota / Yellowstone, Wyoming

*note: I had planned on heavily editing this post for this blog and leave the longer post for my "personal" blog, but I got lazy. Don't feel bad for not reading all of the details! :)

Scott and I have been talking about going to Yellowstone for several months, but I always figured it would be one of those things that we talked about but never did--kind of like Europe (hint hint). I also knew that I wanted to go to Mount Rushmore and The Badlands, but all of those things are so far away and not really on the way to anything.

It wasn't until I saw that Sturgis Bike Week was the first week of August that I really pushed for the trip. With a short window of time, we decided we'd head to South Dakota and then head over to Yellowstone. We basically planned our entire trip within a week's period of time!

We decided we'd leave on Friday night, but I had a party to attend, so we didn't end up leaving until 10:00 at night.

Trish ExcitedScott

That first night we drove through Oklahoma and Kansas. We hit some really bad storms in Kansas (although I slept through most of it), but finally hit Topeka at dawn. The next day we drove through Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.

Below: Nebraska


It was a long day driving through South Dakota, but we finally got to The Badlands around 7:00. Knowing that we wouldn't have time to drop our stuff off at the hotel in Rapid City, we continued on the loop through the park. The scenery was absolutely amazing and it was especially nice driving through at dusk when the sun made the formations really red. We saw some Pronghorn and Prairie Dogs, which made me really excited to see even more wildlife.

Scott, The BadlandsTrish, The Badlands

The Badlands, South Dakota
Scott and Trish, The BadlandsThe Badlands, South Dakota

Scott and Trish, The Badlands
Exhausted and stinky from being on the road for 23 hours, we hit the bed pretty quickly once we got to our hotel in Rapid City.


The next morning we woke early to head out to Mount Rushmore since we had agreed to meet my friend Lisa and her family at 10:00. We were on the bike and the ride was a lot of fun, but I could already tell it was going to be much warmer than we anticipated!

We had an absolute blast driving through the Black Hills--the mountains (sorry, hills) are gorgeous and the weather couldn't have been better. Mount Rushmore was probably a little less impressive than I was expecting, but it was still really neat to see. What was more impressive was the Crazy Horse Memorial. It looks like they are making slow progress on the sculpting, but even what they have finished is really amazing.

I think our favorite thing about the entire day was driving through the hills with all of the other bikers. We stopped for lunch in Hill City and oogled all of the bikes. Even though we got some strange looks for our non-Harley ride, it was really cool to be amongst so many other people all doing the same thing. It was like the hills were made for bikes. We drove through Custer State Park before we realized the day had gotten away from us and we needed to be back in Rapid City for dinner with Lisa and her family.

Black Hills, South DakotaScott & Trish, South Dakota

Mount RushmoreMount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Crazy Horse Memorial


After wearing ourselves out the day before, we prepared ourselves for yet another busy day. We headed out early in the morning towards Deadwood, but we ran into some pretty nasty weather. Luckily by the time we got to Deadwood, the sun had come out and no more rain was in sight. Deadwood is home to Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane, so we went to a little museum (yes, I know...but what's a trip without at least one trip to the museum?) and afterwards grabbed some lunch. The streets and parking lots were full of bikes and we knew that this was just a little taste of what was ahead of us in Sturgis. We had an absolute blast and really enjoyed the hubbub.

Deadwood, South Dakota

We finally headed out to Sturgis from Deadwood. I can't even begin to describe just how many bikes were in this little podunk town. Hundreds of thousands, I would guess. None of these pictures do the mayhem any justice and Scott and I were both in complete awe. Honestly, though, we both preferred the atmosphere in Deadwood where everyone was joined to have a great time. Sturgis seemed really commercialized--miles of street front lined with tents selling t-shirts. We still had a good time, despite the heat, and found some ice cream (to make Trish happy), but a few hours was plenty of time for us both.

Sturgis, South Dakota

Hill City, South Dakota

We did manage, however, to ham it up a bit (like the true tourists we are). Below I'm handcuffed to the Police Truck and Scott is enjoying himself on an Indian. Dream on little boy!

Scott, SturgisTrish, Sturgis


And on the road again. On our way out of South Dakota and into Wyoming, we stopped at Devil's Tower, which is the first national monument. I'm a sucker for stuff like this, so of course I made Scott take the minor detour.

The trip to Yellowstone turned out to be quite a long one, but it was really gorgeous (mostly). Sorry for those of you in Wyoming--I don't think I can claim it as my favorite state. So much open space, and I'm a sucker for open space. We ran into some bad weather outside of Big Horn National Park, but once we made it into the mountains, the weather cleared up a lot. The drive through the mountains was mostly good until we ran into a bit of construction. As you can see from one of the pictures below, for a few miles there was no road at all! Just a dirt path. Yikes...

Most of the pictures below are taken in Big Horn National Park, Wyoming.

Trish with GorillapodTrish and Scott, Wyoming

Big Horn WyomingWyoming Road Work


Why is it that we're always getting to the national parks just at dusk. On our last roadtrip out west, we ended up driving through Yosemite in complete darkness! But made it we did. The landscape right before Yellowstone, coming through Cody was phenomenal. It was amazing to me how each mile brought on different types of rock formations and mountains.

The following pictures are of our various campsites. We got to our first campsite in Grant Village about 10:00 pm. I learned how to set up the tent for the first time while Scott worked on building the campfire. It had been raining, again, but luckily it stopped just as we were setting up camp. Throughout our four-day stay in Yellowstone we camped at three different sites: Grant Village, Madison, and Bridge Bay (see tent picture below). I think of the three, Madison was my favorite. It is set in the mountains where as the others are closer to Lake Yellowstone. All were nicely wooded, though. Man I love camping!

Scott, YellowstoneTrish, Yellowstone

Tent CampingBridge Bay Tent Camp, Yellowstone

For the most part the weather was really nice during our stay. The first day was gorgeous and actually a little on the hot side. We had some rain the last two days, but what can you do? At night it slipped down to the 30s, but it really only felt cold our last night since it had been raining in the evening and the sun didn't have a chance to warm us up. My toes nearly froze off that night, but we managed OK. We cooked most of our meals on our little camp stove, which was a life saver. No more campfire dinners, which are such a pain!

Trish and Scott, Yellowstone

On our first day we saw all of the geysers and hot springs in the Lower Basin. The steam from the geysers and hot springs was really hot, but it was amazing to look at all of the different natural formations.

Yellowstone GeyserYellowstone Geyser

Old Faithful

One of the most exciting things for me, at first, was seeing the wildlife. I kind of whined to Scott about not seeing anything, but once we saw one we saw hundreds. There were more Bison than we could count, which often caused traffic jams on the roads, and we also saw numerous Elk and Muledeer.

Mule Deer, YellowstoneBison, Yellowstone

One of my favorite things about Yellowstone was The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and seeing the falls. Unfortunately we ran into some bad weather that afternoon and had to head to the Canyon Lodge (for some ice cream), but seeing the canyons was just another example at how vastly different the scenery is in Yellowstone.

Tower Falls, YellowstoneCanyon Falls, Yellowstone

On our last day we headed up to the Mammoth Hot Springs on the very northern edge of Yellowstone. We quickly drove into Montana, just so we could say we were there, and then headed to the hot springs themselves. The northern part of Yellowstone is much more mountainous than the lower half, but the hot springs stuck out in the landscape where the hills were barren of any trees.

Mammoth, YellowstoneMammonth, Yellowstone

I really wish that Yellowstone were closer to Texas, because I would head back in a heartbeat. We only had three full days, and we were originally only supposed to have two days but knew we couldn't see it all in such a short period of time.

After our last [freezing] night, we woke early early in the morning and headed home. We stopped the night in Pueblo, Colorado and it was wonderful to sleep in a real bed versus an air mattress. Although it was a great trip, we were both glad to be back home in the end.

3,115 miles in the truck
400 miles on the bike
60 hours driving (not including within the parks)
10 states
9 days/nights
4 nights tent/4 nights Marriott/1 night driving
6 state parks/national parks/national forests
100s of wildlife
100,000s of motorcycles
7 ice cream treats
2 s'mores
1 tent
WHEW!!! I'm exhausted just thinking about it. :)

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