Publisher: Broadway Books

Book Review – A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

April 21, 2016 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2016 7 Comments

I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review – A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill BrysonA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Published by Broadway Books on November 1st 1997
Pages: 304
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: Blogging for Books
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Goodreads


four-stars

Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes--and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there's the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz's overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson's acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration,A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

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Photo Credit: http://appalachiantrials.com/

“Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.”

A Walk in the Woods is somewhat of a travelogue of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile trail that passes through 14 states. A part of me mulls over that statistic and thinks, “Wow, that’d be amazing” and the other, predominant part of me thinks:

I am so not a nature person. I’d like to think I am, would like to get excited about the idea of camping, but once I get out in it it’s a whole different story. I once told this guy I was dating that “Sure! I love hiking!” and next thing I knew I was being drug on a one-way 6-mile trip to visit some lake.

Liberty Lake – Ruby Mountains, NV Photo Credit: http://www.rubymountains.net/

Yeah, yeah, the lake is admittedly extremely gorgeous but did I mention it’s like 6 miles up a mountain? And that you at some point have to go down 6 miles to get back to your car? Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson and am far more honest about my aversion to nature. So that small part of me that likes to think I’m gung-ho about nature can be satisfied by reading about others adventures like this because I’m simply not cut out for that shit.

A Walk in the Woods not only details Bryson’s adventures on the trail with his friend Katz, but goes into the particulars of the history of the Appalachian trail, the towns it runs through, the plant and animal life, and the people who made history by tackling the trail in its entirety. The history bits were incredibly informative considering I knew next to nothing about the AT (Appalachian Trail) but they took up far more of the book than I had expected. While interesting, I was invariably anxious to get back to the bits about Bryson and Katz’s actual adventures. They were quite hilarious at times. Bryson and Katz are both middle-aged men at the time of this story and Katz especially is no where close to being fit enough to carry a full pack and walk at the same time. On their very first day starting out, during moments of great displeasure, Katz started throwing stuff off his pack he deemed non-essential. Like food. Hilarious to read about but that had to be pretty exasperating to his hiking partner.

Speaking of his hiking partner, Bryson, well… this is his story after all. He wrote it. But honestly? Bryson was a bit of a snooty prick. He didn’t start hiking the AT as some professional hiker that knows anything and everything about long distance hiking (which is what I loved most about him first). Nope, he went to REI like us other newbie hikers would end up doing and bought out the store. Regardless of his inexperience, he was constantly criticizing people for their equipment choices or the people they encountered that wanted to have “gear chats”. Admittedly, I would probably have also made fun of the guy with the Enviro Meter and felt the need to ask if it also bakes cookies too. While these exchanges were certainly humorous, he still came off as quite a prig.

Another thing about undertaking the AT, us normal folk with day jobs couldn’t even consider doing something like this. And don’t even get me started on the amount of equipment he bought, the plane tickets to get to the start of the trail, and all the motels and restaurants visited along the way. Before long, this story starts to seem like a fantasy, albeit a fascinating one. (And that’s another thing, even though I’ve already admitted that I am not a nature girl, occasionally stopping off in various towns to stay the night in a motel seems a bit like cheating. I can understand stopping off to stock up on provisions but then you get your ass back out and pitch your tent. But maybe that’s just me.) Even if taking months off work was in your realm of possibility, could you truly imagine doing it? “Yeah I hiked around the woods for 5 solid months.” Sure, people figure out how to make it happen all the time and not just on the AT. The Pacific Crest Trail that extends through California, Oregon and Washington for 2,663 miles. The Continental Divide Trail that extends through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana for 3,100 miles. There’s also the John Muir Trail that goes through California at a mere 210 miles. I can appreciate the withdrawal from society and getting back to the basics but damn. Hats off to you people that make it happen.

What I loved most about this is its simplicity. It wasn’t written as a self-help, motivating guide to losing weight and getting healthy or rediscovering yourself in nature or anything of the sort. A Walk in the Woods is simply about getting back to basics and rediscovering nature as it was intended. Bryson’s story won’t necessarily drive you to start planning your own excursion to the AT, but instead brings to life the tragic story of nature being overtaken in the United States and the importance of preserving it. Even a non-outdoorsy type like myself can appreciate that.

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Paperback Release Day Feature + Giveaway! I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

September 2, 2014 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Giveaways, Release Day Feature 7 Comments

I received this book free from the Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Paperback Release Day Feature + Giveaway! I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabeI Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Broadway Books on September 2, 2014
Pages: 336
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: the Author
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Goodreads


four-stars

An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War.

Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

About Erin Lindsay McCabe

ERIN LINDSAY McCABE studied Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, and taught high school English before completing her MFA at St. Mary's College of California in 2010. She has taught Composition at St. Mary's College and Butte College and resides in Northern California with her husband and son and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, ten chickens, and three goats.

I’d like to thank Erin for allowing me to showcase her debut novel today, I Shall Be Near to You. Today marks the official paperback release for this book and it is a must read! I hadn’t read a good historical fiction book in a good long while and this one is quite the memorable tale. Erin also wrote a Guest Post and has also offered up a giveaway for one lucky reader. Enjoy!

On My Nightstand (which is a dresser)

My dresser, which was my great grandma’s, gives me a nice wide surface for stacking books, which is good because pretty much all our bookshelves are already double-stacked (and neither my husband nor I can bear to part with books).

The stacks on my dresser have reached pretty ridiculous proportions, because my husband and I just can’t stop buying books (his dresser looks very similar to mine, only messier). I mean, you can’t even see our wedding photo hidden behind the books and you can only just see the top of the jar that holds my dried wedding bouquet (15 years and going strong!).

Despite what may look like a chaotic hodge-podge, my stacks break down into categories, which originally happened purely by accident. Hidden in back (underneath the green sparkly horseshoe fascinator my mom made me as a semi-joke) is the Old Books I have Borrowed For So Long They Might As Well Be Mine (I have to hide them in case the person I lent them to comes over). At the top of that stack is Watch For Me On The Mountain by Forrest Carter, which I have been procrastinating on reading (for years!). The book belongs to my mom and she told me it made her so angry she threw it across the room. Then she lent it to me because it was so good. Honestly, I’m a little nervous to read it, which is why it has languished there so long.

The next stack is Book I’m Waiting To Be In The Right Mood For. Almost all of them are books I’ve dipped into and had to put aside–not because I didn’t like them, but because I wasn’t ready for them yet. Many of them are dark–books like The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosely and The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh–and so I feel like I need to be in the right mental space to tackle them.

Then there is the stack of Books I Want to Read Sooner Rather Than Later. Most of these are books that came highly recommended and I want to be able to chat about the book with that person. Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Doc by Mary Doria Russell, and The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers top that stack.

And finally there’s the stack of Books That Have Deadlines Attached To Them, usually for my book club but sometimes because they’re ARCs. Right now that stack is topped by The Untold by Courtney Collins, which was my pick for my book club and which I’m so excited to read because the protagonist reminds me of Rosetta, the main character of my novel I Shall Be Near To You. I adore pretty much any kick-ass female character, especially those who chafe against gender roles. It doesn’t hurt that The Untold also has horses on the cover and in the first pages–I’m a sucker for any book with horses.

And of course, there’s my mental Books I Must Get My Hands On stack, at the top of which right now is Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt which I opened up at the bookstore to see if I was going to like it (I often give books the “first page” test before buying them). I devoured the first page and then proceeded to read the entire first two chapters while standing there in the aisle. I immediately fell for the quirky voice of the main character and felt enormous sympathy for her and her best friend/dying-of-AIDS uncle. I don’t know why, but I love a book that will break my heart. I didn’t buy it because I had a moment of will-power thinking about everything already stacked on my dresser. But I will be picking it up again one way or another.

‘Laying there on our bed is Jeremiah’s work shirt where I left it, the map unfolded beside it. And then like a hornets’ nest in the hot dust that you almost don’t see until it’s too late, but once you have, you can’t not see it for the buzzing in and out of the crack in the dirt crust, the idea of it just comes to me.’

It’s 1862, and the country is in the midst of the Civil War that goes on for another 3 years. Jeremiah Wakefield, a New Yorker, has dreams of someday owning his own farm and being able to take care of Rosetta and their future family and the Army’s enlistment bonus would be exactly what he needs to do that. Rosetta is a tomboy and helps out on her father’s farm but when she finds out that Jeremiah is leaving her for the war, she insists that if he’s intent on going off to war that he’s going to marry her first. They end up marrying and Jeremiah leaves shortly afterward. Rosetta finds that life just isn’t the same with him gone and sitting alone in their house day in and day out worried about his safety is more than she can take. So she chops off her hair and enlists in her husband’s unit as “Ross Stone”.

Rosetta was the most incredibly memorable and courageous character. I Shall Be Near to You showcases one woman of this time period that defied gender expectations but Rosetta was not the only woman out there fighting alongside husbands, brothers, or fathers. In the Author’s Note, McCabe states that “…the fictional Rosetta’s experience as a soldier is an amalgamation of the experiences of the more than two hundred women who are known to have enlisted […]”. It’s an aspect of war, not just during the Civil War either, that is not often explored and it was so fantastic to read this beautifully written story bringing these women’s stories to life, women who put their lives on the line when they didn’t have to.

McCabe’s time spent researching this period is evident from her descriptions of the camp sites set up, the foods, and of the deep seated feeling of dread these men (and women) were experiencing when marching into battle. Rosetta’s sacrifice and dedication to her husband is truly inspirational and you’ll be hard pressed to forget their ardent love story. Skillfully constructed and masterfully executed, if you are a fan of historical fiction novels and especially Civil War centered novels, this is a must read. A most impressive debut novel, I eagerly await more from McCabe.

Thanks to the author I’m able to offer up a copy of I Shall Be Near To You to 1 lucky reader!

Open to U.S. residents only
Giveaway ends September 16th, 2014

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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