Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One

Written by Ernest Cline

Published 2011 by Random House NY

374 pages

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

My Review:

This book was a thrill to read! It’s a nostalgic blast from the past for anyone who grew up in the 80’s or had parents that impressed 80’s culture upon you *raises hand*.

You didn’t have to grow up in the 80’s to enjoy this book though. For any fans of futuristic novels – science fiction and dystopic novels alike, this book has appeal to all nerds, geeks, and totally normal people. Cline explores a future not too different from today, except food is even more scarce and the environment is even more screwed up. Oh, and there’s this virtual reality that has entranced most of the globe’s population.

Before you turn away, know this book isn’t a campaign for sustainability and lack of human integrity or anything.  While Cline does make small remarks to the poor health and uncleanliness of some of the OASIS users, this is foremost a tale of a heroic gamer.   Wade Watts or Parzival as he goes by in the massive online game doesn’t have much of a life on Earth, but in the Oasis he can educate himself and socialize with new people. It is a haven. But with all good things, someone wants to monopolize it and essentially destroy its worth. That’s why the competition for a billionaire’s fortune could mean salvation for so many like Wade. And the only way to win is by knowing the game.

I really enjoyed this book as a light, comic read. It’s a classic hero on quest tale, root for the underdog, that kind of thing. You’ll have a blast following Wade and his friends Aech and Art3mis on their journey through the Oasis and deciphering some cryptic 80’s trivia.

The best part is when the story becomes a mix between real life danger and virtual. There were moments in the story that I forgot were taking place on Earth and not on some planet within the Oasis. Wade’s mission to find the video game’s egg will go as far as putting his own life on the line. With billions of dollars at stake, there’s a high cost to this hunt. And to add on top of the dangers of the egg hunt, Wade seems to have fallen in love with one of his fellow gunters (that’s what they called the gamers who were hunting for the egg). It’s an emotional thrill ride.

Perhaps my favorite part was when the characters are revealed in their real life. Even as a reader its easy to imagine virtual relations in a certain way. Everyone in the Oasis has an avatar, but that doesn’t mean that’s what they actually look like. It certainly levels the playing field. What Cline does with this understanding was the best part and satisfying for the conclusion of the novel.

I really enjoyed this book and I think it would be a fun read for all ages. Although some of the details from the 80’s pop culture can become overwhelming. It wouldn’t hurt to have Youtube and Google readily available if you’re not familiar with all of the references. The one dislike I have for this story was the predictability. It was difficult to be completely satisfied with the ending because I was already prepared for it. Of course I wanted that ending. I loved it. But I thought it was missing something. For that reason only I deduct one star. Overall, I thought Ready Player One was a refreshing read and I would read it again in a heartbeat.

4 stars (2)

I give Ready Player One by Ernest Cline a 4 out of 5 stars.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series Review

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor
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My Review:

I’ve already written about the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone in a previous book review, so I plan to use this review to talk about the series as a whole. The following two books, Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters, will be the focus of this review.

This series is a beautiful epic that deserves a place in literary history. Although the romance does become quite a major part of the series, don’t let it fool you. In no way does it diminish the ass-kickery and epic-ness of the plot at hand. And this isn’t the weak romance filled with love triangles and pointless heartache. Oh, there will be heartache, but it is potent with understanding, decisions to be made, and hard found forgiveness. It will change you.

Since we’re talking about this series as an epic, it plays perfectly into the poetic writing of Laini Taylor. The language flowers and can be quite figurative. This might seem odd during the war scenes, but I think it suits the series perfectly. After all, even hate and loathing are emotions. And Laini Taylor will tug at each one.

The second book of this series (as with most series, really) is a bit of a standing point. It’s the waiting, and more of a slow burn than the other books. That is to say, there’s not as much action in this book… until there is, and it all happens so fast. And so horrifying. In this book there is creation and destruction, and heartache with no resolution. And also, as the series most prominent theme permits, Hope. It was a fun read, but less engaging than the first of the series. It was nice to be introduced to a number of new characters though. One in particular…. Ziri. He’s a Kirin who looks to all the human world of a devil, but is only ever described as pure and kind (hmm… I sense a theme here).

And lastly we have Dreams of Gods and Monsters. This is the book where Karou, the protagonist, becomes less and less of the main character. Mik and Zuzanna become more amazing than they already were, and to be honest, their comic relief was much more necessary to this part of the series. In this book, nearly everything went wrong, and then somehow kept fixing itself. It was suitable to the entire epic idea, but I’ll admit it got a bit tiresome after a while. Once the war came to a conclusion, the cycle ended (well, almost). It was a relief either way. I’ll say one thing for the continuing problem-solution scenario, is it really keeps you on the edge of your reading seat.

And as with most epics, there is magic. This magic develops more and more as the series goes on, and I’ll admit I thought it went a little beyond what was necessary for this story. It got…. overwhelming. It’s important though to the end of the story, so pay attention. The magic plays an key role and it took me a while to realize it was a major point to the story. The magic becomes bigger and more important and more demanding than the war between Chimera and Seraphim ever was. It will hit you blunt on your brain that the whole premise of this story led to this reveal. The war, the pain, the heartache – it all leads to this. And what was it really for? That’s the question you’ll have to answer yourself.

Okay, I just reread that last paragraph, and I was being optimistic about the moral at the end of this series. If I’m honest though, as a reader, the conclusion was a major disappointment. I can be happy with the ending that exists, but if I’m being truthful, it felt kind of cheap. It’s cool how the godstars, which had been part of the novel since the beginning, became a major part of the story. There is definitely something to gain from it as a reader, but I felt cheated out of the story at hand. She introduced new characters at the last minute in order to create this ending, which was abrupt for the last installment of the series

I should offer a small disclaimer. If you hadn’t guessed by the title, particularly the last book of the series, “Gods and Monsters” offers a personalized view on religion. Whether or not it’s the view of the author or one she created for the characters of her book. There is a small amount of religious theory. Again, this really suits the epic, but can offend some readers. Its one view, but it does touch on current political and religious views of the world, particularly the view on angels and demons. Make of it what you will, but be prepared to question religious theory, or just go with it, whichever works for you. It’s fiction, and definitely worth the read.

Sometimes readers tend to fit into one of two main groups, the critical/cynical group and then there’s the over-emotional-everyone-gets-five-stars readers. If I had to class myself, I’m probably in the second group. What can I say; I’m an emotional reader. When I open a book, I WANT it to overtake me. It’s escapism or something or other. Some readers let it happen and anything that doesn’t fit doesn’t matter because don’t-bother-me-now-I’m-reading. Keep in mind when reading my review that this is an honest review about a work of fiction. I could tear this book apart for logic, but that’s no fun at all. And that’s my choice.

5 Stars

I give the series a five out of five stars. And now I’m on to find more of Laini Taylor’s works since I’m a sucker for prose.

Audiobook Review: Grimm’s Fairy Tales

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Grimm’s Fairy Tales

by Brothers Grimm

Narrated by: LibriVox Community

My Review:

I wasn’t able to find anything on the audiobook on Goodreads, but I don’t think a summary is necessary.

We’re all familiar with the lovable stories of Disney such as Cinderella and Snow White, even the non-Disney remakes such as Hansel and Gretel. Grimm’s Fairy Tales are the root of all these stories.

While I greatly enjoyed hearing the originals of stories I’d heard when I was a child, sometimes going back to the roots is just… boring. I feel that I was supposed to enjoy these stories immensely, and it isn’t that I didn’t enjoy them, they just fell short of what I expected. First, I was under the impression that these stories would be more violent, the stories would have more of a punch. I thought they’d be more… grim.

Regardless, the stories were for the most part entertaining. I especially enjoyed listening to the stories as an audiobook. I could listen while cooking, on the bus, doing my nails, or doing the laundry. Audiobooks are really incredible. I think my favorite story was that of the bird who tricked the farmer into getting himself murdered. There were a few surprising moments, but otherwise the stories were mostly predictable.

Unfortunately there isn’t much else to say about the stories themselves. They were fairly standard bedtime tales, mostly happy endings. I will talk briefly about the voice recordings. The most obnoxious thing was the introduction all of the volunteers had to read, but other than that they were mostly good readers. One volunteer that told several stories was a bit monotone, but I remember one story that was read by a mother and son, which was by far the best storytelling. There was some diversity among the storytellers as well, which created a nice variety.

Overall, I give Grimm’s Fairy Tales a 2.5 out of 5 stars. I wish I could have given it more, but the stories didn’t quite leave me satisfied.

2.5 Stars

Book Review: Jenny Pox by J.L Bryan

 

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Jenny Morton has a horrific secret: her touch spreads a deadly supernatural plague, the “Jenny pox.” She lives by a single rule: Never touch anyone. A lifetime of avoiding any physical contact with others has made her isolated and painfully lonely in her small rural town.

Then she meets the one boy she can touch. Jenny feels herself falling for Seth…but if she’s going to be with him, Jenny must learn to use the deadly pox inside her to confront his ruthless and manipulative girlfriend Ashleigh, who secretly wields the most dangerous power of all.

My Review:

To start, this book is not for the faint of heart. It was in several instances, graphic and horrific. Second, it’s fiction with a sharp edge. That is to say the author, Mr. J.L Bryan, has some ideas about humanity, life and the afterlife, that that not all readers may agree with.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jenny Pox. It had several jaw-dropping, completely mind-shattering moments that I couldn’t have predicted. It covers all topics of the teenage dilemma with complete casualty – sex, drugs, romance, peer pressure, fashion, even death.

Jenny, with her sickly touch, is terrified of her power. The only other person who knows her secret is her drunkard father, whom she loves deeply but has never even touched. Now imagine for a moment the devastation of zero human contact, knowing that if you did touch someone, even for a second,their skin would erupt in hideous boils that ooze and burn. Imagine being ostracized from society. Imagine knowing your mothers death was your own doing. Now imagine all of this and going to high school. What J.L Bryan does best is captures the complexity of Jenny’s situation and the heartbreak she copes with every day.

Things become interesting when you learn that the antagonist, Ashleigh, is evil and intelligent – a deadly combination. Ashleigh seems to have a power much more wicked than Jenny. Her manipulations are getting out of hand. It seems almost impossible, ironic if you will, that Ashleigh, the dear golden child with the bright smile would be the villain to this story. She is loved. Jenny is not. And yet that love turns sour, and the entire town will pay the price. The juxtaposition of Jenny and Ashleigh, the reversal of light and dark, is what makes Jenny Pox a complex and twisted story that will make readers fear what has always been known to be true.

To add to the already confusing mix, we have Seth. Coming from the popular, golden side that Ashleigh rules, he’s not to be trusted. But as the story progresses, readers will realize he is the first character with completely pure intentions. He is selfless, and perhaps his struggles are far heavier than those of Jenny, whom we already developed a deep sympathy for. The romance between Jenny and Seth isn’t awkward. It seems unnatural in the beginning due to reader suspicion and the looming wonder of Ashleigh’s pending chaos. But Jenny and Seth are matched for each other in ways the reader doesn’t even fully comprehend, not yet anyway. It’s not long before you are rooting for them. And then the gut-wrenching realization. And all hell breaks loose.

Jenny Pox was a captivating story with a riptide of teenage emotions and more. While I didn’t agree with all of the views expressed by the author (though not explicitly stated), I enjoyed the complexities of the characters, the challenge of traditional roles, and the strength of the Jenny, particularly the fact that as a female protagonist in a high school drama, she wasn’t completely overtaken by romance or reliant on others to make decisions for her.

I give Jenny Pox by J.L Bryan four out of five stars.

4 stars (2)

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel’s Comic Success

I like comic books, but I’ve never been an avid reader of them for no known reason.

I picked up the first comic of the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Galaxy’s Most Wanted (001) at a local comic store. I had high expectations for the comic, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t even write a review on it because I was slightly disappointed.

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I went to see the movie when it came out. It was the best film I’ve seen in years. And that’s what I really want to talk about – how Marvel kicked ass and why Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film this year. It’s kind of like  a Book to Box Office, so I feel completely justified sharing this with you.

You don’t put a group of lost idiots and misfits in spaceship and send them to fight off the biggest threat in the galaxy…. unless you’re Marvel. There’s so much wrong with this picture – Where’s Hermione? Yoda? Gandalf? Someone with knowledge and experience!! Instead we have Peter Quill aka “Star Lord” – the lost child, reckless in his affairs, Rocket – an angry Frankenstein creation with a vengeance, his partner in crime Groot – the gentle giant with fierce power, Gamorah – tortured and bitter runaway, and lastly Drax -murderous, burdened with the loss of his family. Quill said it best when he called the group losers. They’ve all lost something immensely important to them, their family or their identities or both — they are not heroes. The double-meaning here says all.

Guardians of the Galaxy is an emotional comedy, in outer space, with the best graphics and soundtrack you could wish for. Why wouldn’t you want to see it?

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Lucky for all of us the movie has been in theaters for a full run and the DVD is now available. If you were unable to see the movie in theatres that is unfortunate. I saw it seven times and each time amazed me. However, the DVD is widely available and I suggest that you watch it by either buying the DVD yourself or convincing a friend to do so and then crashing at his or her place while you watch it three times in a row. Just a suggestion.

Now, let’s take a walk through the film and realize what makes this film better than the rest. There are spoilers. Refer to previous paragraph. 

1.  Opening scene in the hospital. After his mother’s death, young Peter Quill runs out and stares back in disbelief at the chaos going on his mother’s hospital room, his hands open in front of him like a hopeless plea. I love this staging of Quill’s character. His open hands suggests naivety. He is too young to help out and had to be ushered out of the room. The rural setting suggests he doesn’t have much, and now he just lost the person closest to him. His hands are open in front of him, helpless, asking the eternal question “why”. It’s heartbreaking. And not until the end of the film, do you realize how much this event shaped him.

2.  Quill at Morag. I admit I was annoyed with this sequence because I think it could have been done more tactfully. However,  It does do a great job of introducing Star Lord, Peter Quill 26 years later. And it does so without words. It’s actually brilliant. Quill is reckless, sliding along crumbling rock surfaces and toying with alien rats. He’s pompous, but carefree. That minute in the film of him on Morag and walking to the orb says everything you need to know about Peter Quill. He’s an asshole, but just comical enough that you might actually like him.

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Smug

 

3.  And just after Quill leaves Morag, he gets a call from Yondu, leader of the ravagers. We finally learn what happened in those 26 years since his mom’s death and he was taken by a mysterious spaceship. Yondu Udanta made young Quill one of the ravagers. In their argument, it becomes vaguely understood that Quill was abducted by Yondu and his men, made to ravage and steal. Yondu’s argument for Quill’s compliance is that he stopped his men from trying to eat him. “They ain’t never tasted Terran before!” Suddenly you kind of like Quill a little more. He must have had a rough and confusing childhood. At least he’s still got a sense of humor.

All the feels.

It gets better though. The final battle – each of our guardians of the galaxy is wearing ravager clothing, having joined forces with the ravagers AND the Xandarian fleet (more on that later though). Soon, our pirates of the galaxy are pitching in to save it. Of course, there are lurking motives to the whole ordeal, and Yondu is eager to reap the benefits, but hey, the guardians still couldn’t have done it without him and his men.

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You don’t like him, but you don’t hate him either.

4.  Ronan the Accuser. “They call me terrorist.” Yep. He’s your typical delusional bad guy. Fashioned with war paint and an enormous black ship called The Black Aster. He’s basically like a spoiled child, with religious loyalty to all the worst things. Here we have the greater evil. It’s a good thing he’s bad to the bone because so far we haven’t really met any heroes. And Star Lord, our lead character, certainly can’t be worse than the villain. Ronan is killing the children and families of Xandar, which is outside the peace treaty between the Xandarians and the Kree people. Wicked to the innocent. You already want to see this guy dead.

5.  Rocket and Groot on Xandar, just a couple of bounty hunters, bandits, what have you. Immediately you recognize their dependence on each other, two misfits, one bitter and the other gentle (with fierce abilities). There’s no history on how these two came to find each other, but you’re aware that its the perfect relationship. Rocket, in all of his anger and sharp words, has a deep caring and understanding for his partner in crime. And Groot, though he can only be understood by tonal expression rather than his words (limited exclusively to “I am Groot”) is the devoted friend and lifesaver of Rocket. The two form each other. It’s a beautiful relationship.

6.  A Xandarian encounter – In a comical mishap, Star Lord becomes the target of the Rocket and Groot  team and also Gamora, one of Ronan’s accomplices. In the mix up, Star Lord, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora all become captives of the Xandarians. We learn a little about each character’s dangerous skills and crime history during the mug shot scene. Each of these baddies have a record, and not one of them seems to give a damn. From there they’re all sent to the Kyln, a high-security prison which is pretty much a hopeless end for the group.

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7. The Kyln – These lucky losers are about to learn a lot about each other in the dreadful prison. Thrown together by spite, they learn that they might actually be able to take advantage of each other. And yes, they all have selfish motives. but first, we can’t ignore the loud, colorfulness of the Kyln. It’s supposed to be a hell hole, and it certainly looks it, but the prisoners wear bright yellow uniforms, and many of the prisoners have brightly colored skin. The ruckus the prisoners creates is an irksome music that plays pretty constantly. But if you compare this prison scene to most dramas, there’s something not quite depressing enough about it. Here’s some good foreshadowing. The Kyln is their escape from prison and ultimately a criminal lifestyle (I mean, somewhat). First, introductions. Gamora, who is despised as one of the daughters of Thanos and also as an accomplice of Ronan the Destroyer, reveals that she is actually on a mission to betray her false father and his servant. Rocket is a mastermind who can escape any predicament with the help of his faithful and life-saving friend Groot. And then there’s Peter Quill, a sloppy rebel with just enough tricks up his sleeve to make a plan.

The Kyln is also where Drax enters the picture. A large, angry man who vows revenge on Ronan and his accomplices for the murder of his wife and daughter. Gamora gets caught in his grip and our own reckless Peter Quill convinces Drax to let her live (for now). However, Drax’s inability to understand anything metaphorical makes Quill argument more of a challenge than expected, and of course much more humorous.

The Escape – The Kyln escape plan is an epic scene with enough comedy thrown in to make you remember that its really a bunch of misfits you’re rooting for. In this scene though, the escapees get the last laugh. After hijacking the control center and literally flying it out of the prison center, Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and now Drax are free. But Quill has one last mission. And to the soundtrack of “The Escape” Quill goes back for his one and only valued possession. The mix tape his mother made for him, Awesome Mix Vol. 1.

The Soundtrack – Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is the films narrator. Just as Quill lives and understands the world through the sound and lyrics of 70’s pop music, so will you. The cassette is Quill’s most valuable possession and the music gives him all the faith to carry on to the finish line. From Blue Swede to The Runaways, its obvious that there is a Romantic plot, because if we’re honest, our misfit band of heroes are an emotional melting pot. And also, the music is just badass.

Throughout the movie, there are several important scenes that make Guardians of the Galaxy a truly definitive movie. A cult classic I hope!

Nebula and Thanos – “Thanks, Dad.” Nebula’s sarcastic remark after Thanos openly admits Gamora was favored over her gives a side characters more than just a static position. She’s jealous and ambitious – a deadly mix.

Rocket’s bomb – Rocket’s boredom leads to the construction of a massive bomb. The smallest insecurities can have the most destruction. It’s symbolic as well that Rocket is small himself. This develops later on when they are waiting on Knowhere and Rocket threatens the guardians with his oversized gun, and drunkenly admits that he “didn’t ask to be made.” In one simple phrase, so much is revealed about our favorite furry bandit.

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After several mishaps on Knowhere, the team finds itself on Yondu’s ship. Here comes Star Lord’s epic ‘loser’ speech. The team found itself turned against one another, but as it turns out losers get each other. And that is how 12% of a plan saved Xandar.

… and this point I realized I’ve stopped counting. Just go with it.

Possibly the BEST ‘reunited and it feels so good epic walk to showdown’ scene ever created is when the guardians, dressed in borrowed ravager’s clothing, leave Yondu’s ship to follow the 12% plan. Gamora yawns, Rocket scratches his crotch, and the only one who looks remotely intimidating is Drax but that’s mostly because he’s blue and oversized – all of this to The Runaways “Cherry Bomb”. This is more than just comic relief. It’s a reminder that our heroes are regular nobodies in borrowed clothing. The costume doesn’t make the hero.

Finally, the best part. The Black Aster descends on Xandar and Yondu’s men, alongside the entire Xandarian fleet, pick the biggest fight they’ve ever seen. Ronan has the infinity stone and is basically unstoppable, but with Gamora’s insider information and the brute force of the rest of the guardians team, they board the ship and blast Rocket’s massively destructive bomb right at Ronan’s chest. Which doesn’t actually work.

And then the dying scene becomes the legendary “We are Groot” scene. Its absolutely touching, the ultimate sacrifice from someone who days before was only a stranger. It seems heroes are never meant to be alone, the best heroes are the ones who do it in teams, which is what makes the guardians so good.

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Groot sacrifices himself, but Ronan is still moments away from destroying an entire planet. So Quill, who basically becomes a dancing munchkin, unbelievably, totally comically, distracts Ronan for the seconds it takes for Rocket to blast the stone from his grasp.

An epic light show ensues, Quill delivers a great line, tricks Yondu once again, and the Guardians of the Galaxy blast off for another adventure. Good or bad, still unknown.

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Criminals, ravagers, and the good men and women of the Xandarian fleet had to take one side, but they ended up saving a planet. This is better than the Avengers team because the thing is that these three forces were never meant to be on the same side. And they might not be again,  they certainly don’t seem like a good team, but for this one battle it was the perfect reason find the power in losers. Because at the end of it all, they were all losers. That didn’t change. But as we’ve already established. Maybe being a loser isn’t so bad.

and of course, dancing baby Groot is an eternal ray of sunshine. Because the guardians already lost and learned, and Groot is regenerative, it looks like a happy ending. For the most part.

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Inspired by True Events

This past week I spent in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN. It was a vacation with the whole family, so of course anything can happen. It turned out to be a phenomenal experience. I ran through caves, hiked mountains, jumped off a cliff, swam in rivers, and did some white water rafting. This vacation suited me perfectly and I’m already thinking of a return trip to the mountains. Perhaps my favorite experience this past week (it is so hard to choose just one) was walking a short path of the Appalachian Trail. This trail was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S! Take a look –

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A view from the trail

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The vibrant trail (photo edited, but I promise it really was this beautiful)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My fascination with the trail took root and hence, I found these books to start exploring further. Books really can be wonderful, useful, enlightening…. I can’t wait to get reading (and maybe find some hiking here in MI).

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