June 27, 2010

Top 10 Hawaiian Experiences

Here's my top ten list of favourite Hawaiian experiences.  We spent two weeks in Hawai'i and ended up visiting four of the islands.  I would recommend Hawai'i to anyone and look forward to traveling there again.

10. The afternoon and evening we spent in Lahaina, Maui, where we shopped on Front Street, had dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and watched the evening show, 'Ulalena, presented by Cirque du Soleil. Great steak and great entertainment.

9. Fred's Mexican Cafe, Kihei, Maui.  Watch out you don't fill up on the basket of freshly made taco chips and the margaritas because the entrees are super-sized.  I had mouthwatering shrimp, fish and calamari tacos, and at a great value too.

8. The shopping at Ala Moana Center, Honoloulu, Oahu.  J Crew on the Islands, Banana Republic flagship store, Coach, the awesome and huge Victoria Secret store, shoe stores aplenty.  What more could a girl ask for!

7. Makawao and area.  In Makawao proper you can see glass blowing at Hot Island Glass and there are numerous small little trendy shops like Pink, where you can shop for clothes, antiques, jewelry, spices, etc.  We lunched at the classy and contemporary Haili'imaile General Store, Maui...I had the blackened Ahi Tune Wrap with refreshing and zesty coleslaw, accompanied with glass of Conundrum and finished with a generous slice of chocolate truffle layer cake. Yum yum.

6. The Road to Hana.  Although I was not a fan of being in a tour bus and having to sit at the back of the van...we were able to go completely around Haleakala, instead of turning back at Hana from whence we came.  Highlights were the pineapple winery, the black sand beaches, and the Sacred Pools at Oleo Gulch. 

5. Watching the body board surfers at Sandy Beach on Oahu.  They were too cool for school...or just plain crazy.

4. The scenic views and snorkeling at Hananuma Bay on Oahu.  You have to pay a fee to enter the park but the setting is amazing and the snorkeling is pretty good too...and so is the beach!

3. The sunrise at Haleakala on Maui.  The drive was slow and twisty up the volcano in the pitch dark early morning (3:00 AM) to to watch the sunrise at 5:45 AM. Beautiful scenic views at the top and through the drive down.

2. The changeable landscape at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island .  We also experienced a 25 degree change in weather from the top of the Chain of Craters Road to the bottom...refreshing at the top and baking hot at the bottom.

1. The Trilogy catamaran sail from Lahaina, Maui to Hulope Bay, Lana'i and back. A full day trip.  We saw hundreds of spinner dolphins on the way to Lana'i, snorkeled in the Hulope Bay Nature Preserve, were provided breakfast, lunch, snacks and a late afternoon barbecue.  Great people, great sailing, beautiful sunset. A perfect day.

June 21, 2010

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

At Princeton University, a famed geneticist dies inside a biohazard lab. In Rome, a Vatican archaeologist is found dead in St. Peter's Basilica. In Africa, a U.S. senator's son is slain outside a Red Cross camp. Three murder victims on three continents, linked by a pagan Druidic cross burned into their flesh.

Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force have only days to solve an apocalyptic puzzle dating back centuries. Aided by two women from his past-one his ex-lover, the other his new partner-Gray must uncover a horrifying secret that threatens America and the world, even if it means sacrificing the life of one of the women at his side. The race is on-from the Roman Coliseum to the icy peaks of Norway to the lost tombs of Celtic kings-and the future hangs in the balance. For humankind's ultimate nightmare is locked within a talisman buried by a dead saint-an ancient artifact known as . . . The Doomsday Key.

James Rollins action/adventure thriller novels are always far fetched, though the scientific details always have a basis in fact. This time, in The Doomsday Key, the scientific storyline delves into the areas of genetically modified foods, fungal viruses and super enzymes. The regular cast of characters are there, Gray, Monk, Painter, etc. with the addition of Rachel and Seichan in a new twist.  I'm always very keen on the scientific elements and arcane bits of knowledge, and in this, the novel does not disappoint. But The Doomsday Key does have too much of an overemphasis of the scientific problem at hand and I missed the emotional intensivness of the past two novels in the series, The Last Oracle and The Judas Strain.

I found this storyline less balanced and fluid in the doling out of details and the switching between description and character interaction. Consequently the pace of the story gets bogged down.  But the storyline is redeemed with the emotional wrenching and poignant events at the end that wrap up all the loose ends. James Rollins certainly thrills me and he will you too! Next up is The Devil Colony to be released in hardcover August 3, 2010.

Just want to reiterate that I detest the tall paperback format, as it makes my Rollins collection off kilter in height.  I saw this new "wide paperback" format of The Judas Strain in Indigo Spirit the other day. Wacky!  Hope it doesn't become mainstream.

My Rating: 4.0

Related Posts:
The Last Oracle by James Rollins
Ice Hunt by James Rollins
Deep Fathom by James Rollins
Subterranean by James Rollins

June 10, 2010

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The summer of 1950 hasn't offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home's abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own.

But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia's attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw: "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life."

Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet's custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family's loyal handyman, Dogger… or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime - even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it's up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim's identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces' murky past.

Flavia de Luce, a little smartass curmudgeon, with a lightning quick mind, is like no other 11 year old girl. Her prestigious family lives in Buckshaw, the rambling ancestral estate of the de Luces. Her father either bolts himself in his study to pursue his philetist interests or in his aging Rolls Royce to grieve the long past death of his wife Harriet; her sister Daphne always has her head buried in Dickens or some other esoteric author; and her sister Ophelia spends her hours staring at her reflection and primping or absorbed in playing her piano. Flavia is left to her own devices, which would be to indulge in her obsessive interest in Chemistry in the laboratory she has claimed as her own at Buckshaw.

When Flavia stumbles upon a man dying in the early hours of the morning in Buckshaw's cucumber patch and with his last odorous exhale states “Vale”, she determinedly sets out to investigate the manner of his death.  Flavia is delicious in her pleasure of things of a gruesome nature. I often found myself chuckling at her over the top rudeness, diabolical thoughts and ornery nature. Flavia tries to be this strong, indomitable force, yet we are shown that at her heart she is still an 11 year old girl with a clutch of insecurities.

The novel is a complex formula in itself;  layers and sidesteps and sequences all combined together to form a brilliant deduction. The quality of the writing is first rate, with vivid descriptions of a bygone era. The abundance of details in this unique series debut are a sheer delight.  So many interesting topics are described in myopic detail that keep you enthralled with the story - philetology, chemistry, the art of conjuring, forensic science and investigations, and literature. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a brilliant effort that shines bright and true. Highly recommend.

Winner of the 2007 CWA Debut Dagger Award.

Next up in the series: The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag released in hardcover March 9, 2010.

My Rating: 5.0