Mosi-oa-Tunya, Thunder Smoke, Victoria Falls, Zambia

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Explorer David Livingstone is said to have first seen the splendor of Victoria Falls, a massive waterfall at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa from a tree. This tree has since been outfitted with steps and a platform where visitors can climb up for their own view of the falls. Different seasons yield different views, often only the “smoke” (mist) of the falls can be seen.

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The local name for the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya literally translates to Thunder Smoke. The roar of the falls sounds as loud as thunder and the Zambezi River water that ricochets back looks like a giant smoke cloud. Crossing the Knife Edge bridge at the falls, it can be hard to see from one end to the other with all of the water raining and re-raining back down when water is in high season, February-June.

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The drive from Zambia’s capital Lusaka to Livingstone is about 6-7 hours. This takes you nearly 500km along the T1 two lane highway, which is paved. Speed bumps and potholes are the biggest dangers as you pass through multiple small roadside towns and villages. There are also a few larger cities on the way, Kafue, Mazabuka, Choma, and several random police checkpoints with radar to make sure drivers aren’t flying at twice the posted limit.

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Whether you’re hunting for rainbows or monkeys, you’re likely to find them at Mosi-oa-Tunya. A short hike down to the boiling pot yields a picturesque view of the bridge to Zimbabwe, wildlife and jungle-like green plants thriving in from the mist of the falls. If you forget to bring your raincoat, you can rent a poncho or crocs before exploring because with high waters, you’re sure to get wet.

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Book Review | 100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario by Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read

img_0335For those interested in exploring nature, be it conservation areas for flora and fauna, hiking, camping, biking, canoeing or cross county skiing, this book offers a wealth of information about places worth visiting in Ontario. Divided into geographical sections, Earley and Read give a brief history of the hot spots and their highlights. Photographs from each place are included along with general spot information about dates open and applicable activities. As the book says, it will appeal to “birders, botanists, wildlife lovers, rock hounds and naturalists”.

100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario serves as a great introduction for parties interested in visiting wild Ontario. From seeing the Northern Lights to exploring caves or finding rare species, the authors spell out where to go and when. It would work well as a starting point for trip planning purposes or for Ontarians interested in better exploring their own province. The included photographs are very helpful to get an idea of what one might see in the named hot spot, but in some places photo quality is a bit lacking on enlargements. The book offers a wealth of information, and would be best digested in small chunks or as reference material, though it is very clearly written for all audiences. Helpful area maps are included, but the whole of Ontario with all hot spots is not. Check it out from a library near youI received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | The Mermaid Girl by Erika Swyler

IMG_6921.JPGThe Mermaid Girl is a short story about a lady who was the mermaid in the tank at the circus. She grew up traveling from town to town until a man fell in love with that underwater girl. She suffers from terrible headaches after leaving the circus and starting a life on the east coast with her partner and two young children.

This book was much shorter than I had expected, just 36 pages. For a short story, it was decent. Mermaid Paulina is fairly well developed, however the other characters are flat. While the writing style is clear, the text breaks often and shifts time frames without much notice, making it seem disjointed. Perhaps this story will be of much more interest to readers of Swyler’s 2015 novel The Book of Speculation, as this is the prequel. While it’s unlikely that you will be able to find this book at your local library, you can buy a copy here for 99 cents.

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society by Linda S. Ferber

Previously published by Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) Reviews in January 2015.

the coast & the sea book cover In addition to serving as an exhibit catalog for part of “Sharing a National Treasure: The Traveling Exhibition Program of the New-York Historical Society”, The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society aims to delve into the visually expressive customs of marine and maritime painting and to demonstrate the connections and relations between them. Works covered range from 1728 to 1904 and focus mainly on happenings at, and evolution of, the New York Harbor. Paintings and text also focus on Naval involvement in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Author Linda S. Ferber is the Senior Art Historian at the New-York Historical Society and previously served as curator. She does a noteworthy job connecting all of the paintings through her guiding narrative. By drawing the reader’s attention to particular aspects of the pieces, Ferber ably links the objects’ artistic and historic backgrounds.

The text can be easily read as a book that recounts a factual series of events, or referenced intermittently as a research piece. It could also serve as an introduction to marine and maritime art, since Ferber concisely explains the concepts. An introduction to the Hudson River School painting movement is also provided.

Color reproductions of over sixty paintings form the core of the volume. Photographs of a handful of maritime objects are also a welcome addition to the text. Often figures and their descriptions are on subsequent pages, which requires the reader to flip back and forth to view the specific aspects of the painting that are being described.

Though the book has a table of contents, it is not very helpful since the main body of the text is listed as a single section without reference to the topical, titled subsections within it. A selected bibliography provides information on a number of sources for additional research. The book’s index is quite thorough and useful, as is the notes section. The thick, glossy pages of this book along with a solid stitched and glued binding make for a physically sound, high quality volume. The jacket and square shape are appealing and appropriate for the content included.

This book would be a suitable reference piece for anyone researching American marine or maritime paintings, New York coastal history or art related to Naval involvement in early American wars.

Book Review | Perimeter : A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan by Kevin J. Miyazaki

book cover Perimeter by Kevin J. MiyazakiI wish I had been fortunate enough to see the exhibit at Marquette’s Haggerty Museum of Art that is encompassed by Kevin J. Miyazaki’s artistic book Perimeter. As Miyazaki traveled nearly 1800 miles around the shores of Lake Michigan through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, he photographed the people he encountered and the Lake along the way. The book is a compilation of the waterscapes, the portraits and the stories behind them. From surfers and scientists to fishermen and families, portraits and prose highlight both the differences and similarities of those who’ve made Lake Michigan a part of their lives.

This was an impressive book, and as I mentioned, it would have been great to see the exhibit. The portable photo booth that Miyazaki constructed from PVC pipe and other supplies provided for exceedingly crisp and clean images. I read a color copy of the ebook and am sure the printed book would prove even more intriguing. Hearing so many different perspectives of the value of the Lake lends the reader increased awareness about what an important resource it is. If you love Lake Michigan or haven’t yet had a chance to visit, or if you’re just a fan of great photos, check out Perimeter from a library near you.

Film Review | Contracorriente (Undertow) by Javier Fuentes-Leon

film poster for undertow contracorrienteSet in a Peruvian fishing village, Contracorriente tells the story of Miguel, a beautiful man with a wife and child on the way and how he deals with the abrupt death of his secret lover Santiago. Miguel is a local with family ties who works on a fishing boat. Santiago is an artist who lives temporarily in the village and is a societal outcast because of his lifestyle. The two meet only in secret and no one knows of their relationship. After a fight, something unexpected happens, which causes Miguel to reevaluate his choices and values.

This film was the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time. I wasn’t expecting the depth and emotional waves that came. If you’re willing to relate to the characters, have a handkerchief nearby. The acting was top notch and the story was completely realistic. I didn’t want this movie to end. It’s no surprise that this film was featured at multiple film festivals and won the 2010 Sundance World Cinema Audience Award. If you loved Julian Schnabel’s film Before Night Falls based on the novel by Reinaldo Arenas, this movie is worth buying. If you want to try it out first, check a library near you. The trailer is also available on the film’s website.

Book Review | Decompression : a novel by Juli Zeh

An unusual but enjoyable read, book cover decompression by juli zehDecompression takes place on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. The story’s four main characters are two couples, Sven and Antje and Theo and Jola. Sven and Antje live on the island and run a diving school. They left Germany when Sven finished law school and tired of the lifestyle, wanted something simpler and more free spirited. Theo and Jola are tourists visiting from Germany paying a hefty sum for two weeks of Sven’s full attention. Jola is an attractive TV actress hoping to land a motion picture role and Theo is an aging writer with his debut novel more than a decade behind him. Shenanigans between Theo and Jola get in the way as Sven teaches them to dive in the Atlantic. The story gets interesting as a questionable relationship arrises between Sven and Jola and foreshadowing tells of something horrible to come.

As you can probably tell from the book’s blurb, this novel is by no means a happy read. Author Juli Zeh does, however, draw the reader in right at the beginning and keep his interest right until the end. Sven is the main narrator, but sections of Jola’s diary are woven into the text in a manner that prompts the reader to question which account of events is true. Amazon says this book is a psychological thriller, and it sure has a few thrilling moments, but overall it seems to be more of a slice of life story, allowing the reader to step into shoes very different from his normal worn slippers. If you appreciate dysfunctional, or at least abnormal, relationships, this would be a good read. Another blogger aptly compares it to Herman Koch’s The Dinner. Check out the English translation of this German novel at a library near you or look for the ebook.