Friday, March 29, 2013

On Recent Disputes and Acquisitions in the Book World

There was some gloomy news for authors and indie-lovin' readers this week. First we got wind of the Simon & Schuster / Barnes & Noble financial dispute that is causing B&N to drastically reduce their orders of S&S titles, to the point where they are no longer stocking some smaller-name authors' books. Next, I woke up this morning and learned that Amazon is acquiring Goodreads. Is nothing safe from the Great Corporation anymore?
Calvin and Hobbes explains corporate greed. Click to embiggen.
S&S author Stephanie Burgis' blog post is a heart-rending explanation of the S&S/B&N dispute and how it affects writers like her. I still recommend her MG historical fantasy series (first book: Kat, Incorrigible [US]; A Most Improper Magick [UK]) to anyone whom I think would have the slightest interest in MG historical fantasies, even though it's been almost three years since I read and loved it. I'll even admit to being randomly stalkerish: every time I find myself in the Middle Grade section of a bookstore, I inadvertently check to see if I can find her books.

By industry standards, Stephanie is a lesser-known author; by personal standards, what Stephanie writes is better than half of what I see on the shelves. Which is why it tore at me so when I read about her wrenching search of B&Ns that were still stocking her books after the dispute was made public:
For context, about half the B&Ns in the country, from what I could tell last year, stocked the paperback of Kat, Incorrigible and the hardcover of Renegade Magic. I think it might be normal to expect those numbers to go down a bit this time round, but I was hoping that at least 1/4 of the B&Ns I looked at would stock Renegade Magic.

Instead, I Absolutely zero B&Ns, in any of the zipcode areas I looked up (and I looked up a LOT) were carrying the paperback of Renegade Magic - even stores that had always carried high stocks of the Kat, Incorrigible paperback and the Renegade Magic hardcover.
When large, profit-oriented corporations clash, it's usually the ordinary, hard-working individuals that slip through the cracks and are affected most. (No CEOs have to give up their multimillion-dollar mansions, maid service, and fancy cars as they're cajoling, threatening, or warning other companies of what will happen to them if they get in the way of profitization.) And this is sad, in the way that reading about the ordeals of homeless child soldiers in war-torn countries is sad--in a momentary, far-off, unrelatable way. But what Stephanie describes is how it affects us, our friends, our family, all the people we hope to influence with our words:
It really hurts that this has happened, through the sheer bad luck of being an author caught in the middle of a larger power struggle. My publisher will move on from this. So will B&N. But my book may have slipped through the cracks by then.

And the reason I am talking about this in public... that when I walk into a bookstore, as a reader, I rarely notice the books that aren't stocked there. Maybe, if I'm looking for one book in particular, I'll be disappointed if I don't see it, but I won't really think anything of that. I'll just think, oh, well, this particular store didn't stock it.
You are an average, non-book-blogging consumer.
When you walk into a bookstore, what's going to
catch your eye? [Image from]
Customer Philosophy #1: The harder it is to find something, the less people are going to try to find it. If you're read this, you are probably either a book blogger or someone who appreciates book bloggers. Sadly, our numbers combined make up only a very small portion of the population: you're not going to find the majority of Veronica Roth or Cassandra Clare fans active on Goodreads or the blogosphere. Put yourself in the shoes of a non-blogger for a minute. You walk into your local bookstore. Perhaps you are a teenager forced to enter because your parents threatened to not give you car rights unless you read three books on your summer vacation; perhaps you are an adult, just popping into air-conditioned haven as a brief respite during your errand run; or you've just celebrated your tenth birthday (double digits!) and have a couple giftcards to use. You randomly browse the shelves, reading titles and summaries here and there. What's going to catch your eye? Most likely the large stacks of a single bestselling title displayed prominently in the center of the store; that, or a jacket summary that strikes a chord with you. Like Stephanie said, you are not going to notice what's not there. And if what's not there are some great books that will make you laugh and cry and want to read them over and over, the average, casual consumer is going to have no chance to even consider those books. Because he or she does not know those books even exist.

One of my favorite indies is Children's Book World in Haverford, PA. They've got the requisite displays of popular bestsellers, but they've also got beautifully colorful, lovingly stocked shelves that seem to contain exactly one copy of every single children's, middle grade, and YA book published within the last ten years. Even if I've already read most of the books I see there, I delight in the possibility that another reader can stand where I stand and find those lesser-known books that I love.
Book 3 of Stephanie Burgis' MG historical fantasy series is out on April 2 from Atheneum Books.
If you're interested in buying a copy, please consider buying from IndieBound.

The other big book-related news this week that Amazon has acquired Goodreads. I don't think that this acquisition is going to change individuals' daily actions on Goodreads (I hope not), and it seems like the main reason for the acquisition, at least according to that article, is to "Kindle integration" and to get the leg-up on Apple regarding social media. So if day-to-day Goodreads use isn't going to change, and if a convenient Kindle integration system is to be implemented (which all sounds good), how is this acquisition going to affect us? Author Kate Messner wrote a great (and much more succinct) blog post about the matter, in which she notes:
People who use GoodReads are book lovers who like to keep track of their reading and share great books with one another. And soon, they’ll be supporting Amazon whether they chose to or not.

I understand that lots of people like buying books online, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you like bookstores — real brick-and-mortar bookstores that smell like paper, with smiling people who know your kids — then you need to support them, or they won’t be here for long.
A world without brick-and-mortar bookstores? Noooooooooooo. And yet this is what Amazon is directing the market towards: transitioning all business into online-only. A wave of the mouse and the click of a button; as soon as possible, your order in your hands.

A fair number of you are probably like me in terms of my complicated relationship with Amazon: I dislike their profit-driven, community-squeezing, capitalist philosophy and actions, but invariably end up purchasing some of my stuff from them anyway. It's gotten to the point where it's hard to NOT use Amazon in some portion of our lives. So no, I'm not going to say you should avoid Amazon completely. I just think that all of us should sit down for a bit and rethink our relationship with Amazon. Is it...

...Nonexistent? Congratulations! You are a better and more self-motivated person than I am.

...Dependent? You probably have a retail problem and/or don't know about the socioeconomic effects of Amazon's Amazonian (d'oh!) dynasty on nearly everything.

...Measured? That's where I'd like to be, and hopefully you'd like to party in this category with me too. It's like a form of dieting: you don't need to cut it entirely out of your life, but you should learn to have it in moderation, and balance your intake with a variety of others.

How should we express our support for brick-and-mortar and indie bookstores while still enjoying Goodreads? I like Kate's suggestion:
Write your reviews. Log your reading and recommend your books. And end each review with a link to IndieBound....My review [of Linda Urban's THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING] ends like this now:

I support independent bookstores. You can use this link to find one near you or order THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING on IndieBound:
This is a great way to still use Goodreads for what you love about it while making it clear your support and valuing of indies. Nice!

Common reasons for why people are not buying indie is money: Amazon has, compared to pretty much all brick-and-mortar stores, lower price, and also that super-appealing Free Shipping option. It's hard to resist the call of perpetual discounts and free shipping. But you CAN, and you SHOULD try! Here's a semi-mathematical argument for why it's not hard to switch from buying Amazon to buying indie:

Say you want to buy five books. Recently published books on Amazon tend to be approximately 25-33% off their list price. If you pare off a book from your original five, that gets you down to within a few bucks of the Amazon price. Shipping might cost you between $4 and $10; some indies, like my other favorite, Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA, have nifty discounts like 10% off all online orders and free shipping for orders over $30.

Does your TBR pile look like this or maybe even ten times worse?
If so, you probably don't need to buy that new book
as badly as you think you do.
Sure, you get one fewer book than you'd get if you bought from Amazon, but look around you: you're probably surrounded by brand-spanking-new books you bought months or even years ago when you told yourself you just couldn't live if you didn't buy that book right then. And now it's still lying there, unread, among dozens of other books in the same situation. You don't need that one book immediately; read the ones you already own, put that one on your shopping list for next time, and see if you still need that book as badly the next time you buy books. Frugal Retail Therapist advice: Before purchasing that thing you think you absolutely must have, put it back "on the shelf" for a week, thus giving you the time to think about whether or not you truly need that item ASAP.

Furthermore, when you buy from Amazon, little to none of your money goes toward your community; when you buy indie, more than 40% of what you pay goes back into that bookstore so they can stay in business and do cool things do make your bookwormy self happy, like author signing events, book clubs, etc. And, as I've said before, these community-oriented features are really what make indies so precious and worth keeping around.
Does Amazon throw you Mockingjay midnight release parties?
To wrap up this long post: we need to be aware of these goings-on in the industry, and of how our consumerist choices affect our community. Games played by corporate bigshots may not seem to directly affect our everyday lives, but everything is connected. Support community; buy indie. You CAN do it. We're all behind you.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Zealand: Part 3 of 3

Catch up with my New Zealand travels with Parts 1 and 2!

This is it, guys: the home stretch of New Zealand picture-heavy posts! Sorry to have been clogging your feeds with these posts. (And THANKS to those who've looked and commented and encouraged me to keep on sharing my travels with y'all.)

Day 17: TranzAlpine Train, Greymouth

Today we woke up bright and early for a train ride through the heart of the Southern Alps to get to the west coast of the South Island! The TranzAlpine is ranked among the most beautiful train rides in the world, and pictures don't do it justice, but I hope you can sort of see why:

Three hours later, we arrived at our destination, the mining town of Greymouth on the West Coast.
Me, overlooking some land just east of coastal Greymouth.

Day 18: Franz Josef Glacier

The next day, we traveled down to our next stop: Franz Josef Glacier, the most visited glacier in New Zealand. A view of the glacial valley from a high vantage point:
Sadly, global warming has reduced the size of the glacier to the smallest it's ever been:

But my favorite place at Franz Josef was Peter's Pool, a quaint little place a short walk off the main trail, where the still water perfectly reflects the glacier and surrounding mountains. We got there in the late afternoon, when the light was at its nicest:
Hah! You thought you'd finally see a picture of the boy? Sorry; there are students reading this blog. So I put a smirky face there instead. *smirks*

Day 19: Wanaka

Wanaka, Wanaka, Wanaka. The boy and I composed songs (some of which were to the tune of Adam Sandler's "Chanukah Song"...) to honor this gorgeous and relaxed up-and-coming lakeside town that was probably our favorite stop on our trip.
We decided to forego hikes in favor of playing by the lakeside for the whole afternoon, ending the day with gourmet pizza and a gorgeous sunset:
I could've spent days here, and on one of those extra days would've tried out skydiving, which in this region is considered especially beautiful. So yeah, talk about perfection.

Day 20: Queenstown

It was with reluctance that we boarded the bus the next day. But we had a schedule to keep and several more stops to make... such as the first commercial bungy site in the world--A. J. Hackett Bungy, off the historic, restored Kawarau Bridge over the Kawarau River. Is that truly the color of the river?
Yes. Yes, it is.

I didn't go bungying because it was so prohibitively expensive there, but it's definitely near the top of my bucket list, so one day... one day...

We arrived in Queenstown, the adventure capital of NZ, in the early afternoon. The hostel was situated right at the edge of Lake Wakatipu, facing the Remarkables mountain range:
Remarkables is right. A view of Queenstown from the viewing platform at the top of the cable car ride.

Day 21: Milford Sound

This day trip to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound was loooong (13 hours total: 5 hours driving each way, a two-hour cruise in the Sound--geologically, it's technically a fiord; the early English explorers got it wrong--an hour built in for photo + bathroom stops, etc.), but so worth it. Even the very drive there was an unforgettable experience in itself:

In fact, I may have enjoyed the ride to Milford Sound more than I did Milford Sound itself--though I certainly didn't complain about getting to see them all!
This is the first view of Milford Sound I got, right as our bus turned the corner.
That's the boat we took for the two-hour boat ride. Dead center is Mitre Peak, the most photographed peak in Milford Sound, and the most distinctive.

Day 22: Lake Tekapo

There are no words to describe this place. A hike up Mt John offered these views:

Nighttime around Lake Tekapo was equally stunning, first a sunset that lit the mountains and skies in colors of fire, and then a nearly flawless view of the Milky Way and a zillion stars at night.


Lake Tekapo was our last new stop on our trip. We arrived back in Christchurch the next day, and spent a final day there before flying back. My whole time in New Zealand was just one of those nearly perfect trips, and exactly my kind of place. Extraordinary views, few people, cool weather, lots of nature opportunities. I would go back in a heartbeat. If you ever want to go, just call me up.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (125)

Jessica Darling's It List #1: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty
Jessica Darling wasn't nervous about starting Pineville Junior High. That is, until her older sister, Bethany, told her that entering seventh grade means that everything will change. Hoping to continue the "Darling Domination of Popularity," Bethany presents Jessica with The IT List: The Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection. — But even armed with her instructions, Jessica stumbles her way through the start of the school year and inadvertently becomes Pineville Junior High's mascot, the mighty New Jersey seagull. Totally not the type of attention-getting her sister had in mind.

New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty's hilarious series opener will have you laughing, cringing, and cheering for the inimitable Jessica Darling.
Back when I was a to-be high school senior still floundering in uncertainty and doubt, I came across Jessica Darling for the first time and swore then and there that I'd read anything Megan McCafferty ever wrote. Like even her to-do lists. Normally I'm wary of prequels but this is Jessica Darling/Megan McCafferty and so I'm not really worried at all. Yup.

This book with the too-long-to-repeat title will be published in hardcover by Poppy on September 3, 2013.

If You Were Stuck Inside the Last Book You Read...

I saw this on a Goodreads user's status the other day--

--and immediately thought, "How come I have never asked myself this before?!"

The last book I read was Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green. In the style of Pretty Little Liars, it's about a group of girls whose lives are being turned upside down by a mysterious, anonymous darer who seems to know all their darkest secrets and threatens to reveal them unless the girls carry out their dares. So, unless I could figure out a way to bear the brunt of my darkest secrets revealed and thus ignore the darer, I'd be pretty screwed like Tenley, Caitlin, and Sydney. Also I couldn't go swimming, because Echo Bay's waters are haunted by dead girls.

SCREWEDFACTOR: 4 out of 10 - It may be the end of my privileged social life (or maybe even my actual life), but at least I'm not being eaten alive by muttations.

What's the last book you read and how screwed would you be if you got stuck inside it?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish!

Oh, this post is going to be easy-peasy for me to write. Because I only talk about a few books, ever.

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
Recommended for you if:
- urban fantasy is your cup of tea
- you enjoy world-building so thorough it's almost too much...almost
- your panties get in a twist over the sexual tension between a snarky woman and a fiercely devoted (though occasionally adorably oblivious) Alpha

The Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty
Recommended for you if:
- you ever felt like you didn't fit in among your peers
- you appreciate snarky humor
- you think Holden Caulfield is a pain in the a** but still like teenage angst IF IT'S DONE WELL

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Recommended for you if:
- you appreciate the classics
- you are interested in reading a classic, but don't know where to start
- the idea of plots so elaborate and twisted you can't believe a human being actually made it up sounds appealing

Among Others by Jo Walton
Recommended for you if:
- you enjoy books from various genres
- you are a lifetime readers, longtime diarist, and/or aspiring writer
- you think my book pimping is effective, haha

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
Recommended for you if:
- books by Tamora Pierce, Gail Carson Levine, Patricia Wrede, Caroline Stevermer fill your "Favorites" shelf
- the phrase "light fantasy romance" is a turn-on
- you have Mr. Darcy on your list of most eligible fictional bachelors

Anne of Green Gables (and subsequent books) by L. M. Montgomery
Recommended for you if:
- you understand the value of good children's literature
- you think the word "feisty" is fantastic
- at any point in your life, you felt that having red hair would be great--but only if it's the right shade

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Recommended for you if:
- you love books that challenge typical notions about what a novel can and does accomplish
- you aren't afraid to be a little confused at the beginning of a story, not if the ending pays off big-time
- you appreciate authors who can string common words together like they're singlehandedly writing the entire realm of emotions into existence

The WVMP Radio series by Jeri Smith-Ready
Recommended for you if:
- the mention of "vampires" still makes a little spark of hope stir in your chest
- you've read every single book that Ilona Andrews wrote and are going crazy waiting for the next one
- you think True Blood is hot but Sookie is seriously lacking in character

I've noticed that, with the exception of Among Others, the other books on my list are ones that I read several years ago. It's not that I haven't read anything recommendation-worthy since then, but I guess my thinking is that books that can retain my regard even after a century in publishing time are definitely worthy of recommending. How about you? Are your most recommended books generally stand-by favorites, or do you like recommending your most recent great finds more?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Colors of Madeleine, Book 1

Tags: young adult, Aussie YA, England, alternate worlds, epistolary, he-said/she-said


14-year-old Madeleine Tully and her mother are living in Cambridge, England after running away from her father and their former glamorous life. When Madeleine spies a piece of paper peeking out from a random parking meter and writes back, she thinks it’s crazy that Elliot Baranski, the person at the other end of the letters, claims to be from another world called the Kingdom of Cello…

…but Cello is real, and so is Elliot. For a year now, Elliot has been obsessed with the mystery of his father’s disappearance. As things unfold, however, the more it seems like there are more things wrong with Cello than he realized—and it turns out that Madeleine and Elliot could use each other’s help.


Jaclyn Moriarty and her epistolary novels were some of my favorites in my pre-blogging years. Did her latest offering live up to my now-admittedly-quite-jaded demands for quality fiction? A day after closing the book with a contented sigh, I am happy to say: yes, yes it did.

A CORNER OF WHITE possesses a sort of whimsy that is effortless and not overbearing. Reading this is not so much about understanding and relating to the main characters, or getting a complete picture of the world of Cello, but rather how Moriarty uses words that have existed elsewhere before and puts them together so that they look brand new. Her words are like color itself: surprising, vivid, and probably what we’ll remember most about the reading experience.

Many authors start their books off with attention-grabbing chapters and just sort of assume that readers will hang on through poor pacing and awkward plot twists. A CORNER OF WHITE has a fairly intriguing beginning, then doesn’t care whether or not you’re confused or ambivalent in the middle (you will be), then has a flawlessly put-together ending of Megan Whalen Turner proportions that will leave you gaping and swooning. Whether or not you understand or relate to Madeleine and Elliot, the way the story is laid out will ensnare you, so that even while you’re still exclaiming to whoever will listen that the story is confusing the heck out of you, you can’t stop turning the pages.

Not only was A CORNER OF WHITE a great reading experience for me, it also left me firmly invested in Madeleine and Elliot’s intertwined worlds and fates. The book ends satisfyingly, yet still opens up numerous possibilities to be explored in future books, which I will definitely be reading. Fans of Franny Billingsley, Catherynne Valente, Margo Lanagan, and Jasper Fforde’s writings will undoubtedly fall head over heels for this highly imaginative book.

Similar Authors
Franny Billingsley
Jasper Fforde
Catherynne Valente
Margo Lanagan

Cover discussion: I think it's easy to glance at this cover and think it too generic, but it's one of those kinds that grows on you more after you've read and adored the story. The whimsy and the eye-catching spots of color are all there.

Arthur A. Levine Books / April 1, 2013 / Hardcover / 384pp. / $17.99

e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley. Thanks!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove, Book 1

Tags: American lit, Western, Wild West, cowboys, Pulitzer Prize


In the relatively calm years after the Civil War, two former Texas Rangers, Augustus McCrae and Captain Woodrow Call, grow restless with their uneventful life in Lonesome Dove, Texas, where the most exciting things that happen are their occasional runs into Mexico to re-steal the cattle and horses that the Mexicans had stolen from Texas. When their former mate, Jake Spoon, returns with tales of how open and rich the Montana plains are, Call decides to round up a gang of cowboys and cattle and set up a cattle ranch there. But the trail north is long and hard, and there will be lots of heartaches and surprises for everyone before they even make it halfway there.


I’m not sure I can pull my thoughts and emotions together to write a full-fledged review for this book. LONESOME DOVE came onto my radar because it is one of my colleagues’ favorite books ever. He recommends it to every one of our students, he donated two copies to my company’s library, he borrows those very two copies that he donated every few months to pass around to friends. Finally I happened upon an ex-library copy at a book sale and decided that it’d probably be worth at least two dollars to check it out. I wasn’t expecting the invaluable find of one of the best books I’ve ever read, a stunning achievement of characterization set in the Old Wild West.

LONESOME DOVE’s strength lies in how effortlessly Larry McMurtry conjures up a varied cast of characters. Easily a dozen characters take turns narrating over 900+ pages, and some of these characters really pissed me off with how slow/idiotic/selfish they acted. And I loved all the emotions that McMurtry was able to stir up in me. Spending time with childish Jake Spoon, depressed and selfish Elmira, damaged Lorena, and others made me realize how little I read from the points of view of characters I don’t like, and how valuable it can be.

Oh, don’t worry: there aren’t only despicable characters in this book. But no one is perfect, and there’s not necessarily one protagonist to cheer on the whole way through. McMurtry breaks your heart by letting bad things befall good characters, or not letting bad characters receive their comeuppance. In the end, however, you understand why people are willing to follow Gus and Call in their endeavors: the two of them, so different in personality, are impressive leaders in action.

Most of us have seen a scene or two of the Wild Wild West, but Larry McMurtry really makes readers live it. McMurtry’s Old Wild West’s main feature is the variety of rough characters one comes across on the road or in saloons, whores and gamblers and trigger-happy cowboys. A writer can write as much as he or she wants on the setting, but it is the people in LONESOME DOVE that really make you feel the dust between your teeth, snowblindness in your eyes, wet boots and socks through powerful Midwestern storms.

The characterization in LONESOME DOVE is so strong that I’m almost reluctant to say anything critical about the book, because I can forgive just about everything in light of such splendid characterization. But if I had to make criticisms about the book, two things come to mind. The more minor one is how incomplete the ending felt. It seemed almost like McMurtry was writing along, and then, around the 900-page mark, got bored with his story, while at the same time also realizing how successful it could be, and thus raced through the end, slapped on a few satisfying conclusions but also left a lot of things frustratingly open for a sequel.

A more major concern I had was its treatment of POC characters. All the American Indians that appear in this book are heartless, cold-blooded murderers; Deets, the sole black man of the Lonesome Dove outfit, is wise, knowledgeable, and dutiful, one-with-the-earth in a prophetic way. I get it that the nineteenth-century American West was not the most non-racist period in American history, and while I felt that the characters behaved synchronously with their time, I was disappointed that a twentieth-century author couldn’t do better than rely on stereotypes for creating his POC characters.

Despite those quibbles, however, I still wholeheartedly recommend this book. LONESOME DOVE is an epic read that will easily be, if not the greatest book you’ve ever read in your life, then at least the best Western you’ll ever read in your life.

Cover discussion: Does it matter? It could have the worst cover ever and I'd still buy a copy for every bookworm I like.

Simon & Schuster / June 15, 2010 (reprint) / Paperback / 864pp. / $18.00

Personal copy, heyyooo.

Friday, March 22, 2013

New Zealand: Part 2 of 3

Catch up on my New Zealand adventures in Part 1!

Days 10-12: Lake Taupo, Waitomo Caves, National Park

A couple of whirlwind days up ahead. First stop: Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, larger than the entire country of Singapore. But what I really enjoyed about my time here was this:
A natural hot springs area: hot water bubbling out of the ground, flowing over rocks in short waterfalls, and mixing pleasantly with the cold river water!

The Waitomo Caves themselves were nothing to write home about (look, it's a cave, you can find similar in many other places in the world, for much less money), but the surrounding area?

And this was the view from my National Park hostel (LOTR fans should get a kick out of this):
Why, hello there, Mt Ngauruhoe, aka the single-vent volcano that was Mt Doom in the movies.

The boy and I wanted to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which some people say is the best day hike in all of NZ. Unfortunately, the one stormy day we had in NZ occurred on the day of the hike. Park Services closed off the mountain, and so we spent the day indoors, alternately watching the Super Bowl (what was up with that power outage?) and the wind dipping saplings like dance partners.

Days 13-14: Wellington

Kiwi cities are astonishingly lovely, laid-back, and walkable places to be. "Windy Welly" deserves its reputation--the afternoon we arrived in the city, the wind was so typically strong that our backpacker bus was rocking all over the place--but on the second day, the wind died down, revealing crystal-clear skies and water, and a whole city full of people ready to relax in the summer weather.
An art sculpture I really loved, positioned on the edge of the walk around the harbor.
The view of Wellington and Wellington Harbor from the top of Welly's well-known cable car ride.

Day 15: Interislander Ferry, Coastal Pacific Train

Goodbye, North Island! Early this morning we boarded the Interislander Ferry to go between NZ's two islands. The ferry is like a stripped-down cruise ship that makes numerous three-hour trips across the Cook Strait and takes you through the Marlborough Sounds so that you can see sights like this:

After a quick break in Picton, it was all aboard the Coastal Pacific Train, a scenic five-hour ride down the spectacular east coast of the South Island. If you thought the North Island was rural, the South Island is a whole other story. There are more people living on in the Auckland region (on the North Island) than in the entirety of the South Island. It makes for lots of scenic vistas, where one can imagine the place untouched by human hand:
Look at them sheep running away from the train!

Day 16: Christchurch

The train dropped us off in Christchurch, traditionally the most English of NZ cities--until the 2010-2011 earthquakes, of course. You may have heard of the particularly devastating one that occurred in February 2011. The succession of earthquakes had a permanent impact on the city's appearance: approximately a quarter of the city's buildings were damaged or condemned as a result. Now, the CBD is still cordoned off, with familiar structures like the Christ Church Cathedral possibly never to return to their former glory. Even out in the suburbs, you see empty lots on every street, the final bit of evidence that a house used to stand there until it was deemed not earthquake-worthy.
The once-bustling Arts Centre is now entirely cordoned off as they try to save what's left of the beautiful architecture.

However, this rebuilding also gives Christchurch the chance to redefine itself and put itself at the forefront of 21st-century urban design. The Re:START Mall, for instance, is the most happening place in the city center, and consists of shops and cafes made entirely of old shipping containers:

Nevertheless, some parts of Christchurch are still as stunning as ever, notably the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, where the classic Christchurch activity of "punting on the Avon" still occurs amid green beauty:

And Part 2 wraps up here for now. Deep breath as we remember to breathe and I work on the final part about my NZ trip!


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