The Institute by Stephen King
The Stranger Things vibe is all over this book initially but then it diverts and goes down its own majestic Stephen King path. I'm a HUGE King fan and while this did not disappoint, it's definitely not my favorite of his work. Luke Ellis is a super genius twelve-year-old who has big plans to attend college when his whole world is altered the night a group of people break into his house, murder his parents, and ferry him off to the Institute. He wakes up in a bedroom almost identical to his own at home and discovers other kids at the Institute who are being held and forced to endure experiments and shots to expand their telekinetic and telepathic powers. All of this experimental torture takes place in Front Half but eventually kids are moved to Back Half where the real horrors exist, and they're never seen again. The staff at the Institute are heartless and cruel. King builds two simultaneous story lines between the Institute and Tim Jamieson, a disgraced former cop, now working the nightknocker shift in Dupray, South Carolina. I've always loved King's supernatural books more than his true horror (weird, I know) but the only thing I didn't love about this one is that it seems watered down. It's not as nasty as some of his books get, and I quite frankly miss the carnage. This makes me seem like a complete psycho since we're talking about kids, torture experiments, and kidnapping but in comparison to his other greats like The Stand and Under the Dome, this one was just sort of thinned out more than what I prefer in my King reads.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ruby's young adult historical fiction novel takes readers on a swirling, sweeping flight in and out of various decades, both for the living and the dead. I was a little reluctant to read this because I didn't care for Bone Gap at all with it's heavy-handed magical realism, but this one was more supernatural and bizarre in a way that has some boundaries and eventually an explanation. Frankie, her audacious little sister, Toni, and their big brother Vito have spent much of their childhood living in an orphanage getting Sunday visits from their Father who "temporarily" put them there until he could get back on his feet after riding the wave of the Great Depression. On the eve of WWII, Vito ships off to serve his country along with other boys from the orphanage including Frankie's first love, Sam. As some of the nuns enact brutal punishments on the orphans, Frankie just wants to be free even though she's not sure exactly what that means for her. The entire story is told through the "not-eyes" of ghost, Pearl, who floats aimlessly in and out of people's lives, yearning to find her purpose and what really caused her death in 1918. There are so many sad and eerie secrets revealed in all of the characters' lives that it's clear the author has done a lot of research. The murky line between fact and fiction in this book is blurred in a beautiful, scary, and haunting way. Some of Pearls' chapters in the beginning felt muddled and clunky, but it all came together in the end. This doesn't mean there's necessarily a happy or tidy ending, but there is resolution. I like how one of Ruby's many themes is about women's voracity for creativity, independence, and freedom. No matter what that freedom looks like to each woman, it is her own choice, right, and journey to take.
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Miraflores: Peru, Chapter 1
A Few General Notes:
Safety - We did our research and stayed in areas that had good reviews for safety and security. Miraflores is one of the most affluent districts of Lima and has tons of hotels, apartments, shopping, restaurants, and bars. The Airbnb we chose in Miraflores had a doorman with a secure entrance. We felt extremely safe in this neighborhood at all times, and we walked to everything. It felt like there were police and private building security on every block. We walked everywhere day and night and didn't even use Uber until we were closer to the end of our trip.
Transportation - Driving in Peru is bonkers. Car horns are used instead of turn signals and stop signs. The traffic noise is grating and made me really appreciate the quiet of the rural area we live in. The constant honking and blaring was something I just couldn't get used to and by the end of our stay in Lima, I kind of wanted to bash my head into a wall. We wouldn't have felt comfortable renting a car here and trying to get around on our own. From Jorge Chavez International, look for the official airport taxi companies to take you to your next location (Taxi Green, Taxi Direct or Taxi 365). For around 60 soles, (approximately $18) they will guide you out past the exit gates directly to your driver. Finding an Uber here would be a challenge. When you exit, there's a mob of people trying to give you rides, sell tours, and look for arriving guests. It's insanity. There's a tiny opening in the exit gate and then they are upon you like vultures on a carcass. The $18 is worth making it out unscathed and unfrazzled. We actually ended up getting the airport driver's number, and we used him for private transport for several more trips. We also used Uber at least 3 or 4 times and it was incredibly cheap. Our longest trip (about 45 minutes) cost around $12.
Money - Peru's currency is the sol. We chose to order soles from our bank ahead of time. There is a shortage of small coins in the country. Try to carry as many small coins as possible and use them whenever you're shopping or eating at small stands. Use your big bills in hotels and nicer restaurants.
Tipping - Tipping is not customary in Peru; however, we definitely tipped people that went out of their way to have great conversations with us, kindly tolerated our poor Spanish speaking skills, gave us great recommendations, or were just generally cool people. Since we met a lot of awesome drivers, bartenders and tour guides, we ended up tipping a lot.
Turning Pages: Places to Check Out
The Malecón is a 10km walkway that gently curves along the Pacific coastline high above enormous cliffs with spectacular views. There are little cafes, parks, statues, strolling couples, runners, and humorous outdoor exercise equipment (check my Insta for the elliptical video).
Keep pace on the Malecón, and you'll see a take-off spot for paragliders. You'll also eventually come across el Parque del Amor (Love Park). In addition to a little fence area where you can hang the requisite lover's lock with you and your partner's initials, there's a giant, romantic statue called El Beso (The Kiss). The park is lined with glittering mosaic benches and walls and is a perfect spot for a rest with your lover and maybe some PDA (only a little - control yourselves people).
Uncovered in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Miraflores, this pyramid made of clay bricks is a fascinating juxtaposition of old against new as the city buildings tower all around it. The Pre-Incan people of ancient Lima made this structure for a variety of purposes including burial grounds for leaders and a location for religious rites and sacrifices. We toured the ruins at night, and it was mesmerizing and even a little spooky. A guided evening tour costs about $5.50 (a dollar more than a day tour) and is well worth it. They also have a restaurant on the grounds that allows you to dine in view of the ruins. We didn't try this out the night we were there because it was closed for a swanky, private party.
Kennedy Park is huge and located in the direct center of Miraflores, surrounded by restaurants, shopping, and street vendors. The thing I liked the most about this park is that there are cats everywhere: cats in trees, cats in flower pots, cats stretching, cats sleeping, cats staring creepily at nothing, cats playing tag, cats getting back rubs, cats riding bicycles ... wait sorry that last part's not true. I got carried away. I just find it fascinating that this park is completely overrun with cats, and everyone's just cool with it.
We consistently found that when we did eat at restaurants or had drinks, Peruvians take food service seriously. Bartenders take pride in creating drinks with fresh ingredients and present drinks as an experience. We went for drinks two nights in a row at Pitahaya just because the bartender was so incredible. He gave us tastings of all the different Peruvian liquors, and had us smell each of the ingredients he put in our drinks before mixing and serving.
Appendix: a Hodge Podge
Larcomar - Larcomar is a shopping mall with a killer view. This multi-tier shopping center is built into the cliffs boasting a view of the Pacific. It's gorgeous and worth a stop whether you want to shop or not.
Indian Market (on Av. Petit Thouars) - This artisanal market was our first introduction to Peruvian shopping and haggling. There are tons of stalls. We didn't end up buying anything here because it was too early in the week to start adding to our luggage weight, and we had another flight to Cusco in a few days. My suggestion is to wait to make purchases in Cusco because it's much cheaper.
Postscript: What I Missed
Things I wish we had time for (for the next visit):
Bike rental on the Malecón - Get some exercise on the clifftops with a view of the Pacific.
Ceviche - Everyone said we had to get ceviche in Miraflores, and while we saw it everywhere, we just didn't get around to trying it.
Peña - A Peña is a venue that has traditional, live Peruvian music and dancing. There are many different restaurants and clubs that have this authentic folk scene including La Candelaria and Don Porfirio.
This is the book that motivated me to start Travel All the Pages. Set in several locations in Peru, the main character Nita starts off in Miraflores. I loved reading Nita's descriptions of the district. While I wasn't a big fan of this book, I do appreciate how it inspired me. This book is pretty gruesome for a young adult selection, but I think there's definitely a market out there for this type of supernatural/horror combo. It gets pretty good reviews overall in the book world. It just wasn't for me.
Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I was really pumped about this one, and it was the worst. First, it was set in Peru, and I enjoyed reading about some of the spots we just visited but aside from that, there was little to appreciate. The world-building is non-existent, making it hard to connect with the characters. This is supposed to be set in a future where different species with supernatural powers exist around the world. The main character Nita is able to heal herself from injury and also enjoys dissecting unnaturals while her mom sells their body parts on the black market. Nita struggles with the morality of what they do and rationalizes it as acceptable because the unnaturals they deal with are bad people. Plus, they never come to her alive. This all changes when her mom brings one back alive and eventually Nita gets kidnapped to sell on the same same black market she’s been feeding. In theory this sounds fascinating but the entire story felt stilted and disconnected.
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.