Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson: A review

  In her latest book, Kate Atkinson gives us 1920s London. It was a fraught time and place with a multilayered society full of drugs, the sex trade, mob wars, and the posh clubs that were the center of it all. Overseeing all that was Nellie Coker, Ma Coker. Nellie was the shrewd owner of a string of nightclubs. When we first meet her, she has just been released from a stay in prison. Even so, though she exists in a dangerous world and has enemies all around, she is the queen of all she surveys.  Nellie was indeed Ma to six duplicitous children who, in addition to all of her business interests, kept her on her toes. We see many of the events through the eyes of the eldest child, Niven.  He is a rather enigmatic character, home from his recent service in World War I. His character was essentially forged by his experiences in that war, especially his time in the Somme. In addition to Nellie and Niven, there are a multitude of other characters, almost too many to keep track of, but Atkinso

Poetry Sunday: November by Elizabeth Stoddard

We say goodbye to November this week, the month that is home to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. The old year is fading fast. It's all downhill from here. Actually, I like this time of year, the last few weeks before the calendar moves on. "Autumn charms my melancholy mind," as Elizabeth Stoddard expresses it in her poem. And as I look around at the silent trees, I am reminded that "the loss of beauty is not always loss." November by Elizabeth Stoddard Much have I spoken of the faded leaf; Long have I listened to the wailing wind, And watched it ploughing through the heavy clouds; For autumn charms my melancholy mind. When autumn comes, the poets sing a dirge: The year must perish; all the flowers are dead; The sheaves are gathered; and the mottled quail Runs in the stubble, but the lark has fled! Still, autumn ushers in the Christmas cheer, The holly-berries and the ivy-tree: They weave a chaplet for the Old Year's heir; These waiting mourners do not sin

Note to my readers

"This week in birds" is taking a Thanksgiving break. It will return next Saturday. And may I say one of the things I am thankful for is all the readers who turn up here each week to read it. It is my pleasure to present the weekly round-up of news from the world of Nature, but it is worthless without you readers. 

Happy Thanksgiving!


The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: A review

This book was, in many ways, a depressing read but then it is primarily about the Great Depression of the 1930s and its effect on the lives of ordinary people. The story is told through the character of Elsa, a young woman from West Texas, who was forced into a loveless marriage after getting pregnant. It was the way things were done then and, in some cases, still are. Elsa was a gangly, rather unattractive young woman, but she had great reserves of courage and moral strength. She would need all of that when she was abandoned by her feckless husband and had to make a life for herself and her two children. The marriage may have been loveless in regard to her husband, Rafe, but there was plenty of love from her in-laws, Rafe's parents, Rose and Tony. They recognized her quality and worth and supported her. In return, they became the beloved parents she had really never had. As the middle of the country became the Dust Bowl, Elsa, like thousands of others, had to make a decision of wh

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: A review

  In 2020, I read and loved Lydia Millet's last book, A Children's Bible , so obviously I was going to read her new book as well. This one was a different kind of story, but Millet has lost none of her edge as a writer. The protagonist here is named Gil. He is an extremely wealthy forty-five-year-old man. His wealth is inherited and he apparently has never actually held down a job except for a very short time as a bartender. He seems to feel quite guilty about his wealth and he tries to expiate that guilt by doing a lot of volunteer community service type work.  Gil was orphaned as a child and was raised by his grandmother, but she, too, died when he was still a teenager. Now, he has no family and few friends and no really strong ties to Manhattan where he lives. He surprises those who do know him by deciding to move to Phoenix. Even more surprisingly, he decides to walk there! A 2500-mile walk will take about five months and will allow him to experience life as he never has be

Poetry Sunday: Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman

"Bless his/her heart!"  That's an observation that one hears not infrequently in the South and those of us who grew up with it are well aware that quite often it means exactly the opposite. Richard Newman understands.   Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add “Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say whatever you want about them and it’s OK. My son, bless his heart, is an idiot, she said. He rents storage space for his kids’ toys—they’re only one and three years old! I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned into a sentimental old fool. He gets weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came someone else blessed her office mate’s heart, then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts of the entire anthropology department. We bestowed blessings on many a heart that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart. Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting much tip, for which, no