Showing posts from July, 2013

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Butterflies

A major topic of conversation among gardeners this spring and summer has been the scarcity of butterflies. I have written about it several times in my other blog, Gardening With Nature , and it was even expressed as a source of concern at my Mystery Book Club meeting this month.  The scarcity seems mostly related to an unfortunate series of weather events that has been unfriendly to the production of butterflies, but it is likely that the profligate use of pesticides by gardeners and farmers also plays a part. Butterflies appear to be such fragile creatures and yet they have been around on Earth since the mid Eocene epoch, between 40-50 million years ago, so obviously, they have found ways to survive in tough conditions before .  The evolution of butterflies is closely linked to that of flowering plants, since both adult butterflies and caterpillars feed on such plants.  Of the 220,000 species of  Lepidoptera , which includes both moths and butterflies, about 45,000 spe

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars In the tourist haven of the Florida Keys, a middle-aged pair of those tourists rents a charter fishing boat for a day in the Gulf. Instead of catching tarpon or sailfish though, the man hooks the severed left arm of an adult human Caucasian male with a platinum wedding ring on its finger. When the boat makes it back to port, the third mate who had been instrumental in helping the tourist remove the arm from his hook and, later, in taking pictures of him and his wife with the arm and with the fish that she caught, informs the captain that he has unexpectedly come into some money and doesn't need his job any more. He quits. A few weeks later, the third mate and his girlfriend are coming out of a Key West eating establishment when the man is shot dead by an assailant. Could there possibly be a connection between these three events, you say? This is Carl Hiassen, so we know that there is a diabolically ingenious plot at work, and, yes, there must be a connec

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars I read a lot of mysteries and so one might think that I would have developed some expertise in picking up clues over the years. But, in fact, I've only recently noticed that nearly all of the fictional detectives that I read about are recovering from or battling some addiction. Booze, pills, hard drugs, you name it - if it's addictive there must be a fictional detective out there who is suffering from it and that usually also results in dysfunctional personal relationships. Rare indeed is the normal, average, middle-class detective with no dark side and a normal, average, loving family and normal productive relationships. DCI Tom Barnaby of Midsomer Murders is the only one who springs immediately to mind. I suppose this is a device to humanize the character and make the reader feel more sympathetic toward him or her. And, of course, when it's done well, it does work that way. Millions of fans of Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus can attest t

Poetry Sunday: We are Seven

Here's a poem by a famous poet of the English romanticist period.  William Wordsworth is often thought of as a poet of Nature and indeed he is, but he is also a poet of human nature and human emotion. In this poem, an adult speaks to a child about how many brothers and sisters she has and learns that she still counts those who are dead among members of her family. She continues to stubbornly maintain that position even when the adult points out that, obviously, those who are dead no longer walk among us. The child is wiser than the adult, I think, because those whom we love are never truly gone as long as we draw breath and remember them. They continue to live through us, as we will continue to live, as long as we are remembered and loved.   We Are S eve n   by  William Wordsworth —A simple child, That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death? I met a little cottage girl: She was eight years old, she said; Her hair was thic

Caturday: Kitty porn

The name of the person who discovered that human beings can be endlessly amused by videos and pictures posted on the Internet of cats being cats will probably never be revealed and never make it into the history books. But what a service that person has provided for his/her fellow humans! How many millions of hours each week are spent viewing those videos and pictures? How many millions of smiles, chuckles, and laughs are generated by such viewing? Yes, Anonymous, you have made the world a better, happier place. What a humanitarian! Here are some favorite pictures from   and other sites around the Web this week. The most wonderful thing about animals in general and cats in particular is that they are always themselves. It would never occur to them to try to be something they are not. That's why we love them, I think. Happy weekend to you and your animals.

Netflix is the new HBO? Maybe.

Netflix seems to be on to something with its original content productions. Earlier this year, we were addicted to their very fine show House of Cards . And it wasn't just us. The folks who nominate shows for Emmys liked it, too. When the nominations were announced, House of Cards was right up there with the big guys like Mad Men and Game of Thrones . Now Netflix has given us another new quality series in Orange is the New Black , a story about a privileged white girl, a Smith graduate named Piper Chapman, who gets sentenced to 15 months at Litchfield women's correctional institute almost ten years after a youthful indiscretion with a heroin importer named Alex who was her girlfriend. Piper had once transported a large quantity of drug money for her lover and long after she has put all of that, including her lesbian experimentation, behind her, she's busted and sent to prison. It turns out that Alex is serving her time in the same prison. There are dozens of inmates at

White Heat by M.J. McGrath: A review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars One of the hardest parts of reading this book, which was the July selection of my local Mystery Book Club, was reading the descriptions of the food enjoyed by its half-Inuit heroine. Seal blood soup. Fried blubber. Bloody fish just pulled from the water. Walrus guts. The writer lovingly describes all of this, as well as other aspects of Inuit culture. While I admire the Inuit's ability to survive the harsh environment of the frozen North and I understand that to do so they must use what is available to them, as a wannabe vegetarian who abstains from red meat in the diet, I found the descriptions of the food stomach-turning in the extreme. An Inuit would probably find my fondness for green beans, broccoli and carrots equally stomach-turning. The second hardest part of reading the book was...reading the book. The writing was just sort of all over the place. The plot meandered along, zigzagging here and there to no real purpose that I could discern. I felt

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Fairy rings

An incomplete fairy ring, or fairy circle. More like a fairy semi-circle.  After several weeks of dry weather, we had rain last week and after the rain, the mushrooms started popping up around the yard. Some of them formed circles, or parts of circles like the large one above that appeared in my front yard in an area of patchy grass. These naturally occurring rings or arcs of mushrooms are commonly known as fairy rings or fairy circles. You may also sometimes see or hear them referred to as elf rings or pixie rings. Because the mushrooms pop up overnight as if by magic, folk tales have associated them with these magical folk. In folklore, these phenomena are said to result from the dancing of fairies (or elves or pixies) on moonlit nights. These beings were thought to dance in circles; thus, the mushrooms that became visible in daylight marked the area of their nighttime frolics. If you are more inclined to a scientific explanation, you'll be interested to know that mus

Write like the wind, George!

George R.R. Martin's fans have been waiting impatiently since 2011 for the next entry in his fantastically successful Song of Ice and Fire saga. Of course, long-time Martin fans have grown accustomed to waiting. Maybe it is those newcomers among us (like me) who only discovered him after the start of the HBO series Game of Thrones who really haven't absorbed the lessons of the last seventeen years. As all true fans know, Song of Ice and Fire was conceived as a seven book saga. The first entry in the series, which was entitled Game of Thrones , was published in 1996. It took only two years for the next book, A Clash of Kings , to gestate. And then two more years for A Storm of Swords to reach the salivating fandom. But then things slowed down. The books got longer and (if possible) even more complicated and it took five years before A Feast for Crows saw the light of day.  But that was as nothing compared to the SIX YEARS that it took to produce A Dance with Dragons wh

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: A review

My rating:  4 of 5 stars This is another of those books that my daughter has been nagging me for years to read, but I could never quite get in the mood for it. However, now seemed a particularly relevant time to make the book's acquaintance, what with Texas and other states that are controlled by tea party Republicans doing everything in their power to limit or roll back women's rights. I found it to be a powerful, disturbing, and affecting story. The book was published in 1985 and is a dystopian vision of the near future in a place called Gilead. Gilead used to be known as the United States of America. The president and all the elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives were assassinated in order to overthrow the government and set up this new state. The purpose of this new theocratic and totalitarian state seems to be to return society to an ideal that supposedly existed in the distant past. This "ideal state" is a place where men are

Poetry Sunday: Fishing on the Susquehanna in July

Billy Collins is a very successful modern American poet. He has served as Poet Laureate of the country in the early part of the century, and he is lauded and praised by critics. Moreover, his books of poetry are moderately successful in sales, which is not something you can say about a lot of poets. I've always enjoyed Collins' poetry. He writes with a quirky sense of humor which I appreciate. One such poem that reveals that sense of humor is this one. Fishing o n t he Su squehanna in July by  Billy Collins I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna or on any river for that matter to be perfectly honest. Not in July or any month have I had the pleasure--if it is a pleasure-- of fishing on the Susquehanna. I am more likely to be found in a quiet room like this one-- a painting of a woman on the wall, a bowl of tangerines on the table-- trying to manufacture the sensation of fishing on the Susquehanna. There is little doubt that others have been fishing on the Su

Caturday: Simon's Cat

The title of the video says "Simon's Cat," but it could just as accurately say "Dorothy's Cat." Yes, I admit it. I have one of these. His name is Beau and he is utterly incorrigible. Why, oh why do Simon and I put up with this?

Climate Change 101

Maybe we should have more sympathy for the climate change deniers. After all, it's complicated, right? For one thing, climate change, even the more rapidly changing climate of our time, happens over the long term. We, with our lives that are only a blink in time in relation to Earth's history, experience weather as a day to day, week to week, month to month event. We might remember what the weather was like a year ago or five years ago but our memories are probably distorted by other events that happened at the time or since. That's just the way we are. So how can our puny little minds even begin to comprehend the enormity of the threat of a changing global climate? Luckily, there are humans whose minds are less puny than yours and mine and they  can understand these things. And some of them, like Bill Nye the Science Guy, can explain them to us in terms that even we can understand. If I had the power, I would force all of our elected representatives in Congress to

Drop Shot by Harlan Coben: A review

My rating: 1 of 5 stars The stench of testosterone emanating from the pages of this book made me want to open a window to get some fresh air while I was reading it. Or maybe go outside and take a walk in the sunshine instead of reading it. This is the second in Harlan Coben's sports agent/detective Myron Bolitar series. I read the first one for my Mystery Book Club last year and I liked it well enough to give the second one a try. I have two more in this series on my Kindle but I don't think I'll be turning to them anytime soon. Myron Bolitar is portrayed as the tough but tender agent. He represents young athletes and protects them from the vultures who are just waiting to take advantage of them. He is, of course, irresistible to women and his world is peopled with beautiful women, but the most beautiful and desirable one of all is his and his alone. He plays in some very rough leagues and he's able to defend himself physically, but he doesn't like to carry

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Dragonflies

It has not been a good year for most of the butterfly species that frequent my yard. The spring was unusually cool and wet. Then, all of a sudden, in late May, it turned hot and dry with a vengeance. Especially the dry part. We continue to be in a drought here and that doesn't really favor most of my backyard critters. One that has not seemed to be adversely affected by the weather has been the dragonfly. They've been abundant around the yard this summer and they are fascinating creatures to watch. I found this one hanging out by the goldfish pond, a popular spot for a lot of wildlife, a few days ago. Now, I'm not great at identifying dragonfly species, but I think this is one of the skimmers - possibly a Blue Dasher. (If you know different, please correct me!) Dragonflies are very beneficial insects. They are predators which consume vast quantities of pest insects, both as aquatic larvae and as flying adults. For example, they find mosquitoes very tasty. Plus

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: A review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars The Metamorphosis is one of those world classics that I have always intended to read but somehow just never got around to. Then the Google Doodle recently reminded me that it was the 130th anniversary of Franz Kafka's birth and I decided that July 2013 was the appropriate time to finally fulfill this particular resolution. Even someone like myself who had never read the (blessedly short) novella is familiar with the basic story if they are even tangentially educated in the Western literature canon. Traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning in his familiar bedroom in the family home to discover that, overnight, he has turned into a giant insect. What ensues is a senseless and disorienting story of menacing complexity and surreal distortion. In other words, it is the pure definition of Kafkaesque. Gregor lives in a home with his parents and a sister, and the family employs at least a couple of servants. The most amazing thing about this amazing

The Last Word by Lisa Lutz: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars The Last Word , latest in Lisa Lutz's series about a wacky San Francisco family of detectives, is well-named, for Lutz tells us it is literally the last word we will have from Isabel (Izzy) Spellman. She insists that she will not be writing any more of these adventures in Izzy's voice. There may be more Spellman stories but they will likely be told by Izzy's younger sister Rae. That's probably a good thing because, frankly, Lutz seems a bit bored with Izzy in this one. Maybe she's just run out of ideas for her madcap adventures. Anyway, as Izzy is pushing ever closer to forty, her juvenile attitude toward life begins to seem a bit cloying and inappropriate to say the least. We meet Izzy again here after she has managed a hostile takeover of the family private investigation business. She has the assistance of her two siblings in this, but her parents know who is to blame. Izzy becomes CEO, CFO, president, and whatever other titles add

Poetry Sunday: Mimesis

On July 9, the local Houston Chronicle featured a story about a local poet, Fady Joudah. Joudah is a Palestinian-American, a physician, husband and father, and all of these roles inform his poetry. He has a new volume of poetry, Alight , out this year. I admit I had not heard of Joudah before, but I was touched by some of the examples of his poetry that were included in the story and, in particular, this one: Mimesis My daughter             wouldn't hurt a spider That has nested Between her bicycle handles For two weeks She waited Until it left of its own accord If you tear down the web I said It will simply know This isn't a place to call home And you'd get to go biking She said that's how others Become refugees isn't it?  This poem is powerful for me first because I have two daughters who would do that. And secondly because of the girl's reasoning and her understanding of the situation as expressed in that final question, "She said


This is billed as the "Best Cat Video You'll Ever See." Well, I don't know about that. I've seen some pretty amazing cat videos, but I will admit that this one has some funny and fantastic sequences, some of which look almost impossible. But as all of us who live with cats know, practically nothing is impossible for a determined cat...

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran: A review

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran My rating: 4 of 5 stars It's always such an unexpected pleasure to meet a writer previously unknown to you who is simpatico , someone whose style you really like and appreciate. I had that experience earlier this year with Kate Atkinson. And now I have met Sara Gran. I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR recently when their book reviewer started talking about Gran's latest book, her second in a series featuring a detective named Claire DeWitt. The reviewer's description of the detective and of the plot grabbed my attention and I knew I had to have that book. But since I am an OCD kind of reader, I certainly could not start with the second book in a series. I had to get the first book, which turned out to be Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead . I'm really glad I did. Claire DeWitt is a private investigator - the world's greatest, in her own words - from California, out of Brooklyn by way of New Orleans

The invasion of the habitat snatchers

There are many challenges facing the environment around the country, indeed around the world, these days, but among the most deadly and seemingly intractable of these are the invasives. Invasives are plants or animals from someplace else in the world that have been brought to our shores, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by accident, and released or escaped here. Often these plants or animals find a hospitable habitat with none of the natural enemies or controls which they encountered in their native land. The predictable result is that their population explodes. They compete with native species and sometimes overcome them, even wiping them out. They become habitat snatchers.  In the island nation of New Zealand, for example, where non-native rats and stoats have become entrenched, they have been primarily responsible for the  extirpation of at least 19 bird species .     In the United States, one of the most famous invasives is the   House Sparrow , which was deliberately introduced i

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Southern Leopard Frog

There are five species of Leopard and Pickerel Frogs that occur on the continent. The ones that are present in my area of Southeast Texas are the Southern Leopard Frogs, an example of which you see here. This little frog and several of his relatives are present in my little backyard goldfish pond this summer. They love to sit and bask on the lilypads in the late afternoon as this one is doing. It's easy to see why these little frogs are called Leopard Frogs. They are strongly marked with spots just like a leopard. They range in color from green to brown. The ones in my pond show some variation but most are shades of brown. Southern Leopard Frogs are generally 2 - 3 1/2 inches long. The longest one on record was 5 inches. My frogs are on the smallish side and are incredibly cute! They are very welcome backyard visitors.

Firewall by Henning Mankell: A review

The dour Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander, is now 50 years old. He has been diagnosed with diabetes, and he is making an effort to live a healthier life. He has taken up walking. He tries to eat and drink more sensibly. The result has been that he has lost some weight and he actually does feel better, at least physically. Emotionally, he's still a mess. His promising relationship with the Latvian policeman's widow, Baiba, has ended. He doesn't have a woman in his life. He's lonely and he has a tendency to become obsessed with every new woman he meets. His daughter suggests that he sign up with a dating service, but he is resistant to that idea.  At work, Wallander is frustrated. He feels unappreciated. His superior does not seem to trust him. He would like to quit, but his options are limited and he's looking at perhaps ten more years as a police detective whose career is going nowhere. He's a policeman whom technology is leaving behind. He doesn't un