Showing posts from July, 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: A review

(Note: My review of this book was first published on Goodreads on October 12, 2009, but had never been posted here.) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston My rating: 5 of 5 stars "...tell 'em dat love ain't somethin' lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.  Love is lak de sea.  It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore." This quote from near the end of the book, when Janie is telling her story to her friend Pheoby, is a summation of the tale for me.  Janie's life was like the sea, taking its shape from what it met, the things that contained it.  Perhaps that is true of all our lives. This is, in many ways, quite a remarkable book, and I confess it is my introduction to Zora Neale Hurston.  I knew her name, of course, but had never read any of her works.  I knew of her as an anthropology st

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Praying mantis

While I was watering a pot of gerbera daisies yesterday, I became aware that the daisies had a visitor aboard. See him? He's well-camouflaged, wearing the same color as the leaves, and sitting just to the right of the flower. That's right - he's a praying mantis, one of the most interesting of predatory insects. Here he is from a slightly different angle. From behind, you can get an idea of those relatively large front legs which he uses to capture his prey - things like moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and just about any other insect that comes within reach. Those legs are equipped with spikes that help him snare his prey and hold it in place while he devours it at his leisure. Not only do the mantises eat other kinds of insects, they are also known to eat their own kind. The most notorious cannibalistic behavior is that of the female mantis who sometimes eats her mate just after, or even during, the act of mating. This however does not seem

The unguided Cruz missile

Ever since the voters of Texas in their infinite wisdom foisted Ted Cruz onto the national politics stage of America, we have read and listened to innumerable stories about the man that tell us that, whatever else he may be, he is very, very smart. And ever since he arrived on the scene and I've been reading those stories, I've been saying "Show me the evidence!" Just ask my husband. We've had this discussion several times, because he tends to think that Cruz is very intelligent and that he just "plays stupid" for his tea party supporters. I maintain that he isn't playing. But you won't convince any Beltway pundits of that. The "Cruz is brilliant" meme, which I suspect was started by Cruz himself, is now accepted wisdom with the Beltway crowd, and every time anyone mentions the name Ted Cruz, it is mandatory that they mention how smart he is. So, mine has been a lonely voice indeed, which is why I was elated to see this headline

The Anodyne Necklace by Martha Grimes: A review

The Anodyne Necklace by Martha Grimes My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is one of those books that I could have easily read in one sitting if I didn't have anything else to do because it was just hard to put down once I got into it. But since I do have other things to do, it actually took me a couple of days. Two very pleasant days of reading. Once again his boss sends Richard Jury off into the English countryside to solve a murder. This time it is in the tiny village of Littlebourne where a severed finger had recently been found. The finger pointed ( pun intended ) local constables to a boggy footpath where the corpse it had come from was found by a bird watcher out looking for a rare bird. The murdered woman was a stranger to the village. It developed that she had probably come there for a job interview, but what was she doing on that footpath and why would anyone in the village want to kill her? Or was the deed done by some nefarious stranger? Littlebourne, it turns out, is

Poetry Sunday: The New Colossus

Statue of Liberty  The colossal neoclassical sculpture that is known to us as the Statue of Liberty, located on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor in Manhattan, was originally called "Liberty Enlightening the World." It was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and was a gift to the United States from the people of France. Dedicated on October 28, 1886, it has become one of the iconic sights of New York and, indeed, of the country. The statue features a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She bears a torch and a tablet upon which is inscribed the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet. This symbol of freedom is a welcoming signal to immigrants and visitors arriving from abroad. American poet Emma Lazarus (1849 - 1887) wrote a poem called "The New Colossus" that was a donation to an auction that was conducted to help raise money to construct a pedestal for

This week in birds - #118

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : It's that time of the year when some of our backyard birds begin looking decidedly strange. If you don't know what's going on, you might think they are sick, but no, it's all part of a natural process called the molt.  Summer through early fall, the adult birds, now mostly finished with their family-raising duties, begin to lose their old worn-out feathers and to put on fresh new ones for the winter.  By the time of late fall, all the transformations will be complete and the birds will be dressed in their pristine feathers for the new season. The Northern Mockingbird pictured above is getting an early start on the process. *~*~*~* When will architects and city planners ever begin to take the needs of migrating birds into consideration? Probably only when laws make them do so, and considering the current state of our law-making body of government, which essentially doesn't believe it should mak

Cop Killer by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: A review

Cop Killer by Maj Sjöwall My rating: 4 of 5 stars I can't help noting the similarity in titles between this book and the first of the Ed McBain books that I read earlier this month. McBain's book was Cop Hater . Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo stated that McBain's work was an inspiration and model for their Martin Beck series, so was this title an homage to McBain? Whether it was or not, Sjowall/Wahloo's writing style continues to owe much to that established by McBain in his police procedurals. The writing is spare and straightforward, although the series does allow for considerable character development. We've gotten to know Martin Beck and the members of his team very well in the course of these books. The books have gotten progressively better as the series has continued, in my opinion, and I have to say that this one, the penultimate entry, is my favorite so far. Cop Killer focuses on the working relationship between Martin Beck and Sten Lennart Kollberg, his mo

Trees of Western North America by Richard Spellenberg, Christopher J. Earle, and Gil Nelson: A review

Trees of Western North America by Richard Spellenberg My rating: 4 of 5 stars For those readers and Nature-lovers who need a comprehensive field guide to help them identify the trees of western North America, here is your book. This new guide, soon to be published by Princeton University Press, covers both native and naturalized trees of the western United States and Canada. The territory covered extends as far east as the Great Plains. This book is very easy to navigate. It is divided into two main sections, the gymnosperms and the angiosperms, and within those sections it is further divided into families of trees. Overall, there are descriptions of some 630 species, which the publisher says is more than any comparable field guide. (I guess I'll take their word for it!) An important part of any field guide, maybe the most important part, is the pictures. Trees of Western North America has thousands of meticulous color paintings of trees by David More. These are invaluable iden

Wordless Wednesday: Dragonflies


Beautiful Ghosts by Eliot Pattison: A review

Beautiful Ghosts by Eliot Pattison My rating: 3 of 5 stars By now the pattern of the plots of these Inspector Shan mysteries is well established. We've got the official from Beijing who is corrupt and criminal, who will stop at nothing to achieve his aims. We've got the Chinese official who is the good socialist, who initially appears to be an enemy of Inspector Shan, but in the end proves to be an honest ally. We have the misguided American who during the course of the book is converted to the wisdom and peace of Buddhism. And, of course, we have Shan, the former inspector from Beijing who lost everything when he ran afoul of a powerful figure in the Chinese government and was sent to a work camp in Tibet, which proved to be his spiritual salvation. And we have Tan, who in my opinion is one of the most interesting characters in these books. He was the official in charge of the work camp that Shan was assigned to and it was he who authorized Shan's unofficial release af

Rick Perry, presidential candidate

So, our esteemed governor, Rick ("Oops!") Perry, is deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to Texas' border with Mexico. It's unclear what exactly they are supposed to do there - other than bolster Perry's image for toughness with the radical immigrant-hating base of the Republican Party. It's that base who will select the next presidential candidate of that party, and Rick Perry is running hard for that position. Perry just came back from a weekend in Iowa, the state that holds the first presidential primary. It was his fourth visit there in eight months. He's also making the rounds of all the right-wing media outlets , accusing the Obama administration of failing to secure our southern border, even though Obama has deported more illegal immigrants crossing that border than any other president in history and has increased the number of Border Patrol agents along the border to record numbers. In fact, the border is most likely more secure than it has

Poetry Sunday: Reverence

Oh, how I remember so many summer evenings like this on the farm when I was a child. And I remember them with reverence. Reverence by Julie Cadwallader-Staub The air vibrated with the sound of cicadas on those hot Missouri nights after sundown when the grown-ups gathered on the wide back lawn, sank into their slung-back canvas chairs tall glasses of iced tea beading in the heat And we sisters chased fireflies reaching for them in the dark admiring their compact black bodies their orange stripes and seeking antennas as they crawled to our fingertips and clicked open into the night air. In all the days and years that have followed, I don't know that I've ever experienced that same utter certainty of the goodness of life that was as palpable as the sound of the cicadas on those nights: my sisters running around with me in the dark, the murmur of the grown-ups' voices, the way reverence mixes with amazement to see such a small body emit so much lig

This week in birds - #117

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Summer visitor, a Common Nighthawk , in flight in the late afternoon sky. *~*~*~* Plans are afoot to destroy one of Miami-Dade County's last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, one of the world's rarest forests, in order to put up a Wal-Mart, because we all know that what the world really, really needs is fewer forests and more Wal-Marts. *~*~*~* An interesting new study suggests that fruit colors may have evolved in order to attract the attention of birds. *~*~*~* Jeff of "SE Texas Bird and Wildlife Watching" has some excellent pictures of summer at one of my favorite places, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* Molt migrations and postbreeding dispersal of birds is already under way. Birds tend to move around a lot in July and it is possible to see some unusual species at this time of year. There's more on the subject of migration at American Scientist which

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear: A review

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear My rating: 3 of 5 stars It's been quite a while since I checked in on Maisie Dobbs. Time to remedy that. An Incomplete Revenge is the fifth entry in Jacqueline Winspear's series of mysteries featuring psychologist/private investigator Dobbs, a former military nurse during World War I who is forever scarred, both physically and emotionally, by that experience. The time is 1931. The world has moved on from the conflagration of war and the chaos of the immediate post-war period, but a new shadow is cast by economic uncertainty. Maisie is worried about the survival of her struggling private investigation business in such times. In the midst of such worries, she receives a seemingly straightforward assignment from an old friend to investigate the situation in a small rural community where there is an estate that he is considering purchasing. There is a worrisome pattern of petty crimes and fires in the area and Maisie's client wan

R + L = J? Maybe...

For all of us who are frankly obsessed with George R.R. Martin's convoluted fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire , one of the lines of the story that has fascinated us and been a source of much speculation has been the parentage of the character Jon Snow. He is supposedly the bastard son of Eddard Stark of Winterfell, but that just never seemed very likely. The uber ethical, moral, and loyal Ned Stark was never one to betray his vows, even under the most extreme provocation. What is the likelihood that he would have betrayed his marriage vows? So, after reading the fifth volume, A Dance with Dragons , I devised my own theory about Jon's parents. I thought I was being very clever and that I was probably the only one who had figured the whole thing out. Turns out I was only one of thousands. Maybe millions. And now that so many of us have worked out the "answer" to this puzzle, I think we can pretty well count on Martin to make sure it is wrong. Because that'

Cop Hater by Ed McBain: A review

Cop Hater by Ed McBain My rating: 3 of 5 stars Over my years of reading mysteries, I have often encountered writers who acknowledged the influence on their work of Ed McBain, but somehow I've just never gotten around to going to the source of all that inspiration. I decided to remedy that chasm in my mystery-reading experience this summer, starting with the very first McBain entry in his 87th Precinct series. Cop Hater was first published in 1956 and the series ran all the way up until the year of McBain's death in 2005 with more than fifty entries overall. In the foreword to this re-publication of Cop Hater , McBain says that, when he started, his publisher was looking for someone to be a successor to Erle Stanley Gardner who was nearing the end of his long and productive writing career. It seems that the publisher struck gold when they selected McBain for that role. Among the first things that struck me about reading this book was the similarity between styles of McB

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2014

Having missed June's Bloom Day because I was on vacation, I want to make sure that I get in on the fun this month! Here is some of what's blooming in my zone 9a garden just outside of Houston in Southeast Texas.  Datura, aka "devil's trumpet." Cosmos. I love these bright blossoms. The bumblebees love them, too!  'Katie' ruellia is one of the better-mannered ruellias. Blue plumbago is one of my most dependable summer bloomers, beloved by butterflies. Hamelia patens , aka "hummingbird bush," has begun its bloom which will last for four to five months until our first frost. Echinacea purpurea , the purple coneflower, has also begun to bloom. While in another part of the garden, other echinaceas continue their bloom. The humble marigold gets in on the act. 'Black and Blue' salvia. 'Mahogany' esperanza . The ground cover wedelia sports its daisy-like yellow blossoms.

Someone by Alice McDermott: A review

Someone by Alice McDermott My rating: 5 of 5 stars I found this book slow-going at first - maybe because I started reading it in a doctor's waiting room with all its attendant distractions. But I soldiered on and at some point something clicked and I was there. There in the mind and life of Marie whose story this is. Marie is an ordinary woman from an Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn. We first meet her when she is seven years old, waiting on the front stoop of her apartment building for her beloved father to come home from work. While she is waiting, a young woman named Pegeen, a neighbor, stops by, having herself returned from work. The two talk and Marie learns that Pegeen has suffered a fall on the subway. Later that night, Pegeen dies, perhaps as a result of that fall. This event sets the bittersweet tone of this novel, where death is always present. Death is a part of life. Especially ordinary lives. Marie's story is told in strictly nonchronological fashion. Inst

Poetry Sunday: You Can't Get There from Here

And now for something completely different... Ogden Nash was one of those rare writers who was able to combine laugh-out-loud humor with poetry to good effect. His humor always had a point and usually had an essential truth well-camouflaged within it. He certainly hit the mark with this poem about birding. You Can't Get There from Here by Ogden Nash Bird watchers top my honors list. I aimed to be one, but I missed. Since I'm both myopic and astigmatic, My aim turned out to be erratic, And I, bespectacled and binocular, Exposed myself to comment jocular. We don't need too much birdlore, do we, To tell a flamingo from a towhee; Yet I cannot, and never will, Unless the silly birds stand still. And there's no enlightenment in a tour Of ornithological literature. Is yon strange creature a common chickadee, Or a migrant alouette from Picardy? You can rush to consult your Nature guide And inspect the gallery inside, But a bird in the open never looks

This week in birds - #116

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Juvenile birds, like this young male Northern Cardinal , are all over the backyard these days. Often they look very similar to adults and it may be difficult to distinguish that they are juveniles, but the cardinals make it easy. The young ones have dark bills. Only when they mature will they develop the distinctive red beaks of their species. *~*~*~* Environmental groups have been attempting to convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change the status of the Lesser Prairie Chicken from threatened to endangered so that it can receive more vigorous protection. Persuasion has not worked so now three environmental organizations have filed suit against the agency to try to force the change. *~*~*~* Pesticides that get into the environment can have unintended and detrimental consequences. This is the case in the use of rat poisons in urban settings . Raptors and other predators that feed on the