Showing posts from May, 2016

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes: A review

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes My rating: 5 of 5 stars Julian Barnes takes the well-known facts of Dimitri Shostakovich's life and gives it all back to us in a fictionalized version of the conversations in the composer's own head. In doing this, he manages to give us the debates about the enduring importance of the composer's music and his relationship with the Soviet regime. Was the music worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with Stravinsky and Prokofiev, or was he merely a second-rater? Was he a coward who caved to Stalin and compromised his artistic principles in order to maintain a comfortable life, or was he a brave dissident, who, even though he lived in constant fear for himself and his family, still managed to communicate his defiance to the world through his music? The Shostakovich that Barnes gives us is, in fact, a complicated human being who comprises both sides of those arguments. He may be one of the great Russian composers of the 20th century w

Dust by Martha Grimes: A review

Dust by Martha Grimes My rating: 3 of 5 stars Back to one of my guilty reading pleasures as a break from some of the more serious reading I've done lately. Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series fits the bill for that. I must say though that this time the reading was more guilt than pleasure. Guilt, as in "Why am I wasting my time reading this?" This is the 21st entry in this series. We are nearing the end. I believe there are a couple left, although Grimes may write more. In such a long series, one expects hits and misses. I would put this one more on the "miss" side. In the end, I gave it a VERY generous three stars, mostly for old time's sake; in actuality, it probably deserved two-and-a-half at best. The first problem with the book is its plot. A young man is shot to death on the balcony of his room at a trendy Clerkenwell hotel. The body is discovered by young Benny Keegan who is working at the hotel. Benny and his dog Sparky once saved Richard Jury

Poetry Sunday: Memorial Day

Lest we forget... Memorial Day by Joyce Kilmer (1914) "Dulce et decorum est" The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,  But not of war it sings to-day. The road is rhythmic with the feet  Of men-at-arms who come to pray. The roses blossom white and red  On tombs where weary soldiers lie; Flags wave above the honored dead  And martial music cleaves the sky. Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,  They kept the faith and fought the fight. Through flying lead and crimson steel  They plunged for Freedom and the Right. May we, their grateful children, learn  Their strength, who lie beneath this sod, Who went through fire and death to earn  At last the accolade of God. In shining rank on rank arrayed  They march, the legions of the Lord; He is their Captain unafraid,  The Prince of Peace . . . Who brought a sword.

This week in birds - #208

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Black-crowned Night Heron fishing at Brazos Bend State Park. *~*~*~* The Zika virus poses a significant threat to public health and safety and our Congress has responded to that threat just about as you might expect if you've been paying attention over the last ten years. Instead of appropriating more money for research and developing vaccines and therapies to fight the disease, it voted to loosen EPA pesticide rules . If this vote stands, it will allow more pesticides into our waterways and ultimately our drinking water and very likely would do little to actually contain the virus.  *~*~*~* The catastrophic offshore oil spills which occasionally happen get big headlines, but, in fact, even small amounts of oil in the water can be devastating to seabirds and other sea life.  Seabirds exposed to even a dime-sized amount of oil can die of hypothermia in cold-water regions, and research suggests that chronic

Random Friday thoughts

I confess I have not closely followed the Baylor sex crimes scandal and its aftermath which resulted in the demotion of Kenneth Starr and the firing of their football coach this week . Another instance of privileged college athletes being allowed to rape and assault women without suffering consequences, in fact being protected by the powers that be at their universities? Ho hum . Such things only happen on days ending in y. To afford each such felony the outrage which it deserves would mean that I am in a constant state of outrage. My sincere apologies to the innocent victims of these crimes but I simply can't live my life like that. Still, even though I've followed the story only tangentially, like many others in Texas - and, I suspect, elsewhere - I was surprised when Baylor fired its winning football coach this week, for, contrary to what you may have heard, evangelistic Christianity is not the number one religion in Texas; football is. To have one of that religion's s

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith: A review

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: A Novel by Dominic Smith My rating: 4 of 5 stars As sometimes happens with books that I end up liking very much, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos gave me problems at first. The writer intertwines three separate stories from three separate places and centuries: 17th century Netherlands, 1950s New York, and 2000 Sydney. Each chapter transported the reader to a different time and place and I just found that annoying at first. Just as I was beginning to get to know and care about one character, I would be whisked off to another continent to meet some stranger. But by book's end, I was into the writer's rhythm, and his method of telling the story seemed thoroughly natural and organic. I couldn't imagine it being told in any other fashion. In 1635 Amsterdam, we meet Sara de Vos. Sara represents a fictionalized amalgam of several Dutch painters of that golden age. It was a time when guilds reigned over public life and endeavors in the region.

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Borage

Borage is an ancient herb that is native to the Middle East. Long ago, it was used as an enhancement for bravery and courage. It is an annual which grows quickly. It can get up to a foot or more wide and up to two feet tall with broad, hairy leaves. All parts of the plant are cucumber-flavored and, except for the roots, all have culinary or medicinal uses. It is a free-flowering plant that will reseed itself and may reappear in the garden from year to year.  This plant is full of buds and is just about to burst into bloom. Maybe you can't really tell from this picture but when the blooms open, they are shaped like a five-pointed star which gives the plant one of its common names, starflower. Borage is a very easy plant to grow and is useful for the butterfly garden. It's very attractive to pollinators of many kinds. Borage is sometimes planted with strawberries in order to attract bees and increase the yield of fruit. Traditionally, borage was used to treat many a

Just for grins

Is your week dragging? Do you need a chuckle? Did the Chewbacca Mom not do it for you? Maybe this will make you smile.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart: A review

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart My rating: 4 of 5 stars I had my Arthurian period like many readers. There was a time when I found the legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and Merlin irresistible. The period when I was most susceptible to these stories happened to coincide with the time of greatest popularity of the Lerner and Lowe musical adaptation of them, known as Camelot. Come to think of it, maybe that wasn't a coincidence. How I loved that musical! At any rate, it had been a number of years since I paid a visit to Camelot, but when Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave was recommended to me, I was intrigued. In spite of the reading I had done concerning the legends, I had never read Stewart's work. Obviously, that was a serious oversight on my part. Stewart was an excellent writer and she pulls together all the threads of the Merlin origination story and weaves them into a page turner of a tale. Merlin was the bastard child of a Welsh princess. His

Poetry Sunday: Among Women

"What women wander?" I think we each do in our own way.  These days I wander mostly while seated with a book in my hand or while dreaming while weeding my garden as my mind flies off in many directions.  Maybe your wandering takes another form. Whatever works for you."Women wander as best they can."  Maybe men do, too. Among Women Related Poem Content Details BY  MARIE PONSOT What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still. My small grandmother Bought from every peddler  Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will,  Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.  She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.” She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander As bes

This week in birds - #207

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : King Rail photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* The North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a joint project of the governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, has released its  first-ever conservation vulnerability assessment for all 1,154 native bird species that occur on the continent. Of that number, 432 qualified for the Watch List, indicating species of highest conservation concern based on high vulnerability scores across multiple factors. *~*~*~* And here is the list of all 432 North American bird species that were found to be at risk of extinction. You'll find some familiar names there, such as the  Golden-cheeked Warbler , Lesser Prairie-Chicken , and Bachman's Warbler .  *~*~*~* People are stupid as my husband often reminds me. It's sort of his string theory of humanity - the theory that explains everything. But surely none are stupider than people

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel: A review

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel My rating: 3 of 5 stars Supercilious prig. Those are the words that came to mind when I considered how to describe Inspector Ian Frey. Frey is the son of an aristocratic English family in 1888 London. He's essentially a ne'er-do-well; he failed at law school and then found he didn't have the stomach for medical school. Finally, he found a niche with Scotland Yard CID where he discovered that he actually had a talent for detecting. But then the Jack the Ripper murders paralyzed London with fear and stymied Scotland Yard which was unable to solve the crimes. The bureaucratic answer to the public's concern was to fire people. Ian Frey's boss who had supported him was forced to resign and the "new broom" at the head decided to sweep Frey away as well. The Prime Minister, however, had other plans for him. He tapped Frey to go to Edinburgh to assist in an investigation there. It seems that there may be a Jack the Ripp

Throwback Thursday: Oh, just turn down the thermostat and forget it!

NASA recently released climate data showing that last month was the hottest April yet on record . The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will soon release data for the past twelve months that will show that those months broke all records for high temperatures. So, I looked back at what I was blogging about six years ago and experienced a flash of deja vu . I might have written this today. Truly, the more things change, the more they remain the same... ~~~ Sunday, May 16, 2010 Oh, just turn down the thermostat and forget it! NASA is out with another report on the climate. Their data on the earth's temperature show that the  last 12-month period is the warmest on record . In addition, April 2010 was the hottest April on record and March 2010 was the hottest March on record. Furthermore, taken together, January, February and March this year set records as the hottest of that three-month period on record. NASA now predicts that a new record 12-month glo

Backyard Nature Wednesday: I remember Mama

My mother died on the first day of spring in 2004. I've often ruminated on the unfairness of that - that she should have died on the first day of the season she loved best. My mother was a gardener, you see, and she looked forward to spring as the time that her garden would begin again. She spent winter poring over seed catalogs and planning what she would plant. She was a farm wife and her emphasis and most of her energies were always spent on the vegetable garden. As a farm family, we grew most of our own food. But she also grew some flowers and other ornamentals as food for the soul. I have essentially reversed her gardening practices, growing mostly ornamentals with a few vegetables on the side. I often think about my mother when I'm gardening. I sometimes feel that she is very close, looking over my shoulder and maybe shaking her head at my stupidity. I think of her most often when I'm working on some of the old-fashioned plants that she grew.  Plants lik