Showing posts from July, 2017

Fallout by Sara Paretsky: A review

Oh, V.I. Warshawski, how I've missed you! It seems an age since we had our last adventure, although, in truth, it has only been two years since we solved the mystery of Brush Back together. But what a pleasure it is to be once again in your company. I've been making these periodic visits to Warshawski-World since the 1980s when Sara Paretsky started this series. Paretsky, Warshawski, and I have aged together through the years. There are a few more gray hairs among the blonde on Warshawski's head these days and, if the truth be told, on mine as well.  But Warshawski is still the wiry, fit detective that we first met in Indemnity Only all those years ago. And she's still the same indomitable, uncompromising seeker after truth that we've come to know and admire in that and all the subsequent seventeen V.I. books. She only gets better with age and experience. In Fallout , V.I. leaves the comfort zone that she knows so well, Chicago, and heads out to Lawrence,

Poetry Sunday: A Dirge

Here's a short poem by Christina Rossetti. A dirge that references the end of summer "when lithe swallows muster for their far off flying from summer dying..." Summer won't be dying here for several more weeks, but some of the "lithe swallows" are already gathering. Purple Martins, for example. They are among the earliest of our summer birds to arrive, in late January or early February, and the earliest to leave, often in early July.  Last week, though, I still heard some late-goers flying about in my neighborhood, gathering for their long journey south, reluctant, perhaps, to say a final good-bye to summer's abundance.  A Dirge by Christina Rossetti Why were you born when the snow was falling?  You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,  Or when grapes are green in the cluster,  Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster  For their far off flying  From summer dying.  Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?  You

This week in birds - #266

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Image from the Internet because of course I didn't have my camera on me! While working in my garden yesterday, a bird call that sounded something like a Wood Peewee caused me to look up. It was a bird much larger than a peewee - a Mississippi Kite , circling slowly over my yard. Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites are members of the hawk family that are sometimes seen here in summer, although if they are silent, they may well pass unnoticed. I was just fortunate that this one decided to announce itself. Kites generally feed on insects, including large ones like dragonflies. Plenty of those around here.  *~*~*~* Here's an update on that baby Red-tailed Hawk that I told you about a couple of weeks ago, the one that was captured as prey for Bald Eagle chicks but was unaccountably adopted by the Bald Eagle parents and became part of the family: He's still thriving! Wildlife biologists' f

Wednesday in the garden: Bullfrogs

I was seated in my meditation spot by my goldfish pond earlier this week when I sensed movement at the edge of the pond. I looked up to see a slimy gray-brownish monster climbing out onto the rocks. Image from the Internet, courtesy of .  A bullfrog! I had no idea there was such a creature in my backyard.  This one looked as big across as my hand - I don't think I'm exaggerating. It covered most of the large rock where it rested. According to my field guide, they can grow 3.5 to 6 inches long and the largest one recorded was 8 inches long. They can weigh more than a pound and they are, of course, used as food by some people, although I've never eaten one. (My husband says they taste like chicken!) I was shocked to see the bullfrog because I'm used to seeing the small leopard frogs or tree frogs around the pond; although, now that I think of it, I haven't seen any lately and the bullfrog may be the reason for bullfrogs eat other frogs. In

Eyes of Prey by John Sandford: A review

This wasn't really the book I had intended to read next, but there it was, already queued up in my Kindle, so, what the heck? Might as well tick that box. Maybe it was Fate having its way with me. After all, the Minneapolis Police Department has been much in the news recently, following a police shooting there. A civilian who had called the police to report a possible sexual assault was shot and killed by one of the policemen who responded to the call. The irony here was that the victim this time, instead of a young African-American shot by a white cop, was a pretty, blonde, white woman shot by a black cop - a Somali-American. Where are the usual suspects telling us that the victim was probably a thug who deserved it and cops are always heroes?  Ah, well, enough editorializing. Back to the safer world of fiction where things often really are black and white. Eyes of Prey is the third in the very long-running Lucas Davenport crime fiction series. It was first published in 1

Poetry Sunday: Analysis of Baseball

Baseball is a simple game: You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. It's only in the endless permutations of those activities that it gets complicated. This has been a fun season for Astros fans so far. In spite of having four starting pitchers on the disabled list at one time, and, now, their All-Star shortstop and potential league MVP on the disabled list, the team has persevered and has done well.  But it is a long season and the dog days of summer are when the true winners are finally separated from the pretenders, so we'll see. Fingers crossed... May Swenson certainly understood the simple game of baseball and she analyzed it perfectly. Analysis of Baseball by May Swenson It's about the ball, the bat, and the mitt. Ball hits bat, or it hits mitt. Bat doesn't hit ball, bat meets it. Ball bounces off bat, flies air, or thuds ground (dud) or it fits mitt. Bat waits for ball to mate. Ball hates to take bat's bait. Ball flirts, bat's l

This week in birds - #265

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The secretive Clapper Rail with two chicks - photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a 2,088 acre refuge located on the Texas-Mexico border in South Texas. It is home to an amazing diversity of birds and other wildlife and is a major tourist destination for birders from around the world. It is often called the "crown jewel" of the national wildlife refuge system. But for at least six months, private contractors and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officials have been quietly planning construction of the first piece of our current president's promised border wall. Construction could begin as early as January 2018. Such a wall would essentially destroy the refuge.  *~*~*~* National Moth Week begins today and runs through July 30. At the event website, you can learn more about moths and how you can participate as a citizen scientist in

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare: A review

I first read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for my high school literature class many, many years ago. Time has dimmed my memories of much that occurred during that period, but I have a pretty clear recollection of this play and my reaction to it. I found it fascinating, particularly the characters of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. That fascination was recalled to me a few years ago when HBO ran its excellent series set in that period, Rome, with Ciaran Hinds as Caesar and the wonderful James Purefoy as Antony. That series owed a lot Shakespeare's writing, as has probably every new artistic interpretation of that period.  Shakespeare's language is so much a part of our collective unconscious that we quote him, both figuratively and literally, often when we are not even aware of it. Remember these quotes from this play? The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Cowards die many times before their deaths;  The valiant never taste of death but once.

Death at the Chateau Bremont by M.L. Longworth: A review

This series was recommended to me after I recently read one of Martin Walker's mysteries set in France. Death at the Chateau Bremont is the first of a series that is set in Aix-en-Provence and features the chief magistrate of Aix, Antoine Verlaque, and law professor Marine Bonnet who was a former lover of his and, it seems, may become a current lover.  The author of the series, M.L. Longworth, is a reporter and magazine writer, who has written in - among other venues - Bon Appetit magazine. That was certainly evident in this book in which much of the description was devoted to foods and to wines. It seemed that Longworth was eager to show off her knowledge of these things. Maybe she should have stuck to writing for Bon Appetit .  The mystery here begins with the death of a nobleman named Etienne de Bremont who took a header out the window of the attic in the family chateau. At first, it appears to have been accidental, but two of his cousins who are lawyers are not so sure

Wednesday in the garden: Justicia chrysostephana 'Orange Flame'

Justicia chrysostephana 'Orange Flame'  In my zone 9a garden, it is a very rare winter when we get temperatures below 20 degrees F. Indeed, in recent years, it's been a rare winter when temperatures dip below freezing. In our most recent winter, we had two days in January that had temperatures below 32 degrees F. That was it. Our relatively mild winters offer us the option of being able to grow some tropical plants. One of the ones that I grow is the medium-sized shrub 'Orange Flame'. My plant has been in the ground for several years and is well-established. It does lose its leaves and dies back in the winter but comes back strong in the spring. It lives in a bed where it gets bright light but is in shade much of the day. It is protected by the thick leaves of an old magnolia tree that towers over it. The blossoms are big and bright and showy and do, in fact, look a lot like flames. They really pop in a shady area. The leaves of the plant are attr

Austen's powers

July 18 is a date of some significance to my life. Most importantly, it is the birthday of my late mother, Reba Cromeans. Were she still alive, she would be 96 years old today. Reba in her mid-twenties, one of my favorite pictures of her. My mother, like most of us, was anonymous. The world did not note nor remember the date of her birth. Or her death. That is left to those of us who cared for her. That is most certainly not true of the other woman important to my life for whom July 18 was a significant date. Her name was Jane Austen. You may have heard of her. Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817. This two hundredth anniversary of her death has given an excuse for her legion of fans and admirers to pen tributes to her. For example, seven present-day writers make the case for each of their favorites among Jane's novels. In the Times , Radhika Jones makes the point that unlike some famous writers of today (Here's looking at you, George R.R. Martin!) Jane Austen never

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: A review

The gentleman in Moscow is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. A former member of the landed aristocracy from the beautiful region of Nizhy Novgorod, famous for its apple trees, Rostov was a resident of the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922. He had been living in a luxury suite in the hotel and enjoying a life of culture and leisure. But then came the revolution. The triumphant Bolsheviks set about ridding their new society of aristocrats. Rostov was called before a tribunal and was sentenced by them to a life under house arrest. But instead of continuing to live in his luxurious suite of rooms, those rooms, along with most of his furniture and other possessions, were taken from him and he was moved into a small 100 square foot room in the belfry of the hotel. This would be his home - and his prison - for the next thirty plus years. In addition to being a man of culture, erudition, and wit, Rostov possessed an indomitable spirit and an ability to deal with reality without blinkin

Poetry Sunday: Macavity: The Mystery Cat

I have long had a affinity for cats. It's something that I share with a lot of writers, both living and dead. Among the most famous advocates of cats among the community of writers was, of course, T.S. Eliot, he who wrote Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats , which Andrew Lloyd Webber later took and turned into his musical, Cats . All of the poems in that book show a deep understanding of the often inscrutable and enigmatic personalities of cats. None more so than the one about Macavity, the Mystery Cat. Having known and cherished many mystery cats over the years, I have a particular fondness for this poem. Macavity: The Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw— For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law. He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair: For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity's not there! Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity, He's broken e

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2017

Summer has arrived with a vengeance in my part of the world. Heat and humidity prevail and make the days miserable for plants and for the gardener. But at least we've been having regular late afternoon showers to provide some relief. Still, the garden is definitely showing some stress, although many plants are still bravely sending out their blooms. Here are some of them. The flame-shaped flowers of the flame acanthus (Anisacanthus wrightii) are drawing bumblebees by the dozens to sip their nectar. Another bee and butterfly favorite is the Mexican sunflower ( Tithonia ). This native sunflower continues to send out plenty of blooms, undaunted by the heat. And if it is summer, then of course the summer phlox is in bloom. July is hibiscus season. This one is a particular favorite. When I first saw this one early in the day, it was perfect and gorgeous, but by the time I got back out with my camera, it was already past its prime. That's the one