Showing posts from December, 2018

My "Best of 2018"

Oh, my, that was hard! In 2018, I read 95 books, which was 11 more than my goal of 84, or seven per month. But that wasn't the hard part.  What was really, really hard was coming up with a list of the best from that group, because, in fact, most of the books I read this year were good. There were very few stinkers. So, I had to set parameters to narrow the field. I had several rereads, or in some cases first reads, of classics; books like The Great Gatsby , 1984 , Oryx and Crake , As I Lay Dying , and Heart of Darkness , and soon-to-be classics like Jesmyn Ward's  Salvage the Bones . I enjoyed them all but immediately eliminated them from consideration, deciding to include only recent publications of this or the last year. The next cut was really a no-brainer: I would include only those books that I had rated at five-stars. That should narrow things down, right?  Well... Actually, that left me with 24 books to be considered, an unwieldy number. Surely I could shrink t

Note to my readers

"This week in birds" and "Poetry Sunday" will return next weekend. On Monday, I'll give you my "Best of 2018" list of books. I hope you and your loved ones are enjoying a wonderful holiday season because you deserve it! And may your 2019 be happy and healthy.

Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Approach to Identification by Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson: A review

Ask your average birder about what families of birds are most difficult to correctly identify in the field and I can pretty much guarantee that gulls will rank high on their list. I mean they are all combinations of gray, white, and black. What can the poor birder latch onto as an easy way to distinguish individual species? Since the sainted Roger Tory Petersen published his first field guide to birds back in 1934, field identification of birds has focused on plumage - its colors and patterns. But this just doesn't work really well for gulls. In addition to the fact that they are generally combinations of the three aforementioned colors, or non-colors, they go through a series of plumage changes over the years from their juvenile feathers to adulthood. Moreover, even in adulthood, the plumage of a gull in winter can be drastically different from that during the breeding season. Again, what's the poor birder to do? Well, Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson have some thoughts o

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier: A review

Okay. I tried. I really did. I tried to like Tracy Chevalier's new book but I just couldn't get into it. I admit part of the problem may have been the constant distractions of the holiday season during which I was reading it. This is another in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which modern writers reimagine Shakespeare's works in their own settings and plots. Chevalier took Othello as her source and pattern. That would be a daunting task for anyone. She chose to retell the story of the Moor of Venice as essentially a YA novel featuring the characters as 11-year-old schoolchildren. All the action takes place in one day at an elementary school in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s, with only a few weeks left in the school term. On this eventful day a new boy is enrolled in the school. His name is Osei Kokote. He is the son of a diplomat from Ghana. Apparently, he is the only black child entered in the school, and so he is a figure of great curiosity for the other children

A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon: A review

These Donna Leon books featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police have become some of my favorite guilty reading pleasures over the past year. Time to squeeze in one more before the year ends! A Noble Radiance is the seventh in the series and once again it highlights the corruption and intrigue which seem to be hallmarks of public life in Italy - at least in public life as told by Donna Leon. The plot begins with the discovery of a body, not an unusual event in a murder mystery. In this case, the body is that of a young man, long dead and mostly decomposed. The body is discovered when an abandoned and derelict farm in a village near Venice is purchased by a German doctor from Munich as a retirement home. He starts the process of renovating and upgrading the house and the land around it. As one of the fields is being plowed, the plow uncovers the remains which had been in a shallow grave. The case is assigned to Brunetti. Along with the body, a ring is discovered

Poetry Sunday: Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

The website reported last week that this poem was the work most accessed on that website during 2018. It makes sense, I think. We are all searching for a little kindness these days. Naomi Shihab Nye had a Palestinian father and an American mother. She was born in St. Louis but calls San Antonio her home. Nye was inspired to write this poem while traveling through Colombia, a country whose natural beauty and richness is contrasted with its problems of social oppression, governmental corruption, drug trafficking, and violent crime. Within these contrasts, she found reason to believe in the power of kindness to change things. To change both the giver and receiver of the act. Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be b

This week in birds - #334

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A colorful little Pine Warbler visiting the bird feeder system in my backyard. Along with Yellow-rumped Warblers , these are the most numerous of our three winter warblers. The lovely little Orange-crowned Warblers are less frequently seen. *~*~*~* Usually, people are happy to have newly discovered species named for them. I'm not sure about this one. A newly discovered blind amphibian that buries itself in the sand is being officially named  Dermophis donaldtrumpi ,  in recognition of the US president’s climate change denial.  The small legless creature was found in Panama and it was remarked that its ability to bury its head in the ground matched Donald Trump’s approach to global warming. *~*~*~* The Interior Department on Thursday took a key step toward allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Arctic Alaska, putting forth proposals it said would protect the animals there

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny: A review

This is the fourteenth in Louise Penny's popular Armand Gamache detective series. Gamache has long been a favorite of mine. He is a complicated and well-developed character, a humane and philosophical policeman who always has his eye on the bigger picture of how the work that he does affects society as a whole. Moreover, he and his beloved Reine-Marie are now living in that quirky little Canadian village that time and the mapmakers forgot, Three Pines, with all of its eccentric inhabitants. Spending time with them is like sliding into a warm bubblebath on a cold winter night. You can see then why I always look forward to these visits with Gamache and his coterie.  This time around, Gamache is still on suspension from his position as head of the  Sûreté du Québec as a consequence of the action in the last book, Glass Houses . His son-in-law and protege, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, is now acting head while the investigation of that action continues. The fallout from the action and the

Poetry Sunday: It sifts from Leaden Sieves by Emily Dickinson

This wonderfully descriptive poem by Emily Dickinson chronicles a winter snowfall. She captures in a few words the movement of the snow and the way it settles upon the winter landscape, obscuring the familiar and making everything look different and strange. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the poem is that it never mentions the word "snow" and yet we instinctively know what the poet is referring to and her words capture the spectral beauty of a new snowfall perfectly. It sifts from Leaden Sieves  by Emily Dickinson It sifts from Leaden Sieves - It powders all the Wood. It fills with Alabaster Wool The Wrinkles of the Road - It makes an even Face Of Mountain, and of Plain - Unbroken Forehead from the East Unto the East again - It reaches to the Fence - It wraps it Rail by Rail Till it is lost in Fleeces - It deals Celestial Vail To Stump, and Stack - and Stem - A Summer’s empty Room - Acres of Joints, where Harvests were

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2018

The host of this monthly meme, Carol of May Dreams Gardens , likes to remind us of this quote from gardener and garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence: "We can have flowers nearly every month of the year." That's true enough but the pickings do get a little slim around this time of year. Most of what I have to show you this month are some pots of pansies and violas scattered around my patio. But in mid-December I'll settle for that for I do love pansies and violas. In addition to the pansies and violas, the firespike ( Odontonema cuspidatum ) has been in bloom for about a month and continues to offer a bit of bright color in our gray December. Likewise, these happy little gerberas are real day-brighteners. (Excuse all the pine straw in the picture. When the wind blows from the north as it has this week, my neighbor's pine trees spread their bounty all over my yard.)  More gerberas - and pine straw.  And still more gerberas. The Tur

This week in birds - #333

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : White-throated Sparrow perched in a crape myrtle tree. The seeds of the crape myrtle are a major source of food in our area for members of the sparrow and finch families in the late fall and winter, one very good reason why gardeners should not prune those trees until late winter or early spring, if at all. *~*~*~* The Audubon Society's 119th Christmas Bird Count starts today , December 14, and continues through Saturday, January 5. It is one of the largest citizen science events of the year and provides much valuable information about the winter population and location of birds.  *~*~*~* Climate change is beginning to bite farmers in our midwest and even many who have been reluctant to accept the science are beginning to be alarmed and to advocate for measures to combat the problem. *~*~*~* At the U.N. climate summit in Poland, as nations urged action to counteract climate change , the U.S. delegati

Milkman by Anna Burns: A review

I had seen and heard quite a bit of comment about Anna Burns' book, not all of it complimentary. In fact, there were a couple of reviews in the national publications that I read that were downright negative. Then the Man Booker Prize committee chose Milkman for their prestigious award for 2018.  Inquiring minds wanted to know: Who was right - those negative reviewers or the Man Booker people? So, I decided to read it myself and decide. I found out right away that the book is somewhat challenging to read, at least at first. It is written in a stream of consciousness style with sentences that seem to run on, paragraphs that often go on for pages, and seemingly neverending chapters. Finding a place to stop, or at least to pause, is not easy and that can be somewhat annoying for those of us who are unable to sit down and read straight through a book but have to stop occasionally to do other things. But I managed to work around the problem by making my own artificial stopping place

My Year in Books (according to Goodreads)

I read  30,195  pages  across  89  books   SHORTEST BOOK 52  pages We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie LONGEST BOOK 656  pages Lethal White by   Robert Galbraith AVERAGE LENGTH 339  pages MOST POPULAR 3,370,645 people also read The Great Gatsby by   F. Scott Fitzgerald LEAST POPULAR 4 people also read How to Be an Urban Birder by   David Lindo MY AVERAGE RATING FOR 2018 4.2 HIGHEST RATED ON GOODREADS Where the Crawdads Sing by   Delia Owens 4.63 average My first review of the year it was amazing   I finished this book a couple of days ago but just couldn't immediately think what to say about it in a review. I wasn't even sure how I felt about it. It really was unlike anything I had ever read before. After giving it much thought - and there truly is a lot to think about here - I came to the conclusion that the book is brilliant. The more I tho