Showing posts from August, 2020

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler: A review

  I don't dream about the books that I am reading - at least not dreams that I remember upon waking. But in the middle of reading this book, I found myself dreaming vividly about it one night. I was there on the great ship of the Oankali orbiting Earth somewhere beyond our moon. I was standing with one of the tentacled aliens who was showing me the view from space and I could see the "blue marble" of Earth far, far away, looking about the size of a marble. It was such an amazing feeling that when I woke up it seemed to me for a moment that it had really happened. That is the power of Octavia Butler's prose.  She tells us of a time when Earth has been made uninhabitable for humans by a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (The book was written in the 1980s.) Humans who survived the catastrophe were rescued (captured?) by the Oankali, an extraterrestrial race with multiple tentacles extending from their bodies. The tentacles are described in one place as looking li

Poetry Sunday: To the Light of September by W.S. Merwin

So here we are at the penultimate day of August. The last eight months could be eight years considering all that has occurred during them. But as the old song says, "the days get shorter when you reach September." At least in most years it seems that way. Schools are back in session in September and then there are the holidays of October, November, and December. Time seems to fly, but we'll see if that holds true in this extraordinary year. The beginning of September means that we are getting a bit closer to the halcyon days of fall. The quality of light begins to change and occasionally one can feel just a touch of freshness in the air that promises cooler days to come. August is ending here with temperatures around 100 degrees F; we'll take all the freshness and coolness we can get. W.S. Merwin had an appreciation of this time of year. He knew all about the advent of somewhat cooler weather and especially the changing light of September.  To the Light of September b

This week in birds - #415

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The fall migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is ongoing. A male hovers over Hamelia patens (aka hummingbird bush or Mexican firebush) blossoms in my backyard.  *~*~*~* With wildfires raging through the western states this summer and a warming climate projected to increase the incidence of wildfires in the future, it is possible, even likely, that some of the forests that are burning will not regenerate as forests but as grasslands and shrublands, completely changing the ecology of the region. *~*~*~* As expected, Native American and environmental groups have filed suit to stop plans for leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling.  *~*~*~* Redwood trees can live for thousands of years which must mean that they are able to withstand adversity. That includes wildfires. There were fears that the trees in an old-growth grove in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California might have succumbed

The Guest List by Lucy Foley: A review

  On a remote island off the east coast of Ireland, a wedding is planned. It will unite a powerhouse digital magazine editor and a popular television star of a reality (but not really) survival series. The guest list for one of the most buzzed-about social events of the year brings together old friends, classmates, and family of the wedding couple. A professional wedding planner and her husband, a chef, are in charge of the event and it has been planned to perfection. But the plans could not have anticipated the long-buried guilty secrets and resentments that the guests will bring with them. Nor could it have anticipated that a storm would trap them all on the island. And then to put the icing on this wedding cake, a dead body turns up. And the death did not come from natural causes. Who could have wished the happy couple ill? And why? A review that I read of this book - the one that convinced me that I had to read it - described it as a mashup of an Agatha Christie novel and a gossip

Dark August by Katie Tallo: A review

Katie Tallo is an award-winning screenwriter and director who has decided to try her hand at writing a novel, a thriller. Dark August is the result. The August of the title might refer to the month when much of the action takes place or it might refer to the main character. Maybe it is meant to be ambiguous. That character's name is Augusta but she goes by Gus. She is the twentyish daughter of two police officers both of whom are dead in tragic circumstances. Her father was shot and killed on the job. Then twelve years ago her mother was killed in what was ruled an accident. But was it? That is one of the things that haunts Gus. Once both her parents were dead, Gus' only living relative was her great-grandmother. The woman took her in but was unable to provide the loving and attentive family that she needed. She ended up sending Gus to a boarding school and insisted that the school keep her on-campus full-time, even during holidays.  This was the way Gus grew up and she escape

Pew by Catherine Lacey: A review

It begins with a young person who has been living on the streets finding unlocked a side door to an unnamed church in an unnamed town and entering, gaining a place to sleep safely for the night on one of the pews. We know the person is young, but that is really all we know. We do not know gender, ethnicity, or where this person came from and came to be at that church at this particular point in time. The next morning, which happens to be Sunday, they are discovered still asleep on the pew as the parishioners gather for their weekly service. The family - man, woman, and two children - who are seated on the pew where the person sleeps do the Christian thing and invite the stranger to come home with them. They feed them and offer them a place to stay in their attic room. Through all of this, the stranger never speaks, although it is obvious that they hear and understand. Since they refuse to speak and reveal their name, if they even know it, the family and the town assign a name: Pew. The

Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president last Thursday, Vice-President Biden quoted from a work by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I was not familiar with the poem and so I had to look it up. It is from a work entitled The Cure at Troy which was an adaptation by Heaney, written in verse, of Sophocles' play, Philoctetes . Philoctetes was a Greek master archer who was abandoned on a desert island by his fellow soldiers and countrymen and was later asked by the Greeks to return to fight in the Trojan War. The work was published in 1991 and in writing it, Heaney evidently was thinking of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. It seems to fit equally well our own troubles of today. It is a poem for all times. Verses from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney    Human beings suffer They torture one another, They get hurt and get hard. No poem or play or song Can fully right a wrong Inflicted and endured.   The innocent in gaols Beat on their bars together.

This week in birds - #414

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Blue Jay checks out the feeding station to see if there is anything there that looks tasty. *~*~*~* As expected, the current administration in Washington has finalized its plans to allow the leasing of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling for oil and gas, even though scientists say it is likely there is little of the stuff available, likely not enough to make the drilling profitable. Drilling ANWR has been a Republican wet dream for more than forty years. The plans will be fought in court by conservation organizations and Native Americans like the Gwich'in people who depend on the caribou herd that lives in ANWR. *~*~*~* It is the middle of summer and California is burning. There are at least four factors that contribute to these summer wildfires. One of them is NOT the fact that California doesn't rake its forests. *~*~*~* A Japanese-owned, Panama-flagged bulk carrier, the Wakashio, has been le

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand: A review

Elin Hilderbrand really does represent the gold standard when it comes to beach novels. Last summer I read her Summer of '69 and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to reading her 2020 entry to her beach oeuvre. She did not disappoint.  28 Summers begins in 1993. No, actually that's wrong. It begins with the ending and so we know up front that Mallory Blessing will die much too young from cancer in 2020. But after introducing us to Mallory on her deathbed, she takes us back to 1993 where it all began. Mallory, a Baltimore girl, had been living quite unhappily in New York with her best childhood friend. Her life was going nowhere and she was looking for a way out. That way out came from a most unexpected direction. An aunt dies and bequeaths to Mallory her summer cottage on Nantucket, a cottage where Mallory had spent many happy summers growing up. She takes possession but knows right away that this will not be a summer cottage for her; this will be her permanent h

Poetry Sunday: Midsummer by William Cullen Bryant

June 24 is the traditional Midsummer Day in the northern hemisphere, but, in fact, we have just a few days ago passed the middle summer day on the calendar, so let's stretch the point and enjoy a William Cullen Bryant poem. I can certainly relate to his line about plants fainting in the field beneath the torrid blaze of the sun and "life is driven from all the landscape brown." August in Southeast Texas seems almost unbearable and yet there are many places in the world where it is truly unbearable and getting more so as the planet heats up. Places where it is... "As if the Day of Fire had dawned, and sent Its deadly breath into the firmament." Midsummer by William Cullen Bryant (1794 - 1878) A power is on the earth and in the air,   From which the vital spirit shrinks afraid,   And shelters him in nooks of deepest shade, From the hot steam and from the fiery glare. Look forth upon the earth—her thousand plants   Are smitten; even the dark sun-loving maize   Fain

This week in birds - #413

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Laughing Gulls are the most common gull in this area. I caught this one standing at attention on a post at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* The past decade was the hottest ever recorded globally , while 2019 was either the second or third hottest year ever recorded. The planet's warming is accelerating and the past six years, 2014 to 2019, have been the hottest since global records have been kept.  *~*~*~* In this era of social distancing, our 13 national seashores and lakeshores offer attractions featuring water and long stretches of beach that make social distancing a possibility while also offering people  a chance to connect with Nature  and a respite from being indoors. *~*~*~* Referencing a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird , a federal judge in New York invalidated rule changes by the current administration that would have allowed individuals and corporations to kill scores of birds as long as they c

Pleasantville by Attica Locke: A review

  I read Black Water Rising , Attica Locke's first novel, earlier this year and I was eager to read this one which is a sequel. I decided not to deprive myself of that pleasure any longer. Pleasantville, which takes its name from a Houston suburb built expressly for upwardly mobile Black people, is set fifteen years after the events of the first book. It is 1996 and much has happened in those intervening years. One notable event that has some relationship to the plot of this book was the closing of the venerable Houston Post in April 1994.  The money-grubbing, non-journalist owner decided to shut down with no warning to the employees. (If I sound bitter, it is only because I am.) So, by 1996, the Houston Chronicle is the only daily newspaper. Much has happened in attorney Jay Porter's life as well. He has become more widely known and successful after his victory in the Cole Oil case that the previous book recounted. But his personal life is in shambles after his beloved wife

Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford: A review

  Kelli Jo Ford's debut novel is set in Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and in North Texas during the 1980s oil bust and later. Ford herself is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and she draws upon her familiarity with that culture in telling the stories of four generations of Cherokee women. The primary focus of the stories is on the third and fourth generations, mother Justine and daughter Reney. We see Justine's mother and grandmother as they relate to and interact with these two characters. The narrative is constructed as a series of stories, a method of storytelling that can go seriously off the rails in the wrong hands, but Ford mostly keeps her chronicle on track by making Justine and Reney the linchpins of it.  We meet Justine at age fifteen. She is a talented athlete but her mother won't allow her to play basketball because men would see her legs. Her mother, Lulu, is a devout Holy Roller and she makes her daughter attend church every time the doors are open. The girl mu

Poetry Sunday: Counting Backwards by Linda Pastan

Today is my birthday. It will go into the books as perhaps the most unusual birthday I've ever had. Not because of any action on my or my family's part, but simply because of where we are in the world today. As Linda Pastan says in her poem, I often wonder, "How did I get so old?" Where did all the years go? And like her, it's not really the age, it's the "physics of acceleration" that I mind. Time goes so quickly now. I can remember as a child complaining to my mother that time moved so slowly and she would tell me, "Just wait." It brings to mind the lyrics of an old Joni Mitchell song "The Circle Game" when a sixteen-year-old wants things to move more quickly: "And they tell him, take your time it won't be long now, till you drag your feet to slow the circle down."   But there's no slowing the circle down and there's no fighting the physics of acceleration. As someone said recently in another context, "