Showing posts from June, 2021

What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies: A review

  What's Bred in the Bone is actually the second book in a trilogy by Canadian author Robertson Davies, but it was recommended to me as a standalone and indeed it is a book that I had long intended to read. I found that it works perfectly well as a standalone and that it was a very enjoyable read. Francis Cornish is dead when we first hear of him. We hear of him as three trustees of his estate gather to discuss a biography of Francis that one of them, Simon Darcourt, has been commissioned to write. The other two trustees are Maria Theotoky and Arthur Cornish, Francis's nephew. Maria and Arthur founded the Cornish Foundation, a benevolent body meant to advocate artistic patronage. The biography was the initial work commissioned by the foundation, but Darcourt reports that there is a problem; he has been able to uncover too few facts of Cornish's life to write a comprehensive biography of him, but what he has discovered leads him to suspect that there was much more to that l

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris: A review

  Harris' book begins as a straightforward literary fiction telling of the systemic racism that is inherent in the publishing industry in this country. The protagonist, Nella Rogers, is a young Black woman who works as an editorial assistant to a demanding White woman editor at Wagner Books in Manhattan. Nella is very ambitious and longs to advance to being an editor, but upward mobility seems very limited with her employer. Add to that the fact that Nella is the only Black person employed in the mid- to upper levels of the company; the only other Black employees work in the janitorial or mail departments. Her position seems fraught with expectations as to her "representing" Black people and at the same time, any weakness or perceived error is magnified. A "perceived error" as when Nella speaks frankly in a conference with her editor and one of the firm's most successful writers, an older White man, about the main character in his new book. The character is

Poetry Sunday: This Is How It Will Be by Barbara Quick

Today is my husband's and my wedding anniversary. I won't say which one; no need to age us any more than necessary, but where did all those years go? It seems like only yesterday... A friend of mine died last week. He and his wife had been together for sixty years. Sixty years! My husband and I are not quite there yet but we have a couple of legs up on it.  All of this was on my mind when I read this poem last week. It always surprises me how just the right poem seems to find me to express what I'm thinking. This Is How It Will Be by Barbara Quick You’d already said goodbye, but I wasn’t sure you were already gone. Emerging from the bathroom, I called your name, wanting to know if you’d read the news item about the two women who got lost in the woods, then were rescued and driven to their car, then drove their car down a boat ramp in the fog, at the bottom of a dead-end road— and drowned. “Honey?” I called, realizing I was alone in the house. Realizing that this is how it’l

This week in birds - #456

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A Common Nighthawk with eyes closed rests on a post at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Coast. This area is often a rest stop on their flight from their winter to summer homes. *~*~*~* Once again we are seeing unexplained deaths of birds over several states of the South and Midwest. The victims suffer from crusty eyes, swollen faces, and an inability to fly. Scientists have so far not been able to identify the illness or determine its source.  *~*~*~* We are in the midst of Pollinator Week, June 21-27, and the Pollinator Partnership has several recommendations  for assisting these vital partners in our existence on this planet. *~*~*~* California is on the front line of suffering from the effects of climate change, and as such a large and diverse state, it has an outsized ability to affect and help shape worldwide diversity policy.  *~*~*~* We tend to think of dinosaurs as wandering over dry savannahs and

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen: A review

  Eric Nguyen's debut novel, Things We Lost to the Water , covers thirty years of a Vietnamese family's history, beginning in the chaos of 1975 in Vietnam when so many were desperate to leave the country in the wake of the Communist takeover and ending in New Orleans in 2005 in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina. The thirty years encompass this family's transition from being strangers in a strange land to being Americans. It is, in a sense, the story of all of us. Huong and her husband had planned to leave Vietnam with their young son, Tuan, on one of the boats carrying refugees. At the last minute, when Huong and Tuan were already in the boat, her husband could not bring himself to get on board. (His reticence is related to his experience with water which is explained late in the book.) Huong is panicked to leave him behind but must keep her son safe. What she has not told her husband is that she is carrying another child. The pregnant Huong and Tuan survive their terrible

A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensaul: A review

  My favorite of all the books that I read in 2020 was Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. It was a novel about the amazing migratory flight of the Arctic Tern and of one woman's obsession with it. Scott Weidensaul's book is the nonfiction version of that and many other birds' migration stories and of the scientists and dedicated amateurs who track and study those migrations to better understand and protect the birds. Weidensaul is a naturalist and an active field researcher himself and he also offers his commentary and insights. We know that the numbers of songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors have all plummeted in recent years. The study of their migrations offers some clues as to why this is happening.  Studying bird migration also offers us a panoply of almost miraculous stories. There are the tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single nonstop flight. Then there are Whimbrels that nest in the Canadian Arctic and in the fall travel

Poetry Sunday: Possum Crossing by Nikki Giovanni

Wildlife crossings are an excellent idea whose time has come. They are very popular wherever they have been installed. They are essentially designated wildlife highways that allow animals to safely cross busy highways. They save countless animal lives. But what about all those smaller highways and byways and country roads that most of us travel? There are no designated passages there but animals still cross those roads. And so it is up to us humans who share the roads with them to try to keep them safe, to drive at a reasonable speed that will allow us to stop in time to avoid adding to the roadkill toll. Be advised, therefore, that I do brake for possums and raccoons and armadillos and turtles and snakes and the occasional butterfly and any other living thing that crosses my path. Nikki Giovanni would, too.   Possum Crossing by Nikki Giovanni Backing out the driveway the car lights cast an eerie glow in the morning fog centering on movement in the rain slick street Hitting brakes I a

This week in birds - #455

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  This ubiquitous (on the Texas coast anyway) Laughing Gull is enjoying the late afternoon sun on a Rockport pier. *~*~*~* First of all, happy Juneteenth, now a federal holiday. It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than forty years. We are happy to share it with the rest of the country. *~*~*~* It seems to be the zombie that just will not die: A federal judge in Louisiana has ruled that the Biden administration cannot pause new leases for drilling oil and gas on public lands. This includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Global warming be damned! There is no word yet as to whether the decision will be appealed. Congressional Democrats are planning to move forward with legislative efforts to limit drilling on public lands. *~*~*~* As the state swelters in a heatwave, the Electric (un)Reliability Council of Texas has urged customers to conserve energy , turn thermostats up and delay washing and dryin

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith: A review

Patricia Highsmith - yet another famous writer that I've never bothered to read even though she's been recommended to me numerous times over the years. Well, time to rectify that omission starting with The Talented Mr. Ripley . Tom Ripley is a fascinating literary character. His persona has been adopted and adapted by various other writers and filmmakers since he was introduced by his creator in 1955. I confess I haven't seen any of the films either, yet I felt that I knew him even before I picked up this book. The character has long since passed into society's consciousness and his story is well known even by those of us who have not personally encountered him. At this point, a summary of that story seems almost superfluous.   The first thing to be said about Tom is that he is a sociopath. A charming sociopath to be sure but totally cold-blooded and lacking in empathy. He is someone who thinks nothing of committing murder when it suits his purpose. He arrives in Manhat

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2021

(Linking to May Dreams Gardens .)  Happy June Bloom Day! Since last month's Bloom Day, my zone 9a garden here in Southeast Texas has seen a lot of rain. During one twelve-day period, it rained every day. And not just light showers but real gully-washers. And then it stopped and the 90+ degree F weather started and everything dried out. Today the high temperature is forecast to be 98. Now we need rain again. All that rain sure encouraged the weeds in my garden but the May showers also brought flowers and quite a lot of them. Portulaca blooming in a pot on the patio table. Just before the rains started, I had transplanted zinnias. The poor little plants were completely beaten up by the heavy rains and they still look rather battered. But they are blooming! Here's the yellow variety. And the orange one. The summer phlox is in bloom. I wish you could smell the wonderful scent. The purple echinacea is just starting to bloom. There's quite a bit of variety in the shades of purple

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata: A review

  I frankly don't have a clue how to sum up this strange little book or how to rate it. I was fully on board with the plot for about three-quarters of the book and completely sympathetic to the protagonist, Natsuki. Then in the last quarter, the plot really began to go off the rails for me. No spoilers here but I found the ending to be a bridge too far and the writer lost me with it. But first, let's concentrate on the positive three-quarters. Natsuki is nine years old when we meet her and she is a complete misfit. She has an older sister who is the favorite of her parents, especially her mother. The mother is psychologically, emotionally, and physically abusive to Natsuki. The child cannot do anything right in her eyes. The father seems to be a bit of a cipher. He really doesn't take much interest in his children. He certainly does not defend Natsuki. Natsuki's "best friend" is a plush toy hedgehog that she imagines comes from a far planet with an unpronounce

Poetry Sunday: Mingling by Kim Stafford

Remember how it was in the "before times"? Before the pandemic changed everything. Will we ever get back to those times? Will we ever be able to once again thoughtlessly mingle without concern about the people around us? Kim Stafford remembers how it was. Mingling by Kim Stafford Remember how we used to do it— weaving through the crowd, brushing shoulders, fingers touching a sleeve, adjusting a lapel—first an old friend here, then turn to banter with a stranger, finding odd connections—“You’re from where?…You know her!”—going deeper into story there, leaning back in wonder, bending close to whisper, secrets hidden in the hubbub, as if in the middle of this melee you have found a room and lit a lamp… then the roar of the crowd comes back, someone singing out a name, another bowing with a shriek of laughter, slap on the back, bear hug void of fear? Imagine! Just imagine.

This week in birds - #454

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : I always enjoy his dulcet songs when I'm out and about in my yard. House Finches are an almost constant presence. *~*~*~* One of the biggest environmental stories of the week was the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The sponsor of the pipeline pulled the plug on it after Canadian officials were unsuccessful in changing President Biden's mind about the project. Environmentalists who had fought the project since it was first announced in 2008 called the cancellation a "landmark moment" in the effort to curb the use of fossil fuels. *~*~*~* More good news for the environment: Officials of the Biden administration have moved to reinstate the roadless rule in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. This revives the 20-year-old protections for the forest that were stripped by the previous administration three months before the end of its term in office. *~*~*~* And in more reversals of policies put

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce: A review

  I cannot recall the last book that gave me such uncomplicated joy in reading it as Miss Benson's Beetle did. This story of two utterly mismatched English women and their hazardous trip to New Caledonia to search for a golden beetle that has never been found by science hit all the right spots for me. It was well-written. The scientific research necessary to provide all the information about beetles as well as other things was quite impressive. The story was told with a lot of laugh-out-loud humor. The plot was well-constructed to keep those pages turning. And perhaps most importantly, the characters were well-developed and were people the reader could believe in and like. I had not read anything by Rachel Joyce before, but I will be looking for her name on works in the future.    The story begins in 1914 in London. World War I is underway and Margery Benson's four older brothers have joined the army and are fighting in France. Ten-year-old Margery is left at home with her par