Showing posts from September, 2021

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves: A review

  Ann Cleeves is an old pro at writing British mystery series. She has several to her credit already, including probably her most famous two, the Vera Stanhope series and the Shetland series, both of which were adapted for television. But now she has a new one. This is the first in that series featuring Detective Inspector Matthew Venn. It was published in 2019. The books are set in North Devon at the confluence of two rivers, the Taw and the Torridge, thus the "Two Rivers" series.   We meet the protagonist, Matthew Venn, as he stands outside the church where his father's funeral is being conducted. Venn has long been estranged from his parents and he was not welcome at the funeral. The source of his estrangement is revealed to have been his rejection, in early adulthood, of the strict religious community called the Brethren. His parents were devoted to this group, essentially a cult, and had raised Matthew within the stern confines of its philosophy. But once he was old

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel: A review

  This novel details the lives of a mixed-status, documented and undocumented, family of Colombian immigrants to this country as they struggle to survive and to elude the notice of the authorities. Mauro and Elena, with their baby daughter Karina, were led to emigrate in the first place by Colombia's long history of violence and the lack of economic opportunity there. They sought a better life for themselves and their daughter in the North. They gain tourist visas and arrive in Houston where they find jobs and send money back to Elena's mother in Bogota. When their tourist visas are close to their expiration date, they must make a decision whether to return to Colombia or overstay the visas. They choose to stay and thus undertake the precarious position of undocumented immigrants. Their son, Nando, is born an American citizen. The family moves often to avoid detection by the authorities. A third child, another daughter named Talia, is born. And then their luck runs out. Mauro i

Poetry Sunday: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Autumn crept over the windowsill on Wednesday last week. It brought with it some actual autumn-like weather - bright cool days with temperatures that never went above the 80s. It is a welcome respite from the heat of summer. It probably won't last. We'll likely have some summer days again before autumn sets in for good. But this time of year always brings to mind one of my very favorite poems because soon the wild geese will be winging this way, ready to settle down on our prairies and wetlands to spend their winter.  I know I've featured it here before but you can't have too much of a good thing and this poem is a very good thing. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the

This week in birds - #469

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The Golden-winged Warbler is American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week . This is a bird of the forests that nests primarily in the Great Lakes states. Its numbers are in serious decline and its continued survival is threatened primarily by loss of suitable habitat. *~*~*~* The Biden administration has launched a government-wide strategy for combatting extreme heat . The strategy includes a plan to set standards for protecting workers from the impact of rising temperatures linked to climate change. *~*~*~* Oil and gas companies have a well-known history of drilling wells and then abandoning them, leaving them for others to clean up. Congress has a plan for plugging those abandoned wells but it seems that the taxpayers may be stuck with the bill  for the cleanup rather than the oil and gas companies. *~*~*~* Six Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin are suing the state in federal court over its planned autumn wolf hunt. They

Billy Summers by Stephen King: A review

  Billy Summers is a killer for hire. But he has his standards. He only kills bad men. Some of the men he has killed have been very bad indeed. Billy was trained as a sniper in the military. When he got out, with no real prospects in view, he decided to use the killing skills he had learned. This is the "profession" that has sustained him in the years since. When we meet him though, he's decided he's had enough. He's ready to retire. But first, he's persuaded to take one last job. It is a job that will set him up for life. He gets a half a million dollars payment up front and will get one-and-a-half million when the job is completed. It's an offer he can't refuse. In this final job, Billy will get to use his skills as a sniper. The man he's been hired (by a mob boss) to kill is being extradited from another state to face murder charges. His potential victim will be delivered to the steps of the courthouse near a rented office where Billy is pursuin

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny: A review

  Louise Penny's latest mystery set in the little Quebec village of Three Pines takes place at a time in the future when the present pandemic has been officially declared over. Things are beginning to get back to normal, but the effects of the pandemic and its consequences are still very much on the minds of the residents.  All of those Three Pines residents that we have come to know over the course of this series, characters who feel like our friends that we enjoy spending time with, are present and accounted for and Inspector Gamache is still on the job. Gamache is marked by a horrendous experience he had during the pandemic. He was called to a nursing home where he discovered that the inmates had been abandoned. They were dead or dying. He feels shame, not that he himself had abandoned these people but that his society had abandoned them and that, as a senior police officer, he had not realized earlier that something like that could happen.  Now it is late December and the holid

Poetry Sunday: Tell me not here, it needs not saying by A.E. Housman

This is one of A.E. Housman's most famous poems. It was published in 1922 and it speaks of the poet's relationship with and feelings about Nature. He seems to say that he feels a close bond with Nature, even though Nature is heartless and witless. It needs not saying that it takes no heed of him but he appreciates the gifts it gives. Tell me not here, it needs not saying by A. E. Housman Tell me not here, it needs not saying, What tune the enchantress plays In aftermaths of soft September Or under blanching mays, For she and I were long acquainted And I knew all her ways. On russet floors, by waters idle, The pine lets fall its cone; The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing In leafy dells alone; And traveller’s joy beguiles in autumn Hearts that have lost their own. On acres of the seeded grasses The changing burnish heaves; Or marshalled under moons of harvest Stand still all night the sheaves; Or beeches strip in storms for winter And stain the wind with leaves. Possess, as I pos

This week in birds - #468

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  The American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week is the Broad-winged Hawk. This is a hawk of the eastern forests. It is about the size of a crow. It is the smallest of the Buteo genus on this continent. If you are looking up during migration season, you might be fortunate enough to witness a "kettle" of Broad-wings. These are large groups of the migrating hawks that can number from a few dozen to several thousand. *~*~*~* It is the middle of the migration season and birds are dying by the thousands when they crash into lighted high-rise buildings at night. This week a volunteer with the New York City Audubon found more than three hundred bird carcasses littering sidewalks outside the World Trade Center. *~*~*~* Sequoia National Park in California has been closed and evacuations ordere d because of the threat posed by the KNP Complex fire. As of Wednesday, the fire had scorched more than 7,000 acres. *~*

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins: A review

  Paula Hawkins had a best seller with her 2015 thriller The Girl on the Train . That book featured a damaged female protagonist. Perhaps on the theory that more is better, her new thriller features not one but three damaged female protagonists. And all of them are suspects in a murder. The murder victim is one Daniel Sutherland whose body is found on his scuzzy houseboat moored on Regent's Canal in London. He had been stabbed and blood is everywhere including on a set of keys lying near the body. His neighbor from the next houseboat over finds the body when she notices his door open when she is out. For whatever reason, she picks up the keys and takes them with her. That neighbor is named Miriam and as the discoverer of the body, she is immediately on the police's radar as a potential murderer. As we get to know Miriam, we find that she actually had a tenuous connection to the family of the murdered young man but it is not a happy connection. She is full of resentment and a de

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2021

Happy September Bloom Day. I hope you and your garden are doing well as we soon head in to official autumn (or spring in the southern hemisphere). We had expected to be hit by Tropical Storm Nicholas this week but it mostly missed us to the east headed toward Louisiana which can't seem to catch a break from the storms. We got less than an inch of much-needed rain and a bit of wind. That was the extent of our "storm." My garden appreciated the rain, but frankly, it is looking pretty ratty at the moment. This year has not been kind to it, bringing one weather disaster after another. So, instead of showing you much of the garden this month, I decided to do something a bit different. Over the last couple of months, my garden has been visited by scores of butterflies, and today, I'd like to show you some of them. ( Full disclosure: Not all of these pictures have been taken recently but all of these species of butterflies have been in the garden this month and all of the fl

Breathe by Joyce Carol Oates: A review

  It's been years since I read a Joyce Carol Oates book. I'm not sure why really. Maybe I was intimidated by the last one I read. She can be an intimidating writer. But when I read about her newest one, I was intrigued and knew I had to read it.  Breathe is about grief and about how it can disorient a person and upend their life. Forty-eight-year-old Gerard McManus and his second wife 37-year-old Michaela have come to New Mexico to the Santa Tierra Institute for Advanced Research from their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Gerard had been a professor of the history of science at Harvard. He was invited to spend an eight-month residency at the Santa Tierra Institute and his wife found employment teaching a weekly memoir workshop at the University of New Mexico. It was to be an adventure for them, but it was an adventure that quickly went wrong when Gerard became ill. At first, it was thought to be nothing too serious but that diagnosis quickly changed and by the time we m

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

How about we share another Mary Oliver poem? After all, you can never have too many of those. In this one, the poet seems to acknowledge that it is often hard to simply live in and enjoy the moment, perhaps because we are afraid it can't last. She urges us to give in to that moment and fully experience the joy. Although "much can never be redeemed, still, life has some possibility left." Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is no

This week in birds - #467

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week is the Great-crested Flycatcher. This is a bird of the upper forest canopy, a cavity-nester whose persistent calls ring out throughout the summer around here before it returns to its winter home in southern Mexico, Central America, and Colombia. *~*~*~* After the passage of Hurricane Ida, a Shell refinery in Louisiana has been spewing into the air black smoke from toxic chemicals it is trying to burn off. The storm disabled air quality tracking systems in the area, making the potential harm to public health difficult to gauge. *~*~*~* The Biden administration announced this week that they would open tens of millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration as a result of a court order. However, Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest organization, has now filed suit on behalf of four environmental groups to challenge the move. Their contention

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura: A review

  Katie Kitamura's new novel is definitely not plot-driven. It could be argued that nothing much happens in it, although that's only on the surface; underneath there is a lot going on. The story is character-driven, presented to us in the first person by an unnamed narrator. She is a narrator who is in some ways unreliable, not because she lies to us but because she only has access to fragments of the reality around her. We struggle along with her to interpret people and happenings and understand how they relate to her. Although we don't know the narrator's name, we know quite a bit about her. We know that she is fairly young and single. She has recently come to The Hague in the Netherlands fleeing New York after the death of her father there. She is an experienced global traveler. Her mother lives in Singapore. Her passport is well-stamped with various destinations and she speaks several languages, but where is she actually from? Where is home? It's a question that

Wayward by Dana Spiotta: A review

  "It was wrecked. It was hers." So thinks Sam Raymond about the derelict old house with good bones in a poor neighborhood in her hometown of Syracuse that she has bought on a whim. She might also think that about herself - her body and her life. She is fifty-two years old and beginning to experience the effects of the mid-life climacteric; the sleepless nights; the unexpected and embarrassing hot flashes; the sudden realization that she has become invisible to much of the population, that they no longer "see" her. This is making her question everything about her life. Sam's life has been a comfortable one as a suburban housewife married to a successful if dull lawyer. They have a sexually active teenage daughter who is becoming distant and uncommunicative. Sam works part-time as a guide at one of the local tourist attractions. She has just learned that her mother is terminally ill. In the long wakeful hours of the night, as she contemplates her life as a daught

Poetry Sunday: On Children by Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American writer and visual artist. He is known for writing very philosophical works, although he himself rejected the title of philosopher. His most famous work probably is The Prophet which is one of the best-selling books of all time and has been translated into more than 100 different languages. This is one of his more well-known poems. It speaks to what it means to be a parent. On Children by Kahlil Gibran - 1883-1931 And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children. And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even

This week in birds - #466

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : One of my very favorite winter visitors is the dainty little Chipping Sparrow , cutest of all the sparrows in my opinion. The chippie is the American Bird Conservancy's "Bird of the Week" and the good news about this bird of open forests, shrubby understories, and human-altered landscapes is that its population is in good shape. Its numbers are actually increasing.  *~*~*~* The big environmental news in this country this week was, of course, Hurricane Ida. At the end of the week, the full extent of the damage done by the big storm in Louisiana could still not be assessed. Some places were still inaccessible and some people were still without electricity. What was clear was that the hurricane was made much, much worse by the effects of climate change.  *~*~*~* As the storm worked its way toward the northeast, it created devastation over a large swath of the country but the New York and New Jersey area see