Showing posts from March, 2022

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson: A review

Eleanor Bennett is dead. That is the first incontrovertible fact with which we are presented. Her two children, Byron and Benny, are estranged from each other, and Benny was also estranged from her mother, although her mother continued to reach out to her. Eight years earlier, Benny had announced to her family that she was a lesbian. That had precipitated the break and they had not spoken to each other since. But now, Benny has returned home because Eleanor Bennett is dead and she is required to be at the settling of her estate. Before she died, Eleanor did two things: She recorded an eight-hour-long audio tape for her children to explain herself and tell them the story of her life and she made a black cake, a family recipe for a fruit cake, and froze it. The tape tells a complicated story that they had not been privy to previously. They must listen to it in the presence of Eleanor's lawyer. Their mother left instructions for them to eat the black cake together at a time that they

Poetry Sunday: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

I know I have featured this poem here before, but it has been several years ago, so maybe I can be forgiven for putting it out there once again. It is one of Robert Frost's most famous poems. It is a poem that anyone who has ever had to choose between courses of action in life - in other words, everyone - can easily relate to. What to do when faced with two choices each of which seems "just as fair" as the other? How does one choose? And will we at some point in the future recall those "two roads" and wonder if we traveled the right one? The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally

This week in birds - #494

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Brown Pelican resting after a swim in Galveston Bay. *~*~*~* At least seven wildfires were raging around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear site this week, raising fears of possible radiation leakage. The fires were blamed on the Russian forces that now hold the site. *~*~*~* There are heatwaves happening at both the planet's poles . Climate scientists are alarmed that these unprecedented events could signal a faster and more abrupt climate breakdown. *~*~*~* While the world's attention is focused on the war between Russia and Ukraine, Brazil's president Bolsonaro is taking advantage of the crisis to try to pass legislation to allow large-scale mining on pristine land that is under the control of Indigenous people. *~*~*~* This could be a good thing: Climate change is spurring a movement to build houses that can withstand storms . Building houses that can survive natural disasters sort of seems like a no-braine

Four Thousand Days by M.J. Trow: A review

  Historical mystery fiction featuring a female archaeologist around 1900 was a premise that intrigued me. Shades of Amelia Peabody from all those mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. In fact, Amelia and Margaret Murray would probably have been good friends. Both had a keen interest in solving modern-day mysteries as well as ancient ones. And if a murder were involved, so much the better. Four Thousand Days introduces us to archaeologist Margaret Murray in the first book of what is planned to be a series. She is a lecturer at University College, London, and when the naked dead body of one of her students is discovered spreadeagled on the bed in her rented room soon after attending one of Dr. Murray's lectures, the teacher takes it personally. The police are convinced that it was suicide. Dr. Murray isn't so sure of that. Although Murray's expertise is in investigating long-dead bodies, she is not averse to scrutinizing the circumstances of the death of this newly dead corpse. In

Grimm Up North by David J. Gatward: A review

  I've been auditioning a few new-to-me mystery series for my reading pleasure and here comes another one. This one is by David J. Gatward, another writer that I had never read, never even heard of as far as I can remember. It features DCI Harry Grimm as its main character and is set in Yorkshire. This is the first book in the series. Gatward writes with a light hand and there is quite a bit of humor in the tale he tells here. Harry has been a pain in the ass for his boss on the Bristol Major Investigations Team and when he has the opportunity to get Harry out of his hair he takes it, sending him north to a town called Hawes in Wensleydale on secondment. It's a place that is famous for its cheese and its scenery. It's the kind of Yorkshire setting that is so popular with writers of British crime fiction, so this all feels very familiar.  Harry is a city boy and he doesn't know what to make of his new assignment in a more rural location. He expects that his duties will e

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: A review

  In Daisy Jones and the Six , Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote of a number of very strong women in the rock music field. In The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo , she writes the story of one very strong woman who refused to let society dictate the kind of life she should lead.  Evelyn Hugo became an actress and she was determined to chart her own course in life. She married her first husband to escape the life that she had and then dumped him when she needed to in the furtherance of her career. And that was essentially the pattern that was repeated throughout her seven marriages. We meet Evelyn when she is at the end of her life. She is 79 and has decided that it is time that her biography is written. To write it, she calls on a fairly unknown journalist named Monica Grant who works for a magazine in Los Angeles called "Vivant." Both Monica and her editor are surprised by the request, but Evelyn has her reasons. Reasons that will only be revealed near the end of this story. Evelyn Hug

Poetry Sunday: A Light exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson

"The Belle of Amherst" she has been called. Though she was not well known during her lifetime, in death Emily Dickinson has emerged as one of the most important poets that this country has produced. One of the memorable things about her poems is the eccentric capitalization of random words. Why did she do it? Who knows? She marched to a drummer no one else could hear. In 1890, Dickinson published this poem about the unique light that occurs in spring. It is a passing thing as are most things in life and it must be experienced in the moment. It is a mystical light that "almost speaks" in a language known only to the soul.   A Light exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson A Light exists in Spring Not present on the Year At any other period — When March is scarcely here A Color stands abroad On Solitary Fields That Science cannot overtake But Human Nature feels. It waits upon the Lawn, It shows the furthest Tree Upon the furthest Slope you know It almost speaks to you. The

This week in birds - #493

 A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The Whooping Cranes wintering on the Gulf Coast will soon be flying north to Canada once again. *~*~*~* In Brazil, thousands are protesting against what environmentalists are calling a historic assault on the environment by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, specifically five environment-related bills that are being considered by the congress. Meanwhile, the Brazilian rainforest, sometimes referred to as the "lungs of the planet", is being slowly destroyed by deforestation which has dire consequences for Earth. *~*~*~* Globally, there is a tree-planting boom as businesses and consumers, non-profit groups and governments attempt to address climate change by planting billions of trees around the world. *~*~*~* This is an Australian Magpie and it is a very clever bird. Scientists who fitted the birds with tracking devices found out just how clever. The birds set about helping each other by removing th

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley: A review

  The apartment in the title is the home of Ben Daniels, a British journalist. Ben receives a text from his half-sister Jess Hadley asking if she can stay with him for a while. Jess, who lives in Brighton, has recently lost her job and is now homeless and virtually penniless. She and Ben don't know each other well. They lost their parents when they were quite young and their paths diverged. Ben was adopted by a wealthy family who gave him all the advantages of that wealth. Jess was long shunted around in foster care and never really had a place she could call home. But when she contacts Ben asking for help, he invites her to come stay with him. When she arrives in Paris with all her worldly goods and makes it to Ben's apartment, there is no Ben there. No note, nothing to explain his absence, and his neighbors are, to put it mildly, not helpful. The apartment is quite palatial and Jess doesn't understand how her brother could have afforded it on a journalist's salary, bu

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2022

The Ides of March 2022 find most of the plants in my garden behaving as Julius Caesar should have back in 44 B.C.; they are keeping their heads down. Obviously, the redbud and the fruit trees and some of the roses that would in most years be in full bloom just now are not convinced that the cold weather has ended. Indeed, we still had temperatures in the 20s over the weekend, most unusual for us in mid-March. Nevertheless, a few brave plants are providing just a bit of color to the garden. Let me show them to you.   Pansies, of course, are never daunted by a little cold weather. They've been in full bloom for a while now. Likewise, the loropetalum has bloomed right on schedule. The dianthus seems impervious to changes in the weather. More dianthus. Leucojum aestivum, aka summer snowflake but it blooms in winter.   The azalea has recently been sporting a few blossoms. By the little pond, the yarrow is just about at the end of its bloom cycle but a few blossoms still hang on. And by

Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan: A review

In Midnight at Malabar House , we visit India in 1949 after partition. The separation of the sub-continent into two countries, India and Pakistan, precipitated mass movements of people as Muslims tended to move toward the territory of Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs sought to settle in India. The upheaval caused conflict and cost countless lives on both sides. Even after the partition was accomplished, India continued to be riven by religious friction and strife. Into these turbulent times in a new country, Persis Wadia stepped as the first (and until then only) female police officer. As such, she had to deal with prejudice and navigate the personal and political resentment of colleagues and superiors. Parsee Inspector Wadia is based at Malabar House in Bombay which is where the police hierarchy places its misfits and those whose careers have gone awry for some reason. She has only been on the job for a few months and is still learning her way around. She is both idealistic and determin

Poetry Sunday: Daylight Savings Time by Amy LV

I went looking for a poem about the changing of the time and found this one by someone calling herself Amy LV. I thought it expressed well the confusion that many feel regarding setting the clock forward or backward an hour twice each year. To answer the question she asks in the last stanza, I'm pretty sure Father Time is thoroughly oblivious to our human time-keeping. Daylight Savings Time Set clocks forward. Set clocks back. Set clocks forward. Who can keep track? When is it fall? When is it spring? You can't be sure of anything. An hour ahead. An hour behind. Will anybody ever find that missing hour? Where does it go?  Is my clock fast? Is your clock slow? Dark or light. Is it today? Is it yesterday? Daylight savings time is here. Do you think the sun will stay? Are you confused two times each year? What time is it? I'm so unclear. Time can put me in a tizzy. Do you think Father Time feels dizzy? 

This week in birds - #492

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Most winters our bird feeders are constantly covered in these hungry little birds. They are Pine Siskins , noisy, active, argumentative, and always fun to watch. This winter I have not seen a single one. Where are they? I have missed them. *~*~*~* As Russia has pressed its invasion of Ukraine, the main concern has been the fate of the humans caught in its path. But what about Ukraine's environment ? War inevitably brings environmental destruction and this one is no exception. *~*~*~* In all the squawking about high gas prices, conservatives have been quick to point the finger at the country's conservation policies, implying that we would be energy self-sufficient if we just "Drill, baby, drill!" But this report says we can't drill our way out of the problem.  *~*~*~* The Pacific Flyway of migrating birds is in serious danger of collapse because of the water crisis in the Klamath Basin , one of the

Dead Water by Ann Cleeves: A review

Continuing with my reading of Ann Cleeves' Shetland series, this is the fifth entry. Those who have read the series or have at least read the fourth book will remember that Inspector Jimmy Perez suffered a personal tragedy in that one. The action of this book takes place just a few months later and Perez is still in deep mourning and on leave from his job. It could be read as a standalone, as Cleeves provides enough background information so that such a reader would not be lost. The Procurator Fiscal (prosecutor) Rhona Laing, a resident of Shetland, discovers a body on the boat that she regularly takes out. The murdered man is Jerry Markham, a former resident of Shetland who had recently returned for a visit and to investigate a story he was considering writing about. Markham was a journalist who was apparently looking into an island group that is promoting green energy through ocean tides. There seems to be some controversy around the issue with some groups supporting and some opp

A Game of Fear by Charles Todd: A review

  Charles Todd has been the name used by a mother and son writing team of mysteries. In a sad note at the beginning of this book the son informs us of the death of his mother. They've had a good run. This is the 24th in the Ian Rutledge series. The time is the spring of 1921. As we are reminded at one point in the book, Inspector Ian Rutledge, the World War I veteran, is still quite a young man in his twenties. His superior at Scotland Yard is still the odious Chief Superintendent Markham who despises and is jealous of him and takes every opportunity to give him assignments that have a high potential for failure. In this case, the assignment is to go to the small village of Walmer in Essex and find a killer who is a ghost. The ghost is one Captain Roger Nelson who was killed in the recent war, but Lady Felicia Benton who is herself a war widow and who knew Captain Nelson claims that as she stood by a window of her manor house she witnessed him kill someone. No body has been found a

Poetry Sunday: March by William Cullen Bryant

The winds of March are upon us. No storms, at least not yet, but working outside is a constant struggle to keep windblown hair out of my eyes. We are finally having pleasant days, other than the wind, and I have been able to get outside and do work in the garden this past week. It's a great release after being cooped up inside for much of the winter. Unlike most years, we have actually had a sustained winter this year. Normally, we have about a week of cold weather and then straight into spring, but not this year. And so, I am better able to appreciate the coming of March and the changing of the seasons that it brings. William Cullen Bryant appreciated it, too.   March  by William Cullen Bryant The stormy March is come at last, With wind, and cloud, and changing skies; I hear the rushing of the blast, That through the snowy valley flies. Ah, passing few are they who speak, Wild stormy month! in praise of thee; Yet, though thy winds are loud and bleak, Thou art a welcome month to me

This week in birds - #491

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  Spotted Towhee having a drink. Photographed at Fort Davis in West Texas. *~*~*~* The climate scientists assure us that there is still hope but the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reported this week, make clear that we are barreling toward a hot and hellish future on Earth unless we take the necessary steps to prevent it. *~*~*~* The country's oldest national park, Yellowstone, has passed its 150th birthday and it is busier and wilder than ever , according to the park's 'winterkeeper.'  *~*~*~* And here, in celebration of Yellowstone's birthday, is a photo diary of that magical place.  *~*~*~* California, always a leader in environmental protection, wants to eradicate microplastics and they have come up with a 22-step action plan to try to accomplish that. *~*~*~* Here's a bit of good news for the environment: The American Bird Conservancy is touting its success in