Showing posts from June, 2022

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill: A review

  This book features a story within a story which made it (sometimes) confusing for me to follow.  The library in the title is the Boston Public Library which is where one of the book's characters, Australian thriller writer Hannah Tigone, sets her story. We never really meet Hannah except through the emails addressed to her by someone named Leo. Leo is apparently an aspiring writer himself and a fan of Hannah's. He reads her manuscript and offers her suggestions, as any good editor would, about her language and the plot of her novel. Leo's emails come at the end of each chapter of Hannah's manuscript. Those chapters almost always end on a cliffhanger. The story within the story, i.e. Hannah's manuscript, has an Australian woman named Winifred, aka Freddie, living in Boston on a scholarship. The book opens with her sitting at a table at the BPL with three strangers when they are shocked by a scream. The authorities tell everyone to remain in place while they sort ou

Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron: A review

This is one of the two audiobooks that I listened to on my recent road trip. It is the first in a cozy mystery series set in New Orleans. The protagonist is a twenty-eight-year-old widow named Ricki James. Ricki was born in New Orleans but was living in Los Angeles with her husband, a stunt performer until he died during one of his stunts. Then she learned that her boss was a criminal. Her world seemed to be collapsing around her and so she headed home to the city of her birth to start over. Ricki's hobby was collecting vintage cookbooks, and looking for a way to support herself, she decided to turn that hobby into a paying job. She would open a gift shop in the home turned museum of Genevieve Charbonnet, who had had one of the finest restaurants in the city before her death. At first, everything goes pretty smoothly for Ricki in her new position but then she makes the distressing discovery that there is a thief among her colleagues. Then, even more distressingly, in the process of

Poetry Sunday: The Breezes of June by Paul Hamilton Hayne

The soft breezes of a late June afternoon are much appreciated as I sit in the swing on my patio at the end of the day. It's the best time of day to venture out just now. Then, or else the early morning. Only a very foolish person would spend much time outside in the mid-day heat. Either a foolish person or one whose job requires him/her to endure the triple-digit temperatures. Those who must earn their living under this brutal June sky have my sympathy and concern.  If we make it through the heat of the day, those late afternoon "sweet and soft" breezes that whisper through the leaves of the trees are our reward. But if June comes, can July and August be far behind? It doesn't bear thinking about! The Breezes of June by Paul Hamilton Hayne   On! sweet and soft, Returning oft, As oft they pass benignly, The warm June breezes come and go, Through golden rounds of murmurous flow, At length to sigh, Wax faint and die, Far down the panting primrose sky, Divinely! Though s

This week in birds - #506

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : My beautyberries are a favorite with American Robins as well as many other birds that visit my yard. *~*~*~* The big environmental story of the week was the devastating earthquake in Afghanistan that killed more than 1,000 people and injured at least 1,600. Intense relief efforts are underway in the region. *~*~*~* In Iran this week, on the first day of summer temperatures in the city of Abadan soared to a scorching 126 degrees Fahrenheit . *~*~*~* Wildfires were much in the news this week. A fast-moving wildfire in New Jersey threatened to become the state's biggest fire in fifteen years. In New Mexico, a government-prescribed burn got out of control and became the state's largest recorded wildfire. The Forest Service admitted that it had failed to adequately account for the effects of climate change in starting the blaze. *~*~*~* The southwestern United States is baking under record levels of heat . The t

Love and Saffron by Kim Fay: A review

This is the story of a friendship between two women, told in their letters to each other over the years. It's a friendship based on the love of food and the good life. It begins with a gift of saffron. Twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom lives in Los Angeles and has just started writing for the food section of the newspaper there. Imogene Fortier is fifty-nine years old and lives on Camano Island outside of Seattle. She writes a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine. Joan is a fan of Imogene's columns and she writes her a fan letter, enclosing a gift of saffron. Their friendship blossoms through their exchange of letters in the 1960s, as they discuss world events like the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy in addition to the everyday events of their own lives. This is a short novel, only about 200 pages. I listened to it as an audiobook during a recent road trip. It was a quick read and kept us entertained for a couple of hours. Imogene (

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: A review

  Abiogenesis. It's a word that describes a theory that life arose from simplistic, non-life forms. The heroine of Lessons in Chemistry is an expert on the subject.  Her name is Elizabeth Zott and she is a scientist. She is a female scientist who has the misfortune to be practicing her profession in the 1960s, a most unenlightened decade when men were men and women were mostly decorative. An accomplished woman scientist was definitely an anomaly to which the world scarcely knew how to react. She had the respect and the love of her fellow scientist, Calvin Evans. Calvin was a kindred spirit on every level. He was an expert rower and that was his passion outside of work. It was a passion that Elizabeth shared. Soon, she became another passion of his and together they made a daughter, Madeline. But an unfortunate accident took Calvin from Elizabeth and from his unborn daughter. Elizabeth had little use for a kitchen and so she converted hers into something for which she did have a us

A Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari: A review

  First off, I must confess that I finished reading this book several days before I left town on my recent trip and so much has happened since then that I really find it hard to recall a lot about the plot. You might gather from that that it didn't make a lasting impression on me and you would be right in that conclusion. At the time that I finished it, I rated it as a three-star read which means that it was not terrible but not great. It was basically mediocre. I read somewhere that this was the writer's second novel, but I can only find this one listed under her name, so I'm assuming that it was, in fact, her first. She is a Texas writer, living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  The time is 1923 and the place is London. Our protagonist, Saffron Erleigh, is a botanist at University College London. In this position, she is following in the footsteps of her late father. She is an assistant to Dr. Maxwell who is very supportive of her career ambitions. It's important that s

Mini reviews

I'm going to be on the road for the next several days but before I leave I thought I would give you mini-reviews of a couple of books that I've recently read because who knows what I'll be able to remember about them by the time that I return! *~*~*~* Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel This is a science fiction book that has action taking place over a couple of centuries beginning in 1912. In that year, Edwin St. Andrew has been exiled from polite society in England because he had the audacity to make some ill-considered remarks at a dinner party. Edwin was eighteen years old at the time and likely had no understanding of the possible consequences of such remarks in the society in which he lived.  The family's solution to this embarrassment was to send him to Canada. He travels by steamship but when he arrives in the Canadian wilderness, he unaccountably hears a violin playing in an airship terminal ! What could this possibly mean? Why, Edwin, it appears you ha

Poetry Sunday: June Thunder by Louis MacNeice

How I long to hear June thunder and see the catharsis of a cleansing downpour. But it is dry, dry, dry here. We haven't had rain in weeks and there is none in the offing that I can see. Nevertheless, a person can dream... June Thunder by Louis MacNeice The Junes were free and full, driving through tiny Roads, the mudguards brushing the cowparsley, Through fields of mustard and under boldly embattled Mays and chestnuts Or between beeches verdurous and voluptuous Or where broom and gorse beflagged the chalkland-- All the flare and gusto of the unenduring Joys of a season Now returned but I note as more appropriate To the maturer mood impending thunder With an indigo sky and the garden hushed except for The treetops moving. Then the curtains in my room blow suddenly inward, The shrubbery rustles, birds fly heavily homeward, The white flowers fade to nothing on the trees and rain comes Down like a dropscene. Now there comes catharsis, the cleansing downpour Breaking the blossoms of our

This week in birds - #505

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  An American Robin cools off from the 100-degree heat in our birdbath. *~*~*~* Wind energy may finally be coming into its own as a potential source of renewable energy.  *~*~*~* Meanwhile, President Biden has ordered emergency measures to boost crucial supplies to U.S. solar manufacturers and declared a two-year exemption for tariffs on solar panels from Southeast Asia.  *~*~*~* Well, this is not good news: Researchers have found tiny plastics in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica for the first time. These plastics can be toxic to animals and plants.  *~*~*~* Plastic waste is not all wasted. Innovative ways to reuse the waste are being implemented all around the world.  *~*~*~* In the Southwest, deaths from extreme heat are mounting and in Arizona, emergency services are attempting to prepare to deal with temperatures in excess of 110 Fahrenheit.    *~*~*~* The extreme heat is making things worse in Salt Lake City whe

The Investigator by John Sandford: A review

  I have read a few of John Sandford's books in the Prey series featuring Lucas Davenport. This book is a literal offspring of that series. It's the first in a series featuring Davenport's adopted daughter Letty Davenport. Letty is in her mid-20s and a graduate of Stanford. She works for a U.S. senator named Christopher Colles in a desk job but she's bored with her assignments. Then the senator offers her a chance to go into the field as a liaison between his office and the Department of Homeland Security.  In her first assignment in that position, she is sent to Texas along with DHS investigator John Kaiser to try to find out what is happening in regard to thefts of crude oil. The senator is not so concerned about the lost oil but wants to know where the money from its sale is going. Who is selling the oil and what they are doing with the profits? The suspicion is that a particularly nasty militia group led by a woman is involved. Letty and Kaiser head out to Texas, de

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers: A review

  I have read and enjoyed other books by Richard Powers, most recently Bewilderment which I read late last year. So it was with some confidence that I would like it that I picked this early book of his to read. What the experience taught me is that one can't always depend on recreating one's enjoyment of a writer's later works with his earlier efforts. This book was published in 1991 and I hated it. The first thing to be said about the book is that it is long, nearly 700 pages, and, in my opinion, if an unsparing editor had cut it to half that length, it might have been a better book. Powers seemed determined to never use only one word if ten could be employed to convey the same meaning. Moreover, he seemed equally determined to use some of the most obscure words in the language. (I'm sorry I didn't write any of them down to give you an example of what I mean; I was just too exasperated.)  I take a back seat to no one in my appreciation of our language. I'm eve

Poetry Sunday: June by James Russell Lowell

The June that James Russell Lowell describes in his poem does indeed sound like the perfect month, a time when " The flush of life may well be seen..." Wherever you are, I hope you are experiencing that "perfect" month. June by James Russell Lowell What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days; Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, And over it softly her warm ear lays: Whether we look, or whether we listen, We hear life murmur, or see it glisten; Every clod feels a stir of might, An instinct within it that reaches and towers, And, groping blindly above it for light, Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers; The flush of life may well be seen Thrilling back over hills and valleys; The cowslip startles in meadows green. The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice, And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean To be some happy creature's palace; The little bird sits at his door in the sun, Atilt like a blossom among the leaves, And le

This week in birds - #504

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Pied-billed Grebes are definitely one of my favorite - and I think one of the cutest - of the water birds. *~*~*~* During the tenure of our most recent ex-president, the United States essentially  stopped making any effort  at the federal level to combat climate change. The result of this failure has been to leave the country far behind in the international ranking of countries' efforts. *~*~*~* A leading climate scientist warns that the world is heading for dangers that humans have not seen in 10,000 years of civilization and that we cannot adapt our way out of the crisis. *~*~*~* Developers since the days of George Washington have coveted the sprawling wetland that today makes up the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Scientists are in a race to try to restore as much of the peatland of the swamp as they can.   *~*~*~* Climate change is contributing to devastating dust storms that are plaguing Syria a