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Showing posts from September, 2022

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell: A review

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I fondly remember Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess" from my long-ago high school literature class. According to Maggie O'Farrell, Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, was the inspiration for Browning's poem. Alfonso's duchess, Lucrezia di Cosima de Medici, is the inspiration for O'Farrell's novel. Lucrezia was a fifteen-year-old girl when her family gave her in marriage to Alfonso. Less than a year later she would be dead. According to her husband, she died of a fever, but it seems more likely that she died at the hand of a murderous husband. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Lucrezia's older sister had been the intended bride for Alfonso, but when she suffered an untimely death, Lucrezia, as the next sister in line, was substituted for her. Had it not been for that unfortunate circumstance, Lucrezia might have had a long and happy life.  Of course, the official cause of death for Lucrezia is listed as tuberculosis, but her death se

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout: A review

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Whenever I see that Elizabeth Strout has a new book out, I jump right on it, because she is one of my favorite writers. Moreover, Lucy Barton is one of my all-time favorite characters. So when I saw that Strout had written a new "Lucy" book, my joy was complete. Lucy by the Sea did not disappoint.  The time frame of this novel encompasses the early part of the Covid pandemic. In the beginning, Lucy is living in New York and like many is pretty much blissfully unaware of what is about to hit. Her ex-husband and current friend, William, is a bit more clued into what's coming. He, after all, has a background in science and he can see trouble is coming. He persuades Lucy to go with him to a small town in Maine where there are few people and where he thinks they may be safe.  Lucy, meantime, is beset not only with her own personal concerns but with those of her two adult daughters as well. During her lockdown with William, she has plenty of time to worry about her daughters a

Poetry Sunday: September Midnight by Sara Teasdale

September seems to have been quite a popular topic for poets through the years. I googled "September poetry" and got a plethora of choices in reply. I decided to feature this one from 1914 by Sara Teasdale mostly because I liked its description of the "passionless chant of insects" that is, indeed, ceaseless and insistent at this time of year. The birds are mostly quiet now, many of them molting, and while they concentrate on growing new feathers, they tend to prefer to be as inconspicuous as possible. But the insects take up the slack and provide their own unique music - the music of late September, by which time we are all a little "tired with summer." September Midnight by Sara Teasdale  Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer, Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing, Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects, Ceaseless, insistent. The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples, The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding

This week in birds - #519

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : At certain times of the year, Common Grackles are prominent in my yard, but just now I seldom see them here. This one is a rarity who appears to be in the middle of his molt. His beak is open in response to the heat which still lingers in the upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit every day. *~*~*~* Pakistan has been suffering from floods that have killed more than 1500 people in that country. A study of the floods has linked them to climate change. *~*~*~* Poor nations are asking the United Nations to consider a global tax to pay for human-caused climate-led loss and damage.  *~*~*~* In this country, California is still suffering a punishing drought and has instituted rules regarding water usage, but it seems that some ranchers are ignoring those rules .  *~*~*~* Smoke from wildfires in the West has the potential to reverse much of the progress that has been made in recent years toward cleaner air. *~*~*~* How many ants would

Hilary Mantel

This morning, I opened the online news sites that I visit every day and learned that Hilary Mantel had died. It came as a shock, as a blow to the heart and to the mind that learned to love her writing, especially her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.  I looked back at my reviews of those books and discovered that I had never posted the review of the first one on the blog, so here it is for those who may be interested: *~*~*~* January 13, 2010 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel  "The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh..."    ( Excerpt from "Wolf Hall" describing a meeting between Cromwell and the Fren

Effigies by Mary Anna Evans: A review

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Here's another archaeological mystery from Mary Anna Evans featuring archaeologist Faye Longchamp and her Native American friend and associate Joe Wolf Mantooth. This one takes place in Mississippi in Neshoba County where the great Nanih Waiya mound is located. Choctaw tradition says that this is the mound from which their nation and people sprang.  Faye and her team hope to excavate a nearby mound but the farmer who owns the property refuses to give his permission. Not only does he refuse to allow excavation, but he also takes a bulldozer and attempts to level the mound.  Faye and her associates as well as the local Choctaw people rush to defend the mound and the farmer's neighbors line up with him to press his rights as the property's owner. A standoff ensues and the young sheriff of the county is caught in the middle. Things then take an even more serious - and deadly - turn. That night the farmer is found murdered. His throat had been sliced by a stone blade. Was his at

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves: A review

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A visit with Vera Stanhope is always one of my favorite reading destinations. I actually had this visit almost two weeks ago and forgot to do a review. Let's see if I can remember what happened. On beautiful and windswept Holy Island, five friends have been meeting annually for fifty years to commemorate and celebrate their first meeting as teenagers when they were students at Kimmerston Grammar. They had become a strongly bonded group and those bonds have held for all the years since through triumphs and tragedies. The main tragedy that has forever marked the group was the death of one of their members, Isobel Hall, who, years earlier, had been lost to the rising tide across the causeway leading to the island. The surviving members are Philip Robson, who is a priest; Ken Hampton, an ex-teacher now afflicted with dementia and cared for by his devoted wife, Louise; Annie Laidler who is part owner of an enterprise called Bread and Olives; and Rick Kelsall who is a former celebrity jo

The Lost Gospel by Joe Edd Morris: A review and a special note

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  This book, as you might gather from the title, involves something called the "Q gospel," the original lost sayings of Jesus. It is set in modern-day Israel and in the Israel of the years following Jesus' death. It follows the adventures of archaeologist Christopher Jordan and ancient manuscript expert Kathryn Ferguson as they attempt to transport two recently discovered jars that are believed to contain early Christian documents and get them into the custody of experts who know how to handle them.   The jars had been discovered by an American fundamentalist student who was working on a dig in the area and that student, when we meet them, is acting as a driver for Kathryn and Christopher. The ownership of the jars, if their existence were known, would be in dispute between the Israeli and Palestinian antiquity authorities, one more possible escalation of the ongoing percolating resentment in the region. The student/driver is hardly a dispassionate observer of events; rat

Poetry Sunday: September by Helen Hunt Jackson

American poet Helen Hunt Jackson was a contemporary of Emily Dickinson. She never quite achieved the same fame as Dickinson, but she wrote some lovely and evocative poems. This is one of them.  Judging by the last line of the poem, this month was special to the poet. I particularly like the line "September days are here, with summer's best of weather, and autumn's best of cheer."  Is there a better description of the year's ninth month? If so, I haven't heard or read it. September by Helen Hunt Jackson The golden-rod is yellow; The corn is turning brown; The trees in apple orchards With fruit are bending down. The gentian’s bluest fringes Are curling in the sun; In dusty pods the milkweed Its hidden silk has spun. The sedges flaunt their harvest, In every meadow nook; And asters by the brook-side Make asters in the brook. From dewy lanes at morning the grapes’ sweet odors rise; At noon the roads all flutter With yellow butterflies. By all these lovely tokens S

This week in birds - #518

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are passing through. Some have been with us all summer while others spent the season farther north and are now on their way to their winter homes. If we are lucky, maybe we'll get some of their cousins, the Rufous Hummingbirds , to spend the winter with us. *~*~*~* Is our planet the only one in the universe with life on it? That would seem to be an utterly ridiculous assumption. With the unimaginable abundance of planets, surely there are others with life. But how to find and connect with them? *~*~*~* Meanwhile, on our planet and our continent, a climate disaster unseen in 1200 years is unfolding. The American Southwest is experiencing a historical drought . *~*~*~* How can a study of history help to preserve an endangered species ? That is the area of expertise of the "historical ecologist." *~*~*~* Coastal landowners in the United States are being urged to let rising sea wat

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2022

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Why bother with a Bloom Day post this month, I thought to myself. I don't really have many blooms in the garden, do I? But I took my camera out to the garden anyway and found that I probably had more blooms than I had realized. By my little pond, the inland sea oats have already "bloomed" and ripened into oats.  Likewise, the beautyberry bushes have already bloomed and are now full of tasty berries for the birds. I would show you my white beautyberries but those are already gone. The birds pounce on them as soon as they ripen. Apparently, they are very tasty. The purple berries last longer. It wasn't 4 o'clock yet so this 4 o'clock plant ( Mirabilis jalapa or marvel of Peru) was not yet in full bloom. This pink one though always seems to bloom a bit early. The crape myrtles are full of their flouncy blooms all summer long and into the autumn. Pride of Barbados, aka peacock flower.   Sweet-smelling almond verbena. Single-flower zinnias.   Tropical butterfly w

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid: A review

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Mohsin Hamid really needs to go to punctuation school. His sentences in this book run on forever, for a full paragraph in some cases. Very long paragraphs. I previously read his book Exit West and I don't remember that being a problem with that one, so I assume that he made a conscious choice to write this book in this manner. I can't speak for other readers but I just found it distracting and annoying. The story is briefly summarized in the very first sentence:  “One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.”  At some time and place that are never fully identified, people start changing color. At least White people start changing color. We see this through the eyes of the protagonist, Anders, a White man who wakes up one morning to discover that his skin is turning dark. He talks to his lover, Oona, about it, and soon learns that this is happening to others as well. This creates an unsettled atmosphere and some people seek to resi

Poetry Sunday: I Worried by Mary Oliver

Are you a worrier? I confess I am at times even though I know full well that it will not change anything or make anything better. It seems simply inbred and uncontrollable. Mary Oliver addressed that in this poem.  I Worried by Mary Oliver I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it? Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless. Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.

Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta: A review

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  If you are looking for a cont emporary novel with humor that has a darker edge to it, this may be just the book you want. Tom Perrotta introduces us to Tracy Flick, the assistant principal at a New Jersey high school where the long-time principal Jack Weede has just announced his retirement. And just like that, Tracy Flick's career that had seemed stalled looks like it might have an opening to move forward. Will this finally be the time when Tracy Flick  can  win? Tracy is energized by the prospect of a promotion and she throws herself into her work with a renewed vigor, hoping to prove to everyone that she is ready for the next step up. But while focusing on her career, she also must manage a somewhat complicated personal life involving her ten-year-old daughter, her doctor boyfriend who seems particularly needy, and her sideline of leading a growing meditation practice. It may be too much even for diligent and hard-working Tracy. Things never come easy for Tracy and while she l

This week in birds - #517

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The beautyberries are ripe and that is always good news for the birds like this American Robin . *~*~*~* A new study warns that the planet is on the brink of five dangerous climate tipping points and indeed may have already passed some of them. *~*~*~* Meanwhile, a September heat wave is breaking records in the United States. *~*~*~* California has suffered a triple threat this week: a heat wave, fires, and a hurricane. *~*~*~* The heat wave in the West has broken records in California , which has suffered temperatures in excess of 110 degrees F. *~*~*~* Here in the Gulf region, things have been hot but quiet. No hurricanes to contend with so far. *~*~*~* Those wildfires in California have proved deadly . Two people died in the fires there this week. Prescribed burns in certain areas are being used to try to control the fires. *~*~*~* In an unusual move to help protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right

The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand: A review

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If it is summer, it must be time for another Elin Hilderbrand Nantucket novel, and sure enough, here it is. The Hotel Nantucket is her latest exploration of the culture of that unique little island off Cape Cod. The history of the Hotel Nantucket began in the gilded age and was interrupted by a tragic fire in 1922. A young chambermaid named Grace Hadley was killed in the fire, but her death was not the accident that it was believed to be.  But death was not an end for Grace. She is still hanging around the hotel, haunting it until the truth about her death is finally revealed. In the meantime, she amuses herself by performing mostly harmless "haunting" shenanigans. She is considered by many to be one of the attractions of the hotel.  Since that 1922 fire, the hotel had fallen on hard times and had become nothing more than an abandoned eyesore, but all of that changes when London billionaire Xavier Darling buys the hotel and renovates it to its former glory. To complete the p

Gold Dust by Reavis Z. Wortham: A review

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This book was a heady mix of cattle rustlers, murderers, grave robbers, CIA turncoats, and rural crime families, and all of it is centered in the little northeast Texas community of Center Springs. We experience it all mostly through the characters of teenage cousins Top Parker and Pepper Parker.  Top lives with his grandparents. His grandfather is the local constable, Ned Parker, who is charged with keeping the community safe and keeping the kids on an even keel. He's a man who has lived a lot of years and has garnered a lot of common sense along the way. His wife doesn't get as much ink in these stories, but of course, it is she who is the glue that holds everything together.   The plot this time involves government experimentation with a biological agent that is alleged to be benign but may not be. When a crop duster sprays the stuff over the area and Top comes in contact with it, the boy, who already suffers from asthma, lands in the hospital fighting for his life. His gran

Poetry Sunday: September Midnight by Sara Teasdale

Sitting outside on a September evening, one hears a chorus of insect voices, "the passionless chant of insects, ceaseless, insistent." Sara Teasdale described it very well in this poem that was first published more than a hundred years ago in March 1914. Thankfully those voices are still there, the background music for a late summer evening. September Midnight by Sara Teasdale Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer, Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing, Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects, Ceaseless, insistent. The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples, The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence Under a moon waning and worn, broken, Tired with summer. Let me remember you, voices of little insects, Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters, Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us, Snow-hushed and heavy. Over my soul murmur your mute benediction, While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,

This week in birds - #516

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  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Here's a Common Nighthawk assuming that he is invisible, which he almost is with his cryptic coloring.  *~*~*~* The big news in the world's environment this week was the deadly floods in Pakistan that have so far killed more than 1,100 people. *~*~*~* And elsewhere in the world, many areas, including the American West , are enduring brutal heat waves.  *~*~*~* The extreme weather is, of course, exacerbated by climate change and climate change has also had an effect on the Pacific Crest Trail , a popular venue for serious hikers that runs from Mexico to Canada.  *~*~*~* An algal bloom on San Francisco Bay has killed thousands of fish and resulted in their dead bodies washing up on the edges of the bay and creating a putrid stench in nearby neighborhoods. *~*~*~* In the deep ocean, about 600 to 800 meters down, there lives a fish called the barreleye which has a transparent head and extremely light-sensitive ey