Showing posts from January, 2023

The Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor: A review

This is the first in a proposed trilogy of books, set in India, mostly in Delhi. It is centered around the Wadia family, but we see things mostly through the eyes of Ajay who works for Sonny, the scion of that family.  When he was a young boy, Ajay was sold by his impoverished mother. It was under those circumstances that the boy grew up and eventually came to work for Sonny.  The Wadia family essentially rules Delhi. Nothing can get done there without their consent. This creates an atmosphere that is rife with all manner of vice, including gangsters, kidnappers, murderers, drug addicts, and violent thugs of every stripe. The story is a blend of family saga and crime drama and the writer takes her time in telling it. The book is over 500 pages long and yet it reads quickly. The action never drags and the reader feels compelled to keep turning those pages to find out what will happen next. The book begins with a tragedy, a fatal car crash that killed five people including a pregnant wom

Poetry Sunday: An Old Man's Winter Night by Robert Frost

Winter is winding down, both the season and the winter of our lives. Robert Frost understood such times.  He knew, for example, about entering a room and not being able to remember why you came there and he expressed it well in this poem: "What kept him from remembering what it was that brought him to that creaking room was age." Yes. That.  Well, there's not much we can do about age. It is inexorable, so it's best to simply accept it and move on, keep on "filling the house" and our lives as best we can.  An Old Man's Winter Night by Robert Frost All out of doors looked darkly in at him Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars, That gathers on the pane in empty rooms. What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand. What kept him from remembering what it was That brought him to that creaking room was age. He stood with barrels round him—at a loss. And having scared the cellar under him In clomping there, he

This week in birds - #535

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A favorite winter visitor - the Chipping Sparrow . *~*~*~* Our ancestors were very hairy creatures and we still carry with us those genes for hairiness, so why don't we look like Australopithecus afarensis?         Depiction of  Australopithecus afarensis .   *~*~*~* Seven states rely on the shrinking Colorado River for water. Since they seem unable to come to an agreement for sharing the water, it seems that the federal government may have to impose such an agreement .  *~*~*~* Prescribed burns, a long-time Indigenous practice , can help to restore depleted lands.  *~*~*~* Inuit communities are calling for mandatory measures to reduce underwater noise pollution which they blame for the disappearance of narwhals and ringed seals from areas where they used to hunt them. *~*~*~* Why do the newts cross the road and why are there volunteers out there helping them to do it? *~*~*~* When scientists tagged a southern ele

Remembering "American Dirt"

This op-ed piece in the Times reminded me of my own take on American Dirt which I read and reviewed three years ago. Apparently, the book is still stirring up feelings. Here were my thoughts on it at the time. *~*~*~* American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: A review February 11, 2020 Mexico is my next-door neighbor. I live in an area that is made immeasurably richer culturally by Mexican immigrants and people of Mexican heritage. My neighbors, friends, and, yes, employees are some of those people. For those reasons, I was particularly interested to hear about this book. And then shortly after I first heard of it, it seemed the book world exploded along a strict dichotomy of opinions; either it was a "new American classic" or it was a rank example of cultural appropriation and whitewashing. At that point, I tried to distance myself from all the hoopla about the book. I wanted to read it myself and make up my own mind. By now it seems that the plot of the novel is perhaps too well

The Rock Hole by Reavis Z. Wortham: A review

I had read a couple of the later entries in this series and decided that perhaps I should go back to the beginning. This book was the first in the Red River mysteries series. The events of the book take place in 1964 in East Texas, a time and place when racial tensions were a prominent part of everyday life. We meet Constable Ned Parker who is White and a Black deputy sheriff named John Washington. The two work together to deliver justice and to protect their community from evil. In this case, this evil is exemplified by an individual who takes pleasure in torturing and killing animals. Of course, he doesn't stop there. He soon moves on to humans and the killer seems to be targeting the constable's family which includes his ten-year-old grandson Top who is now living with him after the death of his parents in a car crash. The story of the investigation is told mostly through the perspective of Top and his slightly older cousin, Pepper. This is very different from the kinds of c

Trust by Hernan Diaz: A review

I finished reading this book a few days ago and, at the time, gave it a three-star rating. But when I sat down at my keyboard tonight to try to review it, I found I was completely blank. I couldn't remember the book. Maybe that three-star rating was a bit generous???  In the end, I had to refer to the Goodreads synopsis of the book to jog my memory and to try to recall why I had awarded it three stars. Not a very auspicious beginning for a book review. I think the problem may have been not so much the book or the writing but simply that I was distracted by other things while I was reading. Sometimes a book can take one out of his/her distraction and focus attention but that proved to be difficult for me in this instance. Anyway, bearing that caveat in mind, these are my best recollections of and reactions to Hernan Diaz's book. The book is set primarily in the Roaring '20s in New York with some side trips to Europe. It is the story of a prominent financier Benjamin Rask an

Poetry Sunday: The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy is probably most well-known for his novels, but he wrote poetry also and it is still fresh after a hundred years. This one seems especially appropriate for late winter. I particularly like the image of the aged thrush, with his song, flinging his soul upon the growing gloom. He refuses to let the gloom defeat him.  The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy I leant upon a coppice gate       When Frost was spectre-grey, And Winter's dregs made desolate       The weakening eye of day. The tangled bine-stems scored the sky       Like strings of broken lyres, And all mankind that haunted nigh       Had sought their household fires. The land's sharp features seemed to be       The Century's corpse outleant, His crypt the cloudy canopy,       The wind his death-lament. The ancient pulse of germ and birth       Was shrunken hard and dry, And every spirit upon earth       Seemed fervourless as I. At once a voice arose among       The bleak twigs overhead In a full-hearted eve

This week in birds - #534

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : One of my favorite winter visitors - the Pine Warbler . *~*~*~* Dust that billows up from desert storms and arid landscapes is helping to cool the planet and may be obscuring the true extent of global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions. *~*~*~* California has suffered years of ongoing drought and even though it has recently received an abundance of snow and rain, it's not enough to make up for the years of drought. But many Californians are trying to find ways to hang onto the recent deluge. *~*~*~* A study of southern resident orcas off British Columbia has found that they have  appallingly high levels of a "forever chemical" in their bodies. *~*~*~* The combined effects of a hydroelectric dam and earth-shifting livestock have altered the landscape in northern Brazil and have upended people's lives there. *~*~*~* The largest animal ever to exist on Earth is the blue whale. How did this titan

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves: A review

  Ann Cleeves' series set in the Shetland Islands is truly one of my favorite mystery reads. In Cold Earth , the original mystery is the identity of a woman found dead after a landslide that sends a house and part of a cemetery slipping down a hill into the North Sea. It soon becomes clear, however, that it was not the storm or the landslide that killed her. No, her death was caused by a human, not by Nature. She was strangled. The landslide comes during a funeral. Jimmy Perez is present for the burial of his old friend, Magnus Tait, and he watches in horror as the flood of mud and peaty water smashes through a croft house in its path. The house was believed to be unoccupied but when he searches the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. There is no identification on the body and the only possible clue to her identity is a wooden box containing two pictures, one of two small children and one of an elderly couple. There is also a handwritten lett

Poetry Sunday: Birthday by Robert William Service

Looking for poems about or set in January, I came across this one by Robert William Service and it made me smile. I hope it does the same for you. Birthday by Robert William Service (16th January 1949) I thank whatever gods may be For all the happiness that's mine; That I am festive, fit and free To savour women, wit and wine; That I may game of golf enjoy, And have a formidable drive: In short, that I'm a gay old boy Though I be Seventy-and-five. My daughter thinks, because I'm old (I'm not a crock, when all is said), I mustn't let my feet get cold, And should wear woollen socks in bed; A worsted night-cap too, forsooth! To humour her I won't contrive: A man is in his second youth When he is Seventy-and-five. At four-score years old age begins, And not till then, I warn my wife; At eighty I'll recant my sins, And live a staid and sober life. But meantime let me whoop it up, And tell the world that I'm alive: Fill to the brim the bubbly cup - Here's

This week in birds - #533

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  A group of Roseate Spoonbills enjoying an afternoon nap. *~*~*~* According to climate researchers, the last eight years have been the hottest on record . Overall, the world is now 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.1 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than it was in the second half of the 19th century. *~*~*~* And greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of the Earth heating up, continue to rise . *~*~*~* Extreme weather events were the cause of 18 disasters and 474 human deaths in this country last year. *~*~*~* This is the beautiful Pine Grosbeak, a bird of the boreal forests that is the American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week . *~*~*~* The deal that Kevin McCarthy made in order to obtain the speakership of the House of Representatives for himself  essentially cedes control of the House Republicans' agenda to the most extreme faction of his party. This does not bode well for action on climate issues for the next two years.

The Lost Kings by Tyrell Johnson: A review

  This was a dark, psychological thriller with an interesting twist at the end. Some readers claim they knew it all along. Well, I didn't. The protagonist is named Jeanie King and she is one messed-up individual. She has a "twin" named Jamie. When she was still a child, she lost her mother in a car accident, after which she was cared for by her aunt and uncle while her father was away in military service. When her father is mustered out of the military, he moves the family to a remote cabin in rural Washington.  The father has plenty of psychological problems of his own. He is an alcoholic who suffers from PTSD and is a seriously neglectful parent. One night he comes home covered in blood. The next morning he and Jamie are gone and Jeanie is left on her own. Perhaps the only good thing Jeanie has going for her during this period is her friendship with a boy named Maddox. It is a friendship that endures and twenty years later when she is living in England, Maddox will agai

Ice Hunter by Joseph Heywood: A review

  This is the first in Joseph Heywood's "Woods Cop" series of mysteries. The setting is Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula. It is a harsh and demanding terrain of vast wilderness and the people who choose to live there have their own codes and rituals. They are not particularly welcoming to outsiders or to the conservation officers whose duty it is to police the area. One of those conservation officers is Grady Service. He is the protagonist of these mysteries. He is a former marine who served in the Vietnam War. I don't recall that the time frame of the action in this book was specifically identified, but the book was originally published in 2001, so we can assume (I think) that it is the late twentieth century. Grady is divorced. His ex-wife had accused him of having a death wish and told him she had no desire to be a widow. Now he lives a solitary life. Grady is following in the footsteps of his father who was also a conservation officer working in the UP before

Poetry Sunday: Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

I know I have featured this Emily Dickinson poem here before but it just seems especially appropriate at this moment. A new year filled with endless possibilities - surely a cause for hope. Hope is the thing with feathers  by Emily Dickinson ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all – And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard – And sore must be the storm – That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm – I’ve heard it in the chillest land – And on the strangest Sea – Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me.

This week in birds - #532

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  This Cooper's Hawk is on the lookout for his next meal.  *~*~*~* A federal disaster declaration was made this week for the area inhabited by the Havasupai Native American tribe that lives deep inside the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The area has experienced devastating floods . *~*~*~* Meanwhile, wild weather swings along the West Coast are causing possibly irreparable damage to California's trees. *~*~*~* 2023 could be a critical year for many endangered and threatened species . It may be the year in which their ultimate fate is determined. *~*~*~* This is the American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week , one of the most beautiful of ducks in my opinion - the Northern Pintail . *~*~*~* Weather records have been falling all across Europe this January as the continent experiences an unusually warm winter month.  *~*~*~* This could also be a vitally important year for clean energy in this country, as both hug

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid: A review

  Carrie Soto was not a particularly likable character. Single-minded and driven, her one focus in life from the age of two had been tennis. It was at that age that her father, Javier, began training her to be a tennis champion. He, himself, had been a professional tennis player and he was determined that he would make his daughter the best that the world had ever seen. He succeeded almost beyond his dreams. Carrie had a storied career in which she shattered all records. She earned twenty Grand Slam titles and had every right to rest on those laurels. But then at the age of thirty-seven, six years after her retirement, she watches as a young player named Nicki Chan is on the verge of taking her record from her. Carrie cannot bear it! She makes the unprecedented decision to come out of retirement and try to reclaim her record, once again coached by her father.  Carrie really has nothing in her life besides tennis. She has no friends beyond her father and her devoted agent, Gwen. Other t