Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rhododendron 'Nova Zembla'

I bought this last fall and haven't killed it yet.  When I bought it, it had huge buds on it and now they're opening.  I'm quite adept at killing houseplants and potted plants, although I was once a successful outdoor gardener.  This is supposed to be a very hardy cultivar.  That usually means cold resistant, but I hope it also means I'll have a tough time killing it!

Recent Reading

Right after we returned from our vacation in Maine, my local branch library notified me that it was my turn for the latest Elly Griffith / Ruth Galloway mystery.  I adore Ruth Galloway, her complicated personal life, and her professional life as an archeologist.  This book also engaged my fascination with abandoned WWII air fields.

A body is found in an airplane crashed during WWII and buried in a field.  Ruth sees, however, that although the body is from that era, it has only recently been placed in the plane.  The police discover the identity of the man, Fred Blackstock, a soldier whose family lives near by.  And what a family they are!  The patriarch, Old George, is half crazy, tended by his milquetoast son, Young George, and his ditzy wife, Sally, and their two grown children, Chaz, a pig farmer, and Cassandra, an aspiring actress.

A strange man appears when the soldier is re-buried.  A body is found mostly devoured by Chaz's pigs.  Someone hits Cassie over the head and she and Dave, one of the policemen on the case, fall in love.

Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson, the father of her daughter, do their usual relationship dance.  Nelson's very forgiving wife, Michelle, buys a lovely present for her husband's illegitimate daughter's birthday.  Michelle also explores the boundaries of her marriage.

In the dramatic wrap up, Ruth is trapped in the Blackstock family ruin with both Georges in a raging storm and a terrible flood.  Nelson can't get in to rescue her and she can't get out.  Don't worry, there's a tragi-comic rescue, so she'll be around for another episode.

                                                               * * * * * * * * * * *

One of my favorite podcasts is the video podcast of The Book Club (which used to be called The First Tuesday Book Club), from Australia.  I like the host, Jennifer Byrne, and the two regular guests, Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy.  They also have two special guests on each episode.  They read and discuss contemporary books, classics, the whole range of reading, often with very different opinions about what they've read.

Alan Cumming, is to be a guest on the upcoming show and the book he chose for them all to read  and discuss is Enid Blyton's Five on a Treasure Island.  I had heard of Enid Blyton and was aware that her books were a big part of the childhoods of many children in Britain, but I had never read any of them.  I decided I wanted to be part of the discussion, so I downloaded Five on a Treasure Island and just finished reading it.

Yes, it's a children's book.  Yes, it's dated.  Yes, it has flaws.  But it was a ripping adventure story about four independent children and a dog and a ruined castle on an island and buried treasure and thieves and a time when children were allowed to go off on adventures.  I'm looking forward to the discussion on the show.  Marieke never holds back and I can just imagine some of her comments.  Then again, maybe she'll surprise me.  Either way, it'll be fun to listen to the Five on The Book Club talk about Five on a Treasure Island and find out why this book is important to Alan Cumming.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dear Departed - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

I forgot to write about this book before I went on vacation.  Now, with several books between, I'm a little fuzzy.  However, I liked the book.  This is odd because I read one of the Bill Slider books a while ago and noted that I thought it was silly.  Were the books so different or was I?

A young woman everyone adores is murdered in the park.  At first, she seems to have been the victim of a serial killer.  But then the police realize that the method of murder was different.  Bill Slider and his department are assigned to the crime.

Charlotte (Chattie) Cornfeld's father is a rich businessman, but she never tells anyone she's related to him.  He owns a company that makes pharmaceuticals.  Although he's given her money in the past, she's trying to make it on her own.  She also has two stepsisters because her father's been married three times, her mother being the second wife.

Chattie has been working with a band and sleeping with two members of the band.  One accepts her casual and non-committal attitude toward relationships, the other is wildly jealous.  Could he be the killer?  Or is something else going on?

I liked the characters and the plot.  I don't understand why I didn't like the previous Bill Slider book I read.

Zadok's Treasure - Margot Arnold

Oh, dear, I've found a new author to obsess over.  Margot Arnold's Sir Tobias Glendower and Dr. Penny Spring are archeologists.  The author, too, had a degree in prehistoric archeology and anthropology from Oxford.  In Zadok's Treasure, Toby is asked to look for Bill Pearson, an old friend who has disappeared from a dig in Israel.  Bill was searching for the lost treasure of Zadok, high priest to King Solomon.

Toby asks Penny to come along to help him.  He plans to go to the dig to find what he can and wants Penny to stay safely in Jerusalem to tend to the missing man's wife and to look for clues there.  There are terrorists loose in the desert in addition to a murderer.  Toby finds the tortured body of his friend in a cave near the dig.  He also finds a scrap of what appears to be an ancient scroll that Bill found and hid.  If it's authentic, it could change the world.

There are suspects galore:  almost everyone on the dig, the workers at the dig, another archeologist who appeared around the time Bill disappeared, Bill's wife, her boyfriend, robbers.  The local police aren't a great help, except for one.

I liked the relationship between Penny and Toby.  I liked the archeological aspect of the mystery.  I thought the writing was good and the story gripping.  I read The Cape Cod Conundrum years ago and now I'm on a search to find more Toby and Penny mysteries.  Unfortunately, the Philadelphia library system doesn't have any of them.  Can that be true?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Maine - Part 2

About fifteen years ago, while we were still living in Massachusetts, I got so fed up with all the development occurring in the small coastal town we lived in that I decided to buy the biggest piece of land I could afford to keep in its natural state as a wildlife refuge.  Every new house for a human destroys the homes of thousands of birds, bugs, and beasts.  I ended up buying a piece of woodland and wetland fronting on a river in Maine, so far north it's almost in Canada.  We went there a few times before moving back to Pennsylvania, but we hadn't been there for over ten years.

While we were recently in Camden, ME, we drove to the land.  The forest had been logged ten or more years before I bought it, but it hadn't been ravaged like many pieces of woodland I had looked at.  There were three old logging roads running back into the property.  We had expected them to be overgrown with sturdy young trees, so we were surprised when the roads were still passable.  Only a blanket of young firs, about a foot high, were filling in the space.

Between the firs and the deciduous trees, there were stands of white birch, adding accents to the dark.

I was excited to see signs of a deer scraping its antlers on a small tree.  There are moose in the area, but I don't think the scrape was high enough to have been done by a moose.

The old logging roads will apparently stay fairly open for years to come, but it will be interesting to see how nature takes them back and hides them.

Camden, Maine

We've just returned from a week in a lovely cottage overlooking the harbor in Camden, Maine.  If you're paying attention, you know that Jack and I lived in New England for most of our lives until making the horrendous mistake of moving to Philadelphia almost ten years ago.  For us, a week in New England is a week in heaven.  Take a look at the view from the cottage window:

Really, could you ever get tired of this?  There is always something to look at:  people, boats, birds, clouds.

The town of Camden is a charming old town, founded in 1791, although it was settled earlier than that.  It's on the Atlantic but is a protected harbor.  While we were there, Jack went for a sail on a schooner, Olad.  It wasn't the same as captaining his own boat, the late, great Jouster, but it got him out on the ocean and he came back happier than I've seen him in a long time.  Maybe he does need to get another boat.

In long relationships, you learn to give and take.  I tried to like sailing, but I just do not.  I put in my years and then put down my foot.  Jack doesn't read, Joan doesn't sail.  So while he was sailing, I was enjoying the sights of Camden.

The Megunticook River runs through Camden, under some shops, and down the falls on the left, into the harbor.  The town curves down to the waterfront and up into the Camden Hills.

There are three used book stores in town and one new book store.  Owl and Turtle has mostly new books and their used books were all fairly current used books.  Goose River Books was antiquarian books.  They had a nice selection, but these days I look for moderately priced used books, not collectibles.  My favorite used book store in Camden is Stone Soup, up a steep stairway into a few very crowded rooms of mostly paperbacks.  I'd been there years and years ago when we lived in New England and spent a night in Camden.  

One day during our latest visit, I drove up the coast to Searsport.  I'd planned to visit Penobscot Books and another book barn I noticed a few days earlier.  Penobscot Books wasn't open, but the creatively named 'Used Books' was  -  and it was what I consider to be an almost perfect used book store.  In a freezing cold barn, there were paperbacks for a dollar each, Penguins in plastic protectors for $3.00 each, mid-priced old books (lots of children's serials like Tom Swift, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames), and some pricier ones.  I bought an armful of paperback mysteries.

On my drive, I had noticed a slightly dilapidated small white house overlooking a sweep of meadow down to the ocean.  I thought it had a 'For Sale' sign out.  So Jack and I drove back a few days later to check it out.  Unfortunately, it was the land next to the house that was for sale.  But what a view.  Here's pretty much what it looked like, and a few photos of the coast north of Camden:

We had taken some sandwiches with us to eat on the beach, but the wind was blowing off the water and we got back in the car to avoid frost bite.  We laughed though when two women with small girls arrived independently at the beach with pails and shovels.  Who gets up on a cloudy cold day and says to their little girl 'Grab your pail and shovel!  We're going to the beach!'?  I guess that would be a hardy New Englander!

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Sting in the Tale - Dave Goulson

Are you afraid of bees?  In particular, bumblebees?  If you're allergic, I can understand.  I adore bumblebees.  When I was growing up, some sort of bumblebees burrowed into the wooden bannister around our porch every summer.  My late father said the ones with white faces wouldn't sting and, as usual, he was correct.  Those bumblebees are males and only the females are capable of stinging.

Dave Goulson likes bumblebees, too.  He studied them for years and founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in England to educate people about bumblebees and their importance to our lives  and to increase habitat in the hope of increasing declining populations of some types of bumblebees.  Bumblebees thought to be extinct may even reappear.

This is a book written by a scientist for the general population.  Goulson often throws in humor, too, quite funny.  Large numbers of insects and birds and small mammals have become rare or extinct because of large-scale intensive farming, which reduces the variety of food plants available to these creatures.  As humans, we should also be worried because relying on a monoculture of food plants invites the same sort of devastation that occurred during the Irish potato famine.  Any sort of factory / intensive farming is dangerous for many reasons.  When will we learn that nature always does it better?

But bumblebees, as well as honeybees, are bred commercially because there aren't enough wild bees to pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables we eat.  And there aren't enough wild bees because of monoculture farming.  Breeding is a big industry, but shipping bees around the world is dangerous because they can escape and outcompete native bees.  Shipping can also transmit bee diseases to other bumblebees.

There are facts galore, too much about genetics for me, but many interesting facts about bumblebees and their short lives.

I was most interested in reading about their behavior.  I've always enjoyed watching insects go about their business.  Coincidentally, while reading this book at a cottage in Maine, I watched a bumblebee go into a small hole in the ground.  Because I read this book, I believe it was a queen bee looking for a suitable nest.  On the way to Maine, we stopped at the rest area farthest north on the Garden State Parkway.  When travelling through here other times, I had noticed lots of bumblebees around one area of benches  -  and there they were!  I happily ate my sandwich with male bees hovering around.  Jack ate his sandwich in the car.

If you're interested in nature, I think you'll like this book.  It's very easy to read and you'll learn a lot.  And probably laugh a little, too.  Next time you encounter a bumblebee, thank her!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life - Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I read this book on my Kindle, so there's no photo.  Sorry.  Belle, over at Bell, Book, and Candle, reviewed this one on her web site, and her review made me want to read it.  Like her, I had many 'I do that, too!' moments.

Ms. Rosenthal, as the book title suggests, writes about everyday things.  She organizes her essays, some as short as a word or two, in alphabetical order, like a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  I started liking her with her Acknowledgments:  I would like to thank you for reading this book.  You're welcome, Amy.

Interspersed among the encyclopedia-like entries are tables and lists and a few illustrations.  It's all entertaining.  Near the beginning, there's a run down of her life up to 2004, when the book was published.  Parts of that I found a bit dull, especially some of the childhood incidents.

But then I found we shared many things.  I, too, look at train schedules a million times to make sure I have the right train and the right time (and the right station).  She writes about broken things.  My obsession is that all of my appliances will betray me, usually at some crucial time, like when we're getting ready to go away or when someone's in the hospital.  If they leaked once, they will again, so I check the washer every single time I use it.  Once, there were baby mice in the dryer at our last house, so even though I've never seen a mouse in this house, I check before using the dryer.  Every time.

It was funny to read that her brother, who grew up with three sisters, was fairly old before he realized that he didn't have to wrap the towel around his chest when he got out of the shower!  Poor guy!  Reading words wrong?  Yeah, I do that, too.  A celebrity whose cheeks bounced or whose checks bounced?

Then there's a long part about 'important' events in Amy's life.  Again, not so interesting to me.  It's not that I don't care about the lives of other people, but these seemed very, very ordinary to me.  Oh, and she writes these in the third person, which I found annoying.

'Completion', however, hit the mark.  That's me.  'When I'm out, I'm usually thinking about going home.  When I'm home, I'm usually thinking about the next time I'm going out.'  'I have not experienced the full pleasure of an act or task until I've crossed it off my list.'  It's the feeling of unease until I've done something that I want to or need to do.  And you know there's no end to that.  I've never gotten the hang of living in the moment.  It's supposed to be so peaceful and relaxing.  Sigh.

Under 'Compliments', she says that the nurse taking blood at her physical told her she had great veins.  A weird compliment for which she thanked the nurse.  A radiologist once told me I had a beautiful gall bladder and called in another nurse to look.  I guess beauty is truly on the inside, at least for some of us.

Like Amy, I sort of jog across the street when a car motions me to cross.  I'm grateful and don't want to delay the driver.  Old photos make me feel I'm in a time machine, looking at my young parents and grandparents, who, of course, I never knew as young people with young lives.

I bet we can all share her feelings about rainy days:  they come as a relief, a pass to stay inside, to retreat.  'It's cozy and safe hanging out on this side of gray.'  When the sun comes out you feel a little disappointed because then life goes on as usual and you have to do things.  We readers understand that very well.

So, aside from the boring parts, I enjoyed this light and quirky book.  Thanks again, Belle!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Summer in the City

Once again, we've gone from winter to summer with little in between.  Spring and fall are my two favorite seasons, but they seem to have disappeared.  However, the little tree we planted two years ago is now in bloom, so I thought I'd share that with you.  It's a Winter King hawthorn.  Lovely white flowers now, berries and colorful leaves in the fall, and interesting exfoliating bark.  We love this little tree we planted with our neighbors.

Two for the Show - Boats and Ghosts

Maybe I'm just old.  I can't remember where I read about this book.  I do remember the author as a television newsman.  Do you?  I also keep my eyes open for books about the sea and sailing, always hoping to turn my husband of forty years into a reader.  So I bought this and read it and now it's in the bag of books to take to The Book Trader.

Douglas Kiker was a newspaper and television reporter.  He worked for NBC for quite a while.  He looks oldish to me in his book photo, so I was shocked to learn that he'd died of a heart attack at the age of 61 (a bit younger than I am right now).  This was in Chatham, MA, on Cape Cod.  The location of this book was also the Cape, another attraction for me.

In this mystery, an old friend and ex-lover of newspaperman Mac McFarland invites him to her family estate on the Cape for drinks.  He's living on the Cape and his girlfriend has just broken up with him because his wife has reappeared.  Seems he can't quite get a divorce and his girlfriend has run out of patience.  He goes to his friend's house and she leads him down to the boat at the dock and shows him the dead body of her son-in-law.  It appears that he's committed suicide.  Mac's not quite so sure.

Before the killer is revealed, several people have confessed to the murder.  There's also another murder and a suicide.  Good grief!  I'd hardly consider this a quiet Cape Cod summer!

When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to be an archeologist or a parapsychologist - a ghost hunter.  This from a kid who got homesick after spending a night away from home!  Did I think the ancient treasures and ghosts were going to come to me?  I even looked into attending Duke University, which had a parapsychology department.  As it was, I enrolled at a local college to major in what was then called Library Science, but I dropped out after three boring and inane weeks to experience 'real life'.

But before then, I read everything I could get my hands on about parapsychology and haunted houses.  Tops on my list was Borley Rectory, The Most Haunted House in England.  What a place!  If only I could have gone there!  Or maybe I'm glad I didn't.

The Ghost Hunters is a fictionalized version of the story of Borley Rectory and Harry Price, who was a famous English ghost hunter in the 1920s and 1930s.  The book certainly put a different slant on poor old Harry than what I had picked up by reading about him and reading his books.  Even so, the thrill was still there.  I was on the edge of my seat at several points.  I mean, what's better than a good ghost story?