Tuesday, December 29, 2015

R. I. P. Turtle

Our hearts are breaking yet again.  Saying goodbye to seven beloved pets in ten years is too much.  We said goodbye to Turtle, the last of our pets, yesterday to spare her suffering.  Doing the right thing is sometimes the hardest thing to do.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Hopkins Manuscript - R. C. Sherriff

I knew a little about The Hopkins Manuscript before I borrowed it from my library.  I recently read Greengates by the same author, but this is a very different book.  I knew from reading a post by Thomas a couple of years ago that it was a science fiction work, a genre I'm not crazy about.  But I thought I might like this one because it takes place on Earth, not in outer space, with real people, not aliens.  I was also curious to read more by R. C. Sherriff since I liked Greengates so much.

The Hopkins Manuscript is presented as a document found in the far future, written by a survivor of a terrible natural disaster.

Edgar Hopkins is a former teacher of arithmetic at a grammar school in England.  He's inherited some money, which allows him to purchase a country house and small holding, where he happily raises prize-winning Bantam chickens, and, generally, deigns to mix with the villagers.  He's very class conscious, although he likes to think he can bridge the gap between classes.  But he expects the lower classes to notice and appreciate it when he does.  Late in the book he says:

'Distinctions of class were gone for ever and I sat with Mrs. Smithson, the wife of a plumber, and Miss Bingham of the drapery store, talking to them almost as if they were my equals.'  He doesn't realize how ridiculously prejudiced he is.

He's a member of the British Lunar Society, a small group of amateur astronomers who meet in London.  When it's discovered that the moon has changed its course and is nearing Earth, he is one of the privileged first to know.  And boy is he frustrated!  He's dying to tell everyone that he's in an elite group of knowledgeable people.  After the news is broken to the general public, he makes sure everyone knows that he's known for months.

It's not known whether the moon will crash into Earth and obliterate it, or if it will just 'graze' it, causing much less damage.  I'm not going to tell you what happens because I found it quite suspenseful.  I'm not a scientist, but I'm pretty sure that things would happen very differently if the moon got too close to Earth.

When the news that Earth might be destroyed gets out, people react in different ways.  Some drink and riot and loot.  Others try to make up for the things they did and shouldn't have done.  The government keeps people busy by requiring that all the towns and villages construct dugouts to shelter the people from the expected atmospheric and geological disruption.  Storms and floods are anticipated.

When the people of his village enter the dugout on the night the cataclysm is to occur, Hopkins and his neighbors, Colonel Parker and his niece, Pat, and nephew, Robin, both in their late teens or early twenties, decide to brave the event and take what may come.  They stay in their separate houses, though.  

There is a catastrophe and Earth is battered by a couple of storms and a massive flood.  Many people are dead.  The people in the dugout mysteriously disappear.  Hopkins eventually finds out what happened to them, but he doesn't share this with Pat and Robin.  Colonel Parker is killed by a falling beam during the storm.  Hopkins asks Pat and Robin to come live with him, since his house is less damaged than the manor house.

Like Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson, they start over with what they have.  They rebuild their lives with things they can salvage or grow, and Hopkins, for one, appreciates it.  'The destruction of the big combines and chain stores had brought individuality back to English life:  the return of the craftsman and the master-man.'  (I wonder if the text is wrong here and if it should read 'the big companies'.)  He appreciates the security of self-sufficiency.

As the world slowly recovers, governments are re-formed and all work together to rebuild.  They form a United States of Europe to work together.  They face a common disaster, and, later, a common enemy.  But as things return to normal, countries, or, as Hopkins points out, the people who run them, battle over their shares of resources and access to those resources.  The common man only wants to live his life peacefully.

Apart from being an exciting and suspenseful story, it's a study of how people and governments react during and after an international disaster.  The Hopkins Manuscript was published in 1939.  But I drew some parallels to what could happen in our near future, and the future doesn't look promising.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Do Unto Animals - Tracey Stewart

This is a lovely book, both the contents and the illustrations.  Tracey Stewart has been an animal lover since she was a child.  She eventually became a veterinary technician.  She's also the wife of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show.  They made headlines a few months ago when Jon retired from the Daily Show and they announced that they were buying a farm in NJ and setting up a farm animal sanctuary.

In November, my niece Amy and I attended the Farm Sanctuary Gala in NYC, which honored Tracey and Jon for their commitment to animal welfare.  At the party, Tracey announced that they and Farm Sanctuary were 'getting married'.  Their farm in NJ will be an official Farm Sanctuary farm animal sanctuary.

Tracey's book is beautifully and copiously illustrated by Lisel Ashlock.  The text is comprised of short pieces about Tracey's experiences with animals and pieces about animal behavior.  It's simply and clearly written and is easy to read.  I think it's suitable for teaching children how to respect animals and how to effectively and appropriately interact with them.

She writes about the personalities of individual animals and the general nature of different species.  Pigs are smart, cows are extremely maternal, turkeys are curious, goats are playful and adventurous.  Most animals are very social.  They grieve, they feel the same emotions humans do, they feel pain.  There is no such thing as a 'dumb animal', not even in the vocal sense.  She makes strong arguments, in a very nice way, for treating animals much better than we now treat them.  Farm animals are the most routinely and commonly abused animals on Earth.  It's wrong to accept torture and suffering as 'normal'.  It's only 'normal' because humans have decided it is.

Tracey writes about cats and dogs and horses and about what their body language tells us.  We need to learn to listen and watch animals.  They may not speak English, but they are definitely communicating.  She also writes about wild animals and birds.  Their family takes part in the annual Audubon bird count each year.  

My husband and I have been supporters of Farm Sanctuary since the mid-1990s.  We've had two adopted cows there:  the late, great Rhonda and our current dairy steer, an anomaly, Lawrence.  We met Lawrence when he was less than a year old.  He was such a baby that he sucked on the ties of my hoodie.  Now he's huge, but sweet.  Most male dairy cattle are slaughtered for cheap veal at a few weeks old or left to die (I've seen photos of them stacked up like fire wood) since they can't produce milk and haven't been bred to bulk up for beef.

You don't have to steel yourself to read this book.  It's not graphic and does not go into details of the abuses of animals.  It's approach is positive and hopeful.  This is a book to read, to share, and to admire.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Apple - Raspberry Pie

I recently read a recipe for Raspberry-Apple pie and cut it out of the magazine.  But I love my late mother's pie crust recipe, which is, and has always been, vegan.  I suspect that it might have come from the Crisco can.  But it's easy to make and it's lovely and flaky and I don't like any other pie crust.  So I ended up using her apple pie recipe and adding a cup of frozen raspberries, as the new recipe said to do.

The frozen raspberries made the filling too wet.  I noticed that before I dumped the filling into the crust, so I drained most of the liquid first.  That worked just fine.  I'm not sure I liked the recipe, though.  The pie looked a little gory to me.  Maybe I watch too many crime shows.  I've just started watching Fargo, which is rife with gore.  But funny.

Anyway, the pie tasted good and looked pretty good.  I would have liked it just a tad more golden, but I'm blaming that on my stupid, awful Wolf range that I hate.  The oven heats unevenly and does a bunch of other things I didn't expect in such a top of the line appliance.  I'd never buy another one.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tarzan of the Apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Did I ever think I'd read Tarzan of the Apes?  No.  Not until the last book I read, Browsings, convinced me I was missing a cracking good yarn.  It's free to download on a Kindle, so I did.

We all know the story, don't we?  John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, and his lovely pregnant wife, Alice, are on their way to a job in Africa when the crew of their ship mutinies.  The crew puts them off on the shore, leaving them with some supplies.  Clayton builds a cabin and manages pretty well.  But his wife is more delicate and dies shortly after their baby is born.  Clayton is killed by an ape right after his wife's death.

Kala, one of the ape's wives, has just lost her baby.  When she hears the human baby crying, she takes him and leaves her dead baby in the crib.  She raises Tarzan as an ape.  I'm going to leave out all the fights that Tarzan has with lions and other apes.  Let's just say he grows up to be a badass, King of the Apes.  The apes may be stronger, but Tarzan is a man and has better powers of reasoning.  He can outfight anything.

Then one day, another Clayton shows up.  This one is, if I understood correctly, Tarzan's cousin.  No one knows this, of course.  Tarzan thinks his mother was an ape and doesn't know who his father was.  Clayton, Professor Porter, his daughter Jane Porter, and his secretary Samuel T. Philander have a similar experience to the previous Clayton.  Crew mutiny, pirates, treasure, marooned on the shore, etc., etc.

The pirates leave them on the beach, but come back when a French ship follows them.  The pirates bury the treasure so they won't be caught with it.  The French arrive on the beach just after Jane has been kidnapped by one of the apes.  Tarzan takes off to rescue her but isn't sure he wants to give her back.  Meanwhile, the French are searching for the missing Jane and are ambushed by a tribe of cannibals.  The cannibals take the captain of the French party and Tarzan has to rescue him, too.

Tarzan nurses D'Arnot back to health, but by the time he's well enough to move back to the beach, everyone is gone.  Jane has left a note for Tarzan, who she doesn't realize is the man who rescued her.  By the way, Tarzan taught himself to read and write English from the books his father left in the cabin.  But he doesn't know how to pronounce the words, so he can't speak English, only Ape.

D'Arnot teaches Tarzan how to speak French, and some English.  They work their way back to civilization.  Tarzan wants to go to America to find Jane.  He loves her.  D'Arnot is intrigued by Tarzan and wants to know who he is.  He has fingerprints of the Clayton infant, found in John Clayton's diary, compared to Tarzan's fingerprints.  They're a match.  Tarzan is Lord Greystoke.

Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, well, meanwhile back in Baltimore, Jane is being forced to marry a man she doesn't love.  He funded her father's expedition to Africa to find a treasure and now he's calling in his chips.  Jane, her father, Philander, and the other Clayton, who also loves Jane and wants to marry her, go to an old family farm in Wisconsin.  Tarzan finds them there and rescues her from the bad man who is essentially buying Jane for his wife.  There's a forest fire, that's pretty exciting, and Tarzan rescues Jane again.

HOWEVER, the book ends with a cliffhanger.  I think there are twenty-five Tarzan books and I do not want to read them all.  But in the best Saturday afternoon serial movie style, stay tuned for the next book to find out what happens next!  Damn!!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Browsings - Michael Dirda

Hey, I didn't take this photo and it's still out of focus!  Maybe it's not me after all.

I was sure I'd read other books by Michael Dirda, but he doesn't appear in my Books Read list.  I know I have one unread one in my possession.  But I hadn't heard about this one until I read Stefanie's blog about it.

This book is a year's worth of his 'Browsings' columns, on books, reading, writing, and assorted other subjects, written for The American Scholar.  I've added far too many books to my TBR list, based on Dirda's columns.

As I read this book, I decided that Mr. Dirda and I must be twins separated at birth.  We don't look alike and he's a few years older than I am, but we sure agree on lots of things.  It's almost eerie.  We gravitated toward the same books and authors when we were kids, I agree entirely with his rants about his ill-fated trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and his local electric company, and his feelings about his aging mother in an assisted living facility mirror mine when my late mother was in an assisted living facility.  

'Mr. Zinsser, I Presume' and 'Style is the Man' are about writing well.  'Bookish Pets' is about animals in books and stories.  Dirda loves adventure stories, especially those written in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Jules Verne, A. Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling.  I love them, too.  I'm currently reading Tarzan of the Apes because, well, because I've never read it and it's on Dirda's list of the best adventure tales.  I made a list of them and plan to read the ones I haven't.  And maybe re-read the ones I have.
He is more fond of fantasy and science fiction than I am.  But I'm willing to dip into both genres if he suggests them.  And he does.  I don't like outer space science fiction, but I do like the kind where ants grow really big and eat all the people.  That's my idea of good fun.

He likes paper and notebooks, and so do I.  I'm guessing you might also have cupboards and boxes full of unused notebooks, tablets, and paper, right?  There is an essay on whether authors should continue to write in old age, one about book sales, and lots about book stores, especially used book stores.

Dirda says that as he gets older, he appreciates older books more than contemporary books.  I used to have a 'dead authors' rule of thumb:  an author had to have been dead for at least 50 years before I'd read him or her.  But I've read more contemporary fiction in the past few years than I ever have before.  That's mostly due to reading fellow book blogger's posts.

I think I've given you a taste of Mr. Dirda.  I enjoyed each essay and I look forward to reading more of his books.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Greengates - R. C. Sherriff

I love this book.  I read about another of the author's books on one of the book blogs I follow, but I can't remember which blog.  As I researched his novels further, I believe I also read about The Hopkins Manuscript on Thomas's blog a long time ago.  The two books, from reading one and reading about the other, couldn't be more different.  The Hopkins Manuscript is science fiction, about the Earth after a collision with the moon.  I've just put it on hold at my library, which has, amazingly, several of Sherriff's books.

Greengates, however, is a quiet book.  But it enchanted me.  Maybe partly because my husband and I are easing into retirement and are facing a lot of the problems and issues that Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin face.  Also because it's about a quieter time in the throes of change.  Very much like today, although I'm not sure I can really say we live in a quiet time by anyone's definition, except maybe the future's.

Mr. Thomas Baldwin is retiring from a career in business.  He's certain he won't be like the newly retired man found hanging in his garage.  He plans to 'do things'.  He will take better care of his health.  He will garden, of course (this in an English book).  Astronomy?  Geology?  Maybe he will be an historian, although he often falls asleep over his book.  His wife, Edith, suggests he write history for the common person, about the things ordinary people are interested in, not all dates and names.  Publishers reject his articles.  Mr. Baldwin is depressed.

Having Mr. Baldwin around all day every day is driving Edith and their old servant crazy.  He's disrupting their longstanding schedules and routines.  He has a fight with the servant when he takes her house broom to sweep up leaves.  Edith can't take her nap in the afternoon because he sits in her chair.  He reads her newspaper instead of his.  She asks herself how he would feel if he had come back from lunch at his job and found her sitting in his chair!  "It was funny how Tom seemed to think that because he had retired, she had retired, too."  This cannot go on.  Adjusting to retirement is not easy and is not what many people expect it to be.  She feels bitter and resents him.

Tom feels old and finds himself preoccupied with his health.  He's gone from a hearty, healthy man in his late fifties, to an old, useless man who has nothing important to do.  He dogs his wife, waiting for her to return from shopping, asking her where she's been and when she'll be back.  They haven't made a lot of friends.  He has no one to talk to, to teach him about his imagined new interests.  (We should be thankful for the Internet!)  He's lonely and depressed, and she's unhappy.

Mrs. Baldwin tries to cheer him up by suggesting they go out to the country and take a walk that they used to take years ago.  Reluctantly, he agrees.  They find some of the path the same and enjoy the peace of the countryside, but as they top a crest overlooking the old village of Welden, they're horrified to see a new housing estate under construction in the lovely meadow.

They look around some of the built and partially built houses, grumbling that the houses would be falling to bits in five years because of what must be shoddy construction.  A salesman appears and asks them if they'd like to see the show house.  They're there, so why not.  They fall in love with all the conveniences that their old house doesn't have.  Everything is new and clean and modern.  There's central heating.  Their old house is damp and dark and old  -  like they are.  Certainly they'd feel rejuvenated in a new house.  It would keep them young.

They sell their house and auction off all their furniture.  They buy one of the new houses, to be constructed in a far corner lot under a magnificent elm tree.  There are many ups and downs before they move into the new house.  They're excited, they're devastated.  It's a hard process.  Even when they close the door of their old house for the final time, they wonder if they've made a mistake.  Will the new house and new neighborhood be all they hope?

It turns out that it is everything they had hoped it would be.  Their lives become easier and more comfortable, they make new friends, Edith takes over the gardening and makes new friends, and Tom becomes president of the Welden Close Club, a country club for the estate.  They again have purpose and are enjoying life.

I love his writing style, too.  "The room was at its best in the winter warmth, for the sun had a way of pointing out things that the standard lamp forgave."  "It was a doleful clock at the best of times, but it looked at its worst at twenty-five past six, when its hands gave it a dreary, drooping mustache."  "...a high wind one night that unraveled Mr. Baldwin's leaf heap and restacked it against the kitchen door."  "There's nothing in our garden that's got enough spirit to catch hold of your trouser legs and tear them."  There's a funny part when Tom can't get to sleep in the new house.  "What did one do with one's arms upon a normal night in bed?  Wherever he put them they either slipped down or tugged his pyjamas.  One arm was a yard too long - the other a yard too short."

I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it.  Is it a sign?  Should Jack and I uproot ourselves and try to find a more satisfying life?  Or does that only work in fiction?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Playing With Fire - Tess Gerritsen

I don't usually read stand alone books by authors whose series I read.  The characters in the series are what keep me coming back.  I love Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles series (not the TV series, which couldn't be farther from the books).  I thought, however, I'd try this one.

Julia Ansdell is a professional violinist.  While on tour in Rome, she buys a piece of old, handwritten  sheet music in an antiques shop.  The proprietor can't tell her anything about the composer:  L. Todesco.

Back home, Julia is practicing the piece, called Incendio, when her 3-year-old daughter, Lily suddenly stabs their old cat to death.  The next time she's playing Incendio, Lily stabs her in the thigh.  A nicely placed toy truck on the stairs causes her to fall.  She's certain there's something evil in Lily and that Lily is trying to kill her.  Julia's mother died in an insane asylum after she dropped her newborn and he died.  Is this propensity for evil hereditary?  Or does Incendio cause people to do evil things?

Julia and a friend go to Venice to try to find out more about the composer.  While there, someone tries to kill Julia.

Playing With Fire alternates Julia's story and the story of Lorenzo Todesco, a young violinist in Venice during World War II.  Lorenzo's story is more interesting than Julia's.

Tess Gerritsen, herself a musician (and physician), wrote the piece of music called Incendio.  You can listen to it at a website she provides.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Information Received - E. R. Punshon

I read this book on my Kindle, hence the blurry photo of my Kindle.  I love my Kindle case.  Stefanie at So Many Books suggested it several years ago.  It has a neat little light tucked into the side and it can also stand up for reading while eating.

A very rich, very mean man is found shot to death in his billiards room.  Seems like the beginning of a rousing game of Clue.  Sir Clarke in the billiards room with the revolver.  His daughter and his step-daughter are in the house, as are some servants.  A mysterious man is seen outside the window of the music room, where his step-daughter is playing the piano.  Another man is seen leaping over the neighbor's garden fence.  The safe at the other end of the house has been burgled.  Talk about a quiet evening at home!

Bobby Owen is a constable patrolling near the house.  He's first on the scene when the alarm is sounded.  Bobby's trying to make a name for himself, climbing the police ladder.  His boss, Superintendent Mitchell, has his eye on him after he discovers several leads in the murder and often appears in the middle of the action.  I like Mitchell's rule that you should always have at least two sandwiches with you, because you never know how long you might have to wait.  I'm all for sandwiches.

Sir Christopher Clarke, the dead man, is hated by lots of people.  His daughter has married against his will, although we're not sure he knows that.  He dislikes the man she's in love with.  He's eager to get his step-daughter married off because she knows something that makes him uncomfortable.  Fortunately, she and the man she's to marry actually love each other.

Who killed Sir Christopher?  To tell you the truth, there were just too many prospective killers, too many motives.  All of the possible people were acting dramatically, looking horror stricken, being silent, rushing around in fast little cars, and all swearing that they won't tell what they know.   There were mysterious people seen and then not seen, unable to be found.  This is a spider web of a mystery with so many red herrings that I lost interest about 3/4 of the way through.  It didn't help that the last three or so chapters were a letter left by the killer  -  who is in turn killed.  The killer explains in great and mind numbing detail why Sir Christopher was killed.  I HATE mysteries that end with pages and pages of explanations.

I have a couple more of Punshon's mysteries on my Kindle.  They've recently been available for a few dollars each.  He apparently wrote about 35 mysteries with Bobby Owen as the protagonist.  I'll try another one or two to see if they're any different, but the reviews I've read on line mostly say that the books are slow moving and the plots are complicated.  I'll take a break before I read another.


My wonderful niece gave me these hand warmers for my birthday in August.  Until the weather turned colder recently, I hadn't worn them.  I don't know where she got them, but are't they adorable?

I'm so dense, though, that it took me a while to figure out what they said.  If I held my hands up to a mirror, the letters were backwards.  If I turned my hands around, the letters were out of order. (unless I crossed my hands).  I finally put them down on the table in the proper position and voila!  MEOW!