Thursday, September 29, 2016

September Books

I read a lot of interesting books this month.  They ran the gamut from my usual preponderance of mysteries to an older novel, a book by a vegan runner, MOBY DICK (!!), and two memoirs of sorts.

     The Light Years  -  Elizabeth Jane Howard

     Eat and Run  -   Scott Jurek

     The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating  -  Elisabeth Tova Bailey

     Lament for a Lady Laird  -  Margot Arnold

     MOBY DICK (I'm sorry, I'm just so proud I read it!)  -  Herman Melville

     Murder in Stained Glass  -  Margaret Armstrong

     A Cat of a Different Color  -  Lydia Adamson

     A Great Reckoning  -  Louise Penny

     In the Company of Dolphins  -  Shaw

     The Blue Santo Murder Mystery  -  Margaret Armstrong

     Something Borrowed, Someone Dead  -  M. C. Beaton

     Widowmaker  -  Paul Doiron

Widowmaker - Paul Doiron

I read five books in the five days we were in Maine (2 days out of the week were travel days), but I've only read one in the three and a half days since we got back to Philly.  Mostly, I've been doing laundry, buying groceries, and going through a week's worth of mail and newspapers (for the crosswords).  Yesterday, Jack and I walked up to the library to pick up Widowmaker, which they were holding for me.  I read it in two days (technically, a day, since I started it yesterday afternoon, didn't read it last night or this morning, and finished it this afternoon).

This is a series that Elaine, of Random Jottings, in Colchester, England, posted about a few years ago.  Here he was, in my own backyard, but I had never heard of him.  Him being Paul Doiron, him being Mike Bowditch, Maine game warden.  Now I've read all seven of these books.

Mike Bowditch is a game warden who has trouble following the rules.  He's had many close calls and they've left him with both physical and emotional scars.  He's only 29 in this book.

Widowmaker is a ski resort on its last legs after a fatal accident involving poor maintenance of a ski lift.  A woman who works there finds Mike and tells him she wants him to find her missing son  -  who she says is Mike's half brother.  It could be true because Mike's father was a womanizer and a poacher and a general bad guy.  Mike balks at first and then decides he has to find out the truth.

Along the way, he encounters a couple of druggies and confiscates their wolf dog.  It's illegal to own a wolf dog in Maine unless you have a permit.  There's something about this wolf dog - his superior intelligence, his acceptance of people, his wildness - that gets to Mike.  The dog will be euthanized unless Mike finds someone qualified who will take him.  He finds a wolf rescue in New Hampshire, but, after visiting it, Mike can't leave him there.  The dog is domesticated but has killed a deer, so he's considered dangerous.  DNA shows that he's 90% wolf.

The boy who may be Mike's half brother is a convicted sex offender.  When he was 18, he had sex with his underage girlfriend.  Her father found out and convinced / coerced his daughter into saying it wasn't consensual.  Now the boy's branded a sex offender, on the sex offender list, but without a description of his crime.  He's been sent to a logging company that is the last resort for sex offenders who can't find work anywhere because of their conviction.  In reality, it's a slave labor camp.

Mike can't find the missing boy, but his bloody truck is found.  Someone decides to become a vigilante and rid the world of sex offenders and perverts, which is whomever fits their own description of pervert.  Was Mike's brother one of his victims?

The last several pages flew past as I raced to the end.  Which was slightly disappointing.  I like books  with all the loose ends tied up tightly and this one didn't do that.  Just a personal preference.  But, it was a fun read and very exciting in parts.  Snowstorms, wolf dogs, cross dressers, helicopter crashes  -  what more do you want?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Isn't this pretty?  Wouldn't you want to spend a few days looking at lighthouses and fog and crashing waves and sea birds?  Well, we would and we did.

We rented the most charming cottage in Cape Elizabeth, ME, for a week to escape the heat, humidity, dirt, and noise of Philadelphia.  The owner, an artist and gardener, met us and showed us around.  Her talents are obvious at the cottage.  The cottage has been completely updated and decorated in a casual, chintzy, antiquey style.  It has new bathrooms (1.5), a new kitchen, and everything you might need or want to be comfortable.

The cottage is surrounded by gardens, with hydrangeas, ferns, turtlehead (a native favorite of mine and the bright pink flower above), touch-me-nots, and other plants.  Our last morning there, we saw a deer up to her neck in ferns, just her long ears and dark eyes showing.  We watched the squirrels, chipmunks, and little red squirrels.  I will, however, never talk to you again if you rent the cottage when we want to rent it  -  which is all the time!

The road is private, so there's little traffic.  It's very dark and very quiet at night.  The cottage is less than 500' from a private cove.  The cottage isn't oceanside, but you can see the ocean from the cottage.  In the morning, I would lie in bed and watch the sun come up over the sea.  At night, the sound of waves lulled us to sleep.  I tried to buy the cottage, but she wouldn't sell!  I don't blame her.  It's paradise.

We walked to the cove every day and sometimes twice a day.  Maine beaches are usually pebbly, as this one is.  You could swim  -  if you dare to brave the frigid Maine water.  (And if you can swim, which I cannot.)  The ocean is endlessly fascinating.  There are birds and boats to watch.  The sea changes every few minutes.  At the beginning of the week, there was fog, which meant fog horns, and which made me want to watch the old TV series Dark Shadows.

At this part of the coast, the rocks look like petrified trees.  I was sure they were, but I found out they are 400-million-year-old silt formations.  They still look like petrified trees to me.

Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper both painted here.  Edward Hopper painted Two Lights Lighthouse, which is the one in the top photo.  The coast abounds with lighthouses, and shipwrecks.  Portland Head Light is a short drive away.  You can go to Crescent Beach State Park, Two Lights State Park, or Fort Williams Park, all less than twenty minutes away.  Two Lights was our favorite and the closest. This is Portland Head Light, which Hopper also painted.

Portland is less than a half hour drive and has restaurants, bars, shops, and is a nice old town down by the water.  We always stop at Gritty McDuff's because an old friend of mine used to bartend there.  Back in 1989, we were bartenders in Boston, and then she moved to Portland.  Cape Elizabeth has at least two good restaurants, too.  We were impressed and pleased by the two we ate at:  The Good Table and Rudy's.  C Salt Gourmet Market makes great sandwiches

There was also time to read.  I read five books while we were there.  I've posted about a couple of them.  We sat on the open patio in the afternoons and read.  Jack read his vacation book.  I cannot understand people who only read on vacation - and yet I'm married to one.  On the other hand, he probably can't understand why I can't keep my nose out of several books at one time.

Here are some random photos of the fog and the rocks.  Most of the days we were there, the sun was shining, but I, being photophobic, prefer the foggy days.  I already miss everything about Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and can't wait to go back.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Blue Santo Murder Mystery - Margaret Armstrong

I just read and reviewed another book by Margaret Armstrong, Murder in Stained Glass.  I bought The Blue Santo Murder Mystery at the same time, and I've just bought the last of her three mysteries, The Man With No Face.  These are all Kindle books at about $3.99 each.  A very good deal, I think.

This book starts a bit backwards, with the news that the richest woman in America, Mrs. Kearny-Pine has disappeared while vacationing in New Mexico.  The news is shocking.  Then the book moves to Tecos, New Mexico, before Mrs. Kearny-Pine disappears.

The Blue Santo is a hotel, as well as the name of a carved figure over the hotel's mantelpiece.  The local Indians / Native Americans consider it bad luck.  Mrs. Kearny-Pine wants to buy it.  Very badly.

She's not an easy woman to live with, as her younger, philandering husband knows, or to deal with, as her high-living nephew, Algy, or her very nice young cousin, Rosalie, know.  Or as many other people know.  She wants what she wants and she gets what she wants.

But when she disappears from the hotel, everyone is out looking for her.  It's a real puzzle.  She's just vanished.  Everyone has a theory.

Despite some stereotyping of Indians / Native Americans (this was published in 1941), I think the author did a good job with her characters and with describing the landscape, although I have to admit I've never been to New Mexico.  If I'm wrong, tell me.  The plot was good, too, ending with a twist just when I thought I knew everything.

I'm eager to read The Man With No Face.  There don't seem to be any consistent characters in the three books.  I was sorry that Miss Trumbull from Murder in Stained Glass didn't reappear.

While I was trying to find out how many mysteries Margaret Armstrong had written, I found that I probably have some of her books:  she was a highly sought-after designer of book covers and book bindings.  Before I stopped collecting things, I collected what I call illustrated bindings, those gorgeously decorated books that it would be a shame to cover with dust jackets.  Most of her covers were Art Nouveau, a style I particularly like.  Some of her art is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and she wrote and illustrated the first book on wildflowers of the American West.  A very interesting woman indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Great Reckoning - Louise Penny

I've read all of Louise Penny's books and she never disappoints.  

Armand Gamache is now the head of the Surete Academy (there should be some accents over 'Surete' but if my lap top has them, I don't know where they are), determined to reform the way police cadets are chosen and trained.  It's a difficult job because there's been so much corruption.  He fires many of the professors and replaces them with people he knows to have integrity.  But some of his choices are questioned because they are those very corrupt people.  Gamache has his reasons.

He is also personally checking the applications to the academy, accepting most of the previously reviewed acceptances and rejections.  But when he comes to Amelia Choquet's rejected application, he reverses the decision and admits her.  She seems unsuited for the position:  pierced, tattooed, a rude street girl, who reads ancient Greek and Latin, or so she says.  Why does he seem to have a special relationship with her?  He's questioned about admitting her, but he has his reasons.

An instructor at the academy is murdered.  Gamache, Amelia, and several others are suspected.  As the case is investigated, dark secrets are revealed.  Gamache asks that a high official in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police review the investigation as an outsider since the investigation is being conducted by Isabelle Lacoste, a former member of Gamache's homicide squad and now head of that squad. 

Meanwhile, in Three Pines (where we all want to live), an old map has been found in the walls of the bistro.  It's of Three Pines, which has never shown up on any map before.  Not even now.  Gamache asks four cadets to investigate the map and find out all they can about it.  A couple of the cadets think it's busy work, a waste of time for a police officer in training.  Gamache has his reasons.

It all comes together in the end, the stories, the people, the crimes and their solutions.

And we find ourselves back in the warm circle of friends in Three Pines.

Louise Penny has written a touching Acknowledgements at the end of the book, allowing us into her personal life.  My heart goes out to her.

P.S.  As I post this, I see that there is an update to her Acknowledgements.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Murder in Stained Glass - Margaret Armstrong

This is one of the reissued Queens of Crime mysteries.  Margaret Armstrong is new to me.  I read it on my Kindle.  While I was doing that, I was wondering when it was written.  You know how it is:  on a Kindle, it's not easy to flip to the front or around in the book.  Anyway, it was published in 1939.    It sometimes feels more modern than that.

The narrator, a Miss Trumbull, goes to stay with an old school friend, Charlotte Blair, in the village of Bassett's Bridge, Connecticut.  She says she doesn't "enjoy visiting - most spinsters like their own homes better than other people's".  I'm not a spinster, but I like my home better, too.  Charlotte has always been a bit strange and she seems to have become stranger, birdwatching at night and having  odd spells, when she stays in her room for days.  The villagers think she's bizarre.  But her young cousin, Phyllis, who is staying with her, is charming and lively.

Anyway, Miss Trumbull, after making all sorts of excuses, goes to Bassett's Bridge and gets wrapped up in a murder.  A famous stained glass artist, Fredrick Ullathorne, works in the village.  He's currently working on a window for a New York City cathedral.  They all go to take a look.  And then he disappears, and bones and a false tooth of his are found in the ashes of the kiln in his studio.

Miss Trumbull needs to know what happened, especially when suspicion falls on Charlotte and on Phyllis's fiance, Leo, the artist's son.  She figures it out and is almost murdered herself.  There's quite a twist at the end.

I liked Miss Trumbull and I liked the description of the life she and her friends led, going to plays and the opera and teas in the city.  I believe there is one mystery that didn't get solved, but, on the whole, this is a satisfying and nice mystery.

Moby Dick - Herman Melville

I was beginning to wonder if I would ever write this post.  I started to read Moby Dick last summer.  Actually, at the suggestion of a couple of fellow bloggers, I simultaneously read and listened to it, using the Moby Dick Big Read site.  That was helpful.  When my mind started to wander, the reader's voice brought me back.  Most of the time.

Moby Dick could have been two good books:  one, the exciting adventure of Ahab, the captain of a whaling ship, obsessed with revenge on Moby Dick, the unusually vicious white whale that caused him to lose his leg;  the other, a fascinating and detailed look at the anatomy of whales and the intricacies of whaling  -  for those interested.

Interspersed between the chasing and killing of whales (which was hard for me to read, especially since we now know how intelligent and social whales are), are chapters that are deadly dull.  Do you think that Melville used this technique to reflect the voyage of a whaling ship?  They went to sea for three years at a time, seldom making land, floating around for days or weeks waiting to encounter whales.  Dull, dull, dull, excitement!

Moby Dick is so well known, but is it widely read?  I think it's a difficult book, because of the boring parts, so I suspect that even though many people know the story, they haven't read the book.  Truthfully, I didn't know what the ending was.  I'm sure I've seen the movie, starring Gregory Peck, but even so, I didn't know who won.  I was disappointed with the ending.  The last three chapters are exciting, but I wanted a more dramatic ending.  I wanted Moby to swim off while chomping on Ahab.

I made some notes while I was reading, but I'm not sure you want to read them all.  "..sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport;  whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers", "since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy", "... a man's religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another".  He laments the killing of old, blind whales to light the lamps of churches that preach compassion.  He and I both have a problem with churches and hypocrisy.

Melville encourages conserving the use of whale oil lamps, fearing for the lives of whales because people don't make the connection between lamps and whales.  (Like people often don't make the connection between lamb chops and the slaughter of baby sheep.)  In Chapter 65, he made me wonder if he was a vegetarian because he castigated those who eat animals, wondering why  'civilized' society reviles cannibals when they're no better, and even mentions (the) 'enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-fois-gras."  Hmmm.  Just sayin'.

There is some nice writing, sometimes bordering on the Dylan Thomas-esque, but a lot bordering on religious wailing ("Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild fowl finds his only rest", etc.).  Surprisingly, there were parts what were pretty funny.  I giggled when the sailors reefed their jackets into the sails and had to hang there until they sorted it out.  I admit that there were many times when I had no idea what he was trying to say.  There are probably books interpreting Moby Dick, but I'm done.  I got out of it what I wanted to get out of it.

(For Katrina, Ishmael was a Presbyterian.)

Ah, well, it's over at last.  I think I should celebrate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lament for a Lady Laird - Margot Arnold

Dr. Penny Spring is invited to the Highlands by an old school friend who has recently found herself an heiress.  She is now a 'lady laird'.  When Penny arrives at the remote estate, she finds her friend scared out of her wits.  The house is haunted.  Or someone is trying to frighten her off.

Penny believes it's the latter.  She gets to know the locals, their history, and their tangled relationships.  There are the lovers married to other people, the jealous homely wife, people who resent outsiders.  Then there are the murders.

Penny asks her sidekick, Sir Toby Glendower, to come and help her solve the mystery.  Which they do.

I like this series because most of them involve archeology and because I like the characters.  There's not much archeology in this one, other than an unexcavated long barrow.  But it was still a fun book.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Please Don't Let This Happen

Please sign up to sign on-line petitions.  Please call your congress people about this.  Donate if you can.  Every bit helps.  This is a betrayal of a responsibility.  It's money over right.  It's wrong.

We have breaking good news, and, unfortunately, bad news of the utmost urgency.
First the good news: Earlier today, the BLM informed AWHPC and The Cloud Foundation that it was cancelling plans to proceed with the mare sterilization experiments that we have been fighting since January. The agency stated that its decision to drop these dangerous and cruel experiments was a direct response to our First Amendment lawsuit to uphold the public's right to observe and document this government operation.
There is no time to celebrate this victory sparing 200 mares from invasive experiments that would have endangered their lives and the lives of their unborn foals.
That's because also today, the BLM National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board passed an “emergency” resolution calling on the BLM to “euthanize” captured wild horses in holding facilities. Only one member – our friend and colleague Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation – dissented.
That’s right, this “citizen” advisory board wants the BLM to kill up to 45,000 innocent wild horses and burros! And the BLM will be only happy to comply….if it can convince Congress to lift the current ban on destroying healthy horses.
The move to kill captured wild horses is the culmination of the BLM’s deliberate creation of a crisis -- both on the range and off the range -- by refusing to use the proven PZP fertility control to humanely manage wild horse populations, and by failing to adequately reduce livestock grazing throughout five years of drought in the West.
Now the agency wants these American icons to pay the price for its willful and decades-long mismanagement.
In the coming weeks, we will be sharing actions you can take to fight this pending tragedy. Meanwhile, please donate as generously as you can as we double down on our grassroots and legislative work to prevent the mass killing of wild horses and burros.
This is a do or die moment... Thank you for being on our team as we fight for the future of our mustangs and burros.  
In Freedom,
Suzanne Roy, Executive Director

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hot, Hot, Hot!

We had a few days of cool weather with lovely breezes, thanks to Hurricane Hermine.  But the hot, humid weather is back.

This morning, I picked up Sybille Bedford's book A Visit to Don Otavio.  On page 6 of my edition, she describes this weather much better than I ever could.

     "It was steaming like a Chinese laundry, the heat hit us on the head like a club.  Summer in the large American cities is an evil thing.  It is negative, relentless and dead.  It is very hot.  The heat, radiated by concrete and steel, is synthetic, involuntarily man-made, another unplanned by-product of the industrial revolution.  The urban heat grows nothing;  it does not warm, it only torments.  It hardly seems to come from the sky.  It has none of the charm and strength of the sun in a hot country. It is neither part of nature nor of life, and life is not adapted to it and nature recedes.  In spirit and in fact, in architecture and habits, the eastern seaboard of the United States remains harshly northern, a cold country scourged by heat.
     Through the day a grey lid presses upon the city of New York.  At sunset there is no respite.  Night is an airless shaft;  in the dark the temperature still rises;  heat is emanating invisible from everywhere, from underfoot, from above, from the dull furnaces of saturated stone and metal.  The hottest point is reached in the very kernel of the night:  each separate inhabitant lies alone, for human contact is not to be endured, on a mattress enclosed in a black hole of Calcutta till dawn goes up like a soiled curtain on the unrefreshed in littered streets and rooms.
     This kind of suffering is quite pointless.  It does not harden the physique, it just wears it out.  Yet it goes on.  Clerks dream of deep cold lakes, of a camp in the Adirondacks, a fishing shack in Maine where, the myth goes, you have to sleep under a blanket."

Yes, that's just what it's like.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating - Elisabeth Tova Bailey

I read about this book a while ago but couldn't bring myself to read it.  I will admit here that I'm a bit of a hypochondriac and I avoid reading about illness.  It's too much like real life and that's not why I read.  However, while waiting at a hospital, I finished the book I was reading on my Kindle (Eat and Run) and needed something else to read.  I was already at the hospital and freaking out, so I decided I'd start The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.  I'm glad I did.

It was hard to read about the sudden and catastrophic illness, a mysterious virus, that felled, literally, the author.  It could happen to any of us.  She was confined to bed and had to have people come in daily to care for her.  She couldn't sit up or stand up, music was too disconcerting except for Gregorian chants played with the volume low.  However, she doesn't make this the focus of the book.

A friend dug up some wild violets, potted them up, included a wild woodland snail, and gave it to Ms. Bailey.  All she could do was lie in bed on her side and watch the snail.  The snail explored its new home but never strayed.  She watched it float up and down the pot and the plant, she watched it find cozy places to sleep.  It soothed her to watch if living its life.  She wanted to know more about the snail and its life, so she started to research snails.

I love the 19th century naturalists who observed insects and animals, people like Darwin and Jean-Henri Fabre, and, a surprise to me, Oliver Goldsmith.  I thought he only wrote The Vicar of Wakefield.  She quotes poets on snails.  Really?  Who knew there were so many poems about snails?

Because she her world was so restricted and she was in such close proximity to the snail, she watched it drink, either sipping with its many-toothed mouth (they have teeth that replace themselves, like sharks, I believe, a new set sliding forward when the old ones wear down) or absorbing water through its foot.  She discovers eggs it's laid, either previously fertilized or created hermaphroditically.

I made a lot of notes about snails while reading this, but I think you should read the book and find out for yourself.  They're amazing creatures.  They can mend their shells if they're damaged, they're nocturnal, they're the only land animal able to find calcium by smell, they're pretty much deaf and blind but have acute senses of smell, touch, and taste, they like to try new food but are crazy about mushrooms, although they're solitary creatures, they have been observed helping other snails.  They also have a very sensual courtship.

I am so glad I read this.  Not only is it a picture of a difficult illness and the remarkable woman who still managed to create in the midst of the chaos, it's a fascinating picture of the lives of snails.  It's not clear to me how much the author recovered, but she eventually went back to her Maine farmhouse.   She asks a friend to take the snail and its offspring back to the woods where the snail had lived so they could live the lives they were meant to live, as she wishes she could.  It was a kind and fitting end to this small book.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eat and Run - Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek grew up in Minnesota in a fairly strict household.  His mother developed multiple sclerosis and Scott spend a lot of time caring for her.  He was a tall, skinny kid, not particularly popular because he so busy helping his mother and father at home.  In his late teens, he took up running, becoming a world champion ultra runner.

And he is a vegan.  A vegan athlete?  There are still people who, despite more and more vegan champion athletes (David Carter, Carl Lewis, Fiona Oakes, Laura Kline, Mike Tyson, Torre Washington, Steph Davis, there are plenty more to Google), think the term is an oxymoron.  Well, those people are just morons!

I'm a vegan and I used to be a runner, but I'm not even close to his league.  Ultra runners run distances equal to four or five marathons.  50 miles, 100 miles, 135 miles.  They run up and down mountains, in snow and ice, in deserts.  They push their bodies to the limit.  Okay, I agree, they're nuts.

I was fascinated by Scott's life story.  He's only 42, but he's set world records and done things no one else has done.  He's a physical therapist, a philosopher, and a vegan chef.  At the end of each chapter is a section about the philosophy or physiology of running and a recipe.

I bought a copy of this book to give to my doctor, who is a runner.  Before I give it to her, though, I plan to copy some of his recipes for healthy, energizing food.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Light Years - Elizabeth Jane Howard

After reading different bloggers post about this series, The Cazalet Chronicles, I decided I wanted to read them, too.  Thank you to Harriet for her recent post, which reminded me that I shouldn't forget to try these books.  I splurged on all five books in the series, only spending about $20 for used copies.

The Light Years isn't a page turner, but it drew me in.  I wanted to spend time with the Cazalets at their country estate, with occasional trips to their London homes.

This volume begins in 1937 and ends in 1938.  War seems to be imminent.  But perhaps it's not.  We, of course, know what will happen.  Toward the end of the book, there is what I think is a very clear explanation for how and why Hitler came to power and managed to do what he did.

Most of the book is about the Brig and the Duchy, their three sons, Hugh, Edward, and Rupert, and their sons' families.  They're all spending the summer at the Cazalet country homes, Mill  Farm and Home Place, just down the road from each other.  The men go back and forth to London to run the family lumber business.  Except for Rupert, who is a teacher and an artist.

The dramas run the gamut from a lost cat, a child planning to run away, chicken pox, a clandestine affair, unwelcome guests, an unwelcome pregnancy, and the unexpectedly early and complicated birth of twins.  Parts made me smile, others made me sad.

It's not an exciting book, but it is an engrossing book.  I would love to have spent the summer with the Cazalets.  I plan to move right on into the next volume, Marking Time.