30 May 2005

Reads & Listens, May 2005


The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn
Reed may be the son of the King and Fiona may be meant for more than safe-keeping ... pretty good coming of age novel with a few twists which may surprise some readers.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Just to prove that I am a freak, I will now admit I never read the Secret Life of Bees. It's just never appealed to me. I picked up the Mermaid Chair, because I liked the cover and the inside flap made the novel sound a bit like an Alice Hoffman work ... and it was. Funny and sad all tangled together, it was a delicious read.

Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food by Susan Marks
Entertaining and informative look at the way Betty Crocker changed the way American women cook and how the development of corporate marketing impacted the way we perceive food. Also, examines the mechanics of modern food processing. Excellent companion to Something from the Oven or A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove.

The Good Body by Even Ensler
Disappointing. The Vagina Monologues were so shocking and uplifting and I expected the same of The Good Body, but what I read were tired cliches about why women don't like their bodies or how chubby women can be strong. It didn't open any new vistas of understanding for me. Indeed, reading it made me feel kind-of pissed off and cheated. And then I saw the Ensler's photo and just wanted to throw the book across the room. Oh, I know, fat is as much a psychological state as a physical one and even skinny bitches feel fat, but really.

Roller Birds of Rampur by Indi Rana
Sheila, 17, was born in India but grew up in London and thinks of herself as English. But when her boyfriend dumps her because she's not English enough and her best friend is sent "home" to India for an arranged marriage, Sheila begins to wonder who she really is and where she belongs. While the books provides a great deal of philosophical and cultural insight, the characters never really feel properly fleshed out.

Natural History by Justina Robson
Through genetic engineering, we have created the Forged -- human/machine hybrids made to do jobs too boring or dangerous for us to perform. Voyager Lonestar Isol nearly dies on an exploration mission, but it saved by the discovery of mysterious "stuff" that seems able to become whatever the user needs it to be. When she returns to Earth claiming to have found a new world, she starts sharing this "stuff" around and, obviously, it's not all good. The Unevolved (ordinary humans) don't want to give up the planet -- especially if it might have belonged to someone else -- so they send Isol back with archaeologist Zephyr Duquesne to determine whether the planet was/is inhabited. "Stuff" happens ...

This is the most original science fiction novel I've read in a long time and I look forward to reading it again.

Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam
He talks about social capital and how the United States doesn't have much of it, anymore. I think he means that, with the decline of certain kinds of organized social groups (bowling leagues), we lose that ability to socialize and to congregate in a regular way and this decreases our trust in others which leads to all sorts of bad things like depressed economies, increased crime rates, depleted environments, etc. I don't know if that's true or if I understand his theory properly, but it makes for interesting reading.

The Disappeared: A Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch
First book in the Retrieval Artist series (discounting the novella that started it all). A detective novel set on the moon with interesting treatment of alien cultures and multicultural laws. Some of the character development is weak or relies too heavily on repetition. Still, a promising start. Those who enjoyed Kristine Smith's Jani Kilian books may also enjoy this series.

Wait Until Midnight by Amanda Quick
The romance is not very sparky and the plot's a bit weak (who didn't guess the murderer was Durward Reed?? And "Durward?" Fuck's sake, what kind of name is that??), but it's still a pretty enjoyable bit of fluff.

Beware of God: Stories by Shalom Auslander
"Somebody Up There Likes You" and "Waiting for Joe" were two of my favorites.

Sarah: Book One of the Canaan Trilogy by Marek Halter (trans. by Howard Curtis)
Better than Orson Scott Card's Sarah, but is that saying much?

25 May 2005

Bevy of Birds

What with the weather finally becoming Spring-ish and the new bird feeder array and all, we've been inundated with birds. So far, I've seen:
  • downy woodpeckers
  • hairy woodpeckers
  • red-bellied woodpeckers
  • monstrously huge blue jays (possibly a nesting pair)
  • northern cardinals (ditto the above)
  • mourning doves
  • black-capped chickadees (a veritable mob)
  • white-breasted nuthatches
  • tufted titmouses
  • american goldfinches
  • house finches
  • chipping sparrows
While this may not be a list to make an ornithologist cheer, I'm pretty chuffed.
And, yes, some people do say "titmice." You can argue it either way, but I'm going with "titmouses," because it makes my mouth happy.

titmousestitmousestitmouses ... hairy woodpecker ...


15 May 2005

For This I Went To Grad School

I'm in the bathroom, staring blindly out the window, and trying not to be awake when I think "Oh! The Husband bought me a finial!" Then, I think that doesn't make any sense. A finial won't fit on our bird feeder pole. Then, I realize it's a different pole. Someone schlepped off to Wild Birds Unlimited, bought me a new double arch pole system with bird-shaped finial, squirrel baffle, and leaf branch and then installed it in the night. I'm wondering who it's from, but it's only six thirty in the morning. I couldn't possibly wake up The Husband to find out, could I?

I could. He says The Parents came and installed it while I was at work. It is the other graduation present my mother kept hinting about so madly.

It's so nifty! I could stand by the back windows all morning, watching the squirrels breeze up the pole and then shit themselves when they realize there is no access to the sweet sweet gourmet birdseed blend. There is only the Death Star of a squirrel baffle looming over them, eclipsing the sun and all hope of easy living.

12 May 2005

Celebratory Cherry Tree

Last Saturday, I came home from work and there was a tree sitting next to my driveway where no tree had been before. It was a beautiful little cherry tree about six feet tall and covered with clusters of tight pink blossoms.

My parents had dropped off my graduation present.

I cajoled my dad into coming over later that evening and planting it for me between the hammock and the black walnut. It's the perfect spot -- I can see the tree from all of the back windows and there's plenty of room for it to grow.

Also, finished planting and mulching the rose bed. Of course, after I mulched it, I went to the garden center for ... who knows what. (It's not as if I need a reason this time of year. I gravitate toward them without thought or hope of escape). Anyway, they had corn seedlings at the garden center and corn seedlings sounded kind of interesting ... Hmmm ... could possibly squeeze them in between the pickling cukes and the bush beans ...

Anyway, dug out the last third of the bed in the end of the driveway. Yes, the bed is in the driveway -- the driveway forks for the last five or six feet and there's another black walnut planted in the middle of the fork. It can make backing out a bit of a bitch in the winter, but I like having another shade tree in the front. The previous owners had left the plot around it as grass, but it seemed a pain in the ass to mow it so I have been slowly converting it to a day lily and daffs bed. I started with the best of intentions when we moved in four years ago, but ran out of steam two-thirds in and the last third has been weedy and horrible for too long. I'm edging the curbside with a star- shaped fragrant white phlox and then filling in with more lilies.

The problem is that I had been buying a fifty plant assortment of day lilies from the Whiteflower people -- an assortment no longer being offered. Had it offered last year, when I had no time to plant bulbs, but don't have it this year when I do. So I'm buying quart pots from different garden centers around the area, trying to build the biggest assortment I can while keeping with the colors found in the rest of the bed. More expensive this way, but I want to get it over with. Plant it, mulch it, and stamp it with a big ol' "done" stamp by next Friday.

I can always hope.