Mother’s Helper

After living here almost three years, I decided that it was time to reclaim the ornamental beds. As I dug out native tree saplings, well-rooted blackberry vines, mountains of oregano that had gone wild and some unappreciated shrubbery, I was not alone, thanks to the faithful companionship of Augie. He stayed right with me, tucked under the shrubs, unless he happened on a tennis ball or right-handed (never, ever a left one) garden glove that just begged to be buried in the freshly turned soil.

20160630_123052(0) 20160630_123707 20160630_134036 20160630_134057How can you complain about hard work when you’ve got good company?

Thumper, Bambi and his brother, Bob

Now that summer has arrived, I have more time to notice the wildlife in our own backyard. This past week, Thumper the rabbit came by to trim our grass at the same time Bambi and his brother, Bob, meandered through to trim our blackberry leaves. You really do have to appreciate helpful neighbors.

Thumper

Thumper

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Bambi and Bob

DSC_0122 According to my best naturalist skills and the National Audobon Society’s Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest, Thumper is probably a brush rabbit, while Bambi and Bob are mule deer.

Book Review: Bitcoin Bluz

Product DetailsBitcoin Bluz opens as an approximately $300,000, custom Mercedes Benz SLS GT Roadster is seamlessly stolen from inside a high-end, Atlanta car dealership in the night. Just days before the theft, Annette Dupart, a twenty-seven year old CPA with a concealed weapon permit and a black belt in karate, had arrived on the scene. Working for an automobile consulting firm, Annette was hired to audit the dealership. Absentee owners had become concerned about three, earlier, high-end car purchases, all made under mysterious circumstances with Bitcoins, an internet currency, suggesting money laundering. After the Roadster’s theft and two, shocking murders, Annette, with the help of a programmer named Vijay Singh, becomes enmeshed in a strange world of computer gaming, avatar-costumed suspects, embezzled Bitcoins, and international intrigue. Can Annette discover who is behind the anonymous car purchases, who stole the Bitcoins and from whom, and who has the stolen Roadster before more people die?

Patrick Emmett has written a good mystery. First, Annette Dupart is a great character. Petite, strong and no-nonsense, Annette is reminiscent of a younger version of Sue Grafton’s popular Kinsey Millhone. Second, as a retired automotive manufacturing executive, Emmett clearly knows the world of which he writes. Furthermore, Bitcoin virtual currency and Bitcoin mining are not yet common knowledge. Emmett does a good job of making that world comprehensible to his readers. The mystery itself is also solid. While readers will have a general idea of who is probably at fault from the beginning, the actual details will remain unclear until the big reveal in the last few chapters. Emmett even provides a subtle bit of romance in the form of a tall, blond FBI agent. Bitcoin Bluz is an enjoyable mystery, and fans of strong, female sleuths will be left hoping that this is not Annette’’s last adventure.

(Originally published in Manhattan Book Review.)

Book Review: Dickinson In Her Own Time

Product DetailsDickinson in Her Own Times provides a fascinating, unique perspective into the life and work of Emily Dickinson. This book is a compilation of personal letters, interviews, and memoirs by those who knew Dickinson and her work including her family, friends and acquaintances, and her reviewers. These sources provide an almost eyewitness account of the transformation of Dickinson as the brilliant eccentric who broke poetic convention to her status as an almost mythic, literary legend. Beautifully organized, this book begins with documents elucidating Dickinson’s life from girlhood.

On arriving at her death notices, the book turns to the documents addressing her poems published posthumously, as they take on a life of their own. Finally, the volume concludes with the centennial celebration of Dickinson’s birth.

For those truly interested in the study of Emily Dickinson’s life and work, this volume is not to be missed. However, even those who are not passionate about Dickinson’s work may find value here because this book bears witness to the world’s treatment of genius and contains lessons for those who would break with convention and pursue creativity.

(Originally published in Manhattan Book Review.)

Book Review: Boar Island: An Anna Pigeon Novel (Anna Pigeon Mysteries)

Product DetailsWhen the young daughter of Anna Pigeon’s friend, Heath, becomes the target of a vicious cyber stalker bent on destroying the young girl’s life, all three escape to Boar Island off of the Maine coast, where Anna fills in for an absent chief park ranger. Not long after they arrive, however, they realize the stalker has followed them. At the same time, Anna accidentally becomes the target of an exceedingly disturbed ranger named Denise, who murders the abusive husband of her newly discovered twin.

Boar Island is exactly the kind of mystery readers have come to expect from Nevada Barr. The protagonists are fierce women who do not take anything lying down. Heath, in particular, has a biting sense of humor that is a delight to read. The antagonists are deeply twisted. Furthermore, Barr uses a rotating point of view to let her readers fully understand her major characters. Finally, she knows how to pace a story to build the greatest amount of tension possible. For those new to this series and for veteran fans, Boar Island will not disappoint.

(Originally published in Manhattan Book Review.)

Book Review: The Summer Guest

Product DetailsThe Summer Guest is a beautiful novel which interweaves the stories of three women. In the summer of 1888, Zinaida Lintvaryova, a young doctor recently blinded by a terminal illness, begins a journal which records her new friendship with a summer guest on her family’s property in the Ukraine–Anton Chekhov. In London in 2014, Katya, a young Russian immigrant, places great hope in the publication of Zinaida’s journal as she struggles with mysterious marital difficulties and the impending failure of her publishing business. Finally a translator in a small French village becomes enthralled by the possibility of an undiscovered novel by Chekhov that she might translate.

This novel has been termed “evocative” and “atmospheric,” and it is difficult to find better words to describe it. In particular, Zinaida and Anton’s discussions about life, death, immortality and art haunt the reader. Furthermore, Alison Anderson masterfully closes the novel by tying the three story lines together with a delightfully unexpected twist. Finally, it may further intrigue readers to know that Anderson based the Lintvaryovas and the Chekhovs on historical people, further blurring the line between reality and fiction. The Summer Guest is a delightful novel to savor this summer.

(Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.)

The Book Review: The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life

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In The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life, Brother David Steindl-Rast has written a manual for living a meaningful, contemplative life outside of a religious community. Given Steindl-Rast’s age and his reliance on his earlier works, the reader may suspect that this book is a culmination of a lifetime wisdom derived from study and practice. In any case, this small tome contains a powerful message that looks beyond the surface of the major spiritual traditions and even organized religion as a whole to find eternal truths that resonant deeply with the reader. Covering such immense topics as finding God through the senses, cultivating grateful joy, and our quest for ultimate meaning, this is not a book that is readily summarized. Instead, for those seeking answers and possibly solace, this is a book to be read, pondered, and annotated over and over again. While those who align themselves with a particular tradition will have no issue with this book, those who seek a way to live in and find meaning in this world outside of an organized religion may have found all the answers they seek.

(Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.)

Book Review: The Journey

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In The Journey, Nick and Laura Lobono, a young married couple, win a trip to Italy. Nick, who is somewhat emotionally closed off as a result of witnessing the towers fall on 9/11 and a suicide bombing in a subsequent tour of Afghanistan, dreads touring with a group. His worst fears are confirmed when he and Laura arrive in Italy and meet their rather interesting tour group: a well-educated, elegant tour guide depressed by a job that doesn’t begin to tax her talents and a bus-driving Lothario with a girl at every stop; a minister and his wife, both of whom bear a hidden burden; two man-eating sisters; two cane and walker-wielding older ladies; a troubled young girl who makes some dangerous choices; two surprisingly interesting nuns on a mission from the Vatican; an obnoxious, wealthy man, his sorely beleaguered wife, and their two camera-obsessed friends; and a pair of newlyweds, one of whom cries constantly. How can this tour possibly turn out well for Nick?

The Journey does not have a traditional story arc with rising tension, a climax, and denouement. Instead, this story meanders with the group’s tour of Italy. As Maresca’s characters visit various famous or not-so-famous sites and dine on mouthwatering cuisine, they slowly reveal their individual stories. Throughout the novel, Maresca interweaves wonderfully descriptive passages about Italy, its history and art. Indeed, information revealed in the nuns’ particularly intriguing historical research begs for independent research to determine if it is in fact true. By the end of The Journey, the reader may feel as though he or she has taken a vacation to Italy and met a group of friends without ever needing to apply for a passport. Moreover, some may even hope for a sequel to discover how events played out for some of these endearing characters.

(Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.)

Book Review: Devil’s Paintbrush

Product DetailsDesiree Alvarez is a poet who imbues reality with the mythic and mystical to create striking imagery. Alvarez, who created the cover art for Devil’s Paintbrush with a flamethrower, is also an artist, which may partly explain her strong visual images. For example in Yours, In Snow, she writes, “Your eyes, smoked blue, are full of mountains / and something beyond that keep me.” In Chorus of Snow Quartz, “Lichen glows as if a place could be a lover.” In Indian Elephant, the speaker slips out at night to “watch the pearls of gulls string the abandoned pier.” In Familiar where the speaker mourns her dog, “the wind blew a hole right through me in the shape of a dog running on my first night without you.” Given the beauty of her words, it comes as no surprise that Alvarez has won numerous awards, fellowships and residences, including the 2015 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize for Devil’s Paintbrush. For those who seek a haunting line, Devil’s Paintbrush provides ample material to savor.

(Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.)

Book Review: Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart

Charlotte Brontë by Claire HarmanIn Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman tackles the life of one of the most famous women writers in British history. In just under four-hundred pages, Harman relates Bronte’s life from birth until her untimely death from what Harman believes was hyperemesis gravidarum resulting from a pregnancy during her brief, but happy marriage to Arthur Nicholls. Along the way, Harman details Bronte’s isolated childhood, her difficult years as a teacher and governess, her yearning to return to her family, her unrequited passion for two men, her and her sisters’ struggles to become published, the death of her siblings, and the celebrity her work eventually engendered. Through this biography, Harman establishes Bronte as a surprisingly strong, at times difficult, but passionate woman who relied deeply on her own experiences to create her work. As a result of Bronte’s close ties to her sisters, Harman also provides interesting insights into Emily and Anne Bronte’s lives. For those intrigued by the woman behind Jane Eyre and Villette, this meticulously researched and detailed biography is sure to please.

(Originally published in San Francisco Book Review.)