Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tough Traveling - The Big City


Tough Traveling is a fun meme that aims to tour all the tropes big and small, abhorred and loved that are littered across the fantasy landscape. It was conceived of and is hosted by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and here's how it's explained on the blog: 

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week's trope is The Big City:
There has to be somewhere in Fantasyland where everyone comes together. All roads lead to Rome after all. A place where traders prosper, politicians scheme, and criminals thrive.
Ever read a book where it feels like the setting is an additional character in the story?  That's how I'm approaching this list this week.  Stories that take place in cities that feel like they are especially important players.

- Camelot in the Arthurian Legends by Numerous Authors

In my mind, Camelot is the medieval version of a big city.  Well, at least medieval Britain.  Anyhoo, it is the center of all that is civilized and decent at that time and so famous it has a musical named after it and also a spoof musical named after it.  Apparently they eat Spam a lot in Camelot.

- Regalia in Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins 

I just read this book (and loved it!) and it features an underground world where humans, giant cockroaches, bats, rats and spiders uneasily co-exist.  All the humans live in the city of Regalia which is described as being very beautiful.  And you can have dinner with giant bats while there!


and while we're talking about  Suzanne Collins how about 


- The Capitol in The Hunger Games Trilogy

It sure looks lovely in the sun-kissed picture above instead of the pit of corruption and excess that it actually is.   It is definitely the rotten center of The Hunger Games universe and is almost the only city as long as the folks in charge keep everyone suppressed.


http://www.robertjacksonbennett.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/CityOfBulikov.htm
- Bulikov in City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Bulikov is a once great city that was the home of Gods and full of magic and miracles.  Then the Gods were beaten and Bulikov struggles to be just a regular city but it can't stop glimmers of the past popping up in random places.  It's a fascinating city in a great book!  And seriously click on the image above to explore it - cool stuff on Robert Jackson Bennett's web page.

- The Emerald City in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

I have to admit that I haven't read this one (though I will some day, I promise) so it's all based on movie but The Emerald City is the coolest, greenest city in Oz.


- Cardegoss in Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold 

Cardegoss is the royal seat in the kingdom of Chalion and Cazaril dreads having to go there.  He was betrayed there once and it is the last place in the world he wishes to be.  However when one is called to tutor a royal youngster, it is hard to refuse.  Cardegoss does in fact throw Cazaril's life for a loop and thus makes for a really excellent read!

Before I end this I also wanted to point out that some of our own Big Cities make a number of important appearances in fantasy literature, particularly Urban Fantasy and Alternate Histories.  London and its cousin across the pond, New York seem to be very popular and below are just a few of the books/series that popped out to me where these cities played an important role.

London
Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson
Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch
Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger

New York
The Diviners by Libba Bray
The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
The Hidden Goddess by M.K. Hobson
Fables Series by Bill Willingham

This ended up being a much longer list than I thought it was going to be!  I'll be interested to see what the fellow travelers and list makes come up with.  Which Big Cities would you add?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Books that Feature Characters Who Aren't What They Seem

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists.  It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


I love books with characters who are more than they at first seem.  It usually takes one of two forms:  1) the reader is aware of the character's true nature but the other characters in the book are not or 2) characters whose true character is hidden from both the reader and the characters within the book.  The secret of the character is carrying may be as basic as being a girl pretending to be a boy or a more subtle and complex distinction between their public and private personae.

As I started to make the list I was a little astonished at how prevalent this type of character was.  It was difficult to narrow it down to ten.  I also realized it was going to be hard to do the list without being a little spoilery particularly for those books where the characters true nature is initially hidden from the reader as well as internally in the book.  Any books where I felt that listing them may be a little spoilery have been put at the end under a heading so if you are really spoiler phobic you can avert your eyes.
 

1) Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

If you haven't read the books, you may at least be familiar with the popular TV show 'Dexter'.  Dexter is a forensic scientist who also happens to be a serial killer.  I've only read the first book in the series so I'm not sure if it continues as strongly after book one but I was struck with how well Lindsay walks the line and somehow manages to keep Dexter relateable.


2) The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (my review)

Myfanwy Thomas is no longer herself but she must convince everyone else in her super secret intelligence agency that she is still the same person.  She is suffering from a complete amnesia inflicted upon her by an enemy.  Her original self expected what was coming and prepared detailed documents to help her amnesiac self operate as normally as possible so that she could identify and bring down her attacker.  It is really really awesome!


3) 11/22/63 by Stephen King (my review)

I have struggled with Stephen King so I am somewhat surprised to find myself putting one of his books on a Top Ten list but it can't be denied that he's an accomplished writer.  This was the third book of his I tried to read and it was the first that really struck my fancy and got me hooked.  And it definitely fits in this list.  Jake Epping aka George Amberson must not only hide his identity as a man from the future but also that he is on a secret mission to stop the assassination of Kennedy.  He passes himself off as a professional writer, a real estate broker and finally a teacher and drama coach.  The story of his double life is fun if a tad long-winded. 

4) The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

This historical fiction novel set in renaissance Italy starts with the revelation that the death of an older nun from a debilitating illness is not what it seems.  As they prepare her body for burial it becomes clear that her illness was faked and she is decorated with an elaborate and sensuous tattoo on her torso.  The rest of the book is a rewind to the start of the nun's story and an unraveling of who she really is and how she ended up in such mysterious circumstances.

5)  The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (my review)

This whole book is not only about how looks can be deceiving but also how we choose to view ourselves and more importantly the fallacy of how society chooses to label people.  But don't let all that "moral of story" stuff put you off - this is a funny and rollicking adventure about people who are not what they seem.   

6) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (my review)

This is a classic book chock full of mistaken identities and people not really being who they seem.  Sir Percival Glyde surely has a secret but the most fascinating personality for me is the enigmatic Count Fosco.

*********************SPOILERS AHOY******************



7) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (my review)

Ostensibly starting as a story of a British boarding school, it slowly becomes clear that there is something a little off about the school and its students.  The true identity and purpose of the story's narrator and her friends is unclear until the final few chapters. 

8) The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie

This trilogy of books is bursting at the seams with characters who turn out to be quite different than they initially seem but it is most especially true of Logen Ninefingers and Baez.

9) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you've managed to stay spoiler free about this series, I salute you!  I thankfully read it having no idea what I was in for so the twists and turns the MCs take was a thrilling ride.

10 ) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I just finished this book and while I didn't love it as much as I hoped, it heavily and effectively uses characters who are not at all what they appear to be.  By the end, you'll have trouble trusting anyone!

Honorable mentions:  Miles Vorkosigan Series by Lois McMaster Bujold, Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, Monster Blood Tattoo Series by D.M. Cornish, Cinder by Marissa Meyer,The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, Princess Bride by William Goldman, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Song of the Lioness Series by Tamora Pierce, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, The Julian Kestrel Mysteries by Kate Ross, In the Woods by Tana French, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.

As you can see from my honorable mention list I had NO trouble coming up with excellent books for this list!  Which books would you add?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

RE-READ: The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/317519.The_Magician_s_NephewThe Chronicles of Narnia have always held a place on my favorite books shelf.  I've re-read the whole series countless times but it's been several years since my last re-read, probably at least a decade.  In the meantime, I've had a good bit more experience with reading widely in YA and MG literature as an adult.  I wondered how it might affect how I reacted to the Narnia books now.   I think it is safe to say that these books, for nostalgia's sake will always have a place in my affections but I was curious how I might react to them semi-objectively.  My goal is to re-read the whole series on audio this year.

The Magician's Nephew was the sixth Narnia book published but chronologically it is a prequel and tells the story of the creation of Narnia.  I decided long ago that I preferred to read the series chronologically rather than in publication order though I perhaps would not recommend that approach to a new reader of the series.  The Magician's Nephew is a strange little book - I remember thinking so when I first read it as well  - and has a different feel to it than the rest of the Narnia books besides perhaps The Last Battle.  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a much less strange introduction to the world of Narnia. 

THOUGHTS

- I have always liked the connections Lewis makes in this book to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Digory is the Pevensies' great Uncle who they go and stay with and the Wardrobe is made out of the wood of the tree that was grown from a magic Narnian apple.  The presence of a lamp post in the middle of a wood is explained as is the great uncle's unexpected response to the children's stories of Narnia.  It also explains who the White Witch is.  It's neatly done and I like the connections.

- There is much more winking and nodding to his audience in the book than I remembered.  He addresses young readers directly and makes several more "adult" jabs at the Uncle's lasciviousness and fondness for brandy.  It is really very slyly funny.

- In comparisons with some of the other MG and YA I have been reading I do have to to say that this book (and I suppose the entire series) comes across as less sophisticated, simpler and more deliberate in its message delivery.  It may just be the writing style which doesn't delve too deeply into the characters.

- I listened to the audio narrated by Kenneth Branagh and as you might expect, he does a great job though I wasn't crazy about his Aslan.  But how does one adequately portray Aslan?  I'm not sure it can be done.

- I was kind of keeping an eye out for sexism, as the topic had recently come up in a discussion about his books.  I ended up being thoroughly confused on the matter.  Lewis was definitely a product of his time - when Aslan chooses the first council among his new creations, he chooses only male animals.  However, I do think he had a very high opinion of women as Polly, and Digory's Aunt for that matter, are portrayed as being smarter and having a good bit more sense then their male counterparts.  *shrugs*

- The strange and eerie.  The wood between the worlds with all the ponds and quiet that makes one drowsy is such a creepy image.  There is a moment when the children almost forget to mark their "home" pond that is really frightening.  Jadis' world with the empty buildings and the row of thrones occupied by frozen giant human beings is also quite an eerie image.  Narnia for me produces happy comforting feelings but there is very little of that feeling in this book.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book still gets 4 out of 5 stars but one of those just might be awarded because of my love for the book in the past.  Lewis is definitely like no other but my greater experience with YA literature these days has rubbed a tiny bit of the shine off.  I'll be interested how I feel about the other books in the series as I get to them.
So what's your verdict on this book?  Have your feelings about it changed over time?  Where does it fall in relation to the other books in the series?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - In which I love books meant for 11 year olds

OUTSIDE

It's another Saturday of rain, rain, rain.  Rain isn't bad obviously but it is kind of a bummer because I am down in Southern Iowa teaching a class at a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop.  It's a really fun organization that provides a couple of weekends a year when women can get together in a friendly environment to get exposed to shooting, kayaking, fishing, bird watching, dutch oven cooking etc.... I'm teaching probably the least outdoorsy class, lol - Landscaping for Wildlife.  I feel bad for the participants that they are getting a very wet and soggy weekend.  Many states in the U.S. have a BOW program so if it sounds interesting check it out!

The garden is doing well but not a lot has changed.  I forgot to check on my mustard and flax seeds that I planted to see if they are sprouting.  They've gotten plenty of moisture!  I'm pretty disappointed in how my peppers and tomato starts are coming along - they are still pitifully small and are just producing secondary leaves.  At this rate they won't be ready to go out until late May.  Woe.  Woe is me. 

I also have a LOT to do elsewhere in the yard and am looking forward to having some free weekends to work on it. 

LIFE

It's been all about the pets these days.  A few weeks ago I crowed that my diabetic cat had gone into remission and she was no longer diabetic.  Sadly, it looks like that was too good to be true.  In the weeks since that had happened, she seemed to continue to lose weight, despite eating well, until she was getting very thin.  Then her appetite started to slide off.  I spent a bajillion dollars and got every blood test known to human kind and there was nothing wrong with her except mildly elevated glucose levels.  The vet said that if it wasn't a cat with a history of diabetes, she would have put the slightly elevated level down to stress.  Sigh.... So my cat is still just barely diabetic and had to go back on shots of insulin.  The good news is, since the shots began again, she is acting much more like herself and her appetite has leveled out.  The bad news is I am back to having a very high maintenance cat that needs regimented meals and shots twice a day.

It was also time for the dogs vaccinations and to get stocked up on all the heartworm and flea and tick preventative meds.  So LOTs of money spent at the vet this week.... My pets are my chosen luxury item so I guess that's how it goes:0).

Soggy Doggie
WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

M*A*S*H and more M*A*S*H.  It's become comfort watching for me - nothing like some time spent in the Korean War to relax you.  I think I just started season 8.  While the show definitely evolves and changes across the seasons, it really stays pretty good - at least so far.  I know Radar leaves in Season 8 which is a bummer because he is one of the better characters on the show.  Apparently the actor who played him was not AT ALL like his character and was a difficult personality who clashed with most everybody.  This is why I've gotten so that I like to know as little as possible about actors and authors that I like.

The reading has been good this week!  I finished my two middle-grade reads: The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series #1) by Maryrose Wood and Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles #1) by Suzanne Collins.  They were both 4 star reads and so much fun!  To replace those, I started listening to Mister Slaughter (Matthew Corbett series #3) by Robert McCammon which is part of one of my favorite historical mystery series and Diamond Solitaire (Peter Diamond #2) by Peter Lovesey.  I am also determined to finish Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #2) by Dan Simmons this week, before the end of April.  It's all series all the time over here!

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:
SUNDAY: Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey.  This is the first in the Peter Diamond series and you can probably surmise by the fact that I have started book two that I really liked it!!
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Authors.  Well, at least for now:0).
THURSDAY:  Tough Traveling: The Ace.  This is a character trope that is not a favorite of mine but I highlight a few characters from fantasy that I think fit this bill.

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:
SUNDAY: Re-read Review of The Magicians's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who... Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish
WEDNESDAY: Review of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
THURSDAY:   Tough Travels - The Big City.  Hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

Well it's 9:00 pm now on Saturday and I'm ready for bed, lol.  Hope y'all are more lively than I and that anyone participating in Dewey's read-a-thon today is still going strong!  Have a great week.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tough Traveling - The Ace


Tough Traveling is a fun meme that aims to tour all the tropes big and small, abhorred and loved that are littered across the fantasy landscape. It was conceived of and is hosted by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and here's how it's explained on the blog: 

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week's trope is The Ace

Some people are just ridiculously good at everything.  Be it magic, swordplay, or all of the above.  THE ACE has no equal.
As I was mentally flipping through my fantasy books, I realized I could think of  many characters that could be considered Aces (Hermione Granger, Miles Vorkosigan) but in my mind they don't really fit the trope.  The Ace is a little more extreme in my mind and they often swim in the shallower end of character development pool.  I am actually not a bog fan of this character trope unless it is done for ridiculousness' sake.


- Kvothe from the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

There's no way that you could accuse Kvothe of being poorly developed but he is ridiculously good at everything.  He's an exceptional wizard, fighter, musician and, as we find out in book two much to my eye-rolling disbelief, lover.  He's a legend and it will be interesting to see where else Rothfuss takes him.

- Legion (Stephen Leeds) from the Legion Series by Brandon Sanderson

Legion is an interesting take on this trope.  He does in fact have knowledge and skills in a vast array of subjects and his expertise is sought out by the most powerful people in the world.  His knowledge and skills however come from his wide array of personae or aspects, all experts in different disciplines, that most people, including Legion himself, believe are imaginary.  Is he really just so amazingly brilliant that his mind had to shatter to deal with it or are the aspects something else?

- Kelsier from The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson seems to like this trope (though the above and this one are the only books of his I have read) which is probably why I struggle with him.  Kelsier is a master Mistborn, a legend who escaped an inescapable prison and who plans to take downq no less than a God.  His plan to do so is also clever and incredibly well-planned.

-  Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so Gilderoy isn't really an Ace but he thinks he is or more accurately he wants others to think he is.  He's actually completely incompetent and reading his boasting and self-justification of his magic gone wrong is hilarious and very irritating.

I'm not sure why I couldn't come up with a million of these characters - I feel like I run into them a lot though maybe more frequently in romance novels.  If you want a vaster array than my paltry list, check out what the other participants have come up with

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Favorite (well kinda) Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists.  It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Because I like to make a bigger and hairier deal out of everything, I found myself perplexed by this week's topic.  What does favorite authors really mean??  There are authors whose work I adore and I've read a ton of their books but their books haven't really made an impact on my life besides giving me joy.  Then there are a handful of authors whose books I adore and though I've maybe only read 2 or 3 of their books, I've walked away feeling wiser or more aware of life's truths after reading them.  I feel like they both deserve a place don't they?  So I think I'll list some favorites from both categories.

They share a couple of characteristics: 1) If I haven't already I'd like to at least try everything they've written and 2) I've liked, if not loved, everything I've read by them.  They are first and foremost authors I enjoy reading.  There is nobody like Proust or Thomas Mann on here (I've actually not read either - perhaps they are delightful!).

The Impact Authors

1) C.S. Lewis

I'm pretty sure I've read all of his fiction and dipped my toe into his non-fiction.  The Chronicles of Narnia was a treasured favorite of my childhood and while I'm not a religious person I am fascinated by religion and I think Lewis deserves some of the credit for that.  Reading Narnia first as a straight set of adventures and then when older picking out all the symbolism and allegory kept me completely spellbound.  I loved how well these books worked as both

2) Dorothy Dunnett

For me, reading her books is like being completely immersed in a different time and place. I feel like I come out understanding exactly what it was like to live in 16th century Europe. She is the historical fiction writer that all others must live up to in my book.

3) Lois McMaster Bujold

She's the SF&F writer that everybody seems to forget about.  She writes equally well in both genres and her emphasis is always on character which I think is why I love her so.  Many of her books leave me feeling happy AND contemplative and I love that.  She may not be as ground-breaking as Ursula K. LeGuin or C.J. Cherryh but she is quietly writing some of the best character-driven fiction out there. 

4) Edith Wharton

I hesitate to put her on this list because I've only read her major works  - Ethan From, The Age of Innoncence, House of Mirth and The Buccanneers - but I love how she writes and how brilliantly her stories dissect the society of her time.  I find her books incisive while also completely mesmerizing.  She also is a complete genius at writing interesting, complicated characters.

5) Jane Austen

So Austen does the same thing as Wharton but with a sly wit that makes every part of my brain smile AND she manages to give them all a happy ending.  I wish there were 30 more Austen novels and I would devour them all and feel like I had a better grasp on human nature after each one

The Fun Crowd


6) Georgette Heyer

She wrote regency romances in the first half of this century and did so, so delightfully that she made me fall in love with the romance genre again ;0).  I've read 16 of her books and positively adored at least 15 of them.  I finally had to stop mainlining her books because I needed a few in reserve for when I needed to be infused with a little joy.


 7) Agatha Christie

I could read Agatha Christie books on a constant loop and be pretty happy about it.  I like the era her books are set in and the mysteries are usually bar none. 

8) Patrick O'Brian

I need to re-read the Aubrey and Maturin series because it gives me such joy and gave me the never-to-be-fulfilled yearning to be part of a British Man-O-War's crew circa 1800.  Seriously. Weevilly biscuits and all.  Especially if Stephen Maturin was along and we could geek out about Natural History and I could convince him that he didn't need to kill EVERYthing.  And if he actually looked like Paul Bettany.

9) Mary Roach

She almost went in the impact group because her first book Stiff changed how I think about non-fiction.  Since reading it, she is on my immediate read list for everything she publishes.  I'm tempted to break into her house just to read all her notes (Just kidding! sort of.). In all her books she tackles subjects that are somewhat taboo and handles them with a balance of humor and respect that must have been difficult to master.  It is obvious that she finds much joy in all her subjects and it's completely contagious.  Don't think you are interested in the gastro-intestinal system?  Read her latest book, Gulp, and you'll discover that you are completely fascinated by it!

10) Garth Nix

I love his imagination and am really bummed that I've read most of his major works.  His YA is inventive and interesting and his characters so easy to get behind.  I'll read anything he puts out.

Well, that's ten.  I think if you asked me to make this list tomorrow it would likely be different.  Some of these will be favorites for my whole life while others are likely just favorites for right now.  I will probably look at other's lists and completely regret that I didn't include another ten authors that are my REAL favorites:).  But it's getting late so I better stop dithering....

Sunday, April 19, 2015

REVIEW: The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/815595.The_Last_Detective
The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey
Original Publication Year:1991
Genre(s): Mystery, Contemporary
Series: Peter Diamond #1
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrated by: Simon Prebble

I think probably the best thing I can say about this older mystery title is that it  frequently surprised me.  That's what a mystery novel should ideally do - lead you along a winding path to a shocking conclusion.  The conclusion was perhaps not shocking but the rest of the book definitely kept me on my mental toes, going places I didn't expect and fully embracing a complex plot and characters.

A young red-headed women is found floating in a lake and no one seems to know who she is.  It is not even clear if her death is the result of foul play.  Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath murder squad is given the case.  He's an old school detective who shuns technology and  is currently under a cloud of corruption charges.  Nevertheless, he tackles the case with energy and soon discovers that it has more layers than he ever expected which involves some rare missing letters written by Jane Austen. 

Peter Diamond at first appears to be the quintessential cranky British detective - he bullies his inferiors and alienates everyone while believing staunchly that his ideas are the best.  Quite frankly, I was struggling to sympathize with him.  A change in his life occurs midway through the book however and it reveals a different side to him and by the end of the book I had developed a grudging respect for him as a reader must with these cantankerous old cops.

The book also, somewhat unexpectedly, turns the narrative over for a few chapters to two of the key witnesses in the case as they tell the story leading up to the victim's death from their perspectives. Both are under suspicion so the whole time I wondered if they were reliable narrators.  It adds a dimension of suspense as well as providing a broader view of the crime.  It also muddles the picture of what exactly happened. 

I went into this book expecting a pretty generic sort of British mystery.  While still having all the elements of those mysteries it ends up being a little more interesting and complex then expected.  Diamond's not going to become my favorite detective of all time but he did develop into an intriguing figure.

Simon Prebble was a great narrator for the audio version of the book. 

FINAL VERDICT:  A surprisingly complex contemporary British mystery.  Excited that this is the start of a series and will definitely be reading on in the series! 4 out of 5 Stars.
 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday in the Garden - Toad Abodes and Bug Hotels

OUTSIDE
I'm sitting cozy in my living room listening to the rain fall outside punctuated by thunder.  It's been a fairly productive day so its quite peaceful.  I just hope it is not coming down so hard it's beating the crap out of my new sproutlings.  (The peas and carrots made their appearance this week.)  Looks like it is coming down just hard enough to give everyone a nice drink.

I was able to do some field work this week and got some more nice views of the bison on Dunn Ranch Nature Preserve.


Finally this BBC wildlife video was floating around this week making me smile.  I love David Attenborough and the BBC is doing some of the most spectacular wildlife/nature film making that exists right now. 

LIFE

I'm teaching a class next weekend on Landscaping for Wildlife. It's a 3-4 hour class I do every year and I always incorporate some kind of crafty project into the class.  For the last 5 years I've done Toad Abodes.
They are simple, easy and fun but it was time for something new.  So I've been scrambling to see if I can get my act together to do Insect Hotels with the one pictured below being close to what I'd like to emulate.  Part garden art, part Insect hibernaculum.
Source
The problem is?  I'm not crafty AT ALL.  I have no natural talent or instinct for making things with my hands and being creative in that way.  Every time I try something I just get frustrated with how poorly it goes so I don't practice a lot either. (This lack of handiness is also why it wasn't the brightest idea I've ever had to buy a 120 year old house. But I really like old houses - none of this open plan B.S. for me, lol!)  Basically there is no way I am going to be able to put together 18 wooden shadow boxes by next Saturday. Nope.  Not going to happen.  That's why I spent some time today at the recycling center digging through a bin picking out milk jugs and getting the side-eye from the other folks dropping off recyclables.    My idea is to cut the milk jug in half and use the bottom as the container for all the hibernation materials.  I'm trying to think of some way to make it more attractive but in the end I'm just hoping it at least stimulates the folks in the class to think about the benefit of having insects in your garden and landscape and not just reviling them as pests. Yay bugs!

WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

First things first - it was one of my favorite bi-annual events this weekend! The library book sale!  For $7, I got all the treasures below.
Peter Lovesey is an older mystery writer I just discovered who I really like so was excited to find a couple of his books as well as another intriguing older mystery.  Also some good fantasy and sci-fi, a Barbara Pym and a favorite MN DNR publication on landscaping for wildlife!

Continuing with books, I did finish two this week despite feeling pretty uninspired by reading at the moment.  I finished my re-read of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling.  I also finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.  I totally get why there is so much love for this book but I didn't love it entirely and sadly I think part of that is just my mood at the moment.  Is it fair to judge and review a book when you hit it at the wrong time?  I made some progress in The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons today and picked up a couple of middle-grade books to replace the books I finished: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins and The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.

My watching this week has included a couple of movies which was a bit of novelty at least lately.  I watched (and review -see link below) Interstellar directed by Chris Nolan and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy directed by James Gunn. I had astronomically huge expectations for Guardians so it not surprisingly didn't live up to them but it was definitely fun. Also Netflix has gotten the rest of the seasons of M*A*S*H so I've been meandering through season 6.  Radar's gone for a big chunk of it which sucks.  Frank Burns is also gone which is okay but definitely changes the dynamic. 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:
SUNDAY: Re-reading thoughts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  The start to this series is really almost perfect.
TUESDAY:  TOP TEN TUESDAY - Literary Quotes.  I completely ignored the "inspirational" part of the instructions from The Broke and the Bookish but I was inspired to list the quotes that I did:).
THURSDAY: Review of Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan.  I liked it!

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:
SUNDAY:  Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey
TUESDAY: The Top Ten Tuesday topic is all-time favorite authors.  Yikes! Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
THURSDAY: The Tough Traveling Trope of the week is The Ace - that character that is good at everything.  Jerk.

I may throw in another post or two in there but this promises to be another week of insanity schedule wise sooo.... we'll just see.

Hope y'all have had a good week tending your garden!

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.




Thursday, April 16, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Interstellar (2014)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon plus a bunch of other famous folk!
My Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Running Time: 169 Minutes (WOWZA!)

I've actually watched a few movies recently!  I've gotten so that I really prefer the medium of TV (I'm not sure how I feel about that but a discussion for another time) but I've been in a mood lately for some cinematic hijinks and drama.  I had heard only the briefest things about Interstellar - that it is Sci-fi and that people generally really liked it.  Seriously that's all I knew and I think that's a pretty great way to go into the film so I will try not to reveal too much.

Synopsis for context's sake: The Earth is toast.  A group of people head out into space to try and find a new home for the human race.  It has lots of consequences and also serves to reveal quite a bit about human nature in the process.

I really liked it though it wasn't what I expected at all.  I think I expected a solid space adventure, which it is, but it also has a very personal touch.  While it sometimes becomes unbalanced and the schmaltz takes over, I think this mixing, when it's in the right proportions, is what makes the movie standout and is why I liked it.  I loved Cooper and Murphy's Father/Daughter relationship so much and it gave the movie a heart and helped propel the urgency and add to the complexity of the mission. The movie is thoughtful and emotional and not always in the ways I expected.

It also has some seriously tense moments.  There are some scenes on a watery plant that are terrifying.  The movie plays around a LOT with time and relativity and that kept me stressed out for most of the movie.  It definitely pushed my buttons in the way that it is supposed to.  It also surprised me a few times with the directions it takes which is refreshing and great.

The visuals are spectacular which is exactly what you want in a movie in outer space.   The cast also does a spectacular job. 

Negatives?  It is a bit too long, I think.  In some ways I like that Nolan took his time and gave every piece it's due but I was antsy by the end even so.  As I hinted at above, sometimes the personal/sentimental side of the movie becomes a little over wrought.  The ending is also perhaps not quite right.

Taken as a whole though, the film really worked for me and it's nice to see a character/relationship based sci fi movie that has intelligence and the thrill ride you might expect from a space exploration film.

FINAL VERDICT:  If you are looking for an emotional and thrilling Sci Fi adventure that will also exercise the old gray cells, give Interstellar a whirl.  I really enjoyed it!

Have you seen this movie?  What did you think about it?  I could totally see this movie not working for everyone so I am interested to hear if anybody did not like it at all?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Literary Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists.  It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Not sure these are the top ten quotes that have profoundly changed my life but they are quotes that spoken to me at some point. 


1) Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings had a number of wise things to say but my favorite is:


2) Holla to all my fellow introverts.  From Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg.

“I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It's the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself.”


3)   This is Logen Ninefingers mantra throughout The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

“Once you've got a task to do, it's better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

4) From Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favorite installments in the Vorkosigan Saga.

 “Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.”

5) I have never read anything by Miriam Waddington and after searching I'm not even sure what work this quote comes from but I came across it on Goodreads and love it so hard.

“keep bees and grow asparagus.
listen to the wind
instead of the politicians,
make up your own stories
and believe them if you want to live
the good life”

 6) From Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore.

There is wild comfort in the cycles and the intersecting circles, the rotations and revolutions, the growing and ebbing of this beautiful and strangely trustworthy world.

7) Because no list of quotes is complete without one of my heroes Aldo Leopold. From Round River.

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

8) From Jackaby by William Ritter.

Jackaby, I was rapidly discovering had a way of opening that corner of my brain. It was a quiet little corner in which I had lived when I was younger. It was a corner in which anything was possible, where magic was not an improbable daydream, but an obvious fact-if still only just out of reach. In those days I had known there must be monsters in the world, but I would happily accept them, knowing that, by the same logic, there must also be wizards and wands and flying carpets. I had never really closed that part of my mind, just slowly stopped visiting it as I grew older. I had left it unlocked like the jumbled treasure room upstairs, waiting for someone to come poking about.

9) Because I'm re-reading Harry Potter (By J.K. Rowling)...

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!"

10)  And to end on a bitter note... From Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. 

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”


 I think that's it for me.  I do feel bad ending with such a cynical quote but I do think it's pretty brilliant, if mostly unfair to the male sex.  I love quotes and look forward to seeing everybody elses' lists!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

RE-READING: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3.Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer_s_Stone
This won't be a proper review but I wanted to note down some general thoughts about my re-reading of the first book in the Harry Potter series AND about re-watching the movie.

First of all, I was surprised at how really perfect this first book is.  With trepidation, I admit that I was ever so slightly disappointed in the latter installments in the series, particularly the last book, and it was that taste that was most recently on my tongue.  I love the series but my relationship with it was one of many years of association; where there is love but also a recognition of faults.  I had forgotten what the first flush of the relationship was like:0).  Also, one might expect that the first outing, the debut, might be a bit shakier then those written by the practiced veteran, but actually it is perfect in almost every way. Sure, the actual plot only fills a quarter of the book and the rest is pretty episodic but those episodes are the perfect vehicle for being introduced to the world and to Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, Snape, Dumbledore etc....

Some other thoughts:
1) I'd forgotten how middle-grade this first book is and having realized that I have decided that what Rowling did with the series was utterly brilliant.  In each successive book she aged it up with her characters and her initial audience.  Has any other author done this with a series?  I've said it before, I am most sad that I was not of an age to grow up with these books (I was older) and I am hugely jealous of the cohort who did get to do that!

2) I've mentioned this before on the blog but I really appreciate an author, particularly one writing a series of books, with a plan.   Rowling definitely had one and I love how things build and how you can see the initial sparks in this book.  She does trip up from time to time though.  I was surprised to hear Hagrid say, in the first or second chapter, that he borrowed the flying motorcycle from Sirius Black.  As we know from two books later, that would have been difficult considering that Sirius was in Azkaban and presumed to be a servant of Voldemort.

3) Harry has very little personality at the start of the book and really throughout this first book.  His childhood with the Dursleys has made him kind of a blank slate  - his personality has been completely repressed.  One of the joys of the book and the series is to watch him flower into such a strong individual.

4) I'd forgotten how funny Fred and George are.  My favorite exchange is after they've received sweaters from their mum with an F and G embroidered on them, speaking to Ron: "You haven't got a letter on yours,' George observed, 'I suppose she thinks you don't forget your name. But we're not stupid – we know we're called Gred and Forge."  Dumbledore is also pretty hilarious with his first speech being: "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you."  The best thing is those are some totally wicked cool words:0)!  Point being I laughed out loud several times.  I'm not sure any of the rest of the books is quite this funny.

5) I listened to the audio by Jim Dale which is really excellent BUT I am dying to listen to the British versions of the audio books narrated by Stephen Fry.  There is apparently a great and heated debated on the internets about which narrator does better, encapsulated I think in this summation on Book Riot.  It appears that it is very tricky for someone in the States to get their hands on a Stephen Fry narration though *grumble, grumble*.

THE MOVIE!

I'm just going to come right out and say it - this movie is kind of terrible.  If the book improved upon my memory of it the movie did the opposite.  I think at the time it came out it was just so exciting seeing all the magical things from the books and to be fair the visuals for the most part really work. The casting was also pretty excellent or, at least, would end up working out.  Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid is great, Maggie Smith as McGonagall, and Alan Rickman as Snape are particularly great. 

The main issue with the movie is the acting by the three main children, made worse by the stiltedness of the script and the removal of a lot of the humor I mention above as well as some of the more interesting scenes from the book.   As for the acting of the three main children, I don't entirely blame them - I think they were inexperienced, but they were also directed poorly.  The forced and completely unnatural dialogue between them is jarring throughout.  I've since watched The Chamber of Secrets and it's amazing how much they've improved as well as how much they've grown up.  They become bearable to decent in movie two but this first one is kind of a mess.  That said, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe do grow up to be how I imagine Harry and Hermione.  Rupert Grint as Ron is okay for me but isn't exactly how I pictured Ron and I'm not sure he ever captures Ron's humor. 

To Wrap Up:  The book is a five star read for me and is nearly flawless.  I've always thought of Goblet of Fire as my favorite book in the series but I'll be interested to see if that holds up as I continue to re-read. I am all googly with admiration for this book right now. The movie.... was a disappointment. 

Give me all your thoughts on this beginning of a classic series!  Gimme Gimme!  I want them all!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday in the Garden - Sprouts and Burnout

OUTSIDE

It was a gray and drizzly week in Iowa so no field work.  Despite that, the Asian greens and radishes have sprouted.  This was also despite an attack by my garden nemesis - the fox squirrel.  They like to come through after I've direct sowed seeds and dig it all up.  Half the time they don't seem to eat the seed or anything  - they just like to dig.  Little buggers.

Squirrel Havoc

Asian Greens
I directed planted some mustard and flax in the herb garden and investigated climbing roses to plant in there as well.  I think I'm going to go with Graham Thomas.  They are supposed to be good climbers, tolerant of partial shade AND hardy in zone 4/5. And they're named after a dude. 

LIFE

I am officially in burn out mode at work and it's seeping into the rest of life as well.  I've got  a couple more weeks to get through and then I can take a break.  For some reason this viral Facebook post by Anne Lamott really spoke to me yesterday, probably because #3 really caught my eye: "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you."  First world problems I know but looking forward to taking a break and puttering around the house and in the garden.

WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching has been haphazard.  Picking and choosing Stargate SG1 episodes and lately the Harry Potter movies.  Needing comfort watching that doesn't demand too much.

Reading has also been haphazard.  Almost everything I am reading right now, besides my car audios is grim with a side of a little grimmer.  Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons are both excellent but I am not in the mood for either of them.  I want light rainbow colored fluffity fluff - cozy mysteries that involve animals, or a Regency romance with large doses of humor.  Because I don't want to drop the current books to pick up new books I am just not reading except in the car where I am re-reading Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia.  I finished The Magician's Nephew this week and picked up HP and the Chamber of Secrets.

Blogging has unfortunately been sucked into the general burnout malaise, I'm afraid. 

LAST WEEK:
SUNDAY: Review of Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon.  This is a YA Sci Fi book about a girl studying to be an exoveterinarian taking care of large alien creatures.  It had some problems but all the stuff about being an exovet was super cool!

TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday: Where are They Now with Literary Characters.

NEXT WEEK:
No idea.  I may post everything in the world.  I may sleep all week.  It'll be a surprise. 

So how does your garden grow?  And yes I mean that in a symbolic sort of way. Unless you have a garden, in which case do tell about that as well!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Where are They Now with Literary Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists.  It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about those characters that you would really like another glimpse at to see what they are up to after their printed story has been told.  I could pretty much list every fairy tale character ever because who isn't curious about what happens after the happily ever after? I expected making this list to be easy but it was really rather difficult, not least because there are a lot of series with characters I love that I am still in the middle of.  I definitely feel like I am missing MANY and look forward to seeing others' lists!


1) Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir

This was my most recent book boyfriend and I am curious how Mark adjusts to life back on Earth as a celebrity botanist and astronaut.  It likely would not be as exciting a story as his sojourn on Mars but you never know and I for one would be happy to listen to him wax lyrical about various plants and wisecrack.

2) Poppy, Widget and Bailey from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I loved these three young characters from the book and would be interested in what happens to them and the circus as they become adults.

3) Flavia DeLuce from the mystery series of the same name by Alan Bradley

It is no secret that while I admire 12 year old Flavia she also annoys the crap out of me.  Would LOVE to meet her as an adult and hope she would be as interesting as she is as a child and not quite as irritating.

4) Mildred Lathbury from Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

In both books by Barbara Pym that I've read she has employed a vague foreshadowing type of ending  - only hinting at what might be in store for her main characters.  I really connected with Mildred and would like to know exactly how her life continues after Excellent Women.

5) Julian Kestrel from the mystery series of the same name by Kate Ross

This is one of my favorite historical mystery series which is set in regency era England.  Julian is an enigmatic nobleman/amateur sleuth who has four adventures before his author sadly died very young.  I have a feeling she had lots in store for Julian and I would definitely have loved to read about it.

6) Frances Crawford and Philippa from The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

At the end of the Lymond Chronicles do these two crazy kids stop being 16th century international spies and settle down to a life on the old estate?  Surely not:).

7) Every Single Character from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Duh!  We get a little peek at the kids' futures but it was almost cruel because it was brief and skipped so many intervening years. 

8) Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Cassandra is one of my favorite narrators of all time and we leave her at the end of I Capture the Castle with her having just made the transition from child to adult and learned a little about the reality of life.  It would be interested to see how she carries on and if she find happiness.

9) Sunshine from Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I love Sunshine as a character and would love to spend more time with her, hanging out while she made cinnamon buns.  

I think I will stop there.  Now to check out all the characters I missed!  Any you would have included?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

REVIEW: Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16071885-zenn-scarlett?from_search=true
Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): YA, Science Fiction
Series: Zenn Scarlett # 1
Awards: None
Format: Ebook - owned
Narrated by: NA

As soon as I read the blurb for this series – that it was about a girl training to be an exoveterinarian, someone who cares for alien creatures – I was excited to read it.   Exoveterinary medicine drew me to the book and I did in fact love everything to do with the description, treatment and care of alien creatures, however, it also had a number of elements that didn’t quite click.  So overall I only liked the book, didn’t love it – 3 star book.

When she was still a child, Zenn’s mother who was an exoveterinarian, was killed while working inside an enormous alien creature.  Despite this, Zenn has always known she wished to follow in her mother (and uncle’s) footsteps. She is studying to do so at her uncle’s cloisters (I don’t think it is ever explained why it’s modeled on a monastery) on Mars, where she is the only student, and is entering the latter part of her schooling which requires her to pass some practical tests in order to go on to the next level.  It is difficult for her to concentrate on her tests however because the other colonists on Mars aren’t fond of the school/exovet clinic or really anything that didn’t originate from Earth and she suspects them of causing trouble with the animals. On top of that she has started to experience a weird phenonmenon where she thinks she can see inside the animal’s minds; see what they see and feel what they feel.  It’s making her clumsy and is jeopardizing her chances to move forward with her studies.  She must figure out what is going on, in order to get her life back on track.

As I mentioned above, I loved the idea behind this book and Schoon displays his imagination in dreaming up the alien creatures, many of them immense, and the veterinary techniques that must be used to treat them.  Everything related to the care and treatment is realistically portrayed and was completely fascinating.  To fix internal issues in some of the large creatures, the vet must enter the creature’s body and travel around its systems in a small capsule.  This whole component was by far my favorite part of the book and also the best done in my opinion.

Zenn is a fine character; she’s believable and for the most part makes a good protagonist.  I like how driven and ambitious she is and her policy on making friends (don’t) makes sense considering her isolated upbringing and the death of her mother.  She’s not too perfect; she’s a snob about the other colonists (who are painted as ignorant yokels) and a bit of a know-it-all.  I appreciate that instead of hiding her strange communing with the animals and her suspicions of sabotage as might be done in other YA books, she actually does tell people, including her uncle and nobody believes her.  This book did fall into my adult-reading-YA centric complaint of holding up a teenager as wiser than the adults.  Zenn’s uncle Otho is criminally clueless, obstinately so, about her and the situation on the planet throughout the book mostly as a plot device to set up unbelievable situations.

Unfortunately, there were also a number of weaknesses that ended up getting in the way of me loving the book.  The tone is a little uneven.  The issue of xeno-phobia is a major theme of the book and it is presented with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer.  It was made painfully and simplistically obvious which I didn’t think was necessary for a teen audience so it occasionally read much younger.  All of the other characters outside of Zenn were cardboard cut-outs particularly the yokel villagers.  They were clich├ęs and not interesting at all.  The “romance” had zero chemistry between Zenn and her love interest which seem more like acquaintances, so nothing that happens between them had any emotional resonance for me. This may be something that is developed more fully in book two.  Finally I thought this book would have been more enjoyable with the addition of some humor but Zenn is very serious minded so everything is a bit dire and humorless.  This was especially disappointing as the author lists his writing influence as Douglas Adams. 

FINAL VERDICT:  It was a book that had some great potential but fell down in some key areas so that for me it ended up being just okay.  On the fence about reading book two. 3 out of 5 stars.   
Read Harder Challenge #4 - A Book Published by an Indie Press

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - Bison, Butterflies and Another Crazy Week

OUTSIDE
One of the areas where I'm doing Lek surveys for Prairie Chickens has bison and instead of being far off in the distance as usual, they moseyed on over close to the road.  If I let my eyes unfocus and block out the powerlines, fence and road I could almost imagine I was out on the wild prairie of the 1850s.  If I actually got transported there, I would quickly become terrified as I have no homesteading skills but it would be an awesome sight.
Despite a busy week I made some time for the garden and the garden did some things all on its own without help from me:).  I planted carrots, an Asian Greens mix, radishes and some sugar snap and regular peas outside.  The chives, tarragon and horseradish have begun greening up outside and all my starts have now started.  Now comes the obsessively checking the beds everyday for sprouts:0)!  I love this time of the gardening year - it's almost better than harvest - the anticipation and the welcoming back of green.
The peppers - reluctant as always but starting to peek out of the soil.

The St. John's Wort seed was itty bitty and now a lot of little itty bitty plants are coming up.

The Lilac bush with buds - maybe it will bloom this year??!!

Tarragon

Chives

Horseradish
 LIFE
This week was totally insane schedule-wise and I thought about laying it out but honestly I'm so muddle headed and tired and forgetful that I'm not sure I could do it justice.  So here's an incomplete pictorial tour.  The first day of the week started at dawn on Monday on a prairie in Northern Missouri (see also pic above):
The last day of the week ended today at dawn on a prairie in Southern Iowa:
Folks on the Prairie Chicken Viewing Platform for the Prairie Chicken Festival
And continued with a lively celebration of prairie chickens and the Native American culture at the zoo in Des Moines:


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

The watching portion of this is easy.  I haven't been watching much of anything since last we spoke.

Reading has been a bit more active and I finished three books this week!  I finished and already reviewed (see below) The Miss Mirren Mission by Jenny Holiday.   My car audio read, The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey also finished up this week.  I really liked it and will definitely continue with the series.  Most excitingly perhaps, with inspiration by Selah at A Bibliophile's Style, I started and finished a re-read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on audio.  I mean I know it's a little redundant to say it but this series is so utterly delightful and charming.  I tried to look for nitpicks and flaws this second time around (because I'm a horrible person) and if anything it was more flawless and awesome than I remembered. Can't wait to continue and re-read the whole series! When I finished that I started re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia starting with The Magician's Nephew which I am already pretty far along in (lots of time on the road this week).  Listening to these two books side by side is interesting.  I also started Graced by Amanda Pillar which I am not sure I want to finish but it's reading quick so I will likely continue.  Still reading Fingersmith by Sarah Waters - BLOWING my mind right now - not at all what I expected and also The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

On The Blog LAST Week:

SUNDAY: Review of Lirael by Garth Nix (book 2 in the Abhorsen series).  Short Review: Loved it!
MONDAY: Review of Abhorsen by Garth Nix (book 3 in the Abhorsen series). Short Review: Loved it!
TUESDAY:  Top Ten Tuesday  - New Additions to the TBR
WEDNESDAY: Review of The Miss Mirren Mission by Jenny Holiday.  Short Review: Loved it!
THURSDAY: Tough Traveling  - Enforcers.  Exploring tropes in fantasy - this week it's about the servant thugs.

On The Blog NEXT Week:

SUNDAY: Review of Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon
TUESDAY:  Top Ten Tuesday is the Characters you'd like to check in with after their books or series are done.  Fun topic!  Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.
WEDNESDAY:  Probably taking the day off but there could be a surprise post.
THURSDAY: Tough Traveling - Unique Flora.  Hosted by Fantasy Review Barn

Okay, I am off to vegetate for a good few hours.  How was your week?  What's the most unusual thing you do to relax after a busy week?  I could use some tips:0)!