Monday, August 29, 2011

"Blue Skies Smilin' on Me . . ."

Post Irene the sky is so blue you could get lost in it. Down below there is a lot of flooding around here. A town about 5 miles from us got officially 6.32" of rain, but it was still raining when I saw that report so we probably got more. It will take our property a long, long time to dry out so once again it will look like a jungle before I get it mowed again. Sigh. One area will definitely take a while to dry - our lower pond overflowed on one end onto the lawn.

Down the mountain in Hallstead on the Susquehanna River, according to the news, several houses are in danger. It always floods along one side of Main St. where Salt Lick Creek flows behind those houses into the river, so I imagine even the road is flooded now. I'm not going out until tomorrow, by which time I hope most of the flooding will be off the roads. Some bridges were damaged badly by flood waters with trees and other debris roaring along but nothing near our house.

We were supposed to go to a picnic and concert just across the state line in Conklin, NY Wed. evening, but the park where it was to be held is now a lake. It's another place that floods easily. Lots of roads blocked off there. Conklin was one of the hardest hit places in the area during the flood of 2006. Many homes were demolished and never rebuilt, but a group called CHOW has taken over some of those lots to grow food for the needy. Come to think of it, I wonder if the rest of their harvest is under water?

We just had a slightly hilarious adventure here. We lost power for two hours, during which time the sump pump couldn't run. I guess water backed up in drains, etc. because it didn't flood the basement floor. When the power came back on, I heard a lot of gurgling in the kitchen sink (I hadn't used it), then Dave came flailing out of the downstairs bathroom with water gushing all over the place. It had backed up in the shower stall drain and flowed across the floor, out the door and onto the hallway carpeting. I opened the basement door to see it was raining inside; it had gone through the floor and was falling in the basement.

Even as it happened, I couldn't help laughing (to myself - Dave was steamed) but the sump pump soon caught up and everything was okay again. At least the bathroom floor got washed, but the carpeting is still wet this morning. I have the fan blowing on it.

So, we've had an earthquake and a hurricane in one week. I think we've had enough for now. I'm very happy that "nuthin' but blue skies do I see."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Wet Weekend for Us, but Little League Will Go On

Hurricane Irene is supposed to skirt NE PA, just bringing wind and rain, but nothing like they'll get east of here. They are predicting as much as 7" of rain though!

Thankfully the Little League games are far enough west that they shouldn't be too affected, but just in case, they've pushed up the schedule so they'll play earlier and the consolation game is cancelled. The Keystone Little Leaguers from Clinton County, PA were welcomed home with a parade yesterday. Their hometown people supported the kids like they were astronauts or something. It was great, and the kids are too. They won't be in the finals today, but they played much older than they are.

I'm reading a nonfiction book about the family that founded the Chicago Tribune so it's slower going than the mysteries I've been reading. Good book; I'm really enjoying it. Why is it that so many very wealthy families have so many strange people? Some of these are real doozies.

I probably won't be online tomorrow because of winds and rain, so see you Monday!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Cut by George Pelecanos

The Cut I love times like this when I find a new-to-me author who has a long backlist for me to read as well. I won this book from LibraryThing. Since I hadn't read Pelecanos before, I was a little concerned, but all is well - I loved this book and this hero. Can't wait to find the rest of his books to read.

The hero is Spero Lucas. Now all this may be familiar to you, but if not, Lucas is a Marine Corp vet who served in Iraq. Now he works as an investigator for a lawyer and, as in this instance, occasionally takes on a job independently. This one is, believe it or not, for a drug kingpin who is in prison awaiting trial. The title of the book comes from the fact that he gets a 40% cut in his work.

Lucas takes umpteen showers a day, changes his clothes just about as often, but not for vanity; this guy is clean-cut and fit. He bikes, kayaks, does calisthenics in his apartment, anything to keep as fit as possible. I can just see his six pack and guns. Girls, this guy is sexy. And he loves women, even treats them very well. I'm reminded of Robert B. Parker's Spenser in many ways. However, he does goof sometimes or strike out with a woman, i.e., he's human. I love that in a hero.

Pelecanos has a spare writing style with no long, flowery descriptions. I admire his ability to create a character or give the reader a scene without long descriptions. He shows what a person is like; hence the exercise and showers and women. His villains also are evil but three dimensional. One loves to learn the proper use of big fancy words to impress his friends, which just serves to convince them he's a dunce. One of the main rules of writing, one frequently ignored, is to show rather than tell. Pelecanos has mastered this technique.

I highly recommend this book for mystery lovers. Now I'm off to the library to look for more Pelecanos books.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tough News for a Tough Woman: Pat Summitt

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at my desk when my chair began to shake and so did my computer. Only went on for about 10-15 seconds, by which time I realized I was experiencing my first earthquake. Dave didn't feel a thing in the shop; perhaps because he was standing on the concrete floor.

Later on the evening news there was a different kind of jolt but no less earth-shaking for me. Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of women's basketball for the Tennessee Volunteers, announced that she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. I also learned for the first time that she has rheumatoid arthritis and at first she thought her symptoms were side effects of her medication for that disease.

I've never been lucky enough to see the Vols play in person but I've been watching them on TV and admiring Summitt's coaching for years. She is a no-nonsense coach who gets the best out of her players, and yet she has such a rapport with them that they love her. Her assistant coaches have said they will help in any way possible. You can't buy that kind of devotion; you earn it by year after year of doing the right thing.

I don't know why I love basketball so much. After all, I only played in prep school and there we were forced to play girls' rules. Stupid game. Maybe it's because I understand the game and I've played just enough to know how hard it is to play well. Of course, it's a much more aggressive game now than I ever thought it would turn into but it takes tons of practice on top of talent. Not just anyone can play well.

As a Rutgers alumna, of course I admire Vivian Stringer, the women's coach there. But Pat Summitt has always struck me as the epitome of women's coaching, a person to strive to be like, a person who has found the exact place for her passionate approach to the game.

My father had Alzheimer's so I know too much about dementia, and I am deeply saddened by this news. Her approach to it echoes her life's approach to everything: toughness and determination to live every day to the limit of her ability. Best to you, Pat Summitt.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve

A Wedding in December : A Novel I just proved that my reading taste has changed for the better. Many years ago I tried to read an Anita Shreve novel and couldn't finish it. Even though it's been so long ago that I don't remember which book it was, I do recall thinking it was awful because nothing happened. The protagonist just thought and thought and thought, and I was totally bored with her thoughts.

Other bloggers whose opinions I trust have been posting good reviews of Shreve lately though, and I decided I should try her again. I must be missing something. Sure enough, I was missing something. Now that I'm more mature (read old), I'm more patient with character development and books like A Wedding in December where nearly all the action takes place in people's memories of the past.

Several people are reunited after 27 years for the wedding of two friends. They had all been classmates at a private prep school and one of the group of friends had died not long before graduation. He was sort of the catalyst around which all the others had melded into a solid group and without him, they all went their separate ways after graduation. There is a mystery about the boy's death that haunts them all and it creates an underlying tension throughout the wedding celebration.

The bride, it turns out, has cancer which appears to be terminal. She is marrying the man she had loved in school. He had broken up with her then and they had both married someone else. Now they are together again and want to celebrate that fact with their friends from long ago.

One of the friends is writing a novel based on a real tragedy that happened in Halifax, Nova Scotia during World War I. Since I had known about this event from a vacation there, this was an interesting side story for me. She, it turns out, also has something she has been hiding, but is bursting to disclose.

This book was published in 2005 but it is a timeless story of love, loss, guilt, and people's expectations of their friends. In short, I have become an Anita Shreve fan. I did enjoy her writing, the plotlines, and her characters. I recommend her for others who may not have realized she had something to tell them before.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Culture Shock in Pennsylvania

I received the funniest phone call first thing this morning. A big booming voice that sounded like Lyndon B. Johnson was calling to let me know his people would be on our land today doing seismic testing for the gas drilling company. Like most Texans he was loud and friendly, and I was flustered because I kept thinking of LBJ.

We've had to get used to Texas accents and Texas manners around here in the past few years since we live atop the Marcellus Shale, the biggest concentration of natural gas discovered in this country in ages.

Since this is a rural area, we're used to nearly everyone having a pickup truck, but now we're overwhelmed with them. The motels, rooming houses, and furnished apartments are now full, and the license plates on the pickups in the parking lots are from Texas, Oklahoma, and places like Oregon and Washington. A few of the men have brought their wives, but mostly we're overrun with single men who fill the restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores. It's good business, and it can be amusing when a couple guys are in the grocery store trying to decide what they can cook.

This has also been a boon for employment. The local community colleges are offering courses for jobs in the gas industry and I expect it won't be long before most of the jobs will be filled by local people. Bluestone quarries had provided employment to many young strong men but then the boom in bluestone was over and unemployment went up again. Suddenly now there are new opportunities, but they do require some training.

The "pads" they construct for drilling rigs are a marvel. One huge pad is just down the road from our house and we will hear lots of noise and see the lights 24 hours a day when they begin drilling, but the landowners will profit big time. Our economy has been in the pits for so long, we aren't upset about the noise, the traffic, or even the damage to our roads - yet. Someday we may regret all this, but for now there's a lot of hope in this area that things are going to get better.

Speaking of traffic, when we moved here 17 years ago there might be a dozen vehicles go by for a whole day, and night time was quiet as a tomb. Now you'd think we live on a highway we have so much traffic, and it's fast. No more rural carelessness about crossing the road here.

The hope for a better economy is especially true for senior citizens like Dave and me. We started out 36 years ago in an 18 foot camper in a campground. We worked hard and worked up until now we have 26+ acres of gorgeous land, a house built in 1861, outbuildings, two ponds, hay fields, and a beautiful view. But here we are in our 70s, both with chronic diseases and hence expensive medications to buy, and an iffy future. Do we want gas royalty checks? You bet we do.

Drilling for natural gas is a controversial process and some people claim their water has been polluted, but there was a problem with their water for 50 years or more so we aren't really concerned. You'll see all kinds of scare stories about the dangers of hydrofracturing to get the shale oil, but we've done our research and we don't see the danger. We're not blind, just not easily frightened.

Meanwhile, the excitement is building in our part of the county and we're getting friendly calls from LBJ; oops, I mean Texans.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rain, Rain Go Away - To Texas for Instance!

This has been the wettest summer in years. It has also been cooler, which is nice, with only one bad week of a heat wave, but even a person who loves rain like me is getting tired of this. Meanwhile, my friend in Austin, TX would kill for a decent rain. It just isn't fair.

I just get our grass mowed so I can start on the trimming when it starts to rain again. Ergo (as a doctor I used to work for always said), I never get to the trimming. Arrrgggh! We never got the blueberry bushes covered either so the birds have been feasting. I'm really frustrated, can you tell?

When it is hot and humid, summer seems to drag on forever, but this summer has flown by. We are going to our first Binghamton Mets game of the season this week, and the season is almost over. If Binghamton Univ. hadn't offered tickets to basketball season ticket holders, we might not have made it there at all. Then it will be Harford Fair time (sort of our county fair), New York State Fair, and Fall. What happens to the time?

Actually we're coming up on my favorite month of the year - September. That's when my energy level soars and I'm ready for some serious work, more serious reading, and hopefully a lot of writing. Writing time is hard to come by these days because of our health issues, but I'm hopeful for this fall.

The good news is that I have a nice little stack of ARC's to read and review while it rains and we've been getting good reports at the doctors' offices lately so things are looking up. On the other hand, both of us have been spending time at the dentist's office having crowns replaced - the ones we got when we were young, back in the Middle Ages. You just can't win, can you?

OK, that's my whining for the month. I'm in the middle of an Anita Shreve that's very good, so I'll be posting a review soon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Death of a Chimney Sweep by M. C. Beaton

Death of a Chimney Sweep (Hamish Macbeth Mystery) I've been reading reviews about Beaton's Hamish Macbeth for a long time, but just now got around to reading one of this amusing series myself. There's a long list of titles to choose from but this one happened to catch my eye first.

I'm of Scottish ancestry so anything set in Scotland is bound to please me but even more so if, like in this book, the characters are memorable. Macbeth, for instance, is a constable in a village. He has bright red hair, he's single, and he has a dog named Lugs and a wild cat named Sonsie. These two animals play together like two peas in a pod. The village and the police office are right on the ocean with high hills on the other side which is a beautiful setting for any type of novel.

This story begins with the murder of a rich man whose body is shoved up the chimney in his own house, and the subsequent death by accident or murder of the chimney sweep who had been there that very day. The sweep was a beloved character in the area, and the widow of the first victim is soon friends with everyone too. Her husband had kept her isolated before.

Hamish Macbeth is a sort of maverick when it comes to crime solving, so he's always in trouble with his superiors, but he solves the crimes which makes his bosses even more upset of course. He's sort of unlucky in love, but the people of his village appreciate him and his skills.

Beaton is a witty writer. The jacket tells us that the BBC did a series of her stories, which I'm determined to find. She also writes a series starring Agatha Raisin and I want to try one of those as well. The Hamish Macbeth series is just the ticket for a summer day, or actually any time you want a light, amusing mystery with a very likeable hero.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Charlestown Connection by Tom MacDonald

The Charlestown Connection I won a signed copy of this book from LibraryThing. It's set, of course, in Charlestown/Boston, Massachusetts. I seem to be in a Boston frame of mind and these books set there are making me want to go for a visit. I hadn't heard of Tom MacDonald before but I'm certainly glad I received this novel. He's a good old-fashioned storyteller in my eyes.

The best part of this story is the characters, especially the protagonist, Dermot Sparhawk who is half Micmac Indian and half Irish. He is a recovering alcoholic thanks to AA and a strength of character he apparently hadn't realized he had. The story begins when his godfather, Jeepster Hennessey stumbles into the food pantry Dermot runs and dies at Dermot's feet. He mumbles a few words as he is dying from stab wounds. The words don't make any sense to Dermot, nor do the keys his godfather presses into his hand.

Dermot owns a house and lives on the second floor while his Boston College football friend Buck who is a paraplegic lives on the first floor. His Uncle Glooscap's son Harraseeket Kid lives in the basement. The three of them team up to solve the puzzle and find themselves in danger from several fronts. It all seems to have something to do with valuable paintings. There is also an attractive FBI agent involved, but is she who she claims to be?

This is a great story with characters who are so well depicted you'll remember them for a long time, particularly Dermot. He has a good heart but he's a realist; he is handsome but has a bad knee that kept him out of pro football and is only just maintaining his sobriety. You'll cheer for him throughout the book. Personally, I hadn't heard anything about Micmac Indians since we moved out of Maine.

I highly recommend The Charlestown Connection. It doesn't matter if you know Boston or not, MacDonald makes the scene come alive for you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Cosy Knave by Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen

The Cosy Knave (Gershwin & Penrose mystery) The Cosy Knave is an e-book, an English cosy mystery written by a Danish author. Jakobsen must be a descendant of both Victor Borge and Charles Dickens. She's a very funny writer, and she creates Dickensian names that add to the humor. That isn't all, though. She has written a very good story in this book.

The village of Knavesborough is all atwitter as the story begins because Sir Marco Bellini, a violinist who lost three fingers in an accident, has moved back to his hometown and bought Netherdale Manor. Not only that, he has brought along a young man who is purportedly his butler. Imagine that!

When Bellini has his first party at the manor, absolutely everyone goes including our heroine Rhapsody Gershwin, her friend Evy Wensleydale, and Evy's Aunt Rose Walnut-Whip. (What did I tell you about the names?) At the party Rose wanders around looking the place over and then she becomes violently ill. What an embarrassment. Four days later the Wensleydale's have a party for friends to watch an important soccer match on their big screen television set. Rose comes, just recovering, and is murdered.

Before long, a second victim has been pushed perhaps off a castle tower. Jack Warburton, the victim, was long ago Rose's fiance who left her at the altar. His body is found by Arnold Kickinbottom while picking mushrooms. Curiouser and curiouser.

I enjoyed Rhapsody, whose sister is Psalmonella (!), and her fiance Constable Archibald Penrose. Rhapsody is a librarian, the vicar's daughter, and good at helping Archie solve crimes. There is one hilarious scene where poor Rhapsody has a few drinks and ends up blotto. Even her father has to chuckle.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes their mysteries with a little clever humor. Knavesborough is just full of quirky characters and they all play a role in the story.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Missed the Book Sale This Year (gasp)

For 16 years I've been going to our library and historical society's blueberry festival to buy chances on a handmade quilt and buy tons of books at their book sale. This year I didn't get there. It's on Friday and Saturday. Friday we had appointments in Binghamton. Since it's been a busy week and fatigue is a problem for me because of my lungs, I really didn't feel well enough to go anywhere Saturday. Besides that, it started raining mid-morning and just rained harder and harder all day.

This morning the humidity is 100%, so this will be another lost day for me. Oh well, when I saw the pulmonologist on Friday, he said my breathing test results were about the same. They haven't changed much in the past year. Whoopee!

In August it normally starts cooling down a little here, although when we go to the local fair we get pretty hot. That's an excuse to sit in the shade and listen to local musicians at the little bandstand. Remember Aaron Kelly from last year's American Idol? He's a local boy and he'll be at the fair again this year. I'll be interested to see if he has changed after his Idol experience.

Now that we have a wheelchair for Dave, I'm determined to get to the New York State Fair again. We haven't gone for several years but I love it. It reminds me of the Illinois State Fair, one of the best in the country, which I never missed when I lived there. I remember when I was a child and my grandfather (a staunch Republican) took me to see the races. Harry Truman was visiting that day and went by us sitting up on the back of a convertible. Unfortunately for Gramps, he looked like Truman's double, and Truman definitely gave him a second and third look as the motorcade went by. I was glad Truman didn't know Gramps thought he was the very devil.

Dave grew up in a little town in Maine and was used to a tiny fair in the fall. When I got him to the Illinois State Fair, he was in awe of the size of it. He never did stop talking about the corn and wheat fields in Illinois, and the size of the farm machinery at the fair. We love looking at the animals, buying salt water taffy, and eating other fair food. We rationalize by telling ourselves we're walking it off.

August is a lovely time of year with the promise of cool nights, and lazy days as everyone seems in limbo before September brings a restart of everything that keeps us busy. Thankfully we aren't living in an area of long, long heat waves or flooding and I feel so badly for my friends who are suffering from heat or too much rain. September, my favorite month, is just around the corner.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile: A Kenzie and Gennaro Novel The name Dennis Lehane probably rings a bell since he is the author of Mystic River and Shutter Island. This one is a Kenzie and Gennaro series book, a series which I've never read but I sure did love this book.

I think the major reason I enjoyed it so much is that he can give you a character you would recognize in a minute. Like this description of a girl working the counter at a diner: "She was about nineteen. A pretty face had been damaged by acne scars and she wore an extra forty pounds on her frame like a threat. Her eyes were dull with anger disguised as apathy. If she kept on her current path, she'd grow into the type of person who fed her kids Doritos for breakfast and puchased angry bumper stickers with lots of exclamation points." Can't you just see her? And this is an extremely minor character, so imagine what he does with someone important to the story.

The story is set in Boston which is what attracted me to this library book to begin with. I know Boston well enough to recognize places where characters are, and I know what people there are like well enough to recognize that he has them down cold. I haven't felt like I was in the Boston area like this since Robert B. Parker left us.

The protagonist, Patrick Kenzie, had found a girl named Amanda many years earlier but her "rescue" didn't exactly work out well because she was returned to a stupid, drug addled, neglectful mother. Now she's 16 years old and in trouble. Her aunt comes to Patrick to ask for help and he just can't refuse because he feels guilty about what happened before. Meanwhile, he and his wife have had a little girl who is immensely entertaining to the reader, but would drive you crazy in real life. Add some Russian goons to the mix and you have a wild and crazy ride.

I was hooked on the story right from the start and surprised at the end. That and great characters are the epitome of a good crime book to me and I recommend this one.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder

Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder Cathy of the Kittling:Books blog has been writing about Inspector Singh books for a while now and her reviews were so funny I just had to try one. I borrowed this one from the library. It turns out Cathy is right; I'm going to look for the rest of the series now.

Inspector Singh is a police detective in Singapore. For this case he has been sent to Kuala Lumpur to investigate the case of a former model from Singapore who has been accused of killing her ex-husband. Since Singh is obese and unused to Kuala Lumpur, he sweats, gets his shiny shoes dusty, unwillingly visits his gossipy sister, faces down the opposition of the local police force to his intrusion, and resents his minder.

The victim, Alan Lee, was the president of a huge logging company which has been clear-cutting in Borneo and causing all kinds of violent trouble for the people and animals on that island. Lee was a wife beater, and cheated on his gorgeous wife frequently as he enjoyed his money and let his youngest brother run the company. The middle brother, Jasper, is an ecologist investigating his younger brother's misuse of power. Meanwhile, the victim's wife had divorced him but was in danger of losing her children because Alan Lee had converted to Islam before he died and the Islamic Court would probably rule against letting the children be raised by a non-Moslem woman.

Now all this is very serious stuff, but Singh is unconsciously hilarious. The contrast between him and the others on the case is, as author Shamini Flint writes, "Mohammad led the way, walking with long-limbed elegance. Shukor padded silently in his wake, Singh lumbered after them. A study in physical contrasts, they looked like a procession that was not just walking along a corridor but up the evolutionary chain as well."

Flint is a writer with a light touch but her characters are drawn swiftly and precisely. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Kuala Lumpur, especially when Singh got lost in the city. You think of a sharp detective as a man who can chase suspects, is an excellent shot, yet cerebral. Singh is anything but this kind of detective but he surely gets the job done. He's a great character and I liked this book very much.