Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Three more days

Unlike many, I haven't found myself afire with hatred of the year 2016. My benchmark for feelings about years was 2006; both the happiest and unhappiest events of my life occurred then: the marriage of my son to a wonderful woman whom I consider my daughter, then the death of my husband a few months later. Neither of which had anything to do with the numerals we assign to a twelve-month period of time.

Nonetheless it hasn't been the greatest of years here. I've been fighting depression - real depression - for the first time in my life, since way back last winter. It robbed me of my interest in things I'd loved (knitting, walking, cooking, baking, EATING) and sat on me like a goddamned satanic elephant throughout the summer and fall. I did get a prescription - which didn't work - and a different one which *may* be working but it also is having some side effects I could do without (that isn't an ironic understatement, they really are minor, though annoying). And of course, losing my dear cat Adams all of a sudden in October didn't help matters, either. But at least in the past couple of weeks the elephant seems to have lost some weight and I've ben getting back into caring for my house (a bit) and getting caught up with household things I've let go completely. I mean, last evening I put away six baskets of clean clothes, and there are six more waiting in the laundry room to be washed, dried and put away.

The lack of appetite has had something of a silver lining, leading me to about a ten - to - fifteen-pound weight loss. It's not a method I would recommend AT ALL. But it does mean I've got more energy and I don't wipe out quite so fast.

But ALL of this could just as easily have happened any other year. I grieve for all the wonderful talents we as a society have lost this year, and for the world because the Orange Clown takes the Presidency next month. But all is not despair. Lots of people are banding together to challenge whatever awful offal he sends down the pipe at us.

A lot of people are looking around at their neighbors and thinking we could maybe be more friendly and caring toward each other, and be mindful wherever we are of how others are being treated - and to step up and do something about it, in whatever way seems right to us at the time. And artists will keep doing their work, and doctors and nurses will keep doing their work, and people will go on being kind and helpful to each other (I believe that's a huge majority of people - the nasty ones get all the headlines) and we will get through this.

So I think 2016 contains exactly the same weird mixture of stuff any year has. And 2017 will, too, but a LOT of people have been awakened to the fact that we need each other. And that cannot be a bad thing, can it?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Adams Pussycat Hairypaws Hickman, 2004 - 2016

On October 11, my two cats and I were enjoying a nice, quiet afternoon in the front room reading (me) and snoozing (them). Adams was on the couch. Suddenly he started a sneezing barrage. It woke him up. He stood up looking grumpy, and I said, "Gesundheit!" and he turned his sweet face to me, all bright-eyed and interested, and I know he was thinking, "She's talking to me! Ima gonna go get some pettins!" I said, "God bless you!" (in case he didn't understand German).

And he turned around and jumped down off the couch, now hidden behind the lounger. He started making noises like he was going to puke (he did that several times a week) so I grabbed a sheet of newspaper and leapt over there to try to catch it - but he wasn't vomiting, he was seizing. In the one second it took for me to get to him, I could see by his eyes that he wasn't there any more, even though his body was still seizing. I ruffled his fur and spoke to him - I don't remember what I said - then raced upstairs to get my shoes and back down again - and in those 5 seconds (I was *really* moving), he had gone for good.

One second, peacefully, happily sleeping in one of his favorite spots. 5 seconds later, gone. Not really knowing what I was doing, I called his vet. She came right on line, and then I realized there was nothing she could do. I apologized but she kept me on the line for several minutes, sympathizing and oh, just being so kind. She had pulled up his records, and said the last time he was there, in July, for his lion cut, he was in perfect health. They did blood screens for him every time he got shaved, because they had to sedate him else he wouldn't tolerate the process. And that day when I picked him up, the other vet who handed him over to me exclaimed about what good shape his teeth were in: "He's got the teeth of a two-year-old cat!" So on October 11, the vet told me it was most likely a stroke that killed him. She assured me emphatically that they could tell he was well-cared-for. 

I live alone (except for my cats)(er, now, cat) and I held my sweet Adams in my arms and just howled. I cried until I couldn't anymore. For the next week I went around in a daze, crying when I saw his kibbles bowl, a patch of his fur, when I cleaned the litter boxes. I kept expecting him to be coming around the corner, talking to me. Whenever I was doing stuff in the kitchen, he would get up on top of the microwave on its rolling cart, and do a little Adams dance with his front feet, and talk to me demanding pettins. And he always got them, he was so damn cute I couldn't resist. In the couple of months before he died, I was *finally* getting to where he'd allow me to brush him all over - for a few strokes. He loved me brushing his cheeks, but it took a long time for him to realize the all-over brushing felt pretty good, too. (His sister gets brushed every morning and loved it from the start.) I called him my Eeyore cat, because when O'Keefe would barge in between us, jealous of my petting him, he'd meander off to the other side of the room and sit there, his head down, looking dejected (I always made it up to him). He was timid, and quiet, and so loving.

On the night in early 2014 when I had an infection go septic, the only image I remember of the moments the EMs were in the house bundling me up to go into the ambulance, was Adams' worried little face, looking at me between their legs, trying to get to me (my dear friend who'd come when I called her, mostly delirious. kept having to pull him out of the way, she says). That image, and the last, bright, happy look just before he jumped down off the couch, will stay with me until I die.

I can still feel his fur, the muscles in his back, the delicate bones in his front legs, his whiskers tickling when he rubbed his face on mine, his warmth. It still doesn't seem quite real. But, he's gone. Another loving little soul tucked deep in my heart that I will treasure there forever. 

ETA: Well, really to subtract the "last month" since I only just realized that we're already in December, so October is not last month. - T.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Me, too.

I know this is small comfort, but it's how I feel. Gonna stick to this one:

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

On the anniversary of Kristallnacht

From Wikipedia:

Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues had their windows smashed.

Estimates of the number of fatalities caused by the pogrom have varied. Early reporting estimated that 91 Jewish people were murdered during the attacks. Modern analysis of German scholarly sources by historians such as Richard J. Evans puts the number much higher. When deaths from post-arrest maltreatment and subsequent suicides are included, the death toll climbs into the hundreds.

Like many people who identify themselves as progressives, I'm in shock this morning. I'm trying to work through it, reading articles and blogs and Twitter feeds, trying to connect with others who are also stunned and sick at what has happened to the country we thought we knew.

People are saying, hold your loved ones close. Work through the grief and pain. Then stand up and start fighting.

So that's my plan for this week: mourn, then start arming myself with information, connection, increased involvement. And don't descend into Trump-world. Fight for love and inclusion and acceptance and moving forward. When they go low, we must go high, or else what is the point?

Hillary Clinton, for all her faults, had a clear and ringing message: We ARE stronger together. We cannot forget that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


My beloved Adams cat, 12 years old, died suddenly yesterday. He was in the pink of health. The vet said it was probably a stroke.

I'm still in shock. I will write a page for him when I can.

Love your pets extra.

Emperor Adams Pussycat Hairypaws Hickman.
2004 - 2016

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Early October, a little bit coming along

Got the bike/pedestrian count done. During one of them I barely escaped getting hit by a runaway automobile tire, which took out its frustration on some poor innocent car by exploding its headlight and seriously crushing the whole right-front of that car (whose driver KEPT DRIVING???) and then I treated the whole rush-hour linear parking lot to the delight of seeing an overweight old lady, tripping out of her sandals, trying to catch up to a tire that was accelerating down the sidewalk right at a giant pile of garbage bags and bins - fortunately a trash-hauling truck was right there and the passenger jumped out and caught the thing before all of Leavenworth Street got strewn with garbage.

So, that was exciting.

Now I've committed to visiting the Benson Library every Monday in October to do whatever yard work and trash pickup is needed. It's good to have a steady job LOL. Also, October is my month for purging more stuff out of the attic. There is a bunch of old camping cookware and other accessories that have to go. And no doubt a lot more. I'm ready to toss the old Christmas decor - some of it from my childhood in the early 50s, but of no emotional meaning to me now. And do you know anyone who wants a LARGE, sepia portrait that was hand-colored, of me in a corduroy skirt-bolero outfit and the most astonishing curls, age about 5? If I remember, I'll post a photo. It's a hoot. But who wants this stuff any more? Not me. Maybe I could sell the frame...

And, October is my last chance to actually do a hard-labor project in the back yard. It's so intimidating - and at the same time so mundane - that I don't even want to describe it. I'll do pics if I actually get at it.

I was going to mow the back yard today but it's been raining steadily all day. I am SO broken-hearted har har har.

So the rest of the day:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mid-September, nuthin much goin on

I've signed up to do six 2-hour bicycle/pedestrian counts at various spots around Omaha this month. Two Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and noon - 2 pm on two Saturdays. I did this at three sites a couple years ago. It's a good way to contribute to the civic well-being (Omaha is trying to scope out how to make our transportation systems more human-friendly! Yay!) and it's always interesting. Aside from hosting our little group's Game Day the last Sunday, that's all the excitement I have lined up for this month.

Still fighting the depression. I don't know that a double dose of this depressant is making any difference, but I suppose I have to give it a few weeks. I seem to be able to make myself do a few more things per day but man, it's hard, and I've been sleeping more than usual recently, too. Ah well, life goes on.

Oh, yeah, also, I found this gizmo at an estate sale a couple of weeks ago. Anyone know what it is? It is NOT handmade, as I'd first assumed. On one side is lightly embossed "Scofield's Pat." and below that and partially hidden by that metal clasp-thingy, " '0, 085". (That is an apostrophe before the zero.)

My photo quality isn't good but if you have an idea what this might be, leave a comment please?

I first took this as a pen nib (above) but it doesn't have the split from the point to the hole, so I may be wrong about that.

The prong on this thing is *not* sharp in the concave area, so maybe it isn't a cutting tool, even though you slide the two "guitar" halves lengthwise and either the pointy or the concave instrument extends past the other one, which *could* be a slicing operation, I guess.

I'm baffled. Cool, huh?

Friday, August 19, 2016

My one-year post-op checkup

was this week, and I got another "A" from my oncologist. She says I don't need to come back in for another year, AND that seeing the PA will be fine. From that I take it that she feels confident I'll be doing OK. And, of course, if anything comes up I can always call and book an appointment.

So - it's actually been 13 months since my cancer surgery and all still seems well!

Yeah, I'm happy.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What has changed?


We have an official, main party candidate for the President of the United States who is a woman.  I never expected to see that in my lifetime - until we had a black POTUS. Then, I began to hope ... a little bit.

And now it's real.  It's so big that I can't really *feel* its reality yet.

I'm aware of her faults; politics is compromise (among adults, anyway). But I think she's the best candidate we've had for many a long, long year. Even Obama, while excellent in many ways, didn't have the years and breadth of experience she's got.

I can't wait to see what she accomplishes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Just a sentimental scientist...

Just saw this on Bobak Ferdowsi's Twitter feed:

Philae Lander  Verified account  @Philae2014
It’s time for me to say goodbye. Tomorrow, the unit on @ESA_Rosetta for communication with me will be switched off forever...

LIKES 2,522

7:00 AM - 26 JUL 2016

and was very glad to see I'm not the only sentimental science lover whose eyes are a little bit wet right now.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mom's birthday

July 25, 2016. Mom would have been 97 today. I’ve been thinking about her a lot. I know while I was responsible for her, 2002 - her death on Jan. 1, 2004, I tried very hard every single day to do it right. I knew after she died I would feel guilty no matter what I did but I tried every single day. Nowadays, I find I was right: I feel guilty anyway. But intellectually I know that her life was her own: she lived the consequences (and rewards) of her own choices, just like we all do. I found it hard to feel love for her, but I must have because it really hurt when she died. But that inner glow of love? Not so much felt.

But when I was a kid she could be a lot of fun. That was why so many people (including my friends) visited our house so frequently. She was the life of the party. And when there weren’t people visiting (okay, drinking - her adult friends I mean) we often had fun together. She gave me my love of reading, and of words. Some of my favorite times were when she was washing the dishes and I (grudgingly) was drying them (god I was an asshole kid; I resented having to do ANYTHING), out of sheer desperation I suspect, she would start word games: spelling, definitions, but especially the one where you say a word, the other person has to spell it - and then has to give you a word back that starts with the last letter of the first word. There was strategy involved! I loved it.

And I was in awe of her ability to rescue baby birds and squirrels and rabbits. No matter how young they were, seemingly she had it in hand.

I *think* we’d sometimes play two-person Rummy together. And maybe Scrabble. We weren’t hard-core Scrabble players, but our word games certainly enhanced Scrabble for us. But that wasn’t very frequent because I can’t actually *remember* these table games, I just have the feeling we played them.

She was also extremely kind and generous-hearted towards people having a hard time in life. She'd been a child of The Depression and that never left her. She'd help out down-and-outers and though she would complain if one occasionally ripped her off, it didn't stop her helping the next person on whom life was crapping.

Anyway, it’s a day to celebrate again those things she bequeathed me: love of reading, love of nature, love of humor. Those are mighty big things, and I can't imagine myself without them. Thank you, Mom. We both did our best.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Summer in the city, for sure

So last week when we had that little three-day run of days in the 80's, I was in the inertia phase of my mood and didn't get anything but the front yard mowed. The back yard is much bigger, and I kept thinking "tomorrow." We all know where that gets you. It gets you where I am: on a day when the heat index now at 1 p.m. is 105 degrees F, there is no way in hell I'm going out there to try to mow. I wouldn't last ten minutes. And the yard foliage grows and grows and grows - we've had rain the past 3 nights, I think, so the planties are very, very happy. 

Well, so (I hope) are the bees (who love all the Creeping Charlie when it flowers) and the lightning bugs (who love the taller, wetter grass or at least seem to; I think we should be at the end of their usual display season but they don't seem to be abating). And therefore all the other little crawly critters are happy and therefore the birdies who eat them like popcorn are happy. I'm a biologist and I love mess and diversity in my yard - but I think it probably drives my recreational-mowing neighbor crazy. I don't mean to, honest. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

One month later...

I haven't been posting because I've had nothing interesting to post. Oh, I've been reading books, but kind of lost interest in writing about them. I visit several book reviewing blog sites and I don't have near the skills or insights those folks have, so I figure it doesn't hurt to let one tiny insignificant corner of the internet shut the hell up for a few days/weeks.

Everything's fine. I'm just really really low-energy this summer. And enjoying it!

NASA photo: Earth from Mars, a Curiosity rover photo.Yes, it's there. About a third of the way from the left side, and about a third of the way down from the top. It's maybe one light gray pixel. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)


As in, yesterday it was one year exactly since my cancer surgery last summer. I'm doing great. My one-year check-up will be next month; I'll get nervous the week before, I'm sure. I tend not to take things for granted anyway, but since last summer, I really don't take any doctor's exam for granted. You never know what those wacky folks will say!

But seriously: I adore my oncologist, Dr. Nadkarni. She is the BEST. Thank you, Dr. Nadkarni.

One month later...

I haven't been posting because I've had nothing interesting to post. Oh, I've been reading books, but kind of lost interest in writing about them. I visit several book reviewing blog sites and I don't have near the skills or insights those folks have, so I figure it doesn't hurt to let one tiny insignificant corner of the internet shut the hell up for a few days/weeks.

Everything's fine. I'm just really really low-energy this summer. And enjoying it!

NASA photo: Earth from Mars, a Curiosity rover photo.Yes, it's there. About a third of the way from the left side, and about a third of the way down from the top. It's maybe one light gray pixel.


As in, yesterday it was one year exactly since my cancer surgery last summer. I'm doing great. My one-year check-up will be next month; I'll get nervous the week before, I'm sure. I tend not to take things for granted anyway, but since last summer, I really don't take any doctor's exam for granted. You never know what those wacky folks will say!

But seriously: I adore my oncologist, Dr. Nadkarni. She is the BEST. Thank you, Dr. Nadkarni.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Still slowly stumbling along

and really, enjoying the summer by not going out in this gawdawful heat very much. I have been looking at the grass in my yard, and it does not look like it has grown 1/4" in the past week, so I don't think I'll mow the front today (Tuesdays are designated Front Yard Mowing days) because I am not into Recreational Mowing. The back yard, done last Friday, or was it Thursday, is also not showing many signs of growing (I don't water my grass unless we've had weeks of no rain). So I may be off the hook Thursday/Friday (my two options for Back Yard Mowing) too. That would be nice ('cause I'm lazy).

There are plenty of other yard jobs to do, though, but until the heat lets up they'll wait. When I push and exert myself in the heat and humidity, I'm subsequently flattened for at least 24 and sometimes 48 hours. What a wuss, I know. But it's true.

I read a good book last week: Quiet Neighbors, by Catriona McPherson.

I thought it would be spooky, but it's more of a three-pronged mystery with a kinda unreliable narrator, which I don't usually like. But this one - it really pulled me along, trying to figure out what she's hiding, and what he's hiding, and what the other she is hiding ... all the secondary characters were interesting and of course the premise - when you live in the middle of the cemetery, you have quiet neighbors OR YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO - is a real grabber. And then, somewhere towards the end, it does a kind of gentle double flip and reveals its true nature and I'm glad I read it.  Is that spoiler-free enough?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Getting back in the swing of things, slowly

I've accomplished two mowings of each the front and the back yards. I think getting that push-button starting mower, and investing in the real, effective filter mask may have extended my yard work lifetime by about ten years. I hadn't realized how anxious I would be, having to work myself up into going out and yanking on that damned mower rope just to get it started, all these years. And it wasn't getting better, I'm getting older and every time I ended up more sore and worn-out. So, yay! for push-button starters! I would have loved to get an all-battery mower but those are like $1300 so that's out of the question. This one is "self-propelled" but the handle is only on the right side so my right hand gets a little tired (hmm...maybe that's why my right hand has been a bit swollen at the base of the thumb for a couple of days...?) but I just need to retrain myself to take advantage of the front-wheel drive better (don't bear down on the machine's handle, lift it up a tiny bit so the front wheels do more of the work!) and we'll be fine.

And it's SO nice not to be wheezing and hacking and coughing and sneezing for two hours after mowing! I LOVE my zombie apocalypse face mask/filter system!

It *is* hot to wear and my face is even redder than it gets usually once I'm done with the mowing, but man, is it nice not inhaling all that dust and pollen and Yark knows what else. Refreshing!

Today is indoor work, I don't have the stuffing to tackle yard work again. At least both the front and the back are mowed nice and neatly now. I wanted to get that done before the long weekend in case my neighbors have friends over, they don't have to be embarrassed by my messy overgrown yard. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Little to report

other than yard work, yard work, yard work. Last summer's forced hiatus (recuperating from successful cancer surgery) really set me back from the plans I'd made before the diagnosis. So, I'll feel happy if I can just catch up and stay caught up with the mowing - although I've invested some money in annual flowers and pots to hang, so I'm hoping I'll be able to do a *little* better than stay even.

Saturday, May 07, 2016


Yesterday I mowed my front yard for the first time this season. It's very late; the dandelions and patchy grass (it's a very shady yard from neighbors' trees and my own maple in the front; also maple trees exude substances that discourage other plants growing in their proximity) were halfway to my knees. But until I'd got rid of last year's leaves, I couldn't mow, and I didn't get around to that until Wednesday and Thursday. I'd planned to mow then Thursday but discovered that the battery for the pushbutton starter on the mower needed to be charged for a full ten hours before using it. So, yesterday I put in the oil and gas and it started right up on the first try. I was very relieved, it was a lot of money (for me) to spend on a machine that wouldn't work well. Anyway, it did, and the grass in the front is of uniform height now. The perennial bed still has leaves in it, but those are my free mulch and part of the nourishment I'm leaving there.

It is humiliating how little physical labor it takes to flatten me these days. Two hours of raking and bagging leaves sent me indoors completely knackered; I lay down for a 30 minute nap Wednesday and conked out for three hours! And was ready to go back to bed at 11 p.m. Same Thursday - a couple of hours of (slow-motion) raking & bagging and I was Done. However, I hope to keep pushing myself so that by the end of summer I can do both yards (mowing, weeding) in one day and still stay awake at least until nightfall.

Next (Monday) I start on the east side of the house (*drifts* of last year's leaves) and the back yard (many times bigger than the front). That will be slow-motion, too. First, patrol for sticks (courtesy of the ever-shedding 90-foot Chinese elm) then walk down the east edge of the lawn with the weed-whacker, so that I can use the mower with only half its width (or less) cutting the tall grass and Creeping Charlie. Most of the yard has Creeping Charlie now; I like it - because the bees love it. I can't bring myself to mow it all down, so I'm leaving a mower-width strip along the west fence-line, and I'm leaving the entire back 15 feet or so along the back fence to do anything it likes - though I'll keep after the weed trees. I've got the brush pile in the corner back there, and I know that snakes, birds and rabbits use it, so that makes me happy, if not my neighbors (the neighbor across the back fence can't see my yard, that fence is wooden and 6 feet high).

There are several problem spots I will need to work on - all of this work I had planned out step by step on paper last spring, but then the cancer diagnosis landed and nothing else got done until now. So I'm playing catch-up really, with a whole year's yard work delayed. I've decided my five day a week job now will be working on the yard this spring and summer.

Changing the subject now: I tried soft-boiled eggs for breakfast this morning, thinking of all those Golden Age mysteries where Lord and Lady What's-it sit down with their country home guests for a leisurely buffet breakfast, with eggs perched in charming little gold-rimmed Royal Doulton china egg cups. But ye gods, what is the point of soft-boiled eggs? Half the white stays with the egg shell and the rest is a mutilated mess. Also, what's with those toast racks? Is that specially designed to make sure every piece of toast is equally cold by the time you try to apply the butter to it? And KIDNEYS? for BREAKFAST? And the British wonder why people mock their "cuisine."

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Revisionary, by Jim. C. Hines

It has taken me SO long to work down through my towering To Be Read pile before I could get to this one, and it has acted as a spur to keeping me reading those ones before it. Finally, I got to read Revisionary, the fourth and last book in Jim C. Hines's Magic Ex Libris series.

Look at the gorgeousness of that cover! Just LOOK AT IT!!!! All four covers are just glorious and prove that it IS possible for a publisher to take enough care so that the cover artist knows what the book is about! 

All I can say is, after the first three books I had no idea how Jim could possibly do justice to them in the last of the series, and NO idea how he could wrap it up - but he hit home runs on both counts. This one is fast-paced and surprising and fun and harrowing, and the end is satisfying on several levels. And there's lots of Smudge in this one, too! Smudge! I adore Smudge. Wondering who Smudge is? Read the books! (Jim's original Goblin Jig series is Smudge's actual starting place and you won't be sorry for reading those, as well. I promise!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In case anybody visits this blog

I thought I should enter a note. I haven't posted much for awhile because I've been kind of grappling with depression, which for me takes the relatively innocuous form of total inertia. Not emotional anguish, just a giant MEH, and being content to literally do nothing at all but sit in my chair all day before going to bed. It finally occurred to me that 1) this mood has lasted a LOT longer than usual (the usual is 2 - 3 weeks then suddenly I find myself up and at 'em again for a couple weeks, then back down in the burrow, lather, rinse, repeat) and 2) I haven't been able to logic myself out of it, and nothing behavior-therapy-wise that I've tried (and I *have* tried, a lot) was working, and 3) this is not healthy and 4) I need help. So I called my doctor and we're trying a prescription that seems to be helping since I've experienced a moderate amount of increased energy and interest in life.

And, I have been reading books, and I went to a movie with a friend, and there's been some small amount of house & yard stuff (really, really small amount), but I just can't get motivated to do a real post about any of it.

I'm fine, just need some more time getting my feet back under me.

Here's a picture of my cat as a reward for reading this far.


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Step by step

Spent a full day yesterday getting the living room windows finished:



And it's incredible how mood-lifting that difference is. Today, I do the dining room's windows and get the dining room all cleaned up, and the plant shelving re-organized (since I'll have to take everything off it and get it off of the marble-topped sideboard it sits on, right in front of the windows). At some point, I need to decide whether to paint or stain & varnish that shelving unit, but it can wait.

It is good to feel like I've accomplished something.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Project days

The elephant has labored, once more, to produce a mouse.

With my state and federal income tax returns in hand, I can now do some things around the house and yard I've been putting off for way, way, WAY too long. I mean, years, sometimes decades.

I think I'm a weird person in that I don't really pay much attention to my surroundings. I have never "got" the need to have my house look like a catalogue or TV ad. But I think I've carried it a bit too far...

We bought this house in 1993. We remodeled the kitchen, and re-papered and re-tiled half of the bathroom, and pulled the weird carpeting out of the bathroom, kitchen, and two upstairs bedrooms (this house has hardwood floors all through), but aside from that, we've done nothing. Oh, we re-painted one of the bedrooms to make a library/den for Bob. So what I'm saying is that the dining room and living room still have the same wall colors and paper, carpeting - and window "dressings." I'm thinking next year my tax refunds will pay to have the rest of the carpeting yanked out of this place, and the floors refinished. We'll see. But the windows downstairs - Oy.

Sometime about 2000 I think, we had hefty 2" venetian blinds put in the two windows on either side of the front door. So those are worth keeping - I just spent $53.50 to have one of them re-strung! But the other windows - they were looking more and more like some derelict lived here. So I went out and got simple (& inexpensive) nickel-colored drapery rods, a bunch of Levelor roller shades (hey, by the way, if you get them at Lowe's, Lowe's will trim them to size for you for free! A nicety no one bothered to mention to me when I bought SEVEN of them the other day. It is mentioned on the ha, ha so-called "instruction sheet," buried amidst a bunch of other printed matter in various languages. Thought I'd pass that along, since no one at Lowe's or Levelor's can bother to), and I decided I'm so sick of those heavy, dark, rough, wheat-colored drapes, that I wanted sheer and light for a change. So I got two sky blue sheers and two pure white sheers for each window. Er, to be clear, there are two pairs of windows, one in the dining room and one in the living room  (the venetians are enough for their windows), then one single window on the one-step landing to the upstairs. There's another window on the top landing I'm treating the same as the others. The 7th shade is to replace the mini-blind in the bathroom that the cats ruined.

Now, Sunday night when I went to bed, I told myself that by bedtime Monday night I'd have all new windows. It made me feel very good and helped me sleep. And it was a total ridiculous con! Why do I keep on doing this to myself? Projects I dream up NEVER entail mistakes on ANYONE'S part; oversights or sheer stupidity on anyone's part; or clumsiness or ignorance on anyone's part. (For the purposes of this post, "anyone" means "me.") They only ever take an afternoon or morning, in my head. Simple!

It's Friday evening. On the dining room table are every hammer I own (a 16-oz., a ball peen, a rubber mallet and a tack hammer); a hacksaw; three sizes each of Phillips and straight screwdrivers; four different kinds of tape; the cordless drill and all the boxes of drill bits and screwdriver inserts that go with it; a needlenose plier, a regular plier, a box of razor blades and a box cutter. I have made TWO trips to Lowe's and one to Ace Hardware (oh yeah, that's the other thing no one bothers to mention: they no longer provide the hardware in the package with your roller blinds, you have to buy those separately. Bastards), and two trips clear the hell & gone to southwest Omaha to drop off and pick up that venetian blind. I'm sore from climbing up and down ladders and holding the power drill above my shoulders, my knuckles are scraped and my ego is bruised.

It's taken me two full days and god knows how much mileage on the car, and the sum total of what I've accomplished is: I finally got the venetian blind re-installed after much sweating, puffing, cursing and slicing of fingers, and I got the lower stairway window completely redone. As I lifted the rod, full of the gauzy drapes, up to its hooks over the window, I realized: It looks a lot like Disney's Cinderella's ball gown.

I stared at it for a minute, then thought, screw it, I can live with this for 23 years.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

More Griffiths

As promised, here's my report on yet another Elly Griffths novel, A Dying Fall. This is again a Dr. Ruth Galloway and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson mystery. She's the prickly, independent archaeologist who chooses to live on a desolate stretch of Norfolk's coastline, facing the barren shingle and the tumultuous sea beyond. He's the guilt-ridden, married, father of her baby Kate (they have lots of history and between her independent nature and his genuine devotion to his wife, it doesn't look like they're ever going to have a simple relationship).

The story opens thusly: "At first he isn't even scared." And you're right, whoever "he" is, he's in deep trouble. In fact, he's about to die in a raging house fire. He was an old college friend of Ruth's, and shortly after she hears of his death, like, the next day, she gets a letter from him. He's been a professor of archaeology at a regional college in Lancashire, and he wrote to tell her he's made a tremendous discovery, but it's put his life in danger. Well, of course she hies herself and Kate up there to find out what happened. Unbeknownst to her, Nelson is wending that way, too, with his wife, for their annual visit at his mother-in-law's. Naturally - since they talk occasionally on the phone about Kate, and because Ruth calls him with her suspicions about her friend's "accidental" death, they end up investigating the situation together.

Several more of Ruth's old college gang appear in the story, and none of them are exactly what they seem. Nor are any of the college academics and students. Happily, for me anyway, she's brought her Druid friend Cathbad along to take care of Kate while she sleuths. Every story's better with Cathbad. (IMO)

The setting, around  Blackpool, Preston and Fleetwood, are flavorfully rendered in shades of scuzziness, industrial bleak, and just for variety, glorious rural landscapes. The title of the book refers to the climax, when an amusement park roller-coaster provides some of the most suspenseful and dismaying moments in this series yet. I actually cried at the denouement - but won't explain, as that would be a spoiler.

Once again, Griffiths hits it out of the park and I again highly recommend this series!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

How many more before the world stops this?

Hum hain Pakistan

Grief beyond words. My heart goes out to the good people of Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nothing to add.

Je suis Belge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The subject schedule has been forgotten long ago if it wasn't obvious already.

Well, I have read three books since my last book report (I don't call them book reviews because I don't even know what a book review is supposed to do), and there has actually been a tiny bit of knitting news. I won't lay all three books on you at once.

I've been in a mood slump but I think I'm coming out of it now.

The first book report is A Room Full of Bones, another Ruth Galloway archaeological mystery by Elly Griffiths:

When Ruth shows up at a small, private museum to participate in a high-publicity opening of an ancient coffin, she finds the curator dead in the room with the coffin, a stuffed snake, and one shoe lying by an open window.  This of course brings her back into contact with DCI Harry Nelson, who is not especially happy at another murder crowding into his life right when he's having a bad time trying to solve a massive drug-smuggling case. Ruth's and Harry's personal relationship is also a source of pain and doubt to both; a single night of survivors' passion after a previous, harrowing case had produced Ruth's beloved daughter Kate, and Harry's wife had known the instant she set eyes on the baby. Harry, to save his marriage, has pledged never to see either his daughter or Ruth again, except when required by their professions. The only one who isn't in terrible pain about all of this is Kate herself.

Anyway, the blue-blooded family who owns the museum lives on a horse training estate, and it will not surprise readers that things get mighty complicated once the investigation takes our pair out there; another murder ensues and things start getting really dangerous when Nelson begins to think his two cases might just be connected.

There's a degree of suspense here and several moments when I went "Oh, no!" and kind of tried to cover my eyes when it looked like something tragic was going to happen - a sure sign of a great read. I recommend this one, just like the others. Go to your local independent bookseller, I bet they can get this series for you if they don't already have it.

And the next book report is another Ruth Galloway mystery. The one after that isn't, though. So there's that.

The knitting news is good/bad: one of the second pair of socks I ever knitted developed a rather largish hole in the ball of the foot. That's the bad news; I think it's because at that point in my sock-knitting career I didn't realize that plain merino was a possibly poor choice for socks. Nowadays when I come across one of those early skeins with no nylon in them, I incorporate nylon thread into the heels and toes as I make them (and now I think I'll extend that to the ball of the foot, too).  Anyway, the good news is that I sat down with the remainder of that skein, a Pinterest series that shows how to darn, and got started darning it - and it's surprisingly easy.

Not the greatest photo, but evidence that it's working!

Since my last post, I've also found a couple of really cool web sites that I've put in my daily rounds:

Humans of New York, which is about humans, right, but the street photographer who started this has since gone all over the world, taking pictures and gathering stories from people everywhere. It is EPIC, funny, beautiful, heart-breaking, amazing. If you find yourself losing faith in human kind, put this on your daily rounds, too.

and, a blog wherein a local woman explores all kinds of interesting mysteries in Omaha (where I live). Odd buildings, intriguing people, historic businesses, she delves deep and brings forth lots of fun and moving stories. This is a terrific addition to Omaha's online community.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


I haven't done much at all the past week because somehow, despite having rigorously disciplined myself when it comes to putting library books on Hold, suddenly found myself with NINE of them ready to pick up! How did that happen? And they're all ones I really want to read, so I've been reading.

I love being retired.

I'm also feeling virtuous, as I always do when I make soup or stew out of stock I've brewed from a chicken that I myself roasted - and even moreso, this time I remembered to give the beans a long enough soak so they actually got done - meaning you can squish them with the back of a spoon to thicken up the broth - and I remembered I have about five pounds of wild rice I need to use up. So I've got crock-pot chicken broth-based beans & rice non-Mexican soup for supper. It's actually pretty bland, but putting about 40 postage-sized-stamp-sized squares of Swiss cheese in it definitely helps, it's much tastier that way. That, and having my own home-made whole wheat bread with nice crunchy seeds and grains in it with nice healthy margarine-like substance on it.

So I'm feeling nice and healthy and thrifty and enjoying reading some books I really like a lot. My comments about them will follow in the days to come.

But jeez - NINE of them? When did I order them? I thought I'd quit doing that, instead using the library's For Later button mostly...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Two more book reviews!

I've neglected posting the past couple of weeks because there's been pretty much nothing going on. Nice and quiet and placid, yay.

But, I have been reading! Two books to report on today:

The Yarn Woman by Brooks Mencher was a title and author I found out about where else? Ravlery forums, of course. I have read my share of craft-related mysteries, and I have to say, for the most part, they haven't been all that well-written. Most have been fun and at least engaging enough for me to finish them, some are more fun than others. There have been, sad to say, a small number I couldn't finish, or even get past the first chapter. It's not the craftiness that's at fault; I suspect it's true of any mystery genre/niche-market mashup category (sailing, gardening, steeplechasing...). Even worse, I am absolutely allergic to any supernatural woo-woo in my mysteries, and the book blurb flatly states, "There are always the ghosts." So, because of this history, I approached The Yarn Woman with reservations, perhaps I should say: low expectations.

To my delight, I was completely disarmed and delighted by these three novellas!

Now, they are not without flaws. After reading it, I went back to Ravelry and found a book club there who read it several years ago. I was taken aback that most of the readers took great exception to Mencher's writing skills, particularly the "big words" he uses and especially how many adverbs he uses. (I am not blind to the two adverbs I used in that sentence.) First, my feelings about big words is that they are either used well, or poorly. If they stand out, it's poorly. But with this surprise came additional insight into my own attitude: I have a larger vocabulary than most people I know, and not one time in these stories did a "big word" stand out to me! Not one! So maybe my definition of "used well" or "used poorly" needs to change. I did mull this over. I decided that the author has no control over the working vocabularies of their readers, so there's no way, aside from deliberately dumbing down their text, they can make sure that any "big word" doesn't put readers off. I myself found Mencher's writing delightful, and I don't use that term for just any old book. I loved the characters, the settings, and the plots. I loved the descriptions. I even appreciated the handling of the supernatural elements.

Second, the adverbs. When I was writing fiction a lot (I don't any more), I did a LOT of reading and studying to improve my writing. The Adverb gets TONS of criticism. Some critics and authors go so far as to say you should never, ever use an adverb. And sure enough, when I would go through a manuscript I'd written, I'd find a lot of them I could cut and/or replace with some other way to get the same idea across that made my writing better. So if anything, I'm over-sensitive to the use of adverbs. Again, to my mind, you can use adverbs well (they don't stand up and yell at the reader) or poorly (they do exactly that, call attention to themselves and away from the story). And again, not ONCE in these novellas did I even NOTICE an adverb.

So I was charmed by the writing, and found it entirely professional and effective. What about the stories? Here's where a sensitive reader, one whom certain subjects upset, might be careful. There is child abuse here, wife abuse, and violence. None of it is on-screen nor are its effects treated gratuitously or in detail. And some of it turns out to not be what it seems. That said, I'll only give a little comment without spoilers for each. You can read fuller synopses and critiques on the usual web pages: amazon's comments, Goodreads reviews, mystery lovers' blogs.

Nat P.M. Fisher is a hard-working reporter in modern-day San Francisco, who starts out narrating the tale "Ghosts of the Albert Townsend" - I should mention the point of view does skip around some in the stories and occasionally I had to backtrack to figure out who was talking/doing, but not enough to ruin the reading for me - which involved a little girl whose nocturnal ramblings around town have brought her, wrapped in a hand-knitted shawl that's definitely the worse for wear, bloody and limp to the emergency room in her mother's arms. Fisher happens to observe their arrival, and then the very prompt arrival of quite a few policemen pique his curiosity about the case. Fortunately, an old childhood chum, Detective William Chu, is in charge of the case and he allows Fisher to tag along with the investigation. Because the shawl is unknown to the girl's mother, and it's hand-knitted, Chu calls in Ruth M, a textile forensics consultant (The Yarn Woman), to help them find out where the child had been because she's not talking. Fisher soon finds himself enthralled by the woman and her milieu: she's got a devoted - assistant? servant? chauffeur? protector? - in Mr. Kasparov, an elderly Ukranian ex-pat, and they dwell in a splendid old abandoned theatre in a tiny, hidden pocket of old San Francisco. Ruth M is indeed a yarn woman - a knitter with a stash that is no doubt the envy of half of Ravelry's members. And her knowledge of fibers and human psychology is wide and deep. Somehow connected, though how Fisher struggles to determine, the girl's story is tied in with the reappearance in the harbor of an old sailing ship that sank long ago. As I said, I am not usually at all interested in supernatural goings-on in my mysteries but this one kept me reading way past my bed-time until I could finally read the last page.

The second and third novellas, The Fisherman's Wife,  and The Boy in the Mist were just as compelling and rich-reading as the first. The characters are all colorful and interesting and the stories have heart. The Boy in the Mist has just a slight whiff of Martha Grimes's Richard Jury stories about it; that's all I'll say about that except I don't mean that in any kind of negative way at all. (I love her Jury series). This third one is also - to me - the most unsettling of the three in that it suggests goings-on that I never expected in this country, in this age, and which if true, are appalling. They remind me how very, very lucky I have been and how sheltered I still am. Unfortunately they are entirely believable. At least The Yarn Woman and Nat P.M. Fisher and Mr. Kasparov have helped a little bit, by the end.

I recommend this book to mystery lovers and yarn enthusiasts.

The other book I read last week is The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths.

My mystery book club read her The Janus Stone last year and I really liked it; I'm just now getting around to reading the rest in the Ruth Galloway series. The Crossing Places is the first in the series. Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist who becomes involved with a mystery in the wetlands she bought a small house beside. Her own personal and academic history and the history of ancient England, and the history of a disappearance the other main character, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, failed to solve ten years earlier, all entwine in a horrible and frightening situation literally in her own front yard.  I like both of these main characters and the archaeology is always fascinating. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Training Day One

I actually walked! 1.8+ miles, to the nearest Little Free Library to deposit some books, then the long way home to increase the mileage. I way over-dressed as the temps hit the mid-70s today, instead of the mind-50s predicted by weatherspark (the online one I use most). My straw gardening hat and tan trenchcoat (the only thing of the right weight for what I *thought* would be out there, lots of sun, lots of wind, and chilly air, but too warm for the big puffy winter coat) - turned out I didn't need the coat at all. Ah well, I'll figure it out.

I have a lovely adjacent neighborhood to walk in:

See the little house-shape in the middle of the picture? 
That's the Little Free Library. Cute, innit?

Niiice houses in this neck of the woods.

The old, distinctive light fixtures that identify this 
neighborhood to any old Omahans, like me...

So that was a nice start to the effort. The new shoes were quite comfy, too. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

As promised...

First, the belated book reviews.

For the March library mystery book club, we're reading Mrs. Jefferies and The One Who Got Away by Emily Brightwell:

I have to say, I am anything BUT impressed with that cover art. If I had seen this on a shelf I'd never have picked it to read, on the basis of that cover. Also, there appear to be about 30 of these Mrs. Jeffries books, but I had never heard anything about Emily Brightwell at all, in my long mystery-reading career. It caused me to wonder how well-written they would be (okay, I'll be blunt: the cover and that huge long list of novels I'd never heard of set my expectations extremely LOW).

However, I was pleasantly surprised! Ms. Brightwell is a completely capable writer, and knows her English grammar, spelling and punctuation just fine. The editing, therefore, must be pretty good, too. I mean, I was expecting something ghastly along these lines but was very pleased to be proved wrong.

The story was good, with lots of characters full of verve and color, it moved right along and kept me guessing (though I don't try to figure mysteries out while I'm reading them, at all - so this is probably not a reliable recommendation for people who do try to beat the protags at solving the mystery) until the reveal.

I'll be reading more of these, but honestly, it will be to satisfy my curiosity about this series. It seems to me to be aimed at a particular reader, which is not a bad thing, let me be clear about that. The main characters are the serving staff in the house of the main detective. They appear to have organized themselves into a highly effective detecting team - without the actual detective's knowledge! The housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries is the ring-leader, and the information her subfusc team comes up with, she conveys to her boss for the benefit of his investigations - with the chief aim being he doesn't know how he comes by it! So he thinks he thought of it himself? I guess? It seems a bit weird, to me.

But a large part of the intention of this set-up, I *think*, is to portray a created family - the "downstairs" staff - which also includes a couple of people who are most definitely not servants, or even employed by the main guy - who have learned to trust and depend on one another and always have each other's backs in all sorts of ways. There is a lot of ink devoted to the descriptions of these relationships and how they treat each other.  To the extent that I believe the books are meant to appeal, perhaps, to lonely people, to kind of create a literature family for them to feel good with. I may be wrong - that's why I want to read some more of them.  There's nothing wrong with this intention, if that's what it is. It's just emphasized more than in any other mystery I've ever read.

So I can recommend this one pretty confidently.

The second book is another of Fred Varga's Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries, An Uncertain Place:

After the first Vargas I read, for the mystery book club, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, I bought four titles I found at the used book store. I read This Night's Foul Work, then this one. Which are the three latest in the series, and I even read them out of order within the three. So I need to go back and start at the beginning - not because you can't read them out of order, but because I think I'll enjoy them even more that way.

Anyhow, this is another excellent book. The crimes in these books tend to be gruesome, but committed off-screen, so to speak; the aftermaths are described but not in such a manner as to be sickening or worse, titillating. If you want sickening details you're going to have to supply them out of your own imagination. The "good guys'" reactions will tell you all you need to know. The story here starts with a collection of severed feet, vintage spanning several decades, still in their shoes, turning up at the entrance to Highgate Cemetery in London, and ends up taking Adamsberg all the way to a tiny village in Serbia. In between he receives a horrible shock halfway through, which confronts him by surprise in his own kitchen, and has another, particularly horrifying, experience in Serbia.

When the story pointed to Serbia, I naturally thought of the terrible war there in the '80's, so was expecting much bad stuff from that - but even worse things happened far far earlier than that in Eastern Europe, and not all of them have rational explanations. We in America can't fathom the kind of clan hatreds that are nurtured for centuries and break out in unspeakable violence every few generations. Some roots defy logic.

Again, there are plenty of lively and distinctive characters in this tale and I enjoyed it immensely.

So I give it a most definite Thumbs Up!

And for the Announcement: I've signed up to walk in the MS Walk in Omaha April 9th, so I'm hoping folks will donate to the cause.

Bought new walking shoes today!

I'm going to start training right away - I've let it go too long. I'm hoping to start, April 1st, walking the actual route of the MS Walk. They haven't posted the map yet but I've been on one of them that started in the same area so I'm guessing it'll be the same: from AkSarBen Village up along Elmwood Park, then across the Dodge Street overpass and up and around Memorial Park and back to AkSarBen Village to  the end. I don't know how long it is.

If you want to donate to Team Jensen (my nephew's wife's team), here is the URL:

or here's a live link.

If you don't want to donate on the web site, let me know, and you can give or send me a check or the cash (I'll be happy to provide a receipt) and I'll make sure it gets to Team Jensen. The advantage of using the web site is that they'll send you an email for the tax-deductible donation.

So as the weeks go by, I'll probably be posting photos of my walks and complaints about my blisters LOL. Oh boy, can't wait, eh?

Check this space

I have two book reviews I'm going to post, and an activity announcement to make later today.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

News worth reporting

Just one item, but it's pretty special: my 6-month post-op checkup with my oncologist yesterday: She gave me an "A"!* All is well, after 6 months.

*She literally gave me an "A." I wore the adorable tiny leather-bound Lab Notes necklace (for good luck, because my kids gave it to me) and she signed the first page with the date, "A," and her name.

A wonderful use for this precious little gift. I've already made a note to wear it to the next 6-month check-up.

I had not realized (as usual) how anxious I had become over this check-up - largely because I just ignored it until the night before, thus ensuring I'd have a really lousy night's sleep, until I got home afterwards and just collapsed. I barely managed to stay "up" - if you don't count a 10-minute half-snooze in my chair - until my usual bed-time, and though I got a solid 7 hours in last night I can tell I'm going to need a nap today. Funny how I seem to have this wall I hide my anxiety behind so I can carry on as though normal on the other side of it - until the source of the anxiety has been resolved, when it runs around the end of the wall and comes to beat me to a pulp.

The human mind, what a thing, eh?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Nothing to write home about.

Nothing happening here worth writing in the blog about. Still alive.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Something of a knitting update, I guess

So, now it's February and I'm still not done with the first sock of my January pair. However, full of optimism, I've declared my February Self-Imposed Sock Club Sock is this:

It's just a vanilla sock, but I'm putting a herringbone lace 
pattern on the leg - my first attempt at lace!
The yarn is Koigu Painters Pallette Premium, color P138:

I got that picture from the yarn provider's web site, I can't remember which one it was. This picture makes the colors look more contrast-y than the yarn actually is, and for a change, my own photo is closer to what I see:

Anyway, I haven't actually done any knitting so far this week because my hands have been a bit sore from scooping snow. And the trigger-finger. However, I'm going to move this bit of sock over to a circular needle, too, since I'm determined to learn how to make socks on circular needles (magic loop method). Ultimately my goal is to master the Toe-up Two-at-a-Time Magic Loop method. When I have done that I'm going to go around wearing a golden crown with crossed dpns and a ball of yarn on top, I'll be so chuffed!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book, er, report: Through a Glass, Darkly, by Donna Leon

Through a Glass, Darkly is a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery from prolific author Donna Leon. I've read and heard about this series often through the years, but for some reason never picked one up to read it.  It's our February book for the library mystery book club, so here's my chance.

(The cover on the library copy I had, only without the intensely 
annoyingly poorly-placed library stickers! Grrrrrrr....)

Commissarrio Brunetti is a very likeable detective, a contented family man, seemingly easy-going, thoughtful and honorable, but not naïve in the convoluted politics of Venetian power. This case starts out as a sort of off-the-books look-see on his part, having been requested by a friend of a friend to find out if there is really any danger of the 2nd friend's decidedly awful father actually trying to kill 2nd friend's husband, as he's threatened to do (before witnesses). It's all involved with Venetian politics, environmental malfeasance, and a couple of the famous Murano glassworks factories still operating in the city.

I'm not going to try to get into it any farther than that - for one thing, it's too complicated for me to try, but mostly to avoid spoilers. It does become a murder mystery, sadly, and as is apparently frequent in Brunetti's life, Powers-That-Be do kind of swirl around him and threaten his career but he never lets that take precedence over hunting down the killer.

After reading this, and enjoying it very much, it did occur to me that it doesn't have the nail-biting, heart-pounding dénouement we perhaps expect these days in murder mysteries. Again, I'll stop with that statement to avoid spoilers. It isn't that the stakes are not high, they are frighteningly high, but it's not resolved with car crashes and shootouts and high-wire theatricals. And that is just fine with me. Along with a great hero and a good mystery, it's fun reading about everyday life in Venice, a city I'll never get to. I'm really glad there are like, dozens of Brunetti books that I still have to look forward to!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Remains of Innocence by J.A. Jance

I think this is the first Jance mystery I've read. It's our book for the mystery book club at the library tomorrow evening, so I thought I'd give myself a couple of days to get it read - but I read it straight through, took me about 7 hours yesterday afternoon through evening. So that should tell you I liked it! It's a real page-turner.

It starts with a young woman, Liza,  steeling herself to enter her dying mother's house. Her mother was a lifelong abusive alcoholic and hoarder, and Liza left home the minute she graduated from high school, and though she lived in the nearby small town she hadn't seen her mother for many years. What she finds in the house turns her life upside down in very short order: Over a hundred thousand dollars in cash, hidden in the thousands of books and magazines mixed among the filth and debris in that nightmarish house.  She doesn't realize it's tied to her father who abandoned the family when she was an infant; she knows almost nothing about him.

She uses some of the money to hire locals to empty and clean out, and refurbish the house for sale, while her mother is in hospice. A stranger approaches her with a dire, one-sentence, obscure warning at her mother's funeral, and before that day is over the house is burned to the ground, and her innocent, elderly landlady is brutally murdered. Within 24 hours Liza is on the run from whoever is looking for her - heading for her long-estranged brother in Bisbee, Arizona who is the only person on earth she has left.

In the meantime (as the old movies liked to say), Arizona’s Cochise County Sheriff Joanna Brady has a brutal murder of a locally-loved developmentally disabled man to deal with, and she has to call the ME back from his scheduled getaway weekend. He agrees, resentfully, but then he never shows up for the autopsy. The first murder involved disturbing evidence of a potential Beginner Serial Killer's work, but the second murder is out-and-out torture and murder. Short-handed, Brady juggles all the inter-jurisdictional and budgetary burdens her office is plagued with as well as trying to do her own family justice.

I had only one complaint about this book and it was about an increasingly annoying habit of Liza constantly - I mean CONSTANTLY - identifying the local people she knew with their regular order at the diner she worked at. It was fresh and kind of cute the first two times, but I have to say, eventually I almost gave up on the book because of it. For awhile I was thinking, well, Jance must have had a reason to do this - maybe what someone eats will turn out important to the story. After that though I realized nothing she could do with it could make it worth the aggravation. I was never so glad for anything as when Liza finally left town and got away from all those diner regulars. JEEZ it was annoying!

HOWEVER, that said, I really like the characters and the story and the descriptions, and that she sprinkled real surprises throughout the plot. I will definitely recommend this to mystery readers, and I'll be reading more Jance in the future!

Monday, January 04, 2016

2015's reading tally, and a new book review

and on the day I'm "supposed" to post a book review. Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

OK I added up all the books I read in 2015, and it amounted to 73. That's 3 more than in 2014. I started quite a few more than I finished; as I get older, my patience is thinner and I'm more ready to put a book aside if it doesn't grab me in the first 50 pages. Time's running out, you see, and there are a lot of good books out there for me to find!

One of the books I read last year in 2013 was London Falling, by Paul Cornell. It's the first in a series about a special office in the Metropolitan Police Division (if that is the right name) that deals with supernatural crime in London. Cornell writes a compelling book, with interesting and (sometimes) likeable characters. I am not always good at following supernatural phenomena as written in books, and I have to say there were times here when I didn't really know what was going on, but that didn't mean I didn't want to find out how it ended up! It's a police procedural, in many ways, with the focus being on bad guys of some other dimension that have always shaped and influenced human societies in the London area, from even before there were people there. The odds are always stacked well against our heroes, and they don't help matters sometimes with their own weaknesses and doubts, but they're very smart, talented people and while all is not set right in the end - far from it - they manage to win through enough to make me hope for a long series to enjoy.

This week I read the next one in the series, The Severed Streets. Someone - or some thing - is murdering rich white men in highly public circumstances, yet no witnesses seem able to say what happened. Our DI James Quill and his now Sighted (able to see much from the other plane, wherever that is) squad, are on the case - which soon seems to be an extension and variation from the old familiar Jack the Ripper. I won't say much about this book except that it's even better than the first one, there's a scene about a third of the way in where I found myself thinking "Hang on, that character sounds a lot like - NO WAY! It IS [famous author]!  Well that's interesting. [Famous author] and Cornell must be buddies, for him to be kind of a featured minor character."  And about 2/3 of the way through, something really awful happens - something doubly awful, had me going NO NO NO NO but it was Yes. And so of course I had to keep reading until 3 this morning to get to the end to see what happened next. I can't imagine what the next one's going to be like. With some truly shattering changes happening to some of the squad members, and relationships within the squad even more fraught and precarious than ever, I feel sure it'll be a doozy. This is one (as is the first novel) I'll be re-reading through the years.