Monday, January 15, 2018


I don't usually write much about music here, though it is music that has run through my life in so many ways and saved me in so many ways.
Last night I learned that an old friend of mine whom I have not seen in years has died.
Today I learned that Dolores O'Riordan, lead singer and songwriter for The Cranberries, has died at 46. Too young.
On this day, 89 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr was born. Today we observe the only American holiday that honors an African American. A holiday that took over 15 years to be approved by our government. I find it fitting that it is celebrated on or near the day of his birth rather than his death. What is important is that he was born, he lived, he fought for justice and freedom.
 On Twitter last night I found a tweet from Margaret Atwood saying she was taking a time out from Twitter due to all the attacks against her for a piece she wrote in The Guardian. You can look it up.
The world is so harsh with people who fight for freedom, justice and rights for all human beings.

As I was writing in my journal this morning I felt stunned, sad, beaten down, and words were hard to find. I found the lyrics of a song running through my mind. So I give you those lyrics, written by Stephen Stills when he was in Buffalo Springfield:

For What It Is Worth
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's s time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Songwriters: Stephen Stills
For What It Is Worth lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
 (How appropriate that our much vaunted technology had to garble my copying and pasting. At least the copyright is there.)

Saturday, January 13, 2018


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Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Milkweed Editions, 2013, 386 pp
I read this for my Tiny Book Club. The subtitle is Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. It was a revelation.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a descendant of the Potawatomi Nation, raised on the stories of her tribe. She went to college and trained as a botanist because, as she told her advisor in her freshman intake interview, in answer to his question, "So, why do you want to major in botany?": "I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together."

At that moment came the collision in her life between modern science and indigenous wisdom!

Sweetgrass, called wingaashk in the Potawatomi Nation, is an honored and much used plant. The word means the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Kimmerer uses it as the metaphor for her book, braiding the stories of her people, the development of herself, and the depredations of the white European settlers whose descendants now rule this land, into a heartfelt plea for more understanding.

I sat down and began to read the book. Within a few pages my mind wandered, I felt bored, I had the urge to turn to social media or play Solitaire. I made it through ten pages. Reading group meeting was only a week away!

This went on for several days. Eventually Ms Kimmerer and I came to an understanding. I would read one chapter a day, she would be granted my attention for that long. It became for me something like the way some people read a devotional piece or Bible excerpt or psalm daily. Amazing changes came over my mind, my perceptions, my world view.

I have seen reviews of this book where readers complain that it is too poetic or even incomprehensible. I get it! This is a voice from another culture attempting to translate a sensibility about the true reciprocative relationship with the natural world that 21st century people will have to adopt if we want to remain living on our very own earth.

Have you ever spent time thinking about life without fossil fuels? I have. How could this world ever give that up? We are addicted to the very practices which are destroying our health and our home.

To read this book, I had to slow down, leave the time stream of my daily life. Eventually I became aware that my perception was changing, that I was observing life differently. I admit I haven't stopped driving my car, but I became aware that due to her way of presenting ideas this is a very subversive book. Exxon, etc, if they knew about it would have it banned. Our current administration would try to have it banned.

Indigenous wisdom is something modern life has lost and buried, but science is not evil. Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent her adult life in efforts to connect the two. Of course, one could not command or force a climate change denier to read it. I think a teacher of biology or botany or social studies could get her class to read it though. A college or university could make it required reading for graduation. 

This morning I saw a video clip on Twitter of a bison crossing a road in a National Park. We could still save ourselves a lot of suffering and this book could well be a how-to manual. Because of reading it I now am aware of and honor the many groups of our indigenous peoples who are doing their utmost to bring back the lost wisdom of the land and plants, who only wish us a long, prosperous, and happy life on Planet Earth.

I recommend, no I urge you, to check out what this book has to offer for the future.

(Braiding Sweetgrass is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


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Ill Wind, Nevada Barr, G P Putnam's Sons, 1995, 309 pp
This was the third mystery by Nevada Barr, all set in United States National Parks. Ranger Anna Pigeon is now posted in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park located amid the preserved cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi native civilization. Those ancestors of the Pueblo Indian vanished in the 12th century BC and left enough mysteries to occupy historians to this day. Barr weaves this into her own mystery.
It is summer and week after week park visitors are succumbing to respiratory attacks and having to be rescued by the rangers. One of them dies in the hospital. When Anna's fellow ranger is found dead in one of the cliff dwellings, the FBI arrives in the person of Agent Stanton.

Anna had been forced to work with Stanton in the last book, A Superior Death, where to say that they did not hit it off would be putting it mildly. Now Anna is more haunted than ever by her personal demons and Stanton becomes a good friend to her as they work together to find the killer.

Another of the park personnel is a woman who holds strong beliefs in New Age theories about the Anasazi. A strange phenomenon of mist and winds has been appearing on a weekly basis all summer. This woman is convinced it is being caused by spirits who deplore mankind's depredations around the park, as construction is being done to upgrade some of the park's crumbling infrastructure.

Once again the author combines the internal problems of the National Park's administration as well as the quirks of the Mesa Verde crew and visitors with Anna's prickly personality to create a complex mystery. I have been to the New Mexico section of the cliff dwelling ruins and could picture the locations, the weather and the skies in and under which Anna finds herself.

The book gets off to a jagged start as we meet the characters, not one of which is admirable. We also learn why Anna is there and how her situation has become less stable than ever. The cast of characters seemed larger than in the two earlier books. All of that made for quite a few confusing chapters. I was worried Ill Wind would be one of the duds that mystery series writers sometimes have.
Once the murder has been committed though, the story takes off and comes to a stunning conclusion. All the clues were there and I had to admire how she did it. All I will say is that ill wind was man made and justice was done. 

(Ill Wind is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, January 08, 2018


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The Colors of Space, Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1963, 190 pp
This is one of MZB's early books (she began publishing in 1958.) It is a stand alone, not part of any series. Sometimes considered to be a young adult novel, it features a young man just graduated from college.
Bart Steele, the recent graduate of the Space Academy on Earth, learns that his father has been murdered but has sent him a message: "Bart, I send money and instructions by my friend. Do as he says. Don't go home, Dad."

The time is far future, space travel is common, but the secret of travel faster than the speed of light is jealously guarded by a non-human race, the Lhari. The pace is relentless and Bart becomes the young man who must wrest the secret from the Lhari by going undercover as one of them.

Though the writing is a bit lame, the story is a fun read with interesting twists. Bart learns that the Lhari are non-violent and peace loving but color blind. His mission is to avert war while learning the big secret without being discovered. What he discovers is the "eighth color." 

If college graduates these days had chances to grow up as fast as Bart had to, who knows what our future would be.

(The Colors of Space is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, January 06, 2018


I did not post a reading group update in December because mostly my reading groups just partied, voted on our favorite reading group book for the year, and did a book exchange. It was fun!

But now it is a New Year and we are all hunkering down to read and discuss. It is a good variety. The Wreath is by an Nobel Prize Winner. Believe it or not, I have never read Dune and I am excited! Miss Burma was on my list of books I wanted to read last year. The Fifth Season was one of my Top 25 Books of 2017 and I convinced The Bookie Babes to try it, though not many of them have ever read fantasy. I hope they don't hate it.

Tiny Book Club:
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Molly's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Bookie Babes:
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What are your groups reading in January?
Tomorrow I will return to reviews of books I read in December.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


Here in the Los Angeles area it is not as cold and shivery as the image above looks nor was it in December, but it seems appropriate for some of the areas where family and friends live. It has been in the mid-70s and sunny lately and I can't remember the last time we had any precipitation.

I had fun with my reading last month, allowing myself plenty of reading time and an almost complete freedom of choice. In the books I traveled in time, across the country and around the world. I enjoyed every book!

Stats: 11 books read. 8 fiction. 7 written by women. 5 written by authors new to me. 3 historical fiction. 3 speculative fiction. 1 mystery. 1 non-fiction. 1 biography. 3 for My Big Fat Reading Project.

Favorites: Manhattan Beach, The Bedlam Stacks, The Rise and Fall of DODO, and The Revolution of Marina M.

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I sincerely hope you ended your reading year as happily. With so many wonderful books in the world I am sure 2018 will be a fabulous reading year for all who read books.

Monday, January 01, 2018


The image above, "borrowed" from Google images and huge thanks to its creator, spoke to me because it is called The Sleepless Reader. I have become someone who can nap any time of the afternoon but cannot always sleep at night. This year I finally faced it and just got up and read on the futon bed in my office until my eyes began to droop.

I had one of the worst years of my life, physically and emotionally, but it was reading that saved me, brought me back to some semblance of wisdom and best of all, informed and educated me. I tried, I really tried, to keep up with the news but that left me feeling powerless and often manipulated. Reading about the past, the present, and the future in books was how I found some kind of ground I could stand on. 

I read 119 books. Three less than last year but almost 2000 more pages because 11 of the books I read were well over 500 pages.

Books read: 119. Pages read: 41080. Average pages per day: 113. Average books per week: 2.3.
Fiction: 103
Nonfiction: 16
Written by women: 68
Mystery/thriller: 13
Historical fiction: 19
Fantasy: 5
Speculative/sci-fi: 9
Translated: 5
Biography/memoir: 9
Essays: 3
My Big Fat Reading Project: 43
My top 25 are my favorite books and as usual I had trouble narrowing the list down to 25, but isn't that just the nature of things? I think I gave less than 3 stars to only a handful of what I read this year. The books were published over a wide range of years, not just in 2017. All of the books on the list have been or will soon be reviewed here on the blog.
The List (in the order I read them): 
The Nix, Nathan Hill
Version Control, Dexter Palmer
All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
The Time of the Doves, Merce Rodoreda
The Gods of Tango, Carolina De Robertis
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey
A Book of American Martyrs, Joyce Carol Oates
White Tears, Hari Kunzru
Grace, Natashia Deon
Little Nothing, Marisa Silver
The Shadow Land, Elizabeth Kostova
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
Sister Golden Hair, Darcey Steinke
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy
The Plague Diaries, Ronlyn Domingue
The Fifth Season, N K Jemison
Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn West
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
Occasion For Loving, Nadine Gordimer
The Bedlam Stacks, Natasha Pulley
The Rise and Fall of DODO, Neal Stephenson
The Revolution of Marina M, Janet Fitch
If I follow your blog, I have read your lists for the year's most loved books. If I don't follow you or you don't have a blog, feel free to let me know of great reads I may have missed in the comments. Thanks to everyone who visits here!  
Happy New Year! Let's read our way to a better year.