Monday, July 31, 2017

July Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads 
June Reads

This month I went into in full-on summer reading mode. No poetry. No nonfiction. No literary fiction. No catching up on magazines and literary journals. I didn't even read The East Village Inky when it came in the mail. I'm actually a little embarrassed by that giant pile of (eleven!) books up there. Did I do anything at all besides read this month?

You know how this got started. I made a skirt. Then I read Crocodile on the Sandbank, because I had recently acquired my own copy, and because it matched my skirt, and because why not? Then I ordered copies of three of the next four books in the series (I had a copy of the fourth) and plunged in, going much faster than I expected, because soon I caught up to a hole in my collection (I already owned most of the later books, but only a smattering of the early and middle ones) and began combing used book stores, where I was not only able to fill in the gaps, but also scored a signed copy of one (true confession, I did already have a paperback of this particular volume, but at seven bucks, I could hardly pass it up). While I was still searching for a copy to fill the last gap in my selection, I took a detour and read another Elizabeth Peters book, from outside the Amelia Peabody Series.

So, what is my deal with these books? My mom was a long-time reader of Elizabeth Peters, nom de plume of Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels. The Barbara Michaels books are tales of suspense with supernatural elements and Gothic themes (crumbly old manor houses, ghosts of dead children, etc.). The Elizabeth Peters books are classic who-done-its, with a lot of humor (and history) thrown in. The Amelia Peabody series, which is the most extensive collection of an Elizabeth Peters character, is about a "lady" archaeologist, beginning in the Victorian era and on to the 1920s over the length of the series.

When I was in high school, I picked up one of my mom's paperback books, Search the Shadows by Barbara Michaels, and was immediately hooked on both Barbara Michaels and Egyptology. I read most of both Barbara Michaels's and Elizabeth Peters's books over the next few years. It took me a little longer to get into the Amelia Peabody books, but once I got the sly humor and satire of of our dear, unreliable narrator, I kept up with the Peabody-Emerson family's penchant for trouble ("every year, another dead body") as each volume was released. When I was home on maternity leave with M, I reread the series (up to 2001) while nursing the baby. I reread them all again three years ago (picking up a few I had missed along the way), in order of publication, which is not in order of chronology, so it was a little confusing, but still thrilling. This time I'm reading them in chronological order, which is very satisfying. I really do think they get better every time I read them. I cried through the whole last chapter of The Falcon at the Portal, even though I knew what was going to happen.

These books are not only rollicking good fun, they're suspenseful, funny, wickedly satirical, informative (about ancient Egyptian history as well as Victorian and Edwardian behaviors, norms, hypocrisies and fashion), and relevant. The history of occupation (by the Ottoman Empire and then the British Empire) in Egypt and surrounding countries as well as local tribalisms and religious fanaticism explored in the books all play into today's troubles in the Middle East. And the characters are just so engaging. I really can't say enough.

So now I come to the latest edition. Ms. Mertz /Peters/Michaels, died in 2013, leaving the Amelia Peabody series at 19 volumes (plus a companion book of photos and history of Egyptology in the Emerson/Peabody's time period), with 19 other books published as Elizabeth Peters and 29 as Barbara Michaels, which really *should* be enough for any reader, but…we always want more, don't we? So, I was thrilled that one final Amelia Peabody book was released this summer.

It was written by Barbara Mertz's friend and colleague in mystery writing, Joan Hess, based on copious notes written by the former, with help from other friends and colleagues. I bought my copy earlier this week, with great anticipation. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. The dialogue feels off. The characters not quite true. The pacing, the phrasing, the whole thing like a photo that's not quite in focus. I keep telling myself to think of it not as an Elizabeth Peters book, but as a Joan Hess book, but I'm not entirely convinced. The good news, though, is that since this book is #14, I have six whole more books to read after I finish, all written by the one, the only, the true Elizabeth Peters.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July Things

How can July almost be over already? Oh, summer, why do you have to be such a warp-speed time warp? I thought this would be the summer that I sat on my front porch, watching the bees pollinate the flowers, but we don't have a front porch, and I let the marigolds on my deck die from lack of water. And, well, there's been a lot of other stuff going on.

This month has been very full (I'm trying to excise the word "busy" from my vocabulary—and my mindset—and if I look at it objectively, this July hasn't been nearly as busy as in years past, when I had to go to work every day and stuff). I spent a weekend, plus one bonus evening, in the company of alumni and faculty from my MFA program, which was lovely. We talked about things like point of view and revision, publication and rejection. Things that would make people in my normal life glaze over with boredom. I imagine it's like when my husband and his building buddies get to talking about dimensional lumber and R-values.

And I had a whole entire weekend (well, just from about mid-morning Saturday to Sunday evening) all. to. my. self. And it was so amazing to be the master of my own (very, very quiet) universe. I spent a great deal of the time uploading and backing up photos, in my Sisyphean quest to open up space on my hard drive. With no one else home hogging up the bandwidth, I got a lot done. I also read. A lot. (More on this month's reading Monday.) And I only left home to pick up Saturday night's dinner and I only cooked to heat up leftovers. It was glorious.

C and M returned Sunday evening and Monday I headed up to join E and Z at their grandparents' camp. The weather had turned cool and cloudy, so after lunch, we packed up and headed to their house, where we played games and then, the next day, headed to the coast where the boys tried their hands at seine-netting (they caught a few tiny fish and some shrimp, which they had fun eating for lunch).

We've also gone swimming at various lakes and ponds, made one more trip to the beach, and raised two monarch caterpillars, which is very exciting, since it's been years since we've seen monarchs around here. I'm almost done with my 100 days of learning to paint (I'll be talking about that in my next newsletter; don't forget to sign up here). I've gotten less work done on the book than I hoped, but more than I feared. And other than book work and all that photo uploading, I've spent very little time on the computer, meaning I've ignored blogs, both mine and yours (I'm sorry). I've also rarely gotten the camera out, which you know is out of character for me. So maybe I have been watching the bees just a bit, metaphorically speaking.

We leave for vacation in a couple of days, which means it's going to be quiet around here again, but if you want, you can follow along on Instagram @andrea.lani.

What July Things have you been up to?

Monday, July 17, 2017

June Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads
I don't have an excuse for just now getting to June's books, other than the relentless march gallop of time. How can July already be more than halfway gone?

Anyway, June was a light reading month, partly because I read more than half of a book that appeared on May's list (Mountains of the Mind), partly because I was doing a lot of reading for research, none of which added up to a whole book (but which entailed reading most of an enormous tome on grazing in the west), and partly because I made an effort to catch up on magazines and literary journals—not a success, but an effort. Here are the books I did manage to read in June:

Poetry. For my morning poetry reading, I read Sandra Steingraber's collection, Post-Diagnosis, in which many of the poems center around her experience of being diagnosed with bladder cancer in her early 20s. But they also range far and wide, from nuclear testing to the poet Audre Lorde. The book makes clear why Steingraber's nonfiction writing about environmental health (see my review of one of her books here) is so lyrical, despite her training as a scientist. She does not leave that training behind while writing poetry, however. This is the first book of poetry I've ever read that is footnoted with sources of the events and information in the poems.

I also read two chapbooks by my friend and fellow Stonecoast graduate, Amanda Johnston. I LOVE hearing Amanda read her poetry, and I was wishing for her voice as I read, but reading them was the next best thing. Her poems are smart, sexy, thought-provoking, gut-punching, and word-playful, all in one and I can't wait for her forthcoming book!

Nonfiction. I'm trying to keep a steady stream of hiking/outdoor literature going as inspiration and instruction while I write my book and I happened to find a remaindered copy of Colin Fletcher's River at a bookstore (for fifty cents!!!). I'm a big fan of The Man Who Walked Through Time, so I was excited to read River and was not disappointed. Fletcher strikes the exact right balance between description and reflection (how does he do it, I don't know) as he describes his trip from the source to the delta of the Colorado River. I was sort of thinking of him as a mild-mannered Ed Abbey as I read, and then I came to the part where he talks about Abbey, who had contacted him around the time both Desert Solitaire and The Man Who Walked Through Time were published, and how he had responded somewhat churlishly, and missed the opportunity of meeting the more cantankerous of the two (otherwise similar) men. Fletcher took the trip late-ish in life (in his 60s), and while he's fairly reticent about details, he does some looking back over his years and airing regrets, of which the Ed Abbey incident was only one.

Fiction. Okay, once I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank, I dove back into the world of Amelia Peabody, Victorian Egyptology, murder, mystery, mayhem, and other hijinks. One final, posthumous, Amelia Peabody book is coming out next week. I reread the entire series about two years ago, so I didn't think I'd need to read them again, but it turns out that I do and I'm hot on the trail of finishing the 12 or 13 that come before the forthcoming The Painted Queen (some out-of-order writing publishing took place; last time I read them in publication order; this time I'm reading them in order of events). The two I read during June are The Curse of the Pharaohs and the Mummy Case.

What are you reading this month?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Damsels and Dragons

Naturalists are, by definition, generalists, but many, if not most, have a particular area of interest about which they are most knowledgeable—birds or flowers or rocks or moss or trees. Et cetera.

Powdered dancer (Agria moesta) and Variable dancer (Agria fumipennis)
Me? I know a little about a lot of things, nothing about some things, and a lot about nothing. Birds, I'm decent at, wildflowers, trees. But I don't really have that one thing. That one area of expertise. That passion.

Pond damsel spp?

As a result, since becoming a Maine Master Naturalist, a requirement of which is to share naturalist knowledge with others, I've taught classes in nature writing and nature journaling, my area of "expertise" and a naturalist skill that can be applied to whatever interest a person has.

Ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
That being said, one realm I've been dabbling in for many years, and which is the thing that will be my "thing" once I take the time to really get to know it, is the Odonata—dragonfly and damselfly family.

Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus)

Because they're just so darn cool.

There are 158 species of odonates in Maine alone, and some can only be identified under the so it might take me a while, but half the fun is in the chase.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Weekend Things ~ Water

We had a quiet weekend, the last one with nothing scheduled for the foreseeable future. E and Z had a friend over Friday night and, after we'd finished the morning housecleaning (which I very meanly made them do, despite their friend's presence) I asked them what they wanted to do and the unanimous vote was to go swimming. Which I'm always happy to do.

We made our first trip of the summer to our friends' camp on a lake where we had the beach all to ourselves. I enjoyed sitting in the shade reading as much as they enjoyed swimming and dunking and being wet and the obligatory ice cream stop on the way home.

Sunday afternoon, we headed down to wade in the river, for the first time all summer.

C took underwater video.

E and Z chased fish and crawdads.

And I stalked dragonflies and damselflies (more on that tomorrow).

On the way home, C and E visited one of the garden beds and discovered two monarch caterpillars on a nearby milkweed plant—the first monarchs we've found in years! We brought them in raise in our butterfly jar (they have a better chance of survival inside, away from predators). And I'm thrilled.

Three more reasons summer is the best season of all—water, dragonflies, and butterflies!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Weekend Things ~ July-ing

I am a summer girl at heart—despite the bugs and the poison ivy and the deadly caterpillars—and July in Maine is summer.

As often happens, it came on suddenly.

After a chilly June and a late end to the school year, suddenly it was Fourth of July weekend and it was hot and humid.

For some unfathomable reason, the members of my family do not like going to the beach.

They like it once they get there, but the getting there is always an ordeal.

I managed to coax E and Z to the shore Sunday, and they discovered/remembered that, yeah, they actually enjoy the beach.

They've gotten brave enough this year to swim out to where the water is deeper than they are tall, which means I have to swim with them or watch them closely again.

The water was co-o-o-old, which is just what the doctor ordered on this sticky, sunny day, and they stayed in the water until their lips turned blue around their chattering teeth.

I almost thought we'd be too cold for ice cream on the way home, but once we hit town, and the heat island effect, we were ready for a cold dessert.

Monday, C, E, Z and I partook of July's other favorite activity—strawberry picking (M is working at the strawberry farm this summer and had no desire to go there on his day off).

C was determined to get the 40+ pound discount.

So we picked. And we picked. And we picked.

Coming home with 57 pounds of berries!!!

C has been busy hulling and freezing them, and, when it became clear we'd never eat them before they went bad, I relented from my anti-domestic stance and made a double-batch of jam.

And that, dear Reader, is why I am a summer girl.
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