Dory L.'s blog

The Bees


Before we slide into autumn, and the lightning bugs, daddy long legs, and bees disappear, take time to enjoy Carol Ann Duffy’s new collection of poems, The Bees. No, it has nothing to do with the dark subject of colony collapse. Instead many of these poems center on this communal insect and its work in the world. Other poems are about love and family and the desolation of winter, yet even in these, bees hover over the edges of the poems, providing a small celestial moment of grace and fortitude (especially in those set during cold months.)

Duffy writes lyrical poetry that resonates with imaginative and sometimes unexpected images. Examine how the title poem begins: “Here are my bees / brazen, blurs on paper, / besoted: buzzwords, dancing / their flawless, airy maps.”

In this poem she compares bees to words, how they dive deeply into everything and bring back scents that pervade her “shadowed, busy heart, / and honey is art. “ Read more »

Wedding Complications


In Seating Arrangments, Winn Van Meter and his family descend upon the family’s summer retreat house on the New England island of Waskeke. His pregnant daughter Daphne is about to tie the knot. Biddy, her mother, is deeply involved in final wedding preparations, and Winn finds himself strongly drawn to one of the bridesmaids, Agatha. Meanwhile, Daphne’s sister, Livia, who just terminated her own pregnancy, is trying hard to get over a big breakup with Teddy Finn. And to her father’s horror, Livia plans to become a marine biologist rather than a lawyer. 

This lovely, slyly humorous novel is brimming with very believable and flawed characters; it captures the insanity, tension, and chaos of a modern wedding.

Winn, an upper-crust, stoic accountant likes things just so.  Imagine his consternation when he arrives a day late for the weekend party to find his spiritual retreat taken over by women: his wife and two daughters, three other bridesmaids, and the alcoholic Aunt Celeste, who sees right through Winn’s holier than thou exterior to his traitorous heart. During one pre-wedding party with the new in-laws, she follows him up to the widow’s walk and warns him, not to ruin Biddy’s weekend. Read more »

Those Rollicking 1920s


Interested in all the hoopla surrounding The Great Gatsby? If this new flick has spurned your interest in 1920s New York, The Other Typist is the book for you. Talk about unreliable narrators. Rose Baker, a former orphan & Catholic schoolgirl, has joined the new wave of women working where men only used to work—big city police stations.

And even though she is still doing women’s work—stenography & typing--she’s listening to risqué and bad language-spiced stories from speakeasy gangsters and murderers including one serial killer who offs several wives in a row for their money. They each end up drowned in the bathtub, yet he keeps convincing juries that he is innocent.

Strong and stoic as Rose is, she soon becomes mesmerized by the new (somewhat incompetent) typist, Odalie, who is beautiful, rich, and ever so modern. She bobs her hair, wears the new slinky dresses with long beads, and is not afraid to make her own way in the world, including visiting the aforementioned speakeasies. But where does Odalie get her money? And is the daddy who pays her rent really her daddy? Read more »

America's First Tornado Scientists and What They Taught Us


I was afraid this would be another macho book about reckless men roaming the plains chasing tornadoes during storm season. Instead it turned out to be a wonderful compendium of tornado lore through the centuries. Also included are biographies of some of our most  important weather scientists.    

Storm Kings begins with a description of how during the 1600s New England settlers called any phenomenon that happened in the sky meteors including: meteors (of course), lightning, thunder, rainbows, comets, clouds in the shape of hands and faces, etc.  Although the science behind tornadoes was not understood and barely documented then, many colonists recognized that the weather in America was much more violent than in their home countries.

When a tornado swooped down near Cambridge, MA in 1680, two farming families were shocked when one lost a servant and another a barn during the storm.  They were so frightened by this event that one wrote to Increase Mather (the father of Cotton) asking about it. Increase, who was a self-educated weather expert, had no answers so he wrote to a scientific association in Europe. No one replied to his inquiry, but Benjamin Franklin found this letter seventy years later when he became interested in the study of weather and electricity. Read more »

The Kingdom of Rarities


In another life, I would love to become a wildlife biologist; it combines things I loves such as working with animals, walking, observing deeply, and travel. This book does all of the above plus makes you more curious about the flora and fauna around us. Why are robins common and not Kirtland’s warblers? Why are deer abundant and not jaguars? Eric Dinerstein, the author, started his scientific career studying tigers and later rhinoceroses. He is now Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. In The Kingdom of Rarities, he travels to many continents to explore the rare creatures and plants living there.

One of the places he and his scientific team visit is Irian Jaya, a remote island on the Indonesian archipelago. It combines two aspects of places that often give homes to rare creatures: remoteness, and being situated on an island. Another factor that makes Irian Jaya home to rarities is its geology—its steep mountains and gorges serve as barriers to invasive species which have become common on many other islands. The description of Dinerstein’s flight to this research spot is compelling; it was incredibly risky just to land a plane there. But well worth it because the scientists found many rare creatures quite close to them and not shy at all with humans. The scientists were amazed by how many species divided their habitats vertically. Read more »

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa


Every Tuesday at 830 a.m., a group of ardent birders meets at the Nairobi Museum to search for some avian wildlife together. Mr. Malik, a retired businessman and owner of the Jolly Man Manufacturing Club, squeezes bird-watching into his schedule though he does “have other commitments.”

The leader of the group is the beautiful and charming widow, Rose Mbikwa, who came to Africa from England and never left to her parents’ great consternation. Her husband was arrested for political activity and later died in a mysterious light plane accident.

On this day, Rose announces that she is leaving for England for an eye operation. Also a new birder has joined the group, an old school acquaintance of Mr. Malik’s from long-ago. Harry Kahn keeps calling Malik by old nicknames, ones Malik did not like in the old days and likes even less now. Complicating the plot--both really like Rose. Read more »

Next Booksplus Meeting on Sunday July 7


Booksplus, a library book discussion program for adults, will be talking about Rachel Joyce's first novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It's a book about a long journey to help a friend. One morning shortly after he retired, Harold received a letter from Queenie Hennessy, his love from long ago. She informs him that she is in a nursing home and dying. He writes a bland message on a card, yet on the way to the mailbox, he decides that he must deliver it to Queenie in person. Thus, Harold begins his pilgrimage where he encounters many interesting people who teach him--old as he is--about life. And what about his wife, Maureen, whom he left at home? She too is jolted and changed by Harold's journey. Read more »

Parenting to the Very End


Imagine being told that your baby has a disease that will kill him, most likely before he turns three. Emily Rapp and her husband Rick were given that news when their lovely boy Ronan was only nine months old. He seemed to be having vision problems, and the eye doctor discovered cherry-red spots behind his retinas--a tell-tale sign of Tay-Sachs disease.

Emily, who had been tested for this disease, immediately knew the worst. Her husband did not. “Well, what can we do about it?” Rick asked the doctor. “Nothing,” was his reply. Soon the parents learned that the genetic test only checks for the nine most common mutations.

So begins their journey. Emily describes in detail what it is like to parent a child that she knows will die soon. When they see the specialist, they discover that babies born with Tay-Sachs progress until they are six-months old, then start to regress, eventually losing all sight, hearing, movement, and even ability to swallow. Read more »

The Perfect Family Until--


When this compelling novel starts, Mary Beth Lathem’s biggest problem is taking sass from her truculent teenaged daughter, Ruby. The narrative starts at the beginning of Mary Beth’s busy day as she goes through the house waking up her three children, the eldest daughter and two twins, Alex and Max. Mary Beth owns a landscape business but soon you can tell that her family is the center of her life and passions. 

Alex is a soccer jock, immensely talented and popular while Max, his fraternal twin, is a computer nerd with social anxiety problems.  Glen, Mary Beth’s husband, is an extremely practical and thoroughly unromantic eye doctor--solid as hardwood--though Mary Beth is not necessarily aware of that. Read more »

Pick up a Book of Poetry


If you’re new to poetry and find it difficult, you may want to try the work of Gerald Stern. At eighty-eight, he’s one of the grand masters of poetry still composing poems. He’s won lots of awards but writes in understandable language about everyday things: travel, frogs, New York, cafeteria (spelled with a k as are all of the c words in this poem), his childhood, flowers, and love.  What I like about his latest collection In Beauty Bright and all of his work is that he celebrates living in an almost ecstatic way--most of his poems could be songs. Check out these lines: “Like fools we waited to hear the tomatoes;  we knew / what greenness means to the vine.” or “Take a dog to the vet’s, he knows what you’re doing, / a cat becomes a muscle, she leaps from your arms.”

You can tell from his work that he’s the kind of quirky writer that does weird things on occasion to discover his latest poem; for instance, “Day of Grief” begins: “I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window / where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies…” Another insect poem starts this way, “I lost my rage while helping a beetle recover / and stood there with precision, balancing / grass with stone.”

And see how immediate and tactile this poem simply titled “Love” is, “I loved your sweet neck but I loved your shoulder blades more / and wondered whether I should kiss your cheek first / or your hair.” Read more »

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