Monthly Archives: April 2015

FIVE BOOKS I DO NOT WANT TO MISS

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Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew, memoir

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Kate Mulgrew grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Dubuque, Iowa. At age nineteen she won a role on the TV soap, Ryan’s Hope. Soon after that she gave up a baby for adoption and recently they have been reunited. After an important role on Star Trek she is doing some of her best work as an actress in the series Orange Is The New Black. Kate’s firm jawline provides a hint of the determination with which she has lived her life. According to one reviewer her book emphasizes friendship and family rather than career interests.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, history

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Already this book is on bestseller lists. I bought it at the Bookloft in Fernandina Beach and have started to read it. Written like a thriller, it is indeed a page turner. I disagree with reviewers who have said it is old news. Seems to me there is much new information about that time in our history. One example is the extent of German cruelty during the World War I era. I’ll give a final verdict when I have finished the book.

Early Warning by Jane Smiley, fiction

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The second volume in Smiley’s trilogy about the Langdon family, warm, interesting and rooted in America’s heartland, is released this week. If you haven’t read Some Luck, the first book in the series, run, don’t walk to your nearest bookseller or library. It is a phenomenal read. I recommend this author as certainly one of the finest novelist of our generation.

Made in Detroit by Marge Piercy, poetry

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This author is a favorite of mine whether writing fiction or poety. This is her first volume of poetry to be published in some time. She grew up in Detroit. At least some of these poems are autobiographical. I look forward to reading this book, and to a visit in a couple of weeks to the Detroit Library, a place Piercy has called her “saving grace”.

God Help the Child: a Novel by Toni Morrison

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Since my earliest days as an educator, I have been puzzled by why some children meet life’s difficult challenges with an almost unbelievable resiliency, enabling them to grow and prosper, while others are increasingly vulnerable in difficult circumstances and never become the persons they might have been. Apparently this novel deals with the scars of childhood, and the fears adults entertain about doing the best for their children. How do sufferings in childhood effect adult life? This woman is a fierce writer of giant talent. She always has something important to say as one puzzles through her stories.

ZOO TRIPPING

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And on a cool cloudy day at the Detroit Zoo…..

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Our best views were the giraffes. Huge, slow-moving and confined, they had little choice but to withstand our stares.

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In the recent issue of National Geographic I learned that just because they are so huge and slow-moving, they are an easy target for poachers in the Congo. Their population in Africa has plummeted in the past fifteen years from 140,00 to 80,000. Loss of habitat is another factor that threatens them. They were rightly a popular stop on our recent zoo tour.

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This beautiful black and orange bird in the Birdhouse did not mind posing.

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Most of the animals turned their backs on us, wishing we would go away, or so it seemed.

You can see this Grizzly turned his back and went about his business, whatever he was doing.

I thought I would spare you my many pictures of the back ends of animals.

The prairie dogs avoided us completely.

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The kangeroos were busy grazing and pretended we were not there.

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These anteaters were as strange as they look in this picture. I would not want to meet one in a dark alley.

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The bright blooming daffodils were a happy promise of spring and another trip to the zoo.

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Do you have a favorite zoo or a favorite zoo book? I nominate Put Me In the Zoo by Robert Lopshire. It is not really a zoo book, I have other more informative ones. But it is so much fun to read to little ones. Happy Zoo Tripping. I recommend it even on a cloudy day, especially if you go with loved ones.

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EATING APALACHICOLA OYSTERS

Fried Oysters served in a local restaurant.

Fried Oysters served in a local restaurant.

Apalachicola has been called the oyster capital of the world with good reason. The Apalachicola River empties into the Gulf of Mexico creating one of the cleanest estuaries in America. This is the environment oysters need to live and grow on the floor of the bay. They need the right mix of salt and fresh water.

For centuries as evidenced by shell mounds, oysters have thrived here. But these days the river is low. Two rivers originate to the north in Georgia and Alabama and combine to form the Apalachicola River, the largest waterway in the Florida Panhandle. Much of the river’s waters are used by the population of the city of Atlanta and by agriculture in Georgia. Life in the bay is threatened; oysters are diminishing. Oysters are available here but to a lesser degree than a few years ago.

A significant portion of people living in Franklin County depends on the health of the oyster business. Harvesting oysters is hard work whether shucking oysters, or scraping oysters with a long rake off the floor of the bay or working in another capacity. The average hourly wage in the county is seven dollars and thirty-seven cents. It’s hard to know what the future holds for harvesting and eating oysters in the area. It seems likely the previous plenty of oysters will not be part of life here again unless some radical changes in water use occur. A strong flow of fresh water in the Apalachicola River is required for healthy oysters.

A platter of oysters prepared with garlic sauce and cheese.

A platter of oysters prepared with garlic sauce and cheese.

Tourists come to this largely rural region at least in part to enjoy eating shellfish. I’m one of them. Oysters here are plump and sweet. And they are fresh. Those bought yesterday by members of our family and cooked in the evening were sold from a refrigerated trailer right on St. George Island, and brought in that morning or the day before by local fishermen. Those fishing companies still active are selling in nearby small towns, five or seven miles away. They also load refrigerated trucks to take oysters and other gifts from the gulf to Tampa, Jacksonville, or even Chicago.

Broiled Seafood Platter

Oysters and scallops

Oysters and scallops

Here’s the easy recipe for the home cooked oysters, scallops and shrimp.

Saute shallots, garlic, Old bay and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Toss seafood in the sauce, season with salt and pepper or other seasoning of your choice. Spread the seafood on flat cooking sheets. Broil three to five minutes or until the seafood is cooked to your taste.

Broiled shrimp.

Broiled shrimp.

Wow! What a treat!

We served our seafood with roasted asparagus, tossed garden salad, and clam chowder, made from clams gathered by a local seafood company at Alligator Point. Condiments at our table included hot sauce and prepared horseradish.

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A pot of clam chowder.

A pot of clam chowder.

Thanks to an essay by Susan Cerulean “Robbing the River” in her new book Coming To Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in A Gulf of Change for the background information in this post.

If you would like this clam chowder recipe, prepared for a vegetarian diet, comment with your request and I will send it to you.

VISIT BLUE ANCHOR INN ON THE SUFFOLK COAST

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Mr. Mac and Me
Author: Esther Freud
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury 2014
Hardcover edition: 293 pages
Source: Personal copy

Some may call the Suffolk Coast of England dreary, but reading Ms. Freud’s novel Mr. Mac and Me set in that region, the place seems anything but dreary. She has visited the region and owned at least two homes there. She suffuses her story of the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his friendship with the young Thomas Maggs with the thick sea air and the quiet beauty of that place.

Mackintosh was not fully appreciated during his lifetime, though today he is well-known for his design of the Glasgow School of Art and is a celebrated figure of the design world. For a time he lived in a village on the Suffolk coast painting flowers. His friendship with thirteen year-old Thomas Maggs developed slowly during that time when he lived in the village where Thomas’ family lived in and ran the Blue Anchor Pub. Ms. Freud once owned the small house that was that pub and the house where the fictional Thomas and his family lived.

Ms. Freud is a close observer of daily life and place. Her story transports the reader to the English coast and the brutality of life during the World War I. Small details of what life was like for those on an exposed portion of the coast during that war are carefully brought to life. Just as Mac painted the flora of that time and place, Ms. Freud renders life in the village in loving detail: the sea, the bridge, the kitchen fire in an open hearth. Her writing is poetic and tender as is the story she tells.

A member of my family is a fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and at his urging we visited his most famous design when in Glasgow a few years ago. For those reasons I picked up this book at Book Mark, the bookshop by the sea in Neptune Beach, Florida. This is the author’s eight novel, the first for this reader. I look forward to both reading more of her work and learning more about the work and life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

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A HEART OF FLORIDA SMALL TOWN, MICANOPY

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A few weeks ago a national publication featured 10 Florida small towns worth visiting. The list was fun reading. More fun than reading about the towns is visiting. So I am starting my own 2015 list of small towns (not limited to Florida), fun to visit and to read about.

Number one on the list is Micanopy. It is located in west central Florida, south of Gainesville, and not far from Marjorie Rawlins’ home at Cross Creek and The Yearling Restaurant. The main street puts one in mind of Old Florida and is lined with antique shops and gift emporiums. Don’t miss the ice cream. Outstanding!

This year I discovered the big used bookstore was gone. Still, other shops did have books. There are plenty of places to browse for whatever draws you in and makes your eyes sparkle.

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Near the center of town is this historical marker: “William Bartram 1739-1823” (Regular readers of this blog know what a fan of Mr. Bartram I am.) “The great Quaker naturalist of Philadelphia made a long journey through the southeastern states in the 1770’s collecting botanical specimens. In May, 1774, he visited the Seminole chief, Cowkeeper, at the Indian village of Cuscowilla located near this spot. His book Travels…. provided the earliest reliable account of the North Florida landscape, flora and fauna, and Indian life and his vivid images of local scenes inspired Coleridge, Wordsworth and Emerson.”

When I return home I will be rereading this section of Travels.

For now, here are scenes from the center of Micanopy.

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Every doorway beckons, red, green, or any color.

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Nested pottery bowls

Nested pottery bowls

Sorry I left those for someone else to purchase.

On another visit I’ll hope to see more of this interesting small town.

Do share your favorite small town so others can visit and explore.

FIVE WRITERS WHO MAKE A READER STOP AND THINK: WHAT’S NEW OR UPCOMING?

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Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird is an unforgettable classic, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. For many years readers have waited for another book from Harper Lee. Publisher Harper Collins is planning release of a new book by Harper Lee titled Go Set A Watchman. The cover has recently been revealed. Controversy swirls around the publication of this book, mostly concerning whether or not the author wanted it published. The book was originally written in the mid 1950’s and is set for July release. It is available on pre-order from Amazon.

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Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall (2009) stormed into the reading world and was soon followed by a sequel Bring Up The Bodies. More than any other book of the past five years, Wolf Hall stunned this reader with its tale of Thomas Cromwell. A BBC mini-series has been filmed to tell the story and will air on PBS beginning the first week in April. Ms. Mantel is readying a third book titled The Mirror and the Light. It is expected to be available this year and will complete Cromwell’s story.

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Markus Zusak

With the publication in 2007 of The Book Thief, readers have a new classic. Readers of all ages read and love this book. What is he writing now is a question I hear frequently. My internet searches provided no clues. At this point his next book is a mystery, at least to me. You can follow him on Facebook and at zusakbooks.tumbir.com

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Dennis Lehane

The publication of Gone Baby Gone (2010) and Mystic River (2011), both of which became movies, propelled Dennis Lehane to the forefront of mystery writers whose next book readers did not want to miss. He is a prolific writer and has since published two mysteries in his Joe Coughlin Series: World Gone By (2015) and Light By Night (2013), The Drop (2014), a story that returns the reader to the streets of Mystic River, and The Given Day (2012), a family saga. Take your pick.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel made Ali an admired and controversial woman. In the book she described what she had endured and how she moved forward. She is outspoken for freedom and not afraid to say what she thinks. Her new book is Heretic: Why Islam Needs Reformation Now (March 24, 2015). I expect the continued telling of her life’s journey to be spellbinding and thought provoking.

Do share a book that has stopped you in your tracks and what you expect next from that author. Thanks for joining the conversation.