Saturday, May 3, 2014

Book Review: Rural Free

Rural Free: A Farmwife's Almanac of Country Living by Rachel Peden
Quarry Books, 2009 (originally published 1961); 382 pages

Rachel Peden lived much of her adult life on a farm outside Bloomington, Indiana. For 30 years she wrote a column on farm life, "The Hoosier Farm Wife Says," for the Indianapolis Star. Her column became so popular with readers that what began as a weekly column ran four times a week by the end of Peden's career. One reader was so enamored with the column that she convinced her son, an editor at Knopf, to offer Peden a book deal. Rural Free is the first of Peden's three books on farm life.

Taken from material previously published in her column, Rural Free documents in short essays a year of farm living--the ups and downs, the weather, the animals, the lifestyle, and all that farmers faced in the rapidly changing mid-twentieth century. Peden also captures brilliantly a sense of place, not just a rural place, but a place in Indiana. She writes of wild blackberries and mushrooms and local history and the first spring rains and winter snows in a way that will delight anyone who loves nature. Her writing is poetic and lyrical and elegantly describes the beauty of farm life without glossing over its hardships. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves nature writing, farm writing, or Midwestern writing. Well, actually, I recommend this book to anyone who loves good writing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tom Doherty Associates, 2010 (first edition); 304 pages

If you’ve read much Austen or Heyer, you’ve come across most of the plot of this book before, so I’ll leave off any detailed description of that quarter. But the similarity to other books doesn’t really detract from the entertainment value of this book.

If I had to guess, I’d say this book is set during the Regency era. It’s mostly true to historical facts, with the exception of glamour, which is magic that is used to create illusion. Glamour is used to decorate houses, to create works of art, and to generally make things appear different than how they really are. Using glamour to deceive others for one’s own benefit is frowned upon, however. Using glamour to improve one’s looks is viewed just as using makeup was in the past: deceptive and unnatural. There’s also the issue of using glamour to beautify oneself with the purpose of getting a husband; when the day comes that one cannot keep up the illusion, how will he feel to know that his beautiful wife isn’t what he thought?

My only real criticism of Shades of Milk and Honey (besides the fact that I have no idea what the title means), is that the ending covers too much ground too quickly and then ends abruptly. It really doesn’t fit with the graceful flow of the rest of the novel.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring in the Backyard

It's finally starting to look like spring, barring the occasional late snow-shower like we had last week. The yard is a carpet of violets, the magnolia at the corner of the house is actually almost past its prime, and the house is filled with vases of daffodils.

There are three Mallard ducks, two males and a female, who come to our bird feeder every evening to eat the seed that the other birds drop. The outdoor cat watches them from a distance, and they watch him with sidelong glances. The ducks pretend to be nonchalant, while the cat crouches low to the ground and pretends to be invisible. Each knows the other is there and each pretends not to care.

The squirrels look thin and drawn compared to their wintertime chubbiness. They like the bird seed too. We had raccoons at the bird feeder during the winter, but they haven't been around lately. There was a possum the other day, though, looking mean and tough. He didn't stay too long.

We've been out in the back part of the property every day, checking for wild mushrooms and tame asparagus. Both pop up, expected and yet unexpectedly. It's likely been too dry yet for the mushrooms (after all of winter's snow, "too dry" seems like a joke, but mushrooms are finicky), but the asparagus should appear any day now. At least we know where to look for it, on the north border of the garden, in a neat row planted over 20 years ago when we first moved here. The mushrooms could be anywhere, hiding under remnants of dried fall leaves or new spring grass.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Re-Launch, of Sorts

So I've been neglecting my blog. Again. I'm just not terribly good at making myself write stuff down. I have plenty to say, but not so much time.

Anyway, here are some projects I'm working on at the moment that will likely turn into blog posts:

I'm trying to read 100 books this year (and I'm behind)

I'm starting up my reading of Calvin's Institutes again

I'm looking for an apartment

I'm organizing my bookmarked recipes

I'm planning some art projects

And other stuff that I'm blanking on at the moment

I'm off work tomorrow and planning a reading day, so expect to see some book reviews in the near future.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids, and cicadas,
Give praise with the hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.

~Anne Porter

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: Across the Great Barrier

Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede
Scholastic Press, 2011 (first edition); 339 pages

Across the Great Barrier is the second book in the Frontier Magic series, and I think it's better than the first book, Thirteenth Child. The pacing is better--Wrede isn't trying to cover years of Eff's life in 300 pages. Anyhow, this is the story of Eff, who lives on the edge of the frontier in an alternate-history United States. In a world where birth order affects one's magical abilities, Eff is a thirteenth child, which is supposed to be terribly unlucky. But she's also a twin and her twin brother is the seventh son of a seventh son, both of which are very, very good. In Across the Great Barrier, Eff travels into the wilderness beyond the Great Barrier to study the aftereffects of the bug swarms from the first book. She encounters all sorts of magical creatures and continues her study of magic.

I really enjoy this series, although I still want more information. This is an alternate-history world where the American Civil War took place in the 1820s, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were powerful magicians, and no expedition has successfully made it over land to the Pacific Ocean and back. I really want some in-depth historical analysis, which totally isn't the point of the books.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: Freckles

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter
Indiana University Press, 1986 (originally published 1904); 352 pages

Freckles, an Irish-American orphan from Chicago, shows up at a lumber camp near the Limberlost Swamp, looking for work. Although he is missing one of his hands, the Boss believes that Freckles is suitable for a guard for 2000 acres of forest that the lumbermen can't get to yet. Some of the trees on this land are worth thousands as veneer, and an ex-lumberman wants to steal them as a way of getting back at the Boss, who fired him. Over the course of a year as the Limberlost Guard, Freckles finds love, family, and becomes something of an amateur naturalist with the help of the Bird Woman.

I always enjoy Gene Stratton-Porter novels, even if they are sentimental and somewhat ridiculous, and Freckles is no exception. It's a sweet book, but fortunately, not too sweet.