Showing posts with label summer reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label summer reading. Show all posts

21 July 2016

Summer Bites


by Eve Fisher

Movie poster shows a woman in the ocean swimming to the right. Below her is a large shark, and only its head and open mouth with teeth can be seen. Within the image is the film's title and above it in a surrounding black background is the phrase "The most terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller." The bottom of the image details the starring actors and lists credits and the MPAA rating.I believe that I have cracked the reason why summer brings out the apocalypse movies, not to mention movies and TV shows about killer sharks, vampires, zombies, serial killers, Animals Gone Wild, and (I'm still waiting) Batboy. It's a distraction from the fact that summer isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  What with mosquitoes (West Nile, anyone?  Zika?), ticks (Lyme, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever), killer heat (more on that later), and trying to figure out what SPF actually works and what pesticide won't kill you as well as the bugs, we need something where humans eventually WIN.

Especially in the country.  I live in South Dakota.  We've got a lot of sloughs, lakes, and wetlands, not to mention feedlots, and up here we're well aware that "country fresh" isn't the dancing-wildflowers-in-a-can it's cracked up to be in air freshener/fabric softener ads or romantic movies.  The truth is, some days a good deep lungful of fresh country air will make your eyes water worse than a whiff of Junior's old sneakers.  And those summer cook-outs involve a lot of slapping yourself silly in between passing the potato salad.  It's one of the many reasons that beer was invented.

But this year is lusher, greener, wetter, and more infested than ever.  And hot.  It is very hot.  As you read this, it's 98 degrees outside, and the endless square miles of corn have increased our humidity to the point where we are outdoing Mississippi.  It's stiflingly hot.  Thank God for air-conditioning.
Willis Carrier 1915.jpg
Willis Carrier,
Our Hero
NOTE:  Let us all now give thanks and praise to Willis Carrier, who in 1902 invented the first air-conditioning system.  May his memory be eternally green.  And cool.  
But to get back to infestations.  We've seen them before, especially the Great Frog Infestation back in the 90s.  Personally, I didn't mind the frogs. They were small, they moved quickly, and they tried to stay hidden.  They only bothered me when I was mowing the lawn.  For one thing, they froze as I came near, hoping (as most of us do) that if they ignored the problem (me and the lawnmower), it would go away.  I got to the point where I'd carry a small broom and prod them into moving with it while I mowed. "What did you do Saturday?"  "Swept frogs." Sometimes when they still wouldn't budge, I'd just pick them up and move them, while they expressed their gratitude all over my hands. Frogs are not toilet trained.

Pseudacris maculata.jpg
Boreal Choral Frog
Photographer - Tnarg 12345 on Wikipedia
Still, I could deal with the frogs.  If nothing else, they weren't trying to feed on me.  They probably thought I was trying to feed on them, not knowing that I refuse to eat frogs' legs or anything else that someone tells me "tastes just like chicken."  (If that's true, what's the point?)  But the mosquitoes and ticks are trying to feed on me and every other mammal in the state.  (Do you think they ever tell each other that we "taste just like cow?")  Anyway, serious inquiries have been made - mostly by me - into how many mosquitoes it would take to drain a person dry, and in my objective conclusion it's only half of what we've got.

Healthywealthy.jpgThe mosquitoes alone would be bad enough, but they're getting serious competition from the gnats.  There aren't as many of them - at least, I hope there aren't - but their bites leave golf to softball sized swellings on ears, eyes, necks, etc.  It's getting unnerving to go out in public.  Half the people I see look like they've been in a fist fight, the other half are calomine-pink, and we're all in the same blithe mood the nation was in the night Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast.  The air reeks of Deet, Skin-So-Soft, Off, and every other insect repellent known to man and we still can't stand outside more than two minutes without acting like Larry, Curly, and Moe.

So what do we do about this enemy invasion?  Some people are moving down South, where they think all they'll have to deal with is cockroaches and kudzu.  (There are also fire ants and even more mosquitoes.)  Kudzu, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is a Japanese plant that some idiot imported for ground cover on poor soil.  It can't be killed by drought, floods, fire, pestilence, or famine, and it grows a foot a day.  There's a theory that it was left by UFO's on one of their human-tagging trips, but I think it's just a vicious predator.  The one good thing about it is that it can't stand severe frost, and so South Dakota is free...  until we get warmer...
Kudzu growing on trees in Georgia
Photographer - Scott Ehardt, Wikipedia

Anyway, back to solutions:

(1) Buy a bee-keeper's hat or a surplus space suit.  You'll sweat to death, but you will be bug free.

(2)  Don't go outside.  Summer is highly overrated.  It's hot, it's buggy, and people keep expecting you to do things, most of which involve a lot of work, which involves a lot of sweating, while overheated and in full sun.  What we really love about summer is our nostalgia for the days when we were kids and didn't have to do anything except go swimming and eat watermelon.  (What we forget is how much time we spent whining about how there wasn't anything to DO.)  So turn on the AC, the blender, grab a stack of mysteries - I know some very good authors, many of whom are on this site, so check them out! - and stay indoors.  All the fun, a lot less danger.

Photographed by
Latorilla at Wikipedia
(3) Raise bats.  They're quiet, unobtrusive, much maligned creatures, and they eat mosquitoes.  True, they look spooky, they only come out at night, and there are all those vampire movies...

But even if one of them does happen to transform into an orthodontically-challenged count with a bad accent and receding hairline, a little garlic and a wooden stake will take care of the problem.

The odds are good: one count vs. the swarm.
One against many.
Think about it.


06 October 2014

What Are You Reading?

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

I didn't think I had done much reading this summer but looking back, I did.

 First, I was on the Shamus Committee to pick the Best Original Paperback. The Shamus is given by the Private Eye Writers of America. I always enjoy reading for awards because I quickly learn how important a great first line, first paragraph and first page actually are. I think we sometimes forget those important elements as writers. But I think you absolutely have to grab the reader immediately.

As a book seller for nine years, I quite often watched as customers picked up a book. I believe we all know the book cover and title are extremely important. My friend Bill Crider titled one of his early Sheriff Rhodes books, SHOTGUN SATURDAY NIGHT. I can't recall his other titles but I never forgot that one. And I really enjoy Bill's work and that character. Another friend, Susan Rogers Cooper wrote two titles that I remember well, THE MAN IN THE GREEN CHEVY and HOUSTON IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR. All three titles are memorable and intriguing. You better believe I'm going to pick-up a book with a title like that and read the back jacket and maybe the first page. And most likely I'll buy that book. The only other title that really intrigued me was on a non-fiction book, HOW TO SHIT IN THE WOODS. That book was in the visitor's center of the Rio Grande Gorge, near Taos, New Mexico, where I volunteered three summers. I think it still remains their best seller.

After reading a number of the thirty-five or forty book our committee chose our nominees and our winner (you'll have to wait until the PWA banquet at Bouchercon on Nov 14th to find our who won.)
I did purchase a few books that I really wanted to read. One paperback I bought was CITY OF BONES by Michael Connelly. I  always enjoy Michael's books, especially the Harry Bosch novels and I had read it before but the new TV series featuring Harry Bosch and starring Titus Williver as Harry is the main storyline. It had been quite a while since I read it and I wanted to get back in the "Bosch world" and be ready for the upcoming TV shows. The title is another memorable one and the mystery of the bones of a child found, by a dog, located up in the Hollywood Hills presented a page-turner for sure. To add even more suspense the skeleton had been buried around twenty years earlier.

A hardcover that I bought new, which I seldom do anymore since I live on a fixed income, is Alafair Burke's ALL DAY AND A NIGHT.  I'm sorry to confess that I have not read Alafair before...been intending to, but somehow just hadn't. However, I began to be interested in her as a person on FB. She is bright, witty, beautiful and very likable. I wanted to see if I might possibly like her books. I called my favorite mystery bookstore, Murder By The Book in Houston, as Alafair was going to be there and ordered a signed copy. And I must tell you, I enjoyed the heck out of it. Ellie Hatcher is a homicide detective for the NYPD and is a wonderfully strong and strong-willed female character. Exactly the kind of woman I like to read about. She and her police detective partner work with a female lawyer who believes the man in prison is NOT the serial killer. I love the back and forth between the women and between Ellie and her partner. This book kept me on the edge of my seat.

Next is a book by Les Roberts, titled WET WORK. His editor asked me to read and review if I wanted to do so.  I read it and it's very compelling. The main character, first seen in THE STRANGE DEATH OF FATHER CANDY is a anti-hero, Dominick Candiotti in that he's a paid assassin for the Brownstone Agency.  The agencies leader, a man with the code name "Og" is the boss of a shadowy CIA-type black ops group. They hire assassins to kill traitors, dictators, despots of the world, pedophiles, drug kings, the scum of the earth. Turns out that Dominick is one of the best assassins. He learned his trade in Viet Nam. But he grows weary of the killings, the violence.  Og calls again with a new hurry-up assignment and Dominick says, "no, he's quitting." His boss is NOT happy, trying to make Dominick see that you don't quit the agency ever. Suddenly, he's the mark. Brownstone assassins are after him. Dominick has to use all his skill and cunning and brains to stay one step ahead of the people sent after him. The story takes us from one U.S. city after another as Dominick tries to save himself and try to track down his nemesis  Og. This is one thriller you will not want to put down.

The final book on this short list is one whose title I will always remember, TO HELL AND GONE IN TEXAS by Russ Hall. If you like reading about Texas and good guys and bad guys, then this is a book for you. It starts off with two brothers, Al and Maury who've not been speaking for twenty years. Maury seems to think and act as if he's God's gift to women and all women want him. And it does seem that they do. Which is the major cause of the brother's feud. Maury managed to get to Al wife and that cause a riff that so far hasn't healed. But right now, Maury is quite ill and someone is trying to kill him. Al, who is a retired deputy of Travis County has his lovely Hill Country lake home,  where he can fish, feed the deer that come around and ignore the world. All good things must come to an end and the Austin Police Detective, Fergie and the nurse who has been taking care of Maury talk Al into letting Maury stay at Al's house. Maury is in such bad shape he has to be sedated.

In the meantime, someone takes pot shots via drive-by boating, hoping to kill Maury or Al, but not succeeding. Then someone takes a match to the lake house. It's saved and now Al is trying to get Maury to explain what has he been into that someone actually wants him dead. Maury isn't inclined to talk. Al finds out that ICE and a Mexican Mafia are both interested in Maury.  To add a little extra tension, Al discovers than all that time spent alone might have been wasted. He finds himself coming alive with Fergie, they've known each other since high school and who knew things might change. However, unless Al can figure out the source of Maury's problems, things are liable to get tough as Hell.

Hope everyone has had a good reading summer. Now it's time more reading and cooler weather.