Monday, September 24, 2012

Pasionflowers!


The summer of 2011 was a time of drought in Houston. Although I hand watered a passionflower vine I grew from seed, it never blossomed. Being an evergreen perennial climber, the vine made it through the winter just fine before being attacked by caterpillars in June. I thought it was a goner, but it stubbornly came back. One at a time, sometime well into July, single passionflowers started appearing. The blooms only last a day and are about the most exotic flower I've ever grown.

Reading about passionflowers, I learned they are considered an invasive weed in some parts of the Southeastern United States. I first saw a massive blooming passionflower vine some years ago in Orange Texas, and have wanted to try one ever since. We'll see if they invade and spread via their rhizomes like so many other plants in my yard. Weedy passionflowers are also known as "Maypops" because they tend to pop up out of the ground round about May. Along with their Christian symbolism, passionflowers are also associated with Krishna in India. The Germans call them "Mother of God's Star" and the Israelis the "Clock flower", so there is plenty of symbolism attached to this odd flower. I think they look a little carnivorous, and sure enough, there is one variety, the "Stinking Passionflower", that is considered protocarnivorous, known for catching and consuming insects. Passionflowers are pollinated by bees, wasps, hummingbirds, even bats. Some species are endangered, yet new varieties are still being found.

Passionflowers do grow fruit, especially in places like the Caribbean, South America and south Florida, and are mainly harvested for their juice. The leaves and roots have medicinal properties and tend to be used in calming, anti-anxiety tea blends.

 Partial to full sun is required for successful results and they bloom in mid to late summer. My vine is producing about two flowers a week; wink and they are gone. Yes, I used Miracle-Gro, but my vision of riotous purple flowers all over the back fence has not yet quite manifested. There's always next year!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Getting Back Into Goodreads

In the last year or so of my library career, I joined Goodreads and started keeping track of the books I read using their software.. Then when I retired in 2009, I promptly forgot about the site because when I was appointed the to the TLA Lariat Adult Reading List, I went back to the index card method of jotting down plots, impressions and opinions. Across the years, especially doing readers' advisory work, I kept notebooks and card files of books I had read, and they helped me to recall appeal factors when someone needed a "good read" or I had an article to write. Now I've jumped back onto Goodreads and am finding it to be relatively easy way to document my life as a reader. Typing a quick review right after I've read a book is good discipline. Goodreads gives you an ratings option of assigning up to five stars to a title. My only beef about that is I often find myself wishing for half stars as well....

These days I am not so speedy about writing book-related blog posts here. So today I am looking back at some of the books I rated on Goodreads during the last couple of months. I gave The Right Hand Shore (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) by Christopher Tilghman five stars. I much enjoyed Mason's Retreat by Tilghman (Random House, 1996), so I knew I wanted to read this prequel. A complex historical novel set in the Chesapeake Bay area, the book weaves together many themes: love, family, inheritance, religion, racial viewpoints and inter-racial relationships, man vs. nature, etc. But it strikes me that arching over all of those are the themes of destiny and fate. Any author that can do that deserves major kudos. This book has real substance, and at times reminded me of The Known World (Amistad, 2003) by Edward Jones.

This month at the West University Library Book Group, we read State of Wonder (HarperCollins, 2011) by Ann Patchett. The group's opinions were mixed, but for me this was a five star read. Big wow! I found it to be a suspenseful, top notch literary thriller. Most of the characters were well-developed, especially two women doctors: one sent to the Amazon to find out more about the death of her pharmaceutical company colleague, the other an older, reclusive, possibly megalomaniac doctor researching a fertility drug. The exotic, if creepy-crawly Amazon jungle setting made me want to get out the bug spray. I don't think the decorative Baroque or Renaissance style of the cover suits the book, although the snakes and mushrooms therein hint at plot elements. I really had to skip over some of the creepy-crawly scenes, but that's just me. Let's put it this way: I won't be going to the Amazon anytime soon. Yet I loved the book!

I generally do not write about books I don't much care for, but I have to comment on Heading Out To Wonderful (Algonquin, 2012) by Robert Goolrick, which I gave a two star Goodreads rating. I loved his sizzling page-turner, A Reliable Wife (Algonquin, 2009), and Goolrick had me for the first half of Heading Out to Wonderful. But as the book went on, I was saddened by the unease of a young boy taken along to various rendezvous between two lovers. The plot went dark, with no hope of redemption. Too much blood was spilled after a beautiful beginning... Also I wondered where the main character, Beebo, got all his money (maybe I missed something?) to buy land for himself and his adulterous sweetheart. I wanted some of these characters to break out of the tangled web they wove, and though there was one scene where life won over death, even that was soon tainted by the tragic trajectory the novel took. I am not a reader who always needs happy endings, but this was way too dark for me. I do admire Goolrick's writing style and ability to get inside his characters' heads. With a title like Heading out to Wonderful, excuse me -- I expected a little more sunshine!

SoulCollage by KAO: Happy Reader (2009)