Monthly Archives: June 2009

Tawny Ghost


This article was first published in The Piker Press

copyright 2005 Wendy Robards


Fog drapes the manzanita bushes and wisps across the pavement in front of my car. The road is dark with damp and at its edge sits a golden animal. I brake because I think it’s a stray dog, maybe injured and in need of rescue. The animal turns its head to look at me for a second, then bunches its muscles and springs. Its front feet hit the center line of the road, then the back haunches roll forward. The hind feet strike the pavement, while the front legs stretch for the opposite side of the road. The tip of the creature’s long tail flicks, as if waving good bye, before it disappears into the thick brush.

My heart thrills and a tingle launches itself up my spine. I have just seen one of the most elusive animals in North America: a mountain lion.

In California where I live, the mountain lion population has rebounded in recent years from a low of 600 in 1971 to between 5,000 and 6,000 in 2005. This growth in population is due, in part, to the grace of California’s voters when they passed Proposition 117 in 1990. This legislation ended sport hunting of mountain lions while still allowing depredation permits for lions that kill, injure or threaten livestock and pets. Since 1990, the debate about mountain lions has raged in California. Proposition 197, which would have restored sport hunting of mountain lions, was defeated in 1996. A new bill (AB24) has recently been introduced into the Legislature by Bill Maze (R-Visalia). Its passage would override Proposition 117.

Wading through mounds of information, one quickly becomes aware that the hysteria about mountain lions is largely unfounded. Attacks on humans, especially when they involve a death, jump into the headlines when they occur. So are attacks increasing? Are people in California at high risk to die in the jaws of a mountain lion?

The California Department of Fish and Game keep a detailed list of all attacks and deaths attributed to mountain lions. There are some interesting statistics that are worth noting. From 1910 through 1993 (76 years), there were no deaths in California from lion attacks. Then in 1994, Barbara Schoener, a 40 year old jogger from Eldorado County, was attacked and killed by a female mountain lion. Only a few months later, this time in southern California, Iris Kenna was killed while hiking in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. These two deaths fueled a new attack against Proposition 117. Despite the fact that nine more years passed before Mark Reynolds was killed in 2004 by a mountain lion in Orange County, the hysteria has continued.

Since the passage of Proposition 117 there have been a total of eight mountain lion attacks (resulting in three deaths) in California. Nationwide and including Canada, there have been 13 fatal attacks over the past 100 years. Remarkably, from 1976 though 1996 in California alone: 300 people have been killed by bees, 750 people have died in their cars after hitting a deer, 1200 people have been struck by lightning and 85 have died in hunting accidents. So why aren’t voters demanding that deer be eliminated, or that hunting be outlawed, or that bees be exterminated?

The belief that mountain lions are not being killed in California anymore is pure myth. The California State Department of Fish and Game has killed 85 cougars a year since 1995. Additionally, at least 100 lions a year are killed by private citizens under special permits granted for threats to livestock or pets. Terry Mansfield, chief of the wildlife management division for Fish and Game in California, testified before the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee in 1995. At that time he stated that Prop 117 could not be the direct cause of any increase in lion/human conflicts; nor would repealing this legislation sufficiently reduce lion densities and thus reduce potential attacks on humans.

Why does the mountain lion generate so much controversy? There is something about this elusive and majestic animal that inspires fear and awe. Primarily solitary creatures who come together only to mate, cougars are rarely seen by people. Female mountain lions deliver two to three cubs. The cubs stay with their mother for two years and learn the art of hunting before they leave their mother to establish their own territory. A male lion’s territory encompasses approximately 100 square miles; while females stake out only 20 to 60 square miles. Mountain lions often share territories and lion densities may be as many as ten per 100 square miles. Lions prefer to avoid human contact when possible. They follow the deer herds.

In my neighborhood, herds of deer roam freely munching on lawns and gardens.

It is no wonder that one particular mountain lion has made this neighborhood part of his territory. He wanders through from time to time. He not only has been seen by a number of people (one woman reported that he sat in her driveway for several minutes before slipping away between the pine trees), but his piercing cry has echoed through the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning.

Once, I was jolted from sleep by a noise so hair raising that I jumped from bed and slammed the window closed. In the dark, the cat passed through my yard mere feet from the house. Even still, this lion who makes his home amongst humans has never threatened a person. He fills his belly with deer and passes mostly unnoticed through a relatively populated area.

Last summer, I had an interesting conversation with the man I hired to take down four large cedar trees in my front yard.

“My wife saw a female mountain lion with her two cubs,” he said.

“Really?” I lifted an eyebrow, aware that many mountain lion stories are prone to exaggeration. In fact, the California Department of Fish and Game estimate that up to 80% of all lion sightings are actually domestic house cats, dogs, bobcats, or deer.

“Yes.” He nodded. “They ran down the driveway next to her car as she left for work.”

The image of a female lion with her two cubs, romping down a driveway in the dawn of an early morning would frighten more than a few people. But, this man told the tale with excitement in his voice. “I hope we see them again,” he said.

I moved to Shasta County, California in 2002. High in the mountains, between towering pines and cedars, I enjoy the beauty of this natural area. I have seen bear, heard the screech of a red tail hawk, and listened to the sweet whisper of the wind through the trees. And I have been lucky enough to see mountain lions.

It is many months since I saw my first mountain lion on a fog shrouded morning. This time I glance from my living room window to see a large animal picking its way down the slope of my yard. The weather is different; hot and dry this time. But, the feeling is the same: a jolt of adrenaline, followed by awe. The lion stops. He seems to feel me watching him. He turns his sleek head and gazes at me with golden eyes. And then with a flick of his tail he bounds into the undergrowth and disappears, almost making me wonder if he had truly been there in the first place.

Mailbox Monday – June 29, 2009

mailboxMonday1 It’s Monday and time to share my mailbox with you. Here is what arrived at my house last week:

NorthOfMontana North By Montana by April Smith arrived via Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts. This book was a prize I won by participating in the Mystery Read-A-Thon and Jen graciously donated the book for giveaway. Reissued in trade paperback by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard in February of this year, North By Montana is Smith’s debut novel and the first in a series of thrillers starring FBI Special Agent Ana Grey. Smith’s writing is described by critics as “absorbing.” To read more about Smith and her work, visit the author’s website.

WingsThe Wings by Yi Sang showed up in my mailbox very unexpectedly from a blogging friend. This is a slim book translated from the Korean and consists of three short stories linked by their themes of love, life, and death. This book looks fascinating – and I am eager to sit and read it. Yi Sang is considered one of the most innovative writers in modern Korean literature. Sadly he died at the young age of 27 after spending time in a Korean prison for “thought crimes.” Many thanks to my special blogging buddy for this beautiful book!

SacredHeartsSacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant arrived through Random House as an Advance Reader’s Edition. I’ve read Dunant’s books before and she is a talented writer of historical fiction. Sacred Hearts is “an engrossing new novel set in a convent in Renaissance Italy where a defiant sixteen-year-old girl has just been confined against her will – for life.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Dunant lives in London and Florence and has published eight previous novels. To learn more about Dunant and her work, visit the author’s website. To have a conversation with Dunant, visit her blog.

What arrived at YOUR house this week? Visit Marcia at The Printed Page to share your books and get links to other readers’ mailboxes.

Sunday Salon – June 28, 2009

Sunday Salon

June 28, 2009

9:45 AM

It is due to be a scorching day in Northern California. My sister and her daughter are here visiting – they flew into San Francisco and I drove down to spend a couple of days with them there, then we drove back up here last night. Today we are taking it easy before starting what promises to be a busy, but fun week!

I am just finishing up my current read: The Local News by Miriam Gershow. My reading stalled out because of my sister’s visit, but I hope to finish it today. My review and a wonderful guest post by the author will be posted on July 9th, so do come back then to see what I thought of the book (I can tell you this is a terrific, beautifully wrought novel about growing up, the impact of siblings on our lives and loss).

I have decided to read The Elegance of  a Hedgehog next. I have been hearing such great things about this book that I cannot wait to start it.

In non-reading news, Raven had a bad experience last Tuesday when she approached an adult dog to say “hello” and with no warning, he lunged at her and bit her in the face. She suffered a deep puncture wound below her right eye and on the left side of her snout which although scary looking seems to be healing well with antibiotics. She seems none the worse for wear – has not shown any fear around other dogs and continues to be her funny, happy-go-lucky self (thank goodness!). This pup has such a wonderful attitude about life. She just rolls with the punches and keeps right on going.

I hope you are all enjoying a fantastic summertime read (if you’d like some suggestions, visit my Summer Reading post).

I am trying to convince my talented fifteen year old neice to write a book review of her current read: Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss. If I am successful, look for her review by next Sunday!!

Friday Finds – June 26, 2009


June 26, 2009

Each Friday, Jenn at Should Be Reading hosts the event Friday Finds where bloggers share their book finds for the week. I do not post every Friday, but I “collect” finds constantly, logging them into my Amazon wishlist and bookmarking reviews. Here are my finds for the last few weeks (clicking on the title will take you to Amazon; clicking on the referenced blog will take you to that blogger’s review):

Wild Roses by Deb Caletti as featured on Amanda’s blog The Zen Leaf is a YA book which Amanda writes ‘far transcends the boundaries of “young adult.”‘ She also writes: ‘Reading it overwhelmed me and threatened to break me into little pieces. It’s been a very long time since a book captured me so completely, since a book and its characters felt so real and perfect that I could almost swear they weren’t fiction. That I actually felt like I was living beside them.‘ Wow. I am not usually a huge fan of YA fiction, but I did love The Book Thief…and this one sounds like it might be just as good.

Still Life by A.S. Byatt as featured on Susannah’s blog 7th Decade Thoughts was a re-read for her (it is the second book in a quartet of books by this author – The Virgin in the Garden is the first in the series).  Susannah writes: ‘As Byatt focuses on the contradictions plaguing academic women in the Fifties, there’s a parallel drama focused on the artist van Gogh.‘ That sounds interesting to me.

Sorry by Gail Jones as featured on Laura’s blog Musings is one I just had to add to my wish list. If you know Laura, you know she hardly ever gives out five stars…but this one got just that, and Laura writes: ‘This book combines rich characterizations with deep emotional impact — always a winning combination for me. This is a beautiful, moving book.’ That’s enough of an endorsement for me!

Unseen by Mari Jungstedt as featured on Kerrie’s blog Mysteries in Paradise sounds like the kind of book I have been in the mood for lately. Kerrie writes: ‘This was an excellent read. Apart from the murder mystery aspect, it is really a story about relationships on a number of levels, and a tale that points out how our actions from our days of innocence can reach out into the present.‘ This mystery is a translation from the Swedish and it sounds terrific!

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg as featured on Tara’s blog Books and Cooks caught my eye immediately.  Tara writes that A Homemade Life is ‘[…]sublime. Delicious. Heartbreaking and life-affirming. Organized in short chapters, each essay is followed by a recipe or sometimes two pertaining to the content of the essay.‘ I follow Wizenberg’s blog Orangette (as does Tara) and so I know this author can truly write.

What books made it onto YOUR wish list this week?

Weekly Geeks 2009-23: Reading Challenges


This week’s Weekly Geeks is inspired by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie who writes:

Reading Challenges: a help or a hurt? Do you find that the reading challenges keep you organized and goal-oriented? Or, do you find that as you near the end of a challenge that you’ve failed because you fell short of your original goals? As a result of some reading challenges, I’ve picked up books that I would have otherwise never heard of or picked up; that, frankly, I have loved. Have you experienced the same with challenges? If so, which ones? Do you have favorite reading challenges?

Well, I could not pass this one up since I own A Novel Challenge blog and with Teddy’s help we try to keep readers up to date with all the latest challenges and events across the blog-o-sphere (I also run a sister Yahoo group called A Novel Challenge which is open for anyone who wants to join).

When I first discovered reading challenges, I went crazy joining them. Last year I completed 24, although I signed up for a lot more than that! Although challenges can be really fun, they can also easily become overwhelming. This year I decided to tone down the amount of challenges for which I signed up, and tried to stay focused on my overall reading goals (ie: reading new authors, making time for review books, reading from the prize lists and the 1001 books before you die list, reading books from around the world, and fitting in some of the books from my towering TBR stacks). With these goals in mind, I try only to sign up for challenges which will further those goals.

Do I feel stressed if I cannot finish a challenge?

No. I remind myself that no one is really keeping score (except for me!) and this is supposed to be fun.

Why do I like reading challenges?

  • I like being encouraged to read books outside my comfort zone.
  • I like reading as part of a group of readers all working toward the same goal.
  • I like being pushed just a little bit (for example, I would never have read 100 books last year without a challenge that pushed me to do so!)
  • I love lists and crossing things off of lists. Challenges are just another way to feed my list compulsion.

What are my favorite challenges?

  • I love the perpetual challenges – Orange Prize Project, Pulitzer Project, Complete Booker, etc…
  • I really enjoyed the Suspense-Thriller challenge because I have a lot of those kinds of books on my TBR shelf and I sometimes forget to read this types of books.
  • I also like challenges that encourage me to read around the world – like the Orbis Terrarum and Lost In Translation.
  • I love the PUB Challenge, ARC Challenge, and New Author Challenge as they help me keep up with my ever increasing stack of review books.

Which Challenges have I completed so far this year?

  1. Unread Authors (1/6/2009)
  2. What an Animal (4/8/2009)
  3. Book Awards II (5/30/2009)
  4. Mystery Read-A-Thon (6/7/2009)
  5. Suspense-Thriller Challenge (6/8/2009)
  6. Bloggiesta (6/21/2009)

To see ALL my current challenges, visit my Reading Challenges page. Clicking on the graphic or title of the challenge will take you to the post where you can see my progress.

Summer Reading


Summer is officially here. Warm weather. Thunderstorms. Lazy beach days. Cookouts. Sharing drinks on the porch with friends. Sleeping in the hammock.

….and reading.

For some reason, certain books seem to fit the summer months better than others. I hope I can tempt you to try some of the books below!


SummerCrossingSummer Crossing, by Truman Capote (read my review)

Capote’s newly discovered novella takes place during a summer in New York and is about the sexual awakening of a young girl.

CountryOfPointedFirsThe Country of Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett (read my review)

First published in 1896, this short novel takes place one summer in the fictional seaside town of Dunnet Landing, Maine. Filled with endearing characters and a beautiful sense of place, this is one novel that is best enjoyed on your front porch.

GrapesOfWrathThe Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck (read my review)

Steinbeck’s best known classic follows the Joad family as they travel west during the Great Dust Bowl Migration.

Older Titles:

BeachcombingBeachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, by Joe Coomer (read my review)

Set in New England on the coast, Coomer’s novel explores how one woman moves on with her life after the death of her husband.

backwhenBack When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler (read my thoughts)

Anne Tyler is at her best in this novel about a woman who wonders what life would have been like had she made different choices.

AlentejoBlueAlentejo Blue, by Monica Ali (read my review)

More like a collection of interwoven short stories, Ali’s novel  measures the ebb and flow of small town life under a Portugal sun.

Newly Released:

lawsofharmonyThe Laws of Harmony, by Judith Ryan Hendricks (read my review)

This novel moves from New Mexico to an island off of the West Coast and involves a wonderful cast of characters, great food descriptions and a mystery.

beach-tripBeach Trip, by Cathy Holton (read my review)

Holton’s novel takes place during the summer along the Outer Banks of North Carolina and unravels the lives of four college friends who are now middle-aged.

mechanicoffallingThe Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories, by Catherine Brady (read my review)

In the mood for a short story? Try Brady’s nuanced and wise collection of eleven stories that explore doubt, fear, faith, and conflict.

Coming this Summer:

southofbroadSouth of Broad, by Pat Conroy (release date: August 11, 2009)

Set in 1969 in South Carolina, Conroy explores the lives of a group of high school friends as they grow into adulthood.

girlwhoplayedThe Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson (release date: July 28, 2009)

This follow up to the best selling novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, has critics excited. A sharp, intelligent thriller with a unique heroine, this book looks like a winner.

Do you have favorite summer reads? Anything that is coming out this summer that you just can’t wait to read?

Author Profile: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

**This article was originally published in part on my Women Writers blog in September 2008. That blog is now closed. I have updated this post to include Adichie’s latest work which was just published this month.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born September 15, 1977 in the town of Enugu in Nigeria, but grew up in the University town of Nsukka. Her first book – Purple Hibiscus – was set mostly in Nsukka. At the age of 19, Adichie left Nigeria to live in the United States where she attended several colleges, eventually earning a Masters degree in creative writing at John Hopkins University. She currently attends Yale University where she is pursuing an MA in African Studies.

Of her early writing, Adichie says:

I didn’t ever consciously decide to pursue writing. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to spell, and just sitting down and writing made me feel incredibly fulfilled. -From Adichie’s website

Her awareness of Nigerian ethnic issues is prominent in her fiction, as are the challenges which women in Africa face. Perhaps it is not surprising that Adichie’s voice is being compared to Chinua Achebe.

Her most notable work is perhaps Half of A Yellow Sun (published in 2006 by Knopf/Anchor) which won her the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. Set in Biafra before and during the Biafran war, the novel is a powerful work of fiction. Her first novel – Purple Hibiscus (published in 2003) – won her recognition as Best First Book in 2005 for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The novel is heartbreaking and beautifully written.

Adichie’s work:

ThingAroundYourNeckThe Thing Around Your Neck (published June 16, 2009)

Purple Hibiscus (2003)

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)


  • Washington Post Article: The Color of an Awkward Conversation, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (published June 8, 2008) – Explores her thoughts on being black in America
  • The Observer Article: My Old Man, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (published June 15, 2008) – Thoughts on her father
  • CBC Article: The Untold Story, by Chimamanda Ngoi Adichie (published October 25, 2006) – Thoughts on the Civil War in Nigeria
  • New Yorker Article: Sierra Leone – 1997 (published June 12, 2006) – Memories of a houseboy

Short Stories on Line:

Mailbox Monday – June 22, 2009

mailboxMonday1 It’s Monday again … and time for my Mailbox (brought to you by Marcia at The Printed Page)

saffrondreams Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah arrived from the author’s publicist. Isn’t that cover gorgeous? This book has been making the rounds and getting great reviews. Set in post-9/11 America, the novel centers around Arissa who is a Muslim artist and writer. When Arissa’s husband is killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, she must pick up the pieces of her life and move forward for herself and her unborn son. To read more about Abdullah and her work, visit the author’s website. Saffron Dreams is published through Modern History Press.

I also received a wonderful package from a friend at Library Thing which included:

RoomOfOnesOwn A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (published 1929 – Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc)

CommonReader The Common Reader, by Virginia Woolf (published 1925 – Harcourt Inc.)

SmallWonder Small Wonder: Essays, by Barbara Kingsolver (published 2002 – Harper Collins)

FirstDog First Dog, by Jan Brett (published 1988 – Voyager Books)

What showed up in YOUR mailbox this week???

Raven Update (and Argus too!)

It has been a little while since I have shared Raven photos with you. She is now just about 5 months old and weighs 36 pounds. Raven has a wonderful personality which seems to get sweeter each day. She is a comic – climbing into the shower with Kip, swinging her Jolly ball so hard it knocks her off balance, and doing 360 degree spins in front of the cats. She loves her puppy daycare – which she attends twice a week so I can work long days and not worry about her. She has made a couple of friends there: Gabby, a beagle puppy; Maggie Mae, a beagle mix puppy who is a year old; and Ollie, an adorable Border Collie who is about a month younger than Raven. Apparently they run their little brains out all day long because Raven is exhausted at the end of the day!

Argus and Raven continue to bond. Lately they have been falling asleep out in the backyard next to each other (spooning…it is so cute!), and they love to “parallel play.”

Here are the latest photos (click to enlarge):


Argus – our happy boy


Argus and Raven giving me some dog love


Raven – Quite a handful now


Raven – Dirty is Best


Raven – Wet and Tired

WINNER – A Thousand Veils


Thank you to all who entered this give-away. There were 18 official entries. I used to choose a winner. Congratulations to….

TOBI at By Hook or By Book

Toby I will be emailing you to get your snail mail address…please respond within five days so I can mail your book right out to you!

For those of you who did not win the book, I hope you will consider purchasing it!