Howard McEwen

Novelist — Beekeeper — Cocktails — Book Reviews

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Reading The Old Curiosity Shop

August 31st, 2017 · No Comments

Like most of Dickens that I’ve read this year, the characters are now as real as people in my past to me. The guy could write. And naming a character Dick Swivveler is awesome.

But I grew angry at the book. The central villain is supposed to be Quilp. And he’s awful and wonderful to read. However, the true villain of the book was the grandfather. A man who drove his younger brother away, fired and almost destroyed good-hearted Kip and exposing him to Quilp and the Brasses and then drags Nell around the country until she puts her foot down too late, and dies.

Then afterward, the guy is treated with sympathy and kindness where as his gambling addiction, narcissism and self-centeredness destroyed lives throughout the book.

And it’s not like Nell’s death was a great sacrifice for a greater good. It just was the consequence of her grandfather’s selfishness. Ugh!

I like stories of sacrifice and overcoming and the little bit of overcoming in the book was Dick, and that didn’t seem like much of a journey. I mean, he ends up being a good guy after being a bit questionable but….oh well…I’m still angry and the grandfather not drowning with Quilp!

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Thoughts on David Cooperfield

July 28th, 2017 · No Comments

I enjoyed almost all of the 357,000 or so words of David Cooperfield. Overly long? Possibly. In places. Possibly it’s just immersive.

I was sad when I finished it and regretted never having read it before. I wondered if maybe I wasn’t mature enough to read it. Or patient enough. Usually, I stick with short, direct fiction – Hemingway-esque.

But I’ve come to appreciate the epic-ness (in size) of longer fiction through Dickens.

Cooperfield is a much better novel than Twist of Two Cities – both of which I liked. Its characters and their quirks (and names – Murdstone is perfect), its insights in humanity/the human condition.

I may have observed this before but I can relate to Dicken’s Victorian characters so much better than I can American, 21st century fiction.

Maybe because with all his exaggerations, his stories are just more realistic.

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Beekeeping 2017

March 28th, 2017 · No Comments

So I have one hive. It’s in my back yard and it made it through the winter. Glory Bee!

This past weekend I put a fourth box on the bottom of the (Warre) hive and will let them be until spring of 2018.

I’ve also got three nucs ordered up for delivery in April and May. One will go to Vickie, not sure of the others.

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Thoughts on Oliver Twist

March 28th, 2017 · No Comments

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film adaptation of Oliver Twist.

So I assumed it was about a poor orphan making good int he work.
But I was wrong.

What Oliver Twist, the novel, is is a crime novel.

Oliver Twist, the character, just serves as the McGuffin for the story of the London underworld.

Oliver isn’t much of a protagonist. He just hopes around being cheery and sometimes pitiful. The most gumption he offers up is asking for me. And that’s in the first few pages of the book!

The action is really with Monks, Fagin, the Dodger, Bill Sykes and the dreadfully done murder of Nancy. And that bit about the suicidal dog!?!?

I’ve a giant biography of Dickens sitting on my bookshelf at home that I’ll get to reading sometime and there I’ll try to figure out why Oliver is not only the title character but even in the book.

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Thoughts on A Tale of Two Cities

February 15th, 2017 · No Comments

So I have been fearful of Dickens. At some point I tried him and became intimidated.

Then a couple Christmases again I read the Carol and this year decided that if I could do Tolkien and Austen, I could do Dickens.

Am was pleasantly surprised.

I started A Tale in December thinking I’d just wet my toe in him before making my 2017 reading plan ‘official’ but within a few days I was 25% done and on my way.

Why I thought it was going to be a tale of geopolitical intrigue, I’ve no idea. Why I thought the language difficult, no idea. Archaic in some spots but with a Kindle app to refer to, not difficult.

The overall impression I got from the book was how amazingly plotted it was. There’s not a scene or character in the book that doesn’t figure in the climax and ending in some way. There’s no waste whatsoever. I’ve read supposedly complicated spy and crime fiction that wasn’t tied together so closely.

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Thoughts on Northanger Abbey

December 30th, 2016 · No Comments

By the time I started Northanger Abbey, I was done with Austen. Having read five novels in 2016, her insular, unimaginative world was reaching claustophobic proportions for me.

That’s why I was surprised that Northanger Abbey became one of my favorite novels. Supposedly written before the others maybe it was youthful energy that drive me to the end.

However, I think what it had over the others is a better sense of humor and a lightness. What Austen lacks in imagination, her protagonist, Catherine Morland, seems to have. The immature Catherine sees the world through the lens of over-wrought, Gothic novels. She’t not stupid, just….imaginative.

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Thoughts on Jane Austen’s Persuasion

November 18th, 2016 · No Comments

I’m having a heck of a time giving a good gosh darn about any of her characters.

Austen wrote about what she knew, I guess. But what she knew is just so boring. Didn’t she desire to know more? Like her servant’s names?

She also seems to lack anything close to empathy for anyone other that a young woman looking for a boyfriend. Most of the supporting cast of characters seem like cartoons. Many – especially the middle aged married couples – are unlikeable. But I’d like to get some insight into their lives. She must have known them?

Anyway, done. On to the last novel of Austen that I’ll be reading….Northanger Abbey.

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Thoughts on Emma

October 6th, 2016 · No Comments

At least I finished Emma. There were times when I had doubts if I would. As the novel crossed the 100,000 word mark and I still had 50,000 to go, I really had to buckle down.

Emma is a busybody who disrupts people’s lives but rarely her own. After those 150,000 words, the 20-year old finally falls for the 37 year old long time family friend who we all new she’d end up with when the old dude started negging her in the first few chapters.

I know I’m not the intended audience and I should maybe broaden my romantic novel horizons but, man, does this novel go on an on over not very much.

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Thoughts on Mansfield Park

July 21st, 2016 · No Comments

I was excited to read Mansfield Park. What intrigued me was a lower class protagonist. Not upper-middle class like Elizabeth Bennet or the Dashwood sisters. Even if things didn’t turn out well for the women from S&S or P&P, they’d always have a roof and meal.

Fanny didn’t come from those circumstances.

I also thought the fish-out-of-water element would be nice. It was in the beginning but then Fanny did….nothing. She is the protagonist after all. I expected her – who drives the story – to face tough decisions and make difficult choices. I expected her to grow through some kind of adversity.

Maybe that’s just me.

She did nothing. Everything was done to her. The only time she got animated was when scolding people for having a good time.

By the end of the book, she grew tiresome and I couldn’t understand why Edmund would want to marry her.

Plus, there was that whole creepy, incestuous cousin, almost a brother thing between the two of them. Yuck.

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Add a box bee visit

May 12th, 2016 · No Comments

So last night I thought it a good time to add a box to each of the hives. It’s been over 21 days which is the honey bee gestation period so this will give them plenty of space to handle all the newborns that I hope will be emerging soon.

Pollen – McE bees have been bringngin in lots of yellow/orage cheeto colored pollen. McK bees which I’ve not spent much time observing didn’t seem to be bringing in as much and it was a bit paler, almost white. But both hives had pollen coming in.

Characteristics – McE bees seemed to be slightly larger and more yellowish. McK bees smaller and darker. Both of these may change once the queen eggs start hatching.

Boxes – both hives had one box filled up pretty good but not a second. That made me think that I may be adding too much space but I’m not sure there’s a downside to that right now. I’d like to error on giving them too much space than too little.

So the McE hive has a total of four boxes. The top box we left for a feeder, the third box (counting from the bottom) has some good comb build up and the two lower boxes are empty….hopefully not for long.

The McK hive did things differently. Maybe it’s because I left a lot of spare comb on the floor of the hive when I set them up. I’m not sure. They filled up the bottom box, not the top box. In the top box they started a little pyramid of comb built from the floor upward. So now they are set up with the top box is a feeder, the next one down is empty with that pyramid of comb, the second from the bottom is pretty full of comb and the next one down is empty. I have a feeling they’ll keep building on that pyramid making that box a bit of a mess. Maybe I should have removed that pyramid but when in doubt, don’t do anything, is my mantra.

In a month or so during June I may add the fourth box. Once that is done it may be the end of beekeeping for the year except for some fall feeding.

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