Howard McEwen

Novelist — Beekeeper — Cocktails — Book Reviews

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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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Bee update – 4/20

April 21st, 2016 · No Comments

Yesterday we looked in on the new hives. Both queens were released. Vickie’s seemed pretty active but I didn’t see any comb. In ours, there was a bit of comb. However, I didn’t look to closely on either.

Both of the feeding jars were empty so we replenished those.

Overall, both hives looked active and healthy. That’s very cool.

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Beekeeping – new beginnings

April 18th, 2016 · No Comments

This Saturday I picked up two 3 lb packages of bees and put them into Warre Hives.

This is a new beginning for me. All of my existing hives had died. I don’t know why – some starved, wax moths got one – but I have a feeling it was beekeeper error.

I found the Top-bar hives a bit of a pain in the neck to deal with. There was just too much ‘management’ involved. I didn’t want to go re-arranging comb. Every time I tried, I felt like I did more harm than good. Plus, I just didn’t want to spend that much time monitoring it.

So the Warre Hives are supposed to be easy. We put the bees in no problem. We just need to check on the queen here in a couple days and then in a month or so see if we need to add a bottom box. That just requires a peak underneath. If so, we lift one up and slide it in. Then we do it again – if needed – later in the year.

Finally, in the spring, we’ll take off a box and empty it then add it to the bottom…and keep doing that over and over again. Year after year. I’ll capture some swarms – which I really enjoy. And find homes for them.

At least, that’s the plan. If I find it doesn’t work or is annoying. I’ll try another method of keeping bees.

New beginnings call for new hive names. I’ll have to think about this.

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Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

April 12th, 2016 · No Comments

I’ll admit to having trouble with this one.

While S&S seems to be about two likable people overcoming their nature to find love. Their nature being common traits of youth or…just common.

P&P’s main characters don’t seem all that likable. It’s the story of a pain in the neck chick and a emotionally detached (is he autistic?) dude. They’re both at ages where these problems should be behind them or else they should just move on.

I’ve not much interest in the story of a barely likable woman finding a boyfriend…who isn’t likable.

In my mind, I have an image of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage in 5 years. I picture it as one of the nastier ones. One’s where Darcy is failing to live up to Elizabeth’s hire standards and Darcy is unable to communicate what he wants in the least so he lashes out in anger and she plots about all day devising ways to twist the knife into him.

Also unlike S&S, the writing seemed a bit more cluttered. For instance, there’s this 82 word sentence:

Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than most first attachments often boast; and so fervently did she value his remembrance, and prefer him to every other man, that all her good sense, and all her attention to the feelings of her friends, were requisite to check the indulgence of those regrets which must have been injurious to her own health and their tranquility.

An 82 words and 9 comma sentence! Ugh.

Darcy’s servants were at least mentioned in this book – to give testimony to his greatness. Otherwise, they get short shrift in the Bennett household.

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Sense and Sensibility

January 28th, 2016 · No Comments

My politics tend to lean libertarian/anarcho-capitalist but when I watch Downton Abbey I want to get my Bernie Sanders on real bad and hang the Crowley family.

The same goes for the characters in Sense and Sensibility.

That doesn’t bode well for my 2016 reading goal of working my way through all of Miss Austen’s six novels, does it? But it was my reaction about 50% of the way through when I realized that although a soldier is a character, the Napoleonic Wars are not mentioned and although servants in the households are mentioned and moved about like furniture, none are given names or allowed to speak a single line until the near end of the novel when one screws things up.

That and nothing happens. Lots of talk. Lots of not talking. The most exciting course of action any of the characters take is to go for a walk or to hold their tongues.

Also, the money-conscienceness of all the characters – of the society – was simply gauche and depressing.

That being said, I breezed through the novel because strewn about the text where Austen’s incisive and understated character observations. And there were simply entertaining because people don’t really change and I saw my own family, friends and acquaintances in them.

I also liked the novel because it doesn’t do anything. It must have taken huge courage – and a large amount of skill – to NOT pack in some action. In fact, it must have taken a huge amount of sensibility over sense(see what I did there?).

I’m surprised the title of the novel wasn’t Sensibility Over Sense. The message is pounded home very clearly. Act too rashly, too youthfully, follow your heart, have flights of fancy, go for an unchaperoned walk with a man and your life will end up pretty dreadful. Shelley and Lord Byron are fine for the sitting room and in small doses, Austen seems to say, but I’m here to tell you how to be British. Listen up.

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