IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES

Do you ever look into the deep green shadows of a primeval forest and wonder what those secret depths hold? Do you like to write about your new and inventive discoveries while sipping a glass of fragrant wine? Do you enjoy the creative process? Then I hope you will stop a spell, enjoy the adventure, and travel with me as we imagine the possibilities...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review of "Florida Wildflowers - A Comprehensive Guide" by Walter Kingsley Taylor Reviewed by Peggy Kassees



A book for the nature lover, researcher, bicyclist, and hiker – anyone who traverses the Florida landscape and pauses to say – what’s that plant?

Walter Kingsley Taylor, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Central Florida, has traipsed all over Florida gathering information for Florida Wildflowers. Taylor is also author of A Guide to Florida Grasses.

Florida Wildflowers sorts plants into regions such as hardwood-forested uplands, pine flatwoods, wetlands, and more, covering the entire state of Florida, and making each search to identify plants a joy. It’s easy. Plants are photographed in their natural state. Books that have line drawings of plants tend to all look the same to me. This is not an issue in Taylor’s book. The author does not stop at wildflowers – but photographs and writes about trees, shrubs, and pretty much anything that grows. If you are out on the trail biking or hiking and spot a plant, I’m betting that it will be in Taylor’s book. Thus far, I’ve found data on each bit of greenery that I wanted information on.

As a writer of fiction that takes place in Florida, I want to have the correct plant in the right place, whether it is growing in sand, loam, red clay, rich black earth, or bogs. As Taylor demonstrates, Florida sits at a latitude where the major deserts of our Earth occur—yet our state is known for green luxurious growth. The humidity gifted to our state by the Gulf Stream helps create this atmosphere and moderates temperatures that otherwise would indeed reflect the deserts of Africa and Mexico, to name only two. In Florida, you are no more than 100 miles from the salt water at any point.

With Florida Wildflowers, you don’t only get identification of species – both the Latin and common names, you have the opportunity to learn more of this Sunshine State. Did you know that Ocala limestone of the Eocene period (65 million years ago) makes up the major formation of the entire state? Well, maybe you knew, but I didn’t, and I find learning about my state through Taylor’s eyes is fun as well as enlightening.

Did you know that the hills that slope away from Tallahassee, the Florida Capital, used to be the coastline of Florida at one time? Anyone visiting the Capitol (if this were still the coastline) could see water lapping away just below FAMU, (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.) The soil, and therefore plant life, changes, as you travel from North Florida on down to the coast. Are you curious to know what type of grass is under your toes? Worried about that sticker in your ankle? Florida Wildflowers is the book for you.

In Florida Wildflowers, you learn that some plants have “people” names, such as Joewood, Walter’s Groundcherry, and Godfrey’s False Dragonhead. Makes me wonder what these and other individuals did, to have plants named after them.

While Taylor does give information on whether some plants are edible or not, I do find myself asking that question on all Florida flora in his book. Maybe the next version will have this, because Taylor does believe in improving his books. Florida Wildflowers is a second edition. For those interested in knowing if certain plants in Florida are endemic, endangered, or threatened, this is information was added when Taylor revised and updated his glorious book on wildflowers. In this new edition, Taylor also added hundreds of photographs, realigned his first book to make it more user friendly, and to reflect current terrestrial communities and the plants growing in them.

My copy of this book is not in too good a shape – I keep it in my vehicle in case I want to look up a bit of greenery that has garnered my attention. I use it when writing and need to know if a particular plant is flowering or has berries. Taylor’s book should be on everyone’s bookshelf, tucked in a backpack, or nestled in a kayak. You can’t go wrong having Florida Wildflowers handy.

After all, how else could you answer the question: what’s that plant?

Florida Wildflowers – A Comprehensive Guide is available from your favorite on-line dealer, through University Press, and in bookstores near you.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review of "Annihilation" by Jeff Vandermeer


Reviewed by Peggy Kassees

That which we don’t acknowledge can destroy us – or remake us.

In the 1960’s, I remember watching a late night black and white re-run of a 1951 movie, “The Thing,” starring James Arness. It was about an alien being come from space who terrorizes a military outpost. I was terrified – the only thing stopping me from having nightmares was my dad – he could save the world, as far as I was concerned. I remember him laughing when the alien proved to be a plant. “Well they got that right, Peggy. It’s not going to be something from space that gets mankind, it’ll be something small.” Then he lowered his voice and said – “Better beware, there’s a fungus amongus.” VanderMeer exposes the fungus amongus.

Jeff VanderMeer creates a terrifying world with an economy of language and description that paints more than speaks. I began reading Annihilation while sitting on the front porch of my son’s house south of Crawfordville. Sounds of insects, amphibians, and an owl or two, combined with rustling pine needles, and a night so dark and heavy with humidity, that the air coated my skin. Fear pulsed through my veins. The only light in sight came from a tiny lamp clipped to my book. Was not long before I went inside. Found I was spending more time checking what might be in the bushes and nearby swamp, thanks to Vandermeer, than reading. That’s the kind of book the author writes. Intense. Thoughtful. And scary as all get out!

Start with Area X – an amorphous area of land along the Forgotten Coast of North Florida. Add the topographical features that already exist, then throw in Vandermeer’s imagination, and you have an exquisite tale guaranteed to make a person think twice before entering the wilds of Saint Marks or forests of Apalachicola.

Area X has only one entrance, which is heavily guarded by a branch of the government called Southern Reach. The Southern Reach determines who and when teams infiltrate the area for research. Four women, known only by their occupation, make up the 12th team: a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist. The reader learns that no one knows everything that has been found in Area X, and this is not the 12th team. There are secrets within secrets, because no one wants to share all that they know.  We experience Area X through the eyes of the biologist, a woman who divulges her life piecemeal through the book, but never her name. She is, as are the other women, a tool. An implement used by VanderMeer and the Southern Reach.

As the reader experiences the incongruences that make up this region, we are drawn in and sucked down into VanderMeer’s world, into the tower that is not a tower, with writing on the walls made of phosphorescent plants, into the reeds that are now home to an indefinable monstrosity, to the vision of a dolphin with a far too human eye, and the diminishing of the investigating team until all we see is – well – fear, and the knowledge at the end of the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, that Area X is not finished, and the fat lady may never sing.

I have started reading and listening to “Authority,” the second book in VanderMeer’s Trilogy, and sense this is every bit as good as “Annihilation.” Run to your local bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, wherever you like to pick up your books. go on Amazon.com. Listen to “Annihilation” on Audible. This book is a Southern classic. I hope the studios that have a movie option on VanderMeer’s books, do make a movie of it. I’ll be there, watching through my fingers, holding my breath, and shoving back the scream building in my throat – just like when reading the book.

Jeff VanderMeer is a three-time winner, thirteen-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award. His Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, the world's first full-color, image-based writing guide, is now out from Abrams Image. His Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), will be published by FSG, HarperCollins Canada, and The Fourth Estate (UK) in 2014, as well as 12 other countries. The film rights have been optioned by Scott Rudin Productions, and Paramount Pictures. Prior novels include the Ambergris Cycle (City of Saints & Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword, and Finch) and Veniss Underground. His short fiction has appeared in American Fantastic Tales (Library of America), Conjunctions, and many others. He writes nonfiction for The Washington Post, the LA Times, The Guardian, and many others. He has lectured at MIT and the Library of Congress and helps run the Shared Worlds teen SF/Fantasy writing camp out of Wofford College. With his wife Ann he has coedited several iconic anthologies, most recently The Time Traveler's Almanac and The Weird. You can contact him at vandermeercreative.com.

Jeff VanderMeer lives in North Florida with his wife, Ann.






Monday, September 1, 2014

My Review of Dixie Ann Black's Book, "Just Chasing the Sun"

Review of Dixie Ann Black's book "Just Chasing the Sun"

Reviewed by Peggy Kassees

Joy, peace, and a poignancy that almost breaks the heart fill this jewel of a book.
Just Chasing the SunNuggets of poetry slip around short stories like long fingers caressing a loved one. They stroke the spaces between memories. When you read Black’s book, you know her—a happy, bright individual who carries sunshine in her footsteps. The story of going “home” to Africa, of being welcomed by the soil and sun, the animals, and the men and women of her ancestry relates to all people. It is the feeling I experienced when stepping foot in the south of France. Her words evoke the experience exquisitely.
Humor abounds – her poem “Holy Vessels” had me laughing. Black knows the human spirit and presents it simple words full of love and a bit of chagrin. She understands.
“Just Chasing the Sun” also delves into darker issues with knowledge and compassion. “Through My Eyes,” one of Black’s short stories walks the reader through a day in the life of a disabled individual who also lacks the capacity for speech. Not on the outside as an observer, but from the perspective of the individual. Please, God, I think as I read this, I don’t want to live this way when I’m older. And yet, so many of our elderly and disabled family and friends do.
Black loves to travel, and “Just Chasing the Sun” has stories that resonate with her wanderlust. You see the places she journeys through her eyes with wit and self-insight.
This book is filled with real stories; some funny, some sad, but all looking for a bit of light, a splash of joy – just chasing the sun.
Black’s book is not lengthy, but like gold, it is a treasure. You may want to keep an eye out for her book signings and readings. Black’s voice and presence add piquancy to her words that you will not want to miss.
“Just Chasing the Sun” can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, in book stores around town, and at Black’s book signings.
Dixie Ann Black is a mother and a daughter, a Believer and friend. She is also a teacher, healer, artist, and a leader. She is a mother of two and an avid world traveler. She holds a black belt in martial arts and practices tai chi, yoga, and various other fitness oriented activities. She enjoys ballroom dancing, writing poetry, short stories, and public speaking. Her professional life has included social work and brokering real estate. She is passionate about health – both physical and spiritual. Black believes in the importance of building community and taking care of our planet. She is a seeker of truth.

Black lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and is a member of the Tallahassee Writers Association.

Tales from San Antonio, Texas - The Necessities

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


This is my set-up at the Courtyard Marriott. I pulled the desk out from under the counter where it awaited my arrival, then spread out. iPad, for music and added research. Computer, for – well – computing, new Texas coffee mug, and pocketknife. The blade is open, not to slit my wrists, but to cut tags off items I purchased. Prime reason for said #SanAntonio knife, though, is the swirly piece of metal that opens wine bottles, and the little hook thingie that takes care of beer caps. One must have one's standards.


Oh, please ignore the crumbs on the railing of my balcony. We aren't allowed to feed the birds. Those crumbs are for me. I'm letting them marinate in the fine air so they'll be perfect when I return to the room. I did stand on the balcony and announce this fact. Figure I'm covered.

Imagine there must be a statute of limitations -- right? 

Peggy

Tales from San Antonio, Texas - Breakfast and the GBS Revisited (Great Bird Spirit)

July 21, 2014, 9:30am On the River

The Great Bird Spirit Revisited

Breakfast is on the patio by the river. Soft breezes cool my skin, and the sounds of people laughing lift my spirits.


I’m sitting here, minding my own business, eating a breakfast burrito filled with eggs, black beans, corn, peppers, and onions while sipping a cup of Starbucks finest. All good—until a chunk of burrito gets away from me, and lands on the Spanish tile. Five sparrows demolish it before anyone can say: “Howdy, y’all!”

Now I have a flock of about a gazillion or so birds watching me. Shiny black eyes follow the movement of fork to face and back. Guilt swarms my heart. What would the Great Bird Spirit think of me?

A few more bits of food accidentally hit the ground. More follow. I AM the GBS! I feed my flock. I love their many feathered shades of brown. Feel glory in their sharp beaks that range in color from burnished orange to palest sandstone. My soul is full. I’ve accepted the spirit of the GBS and seek to fulfill her mission. I will love my feathered friends. I will feed and protect them come what may.

I sit back in my chair, replete. My plate and the tile floor are clean. The birds are satiated.

But wait! Why do they stare at me so? Why are they edging closer? With horror, I realize what I’ve done – fed them eggs – fluffy, unborn, aborted, dead, baby chicks. I’ve turned my flock cannibal. Made them eat their own kind.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. The sparrows ignore my words. Edge closer. These are no longer the feathered fluffs I was feeding. They’re freaking dinosaurs—Velociraptors in miniature—carnivoristic, ravenous beasts. And I started them on this path by feeding them scrambled egg burrito. The shame.

Birds line the railing, perch on chair backs, and coat the area around my feet. Little brains whirl. I know what they are thinking . . .

It’s too late for me.


In these, my last moments, I give you this warning. Dinosaurs are not extinct. They live in your yards, masquerading as cute little birdies, and one day, they will remember what they were, the GBS will rule, and they’ll dine on Poached Peggy, Fricasseed Frances, David and Dumplings . . .

Imagining the possibilities,

Peggy