Friday, January 30, 2009

A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler

"There is no other writer with the same approach to gardening," says eminent gardening author Rosemary Verey of Mirabel Osler. "Like no other writer, Mirabel Osler captures the pure enchantment of gardening," chimes in Penelope Hobhouse. Readers and gardeners the world over will attest to Osler's unmatched ability to evoke the passions and obsessions of gardeners at all levels. Using words rather than pictures, she expresses what is most essential and enduring.

Based on Osler's experience with the garden she and her husband created in Shropshire, a mecca for horticulturists, A Gentle Plea for Chaos is a stirring appeal for gardens with lives of their own. There is no right or wrong way to create a garden, writes Osler, and there are no absolutes. As we change and grow, so too do our creations. The joy of gardening does not reside in planting beyond our capabilities or in enslaving ourselves to some unreachable ideal, but in having our gardens celebrate and reflect the cycles of nature and the rhythms of our lives. In controlled disorder lies the essence and beauty of the English garden, a model for gardens everywhere.

"Why garden?" asks Osler as the beginning of this book. Her delightful and inspiring reply brims with wise counsel, warmth, and humor.

The book contained so many Latin names for plants it was overwhelming! There seemed to be at least one per sentence, and sometimes there were great lists of them. It left me feeling that I should either learn Latin, or give up on reading sophisticated treatises on gardening! Maybe I should stick with strictly vegetable gardening books it the future!

While reading the book it was disconcerting to discover that so many of the plant explorers and discoverers died young - and that was young even for their time! It really makes you think about how far medicine has come in the last century or so. It amazes and saddens me that these brave men (and sometimes women) who put so much into something they loved were eventually killed by diseases contracted while doing that very thing.

This one gets seven stars. With all the Latin it was a bit tedious and distracting at times, but you came away from the book feeling contented and relaxed. It was certainly a very good garden "fix" for a snowy winter day.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Death of a Nag by M.C. Beaton

Pour yourself a bracing cup of tea and prepare to be enthralled as internationally acclaimed author M.C. Beaton updates the classic British Manor House mystery in Death of a Nag. Police constable Hamish Macbeth - loved by mystery fans around the world - is once again on the job in this captivating, colorful and witty whodunit.

Macbeth - Lochdubh's one-man police force - is in a foul mood. He's lost his promotion and his fiancee, and, instead of solitude, his vacation at "Friendly House" yields a freshly murdered corpse and an inn full of suspects who each longed to commit the crime.

Can Macbeth find the culprit, or will justice prove elusive even for the redoubtable Scot?

Death of a Nag rings with originality and will leave you guessing right up to the cunningly clever final twist.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (5 cassettes/6.25 hours).

Davina Porter, as the reader, did a wonderful job as always. She just tunes into the characters, and they come alive for the listener.

Maggie was rather unlikeable. She seemed a bit cold and unfeeling - I'm sure she'd do well in a real police force.

This one gets seven stars. I found it a bit depressing with Towser and mourning the end of his engagement. It just felt depressing from the beginning. I was rather surprised and disappointed by the identity of the culprit and the resolution. I guess it sort of continued the depressing theme.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

In Coraline's family's new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close. The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it's different...

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom. But there's another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (3 CDs/3.5 hours).

This was such a great audiobook! The fact that the author read it was wonderful and added a decidedly completing feeling to the story. The music was deliciously sinister, and the singing rats spine-tinglingly creepy.

This one gets seven stars. While the story was interesting, it was a children's book, so perhaps that is what it didn't really satisfy me. The author/reader performance was wonderful. I think it will make a great film, although how they'll squeeze 90 minutes out of it I have no idea.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition. In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell argues that the true story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them - at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date. The story of success is more complex - and a lot more interesting - than it initially appears.

Outliers explains what the Beatles and Bill Gates have in common, the extraordinary success of Asians at math, the hidden advantages of star athletes, why all top New York lawyers have the same resume, and the reason you've never heard of the world's smartest man - all in terms of generation, family, culture, and class. It matters what year you were born if you want to be a Silicon Valley billionaire, Gladwell argues, and it matters where you were born if you want to be a successful pilot. The lives of outliers - those people whose achievements fall outside normal experience - follow a peculiar and unexpected logic, and in making that logic plain Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential.

In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell changed the way we understand the world. In Blink he changed the way we think about thinking. Outliers will transform the way we understand success.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 CDs/7 hours).

I'm so glad the author read the book! It made an infinite difference in quality of experience. What could have been horrendously boring in other hands was fascinating and informative. While I would not want to listen to him perform other people's books, he did a great job with his own.

Some of the information presented was disconcerting, especially about the intensive schedules the children at the Kip School keep, and the story of the author's own family in the epilogue (which almost ruined the entire book for me), the vast majority is simply amazing. The book keeps you glued to your earphones and makes the seven hours fly right by.

This one gets eight stars (I'm going to ignore the epilogue in this calculation, as that would force me to lower the score to six stars). The information was presented clearly and in a way that was easy to understand and assimilate. The author's reading of the book gave more of a conversational feel to the material versus a lecture. While the book was rather long, the time was well worth it for the fascinating views presented.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Friday, January 23, 2009

Saving Seeds by Marc Rogers

Looking for something to add excitement and interest to your garden? Try raising and saving seeds for your own vegetables and flowers!

Saving seeds is a time-honored tradition - one that more and more gardeners are rediscovering. It can be as simple as growing a few extra peas or beans for next year's use or as challenging as wintering over cabbage heads, waiting for the flower stalks to poke up in the spring.

Any gardener can become a successful seed saver - the only limitations are your time, space, and interest. And the benefits of growing and saving your own seeds are many:

  • You can save money on expensive yearly seed bills.
  • You can select seed each year from the plants best suited to your garden and your particular growing conditions.
  • You can help preserve old-time and regional favorites - heirloom vegetables and flowers that your grandparents grew, but that are hard to find these days.
  • You can share seeds from your own favorite flowers and vegetables with family, friends, neighbors, and other gardeners.
This book will tell you all you need to know about how to raise, harvest, and store seeds for the easiest-to-grow and most popular vegetables and ornamental plants. Each vegetable and flower is discussed in detail. And Saving Seeds answers hundreds of frequently asked gardening questions:
  • Will cucumbers cross with melons or squash?
  • Do some weeds cross with vegetables?
  • Should I avoid raising hybrids for seed?
  • How can I raise seeds that will produce earlier crops? Tastier crops?
Originally published in 1978 as Growing and Saving Vegetable Seeds, Marc Rogers popular and practical guide has now been thoroughly updated to include the best ornamental flowers to grow for seed.

Seed-saving can be a fascinating lifelong hobby for any serious (or frugal) home gardener. And Saving Seeds can help you get started.

I knew I was going to enjoy this book from the very first paragraph:

"I had heard the arguments against growing seeds for so long that I began believing them all. Don't grow seeds, the garden books say. These various arguments all seem to boil down to one main point: that you and I really aren't smart enough to save seeds. Our grandparents did, as did their parents; as did countless generations reaching almost back to our ancestors who first swung out of a tree, but the plain truth is that the human line has petered out a bit, and that you and I aren't capable of growing our own seeds."

This slim volume is packed with information on saving seeds from all the commonly grown vegetables and flowers. It's definitely a great reference for anyone interested in saving seeds.

This one gets eight stars for the sheer wealth of information packed into its pages and for the simplicity of use. Plus, the author has a nice, open, easy style of writing that makes this more of an enjoyable read than it could be in other hands.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Death of a Charming Man by M.C. Beaton

When the dashing Peter Hynd arrives in the backwater village of Drim, the local matron overflow the town's only fitness class, and buy out the local store's hair coloring. Hamish isn't surprised that Hynd is soon missing, and a body has been found ... until he finds the corpse is not the charming man he expects.

Can Macbeth find the murderer and the missing man, or will the dour, crablike men of Drim keep their secrets and commit the perfect crime?

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (5 cassettes/6.5 hours).

I have to say that Priscilla is growing on me. Her handling of the school teacher was divine! She really is more like Hamish than she'd probably prefer to acknowledge. Perhaps even more devious, as she's a civilian. She does seem to genuinely care about Hamish, but it's odd that she's so intimacy shy. She is quite the ally to have though.

I'm quite pleased with the way things worked out with Hamish and Priscilla. It was actually quite inevitable. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

I was a bit surprised by the reaction to Hamish solving the mystery, but that's bureaucracy for you.

I didn't suspect the culprit, although perhaps I should have, as it was very Agatha Christie.

This one gets seven stars. I felt the book was rather long - or perhaps it just felt that way. It just didn't have the usual Hamish feel to it. Perhaps it was all the tension between Hamish and Priscilla. I am still looking forward to the next in the series though.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin

When Voluntary Simplicity was first published in 1981, it quickly became recognized as a powerful and visionary work in the emerging dialogue over sustainable ways of living. Now, more than ten years later and with many of the planet's environmental issues having become more urgent than ever, Duane Elgin has revised and updated his revolutionary book.

Voluntary Simplicity is not a book about living in poverty; it is a book about living with balance. It illuminates the pattern of changes that an increasing number of Americans are making in their everyday lives - adjustments in day-to-day living that are an active, positive response to the complex dilemmas of our time. By embracing, either partially or totally, the tenets of voluntary simplicity - frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth - people can change their lives. And in the process, they have the power to change the world.

Living simply is a deeply personal decision and lifestyle. It seems like most people do live simply to eliminate extraneous, draining things in their lives (caring for their "stuff", etc.) but others consider their sheer laziness a more simple lifestyle - such as the 33 year old woman who stopped shaving her legs. I'm really, really hoping that her "simplicity" here meant switching to waxing and not simply running around with hairy legs. It seems like women in particular seem to reject personal grooming (shaving, eyebrow grooming, etc.) when they pare down their lives. The women in the book don't seem to understand that you can live a simpler life without becoming a hag with hairy legs, no makeup, and a unibrow! There's a difference between simple living and sheer laziness!

While reading this book I realized that some of the things that I do naturally of recent years have been part of an organic progression within myself to lead a simpler life. For instance, I get the vast majority of my bocks, audiobooks, and DVDs from the library. This allows me maximum access to information with minimal long-term clutter in my environment.

I found this quote especially insightful: "I know pretty clearly what the 'top' is as defined by my colleagues. What I'm searching for is the 'top' as defined by me."

The author doesn't really offer any suggestions on what one can do to achieve voluntary simplicity in one's own life. He seems content to simply expound upon how if we don't change immediately the world as we know it will end. It's rather disconcerting, and his haranguing is really not helpful!

The author also loves to use the phrase "human family" constantly. It feels like it appears on every page!

The book becomes more and more political by the page. It's rather disconcerting to discover that a book about simplicity of one's life swiftly becomes a sort of political manifesto. He actually seriously suggests at one point "A year or more of national service could become mandatory for young people..." Um, hello! We live in the United States (the author lives in California apparently) for a reason - mainly freedom! Forced servitude is not freedom in any form, nor does it represent anything this country was founded upon!

This one gets six stars. On the positive side is the slim section on others living in voluntary simplicity. While it was grating at points, it was still informative. On the negative side it was infuriating to have to read about the author's doomsday predictions and political views throughout the remainder of the book.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Friday, January 16, 2009

January Thumb Thing Giveaway!

On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble I found the most lovely book reading accessory - the Thumb Thing! This month I'm giving away three of them (size medium, random colors) - one each to three winners.

From the Thumb Thing website:

How it works?

Simply put the Thumbthing onto your thumb and place into the spine of the book. The two wings will hold the pages open more easily, making reading more comfortable.

It allows you to read with one hand only.

It prevents the spine of the book from being broken.

When finished reading place the Thumbthing into the top of the book so it doesn’t get lost.

Contest runs from January 16, 2009 to 11:59 PM EST January 31, 2009. Winner will be announced February 1, 2009. Open to US residents only.

To enter - earn one entry for each of the following activities (up to three entries per person):
  1. Leave a comment on this post. Please include your e-mail address so I can contact you.
  2. Follow or subscribe to this blog, and leave me a comment on this post telling me you're a subscriber.
  3. Blog about this contest and include a link to this post. Leave a comment with a link to your blog entry.
Good luck!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

December Book Giveaway Winner!

And the winner of the December Book Giveaway for Kathy Freston's Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness is mrs.mommyy! Congratulations and I hope you enjoy it!

Thank you to all who entered!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M.C. Beaton

When Sir Charles Fraith, a kindly baronet, receives a letter from Jessica Tartinck, president of the Dembley Walkers Association, his life is thrown into chaos. Ms. Tartinck, as part of her campaign against landowners over the use of public footpaths, has chosen Friath for her latest attack. Although he suggests a reasonable counteroffer to her demands, Jessica ignores him. Jessica's protest march turns into a death march and she ends up murdered in Sir Charles' field. Agatha is only too willing to try to help clear Sir Charles' name, especially since it means playing the "wife" of her attractive and elusive neighbor, James Lacey. Toward murder and romance, Agatha takes an agreeably direct approach.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (4 cassettes/4.5 hours).

Reading this book right on the heels of the last Agatha Raisin perhaps wasn't the best choice. I think I needed a rest period for a day or two before diving into another Agatha Raisin. It was a bit overwhelming.

In any case, the mystery was an interesting one and the murderer's identity quite surprising. The culprit was quite deluded, but one never thought criminally insane!

Agatha and James posing as a married couple was a nice touch, and really made James grow on me a bit. I do like the new development in their relationship, although it feels a bit unnecessary.

Roy was his usual obnoxious self. Actually, he's turning from annoying to cruel lately. Bill was lovely as always. I do wish we'd see more of him and that Agatha would be a bit nicer to him. The vicar's wife certainly sounds like someone you would actually like to be friends with in real life!

This one gets seven stars. It was a nice addition to the series and I can't wait to read more!

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin's latest plan to catch bachelor James Lacey is to take up gardening and enter the prestigious Carsley Horticultural Contest. Unfortunately, a hard freeze kills all her seedlings just as her former assistant, Roy, arrives to persuade her to return to work at the PR agency. He promises to restore her garden, but as the contest approaches, the plants are mysteriously being uprooted, poisoned, and burned, as are plants in gardens throughout the Cotswold town where she lives. When the prime suspect, a beautiful blond newcomer named Mary Fortune, who has her eye on James, turns up murdered in a particularly nasty way, he and Agatha must put aside their differences to solve the puzzle.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (4 cassettes/4.5 hours).

Another good story in the Agatha Raisin series. I have to say that the author has an especially fertile imagination to have come up with the idea of actually planting the victim in a pot!!

I certainly didn't expect the culprit. I agree with Agatha that I really would have preferred it to be the disagreeable character she had it pinned on.

James continues to annoy me. He acts like a pouting child the majority of the time. Bill was his usual lovely self and added so much to the story. Roy is a pain in the butt, as always.

Agatha is growing on me. I do wonder though, why the author has Agatha gone from the village half the time. It is rather odd. Especially with her new stint at that job in London. Very odd indeed. She must be a complete bitch to work for though!

This one gets seven stars for being a nice, solid addition to the series.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Monday, January 12, 2009

Death of a Travelling Man by M.C. Beaton

When handsome stranger Sean Gourlay parks his rundown gypsy van in the village, it isn't long before Hamish thinks the devil has come to Lochdub. Petty thefts begin, neighbors start to fight, and soon Sean's beaten corpse is found in his van. As Hamish investigates, he fears the murderer must be a resident of Lochdub. To solve the case, he must navigate a maze of suspicions, alibis, and disguises.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (4 discs/4.75 hours).

This wasn't my favorite Hamish Macbeth, but it was still good. I guess after the culprit was revealed I knew what would happen, yet I was still a bit surprised how tidily it was all resolved.

I am so happy with the perfect way Hamish's engagement came around! Only in Lochdub! The resolution of the Willy situation was just wonderful also.

This one gets seven stars. It was definitely a standard good quality Hamish Macbeth story. It left me feeling a bit unfulfilled though. The reader did a lovely job, as always.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sweet Maple by James M. Lawrence

The tantalizing taste of spring itself, real maple syrup gives us a delectable link with North America's native origins, its colonial past and a distilled taste of its ancient forests. Sweet Maple is the new authoritative, fully illustrated guide to:

  • Natural History of the Maple
  • How Syrup Is Made
  • Do-It-Yourself Backyard Sugaring
  • Treasured Maple Recipes
  • Candymaking ... and more
"A complete and wonderfully engaging encyclopedia for all maple lovers..."

This was a wonderful book, packed full on information on every aspect of sugar maples - from their health and the effects of acid rain on them; to the process of tapping the trees, evaporating, and packaging syrup; to favorite recipes using maple syrup. This is certainly the most comprehensive book on the maple I've ever read!

Referring to the giant maples in Vermont the book said: "By the time the trees were just hitting their stride at 100 years of age, John Adams was President of the United States, George IV was King of England, and native maple sugar was being touted as the moral alternative to West Indian cane sugar." Actually, this sounds remarkably like current times where local sweeteners such as honey, are being used more and more for their lower impact on the environment. Maple sugar certainly is more moral, on so many levels, than imported cane sugar.

Shockingly enough, the book reported that 90 to 95% of North Americans have never tasted real maple syrup. I was really surprised by this, but I guess us over here in New England and Eastern Canada are sort of in our own little maple heaven. I can't think of anything more New England than maple syrup (sugar, etc.). It's just one of those things. I forget that perhaps people out west may not have access to the plethora of maple products we do here.

This one definitely gets a firm eight stars! The wealth of information is just wonderful! And, while there is information in abundance, the reader is no overwhelmed with technical mumbo jumbo or extraneous information. This is truly the encyclopedia of maple! Plus, the author has a great, easy to read flow which is greatly appreciated.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

If the very thought of Christmas makes you want to run screaming for a wig or yarmulke, consider including David Sedaris's new and updated Holidays on Ice in your disguise kit. It's light, portable, and easy to hide beneath a tallis or foot-long beard. And now with six additional holiday-themed stories, including one never before published, it is the ideal companion with which to pass long hours beside the menorah.

Even if you take it straight-up Christian, if you choose to spend the holidays glazing hams, say, or baking cookies shaped like hobos, you will find this audiobook indispensable. Here is the timeless "SantaLand Diaries," which immortalized the struggle of department store elves the world over. Here is "Dinah, the Christmas Whore," in which the Sedaris family opens its heart to an unexpected, almost Mary Magdalene-like visitor.

These and four other favorites are joined by six new tales detailing the nuances of explaining the Easter Bunny to the French ("Jesus Shaves"), what Halloween looks like at the medical examiners office ("The Monter Mash"), the puzzling Chrismas traditions of other nations ("Six to Eight Black Men"), and a brand-new story about a barnyard Secret Santa scheme gone awry ("The Cow and the Turkey").

No matter what your favorite holiday, you won't want to miss celebrating year-round with the writer Entertainment Weekly has called "the preeminent humorist of his generation."

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (4 discs/4 hours).

I gather that these are supposed to be humorous stories, although they seem to me to be decidedly tasteless and unfunny ones. I'm not sure if that was the author's intention, or if he actually is a WASPy ass.

The elf story was the best by far. It was funny, at points, and very true to human nature. And really rather sad at points also.

The Dunbar Christmas Letter story was completely tasteless and just wrong on so, so many levels.

The story based in the church was grating and stupid. The fact that it was supposedly based on a true story makes it that much worse.

I do have to say that the Christmas pageant/play story was deliciously funny at times. Not enough to redeem the rest of the book though.

The rest of the stories I won't even bother to mention individually. They were all tacky and cruel and completely humorless.

The author (who is also, unfortunately, the reader) has an annoying, whiny, almost baby, voice. I'm not sure if he does it on purpose, or if he actually speaks like that in real life. Either way, it made the book seem much longer than the four hours. I don't understand why a grown man would speak like that, let alone while reading his own book! He is seriously the male equivalent of Janice from Friends!

This collection was 95% horrible. Adding to the horrificness of it all was the author's Chipmunk voice. These combined to make it virtually intolerable. This gets five stars. It should really be four stars, but it gets an extra star for being so short and keeping the experience to a minimum.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Death of a Glutton by M.C. Beaton

It's summertime in northern Scotland, and for Hamish, it's time to relax, enjoy the sunshine and give some long overdue attention to his beautiful love interest, Priscilla Halburton-Smythe. Meanwhile, the eight members of the Checkmate Singles Club are arriving at Tommel Castle Hotel to meet their prearranged partners. When one of the two matchmakers is found dead with an apple stuffed in her mouth, Hamish is called in to investigate the crime.

As Hamish interrogates the singles and the remaining matchmaker, he quickly realizes that summer will have to be placed on hold until this daunting puzzle is solved, and the guilty party has been identified.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (4 cassettes/5 hours).

Priscilla is really beginning to get on my nerves! She doesn't seem to want to acknowledge how she feels about Hamish, yet she doesn't want anyone else to have him either. I am glad, though, that she finally stood up to her father!

I love how perfect it was that it was the religious correspondent at Rory's newspaper that went crazy! What a great commentary!

Deborah's little game was quite ridiculous and stupid of her. I wonder exactly what she thought was going to happen. She really was an overgrown schoolgirl. And I think Mrs. Trask would be wonderful friends with Lady Rose Summer's parents if they were of the same time period.

The new constable sounds like he'll be quite the bane of Hamish's existence. It'll be interesting how that plays out in future books.

This one gets seven stars, as usual. It was a nice addition to the series.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Backyard Sugarin' by Rick Mann

This is a third, updated edition of a little book that swept maple sugarin' buffs off their feet when it first appeared. Like the previous editions, this one tells you how you can make maple syrup right in your own backyard without having to build a sap house or buy buckets, holding tanks, evaporators and the other expensive paraphernalia of time-honored sugarin'. This edition tells you even better, though, because it's got more detailed "how-to" information in it, and it makes some new and noteworthy revelations - including tips sugarers across the country have shared with me since the first book was published. If you have a hankering to try your hand at sugarin', or if you know of someone who does, you really ought to buy this book, right now. It's bound to save you (or your friend) far more money than its modest cost.

This was a great little book, packed with all kinds of great, useful information for the individual who wants to try out making maple syrup at home. It actually gives you all sorts of details on what you need to tap the trees; how many spouts, etc. you need to get the volume of sap needed to make the anticipated volume of syrup; along with details on various evaporator options you can manufacture yourself and their pros and cons.

For a 95 page book it certainly packs an informational wallop! For the sheer readability and ease of use this one gets eight stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Monday, January 5, 2009

Food Not Lawns by H.C. Flores

Food Not Lawns combines practical wisdom on edible garden design and community-building with a fresh perspective on an age-old subject. Activist and urban gardener Heather Flores shares her nine-step plan to help readers build fertile soil, raise their own food, promote biodiversity, and increase natural habitat in their own "paradise gardens," whether on a tiny city plot or a half acre of lawn. In Flores's vision, lawns give way to gardens and gardens lead to stronger, healthier neighborhoods. Food Not Lawns collects the skills, tips, and hands-on instruction needed to turn the vision into reality.

This joyful manual inspires readers to apply the principles of the paradise garden - simplicity, resourcefulness, creativity, mindfulness, and community - to all aspects of life. Begin with a few plants; find opportunities to grow in abandoned lots; create playful teaching gardens with neighborhood children; organize your new bounty into community meals. In Food Not Lawns, Flores shows us how to reconnect to the earth and to our communities one garden at a time.

This was certainly not a "joyful manual" by any means! First off, it was a very unwieldy book! Really, it was an oversized paperback that was a floppy pain to read. That really took away from the marginal enjoyment of reading this tome.

I immediately intensely disliked the author. From the drawing of a pregnant, barefoot hag on a bicycle on the front cover, to her whining about how she was "marginalized" for being half-Mexican - and, oh yeah, low income too. Yeah, I'm sure it was being half Mexican that was the problem, not the being low income. In any case, I'm really don't like her. And her bitchy, holier-than-thou militant activist attitude is simply virtually unbearable at times. I wonder how at times how I managed to slog through this monstrosity! She can be such a snotty little bitch!

This was way too political for me! It was actually more about the author's radical politics and conspiracy theories and activist propaganda than gardening. At one point she actually advocates ecological "training camps" which sound remarkably like other "training camps" abroad and that seem to be breeding grounds for domestic terrorists!

That said, this one gets six stars. It was just okay. Certainly not spectacular and nothing I would ever recommend. Let me just say that I'm glad this was a library book and nothing I paid money for. The one star that rescues it from five stars comes from the sections on soil building and seed saving.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hasty Death by Marion Chesney

Lady Rose Summer refuses to abide by her parents' insistence that she marry. Even more distressing, she wants to work. On advice from Captain Harry Cathcart - a noble-born private investigator who knows Rose all too well - her parents agree to let Rose work as a typist and live in a women's hostel. But life as a working woman isn't quite what Rose imagined: Whey a playboy is murdered, Rose will return to high society to follow a trail of deception, rumors, and devious plots - even as a singularly calculating killer prepares to end rebellious Rose's sleuthing for good.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (6 discs/6.5 hours).

Seriously, Rose is such a nasty little bitch! Granted, she is perhaps typical of her kind of the time, but still! She just makes me grind my teeth! I really, really dislike her. She has no clue about real life, but I guess things never change, as the upper class is still just as bad now - you can get away with pretty much anything provided you have the looks and money (or simply money). She seems to be the British Scarlett O'Hara. No wonder I hate her!

I do, however, love Harry! I really don't know how he deals with the miserable Rose. It's simply amazing! I would have smacked her long ago!

I love the resolution of the Harry/Rose situation. It makes me like Rose a tiny, tiny bit more. It definitely makes me love Harry more!

I also love the result of the doctor's demise. Too perfect!

This one gets seven stars. It was good, but not great.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Keeping Bees and Making Honey by Alison Benjamin

It is estimated that around 70% of the food we eat is dependent upon pollination by bees and other insects. However, with bee populations worldwide on the decline due to factors such as intensive farming, urban sprawl and disease, their vital ecological role is under threat. The need for bees has never been more apparent.

Keeping Bees and Making Honey is a stunning, comprehensive guide to beekeeping, packed with images, information, practical advice, useful resources and even recipes. From understanding bees and their psychology to where to get them from, how to look after them on a day-to-day basis, how best to garden for them and suggestions on things to make with the wax and honey - everything the beekeeper and the entire family ever need to know is here.

Environmentally, there has never been a more important time to start beekeeping, nor is there a better antidote to the stresses of everyday life. Keeping Bees and Making Honey is the ideal companion as you add your share to the 1m tonnes of honey that are produced worldwide each year.

This was actually quite good! I was expecting a very simplistic book, which it is, but very informative as well. It's very user friendly and easy to read and the authors certainly seem to know what they're talking about. An added plus is that it's a UK book so you get a slightly different perspective. There are also tons of pictures, which make it even more enjoyable.

The book is certainly comprehensive - covering everything from IPM (Integrated Pest Management) to hive types to honey harvests. It's everything the other bee books tell you in half the space and more accessible.

This one definitely gets 8 stars if only for its ease of use and all the pictures!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Friday, January 2, 2009

Beautiful Madness by James Dodson

During an amazing year of living botanically, in quest of deepening his own ever-consuming knowledge and interest in gardening, James Dodson went behind the scenes of the world's two most important garden shows (the Philadelphia Flower Show and the Chelsea Garden Show in London); spent time with a man nicknamed the Botticelli of Bulbs; attended a rare plant auction of high rollers; got adopted as a person project by a famous garden club of colonial dames; sneaked into a Hosta convention; communed with the kindred spirits of Thomas Jefferson and John Bartram; met a man smuggling exotic day lilies in the trunk of his car; spent a weekend on the Isle of Wight with the Madman of Kew and his gardening wife (she keeps Queen Victoria's estate); uncovered the secrets of ten or twelve of the Western world's most influential gardens; swiped cuttings from a Founding Father's shrubbery; hung out with some of the most accomplished gardening fanatics on earth; built three new gardens of his own; and wound up handing perilously from a limb on the side of a cliff in Southern Africa, where he capped off his year of discovery by tagging along with four of America's leading plant hunters on an expedition into the rugged jungles to find the exotic new species of tomorrow.

This tale of shared horticultural obsession burrows deeply into the story of how we Americans became such a fanatical nation of gardeners and are today, in fact, at the forefront of a new Golden Age of Gardening in the world.

This rather long, yet interesting, book introduced two valuable new words to my vocabulary - "hortgasm" and "gardenlust". Both are pretty much self-explanatory. I, myself, have experienced both in the past couple years since I've been gardening in earnest, even though mine have been over vegetables and not flowers.

The author travelled to so many interesting places (Philadelphia Flower Show, Chelsea Flower Show, South Africa, etc.) and met so many lovely people. It almost felt like you were right there along with him and that is the closest I choose to get to any of those locations! The craziness of it all is a bit too much for me! However, I would like to see Monticello as I haven't been there before.

The only negative about the book (besides its length) is that you can just tell that the author is a middle aged upper middle class white guy without having to look at his picture on the book flap. Surprisingly though, he's not overly annoying about it.

So, this one gets a solid seven stars. It was entertaining and chock full of information and delightful real life characters.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 100+ Reading Challenge

  1. Beautiful Madness
  2. Keeping Bees and Making Honey
  3. Hasty Death
  4. Food Not Lawns
  5. Backyard Sugarin'
  6. Death of a Glutton (Hamish Macbeth #8)
  7. Holidays on Ice
  8. Sweet Maple
  9. Death of a Travelling Man (Hamish Macbeth #9)
  10. Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (Agatha Raisin #3)
  11. Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (Agatha Raisin #4)
  12. Voluntary Simplicity
  13. Death of a Charming Man (Hamish Macbeth #10)
  14. Saving Seeds: The Gardener's Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds
  15. Outliers
  16. Coraline
  17. Death of a Nag (Hamish Macbeth #11)
  18. A Gentle Plea for Chaos
  19. Death of a Macho Man (Hamish Macbeth #12)
  20. The New Self-Sufficient Gardener
  21. Fresh Food from Small Spaces
  22. The Elements of Organic Gardening
  23. Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder
  24. The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms
  25. The Private Patient
  26. Death of a Dentist (Hamish Macbeth #13)
  27. Martin Misunderstood
  28. Death of a Scriptwriter (Hamish Macbeth #14)
  29. Tasha Tudor's Garden
  30. The Art of Tasha Tudor
  31. Strangers
  32. Beat the Reaper
  33. Death of an Addict (Hamish Macbeth #15)
  34. Death of a Dustman (Hamish Macbeth #17)
  35. Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (Agatha Raisin #5)
  36. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (Agatha Raisin #6)
  37. Quantum Wellness
  38. The Tales of Beedle the Bard
  39. Drawn from New England
  40. Tasha Tudor's Heirloom Crafts
  41. Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (Agatha Raisin #7)
  42. Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (Agatha Raisin #8)
  43. The Magician's Assistant
  44. Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden (Agatha Raisin #9)
  45. An Egyptian Childhood
  46. Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam (Agatha Raisin #10)
  47. The Heirloom Tomato
  48. Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell (Agatha Raisin #11)
  49. Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter
  50. Size 2 for Life
  51. The Moses Code
  52. The Power of Less
  53. Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came (Agatha Raisin #12)
  54. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America
  55. Panic in Level 4
  56. Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate (Agatha Raisin #13)
  57. How Not to Look Old
  58. Houses by Mail
  59. Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (Agatha Raisin #14)
  60. The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It
  61. My One Hundred Adventures
  62. The Blue Pen
  63. Builders of the Pacific Coast
  64. Playboy 50 Years: The Photographs
  65. The Deadly Dance (Agatha Raisin #15)
  66. The Charlemagne Pursuit
  67. The Perfect Paragon (Agatha Raisin #16)
  68. The Monster of Florence
  69. The Magic Thief: Book One: Lost
  70. Fish Out of Water
  71. Throw Out Fifty Things
  72. Plum Spooky
  73. Love, Lies and Liquor (Agatha Raisin #17)
  74. Kissing Christmas Goodbye (Agatha Raisin #18)
  75. Great Houses of New England
  76. Death of a Celebrity (Hamish Macbeth #18)
  77. Tiny, Tiny Houses
  78. Ghostgirl
  79. A Tiny Home to Call Your Own
  80. Faceless Killers
  81. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  82. The Cottage Book
  83. Death of a Village
  84. Small Log Homes
  85. 101 Cataclysms
  86. The Dogs of Riga
  87. How to Profit from the Coming Rapture
  88. Death of a Poison Pen (Hamish Macbeth #20)
  89. Good House Cheap House
  90. For the Love of Cats
  91. For Glory
  92. Law of Connection
  93. Red to Black
  94. Sixth-Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me
  95. Made from Scratch
  96. Swimsuit
  97. Death of a Bore (Hamish Macbeth #21)
  98. A Spoonful of Poison (Agatha Raisin #19)
  99. Bliss to You
  100. Pistonhead
  101. Death of a Dreamer (Hamish Macbeth #22)
  102. Finger Lickin' Fifteen
  103. How Successful People Think
  104. Death of a Maid (Hamish Macbeth #23)
  105. Luv Ya Bunches
  106. Doctor Who: Feast of the Drowned
  107. The Royal Mess
  108. Death of a Gentle Lady (Hamish Macbeth #24)
  109. Benny & Shrimp
  110. Death of a Witch (Hamish Macbeth #25)
  111. The Vixen Manual
  112. The Maze Runner
  113. Doing It Right
  114. Winnie-the-Pooh
  115. A Circle of Souls
  116. The Bourne Deception
  117. There's More to Life Than the Corner Office
  118. How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World
  119. Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton
  120. Awakening Consciousness: A Girl's Guide
  121. The Face
  122. Awakening Consciousness: A Boy's Guide
  123. Now What?
  124. A Bear Called Paddington
  125. The Dangerous Days of Daniel X
  126. Writing as a Sacred Path
  127. Daniel X: Watch the Skies
  128. Smitten: A Kitten's Guide to Happiness
  129. The Weight of Silence
  130. Why Fish Fart
  131. NurtureShock
  132. Doctor Who: The Resurrection Casket
  133. Morning Sunshine!: How to Radiate Confidence and Feel It Too
  134. My Ambulance Education
  135. Relentless
  136. Doctor Who: The Stone Rose
  137. The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
  138. Christmas Is Good!
  139. Possible Futures
  140. At First Sight
  141. The Sum of His Syndromes
  142. Just Food
  143. The One Hundred
  144. Babymouse: Queen of the World!
  145. By the Light of the Moon
  146. Imagine: A Vagabond Story
  147. Life is Good!
  148. Freakin' Fabulous
  149. More About Paddington
  150. What Not to Wear