Spring Garden Books

I read a quote recently where someone asked if we could unplug 2020, wait a few minutes and then try restarting it. It’s been a long year already, hasn’t it – and we’ve got quite a bit of 2020 left! We may not be able to unplug and start over, but spring, which officially begins today, offers a fresh start of it’s own. Here are some recent gardening books that are guaranteed to brighten your day!

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Floret Farm’s A Year in Flowers by Erin Benzakein. Not only is this is a seriously gorgeous book, it’s packed with great information on how to grow and arrange your own cut flowers. Erin is something of a star in the flower grower world and she just announced that she has filmed a documentary about running a small business which will air on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ new Magnolia television network sometime in October.

Garden Alchemy: 80 Recipes and Concoctions for Organic Fertilizers, Plant Elixirs, Potting Mixes, Pest Deterrents and More by Stephanie Rose. The best way to ensure a lots of beautiful flowers and vegetables is to start with beautiful soil. Lots of tips and ideas in this book!

Gardening in Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small Spaces by Tara Nolan. Stop wasting all of that land in front of your house – gardens are beautiful, add to the value of your house and are much better for the environment and wildlife than the mono-culture of grass.

Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening: a Gardener’s Guide to Growing Flowers, from Today’s Favorites to Unusual Varieties by Matt Mattus. You’ll want to keep your stack of seed and bulb catalogs close by while paging through this beauty – lots of inspiration for your next garden!

Small Garden Style: a Design Guide for Outdoor Rooms and Containers by Isa Eaton. Small doesn’t mean lacking in style and interest; this book will help you create a lovely garden no matter the size. Even a small front porch can benefit from a beautiful container garden!

 

 

Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero

August 1943. The Allies have invaded Sicily, the first step in liberating Europe from the Nazi’s. As the US Army advances, the 11th Field Hospital follows about 25 miles behind the front line, ready to treat the wounded at all hours. Soldiers, doctors and nurses must deal with unrelenting heat, malaria, staff shortages, bad food not to mention air strikes from the Germans. During the chaos of one of these airstrikes, a doctor is gunned down not by the enemy, but from someone within his unit in Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero.

Eddie Harkins, a beat cop from Philadelphia serving in the Army as an MP (Military Police), is assigned the job of finding the murderer. Eddie is not a detective, but no one else is available. He stumbles through the investigation, relying on sheer stubbornness and dogged determination. He’s helped by Kathleen Donnelly, one of the nurses, who he grew up with back home and his driver Colianno who also acts as translator and always seems to find trouble.

Eddie quickly discovers that the victim, Dr Stephenson, had a lot of enemies but he also finds that that the rot goes deeper – nurses have been assualted and abused but their complaints have been ignored by their captain; a German doctor who stayed with the German POWs is given unprecedented privileges and freedom; the unit commander is petty and incompetent and appears to be involved in one or more shady practices. The nurses are angry and mistrustful, making Eddie’s job especially difficult. He is also weighted down with a terrible secret, one that he cannot forgive himself for. Fighting fatigue, time constraints and military protocol, Eddie edges closer and closer to the truth, eventually putting himself directly in danger.

I really enjoyed this book. The setting of wartime Sicily at the beginning of the Italian Campaign is fascinating. I especially enjoyed that the story revolves around a Field Hospital – my Mother was an Army nurse during World War II, stationed in England and France so this glimpse of the work and living conditions that the nurses endured during the war was especially interesting. The various mysteries, complicated and muddied by the chaos of war, are twisty and complex, and there are several white-knuckle, hold-onto-the-edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Through it all, the machine of the war grinds on, with the terrible cost and the real job of these people – helping the wounded – remaining a constant.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello! How is your month of serial killers going? I sincerely hope you’re reading about serial killers and not actually meeting any! Of course, Silence of the Lambs has other aspects you can read about – the FBI, murders even um, cannibalism. I chose to go with a plan old murder by Louise Penny and I’m very happy with my choice.

If you’re still looking, maybe a movie would be a good alternative. Here are some ideas.

Wind River with Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner.  An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Sicario starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin.  After an idealistic FBI agent is recruited by a to pursue a drug lord, she begins a perilous mission that  pits her against a shadowy consultant with a dangerous agenda.

Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood. A rooftop sniper named Scorpio has killed twice. Streetwise San Francisco police detective Harry Callahan will nail the perp one way or another-

Now You See Me. An elite FBI squad in a game of cat and mouse against The Four Horsemen, a super-team of the world’s greatest illusionists.

Natural Born Killers with Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis. The story of a husband and wife who are serial killers involved in a cross-country killing spree that elevates them from fugitives into media celebrities.

Television series that fit the bill include The X-Files, Criminal Minds, White Collar, Fringe and Bones and Dexter.

And of course, there’s always Silence of the Lambs. Watch it with a nice Chianti.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

What do you do when, in an instant, your entire world changes? Your family, your planned future, your past all now belong in the “before” while you alone must move into the unknown “after”. And what is your duty to what is lost? How do you remember and honor them?  This is the dilemma that Edward Adler must face in Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.

Twelve-year-old Eddie Adler and his beloved older brother Jordan are moving to Los Angeles with their parents for their Mom’s new job. The family boards a plane in Newark and, with the rest of the passengers, settle in for a six-hour flight. The trip is pretty ordinary with it’s random collection of personalities, each with their own unique stories – a soldier about to leave the service, a Wall Street whiz kid, a young woman who’s just found out that she’s pregnant, an exuberant woman leaving her husband to start a new life, a wealthy man seeking medical treatment in California. Casual connections are made between people on a shared journey,  but all thinking ahead to what awaits them in Los Angeles.

Then, somewhere over Colorado, something goes horribly wrong and all those futures come to an end. The plane crashes killing 191 people. There is only one survivor: Eddie Adler.

Edward (he now goes by Edward; Eddie belongs to the “before”) goes to live with his aunt and uncle when he has recovered from his injuries. Here he meets their neighbor Shay who becomes a rock of normalcy in his suddenly upside down world. It’s when, a couple years later they discover that Edward’s uncle has kept the hundreds of letters that were sent after the crash that Edward begins to first question and then put into action how to shape his life moving forward.

This is a moving, thoughtful book that explores that you shouldn’t take your life for granted and to live with purpose. It is often melancholy – sections alternate between the stories of the people on the plane and with Edward’s struggles after the crash – so many hopes and plans and dreams gone in an instant. But it is also restorative, that these lives weren’t wasted and that Edward is able to move on without abandoning the past, that you carry their memories and stories with you and their lives continue through you and your actions. A lovely, uplifting novel.

Long Range by C. J. Box

Have you ever found a book series that was so immersive that when you finished one book, you immediately picked up the next in the series? Sometimes there’s a cliffhanger that needs resolution or you’ve become so invested in the characters you don’t want to let go. The Lord of the Ring series by J.R.R. Tolkien or the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon are good examples. For me it’s always been the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian (and omg, don’t get me started on these books – I’ll talk your ear off!) Now I’ve added another to my favorites – the Joe Pickett series by C. J. Box.

Joe Picket is a game warden in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He keeps an eye on the wildlife and makes sure hunting and fishing are done legally. He often teams up with his friend Nate Romanaski, a falconer who sometimes tiptoes the legal line. In Long Range, Joe is drawn into the investigation of a case where a local woman has been shot from a very long distance, a shot that would require specialized equipment and a particular set of skills. The woman is active in the community and liked by everyone, but her husband is a controversial local judge and has made more than one enemy. Was this a case of the wrong person being shot? If so, was the shooter going to try again? And who would have the skill and knowledge to make that kind of shot?

Because of Joe’s knowledge of the area and the locals, he is put on the sheriff’s task force. When Nate is falsely accused and arrested, Joe’s task becomes two-fold – finding the murderer and clearing his friend.

Long Range is number 20 in this series (I read the first 19 in the series last fall – I warned you, they’re addictive!) and the quality shows no signs of declining. The mystery is tight and suspenseful, the writing is sharp, crisp and evocative and the characters are multi-layered and interesting. Box touches on a wide range of topics from falconry, to marksmanship to environmental protection and responsibility. The rugged scenery of Wyoming serves as a stunning backdrop and Joe’s unwavering love of his family, loyalty to his friends and his unbending moral code act as the center of this series. Highly recommended.

 

Online Reading Challenge – March

Fellow Readers! Welcome to the March edition of the Online Reading Challenge. This month our inspiration film is: The Silence of the Lambs!

Urk. What was I thinking when I choose this film? I am not a fan of serial killers, which, ok, is kind of a silly statement since I imagine most people don’t really want to meet one face-to-face. [Side note: There’s a fascinating anecdote in the excellent book The Library Book by Susan Orlean where she interviews a reference librarian who refers to a patron he had helped a few times. Turns out the patron was Richard Ramirez better known as The Night Stalker who terrorized Los Angeles in 1985. Way to close for comfort!] However, reading about serial killers is a bit safer and delving into the mind/motivations of a murderer can be fascinating.

For The Silence of the Lambs, a film about an especially notorious serial killer helping the FBI hunt down another notorious serial killer and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, you can choose to read about serial killers, the FBI, even ordinary garden-variety murderers. If you’d really like to push the limits, you could even choose to read about cannibalism (such as Alive by Piers Paul Read or anything about the Donner Party) Just, no fava beans please!

If you’re interested in reading about actual serial killers, head for the 364.1523 Dewey area of the library. You’ll find lots of true crime books including The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen about the hunt for a serial killer during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi about the Charles Manson killings in California. For a look at the beginnings of the FBI reach for Killers of the Osage Moon by David Grann, the story of the murders of members of the Osage Tribe in 1920s Oklahoma.

Some fiction books worth considering include The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardener, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, The Alienist by Caleb Carr and, of course, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

Several mystery series deal with the FBI and/or serial killers including Catherine Coulter’s FBI Thrillers and Brit in the FBI series, Allison Brennan’s Lucy Kincaid series and Max Revere novels, P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench series and Jeffry Lindsay’s Dexter series (from the point-of-view of the serial killer)

As always, stop by any of the three Davenport Library locations for displays with lots more title suggestions!

I’m going to read a plain-old garden-variety murder mystery, Louise Penny’s A Better Man from her Chief Inspector Gamache series. I haven’t read any Louise Penny books, but know she has lots of fans and lots of excellent reviews. I’m looking forward to getting started!

Now, what about you? What will you be reading in March?

Online Reading Challenge – February Wrap-Up

Greetings Readers!

What did you read for our Gone with the Wind themed reading month? Did you find something interesting?

February was a good month for me – I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This was one of the books chosen by Oprah for her book club, so many of you may have read this already. I hadn’t and I’m glad I got the chance/encouragement to read it now.

Set in the early 1800s thru the 1830s, The Invention of Wings follows two main characters – Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a wealthy, Southern plantation owner and her slave Hetty “Handful” Grimke who was given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. Sarah is horrified; she already has strong anti-slavery feelings and does not want to own a human being. Her parents force her to accept Handful and their stories are now set to be entwined for the rest of their lives.

At first the girls (Handful is the same age as Sarah) are almost friends. They share secrets and play together and Sarah teaches Handful how to read. However, the reality of their situation – slave and owner – forces distance between them. Both are trapped, Sarah by the dictates of her parents and the fact that she is female and her choices are restricted. Handful’s life is, of course, much harsher, filled with cruelty and unfairness. Both long to be free to pursue their own lives. Sarah eventually defies her parents and moves to Philadelphia and begins following the Quaker faith in part because of their anti-slavery stand. Handful remains behind, fighting to survive including a terrible punishment for a minor “crime” that will change her life. Sarah reaches out to her again and again but is limited in what she can do until Handful is finally ready to attempt to break free.

Sarah Grimke was a real person who became a vocal abolitionist and woman’s rights suffragist in the 1830s. She and her sister Nina (who also appears in the book) became famous – and notorious – for their unapologetic and outspoken views. Handful is not based on a real person, but her experiences are drawn from countless stories of slaves. This creates a very personal, very painful glimpse of slavery not only the physical pain but the emotional and mental toll – the loss of dignity, of autonomy, of control. A powerful and thoughtful book.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read for this month’s Challenge?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

A beautiful Victorian house situated in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood becomes the focal point for a family broken by secrets and jealousy in Ann Patchett’s newest book The Dutch House.

Danny Conroy is just six when his mother leaves and never returns. His father is withdrawn and taciturn – not a model of warmth and caring. However, his sister Maeve, who is 12 when their mother leaves, steps in and becomes his greatest ally. The bond between the siblings is very strong and loving and only strengthens when, out of the blue, their father remarries.

The new stepmother, Andrea arrives with her two little girls. The kids all get along fairly well, but Andrea has no interest in Danny and Maeve and works diligently to exclude them from the family.  Maeve is moved from her favored large bedroom to an smaller room so that one of the little girls can have it and the housekeepers, who helped raise Danny and Maeve, are shunted aside. Their father becomes more and more distant, finding as many excuses as possible to be absent.

The Dutch house (as it is known in the neighborhood) stands central to all of these trials. Built by old money, their father purchased it with all of the furniture and family portraits of the former owners included. It was a symbol to Danny and Maeve’s father of his success, but it was also, with it’s overwhelming opulence and expensive furnishings, what drove their mother away. Andrea married their father because she wanted the house and the status that it gave her.  When Danny and Maeve are forced to leave the house it haunts them for years.

Now, this all sounds pretty glum and it’s true that the book is sometimes sad, but it is also about forgiveness, redemption and letting go of the past. I loved the relationship between Danny and Maeve, a brother-sister duo that rang true – great loyalty and love but they also aren’t afraid to poke at each other. Patchett’s writing style is lovely – smooth and graceful but never fussy. Her characters are like us – smart and funny and flawed, but never beyond saving. Read this for the intriguing story, the gorgeous writing and an ending that brings hope and recovery.

 

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hey Readers! How’s your February reading? Need a few more suggestions? Here are some movies that would count for our month of Gone with the Wind.

Lincoln with a virtuoso, Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day Lewis, this movie follows an Abraham Lincoln worn down by the war as he works to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment near the end of the Civil War.

Cold Mountain, another Oscar winning film (for Best Supporting Actress Rene Zellwinger), brings to life Charles Fraizer’s novel of a Confederate soldier who deserts and tries to return to his young wife. Also starring Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.

Mercy Street, a television series that originally aired on PBS, is set in 1862 in Alexandria, Virginia which is located near the border between North and South. The Union has taken over a hotel owned by Southern sympathizers and have made it into a Union Army hospital.

Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War brought visual storytelling to a whole new level when it aired on PBS. More than a recounting of battles, it delves into the lives of those involved, from the Generals to the ordinary soldier to those left at home.

And of course, there’s Gone with the Wind our inspiration for the month and well worth watching (or re-watching!)

 

The Hidden Half of Nature by David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

guest post by Laura V

After reading Montgomery’s most recent book, Growing a Revolution followed by Josh Axe’s Eat Dirt, the parallels I had begun to see my separate explorations of regenerative agriculture and human gut health seemed to align beyond a shadow of doubt. Then I stumbled upon one of Montgomery’s earlier books, The Hidden Half of Nature, in which he explains the biological backgrounds and importance of the two similar systems.

Montgomery and Biklé go about transforming a backyard full of lifeless dirt into a thriving ecosystem, above and below ground. Through extreme composting, they mimic the natural buildup of soil via decaying matter on an accelerated time frame nature could never accomplish. It is when Biklé finds herself stricken with cancer that the couple decides to fortify their gut microbiome with specific foods just as they “fed” their soil to provide a hospitable environment for good microbes. Dietary changes ensue and we get a biology lesson on the digestive system that probably no one learns in school…yet.

The biology lesson was interesting but I admit to my mind wandering a bit during those parts. I’m not a scientist so I just need a broad picture of what I’m learning, not so much the details. It was fun to learn about Lynn Margulis, a rebel biologist who in 1970 first hypothesized chloroplasts and mitochondria originated from ancient bacteria. The segment on the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics was also amazing history.

What I found most fascinating and frustrating is throughout the industrial revolution and rise of synthetic chemical fertilizers, there have always been scientists or farmers who have sounded warnings that went unheeded. These scientists or citizen scientists showed tests crops in which fertilizing with compost, crop rotation, and no-tilling yielded heartier and more nutritious plants. I think the hubris of the scientific age along with chemical companies’ grip on agriculture has effectively buried all of these voices of reason under a field of increasingly useless dirt.

The study of both soil and human microbiology is relatively new and exciting. It is terrible to learn the percentage of nutrients plants have lost since the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides in the pursuit of greater yields. It’s no wonder people might have weight problems while eating large quantities of high calorie, low nutrient foods. On the flip side, people have lost their internal partners in nutrient absorption and natural defenders against bad germs due to the overuse of antibiotics.

Ever since men began to see hidden life under a microscope, we’ve been at war with pathogenic microbes, not understanding we’ve also been killing the allies that have been helping us thrive for millennia.