The Door is Ajar: Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.

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Public Library and Other Stories – Ali Smith (2015 Penguin Canada)

Smith’s collection of short stories was gathered together to celebrate the role of public libraries in personal and public life, of the value they bring to community, and the wealth of knowledge and the opportunity for engagement, thought, and creativity that they invoke.  Public Library is also a protest against the closure of libraries in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the quashing of budgets, collections, and services in libraries that remain, and the overall decline of government and popular support for these previously-revered institutions.  Smith’s stories are framed by quotes from writers, thinkers, and other figures as they explore their personal emotions and connections to libraries, books, reading, and writing.

The stories themselves were a delight for me and I devoured them in a couple of very short sittings. I am not familiar with Smith’s other work and I loved her style and juicy depth of language as she wound her way around several accounts of relationships gone sour, reimaginings of history, and family life.  It’s difficult to pick a favourite out of this collection, but “The Ex-Wife” and “The Poet” are special standouts for me.  Highly recommended.

The Door is Ajar: Invasive by Chuck Wendig.

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Chuck Wendig – Invasive (2016, Harper Voyager)

A strange murder and the discovery of genetically engineered ants lead survivalist and FBI consultant Hannah Stander on a trip to Hawai’i – where things quickly escalate from paradise to apocalypse in Chuck Wendig’s blisteringly good novel Invasive.  Wendig reigns in his signature over-the-top style a smidgeon and produces a tight, brilliantly-characterized, and perfectly-paced thriller. The dustjacket comparisons to Michael Crichton’s work are definitely warranted – I’d say this is Wendig’s finest book to date.  More, please.

The Door is Ajar: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley.

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley (2016, Doubleday Canada)

The eighth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series packs a right-between-the-eyes knockout punch – and no, I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say this is an even bigger deal than her temporary “exile” in Canada, where she attended a private boarding school, solved a weird murder involving a body stuffed up a chimney, and learned more about her family’s connection to a secret organization which I shouldn’t discuss further.  (Go get book seven, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, and read it right now.  It’s a ragged and uneven go, but it serves as a decent set up for the new book).  In Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Flavia returns home to her beloved Buckshaw just before Christmas, to find that her father is ill and the household is unsettled and cold.  The accidental finding of the body of a wood carver while running an errand cheers Flavia up immensely, as she goes to great lengths and concocts elaborate lies to uncover the murderer.  Despite remaining endearingly irrepressible, Flavia is definitely taking on a more mature, experienced voice (if that can even be possible) as the series develops and she approaches her teenage years.

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What are you reading this weekend?

The Door is Ajar: Yes by Rosemary Griebel.

(Rambling preamble).

A few years ago, I set out all eager and full of abundant ideas and started oh about five blogs on WordPress, nearly all of which have, over time, become encapsulated within Flowery Prose. I’ve hung onto The Door is Ajar, which, for those of you who haven’t subscribed to it, is an ongoing list of books I’ve been reading and a super brief commentary about them – not usually what I would consider entire reviews, because that requires more time than I have. At any rate, I have finally made the decision to amalgamate the two blogs here.  After all, books and writing and reading are a big part of Flowery Prose…and while I’m a bit afraid that some of you may be put off by my eclectic reading tastes, who knows? – this might just go over nicely in the end.  I just really feel the need to streamline the whole blogging process and get everything (bad pun alert) on one page. I won’t completely shutter the site of The Door is Ajar, but I won’t make any new entries for the foreseeable future – click here if you want to pop over and see what I was doing.

(The good stuff).

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Yes – Rosemary Griebel (2011 Frontenac House Ltd., Calgary)

I’m not sure how many of these poems from Rosemary Griebel are autobiographical but her incredibly powerful portraits of parents, lovers, and friends, the prairie landscape of childhood, and journeys to Europe and other regions of Canada (as well as some interesting and bold reimaginings of history) feel so personal and intimate I don’t want to believe otherwise.  I first selected this collection because Griebel is from Calgary, and although many of the poems were attractive to me due to that shared geography, I became far more emotionally engaged than I had anticipated – these are lines and stanzas that will bring tears to your eyes and make your stomach twist over, more than once.  Unexpected and absolutely beautiful work.

Book review: Build a better vegetable garden.

There’s still snow on the ground here, although there have been sightings in the area of crocus foliage (not in my garden, sadly – although I’ve been going out every morning to take a look, just in case something’s changed overnight.  Nope, just snow). It doesn’t matter. I’ve already ordered some seeds and I’ve got the veggie garden all mapped out (Version 8.0 or thereabouts – we all know I’ll be revising until the very day I plant, especially if the seed catalogues keep coming!).

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And I’ve been looking at a few new books. I was sent a copy of Joyce and Ben Russell’s Build a Better Vegetable Garden: 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest (2017, Frances Lincoln Limited/Quarto, London) for review and it hasn’t left my desk…I keep picking it up and browsing through it.  Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a newbie, there are projects in here that can get you growing in no time: setting up a raised hoop tunnel, designing and constructing a raised bed, building your own wooden planters, creating a cold frame, or making a trellis for climbing beans.  Other projects you may not have immediately thought of include making your own seed trays (and dibber!), a storage rack for your tools, a wire support for raspberries, a handy trug, a cabinet with trays for drying the harvest, and a beautiful decorative obelisk.  The best part about this book is you don’t need to be a certified woodworker or carpenter to do any of these projects.  You don’t need specialized tools (most can be done with a basic drill, a couple of types of saws, some hand tools and hardware you can easily pick up and afford).  Nearly all of the projects are made from wood.  And the instructions are straightforward, easy to understand, and very clearly photographed so you’re not guessing at any stage of the project.  I am the least crafty person I know, and I have confidence I could undertake most of these projects without making a huge mess of them (or losing a limb in the process). 😉  I really think this book would be a fantastic gift for a new gardener or homeowner – and it would be extremely useful for anyone setting up a community garden or allotment as well.  Highly recommended (and that’s my honest opinion!).

Do you have any recommendations for gardening books that have you feeling excited and inspired as you plan (or dig in) for the new season?  Tell me what you’ve been poring over, I’d love to hear! 

December blog fun.

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December first: the ice cleats are firmly affixed to my boots and I’m ready to take on the next ten months of winter! (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

I have a ton of really great stuff to share today – here goes:

New to me is this fantastic site: Plant Curator, a wholly-engrossing mix of botany and art.  I seriously could spend hours going through the entries.  This link takes you to some floral-themed art from M.C. Escher, but if his work isn’t to your taste, click on the menu headings at the top of the page to see everything the site has to offer.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 700,000 items, including photographs, maps, manuscripts and video – and it’s all free to everyone with Internet access.  Click over to the site to enjoy this treasure.

Another amazing treat: the over 10,000 cylinder recordings that have been digitized and are available for free from the University of California-Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.  These are priceless recordings from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and include music, speeches and readings.

These “shadow” drawings by artist Vincent Bal are just plain clever.

A huge shout-out to some amazing bloggers:

Laurie Graves, of Notes from the Hinterland, has just published her YA novel Maya and the Book of Everything – congratulations, Laurie!  Read about the book and how to order it here.

Have you ever felt this way about a book?  Yeah…I thought so.  Read Margot’s post on Death Defying Acts of Living – I know you’ll agree.

Adrian Thysse has posted some incredible footage of honeybee hive activity – while you feast your eyes on his work, remember that he wasn’t wearing any protective gear while filming!

A fantastic find:

Paul Martin Brown’s book Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (2006, University Press of Florida).  Truly, a valuable resource if you want to ID and learn about western wild orchids.  The keys are easy to use and Brown offers all the botanical info you need, plus notes on history and naming, as well as decent photography and excellent botanical illustrations by Stan Folsom.  Not a book everyone is going to have a use for, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend it.

And, finally:

I started a project over at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction that may interest you if you write flash fiction stories.  There is an open call for submissions now until December 25, so send in your work as soon as possible.  (If you’ve never written flash fiction before, give it a try – it’s a great way to have fun with really short prose).   Please pass along news of this call for subs to any writers you know!

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October blog fun.

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It’s been a snowy, blustery, busy autumn so far!  I hope things are a bit quieter (and warmer) in your neck of the woods and you’ve been able to enjoy the changes of the season.

I’m playing it short and sweet on the link front this month:

These examples of typewriter art are fantastic!   Did you learn to type on a manual or an electric typewriter, or have you never used one at all?

Alberta-based macro photographer Adrian Thysse recently posted some stellar images of fungi found in our province.  Take a close look (see what I did there?) here.

Many of you may already be following the excellent blog Garden in a City – Jason’s post about not cutting down perennial plants at the end of autumn is both timely (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and valuable!

And here’s another great post about end-of-season garden clean-up.  What are your thoughts?  Do you wait until spring to do these sorts of tasks?

Thousands of lantern slides from the 1800’s and early 1900’s have been digitized and posted online at various sites – you can check out the databases via this link.  Incredible examples of an early form of photography.

Check out these amazing photographs of bird’s nests and egg specimens, collected over the past two hundred years and exhibited at several zoological institutions.

Stuff I’ve posted elsewhere:

A book review for Alberta author Eileen Schuh’s latest novel, The Shadow Riders.

Plus…a couple of my articles have been recently published:  “Four Centuries of Gardening” in the 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac, and “Fall Cleaning Hacks with Herbs” in the Fall issue of The Herb Quarterly (both on newsstands now).  And…upcoming…my short story “The Beauty of Mount Sagitta” (featuring pterodactyls!  And rare plants!) will be a part of the super-toothy anthology Sharkasaurus! from Fossil Lake.  Yes, all those exclamation points are absolutely necessary….

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