Book review: Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood.

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Kerry Greenwood –  Murder on the Ballarat Train (2007, Poisoned Pen Press, Arizona)

When a fellow passenger is murdered and nearly everyone else is poisoned while on a train voyage, Phryne Fisher doesn’t hesitate to take on the case with her usual smarts, skill, and style.  In between tracking down suspects, Phryne manages to seduce a member of the local rowing club and attempts to suss out the mysterious appearance of a traumatized, amnesiac young girl – who may or may not be connected to the murder on the train.  With this, the third installment in the series, Greenwood shows more polish than the first two books, as Phryne and her supporting cast become a bit less caricature and take on fuller lives.  An entertaining, quick read!

Book review: Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer.

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Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer (2013, Viking, Toronto)

Life in the Martian city of New Klondike is a bit akin to the wild west, gritty and shady (albeit with some serious tech).  When exiled private eye Alex Lomax is called upon to work a case of a missing man who has recently undergone a body transfer, he is quickly embroiled in a complicated mystery involving fossilized treasure, a secret diary, and the long-buried facts behind a historical planetary landing.  When people truly aren’t who they appear to be and the body count begins to mount, Lomax has to use all of his street smarts, charm, and brute force to save his own skin and solve the case.  This is crafty science fiction noir with a generous side of humour and a few deft, creative turns.  The occasionally annoying first-person narrative may rankle some readers, and Lomax’ sexist opinions are a turn off (remember, however, that this is an homage to classic noir, where that type of attitude prevailed), but the actual storytelling is entertaining and the pacing is appropriately speedy.  A fun book to kick back with in the lawn chair this summer.

 

Tuesday tidbits.

A co-worker recently recommended the book Stitches to Savor and the website (here) of a marvelous quilt-maker, expert embroiderer, and (as my colleague stated) “rock star” of the stitching world, Sue Spargo.  The book was written in 2015 and as the subtitle states, it is a “celebration of designs by Sue Spargo,” created from wool, embellishments of scraps of silk, velvet and other fabrics, beads, various threads and so on.  I was previously unfamiliar with Spargo’s work and to say that I was absolutely blown away by it is a massive understatement.  The photography in the book is utterly stunning as well, capturing the intricate detail of the motifs so perfectly that you can almost feel the textures. What an inspiring treat, and highly recommended if you can track it down at your local library.

I don’t know if any of you out there are soap makers (I’m not, but it’s on an unfathomably gigantic list of things that I want to pursue some day), but if you are or if you want to try something new, this recipe for Gardener’s Soap might be right up your alley.  When she lived in Calgary, I worked at the library with Margot, the owner and creator of Starfish Soap Company, and this is one of my favourite soaps that she makes. She is based out of Gabriola Island, in British Columbia.

My favourite recipe from last week?  These Chocolate Chip Blondies with Chocolate Ganache that I made for my hubby’s b-day.  The recipe is so easy you think it can’t possibly be accurate, but it is and the end result is decadent, sweet, and definitely special-occasion-worthy.  You could omit the ganache if it’s not someone’s birthday, I guess, but why not go big and bold? It’s chocolate, after all.

Have an amazing week!

Book review: Gardening Complete by Authors of Cool Springs Press.

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Gardening Complete: How to Best Grow Vegetables, Flowers, and Other Outdoor Plants – Authors of Cool Springs Press (George Weigel, Katie Elzer-Peters, Lynn Steiner, Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule, Jessica Walliser, Charlie Nardozzi, Rhonda Fleming Hayes, and Tara Nolan) – 2018 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Minnesota

I ♥ the concept of this book! Take eight highly knowledgeable and experienced garden experts and get them to write individual chapters covering essential gardening topics and bundle it all into one comprehensive volume. Everything you need to know to start a new garden or refresh a mature one is here: understanding soil, managing weeds, planting, watering, fertilizing, pruning, composting, mulching, propagation, and harvesting. The detailed, accessible writing and sumptuous photography make this book a delight to browse AND the kind of reference you’ll find yourself going back to over and over again. The design chapters are also highly useful, addressing native plants, water-wise gardening, pollinator-friendly landscapes, and container and raised bed set-ups.  This is a well-researched and beautifully-presented project – definitely a recommended read!

*Quarto Publishing Group generously provided me with a copy of Gardening Complete; as always, my opinions about the book are my own.

Tuesday tidbits.

If you love peonies, this post about “peony anatomy” may be of interest. Or you can just ogle the beautiful photos. Either way, it’s a win.

I found a really cool site containing microscope photography by Dr. Gary Greenberg – my favourite pics are of the jewel-like sand grains, here, but the whole gallery is worth a gander.

Yummy recipe alert: these muffins are tops!  Except I didn’t have ube and substituted yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes…plus, I didn’t add walnuts due to my allergies, and I skipped the glaze, as it really isn’t necessary and sort of makes them cupcakes instead of muffins, doesn’t it? They’re sweet enough as they are, but the glaze would make them special-occasion-worthy: like a “I managed to get out of bed this morning to go to work, so let’s celebrate!” kind of muffin/cupcake/whatever.

Even if you’re not a fan of Martha Stewart, her latest book Martha’s Flowers is absolutely droolicious (drooleriffic?). I know, I’m making words up here but there aren’t sufficient superlatives in the English language to describe the photography and artful styling in this book.  If you can get your hands on a copy from your local library, do treat yourself.  I haven’t even gotten around to reading the text yet (ahem) as I keep staring at the photos and stammering out awe-struck gibberish.

From the Boast and Braggart files…a couple of articles I wrote about herb gardening have been recently published: “Tea Time: Growing Herbs for Tisanes” appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Archive magazine, and “Designing a Meadow Garden” is featured in the Winter issue of Herb Quarterly.

Have a wonderful week!

Book review: Plugged by Eoin Colfer.

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Eoin Colfer – Plugged (2011, The Overlook Press, New York)

This over-the-top, darkly comedic and (at times) savagely raunchy novel from Eoin Colfer (yes, that’s the same guy that wrote the famous YA series, Artemis Fowl) is not for everyone.  If you can stomach it, however, it’s pretty fun and entertaining, even while you’re shaking your head in disbelief.  After his girlfriend is murdered, Daniel McEvoy, an Irish ex-military officer turned bouncer in a rundown New Jersey nightclub finds himself embroiled in a deadly plot involving plenty of drugs, dead bodies, weird sexual exploits…and hair transplants.  It’s as bizarre and unhinged as it sounds.  The voice of McEvoy is the best part of the book – first person narratives don’t always work, but this is a character who can be as self-deprecating, witty, and hilarious as he is tortured and complex.  I enjoyed that.  There is a sequel, Screwed, but I’m in no hurry to read it…too much of this kind of crazy could prove hard on the brain (and the digestive tract).

Book review: Practical Organic Gardening by Mark Highland.

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally – Mark Highland (2017, Cool Springs Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, Minnesota)

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Gardening is all about inputs (and, obviously, outputs): you need the water, nutrients, light, soil, seeds/cuttings/transplants, and a bunch of elbow grease and sweat and love and passion to reap the rewards.  I’m thinking that most gardeners have substantial overflowing reservoirs of passion and love for their plants, but I’d argue that one of the most important of the remaining inputs is soil.  Specifically, healthy soil.

Which brings me to one of my favourite aspects of Mark Highland’s new book Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally.  He talks a lot about soil (he does, after all, own a soil company in the United States).  More importantly, he stresses how to respect instead of work the soil – a statement which really aligns with my whole abject laziness when it comes to that elbow grease expenditure.  I can respect with the best of them!  Seriously, however, his discussion of the significance of the relationship between the microbial activity in the soil and organic gardening/no-till (or low-till) principles is one many gardeners may be interested in.  No matter if you garden organically or not, knowing something about the biological and physical properties of your soil will help you offer the very best for your plants. And understanding how to conserve your soil brings your garden closer to sustainability.

When he’s not presenting valuable tips about boosting soil health, Highland covers everything from irrigation and siting, to amendments and mulching, and using organic controls within Integrated Pest Management.  He talks about food forests and mushroom farming.  He offers solutions for container and raised bed gardening, and explores xeriscaping design.  He wades into the lawn/no lawn debate. Chapters explore planning your garden, seed starting, and vegetative propagation.

With its accessible layout, excellent photography, and straightforward, experienced voice, Practical Organic Gardening is comprehensive and highly informative; I can easily see this as a go-to manual for both novice and experienced organic gardeners.

*Quarto Publishing Group generously provided me with a copy of Mark Highland’s Practical Organic Gardening; as always, my opinions about the book are my own.