The Door is Ajar: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton.

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Dragon Teeth – Michael Crichton (2017, HarperLuxe, New York)

Published nearly a decade after his death, Michael Crichton’s “undiscovered” novel Dragon Teeth is a decent mash-up of history, science, and good old-fashioned storytelling, inspired by the outlandish, well-documented, and sometimes extremely violent rivalry between late 19th century American paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope. Their quests (competition?) to find and document fossilized dinosaurs and other creatures of the distant past in a cultural climate that was struggling to wrap its collective noggin around evolutionary theory is fascinating – especially when you consider that they did most of their bone-hunting and collecting in the wild west, where, if you weren’t bit by a rattlesnake or died of exposure or illness, you could suffer death, injury, or at the very least, be swindled out of all your worldly possessions by any number of unsavory characters.  A quick, (at times overly) simple, entertaining read.

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The Door is Ajar: Martians Abroad and Last Day on Mars.

This week, I’m featuring a couple of books about the Red Planet….

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Martians Abroad – Carrie Vaughn (2016, Tor, New York)

Martian teenager Polly Newton desperately wants to become a starship pilot and she is excited and ready to begin her training…until her mother, the high-powered, not-to-be-challenged director of the Martian Colony, derails Polly’s plans and sends her and her twin brother Charles to an exclusive boarding school on Earth.  Headstrong, stubborn, and understandably angry at her mother, Polly struggles to fit into her new surroundings and deal with bullying classmates and stern teachers, until she and Charles uncover a secret about the Galileo Academy that has dangerous ramifications for the students at the school and Polly launches herself into action to save them all.  (Pun intended, of course).

Sounds pretty tantalizing, right?  That’s why I picked this book up.  And I loved, loved, LOVED the whole “fish out of water” scenario – Vaughn’s descriptions of how the foreign students try to adjust to Earth (the gravity, the food, the air, the open spaces, the use of water) are absolutely captivating and realistic.  The details of travelling in space are thrilling, as well – it’s all extremely brilliant stuff and beautifully executed.  But…and here’s the thing. To be fair to Vaughn and her fans, I haven’t read the Robert Heinlein story that this book is apparently inspired/influenced by (Podkayne of Mars), so I should probably do that before making a snap judgment.  It is possible that Martians Abroad is a decent representation of that earlier work – but even so, it doesn’t mean I have to be impressed. It was disappointing to me that despite the juicy depth of its scenery, the book suffers from a pretty much non-existent plotline and the motivations of the characters are vague and unrealized and quite frankly, nonsensical in certain cases.  The surprise resolution is wimpy, undeveloped, and…utterly confusing.  To me.  I did read a review from NPR that suggested that this book hearkens back to the classic, more innocent SF novels, where the stories are heavy on tech and world-building and not so much on gritty plots and action, which seems accurate, and much nicer and way more positive than what I’m saying here.  So…pick up Martians Abroad and let me know what you think after you’ve finished it.  How off-base am I on this one? (Hee hee, another pun).

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Last Day On Mars – Book One of Chronicle of the Dark Star – Kevin Emerson (2017, Walden Pond Press, New York)

After the Earth is destroyed by the sun, which is beginning to go supernova, mankind establishes a colony on Mars to garner the resources and technology so that they can flee once again as the red planet is threatened.  In 2213, the time has finally arrived for the big departure, and young Martian student Liam Saunders-Chang and his friend Phoebe spend their final bittersweet day on the only planet they have ever called home trying to solve a terrifying mystery and desperately struggling to stay alive as everything they know comes crashing down around them.  Emerson’s first novel in the Chronicle of the Dark Star series is aimed at a pre-teen audience, but it transcends its target, with whipsmart humour, solid world-building, and an inventive, yet believable scientific foundation that will appeal to older readers (including adults) as well.  Liam and Phoebe are wonderfully-drawn and relatable, and I particularly loved the focus on the emotional rollercoaster they suffer on the Last Day.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is a positively gripping cliffhanger that has me utterly piqued for the next book.  Nicely done!

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!