The Garden Plot
Alibi – Random House
Pru is an English Gardener from Texas. She has given herself a year to find a full time position as a head gardener before she must return to Texas and pick up her old job and her old life. She is nearing the end of the year at the start of the book. (We are reminded of her situation through an assortment of delightful rejection letters.) While she is waiting for the head gardener position, she has been working as a contract gardener for a variety of people.
The Wilson’s hire her to fix up their back yard for them and in the process she finds some Roman mosaic. That is exciting enough, but the next day she discovers a body lying on the mosaic. The police come and particularly Detective Inspector Pearse.
The Garden Plot is part mystery, part romance and part whimsy and all thoroughly enjoyable. Pru is refreshing as a fifty something woman who has set herself a goal and is determined to achieve the goal by her standard. The D.I. Pearse is not over done. He is a police man through and through, but leavened with wit, compassion and an interest in badgers.
The other characters that wander through the story are written to be well rounded and interesting, and they populate the story to give it flavour and just the right amount of chaos.
I recommend The Garden Plot for mystery lovers and garden lovers alike.
Faelorehn – Book One of the Otherword Trilogy
Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
Meghan lives with her adoptive family in California and goes to a private high school with her best friends. She has to deal with the usual high school bullies, but other than that, her life is pretty good.
Well, except for the unexplained visions of things that don’t exist, and the recurring nightmare of being abandoned in L.A. as a toddler, and the fact that some of those things from her visions are showing up in reality with a desire to kill her.
Fortunately Cade also shows up and Meghan starts getting some answers to questions she’s asked all her life.
Faolorehn is a well written book and Meghan is an interesting character. My problem with the book is that it doesn’t really start until it is almost over. We spend the largest part of the book watching Meghan go through her almost normal life. I found it a long wait before the real action starts; unless one is really interested in high school drama and teen angst about not fitting in.
My guess is that the second book will move much quicker and pull us deeper into the story that book one mostly hints at. The good news is that if the technical parts of the writing stay at the same calibre, Book Two will be a very good book.
I don’t want to say not to read the book, but I can’t completely recommend it either. If you are patient and have a high tolerance for teen stuff, the pay off at the end and the hints of what is to come will be worth the effort of reading the book.
Away & Away Publishing
Discovering Aberration is the story of Freddy Fitzgerald and his friend Professor Thaddeus Lumpen as they follow a map that the Professor acquired. Unfortunately, he acquired it in a less than discrete manner from a crime boss who was known for leaving bodies full of screws as signs of his displeasure. They immediately plan for an excursion with the hope of getting away clean before the notorious John-Joseph Heller catches up to them.
Things never go quite as planned and before they are off, they are just one of a veritable fleet of adventurers and have been joined by a student who is as adept as she is pretty. They sail in a modern steam vessel toward the island and a discovery that they all hope will change their lives.
I very much enjoyed the story of Discovering Aberration. The characters that start as stock figures developed quirks very quickly and become engaging and sympathetic as they do. There are some rough spots where the author leaps forward and back and switches narrative devices, but it is worth the effort to follow along to the end of the book. Like the best tales of its kind, the story is larger than a simple expedition to gain fame and fortune and we are treated to an opportunity to consider human hubris without the moral being pushed down our throats.
I would recommend the book to any who enjoy steampunk and Victorian style adventure.
Indigenous Poetics in Canada
Editor Neal McLeod
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
I asked to read this book because I fell in love with the title. The idea of tasting a different way of understanding poetic language grabbed my attention. Looking at the table of contents is a little disconcerting with articles entitled Achimo, Edgework: Indigenous Poetics as Re-Placement, Writer-Reader Reciprocity and the Pursuit of Alliance through Indigenous Poetry. The book delighted me with accessible writing and engaging subjects. The heavy sounding titles are a cover for a range of fascinating discussions about language, place and culture. I googled and bookmarked more than one book from the tastes I was offered in the text.
The subject of the book is language, and the thesis is that indigenous poetics deserve to be recognized and discussed based on the texts rather than settler (white) understandings of poetry and form. Authors speak of the importance of place and story. Some use the imagery of pictographs as a way of showing the dimension of time in indigenous story and language. There are interviews with indigenous poets of a range of nations, and a smattering of stories to whet the appetite to hear more.
Along with the discussion of language and poetry, there is the inevitable political reality of colonialism and how to respond to it. The politics are not ignored, but they aren’t allowed to overwhelm the discussion. Rather they become another layer on the stories that are being told. It is important to note that the stories are not myth stories as we are used to reading and dissecting in English Literature courses. The stories are living stories of living nations. If we are ever going to learn to live as neighbours, we need to learn to hear these stories.
I highly recommend this book for any who love language or have in interest in indigenous culture.
James John Loftus
Celtic Blood is an independent novel by James John Loftus. It tells the story of Morgund MacAedh in thirteenth century Scotland. The book begins with Seward, a viking, being washed ashore and the only one to survive the wreck of the ship he was on. He is adopted by the MacAedh clan where he grows into a fearsome warrior. Politics in those times are much more direct and a band of men attack the leader of the people who took him in and kill him. Seward escapes and then is faced with the challenge of protecting Morgund who is the MacAedh heir.
I had a challenging time at the beginning of the book trying to decide if James’ style was brilliance or just a refusal to follow the bounds of the English language. While there are times that description spins into something that is more poetry than prose, the sad truth is that I found myself wanting to hear more about the parts that he skims over and less about the things he describes in detail. The time and setting are given their due, but even well into the book I didn’t know the characters as people.
I also found the panegyric description got in the way of me just following the plot. I love beautiful description as much as the next reader, but I also love knowing what is happening that the description is attached to. Between the sentence fragments and dizzyingly quick point of view shifts, I couldn’t follow the story.
As much as I wanted to love this book. I can’t recommend it.
Brindle and Glass Publishing
Swarm follows Sandy as she and her partner Marvin and their friend Thomson struggle to survive on an island. The novel weaves from past to future to show Sandy’s story. On the island a mysterious girl is taking food from their already meagre stores. Marvin has no sympathy for the girl. They don’t have enough for themselves. Yet, Sandy dreams of being a mother. She desires the opportunity to do impossible mother and daughter things in a world that no longer exists.
The bees, the swarm of the title inhabit both parts of the novel and are a symbolic link to both what has gone wrong with the world and the possibility of hope. Swarm explores and all too likely scenario of economic collapse that leaves the largest part of the population hopeless.
Swarm reminded me of Margaret Attwood’s work in which everything carries weight. The story is built on the warp and woof of time and meaning. We feel Sandy’s desires and sometimes get impatient with her refusal to anchor her life in what is real rather than hopes that seem little more than a will-o-the-wisp. Then we see Marvin’s harshness and the way he’s been reduced by their subsistence living to focus only on what will help them survive and we hope that Sandy might succeed.
Between Sandy and Marvin, there is Thomson, a dying father figure, the inspiration to Marvin’s violence who rejected violence and yet refuses to reject either Marvin or Sandy. He is the one who forces a recognition of the value of death and it is no accident that he is also the bee keeper of the book.
Swarm is a challenging and occasionally a difficult read, but all the more valuable for that. It points to our present reluctance as a society to change. We are moving toward the brink, and Sandy’s story could be anyone’s story in a few years. The book is about not just the choices of a few characters, but the choices we’ve made as a species. I highly recommend it.
Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste
Ole G. Mouritsen, Klavs Styrbæk
Columbia University Press
Umami is a fascinating book that explores the physiology and chemistry of taste. The authors take us on a tour of a rarely seen side of cooking – that is is the science behind why food tastes as it does and how we register that taste. In Western cuisine we have four tastes, sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In the East they add a fifth taste, umami, which some people refer to as savoury.
Umami works in concert with the other tastes to create a fuller sensation of food. They reveal early on that umami is created by glutamate. It is the MSG of decades ago. They talk about how MSG was made into an toxic food additive in the popular mind by misunderstanding and incomplete science. The book is much more that an attempt to reintroduce MSG as an additive. It is much more interesting.
The authors take us through several recipes that allow us to create the umami taste in dashi broth and in other ways. As you proceed through the book you find recipes at each step which show how with common ingredients we can use umami in our own cooking without any recourse to additives.
In many ways we’ve already been using umami without knowing, whether it is the additive of anchovies, or the dash of soy sauce in our dish. I enjoyed reading the book and learning more of the science behind food and taste. I also liked having the chance to play with umami in recipes that are almost familiar.
Umami is well worth reading by anyone who enjoys food and would like to understand a little more about the reasons and cause of that enjoyment.
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain
Super Villain is a book I won through a giveaway at Goodreads. That itself proves two things, real people do win those books, and it is worth entering.
This novel grabbed my attention from the start and held it through to the very satisfying conclusion. Penny, the narrator of the story, has a unique and natural narrative voice. The book takes place in a world in which super villains and super heroes are just accepted. There is no attempt to explain them or justify their existence aside from a few ‘origin’ stories.
Penny discovers her super power. It is the ability to make fantastic inventions. She is told by her parents that she can expect the ability fade in and out before becoming reliable in about four years. Fortunately for Penny and for us, this schedule is accelerated and the fun begins.
The science fair should be a shoe in for a budding mad scientist, but Penny’s first invention doesn’t fit the mold and another student’s experiment is drawing all the attention. One of Penny’s friends tries to even the score and she finds herself part of the newest super villain team in town.
There is a lot to like about this book. Solid characters, a fun plot, a great world all contribute to the story. Still, what I enjoyed most was the development of the characters. We get to see the young villains growing up just enough for us to root for them even more. I will be waiting for the next installment of the series that I’m sure is coming.
I highly recommend this book to lovers of super heroes, and young engaging characters.
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Day Twenty Five
Gulls. They look almost dignified when there’s just one.
but put two together and they squabble.
Pisew Falls, still iced up in April
I always thought this looked like the falls were guarded by walruses
With the yellow taken out. It looks a lot colder.
Wind as much as warmth dries the world.
Saskatchewan, Canadian and Manitoba flags flying over giant steel flowers.
You can’t stop Spring, not even with late snow.
Second close up showing the number of buds coming through the soil.
Sand Hill Cranes making a nest.
The southern view of a northbound crane.
Stubble Fire. It was burning an entire field of straw including bales
The fire from a distance.