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review 2018-10-22 04:48
The Garden Plot (audiobook) by Marty Wingate, narrated by Erin Bennett
The Garden Plot - Marty Wingate

Pru Parke used to dream about living in England. All her life, she'd avoided close ties with everyone but her parents, particularly her English mother. Texas never felt like home to her. So, several years after her mother's death, Pru decides to quit her job, move to London, and get a job as head gardener somewhere. She manages the first two things easily enough, but finding a head gardener position proves to be even more difficult than she expected. After nearly a year of one temporary gardening job after another, she has a mountain of rejection letters and will soon have to move out of the flat she's been renting.

Her latest temporary job has the potential, she thinks, to grow into something more permanent. Her employers, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, seem like kind and welcoming people, and Mrs. Wilson clearly misses her old home and garden. It's possible they might hire her to turn their mess of a backyard into a proper garden, if they like her work. Pru does as much as she can in the short time she's been given, and her efforts uncover part of a Roman mosaic...and also a body.

I wasn't sure what to make of Pru, at first. Although she was in her early 50s, she seemed impulsive enough that I kept mentally picturing her as a twenty-something. It took Wingate far too long to explain Pru's family history and establish that she really did have a connection to England - her move wasn't completely out of the blue.

I liked Pru well enough, despite my somewhat rocky introduction to her, and I was emotionally invested enough in her to worry about her employment situation and what would happen if she didn't manage to get a job in time. Of course, considering that this was the first book in a series, it was pretty obvious that something would come along. Even so, the rejection letters the book was peppered with made me wince for her each time.

I didn't immediately peg DCI Christopher Pearse as Pru's potential love interest. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd date a woman who was in any way involved in one of his ongoing investigations. But he kept reappearing, and the way he and Pru butted heads just a little had "romantic subplot" bells ringing in my head. I was willing to see where it would go because I thought his combination of overly stiff demeanor and nerdy love of badgers and hedgehogs was kind of cute.

Unfortunately, the more Christopher and Pru progressed as a couple, the less I enjoyed the book. It seemed like Christopher was being positioned to be Pru's knight in shining armor, constantly having to save her in order to show her that she didn't have to do everything herself. There was one bit of trouble I could see coming from a mile away - it was obvious that Pru was being maneuvered and was too trusting for her own good. I was a little surprised that that incident didn't cause her to doubt the other things she was absolutely sure about, like

her insistence that Mr. Wilson couldn't possibly have killed anyone and her belief that the noises in her flat were just due to mice (she heard whole pieces of furniture moving! what kind of mouse moves furniture?).

(spoiler show)

The further I got into the story, the more foolish Pru seemed.

I also felt that Christopher handled Pru's numerous instances of interfering or butting into his investigation better than she deserved. Fairly early on, he lectured her about her habit of playing amateur detective. I had thought (hoped) she'd learned her lesson, but she proceeded to screw up again, in a pretty big way, later on. Pru was shaking and in tears when she finally decided to tell him what she'd done, and I was sure he'd decide to put a bit of distance between the two of them, leaving room for their relationship to be mended in the next book, or whenever Pru needed a knight in shining armor again. Instead, he basically just patted her on the back and told her it was okay. It really threw me.

Erin Bennett's narration was appealing and usually pretty good, although there were a few times Pru's Texas accent slid a bit too much in the direction of Bennett's regular reading voice. I also wondered what a native Texan would think of her accent for Pru, although I suppose any oddities could be explained away as being due to Pru's mother's influence. Bennett's narration is one of the main reasons why I think I'll be giving the next book in this series a shot, despite my disappointment with Pru's worryingly frequent moments of stupidity.

Since this was a gardening-themed cozy, I had hoped there'd be some good gardening details. There were a few, but unfortunately Pru didn't really get a chance to shine, considering most of her work involved clearing the mess in the Wilsons' backyard and occasionally talking about roses with their neighbor. I'm looking forward to seeing Pru in a more stable situation in the next book, where she'll maybe have projects she can see through from start to finish.

Additional Comments:

I noticed several grammatical errors, usually involving incorrect uses of the word "whom." I was able to confirm that at least one of them was present in the original text, so I don't think they were examples of Bennett misspeaking. Here's hoping that the next book has fewer distracting errors.


Rating Note:


I feel like I'm probably giving this book too high of a rating. I doubt I'd have given it over 2 stars if it weren't for Bennett's narration.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-08-23 09:36
The Contented Bee
The Contented Bee - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

An almost completely Australian-centric overview on the delights and benefits of backyard beekeeping.  It's informative for those, like me, brand-spanking-new to bees, and beautifully put together with loads of full-colour photography.


The first section of the book focuses on the basics of keeping European honeybees, touching on the different hive types, honey collection, and diseases/pests that affect the Australian population of EU honeybees.  The highlight of this section was a small selection of recipes/instructions for way to use your honey and beeswax.  I was especially excited to see instructions for making your own food storage wraps, as we are devotees of these things; knowing I can renew them myself has me excited to try it.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, check them out here - they replace plastic wrap for a lot of food storage and you have to see how well a cut avocado lasts wrapped in one of these things to believe it.  


The second section focuses on keeping the Australian stingless bees, which also produce honey, also known as sugarbag honey, albeit in about 1/10th the amounts.  The enthusiasm for the stingless variety is boundless here, and I can see why: even with much less harvestable honey, if any, the stingless are, well, stingless.  They also require almost no extra equipment or maintenance, unlike the more productive EU honey bees.  


A third section discusses the other native Australian bees, almost all of which are solitary, produce no honey, and sting.  But oh, are they amazing to look at, and I was especially interested in this section. Alas, if it wasn't a stingless, few of the contributors were interested.


That's my only real beef about this book; with all the information and instructions included, they don't have any instructions for making a 'bee hotel' that attracts a blue-banded bee, which, as some of you might remember, is my favorite of the natives.  They like to nest in holes bored into clay or mud bricks you can make yourself, but apparently not any old clay or mud will do, so some instructions for this would have been welcome - especially as they do tell you how to make your own bee hotels for other natives.


If you've read this far down and aren't an Aussie, you must be interested in bees, so to keep this from being a total waste, here are a few pics of the cooler natives Down Under, starting with my favorite, the Blue Banded Bee:



the metallic green bee:



and one I've yet to see, and neon cuckoo bee:




(sources:  green metallic: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Metallic_Green_Bee_(Augochloropsis_sp.)_on_Coreopsis_(7173773106).jpg

neon cuckoo: http://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/sciencecommunication/2013/08/26/a-buzz-about-australian-native-bees/

blue banded: mine.

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review 2018-08-20 04:39
The Solitary Summer
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim


This was a buddy read with Themis Athena.


The Solitary Summer is a follow up to Elizabeth and Her German Gardenthey don't have to be read in any order, but Solitary Summer takes place in the same garden, about three years later.


I went into this book naively assuming that the "Solitary" in the title mean Elizabeth at home, alone, in her garden, for the entire summer.  While I made allowances for servants, I figured she'd sent Man of Wrath and her three children off somewhere for the summer, either together or separately. 


Shows what I know; the Solitary in the title means nothing of the sort.  It simply means Elizabeth and her husband agree that for one summer, May through August, there will be no guests descending on the house, expecting Elizabeth to perform hostess duties.  100 years ago, I suppose that would feel like a kind of solitude, but personally, if I were being subjected to the daily demands of husband and three daughters, I'd have long before whipped out my Sharpie pen and blacked out the entry for 'solitude' in all my dictionaries and been done with the concept.


Moving on from my luxurious pre-conceived notions, the book is ostensibly about Elizabeth spending the summer in her garden, free from hostessing duties, and therefore free to loll about in her garden all day, book in hand, alternately reading and soaking in the paradise surrounding anyone in a garden, wood, and field.  When she's not feeding her family, or handing out food to the servants, or entertaining her daughters.  The solitary moments do happen, in May and most of June, but after a spate of gales whip through, the tone of the book alters perceptibly; less garden, more musings on philosophy, reading, morality, class and village life.  


In my opinion, even though I picked this up in eager anticipation of the garden-geek-fest, it's the second half that should not be missed.  Elizabeth is a rare breed; she's able to stand apart from herself, to see herself and events around her with objectivity, brutal honesty, and wry wit.  She does not rationalise, she does not excuse or defend, she simply observes:  this is they way things/I should be, this is the way things/I are(am).  It's refreshing to hear this kind of voice, and if it doesn't make you think one way or the other, ... well, never mind.  But the issues she addresses in her musings are at least as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, with the exception of enforced quartering of troops and servant housing. 


From what little I know so far about Elizabeth von Arnim's background, her husband isn't what anyone today would call a gem; she calls him Man of Wrath for heaven's sake, and I doubt she's using the term ironically.  But there are moments of accord between the two, as well as many scenes of shared humour and witty banter that lead me to suspect their relationship was far more complex than history will likely remember it being, and I'm eager to find out more about them both to see if my suspicions stand up to available facts.


Either way, I like her.  I suspect, were we contemporaries and life brought us into each other's orbit, we'd be friends - or at least appreciate each other's love of nature, sarcasm, and our disdain for too many guests.

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review 2018-07-31 05:03
The Wayward Lemon & the Garrulous Gnome by Lynton Johnson
The Wayward Lemon and the Garrulous Gnome - Lynton Johnson

TITLE: The Wayward Lemon & the Garrulous Gnome: A Good Old-Fashioned Gardening Manual

AUTHOR: Lynton Johnson


FORMAT: Paperback

ISBN-13: 9781868700264

"Join well-known horticulturist and radio personality Lynton Johnston as he rambles through his garden and those of others. Enjoy the anecdotes, share in his thoughts, and discover the fasination of gardening and gardening lore. Learn about knock-rocks, herbies, ballerinas and wayward lemons. Find out more about making compost (and how not to make it), growing your own fruit and beggies, and building ponds or other garden structures. Learn what to do in your brand-new garden-to-be once the builders have left (and left you all their rubble), or how to turn an inherited garden into your own creation. And read about green means to get rid of bugs, beasties and other farden nasties (excluding garrulous or silent gnomes)."


A rather rambling, if amusing and informative, book containing gardening advice for the novice. 


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review 2018-07-20 06:40
The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany
Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany - Paul Bangay,Cecilia Hewlett,Narelle McAuliffe

In 1967, while doing some shoring up of the outer walls surrounding the Pallazo Vaj, gorgeous frescoes from the 1400's were found hidden inside the wall (one assumes it was a double wall sort of thing).  This became the later inspiration for Monash University's restoration of the Pallazo's car park, back to the Renaissance garden it originally was.  This book is a chronicle, of sorts, of that "restoration".  Explanation of the quotes later.


First, let me say this book is gorgeous.  Beautiful in its construction, photography - all of it.   The writing was ... adequate.  Mostly written like University professors submitting committee reports, but on a subject so rich and interesting that, with the exception of one section, it's still easy reading.  (Not sure who Luke Morgan is, and I'm willing to bet he's a delightful, engaging person when he's at home, but his writing is nothing but pretentious gibberish.  I've read articles about quantum physicals that were less opaque and obscure.)


So, this book would make a lovely gift - but maybe not for a gardener.  The thing is, and this is my biggest disappointment, that while the book is beautiful, the garden is most decidedly not.  I realise beauty is entirely subjective, and I realise too that this garden needed to serve as a public space.  


But 80% of it is GRAVEL.  Hand to god, 80%. According to the book, there were only 4 types of plants used in the entire space: box (so. much. box), jasmine, magnolia and lemon.  Lovely plants, beautifully scented, but nothing else and EVERYTHING clipped to within an inch of its life.  Even the magnolias are forced into a Christmas tree shape.


This is the "restored" garden:


I'm pretty sure you could still use that as a car park, just sayin'. 


So, thus my rating.  Great book, decent writing, horrific garden.  Sorry Monash Uni, that's not a garden.

Source: www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj59sKQ-azcAhVQ7mEKHSyOBWcQjB16BAgBEAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fartsonline.monash.edu.au%2Fexpectations-in-healthcare-testing%2Fevents%2F
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