Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Ah, Jane Austen. When you hear her name, it is more than likely that one of the following immediately comes to mind:

  1. Uhhh….Who? If you’re one of these people, how in the world have you made it this far? Sorry for calling it as it is, but you should have some rudimentary knowledge or at least heard her name before. 
  2. Jane Austen…*proceeds to roll eyes and shake head* Say no more. I know exactly how you feel because I felt this way for the LONGEST time. In some regards, I still do, but for the most part, I’ve come around.
  3. JANE AUSTEEEEEEEEN!!!! <3 <3 <3 You probably won’t find very many hardcore fans. They exist, to be sure, but the chances of you encountering one on any ordinary given day are pretty slim. My sister and my English professors from college come close, though. 

The main character in Shannon Hale’s novel, Austenland definitely falls into the third category. At first glance, Jane Hayes is an ordinary, 30-something working woman with an insatiable obsession with Jane Austen, specifically her novel, Pride and Prejudice. Her world is so mundane compared to that of Jane Austen and her characters. Miss Hayes would do anything to be part of that world *cue The Little Mermaid*, even if it were just for one day.

Her dream comes true when she discovers that a wealthy relative has passed away and left in her will the perfect vacation for Jane: a 3-week Jane Austen experience. She’ll have the opportunity she’s always dreamed of, which is being submersed fully into the culture of early 19th century England. 
At the resort, she meets and befriends a most delightful cast of characters and realizes that in some ways, the Jane Austen world is all she dreamed it would be and in others, not so much. What will be her final verdict? Read the book and find out! Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I guarantee you will find delight in every chapter. 

This book has a film adaptation, which I highly recommend, as well. As a heads up, the book and movie are quite different from each other, but don’t let that deter you. Both are equally wonderful in their own ways. I actually watched the movie first not realizing that there was a book. Anyway, both are fantastic and in this rare case, it doesn’t matter which you decide to enjoy first. Happy reading/viewing!   -Lena

Reserve this title.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Houseplant tips

Hmm--what do you think of these handy tricks from Reader's Digest?  Let us know in the comments!

Tip #8:  Use ice cubes to water your plant evenly over time.  (I think I'm going to try this!)

Orchid Growing for Wimps: Techniques for the "Wish I Could Do That" Gardener by Ellen Zachos, Sasha Fenton, James Duncan (Photographer)

The Denver Post said, “A superb primer on orchid culture. It uses a fully illustrated step-by-step approach and doesn’t skimp on relating complete details. There’s a chapter showing easy-to-grow orchids in all their glory, and there’s also a chapter warning about “difficult” orchids to avoid. This tome takes you on a visit to 16 terrific varieties you can easily handle.”

The reviewer's phaleaonopsis
I really like this book.  It has very clear explanations of how to grow an orchid, or several orchids.  It has nice charts comparing water and temperature requirements, potting media, or type of pot for various orchid species, among others.  It has individual instructions for a wide range of orchids.  It has how to transplant your orchid, including how to attach it to baskets or hang it from a piece of bark in addition to putting it in a traditional pot.  The illustrations are gorgeous, and the information is clearly written for the amateur. An excellent introduction to growing orchids!  -Lynne

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Secret Garden (1993, G)

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, I have probably seen it a hundred times. I hadn’t seen it in over 20 years though until a few months ago when I sat down with my 8 year old daughter to watch it. While watching the movie I soon discovered that it was nothing like I remembered.

I still enjoyed parts of the story but almost every character made me crazy. I like how Mary had to do some digging to find out about her Aunt and cousin, I have always appreciated a good mystery. The whole aspect of bringing the secret garden back to life was also fantastic, it was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary world. However, the kids were whiny and the acting wasn’t great, except of course for Maggie Smith, she is always wonderful!

Mary was so whiny and obnoxious that even my 8 year old thought she was horrible. Colin was even worse which ironically enough Mary could not stand either. They both endured tragedies in their short lives but I’m not sure that excuses their awful behavior towards the staff and each other. I understand from the book (which I have to admit I have never read) that this was a major factor in the story but it made the movie hard to watch.

Now that I’m parent this movie has definitely lost some of its charm. I think the next time I feel nostalgic for The Secret Garden I will try the book and skip the movie! – Cassie 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Compleat Gardener – Questions and Answers to Northern Climate Gardening by Molly Hackett & Georgianna Taylor

Molly Hackett (photo by The Missoulian)
The title pretty well describes the plot.

This is a very entertaining question & answer book.  It is a collection of columns the authors published in "The Missoulian" over the course of several years, answering gardening questions about Missoula and Bitterroot Counties in Montana.  Their solutions are also applicable in most of the rest of the state as well, making allowances for the change in climate as you head east. The authors answer questions about indoor plants as well as gardens, shrubs, and trees, including amaryllis, grape ivy, and fuchsias among others.

Since these originated as newspaper columns, there is a fair amount of humor included in their answers.  For example, in answering a question about what to do about fungus gnats: "We swear a lot.  We try to be grateful they aren't whiteflies." is part of the reply. These little asides make the book enjoyable to read as well as informative for the Northern gardener.  -Lynne

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

In April, this blog is celebrating gardens, gardening and gardening books. Though I admire gardens and enjoy the flowers and fresh veggies they produce, I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever tried to keep alive. I decided to go another direction. This is an historical novel where a garden is a featured influence on the events of the story.

It’s 2001, and Emma Temple is at a crossroads in her life. Her mother Liberty has just died, she’s recently discovered that she’s pregnant, and her long-time business partner Joe, the baby’s father, has left her for their other business partner Lila, and the two of them now want to sell the perfume company that Liberty started. She desperately wants to begin again far away from everything and everyone familiar, even her beloved grandmother Freya and great-uncle Charles. Emma’s mother has left her a property in Spain, in the city of Valencia, so that’s where Emma is going – to regroup, rethink her career as a perfumer, and give birth to her child. The Villa del Valle is in rough shape, as is the extensive garden surrounding it. Slowly, Emma finds new friends, begins to recreate her life and her garden, helps create a floral shop stocked by its abundant blooms, and with the exotic scents in that garden, finds inspiration to create new perfumes. But her new home also contains terrible secrets that date back to Freya and Charles’ harrowing experiences in Spain as a nurse and photojournalist with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War in the late 30’s. While Emma finds Spain a place to blossom again, the old memories are withering for Freya and her brother.

The book contains two connected narratives weaving back and forth – Emma’s life in Spain, and the stories of her family’s older generation in a time of civil war. Sometimes this device results in abrupt transitions, but generally it works. Brown’s modern half of the book is reminiscent of the events of Frances Mayes’ nonfiction book Under the Tuscan Sun in many ways. Her writing shines when describing the scents of the garden and of Emma’s perfume creations. The contrast of the other half carries the true emotional weight of the novel. Her historical research of the Spanish Civil War results in vivid and visceral depictions of the cruelty of a war where atrocities and reprisals against noncombatants were commonplace. There are some weak spots; using 9/11 as a plot device seemed unnecessary, and The Other Woman was a lamentably clich├ęd villain. That being said, I would recommend The Perfume Garden for any fans of historical fiction.  -DeeAnn

Monday, April 16, 2018

Early Spring Gardening To-Do List

Miniature irises, from April 4th, 2016.
It looks like the snow has finally melted here in Billings, and my irises are beginning to show up!  Have your bulbs started to sprout?  Are you ready for your spring garden chores? 

Here's a little reminder list of things to take care of this month, from the magazine Rodale's Organic Life, just in case you need a some advice (like me) or something to spur you on (also like me). -Barb