Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pretty Tough Plants: 135 Resilient, Water-Smart Choices for a Beautiful Garden, by Plant Select. Timber Press, 2017

This is an encyclopedia of plants chosen for the cold, dry, areas of the Rocky Mountains. The team that tested plants was based at the Denver Botanic Garden and Colorado State University. The main focus is the dry. If you have wet winters or springs, many of these plant will be very unhappy unless you provide sharp drainage (which is possible, of course).

The plants range from groundcovers and petite gems through perennials, grasses, vines, shrubs and trees. There also included is a short section on tender perennials and annuals (the majority of annuals sold today are water hogs), which I didn’t expect. Each plant has a detailed entry giving size, flowers, sun/shade needs, if it is deer resistant or if pollinators like it, how to grow it, place of origin, and how to place it in the landscape. They also give hardiness zone ratings, but from what I can see, the many of the plants will only be hardy to those zones if they are not wet in winter.

They have trialed and used a great many plants that are native to the intermountain west area- lots of penstamons and salvias, for instance. I was happy to see this- now we just have to find out where to buy these plants! In a way, this book is a big catalog advertising Plant Select plants, but if they are not exaggerating the attributes of the plants, I am quite happy to see it on the library shelf. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This did not influence my review.  

The Mitford Murders, by Jessica Fellowes. Minotaur Books, 2017

“The Mitford Murders” is a little bit of a misnomer for this book; no Mitfords were harmed in the making of this book. The Mitford family is fairly central to the book, but not in a direct way, except for Nancy Mitford, the oldest of the girls.

The two main characters- other than Nancy- are Louisa Cannon, daughter of a washerwoman, desperate to escape her Fagin of an uncle who has moved in since her father died; and Guy Sullivan, a railway policeman. Louisa and Guy meet when she jumps off a train on her way to apply for the job of under governess for the wealthy Mitford family. At the about the same moment, there is a murder on the train. Florence Nightingale Shore, recently retired military nurse, is headed to visit a friend when she is found beaten and dying in her seat. When no murderer is found and the case is dropped, Guy finds himself obsessed with figuring out who did it. Fifteen year old Nancy Mitford shares this obsession and Louisa, as Nancy’s chaperone, finds herself deep into it also. Nancy also lives in fear that her uncle will catch up with her, or that her employers will find out that she used to pickpocket for him as a child.

The amateur investigation goes slowly- as a live in servant, Louisa has little time off. Guy also has little time on his own to follow things up. Louisa, however, has the advantage that Nancy can tell her parents that she needs Louisa to go with her to this place or that, thus getting them out of the house. The investigation threads (the author alternates between Louisa and Guy’s points of view) weave in and around the daily life of living in a manor house with lots of kids and servants, chaperoning Nancy to dress makers and a dance; and Guy being bullied at home by his numerous older and larger brothers.

The murder of F.N. Shore was a real event; her murder was never solved. Obviously that won’t do for a novel, so we are provided with a killer, as well as several red herrings. I enjoyed the way the author set the story well in the period with details. Most of the story is set in the below-stairs milieu rather than upstairs- Nancy’s parents don’t make many appearances. Sadly, some of the things that made the Mitford clan unique make no appearance; the kids had their own language that they made up, for instance. Perhaps that will appear in later volumes. (I understand that there *will* be further volumes, one with each of the Mitford girls as the star. I am not sure how she will make Hitler-loving Unity a sympathetic character…) I enjoyed the book, but don’t consider it stellar- 4 stars out of 5. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something -anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, by Jennifer Kincheloe. Seventh Street Books, 2017

The opening scene of this novel has the protagonist running down the beach, with a rotting head in a bucket, trying to escape a policeman. Hampered by long, tight, skirts and fancy shoes, she almost doesn’t make it, but in the end she escapes.

Set in 1908 Los Angeles, Anna Blanc, society girl, has (in the last novel, which I did not read) turned crime solver and spurned her arranged engagement. This has caused her father to disown her and cast her out without a penny. She is living in a rundown apartment, surrounded by fancy furniture and fine dresses and hats, shoes unfit for walking the disgusting streets of LA, and a few pieces of jewelry that she had loaned out the day her father kicked her out. She lives on a diet of Cracker Jacks and tinned kippers, having, at the beginning, no income and a lot of back rent to pay.

She has now been hired as assistant matron at the LA precinct house and jail; her job is to chase down runaways, deal with ladies of the night, interview women who feel uneasy talking to male police, and basically not do anything exciting. But when she gets taken along on an interview in Chinatown, the case gets interesting. The body of a white woman is found in a trunk- in the room of a Chinese man. Given the rampant racism of the time, this could ignite riots. The investigation must take place quickly and quietly. Add to this an incipient tong war over kidnapped child prostitutes, and a personal angle with the slain white woman, and we have a complex narrative. Of course there is a romantic thread, too, one that started in the previous book, with a detective who wants to marry and have a family. Anna refuses to swear obedience to anyone, and does not want to have children.  And then there is that rotting head…

I loved the writing. Kincheloe brought old Los Angeles to life for me, including the non-tourist part of Chinatown where much of the story takes place. The author puts details about things like dress, enough to show the era, but not *too* much detail. I liked Anna, although she is a little bit too full of her ability to take care of herself. Like it or not, a woman in heavy skirts and a corset, untrained in weapons or self-defense, cannot wander into just any situation and expect to fight her way out! The other characters are good, and I hope they get fleshed out more as the series continues. The killer was one I didn’t expect, but the killer had reasons that made sense for the time and place. Five stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something-anything- from Amazon they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program. in return for an honest review 

Neither of these things influenced my review.