Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Just Jennifer

Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants by Stefani Bittner and Aletha Harampolis

The co-owners of a landscape design firm based in San Francisco take readers through the four seasons and show them how to use plants that until now may have been considered strictly ornamental and turn them into unusual food products, beauty treatments and other DYI projects.  Rhubarb, typically paired with strawberries in an often insipidly sweet pie or jam becomes a quick rosy pickle as a side condiment or a garnish to a springtime cocktail.  While lilac flower cream is very labor intensive it is both edible or a skin cream and an arrangement of newly flower, fruit tree branches makes an arrangement of newly flowering fruit tree branches makes an easy and stunning addition to any room.  As the seasons warm up and plants become abundant in both flowers and greenery consider using highly scented geranium leaves to make a lovely scented sugar with a variety of uses.  Harvest organic flowers and stems for a flavorful vinegar and turn the ubiquitous purple coneflower (Echinacea) into a gardener’s salve.  many herbs and flowering plants can be turned into light refreshing drinks or rejuvenating scrubs.  In the fall as the garden winds down there are plenty of late season fruit bearing plants and colorful hearty herbaceous plants for decorative wreaths, garlands and arrangements.  This heavily photographed boo will provide much inspiration for the home gardener to take another walk around and see what new treasures their gardens yield and perhaps make them eager to add a few new plants for the upcoming season.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Coming in March

March may come in like a lion and out like a lamb but in between, there is plenty of time to read some new books!

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

Widowed, single-mom Stephanie is always happy to do things for her best friend Emily and Emily’s five-year-old son Nicky who is best friends with Stephanie’s son Miles, so picking Nicky up after school and bringing him to the house to play is not a big deal, is in fact, something Stephanie has done many times.  But this time is different: Emily doesn’t return to suburban Connecticut from her high-powered job as a fashion exec in Manhattan.  Neither Stephanie nor Emily’s husband Sean are able to contact Stephanie; it is as if she has disappeared without a trace.  Blogger Stephanie reaches out to her community for support and after Emily is found dead, Stephanie turns to Sean for comfort, hoping they and their boys can heal and get on with their lives and their new reality.  Soon, though, Stephanie starts beginning to get the feeling that even though all signs point to Emily being dead she may in fact not be; Stephanie can’t figure out if that’s the case what Emily is playing at but knows that best friends share secrets and is the secrets Stephanie shared with Emily are revealed, her life as she knows it will never be the same again.  This domestic thriller is cunning and clever as unexpected secrets are revealed and nothing is what it appears to be.

A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman
Former FBI agent Brigid Quinn has almost settled in to a quiet, married life in Tucson when she is called to Florida where her elderly father is in the hospital, her mother in need of support.  Brigid’s former partner, Laura Coleman, on leave from the Bureau, is also in Florida, volunteering for the Innocence Project, working to get death sentences commuted or thrown out and new trials granted.  Laura is currently working on the conviction of Marcus Creighton who is on death row after being convicted of murdering his wife and three young children: except Creighton professes his innocence in his wife’s death, though he willing admits the two did not get along and her was having an affair, and the bodies of his children have never been found.  Time is running out for Creighton who is scheduled to be executed in five days and Brigid finds herself tracking down old witnesses, some of whom she is certain are lying, and finds herself  believing that Creighton might actually be innocent, though will she be able to find convincing evidence before it is too late.  Juggling the investigation with her family crisis, Brigid begins to learn everything is not so black and white, including her family, which she knew had problems and issues, but she didn’t realize the extent to which her father shaped her life and what sacrifices her mother made and at what cost.  Brigid Quinn is one of the most complex characters to come along recently, smart and tough, willing to take a fresh look at any situation whether it is her current investigation or the family into which she was born.   Twists and turns in the plot keep the tension high and readers guessing until almost the very last page.

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
Violet cannot believe she has the life she has.  Violet and Finn have married after a chance meeting on a beach and many missed connections and have Bear, the love of their life, a three-year-old son.  Now, during a family on another beach, Violet returns to their room where Bear should have been taking a nap to find that Finn and Bear have vanished into thin air, leaving no trace, as if they never existed at all.  Hurtled into an unimaginable nightmare, Violet cannot understand what has happened and cannot even imagine Finn taking Bear of his own accord.  As Violet grieves her family, Finn’s best friend from college begins to put pieces together and Finn’s past, a past Violet knew nothing of, begins to unravel, bringing Violet closer to the truth and her new reality.

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
Jubilee Jenkins almost dies the first time a boy kisses her in high school…literally.  Jubilee has a rare allergy to the human touch and after the embarrassment of landing in the hospital after the kiss, and learning that it was done on a dare, Jubilee becomes a recluse, not leaving her house for nine years, even after her mother marries and moves to Long Island.  After learning of her mother’s death, and her monthly checks stopped, Jubilee realizes she must find a job.  After running into one of her classmates, she lands a job at the local library where she meets Eric and his adopted son Aja who have just moved to town after Eric’s divorce.  Eric is struggling to be a father to Aja, cope with his divorce, and mend his relationship with his daughter Ellie who is still living in New Hampshire with her mother.  Eric finds himself drawn to Jubilee and doesn’t understand why she holds him at arms’ length, literally.  As Eric tries to find a way for Jubilee to let him in, Jubilee and Aja develop an unusual relationship and she finds herself opening up to a ten year old in ways she can’t open up to her contemporaries.  This is an unusual love story full of heart, hope and characters who must first love, trust, and forgive themselves before they can be part of meaningful relationships.

Conviction by Julia Dahl
Reporter Rebekah Roberts receives a letter from a young man, DeShawn Perkins who is serving a sentence in prison for the murder twenty-two years ago of his foster parents and his foster sister in Crown Heights, with the words “I didn’t do it”.  Still free-lancing for The Tribune in New York, Rebekah is intrigued by the letter and begins to investigate the man’s claim, finding herself on a trail that takes her into the city’s past and into the past of someone she holds dear, someone whose present could be hurt by Rebekah uncovers if she chooses to reveal it.  A gripping mystery that deftly weaves past and present and once again delves into the Hasidic community in Brooklyn with no easy answers or choices for Rebekah.

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach
Ava Antipova has run to Paris from her dysfunctional family and their failing vineyard in New York State even though it meant leaving her twin sister Zelda behind.  Ava is shocked when she receives an e-mail from her mother whose grasp on reality is often skewed by dementia, prescription drugs and alcohol.  Even though Ava and Zelda were identical twins, their personalities couldn’t have been any different, Ava more serious, Zelda wilder and freer.  When Ava begins to receive messages from Zelda she is certain her twin is playing with her and is really alive, hiding out somewhere, orchestrating the entire caper, but the more Ava learns about her twin, the more she realizes the twisted life Zelda was living and wonders what Zelda had gotten herself into.  This cleverly crafted novel will quickly draw readers in and capture their attention, especially after the puzzle Zelda has left for Ava is deciphered.  Haunting and twisted, the characters within are most complex and unhealthy making for a deliciously creepy read as Zelda leads Ava on the cat and mouse chase of their lives.   

Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens
Ten years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped with her six-year-old daughter from an abusive relationship.   A car accident her now ex-husband Andrew had the night she escaped was fatal for the other driver, landing Andrew in jail for ten years.  Certain that she has cut all ties with Andrew, Lindsey has successfully raised her daughter Sophie into an imaginative, well-centered teenager, has started her own business, has a new relationship and continues to be active in support groups for abused women and is certain Andrew will never find her again in a remote town off of Vancouver Island.   Andrew has managed to locate Lindsey and Sophie and she begins to feel someone is tracking her and stalking her at both home and on her job; her new boyfriend has a suspicious accident and Andrew has approached Sophie trying to convince her that he has changed; but Lindsey doesn’t believe that and doesn’t believe Andrew will ever let her go---alive.  With one shocking twist, everything changes in a heartbeat leaving Lindsey to struggle with the question who wants to hurt her and why and how does that person know so much about her and her habits?  This tightly plotted thriller does not let go until the final pages, revealing only what needs to be revealed, keeping the pace brisk and setting the characters on edge.   This page-turning psychological thriller is completely absorbing and so full of uncertainties and unknowns that it is hard to recognize what is the truth and who is telling it. 

The Book of Polly by Kathy Hepinstall
Ten-year-old Willow Havens was born to an almost sixty-year-old, tough-as-nails, Southern woman.  Willow’s father died before she was born and her brother and sister, almost a generation apart, are on their own, living their own disasters of lives, leaving Willow in Polly’s care, to worry that Polly will die.  Everything Willow does is to either ensure Polly doesn’t die or to learn about her mother’s life, such as how she ended up in Texas from Bethel, Louisiana where she still has kin with whom she doesn’t have a close relationship.  When Willow runs across the name Garland Jones, she becomes convinced he is the key to Polly and sets out to find out why Garland was in jail and what caused the rift between him and Polly separating them forever.   Polly is diagnosed with cancer when Willow is a teen and Willow decides it is time to take matters into her own hands to save her mother, and brother and sister in the process, and learn once and for all what makes Polly Polly.  This novel, more than a coming of age story, tells the stories of our families, how we love them and how their pasts, hidden and known, shape us in unforeseen ways.

The Cutaway by Christina Kovac
Virginia Knightly feels as a TV news producer in Washington, D.C. she is at the top of her game.  A “MISSING” flyer from the police department crosses her desk and intrigues her for reasons she cannot explain.  Attorney Evelyn Carney left a restaurant one night after an argument with her husband and hasn’t been seen since.  Virginia, who has a photographic memory for images, remembers seeing the woman in a recent video clip and feels there is more to the story than just a marital spat and sets out on a trail through the darker side of Washington, D.C.’s judicial and legal system never surprised where her path takes her.  At the same time, Virginia and her colleagues face possible changes at the station that could destroy everything this young woman has built up.  A new voice in crime fiction, Christina Kovac will draw readers in and keep them in suspense until the final page of this debut novel.

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill
In 1974, much of New York City is crumbling, including thirteen-year-old Griffin’s family.  His parents have separated, his mother, Griffin and his sister living in the family brownstone joined at any one time by borders in an attempt to earn enough money to pay the mortgage.  For his livelihood, Griffin’s father “rescues” and resells pieces of architectural history he rescues from rubbish heaps, torn down buildings, and even buildings still standing, and resells them to be repurposed and appreciated.  Griffin, longing to win his father’s approval, save his family home and maybe, just maybe, his family, becomes part of his father’s team, his specialty, stealing the gargoyles that grace the eaves of buildings, keeping an eye on the sidewalks below.  Griffin learns to navigate locked up buildings with tenuous and questionable foundations much as he learns to navigate his own life, and as he works to free the architectural treasures of a city in turmoil from their moorings, he works himself free of his family and grows into his own person.   This homage to the parts of the city seen every day but not often notice, and within our families, will remind readers to take a look beyond what is immediate to them. 

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Lane Roanoke never knew her grandparents until after her mother’s suicide when as a teen she moves to their farm in rural Kansas to live with them and her cousin Allegra they have raised.  Lane never knew anything her mother’s family and never knew who her father was, but once inside Roanoke she learns the secrets that have a tragic hold on the women in the family and vows not to become part of them.  Running away just before she’s seventeen, Lane doesn’t return until ten years later when she receives a message from her grandfather that Allegra has disappeared.  With nothing keeping her in LA, Lane returns home vowing not to get caught up in the past, only to find and help Allegra, perhaps assuaging the guilt she carries of having left without her cousin.  The minute she arrives, the past slams into Lane’s present and she’s forced to face the secrets that the family has held along with the boyfriend she left behind.  Alternating chapters between the past and present create a visceral story that cannot be looked away from no matter how uncomfortable it becomes.

The Underworld by Kevin Canty
Set in a silver mining town in Idaho during the 1970’s, this story, based on true events, imagines a town after a horrific mine fire where everyone in the town has been touched: some lost friends, fathers, brothers, husbands or boyfriends, no one is spared.  And even the survivors are scarred as they try to reconcile why they were the lucky ones.  Told mostly from the point of view of a young college student who has left his hometown, his sister-in-law, the young mother of twins, and his father, a miner himself who has lived to see the light of day once more, this visceral tale of love and loss brings a rough and tumble town to life, and finds compassion and hope in unexpected places.