Book Reviews Archive
A widow chooses to complete her husband’s search for his father’s missing years. This takes her to Ottawa, the arctic, and various discoveries. A missing diary provides a back story. A helpful chief librarian provides a distraction. Finally, a visit to the Canadian arctic includes a series of tests.
I haven’t had this much fun reading prose in a while. The story moves well, the characters are deftly drawn, the plots so easily interwoven you won’t believe your mind.
This is basically a love story? Or is it an adventure story? Or is it a commentary on the tragedy of war? It is all of these, and more.
My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. This is a very nice, well-written, enjoyable tale. Five stars is an easy decision, and extremely highly recommended.
Kindle Book Review Team member.
(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)
Jim Bennett, Poet, Reviewer and
author of Cold Comes Through
When the publisher provided me with an unsolicited review copy of this book two days ago, I expressed regret that I wouldn’t have time to read it for another couple of weeks. But then I decided to read the first few pages over lunch yesterday, and now I know what people mean when they say “I couldn’t put it down!” To the exclusion of all daily responsibilities, I kept reading and had finished 75% of the book by midnight last night. Today I eagerly finished the rest.
Why was it so engaging? It had many wonderful qualities: three well-developed, mature characters you could identify with; a love triangle; tastefully described intimate scenes; unusual yet plausible geographic settings (San Diego, Ottowa, Alsace Lorraine, and a modern-day Arctic tundra Inuit village); and drama (cultural contrasts, wartime adventures, and more). And to top it off, the book was educational too, providing fascinating insights into Inuit culture in Canada as well as what a rural French region of Europe was like during World War I.
The time I spent immersed in this book was WELL WORTH IT, and I will definitely recommend this book and author to my friends!
Lynette M. Smith, All My Best Copyediting
and Heartfelt Publishing
The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs
by Jake Hobson
Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh
Hobson has created such an interesting book that he made me want to find out about something that had, until then, seemed a little silly. I came away with a new respect for this field. I may even try some creative pruning myself.
This is not your grandmother’s book of topiary. The focus is on gardens created in the latter part of the twentieth century. They are represented in photos taken in France, Belgium, England, Japan, South Korea, and even California and South Carolina. It’s difficult to explain the impact these photos have. Some of them amaze you, and others make you laugh out loud. Many of these artists with pruning shears have wonderful senses of humor.
The variety shown goes from simple trees that have been trimmed to develop multiple trunks to hedges shaped like Russian nesting dolls or boxes rolling down a hill. There’s even a large sofa, easy chairs, and a coffee table—green and inviting. It’s hard to understand that they are cleverly shaped bushes.
Balls, mushrooms, onions, cubes, and spirals seem to dance through the pages.
The abstract shapes are just as breathtaking.
There’s an old joke about how to do sculpture. You just chip away (or prune away) everything that doesn’t look like what you’re trying to make. But how do these artists see these shapes in the trees and shrubs? I don’t have that kind of eye, but I’m glad that some people do.
Hobson includes clear instructions and simple diagrams for trying some of these shapes in your own yard. The one caveat is that most of the plants he shows are on estates that probably have twenty gardeners. You may have to curb your enthusiasm and try to prune creatively on a smaller scale.
If you’re determined to prune, you might also read his book Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way.
You can check out his interesting website at www.jakehobson.com.
The Art of Creative Pruning has photos on nearly every page. It includes references for those who want further reading about the gardens shown. It’s published by Timber Press. You can see their impressive catalog at timberpress.com.
Coincidentally, the same day I received this book, I happened to catch an episode of California Gold on our local PBS station. California Gold was one of the late Huell Houser’s many iterations of his ongoing love affair with the state. This particular show was done at the Gilroy Family Theme Park (formerly known as Bonfante Gardens), the current home of the Circus Trees. What? You never heard of them? Me either, but I’m glad I know about them now.
In the 1920s and for the next 40 years, Axel Erlandson creatively pruned sycamore, box elder, ash, and Spanish cork trees into fantastic shapes unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Nineteen of the original 74 trees were moved from the Santa Cruz Mountains property, where they were created, to Gilroy. You can check them out at www.gilroygardens.org, and you can see many of Houser’s shows on www.calgold.com
In a world where archeological research esteems the invested interest in Eskimo culture, diverse, yet full of unexpected trials, tribulations, twists and turns, a world where healing cannot be denied, something loss must lend itself to, for without this healing, people might stagnate, wither and die unto themselves, readers are taken on an adventurous and all too intriguing journey, where knowledge is far beyond the literary, educated mindset of our modern life, tracing back centuries of silent understanding, thoughtful curiosity and mindful reflection.
The Ivory Caribou is a story of love – past, present and future. It is a story of longing, hope and recovery, beautifully written and exceptionally produced. Subtle messages tap the readers subconscious, reminding us to be more aware and considerate of others, for this is the eskimo culture readers become acquainted with, a culture that has a thing or two to teach the rest of us as we hurry on our way to whatever we have going on in our lives.
The Ivory Caribou is a love story too, a beautiful tale of how two people fall in love, minus the lust factor, and become one with each other on a level so deep it is almost contrary to what so many of us are exposed to when it comes to dating, courtship and love. Family is as vital to the relationship as the two people falling in love, because family bonds are strong and members care enough about each other to wish for the best, often going out of their way to help the two people falling in love, because love is beautiful and should be promoted through the laws of basic attraction, common decency and spiritual fruition.
I thoroughly enjoy reading The Ivory Caribou. It’s easy reading in a story with so much depth, one I think you might enjoy reading too.
Thanks so much for stopping by today. Wishing you every success with your writing.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver
with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh
This book falls into the category of “So many good books; so little time.” Animal Vegetable, Miracle was on the New York Times Bestseller list five years ago. It was on my list of “must reads” then, but see above.
Barbara Kingsolver can be counted among the really good American writers and possibly even among the great. She writes fiction, nonfiction, essays, and poetry. You may have read The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, High Tide in Tucson, or one of her other books. If not, you’re in for a treat.
In this book, she tells us the story of the year that her family—she, her husband, and two daughters—decide to become locavores, people who eat food produced in their local area only. Kingsolver gardens, shops at farmer’s markets, and even forages.
I’ve reviewed other books with this theme, in particular Coming Home to Eat by Gary Paul Nabham and Farm City by Novella Carpenter.
I find the idea of being a locavore appealing for many different reasons. First, it reduces your carbon footprint. Ask yourself how much oil was used to transport your morning banana to your table and compare that to the cost of eating something local and in season. Hopp, Kingsolver’s husband and coauthor, writes that “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week [emphasis his]. Secondly, by supporting your local farmers, you keep money circulating in your local economy instead of sending it off to some corporation in New York. And locally produced food is tastier and fresher than food that has been shipped or trucked for fifteen hundred miles, as Hopp tells us the average item on our plate is.
Being a locavore is not without personal cost. If you live in Virginia, as the authors do, it means no bananas—among other things. We’re luckier. Almost any vegetable or fruit can be grown within a hundred miles of San Diego—but not year round. I was surprised when I realized that something as basic as celery is seasonal in San Diego. There are many months when you can’t find it at a farmer’s market. On the other hand, you get to eat many things you’d never have a chance to experience if you limit your shopping to a local supermarket and its monoculture produce.
To be a locavore is to eat as your ancestors did for most of the generations before you. It wasn’t possible to transport fresh food until refrigerated trains, trucks, and ships were invented. Even after long-distance transportation of food became possible, its cost limited its distribution to the wealthy. But the economy of scale has changed that so we now have seemingly endless choices.
I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to you both for the writing and for the ideas. It will give you plenty to chew on. Kingsolver’s website is www.Kingsolver.com.
Can a sixty-year old widow embark on adventure and fly to another country to uncover genealogical mysteries? Can she travel to northern Canada and enter into the life, language, and culture of the Inuits? Can she rediscover romance?
To find the answers to all these questions, read Caroline McCullagh’s well written novel, Ivory Caribou.. Anne O’Malley, the heroine, is the feisty lady who mixes romance, genealogy, travel, detective work, and cultural exploration.
The characters in the story are interesting. The scenes–which shift from San Diego to Ottawa to an Inuit village in northern Quebec–are described with flair. The plot is clever, with many unexpected twists and turns.
I highly recommend this book.
H. Byron Earhart
Author of Religion in Japan (5th ed)
No Pizza in Heaven (novel in press)
Review of The Angel Tree: The Enchanting Quest for the World’s Oldest Olive Tree by Alex Dingwall-Main
Reviewed by Caroline McCullagh
Alex Dingwall-Main is a Scottish garden designer who lives in Provence, France. One day, while driving home from the mundane errand of buying printer ink, he has a mild fender-bender. The man he has run into, Regis Lautour, becomes a client—a client with lots of money—and between them they create a dream of finding the oldest living olive tree and relocating it into Monsieur Lautour’s garden.
No big deal you think. So you find a hundred-year-old tree at the local nursery, hoist it up into the back of your pick-up, and off you go. Well think again. Dingwall-Main embarks on an odyssey that takes him through France, Spain, Italy, and Greece looking at older and older trees, not a hundred years, not a thousand, but maybe three thousand years old. For instance, there is a tree in Greece under which Plato held classes twenty-five hundred years ago.
The problem with old olive trees is that many of them are considered national or local treasures, so they, like Plato’s tree, are not available. But, at the same time, there are canny farmers who own some that are available, and know they’re sitting on gold mines. I wondered why anyone would sell an old olive tree, but, as they say, anything is for sale for the right price, and an old olive tree doesn’t produce as much fruit as a younger one.
During his search, Dingwall-Main meets a number of tree dealers who specialize in old olives. I was surprised that there’d be enough interest in buying one particular kind of tree that a number of people could spend their careers facilitating the sales. I once knew a woman whose husband sold jetliners. He didn’t have to make many sales in a year to be very happy. The same thing is true of people who sell old olives. The trees are expensive, and as with almost anything where there’s a lot of money to be made, interesting characters abound.
I have to admit the book was a little slow to get into. I read a lot of British authors. Their vocabulary is a little different from what I’m used to, but Dingwall-Main has a unique voice and a style that’s charming, if a little difficult to read. That all changed, though. The book came alive for me as the quest came alive for him when he saw his first really old tree.
I think you’ll enjoy following his search to its surprising and satisfying end.
The Angel Tree is hardbound, 316 pages, and includes a bibliography, a section on olive facts, and some nice line drawings by the author.
Dingwall-Main has also written The Luberon Garden: A Provencal Story of Apricot Blossoms, Truffles and Thyme and The Vine Garden: A Search for Home in the Gardens and Vineyards of France.
Here I am again. They didn’t fire me yet. You can keep on sending your books to me at the address below. Be sure to include the submission form.
You’ll learn, as you read this column every month, that I’m a sucker for a good police procedural or mystery. I have two this month that fit in that category, and one of them is nonfiction.
Canine Search and Rescue: Follow a Bloodhound’s Training and Actual Casework by Keith M. Pigg is fascinating. I’m also a sucker for dogs, and other that the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn (not a Mensan, but fun and interesting) this is about as good as it gets.
Pigg purchased nine-week-old Cleopatra and spent three years training her and many years after that doing search and rescue work with her. There is so much more to this process than I ever imagined, and what little I thought I knew about bloodhounds was wrong.
Pigg says he is not a writer, but he certainly presents a fascinating view of how man and dog combine to form an effective team, each with their responsibilities defined. They have to learn to communicate in subtle ways. If there is a lot of anthropomorphizing here, ascribing thoughts and emotions to Cleo, I don’t think he was too far off in his analysis, because their team worked, in both senses of the word. You can’t argue with success.