Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Small Budget Gardener: All the Dirt on Saving Money in Your Garden

I bought my first house 25 years ago. It was an old Victorian in dire need of renovation. The yard was in even worse shape. Previously a rental, the landlord had paved part of the backyard with gravel to create a parking lot. The rest of the yard was a jumble of vines including poison ivy. I was literally starting with nothing. I didn’t even own any garden tools.

Over the next ten years, I tamed the yard. It was a period of trial and error, finding the best tools for the job, finding plants and seeds, learning to compost and most importantly, finally learning to identify poison ivy to which I am horribly allergic. That experience shaped the frugal gardener that I am now.

I wish I had had this book when I bought that house. It would have saved me a lot of time, energy and especially money. Maureen Gilmer has written one of the best how-tos I have ever read. Page after page, I found myself nodding in agreement. Following her clear step by step instructions, anyone can create a wonderful garden with a minimal outlay of money.

There are so many things that I love about this book. She tells the reader what tools to buy, and more importantly, what tools not to buy. She demystifies composting. She makes clear that organic gardening is not just better for the environment but is actually cheaper than using commercial fertilizers. Best of all, she not only tells you what materials you need, she also tells you where to find them. She talks about yard art, drip irrigation, propagation, seed starting and cold frames, all using free or recycled materials.

I only have two small quibbles with the material. She devotes an entire chapter to online sources for tools, plants and seeds, all of which are reputable dealers. What she neglects to mention are the many seed swap sites, that are also well-known and reputable, where you can trade your excess seeds for the seeds you desire for the cost of postage.

I admire the amount of space she devotes to improving and maintaining the health of your soil but she doesn’t go into the no-till method which is thought to be even better for your soil. It also saves you the cost of buying or renting a rototiller.

These are only minor omissions. I agree with everything she says and have field tested many of her ideas myself. I would recommend this book to both newbie gardeners and more experienced gardeners who are looking for ways to save money.

Review copy courtesy of Cool Springs Press

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Healing Powers of Chocolate

I have to admit that I didn’t finish reading this book. I made it to page 167 of 294 (the last 60 of those pages are recipes and places to buy chocolate). It is so poorly written that I just couldn’t read it. My initial impression was that it needed a good editor, but after the first couple of chapters, I realized that what it really needed was a good author.

There is very little original writing in this volume. Most of the material in it was previously published in Ms. Orey’s previous two books. It is obvious she merely copied and pasted passages from those books into the manuscript with no regard to narrative flow.

She uses tables of information lifted directly from other sources (with proper attribution) without any discussion. The most egregious fault I found was her description of a tour of a chocolate factory. She was unable to make the tour, so she used the notes of a friend who did go on the tour. Just the notes in raw form, again copied and pasted into her manuscript.

Some of her writing reads likes notes also. I found it very jarring to encounter sentences that were grammatically incorrect or that had no point. She tells the same stories over and over, each time as if it were the first time that the story has been used.

Her tracing of the history of chocolate is marred by her lack of geographical knowledge. Countries wander from Central to South America and back again, depending on which page you are reading.

As for those “healing powers”, she is correct in citing the trace nutrients found in chocolate. However, reputable scientists have pointed out that they are found in such minute quantities that you would have to eat 25 pounds of chocolate every day to gain any benefit from them. Ms. Orley smoothly skates past this little detail by recommending a “dosage” of 1 to 2 squares of dark chocolate per day as part of a healthy diet (she recommends either the Mediterranean diet or the French diet) along with regular exercise. She neglects to mention that it is the diet and exercise, not the chocolate, that is providing the health benefits.

She lives in the San Francisco area and takes us on a tour of the chocolatiers in that city, breathlessly describing their incomparable chocolates, recommending that readers choose those chocolates rather than chocolates from anywhere else. She then goes on to admit that she eats plain old Hershey’s Dark Chocolate. From Pennsylvania.

Review copy courtesy of Kensington Books

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime

Having been bombarded by lots of juicy tidbits, I did something that I rarely do: I purchased a book the day it came out. I didn’t wait for a sale. I didn’t wait for the paperback. I bought it now because I had to have it now. I knew already that the Clintons have a dysfunctional marriage. That McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running mate in an attempt to steal the spotlight from Obama. I wanted the dirt on Obama.

Don’t get me wrong. I supported him throughout the campaign, voted for him on election day and now rant about the shenanigans in the House and Senate that are preventing him from doing the job he was elected to do. It’s just that he’s so perfect. No one can possibly be that perfect.

This book was a HUGE disappointment. It all but deifies Barack and Michelle Obama. I include Michelle because the other candidates’ spouses were thoroughly trashed. Except Todd Palin who got off rather easy.

The first two-thirds of the book were riveting. Every bit of dirty laundry belonging to Hill&Bill was hung out to dry. Every detail of every misstep of her ill-fated campaign was endlessly analyzed. John Edwards was portrayed as hopelessly out of touch, his wife less saintly than her reputation. The implication is that she drove him into Rielle Hunter’s arms.

Barack Obama could do no wrong and his campaign was perfect.

The last third of the book covering the election, had much less substance. It felt thrown together. What should have been the most exciting period in the run-up to the election with all of the material being provided by Sarah Palin’s mangling of the English language and attempts at gravitas instead managed to be almost boring. There were a few behind the scenes anecdotes that did much less harm to her reputation than the skewering she received from SNL and other late night comics. The big revelation that Cindy McCain has a boyfriend falls flat. All of the tired criticisms of McCain are trotted out.

And Barack Obama could do no wrong and his campaign was perfect.

The authors promise much more than they deliver. They have an obvious bias towards Obama. I feel cheated. I was promised “The Race of a Lifetime” but got “Barack and Michelle Obama are saints and everyone else are sinners” instead.