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September 12, 2010

Rainforest Flowers and Book Winner

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on the Hothouse Flowers review post. After using a random number generator to select a winner, the book goes to Jennywenny of Foray into Food. Jenny, if you can forward your mailing info to me at freerangeliving@gmail.com, I will pass it along to the people at TLC Book Tours, and a copy will be mailed out to you shortly.

Since we're talking flowers, I thought I'd share a few photos of flowers from our garden this year. Many of our newer flower beds struggled because the soil was freshly broken and hadn't yet been amended enough to ensure vigorous growth, but the beds that I created last year did much better.


The liatris and shasta daisies multiplied considerably since last year and put on a good show this summer. The wildflower bed in the background (Pacific Northwest Wildflower blend from Westcoast Seeds) is a gorgeous mix of annuals and perennials and blooms continuously from early spring until fall.


These Valentine sunflowers are thriving thanks to the excess nitrogen in the soil next to the chicken run. Situated on the south side of the run, they created a nice shady patch for the chickens during the heat of summer, and are now feeding the family of Stellar's Jays that live on our property.


We've been letting the chickens have the run of the yard occasionally (while we keep a watchful eye out for eagles and bears, of course). This is Ruby, our beautiful (and very broody) Buff Orpington, chasing crickets on the lawn above our septic.


And here's a final parting shot of the wildflower patch, which is looking pretty sad after this weekend's rain. At it's peak, the tallest flowers were over my head, and it positively buzzed with bees all summer long. Because of its ongoing beauty, low maintenance nature, and low water requirements, I will definitely be sowing this mix elsewhere in coming years.

Next up: a veggie garden update.

September 07, 2010

Hot House Flower: Book Review and Giveaway

Okay, I'm having a really hard time accepting the fact that it's September already, but the rainy, miserable weather is relentless in its efforts to convince me that summer is indeed over. I have no excuses for my latest absence, aside from an utter lack of desire to sit in front of my computer when I could be swimming or sitting on the beach with a good book instead. 

These past two months have been one of the best summers I've ever had. Of course, all of that fun also means that we didn't get as much work done on the house as we have during the previous two summers, but we put that time to good use getting better acquainted with our community, and it feels like we're finally creating some strong ties. It's starting to feel more like home than anywhere I've lived in a long time. I've even made some good friends, which isn't always easy for this shy (some would say reclusive) introvert.

I've got lots to tell you about the garden, and some delicious new recipes to share, but first I've got another book review for you.

I was asked a few months ago if I would take part in a virtual book tour put on by TLC Book Tours, and while this particular book is a fictional work rather than a book about food, gardening, or insects, the plot does center around plants and their possible effects on our lives, which I thought might appeal to some of you.

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin

From the Publisher:

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire is one woman’s journey from the modeling and advertising world of New York City to the rain forests of the Yucatan Peninsula. From the hot and steamy plant dealers in the Union Square Green Market, to the curanderos, herbalists and shamans of Southern Mexico.

Lila Nova is a 32-year-old advertising copywriter who lives alone in a plain white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila has a simple mantra: no pets, no plants, no people, no problems. But when she meets David Exley, a ruggedly handsome plant dealer, a country-sexual, as she calls him, her lonely life turns into something far more colorful. From the harsh streets of Manhattan to the verdant jungles of the Yucatan, Hothouse Flower is the story of a woman who travels beyond sense and comfort to find out what she really wants.


I have to say, my first reaction was to judge the book by its cover - with a title like Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, I was sure it was going to be a bodice ripper set in the steamy jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula. Don't get me wrong, I'm not above indulging in a little "chick lit" once in a while, but I have to admit that I was careful not to leave this book lying around the house when I had friends over, lest they take me for a desperate housewife, escaping the tedium of domestic life in a trashy novel (and so what if I was, anyway?). 

Thankfully, it wasn't nearly as tawdry as I was expecting. I found the botanical "factoids" at the beginning of each chapter very interesting, and was disappointed to discover that the Nine Plants of Desire exist solely as a creation of the author's imagination. 

That being said, the main character, Lila, leaves a little to be desired, and I found it hard to relate to her on almost any level. One could argue that that's because she works in advertising in New York City, a far cry from my own reality, but I don't think that's the only reason. Throughout the story, she is repeatedly mistreated and manipulated by the men in her life, (even when they are supposedly trying to help her), and she seems to just float through the book doing what other people tell her to do. I usually had no idea why she made the choices she did, as there wasn't a lot of back story or emotion present to use as a reference point. I tend to like character driven books, and there just wasn't enough character development for me. In the author's defense, some of this may have been an attempt to maintain an air of mystery around certain people.

While the characters themselves were weak at times, the lessons they provided occasionally proved to be thought provoking. Take this passage on why people aren't always true to themselves, a message one usually only encounters in books about unschooling or attachment parenting: 

"They think they are, but the person they were born to be was covered up by years of living with parents and going to school and fitting in. Every year that passes, a person gets covered up a little bit more, like a sleeping bag slowly zipping up around a body. It's a subtle process until the day a person is totally gone."

There were several other insights sprinkled throughout that left me thinking about the book even after I'd put it down. So, while it's largely easy summer reading, the author obviously has something to say about the human condition, which lends some substance to this otherwise escapist story.

Despite the few problems that I had with the book, overall it was an enjoyable, fast paced, and funny read. There's a bit of a suspension of disbelief required for full enjoyment, but if you can take the leap and believe that putting your faith in strangers and following shamanic visions is an acceptable way to live one's life, you'll be well on your way to adventure in the Yucatan. It might just be the perfect book to tuck into your beach bag, should the sun ever return.

The publishers have offered a free copy of this novel for one lucky reader of this post. Just leave a comment and I will pick a winner at random on September 12th (must be a resident of the US or Canada).


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