Book Reviews

GARDENING FROM THE HEART
Why Gardeners Garden
By Carol Olwell
Antelope Island Press, Berkeley (1990)

Since my gardening consists of buying plants and instructing my yardman where to plant them, the book Gardening From the Heart caught my attention. Flowers seem to shrivel and turn brown when I look at them and I was hoping to get a flash of wisdom from the dedicated, passionate gardeners featured by author Carol Olwell.
The book is cleverly divided into four diverse sections: The Garden as Paradise, The Garden as Provider, The Garden as Teacher and The Garden as Healer. There is also a very informative section on pesticides, their safety, their scientific names and which ones to avoid.
Olwell’s fondest childhood memories are the times she spent on her grandparents’ 11 acres in suburban Utah. She attributes her love of beautiful gardens and plants to her grandmother’s knowledge and passion for her garden. She admits she didn’t acquire any gardening skills from her grandmother, but did absorb the sense that the “earth was a truly beautiful and vibrant place, and that it deserved to be loved.” She also admits to not having her own garden until almost 30 years later, and to not being very successful when she did begin. When she realized that everyone she met had different feelings about gardening, the idea for this book was born.
The wide variety of gardens and gardeners featured in Gardening From the Heart is truly amazing. She looked for people who were genuinely interested in plants and trees and who did all or almost all of their own gardening work.
Meeting all of these dedicated gardeners inspired Olwell, as they inspired me, and will hopefully inspire you. I was especially intrigued by Loie Benedict, from Auburn, Washington, who began to garden full time when she was 68, a time when many people are winding down their gardening efforts, or paying someone else to do them. She started out growing vegetables, but found they were more work and almost as expensive as buying them and didn’t taste as good. So she planted more flowers until the vegetables disappeared from her garden. The head of the famous Buchardt Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, asked her for some seeds after he went there on a visit.
Another interesting gardener is Lho Kazarian, who moved from Sweden to the United States and developed an organic garden in Sacramento, California. As a result of this organic gardening she developed a passion for fruit trees. She mainly taught herself to garden and learned from books. Her trees give her so much pleasure that sometimes she will just grab a branch and hug it. She feels that if a garden has been loved, it shows.
A different twist to the people interviewed by Ms. Olwell is Catherine Sneed Marcum, who started a gardening program for inmates at a county jail in San Francisco. Equipment and grounds were left from the old jail, which grew its own food. So she and some of the prisoners cleaned up and fixed the old greenhouses and planted a small garden. From this meager start, a large greenhouse and a substantial garden developed. There are about 700 men and 50 women at the jail, but only a small percentage are able to help in the garden. They work hard, use some of the produce at the jail and sell some to a few local restaurants. She feels many of these young prisoners have never been nurtured and now they are learning to nurture the plants in their garden.
There are too many fascinating gardeners featured in this inspiring book to even begin to describe them. From a gardener in Billings, Montana, who only has 134 growing days to a gentleman specializing in nuts, cacti and desert plants in Northwest Arizona and a farmer in his 70s in Arizona who plants in circles, the varied people and types of gardening featured in this book are intriguing and attention-getting.
Who knows, it might even give me the impetus to get out there and do some gardening myself. How about you?

~ Peggy Kiefer

God Does Have a Sense of Humor
By Rob Ballister, Jr.
iUniverse, Inc., Lincoln, NE (2007)

Naval Academy graduate and first-time author Rob Ballister delivers a touching and entertaining portrait of his journey through dating, growing up in New Jersey and surviving cancer. His knack for finding humor in everything from the most mundane (learning to do laundry) to the tragic (being diagnosed with cancer at age 22) will have you first smiling, then snickering and finally belly laughing as you follow him through life’s ups and downs. The chapter titles alone are enough to brighten your day — “Christmas in Gingerbread Hell,” “Waterskiing Can Kill You” and “Sex Education as Taught by Nuns.”

The author draws on his rich life experiences to generate the material. Whether he describes surviving cancer, serving in the Navy or coaching youth sports, each story is told with a warm, self-deprecating humor that draws the reader in to the experience. The stories are short, usually two to four pages each, so readers can grab one or two for a quick pick-me-up or settle in for a long laugh session by taking in several in one sitting.

The book goes beyond simple entertaining humor, however. Readers will pick up on messages embedded in some of the stories, such as appreciating one’s family, the value of true friendship and the importance of faith.

This title received the 2007 Gold Medal for Humor from the Military Writers’ Society of America (www.militarywriters.com). It is available at Hard Bean Coffee and Booksellers in Annapolis, or online through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or iUniverse.com A great gift for those battling serious illness, facing an overseas deployment or anyone who just needs a bit of a lift, it is a bright, pleasant and unforgettable read.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
By Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press, New York (2007)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a fascinating tale for people of all ages. My wife, who recommended this book to me, is a librarian in an elementary school. She read it to a spellbound group of fifth graders. When I read this book, which I did in less than two hours, I was just as spellbound as those fifth graders. It carries you along as if you were riding in a swift moving train without knowing the destination. You’ll be surprised and delighted when you get there.
The setting is a train station in Paris, circa 1931. The book revolves around young Hugo, a 12-year-old orphaned boy, and an old man, Georges Melies. Hugo has a secret contained in a little book he carries around with him as he makes his rounds in the attic of the train station to ensure that the huge clocks in the big old station are well lubricated and keep accurate time. In order to not spoil the story for you, I’ll only say that Hugo needs to keep the clocks up to speed or the station inspector will blow his cover and send him to an orphanage.
In the little book that Hugo conceals is a diagram and instructions to build an automaton. An automaton is a robot-looking mechanical man who is capable of drawing a picture. Hugo’s goal is to pick up where his late father, who was killed in a fire, left off and fix the automaton. He is convinced the automaton has a message for him from his father. Hugo must keep the contents of his little book a secret though, at least until he can fix the automaton and see the message his father has left him.
However, the young boy is not the only one with secrets. Enter Georges Melies. Georges, who is a real person, but fictionalized in this story, owns a toy shop in the huge, crowded train station. He is an unhappy man who works at a job he is bored with: fixing and selling toys to the many travelers passing through the station. He is a man with resentments, literally locked away in a box in an armoire in his bedroom.
Georges confiscates Hugo’s book after catching him in the toy store trying to steal parts that will fix the automaton. The old man is quite intrigued by the diagram of the automaton and decides to keep the book from the boy. The boy goes to great lengths to recover the book, mostly because it contains the information he needs to fix the automaton. In the pursuit of the little book, Hugo uncovers a secret. With the help of Georges’ adopted daughter and another friend Hugo meets along the way, he is able to put the pieces of this mystery together. In fact, the whole story comes together eventually, like the intricate pieces of one of the great clocks.
I won’t tell you the rest, but I will say is it has a heart-warming ending. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a magnificent tale of love, friendship, conflict and regret. As you’ll read in the epilogue of this book, there really was an automaton and a guy named Georges Milies. The author had read about a collection of automata Melies owned that had been donated to a museum. The automata were neglected and eventually thrown away. And then, like many authors of fiction, he asked himself what would happen if a young boy found the automaton. This book answers this question in a most eloquent way, a gift to all who read it.
Don’t be alarmed at the size of this book. It just looks like a copy of War and Peace. Fascinating pictures fill many of the pages and help to tell the story. This is a great book to read or recommend to young people.

~ Neil Moran

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