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Review: The Essential Earthman, by Henry Mitchell

The Essential EarthmanThe Essential Earthman, by Henry Mitchell, is one of my favorite books – it’s one I re-read frequently, and at least once between January and May. It’s also a book I’ll never lend, even though at heart I’m really a book lender. But while I might not lend it, I’ve been known to purchase it as a gift for others.

Henry Mitchell wrote the popular “Earthman” column in the Washington Post, until his death in 1993. The Essential Earthman is a compilation of some of his columns, and it’s a real gem of a book.

I discovered this book, and its companion, One Man’s Garden, one cold winter’s evening about five years ago, when my heart and soul were yearning for greenery and blooms. What I had, instead, was a warm fire, a hot mug of tea, and Henry Mitchell’s words … and I fell in love, right there and then. Since that day, I’ve pulled out this book often, to give myself the pleasure of becoming immersed once again in the beauty of Mitchell’s gardens and the lure of his words.

I would have liked to have known Mitchell. Reading his words, I’ve formed a wonderful image of him in my mind: Southern gentleman, kind, a bit curmudgeonly around the edges, generous, passionate about his flowers and his garden, opinionated, with a wonderful and often humorous way with words. I can see him in my mind’s eye as I read and re-read his columns, perfect little gems of essays that effortlessly bring sunshine into my inner life no matter what season it is.

On dahlias:

Dahlia fanciers, who, like all other horticultural fanatics, tend to be somewhat lopsided in their enthusiasms, profess to see great delicacy of shape among dahlia flowers, and to hear them talk you’d think these great, flamboyant daisied had every elegance, every grace. Let us admit it once and be done with it: the dahlia somewhat lacks the charm of the lily of the valley, the dramatic tension of the iris, the fragrance of the nasturtium, and so on. What it does offer is a brazen contentment with its flaunting color, so to speak; and when all is said and done it looks best in a sunny field among the corn and pumpkins. I cannot think of a more vigorous, spectacular, up-and-at-‘em flower for late summer. Regular tigers they are.

On roses:

First, there is no rose in commerce that is totally worthless. I cannot think of anything more distasteful, or really evil, than for some gardener to choose a rose he likes and then read somewhere it is “not worth growing.” Be sure of this: your labor is not in vain no matter what you choose. Any rose that delights you (and one of the most endearing qualities of gardeners, though it makes their gardens worse, is this faculty of being too easily delighted) is a rose you may plant with good conscience, no matter what anybody else thinks of that rose. Second, a number of “great” roses are called great merely because (a) they behave extremely well in rose nurseries, or (b) they are sufficiently death-defiant that even gardeners cannot kill them, or (c) they have some showy feature, usually blatant color or freak size, that endears them to people who can see nothing unless it is inescapably obvious. Third, there are some very wonderful roses that you don’t hear much about. Please keep this firmly in mind. It is as with everything else – the greatest pleasures and the happiest discoveries are not necessarily the first ones you see.

I could go on and on with selections from this book. I myself am not a particularly avid gardener but I love gardens and plants and flowers and grow a bit of green stuff here and there. The non-gardener will find much to love in this book, and I suspect might come away with an urge to send out for seed catalogues. For the gardener? This book is pure bliss. Highly recommended.

Where to buy:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994, Trade Paperback, 239 pages

Review: Savvy, by Ingrid Law

SavvyFrom the Jacket Flap:

Mibs Beaumont is about to become a teenager. As if that prospect weren’t scary enough, thirteen is when a Beaumonth’s savvy strikes – and with one brother who causes hurricanes and another who creates electricity, it promises to be outrageous … and positively thrilling.

But just before her big day, Poppa is in a terrible accident. Suddenly, Mibs’s dreams of X-ray vision disappear like a flash of her brother’s lightning: All she wants now is a savvy that will save Poppa. In fact, Mibs is so sure she’ll get that powerful savvy that she sneaks a ride to the hospital on a rickety bus, with her siblings and the preacher’s kids in tow. But when the bus starts heading in the wrong direction only one thing is certain: After this extraordinary adventure not a soul on board will ever be the same.

The Snapshot Review

What I Liked: Unusual premise, strong characterization, engrossing plot, great fantasy elements set within our contemporary world. This book also delivers some very wonderful messages without being at all preachy.

Fantastic First Line: When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he’d caused it.

Ms. Bookish’s Very Quick Take: This is a wonderful book that will have you laughing, crying and rejoicing with the characters. Highly recommended.

Read the Full Review of Savvy

Review: The Calder Game, by Blue Balliett


Two Calders are missing. One is a sculpture. One is a boy.

When Calder Pillay travels with his father in a remote village in England, he finds a mix of mazes and mystery … including an unexpected Alexander Calder sculpture in the town square. Calder is strangely drawn to the sculpture, while other people have less-than-friendly feelings toward it. Both the boy and the sculpture seem to be out of place … and then, n the same night, they disappear!

Calder’s friends Petra and Tommy must fly to England to help his father find him. But this mystery has more twists and turns than a Calder mobile caught in a fierce wind … with more at stake than first meets the eye.

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: The Calder Game is book 3 in the art mystery series by Blue Balliett. And now that I’ve read it, I’d have to say it’s the best of the three. Which is quite something, because I thought both Chasing Vermeer, and The Wright 3 were very good books. The Calder Game does require that you suspend your credibility a bit when it comes to getting Petra and Tommy from Chicago to Woodstock, England, but once you get beyond that, it is a wonderfully written novel that will inspire any creative, talented child (which means, all children, really) to look at the world a little bit differently. And as with the other two books in the series, Brett Helquist’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the story.
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Review: Olivia Helps With Christmas, by Ian Falconer

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: Oh, what a wonderful, joyous ride is Olivia Helps With Christmas! This is a wonderful book about all the ways little ones get ready on The Big Day, with of course a dollop of special Olivia spice to it. Children don’t have to have met Olivia in any of her previous books to enjoy this one. We had several laugh-aloud moments. It’s a great book for ushering in the holiday season. See below for the full review.

From the jacket flap:

… Not a piglet was stirring.

Well, maybe just one.

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Review: The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: The Wright 3 is a wonderful sequel to Balliet’s award-winning Chasing Vermeer. An elegant and literary mystery, The Wright 3 follows Petra and Calder, and Calder’s old friend Tommy as they become deeply immersed in the mystery of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. The three are drawn into an intricate world of codes and talismans, all somehow intertwined with the Invisible Man. This is a book that treats kids as the thinking, intelligent people they are; it makes for a wonderful read for both children and adults alike. Definitely one to add to your to-read list, or to buy for that child in your life who loves mysteries. See below for the full review.

From the jacket flap:

In this intricate, magnificently imagined sequel to Blue Balliett’s international bestseller, Chasing Vermeer, supersleuths Petra and Calder, along with Calder’s old friend, Tommy, are cryptically drawn into another art mystery – this time involving a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece, the Robie House.

When the kids’ sixth-grade class attempts to save the Hyde Park landmark from demolition, eerie events are reported: Voices float out from within, shadows shift behind the art-glass windows, even the roof moves – like a waking beast! Suddenly, a well-meaning art restoratin project turns into a frightening search for ghosts, hidden treasure, and a coded message left behind by Wright. In this tangled web where life and art intermingle with death and danger, can the kids puruse justice and escape with their lives?

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Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: I know, I know. The Mysterious Benedict Society has been all the rage, and it’s taken me a while to get to it. But read it I did, this past week, and I am very very glad that I did. You know the book that was capable of making you feel really really happy in grade school, so that it didn’t matter what happened in everyday life, because you had the characters of the book to keep in your heart and the wonderful story to keep in your mind? This is one of those books. I’m glad I finally got it from my to-be-read pile into my “I read it and I loved it pile.” See below for the full review.

From the back cover:

“Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”

When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits rihgt alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. With their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all?

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