Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House

‘….there are cherries, plums, pears, figs, together with all the vegetables. This is going to be the pride of our hearts, I warn you.’ Virginia Woolf.

If you are: a) an admirer of Virginia Woolf and interested in the private, intimate side of her life or, b) a garden lover with a special attraction to English gardens or, c) simply in need of a relaxing, beautiful book, with outstanding photographs, that will transport you to the garden haven of Leonard and Virginia in the Sussex countryside, then this book is waiting for your enjoyment.

Virginia Woolf's Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk's house is written by Caroline Zoob, who lived at Monk’s House and tended the house and garden for ten years on behalf of the National Trust of England. This is an intimate and detailed account of the full glory of these gardens which include many walkways and terraces, an orchard, ponds, three distinctive gardens, beehives, a cactus house, a bowling lawn and the writing lodge. It sounds rather formal, but these outdoor “rooms” are all relaxed, with an unstudied air. The glorious photographs, by Caroline Arber, contrast expansive views with small, enclosed spaces – and flowers everywhere!

There is a full history of the gardens from the beginning through to the present, where they continue to be cared for and developed, with all the flowers, fruits and vegetables grown by the Woolf’s, but with some new (and carefully chosen) additions to enhance the beauty for the admiring public.

With many new and old photos of the gardens, the house and its famous residents, with both their human and canine friends, this beautiful book is pure pleasure and reveals a side of the famous author I never imagined.

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

Summer and no school is just around the corner, and this giant book is full of ways to keep you busy with a variety of subjects. While the book features "serious fun," it's written more on the funny side. It has a great cover and great illustrations, which totally nudge me to like certain books more.

Unbored gives you big ideas and how to start them, including how to grow a science garden, make your own games, zines, and LED graffiti You can also learn how to perform kitchen experiments, blog, fix your bike, and lots more.

The book also features some fun lists! Including a list of banned books you should read, secret history of young adult novels, best ever sports movies, best ever stop-action movies, best ever animal movies, best ever DIY fiction, and the best ever clean hip hop songs.

There’s also informational bits thrown into the book. Learn some weird facts about condiments, or browse a list of kitchen cures, and learn how to train your grownup to be a ninja.

UNBORED! That’s what you’ll be at the end of the book. Be sure to check out the book preview to see examples of what's inside. And check out the awesome website for the book! There is a TON of great stuff to look at.

The Circle

Dave Eggers delights again with his newest novel, The Circle. His prose engulfs readers in an eerily familiar world of social and political advancement, somewhat reminiscent of the classic 1984. Readers will wonder what it truly means to be anonymous, and deliberate whether it is a concept more archaic than essential. At the heart of the novel is The Circle's omniscience and its proclamation that "secrets are lies."

Mae Holland, a young college graduate, is stuck in a dead-end career with no hope of leaving her provincial town, when former roommate and business legend Annie offers her a job at The Circle, a company known for its technological advancement and innovation. Although Mae impresses many with her work ethic, her lack of social media presence causes concern in her superiors. The main goal of The Circle, after all, is to connect people of the world in order to achieve infinite knowledge, and ultimately, enlightenment for humankind.

Eggers is best known for his biography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He has received multiple awards including Time Best Book of the Year. Eggers also has local acclaim as he is a founder of 826 National, related to Ann Arbor's 826 Michigan.

Fun Youth Novel: True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt

For raccoon lovers -- think Raccoon Tune by Nancy Shaw and Rascal by Sterling North -- this book is a rare find indeed. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt, stars raccoon brothers Bingo and J'miah, the latest recruits to the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The chance to serve the Sugar Man -- who rules the swamp and loves sugarcane -- is an honor and a huge responsibility. The story unfolds as wild feral hogs and developers threaten the swamp, yet Sugar Man can't seem to wake up. The raccoon brothers are particularly memorable, as are a host of other characters including 12-year-old Chap Brayburn and Gertrude the rattlesnake. This highly imaginative, fast-paced book was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Kathi Appelt has won many other awards and may be best known for her book The Underneath.

Fun Comedy/Detective Hybrid from Carl Hiaasen

"Bad Monkey," by Carl Hiaasen, is nothing short of morbidly hilarious. An ex-detective named Yancy is determined to win his job back on the Monroe County police force by proving he can solve one of the most gruesome and puzzling murder cases the beach town has ever seen. Yancy suspects foul play and will do anything to see that the truth comes to light.

Hiaasen's private eye style mirrors the darkness of "The Big Sleep" while incorporating ridiculous characters more reflective of "The Big Lebowski," with many characters that offer a slightly offensive vocabulary. Readers will laugh to tears over their uproariously selfish acts, such as when an enormous spec home diminishes natural wildlife and blocks the beautiful Florida sunsets and Yancy subjects the builder to constant pranks to destroy his business prospects. The novel also features an incredibly detailed setting complete with side stories that only augment the main plot line.

In addition to being the author of numerous novels, Hiaasen is also a regular columnist for The Miami Herald and the author of the children's book "Hoot."

Teen Novel: A Cautionary Tale of Sexting

Thousand Words by acclaimed author Jennifer Brown is a wrenching piece of realistic fiction that shows – not in a preachy way – that sexting is stupid and dangerous. This new book, written for readers in about grades 9-11, stars tenth-grader Ashleigh, who is pressured by her friends into texting a full-frontal nude photograph of herself to her boyfriend. The photo is meant for his eyes only, but when he leaves for college, there is a nasty break-up. Seeking revenge, he sends the photo to everyone on his contact list.

Ashleigh is shocked to find herself arrested and facing community service, and her ex-boyfriend may be headed for prison. The community – where Ashleigh’s father is superintendent of schools – is an uproar. Gradually, Ashleigh is able to work through layers of issues and find hope in a future, with help from a shy, kind and troubled young man she meets in community service. This is an engaging, beautifully written novel that parents and teens probably should discuss together. I thought it was an utterly believable story and a valuable literary cautionary tale.

Blast from the Past: 'Eight is Enough'

Maybe it’s because I was an only child, but as a kid in the late '70s and early '80s Eight is Enough was my favorite TV show. I was devastated when it was cancelled after it’s 5th season in 1981.

Eight is Enough, originally based on the life and memoir of the same name by Thomas Braden, was a family comedy/drama about Tom, his wife Joan, and their eight children, David, Mary, Joanie, Susan, Nancy, Elizabeth, Tommy, and Nicholas, living in Sacramento, CA. Actress Diana Hyland played Joan, but the actress became ill and tragically died shortly after the first episode aired. The entire show was retooled and Tom Bradford became a widower.

Abby, played by Broadway star Betty Buckley became Tom's love interest in season two. Son Tommy, played by Willie Ames became a teen idol and would later appear on the Scott Baio vehicle Charles in Charge. The brightest star to emerge from Eight is Enough didn't arrive until the final season: Ralph Macchio caused hearts to go pitter pat when he debuted as Abby’s troubled nephew Jeremy. Check out seasons one and two at AADL. Seasons three and four are on order!

Terrifying and Poignant, 'Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock'

Matthew Quick is a talented and prolific author, having written The Silver Linings Playbook (2008), Sorta Like a Rock Star (2010), Boy21 (2012) and now Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. His new young adult novel will terrify many because the narrator, Leonard Peacock, takes a gun to school and plans to kill his former best friend and himself.

Leonard is a seriously disturbed young man. His father, a former rock star, has disappeared. His mother, a narcissistic fashionista, is in New York City. Leonard stalks adults to determine if they are happy; most do not appear so. He hangs out with his sick, elderly neighbor, who watches Humphrey Bogart films. In school, Mr. Silverman, who teaches Leonard's Holocaust class, urges him to write "Letters from the Future," to connect with imaginary future soulmates, as a strategy to find happiness in high school.

The dark action unfolds on Leonard's 18th birthday, which no one remembers. Carefully, Leonard moves toward executing his murder-suicide plan. Although it is hair-raising to read the thoughts of a crazy kid concealing a gun, readers are allowed to hope that Leonard's plan will somehow fail. I found the novel poignant and thought provoking. The New York Times review is
here.

Tumbledown by Robert Boswell

"Tumbledown," the most recent work by Robert Boswell, showcases not only the author's technical writing skill, but also his powerful storytelling. The novel begins with the story of James Candler, a counselor to people with mental disabilities. He embodies the American dream: he's a strong candidate for a promotion, he owns a large house and expensive car, and is engaged to a stunning woman. However, as Candler narrates his life story, it becomes clear that his ideal of happiness may not be so superficial.

Other powerful characters, whose development throughout the novel will have readers on the edge of their seats, include a cynical teenager, a man who struggles with personal identity, a woman hiding a dark past, and a lovable goon who can't seem to make progress in life. Hence, the title refers to more than just Candler; it reflects the lives of the entire cast of characters as well as the plot's disjointed sequence of events.

"Tumbledown" is a rare find; the text is worth re-reading for its rich literary quality. Boswell has published seven novels as well as numerous short stories, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.

Call the Midwife Season 1 & 2

The winds are blowing colder, so as you're tucking in for winter and looking for new entertainment, take a look at the spectacular and riveting BBC/PBS production, Call the Widwife. The series, set in east London in the 1950s, is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. Catch up with Seasons 1 & 2 this winter and you will be prepared for Season 3 when it airs on PBS in spring 2014.

The story follows new midwife Jenny Lee and the work of the midwives and the Sisters of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent that is part of an Anglican religious order. The women deal with the medical problems in the impoverished Poplar district of East London. Each episode includes the fascinating, sad, tragic, shocking, gritty and heartwarming stories of the pregnancies, births and challenges of the new mothers and their caretakers. As the series progresses, the friendships and relationships that develop between the midwives and the nuns pulls the viewer in as much as the complex stories of their patients. From Jenny’s culture shock upon arrival to London’s East End to shy, insecure Chummy and the glamorous Trixie, the midwives develop a closeness with the complex Sisters of Nonnatus House.

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