FRESH FROM THE GARDEN: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries, and Herbs in Cold Climates

By John Whitman
University of Minnesota Press
ISBN 978-0-8166-9839-4
February 2017|
Non-Fiction; Gardening

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is a marvelous book. It is a large and comprehensive volume for growing edible food plants only, but discusses edible flower garden plants and other unusual and unexpected edible plants. This book is for gardening in cold areas like mine, and as a long-time gardener, I know this can be difficult.

Part I is devoted to the basics of gardening and growing crops organically. It explains a variety of approaches from growing in containers to creating many types of land gardens. Soil and compost is explained along with how to water and fertilize. Directions for planting seeds is provided, but it also includes other methods of propagation. It explains how to grow crops and how to weed and harvest them. The information goes further to include culinary terms, food storage, and even gives reasons why some people love or hate a particular vegetable. All the tools and products necessary for gardening are listed along with safety tips. Great photos and many easy-to-understand charts supplement the text.

One thing among the many I learned was that pH means potential hydrogen. I’ve known what a pH reading was and how it applies to plants, but not what the acronym meant. It’s not only the solid information but also the good advice provided, such as the myth the gardener controls their garden, and that there is not just one but many ways to achieve a bountiful harvest. Author John Whitman encourages gardeners to use whatever method works best for them.

The most wonderful part of FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is Part II– an extensive listing of all the vegetables, berries and herbs that can be grown in the food garden. Many I have grown, but even more I haven’t. From asparagus to zucchini, every crop is described. The information includes when and where to plant, the plant’s nutritional facts, the varieties available, how to grow it, problems and pests that can occur, and how to harvest and store the crop.

While FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is invaluable for gardeners in cold areas, defined in the book as anywhere the temperature can dip below -20° Fahrenheit, the basic information is relevant anywhere. The extensive list and discussion of crop foods makes this garden book one every gardener will seek out repeatedly, not only when choosing plants to grow for the upcoming season, but also whenever problems or questions occur during the growing or harvesting of those crops. For beginning gardeners or experienced gardeners, FRESH FROM THE GARDEN offers effective gardening know-how.



Book CoverAmanda Quick
ISBN: 978-0-399-174447-6
May 2017

Burning Cove, California, 1930s

Anna Harris, personal secretary to socialite Helen Spencer, finds her very generous boss murdered in her luxurious bedroom. Helen left a message in her blood on the wall: ‘RUN.’ Anna quickly packs, and pulls out money she has saved from a shoebox in her bedroom closet. More is inside the box than should be there: more money, a small black leather notebook with indecipherable information, and a letter from Helen. The letter again warns Anna to run and never look back. It also instructs her to never give the notebook to anyone, including the FBI. It is her insurance. Anna flees New York. Once she can think straight, she heads for the other side of the country. Four months later she is Irene Glasson, a gossip reporter. At the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel, Irene finds Gloria Maitland, rumored lover of the up-and-coming movie star Nick Tremayne, dead at the bottom of the lap pool in the hotel’s spa. Irene hears someone walking toward her, and fearing for her life, escapes to a more public place. After the police leave, hotel owner Oliver Ward questions her. Irene tells him Gloria chose the time and place to meet, luring Irene with a hot scoop for the gossip rag where Irene works. Irene thinks the scoop might have something to do with Nick Tremayne, and she suspects he murdered Gloria to keep her quiet.

A dangerous trick ended magician-performer Oliver Ward’s career, nearly killing him onstage. To survive, he sank every cent he had into buying the Burning Cove Hotel, a place now known for its luxury, privacy, and security, a place where movie stars and other high-profile guests love to stay. As a magician he learned how to redirect people’s attention and how to read their expressions. He is very good at both talents, but Irene Glasson gives little away. This intrigues him, because he knows she hides secrets.

There are many intriguing characters involved in this mystery. Graham Enright, owner of a New York law firm, tells his son Julian to retrieve the invaluable black notebook no matter what it takes. Julian is as handsome and as charismatic as any movie star, including Nick Tremayne. Nick’s assistant Claudia Picton, Oliver’s uncle Chester, and his friend Luther Pell, also have important roles in the story. Irene is resolute about her investigation because a similar murder killed a fellow reporter, which also seems tied to Nick Tremayne. Soon she is involved in yet another murder, but is the murderer after Anna Harris or Irene Glasson?

This well-done mystery takes the reader back to the period of black-and-white movies, the wild life styles of the famous and rich, and a time with few of today’s instantaneous electronics. It involves one person with two different identities, each persona tied to different murder mysteries. Both Irene and Oliver have dark secrets, both have had to reinvent themselves, and both of them have a general distrust of others. It is an interesting era to visit, with fascinating characters caught in a murderous conundrum, earning THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH a Romance Reviews Today Perfect 10.

Yes, I received an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of this book from
Romance Reviews Today where this review will also be published. I post it here because it is an excellent book, personable characters with past histories and present problems, good mystery and suspense, and romance.

Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birds


By B. J. Hollars
University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 10: 0-803-29642-8
ISBN 13: 978-0-803-29642-8)
January 2017

FLOCK TOGETHER is a narrative journey of the author, B. J. Hollars, to become a birder, but also to present a warning to humanity. It starts with the presumed extinction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in 1972, but then claimed to have been seen in 2005. (I have to insert here that I believe I saw two at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1982? 83? – They were huge, had the red top knot and I distinctly remember the white on the wings since I was looking the strange looking woodpecker up in a bird book. Our local DNR said I was mistaken. Maybe, only remember what I thought I saw.) Hollars also went to a Passenger Pigeon Symposium, which led him to a monument for the bird with the following wording on its base: “The species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” Who knew mankind could kill billions of pigeons in 40 years? The monument is right, what an ignoble exploit. He talks about many other birders who spend time recording bird sightings and their viewpoints, and spends much effort in searching out museums about birds and their legacies. He claims the dwindling numbers of North American birds are due to loss of habitat, cats (Oh, God, I’m guilty), and windows. I am glad to say I could list more names of birds than he claimed the average American could list, but then you have to consider my name, Robin. I do agree, also, with his statement that the in the Bible, God gave man dominion over animals for care giving rather than consumption. So true, after all, He gave no guarantee of a second world if we screw this one up. Bird watching is not quite what most people think it is. Yes it is searching for different birds and keeping a bragging list, but it is also about caring for the environment and all the creatures living on Earth. Throughout his narrative, Hollars gives us warning to be aware of the many warnings we’ve already had, and to become the concerned caregivers we should have been all along.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive

100 Plants to Feed the Bees
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Published December 2016 by Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.


book coverLynnette Austin
Maverick Junction, Book 2
Forever Yours
ISBN: 978-1-4555-2838-7
January 2017
Contemporary Romance Review for Romance Reviews Today

Maverick Junction, Texas – The Present

Sophie London lives in Chicago near Wrigley Stadium, a city she loves as much as their baseball team, the Cubs. She has been daydreaming and needs to hurry to get to O’Hare airport to travel to Texas and her wealthy cousin’s wedding to a cowboy. Everyone thinks she is an heiress like Annelise, but she isn’t, the wealth is all on her cousin’s side of the family. She works hard designing greeting cards to keep her apartment. She is glad to leave, even temporarily, the city’s current bad November weather and the specter of Nathan, who keeps plaguing her with calls even after she politely told him she wasn’t interested. On her one previous visit to the town filled with handsome Texan cowboys, she remembers one cowboy, a widower, one of whose triplet sons spilled a cherry soda on her white silk dress. Of course, the handsome Ty Rawlins will attend the wedding.

Ty Rawlins lost his wife four years ago shortly after their triplet sons were born premature. He and Julia had been best friends since first grade. Since losing her, taking care of their boys and his ranch has kept him busy and his grief at bay. Yet his friend Cash’s fiancée’s cousin, Sophie, stirs him up in a way he didn’t think possible. She looks like the fairy Tinkerbell, and he calls her ‘Tink.’ Yet his boys are probably more than any woman wants, and he has to put them first.

NEAREST THING TO HEAVEN is a re-release of a book published in 2013 and part of a three-book series. Sophie believes in fairies and magic, and charm certainly fills the story making it enthralling. Ty and Sophie have many obstacles to overcome besides love of rival baseball teams. Memories of Julia still haunt Ty. Mischance frequently sabotages his come-on to Sophie. Sophie refuses to believe Nathan is stalking her, but is very uneasy about her situation. She finds Maverick Junction an alien place after the big city, but the stars at night are spellbinding. And once she gets to know the triplets, she discovers how much she will miss them…and Ty. The attraction they both feel is more than physical, but both know it is only temporary…and they do separate.

This is a story of attraction, an unlikely romance, and new beginnings, but includes the power of family and community. Wonderful characters inhabit Maverick Junction, so if you haven’t read this before, read it now; if you have, re-read it! Then read the first book in the series, SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, and the third, CAN’T STOP LOVIN’ YOU.

Robin Lee


Cover for "The Last Good Girl"Allison Leotta
Anna Curtis Series – Book 5
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6111-4
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6113-8
May 2016

Detroit, Michigan – The Present

Anna Curtis is a successful U.S. Attorney in the Washing ton D.C. Sex Crimes Division. After her fiancé’s missing wife turned up, and Jody, Anna’s sister, called needing her as a lawyer for a murder accusation, she returned to her home state of Michigan. There she met Cooper Bolden, a veteran with PTSD, and other scars including a missing leg. After Jody’s house burned, Cooper invited them to move into the old Detroit mansion he has restored. He is urban farmer growing apples. His goal is the restoration of the distressed city. Jody has a new baby, and Anna for the first time thinks of becoming a mother. Her and Jody’s father abused their mother, and both daughters have trouble dealing with their past. Things have been going well, but then Anna receives a call from Jack, her former fiancé. He is in Michigan investigating college sex crimes. He wants her to help on the disappearance of the daughter of Tower University’s president. She accepts the job. She will be working with FBI Agent Samantha Randazzo.

Emily Shapiro was a freshman at Towers, an event she has looked forward to since a child, but even her father’s position won’t save her from an encounter at a prestigious fraternity’s party. There she meets Dylan Brooks. What Emily doesn’t know is this fraternity is often disparaged as ‘the Rape Factory.’ By her second day on campus as a student, a rohypnol-laced drink has made naïve Emily another statistic. She thought her father’s position would help her, but that is just another disappointment Emily must bear. Even with all the betrayal, hateful remarks, and shamming aimed at her, she remains determined to gain justice. However, the father of her rapist is a big donor to the Tower and a highly placed elected official in Michigan. After posting some vlogs about her rape online, neighborhood cameras show Dylan chasing Emily late at night, making him the last person to see her before she disappeared.

This volume follows A GOOD KILLING (2015), which I also gave a Perfect 10. If a book keeps me up all night, it deserves that award. Although it is a continuation, readers needn’t have read A GOOD KILLING to understand the action, but will want to. In THE LAST GOOD GIRL the interactions between all of the characters are superb and the triangle set up between Anna, Cooper, and Jack adds to the dynamics. The investigative and legal procedures are very realistic, and campus rape is a very current issue. Oh, and Cooper’s brother is pledging Dylan’s fraternity! Living with abusive or neglectful parents, and how the kids deal with it, is another sub theme. These elements all add up to perfection. Loved this story!


jilting the duke
Rachael Miles
The Muses’ Salon Series – Book 1
Zebra Shout
ISBN: 978-1-4201-4086-6
February 2016
Historical Romance

London, 1819

As a young man, Aidan Somerville  fell in love with Sophia, the orphaned niece of the man owning the estate adjoining that of his best friend Tom Gardiner. He asked her to marry him, and she agreed, but Aidan wanted to keep it secret. His father ordered him into the military, and before his ship even left dock, he discovered Sophia had married his best friend. Her betrayal has haunted his dreams for ten years. He is now the Duke of Forster, his father and two older brothers having died. One year ago Tom died in Italy, where he and Sophia had been living with their son Ian. Tom’s lawyer, William Aldine, has sent Aidan papers. Although neither man had seen each other in all that time, Tom requested his friend become his son’s guardian in conjunction with the boy’s mother. A plan evolves in Aidan’s mind. He will use the opportunity to seduce Sophia, and once she loves him again, he will cast her off to feel all the heartache he has suffered.

Still grieving and reluctant to enter a society she had never had entry into before her marriage, Sophia, Lady Wilmot, is surprised at all the plans Tom has kept from her. However, she knows Ian needs a man’s influence as he grows up and has always acquiesced to Tom’s plans. Still, she suspects Aidan’s motives and actions. Yet, he is also the only man she has loved the way she loved him, with all her heart. While she and Tom had worked on botanical books together, he accomplishing the writing, and she the illustrations, and although Tom saved her from a terrible situation developed by her step-aunt’s machinations, their love wasn’t what she shared with Aidan. She and Tom had been friends. It also comes as a shock to discover someone is willing to destroy her to get something Tom sent to England.

Aidan’s anger and hurt are quickly established in JILTING THE DUKE. While Aidan’s desire for revenge is understood, his plot casts him in a scoundrel’s shoes. After all, he has had his share of mistresses and is known as a rake. Throughout the story, though, his actions contradict his nefarious purpose. The first instance is his behavior towards Ian, a young, intelligent boy who wins Aidan’s regard and then his love. As for Sophia, he finds it is one thing to want to hurt someone you still love, and another thing to actual do it; especially when he learns she is in danger. Strong, well-developed main characters with a huge cast of supporting characters, interesting situations including intrigue and spies, and a love that cannot be denied make this a entrancing read.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today



American DuchessEloisa James
Avon Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-238943-5
ISBN: 978-0-06-238944-2
February 2016
Historical Romance

England, 1803

At Lady Portmeadow’s ball, Merry Pelford becomes engaged to Lord Cedric Allardyce. It is her third engagement and saves her reputation. Her previous two engagements were to Americans, who at first she loved, but the men’s behavior quickly changed her opinion. So her aunt and uncle, who have raised her since her father’s death, brought her to England for a fresh start. To prevent tarnishing her reputation further, she must go through with her engagement to the Duke of Trent’s younger twin brother. Escaping the guest’s scrutiny, she slips onto the balcony outside the ballroom. There, Merry encounters a man who makes her heart beat faster. Later at another ball, after an altercation in the house’s library, Merry’s fiancé threatens her: marry him or endure the awful consequences.

Trent discovers the anonymous women he encountered on the balcony not only interested him more than any women ever had, but she is also engaged to his brother Cedric. He soon learns Cedric doesn’t love Merry, an uncivilized American, but does want her large inheritance. Their mother had always preferred Cedric, and when their father and mother both died in a carriage accident, Cedric had become a secret drunk. This behavior was hidden from all but Trent, but he won’t interfere even though he wants Merry, a smart, entertaining, and stubborn American, and one woman who isn’t uninterested in his title. The situation is difficult, and it grows worse because neither Merry nor Trent can resist the temptation of the other, even though Trent doesn’t believe in love.

While MY AMERICAN DUCHESS starts out as a Regency romance, but things change when Merry does become a duchess. Soon the story delves into an exploration of what love is and how to recognize it, especially in a society where title, position, and wealth always trump love.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today

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demure miss manningAmanda McCabe
Harlequin Historical
ISBN-13: 978-0-373-29858-7
November 2015
Historical Romance

London, England 1805

Mary Manning is the daughter of one of England’s diplomats. Since her mother’s death, Mary has acted as her father’s hostess, staying in the background, always remaining polite, and helping her father at all the locations he is asked to go. Right now they are in London, where a vivacious friend of Mary’s leads her through society’s gatherings. Here she meets the man being proclaimed a heroic, Sebastian Barrett. Upon first meeting this soldier, his demeanor, along with his extreme handsomeness, draws Mary’s attention. Then, at a gathering, he draws Mary to a balcony. They share a passionate kiss that Sebastian’s friends witness. It seems his romantic move was a wager. Mortified, Mary leaves. At home she finds her father packing, and she is pleased to learn they are going to Portugal immediately.

Lisbon, Portugal, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 1807

Mary has recovered from her humiliation at Sebastian’s instigation, but she has never forgotten the passion of the kiss they shared. She has sworn never to be so vulnerable again. However, at the moment, danger looms. Napoleon is invading Portugal, and the English delegation of diplomats, including her father, are working hard to convince the monarch to move his dysfunctional family and adherents to Brazil for safety. To her surprise, Sebastian is part of the delegation working with her father. He has left the army and is a diplomat in training, now one with some experience. As the court moves to Rio, Sebastian is a great help, not only to Mary’s father, but also to her. She has hardened her heart to his advances, but every touch, every stolen kiss, weakens that resolve.

While the story is largely from Mary’s viewpoint, the reader learns some of Sebastian’s thoughts. He knows what he did to Mary was wrong, but in London he had just returned from war, from seeing friends and comrades dead and dying. Those memories had affect him. In Portugal, he hopes to win Mary back, but if he can’t, he will still see to her safety in the morass of complications involved in moving the court to Brazil. Although he hopes he takes her to safety, there are those who do not want to leave their home in Portugal, and do not want an alliance with the English.

The historical background of this story is well researched and fascinating, and while it forms the background of the story, it does not overpower the story between Mary and Sebastian, partly because they play integral parts (fictional) in that history. Emotional suspense, suspenseful action, interesting characters, and vastly different landscapes set this historical romance apart; in a word: captivating.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today

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Ascending Spiral: Humanity’s Last Chance – Bob Rich PhD

Ascendng Spiral
Ascendng Spiral

Marvelous Spirit Press
ISBN: 978-1-62599-186-0
ISBN: 978-1-61599-187-7
March 2013
Philosophical Novel – Purchased by reviewer

The story begins in 2011 where Dr. Pip, a psychologist, is communicating with his patients, and then he tells the reader his existence spans 12,000 years. The suffering he has endured has steeled him for his job to help save humanity. The remaining story is divided into some of his reincarnations beginning with Padraig, who lived in the early ninth century AD. Padraig meets this being’s love for the first time, a woman named Sheilagh. The name changes but she reappears through the story. Their island community is raided by Vikings. Then Pip goes through life as Dermot, an Irish Rebellion rebel, who ends up transported to New South Wales, Australia. His next consciousness is as Amelia, a woman trapped as a possession-wife. Pip even goes through a period as an intelligent plant on another planet (not so farfetched for someone who already believes in plant intelligence), and then as the being whose sins begins this soul’s journey. The last part is Pip’s life which is also plagued with prejudice, bullying, hatred, and abandonment. Pip also works to overcome his own negativity, but delivers the final warning to all humanity.

Each short story of Pip’s character evolution contains emotional situations, adversity, and also some awareness of previous lives, plus a historical placement. This gives Ascending Spiral: Humanity’s Last Chance aspects of both a historical and a science fiction novel that evolves into psychological character studies about the human condition. While it has philosophical and religious overtones, it is not about either. Who the intelligence talking to Pip after his many deaths is unclear and left questions about what was beyond his sentience, and whether this is Pip’s last life. Will he evolve again, or is it a situation where all humans must reach a certain level of ethical integrity to save ourselves and our world? This is left to the reader to judge.

As a reader, I agree with the precept of the novel’s final warning, and found Pip’s many incarnations entertaining. The idea of the other characters also being on their own transformative journeys but in groups that influenced each other repeatedly in different lives seemed somewhat strange, and that these souls were at different stages in their development raised questions that distracted me from the reading. A few long sections of a character telling of their past rather than enacting it slowed my reading. However, the ideas behind the novel make it a worthwhile and thought invoking read.

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