Tag Archive | books

Hunger by Jeremiah Knight: Book Review

Plant people, have I got a new kind of book for you! I’ll bet you’re like me, tired of reading cozy mysteries and dramas set in beautiful English gardens to get your fix. No, me neither, really, but maybe a break would be refreshing. I needed a little action, a little adventure and dare I say it….a little horror. And this fit the bill!

I actually stumbled upon this book when a fellow librarian recommended it to my husband for a little something different to read. Hmm, genetically modified food gone wrong? Isn’t this what everybody is talking about? Oh, the horror of loose government regulations, we could get sick, we could ruin the biodiversity of edible crops we could mutate into carnivorous monsters with corn tassel tails. Yup, you read that right, that’s what I said.

In Jeremiah Knight’s new series that’s just the beginning of the GMO apocalypse. It all starts with a corn crop modified to adapt to any growing condition. They then modify other food crops and eventually the adaptability traits spread to anything that eats them. Human’s are not the only ones mutating from eating the new super crops, everything is evolving into something else. All living things are becoming bigger, more powerful and blood-thirsty; adapting with uncanny speed to the new surroundings.

Sound cheesy, but slightly terrifying? Knight somehow manages to to tell this tale in an oddly realistic way, making it come off as not too corny (pun intended). I have struggled when telling friends about this book. How ever I say it it comes off as slightly ridiculous. Knight is obviously a much more skilled storyteller than I, because he seems to make it exciting and believable with ease. The story follows a former military/special ops turned farmer and his son. When the geneticist who started this whole mess comes knocking at his door, he can’t turn her away, they’ve known each other since childhood, and she may hold the key to the fixing the monstrous problem she created as well of as a few other secrets.

If you’re looking for an intellectual novel concerning the potential dangers of GMO’s, you might want to keep looking. If you want an enjoyable, exciting page-turner to kill some time with, give it a try. I personally can’t wait to read the next book in the series. The prepper in me has so many more far fetched apocalyptic scenarios to prepare for now! How exciting. And though they were something I tried to avoid before, I’ll be a little more careful about eating GMO food from now on too.

I’m not going to tell you to read more about the GMO controversy, the internet is flooded with that kind of stuff. Instead I thought you might be interested in more fiction addressing GMO foods. Or how about some other fun apocalyptic fiction? Try these:

Nocturne, Opus 1: Sea Foam By  Norene Moskalski

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

GMO24 by James Hunt

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Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Weeds

Wednesday evening I was invited to speak at a local community garden. I was so excited to share with the community some of my herbal knowledge, and thought the people might like to learn more about about the plants they are growing… unintentionally. The weeds! To a botanophile, there are no bad plants, just misunderstood plants.  In this post my goal is to help you all understand those poor unloved weeds. I’ll briefly profile just a few of the most common and disliked.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bindweed (Convovulus arvensis): Also known as wild morning glory. Ahh, the despised nemesis of gardeners everywhere. The young shoots and leaves are actually a popular green often eaten in Vietnam, India and Turkey. Medicinally the flowers have laxative properties, the roots and leaves are a topical haemostatic and have even been used to treat spider bites and poisoning. The latest research on this plant looks promising for cancer treatment by limiting blood flow to tumors. Opening in the morning and closing at night, they can be awfully pretty too. Got a bindweed problem? Why not plant Vinca vine or a decorative species of morning glory with it, and you’ll have a beautiful viney flower garden.

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense): Also known as creeping thistle, lettuce from hell, and even cursed thistle you know this one is unloved! All Cirsium species are edible cooked or raw. You can eat the center stalks, the young leaves (tastes a bit like celery), older leaves stripped of spines, the root, the seeds and the flower. Medicinally it has been used to treat mouth conditions, poison ivy and intestinal parasites. Its pollen is a favorite of honeybees. Save the bees! And the weeds!

It was hard to choose just a few, there are so many wonderful and hated weeds out there. But this next one, I have always particularry disliked… until I discovered it’s virtues.

Siberian Elm (Umlus pumila): Also known as Asiatic elm, dwarf elm and Chinese elm. Medicinally Siberian elm is a promising substitute for the over harvested, and endangered slippery elm (Umlus rubra). It is also resistant to Dutch elm disease which has decimated most native elm populations. The leaves are edible, and quite good as a tea. The bark and leaves are used medicinally like the slippery elm for sore throats, weak digestion, skin lesions, UTI’s, coughs and malnutrition. It starts out as an ugly shrub, but I have seen them grow into rather beautiful shade trees.

Maybe now you see the weeds from my point of view? In the words of  that lovable donkey, Eeyore….

Want to know more about useful weeds? Here are a few books I’d recommend:

Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos

Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: Book Review

If you were to ask me:

“Sheri, what is your favorite plant?”

I’d probably reply with something like:

“I don’t know, I have a ton of favorites! To an herbalist, picking a favorite herb is like picking your favorite child.”

However, secretly anyone who really knows me, has always known of my deep and somewhat rebellious love of dandelions. A favorite? perhaps. So when I saw on the spine of this book ” BOOK ONE OF THE DANDELION DYNASTY” it certainly piqued my interest. Then I saw the stunning cover…….

Oooh! Pretty! I finally decided to read this one, with nothing more to go on, and I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long.

Once I began to read, the herbalist character, gentle and strong Jia, of course, quickly wins my heart. When asked her favorite plant she replies:

“They’re all dear to me, but I admire the dandelion the most. It is hardy and determined, adaptable and practical…the dandelion’s leaves and flowers can fill your belly, it’s sap cure your warts, its roots calm your fevers. Dandelion tea makes you alert, while chewing a root can steady a nervous hand…it is a versatile root and useful plant that people can rely on. And it’s playful and fun.”

My beloved weed makes an appearance several times, always along side wisdom. I do hope the eloquent pen of Mr. Liu can convince many more to love the humble little plant as I (and Jia) do.

The story is reminiscent of A Game of Thrones, but instead of having that medieval-ish feel, it’s more Asian. It’s a beautiful and tragic, epic play for power. A fight for the right to rule the lands of Dara, a recently united group of city states or small countries. We begin with several major contestants for the crown, and eventually narrow it down to just a few. Each of Dara’s little areas have distinct cultures, worship distinct gods and trade in their own types off goods.

It is difficult to write about the plot without giving too much away, but I think, like in A Game of Thrones, you’ll choose your favorites quickly and root for them, unless they fail, and then before you know it a new favorite character will have won you over. Idealistic warrior, female general, unruly and fun loving rebel? There are just too many great characters to choose from. I expect this pattern to continue into the next book too. Only maybe (and the author does hint) that it just might be a battle of wits and will of the strong (but so far minor) women next…I’m excited!


Already read The Grace of Kings and want to know more?

Many of the concepts presented in the book mirror Qin Dynasty history, for one of the best sources of information about the Qin Dynasty, I’d suggest reading Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty by Sima Qian.

The game of cupa as played by Mazoti, I believe to be based on the ancient game of Go or Weiqi.  It’s challenging and fun. Try Go for Beginners by Kaoru Iwamoto or for a more cultural perspective of this fascinating game, a moving novel, The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa.

The gods take an important role in the story, curious to know what the ancient Chinese gods roles were or hear more about Chinese mythology? Check out The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China by Leonard Everett Fisher

Or maybe take a break from reading, enjoy the summer by getting outside, making a few dandelion crowns then snacking on one of my favorite dandelion recipes from LearningHerbs.com and the amazing herbalist, Rosalee de la Foret: Dandelion Fritters. Yum!

Best Books for Budding Plant Lovers…3 in one review!

Now that school is almost out, we want our kids to get outside, but we don’t want them to get lazy and quit reading either. That’s the best thing about plant fiction for kids. They make you want to do both! Now, I think we all want to instill a love of the things we love into our own children. So if you love plants or books or both, and your kids don’t yet, help them learn through stories! Read aloud, read together or start a book club to talk about the books you read and make up some stories of your own. Doing activities that match the new ideas from books is always fun too. Here’s what I think you ought to be reading and doing with your children this summer!

I considered doing a full review for each of these books individually, because they’re all so great, but then I thought you might like to have them all in one easy to read place. They’re also bit shorter than the books I usually review (but just as good), so the reviews get to be shorter too. So read all three of them!  It was so hard to choose, but I narrowed it down; here are a few of me and my kids’ favorites.

  Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver: Mary takes on the heavy task of supporting her family after her father dies. By living off the land and selling local wild-crafted herbs, she thinks she has a pretty good chance of getting by. But as winter comes on, the responsibilities wear on her young shoulders, and she must find another way if they are all to survive. A serious but easy book that would be a great conversation starter for some difficult issues.- Best for 4th grade and up.

Activitiy Idea- Go wild-crafting together. Spring is the perfect time of year to gather dandelions, elder flowers or wild mustard! Then make something tasty out of them to share.

 The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell: This one is a wonderful retelling of the classic fairy-tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with a smattering of Greek mythology thrown in for good measure. It’s told from the perspective of a young herbalist’s apprentice Reveka. One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the historical accuracy with which the herbs and herbalist are portrayed. It has so many of the elements I enjoy in my books, a great respect for plants, adventure, and a new spin on old stories. – Best for 4th grade and up.

Activity Idea- One of Reveka’s duties is to make up the bath herbs for the princesses, unlike her nasty smelling cabbage bath, create a nice smelling bath tea with soothing herbs like chamomile or calendula, and take a bath.

 This list wouldn’t be complete without The Secret Garden by Mary Hodgson Burnett. If you haven’t read this classic yet, you are in for a treat! It is a beautiful story about a hidden garden, an orphaned girl, her sickly cousin, and how the three of them save each other in equal measure. -The language can be a bit difficult in this one for younger children, but is great as a read-a-loud for 1st through 4th graders. If reading independently I would recommend it for 5th grade and up.

Activity Idea- Start your own secret garden. Hidden spaces beside the house, in a back alley way or a neglected corner of the back yard work well. Be sure to use plants that like the environment you’ve chosen. Violets are great for shady hidden areas.

What passions do you love to share with your kids, and how do you do it?

Need more tips on getting your child to love reading? Check out this post I wrote for the public library.