The title and the cover of this recent release convinced me it was most worthy of a summertime post. What could be more appropriate for a season when so many Canadian families hit the road than a book subtitled “The Informal Study of the Family Road Trip”? I couldn’t help but laugh at the title. What kid hasn’t heard this at some point? What parent hasn’t been known to utter the same?

Reviewer Andrew Ferguson (Land of Lincoln, Crazy U) writes: “A book with a title as good as Don’t Make Me Pull Over! has a lot to live up to, and somehow Richard Ratay manages to deliver. It’s a memoir, a work of popular history, and a love letter all in one. Books this wise are seldom so funny; books this funny are rarely so wise.”

Powell’s Books has a fun piece on its site by the book’s author Richard Ratay which includes a playlist of some of the music that forms the soundtrack to his travels. This article alone had me fondly recalling the songs we would croon at the top of our lungs, with windows down, on trips with my parents and brother and then later with my husband and our boys. Abba, anyone? Johnny Cash? Jimmy Buffet? 

… When things hit a lull after long hours on the road, I’ll flip this tune on and our car suddenly turns into a downtown club. My wife and two boys seamlessly spit every lyric, while I add “mad hype” and sing the female backup parts in a ridiculous falsetto. Because I’m the dad and that’s what dads do.”  (Richard Ratay)

While this book is an engaging social study, there is no doubt it will be a popular nostalgia trip for its readers. I’d offer to read it aloud but I’m afraid I’m one of those passengers!

Enjoy your road trips this summer, be safe, and … sing your lungs out!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reads 2018

July 4, 2018

Art by Laura Lacambra Shubert

Summer is already off to the races so it’s high time for the Bedside Table Books annual (except when it’s not!) Summer Reads list. For those new to the scene, the list is a collection of books that have caught my attention in recent times and seem suited to savouring over the slower pace of the Summer. I try to keep a variety of themes and genres in mind but in the end, they are just titles I can’t wait to read along with you!

    

 

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall – Probably the one I’m most looking forward to curling up with as I’ve been hearing and reading great things about this story for months now and it’s not even on the shelves until next week. I know we all love a little historical fiction and this one promises to deliver all we desire. Susie wrote a great article in Harper’s Bazaar magazine sharing her inspiration and some of the back story on the real Subway girls. Some of us hear interesting stories on NPR and then wander away to the next distraction, Susie is motivated to write an entire book! Can’t wait. A summer reading bonus: The Subway Girls of Decades Past

Travels Through the French Riviera: An Artist’s Guide to the Storied Coastline from Menton to Saint-Tropez by Virginia Johnson – Long time readers will know I swoon over a book beautifully illustrated with watercolours. This is capital G, gorgeous. Virginia is a Canadian treasure and you’ve met her here before when she illustrated for Kate Spade and Deborah Needleman. Now you can vicariously join her on her colourful (and detailed) travels along the Riviera and do it from your matching beach towel no less. The Bay presently carries Virginia’s art on a fluffy towel you may need to justify purchasing as a required Summer Reading accessory.

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – Another one written by an extraordinary over-achiever … The Right Honourable former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has written a very well reviewed courtroom thriller. Methinks she knows of what she writes! Ms. McLachlin was a mere appointee to the BC Court of Appeal when she was invited to address my high school graduating class; she was inspiring then and look at all she’s been up to since! Like all the good ones, she’s a big reader and shares her literary journey in this Globe and Mail article. Suspense in the summer is a good match. 

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce – The Guardian calls this a “Winning Wartime Romp” and refers to the heroine as “plucky” and “charming”. The reviewer also bandies about descriptives like “hilarious”, “poignant”, and that it has a “madly winning spirit”. The Irish Times calls her the “Bridget Jones of the Blitz”. ‘Nuff said. Sold! Set in the era of WW II London, it follows the antics of a twenty-something War-correspondent-wannabe who ends up instead typing the Problem Pages letters. She finds herself drawn in to the personal stories and becomes secretly a little more deeply involved than she should.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – “This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision …” according to the NY Times reviewer. A “wise and compassionate” story of a young newlywed couple who find themselves managing a wrongful conviction and its devastating impact on their relationship and family. Certainly more emotionally demanding than other titles on this list but I’ve heard this one’s an important read and highly engaging.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – The BBCE (Best Book Club Ever) has selected this as our one assigned Summer choice. I’ve yet to meet a reader who has not been deeply moved by Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale story and this one seems set to prompt as many positive experiences. The Great Alone is set in a post Vietnam era when a family affected by the War seeks a new life, off the grid, in the Alaskan wilderness. According to the author’s website, “The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.” Chills for you when it gets hot out!

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman – I’ve had this one on my YTR (Yet To Read) shelf for some time now. What better time to embrace a novel featuring a Gardening class than in the height of a flower flourishing summer!  While the initial premise sounds dark (young family loses father in a tragedy) its reviewers promise it’s laden with optimism and good humour as the little family finds its footing. Mom is an illustrator who is sent to a Gardening Class to learn the intricacies of the plants and finds a new and loving community of support. Dare I say, romance blooms?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern – The title alone put this one in the running of course. Everything I’ve read about its storyline brings to mind The Breakfast Club movie but this cast of misfits finds themselves in a small town library rather than on Saturday detention. Some of the characters are there to find solace in the ever-comforting realm of books, another to do community service for the crime of Dictionary theft of all things, and others circulate through as “offbeat” library regulars do. Together they are healing from past difficulties and are finding new ways forward. Sunny is a young girl who befriends the librarian with the mysterious past and seems to bring the light to the group.

Let us know how many you get through or if you have some of your own recommendations to share. What’s on your bedside table? Happy reading!

 

 

Tuesdays with Jack

June 26, 2018

Seems right to share this with you on a Tuesday ….

As new parents we’re inevitably advised to record the funny actions and observations made by our children. “Or you’ll be sure to forget!” The chaos of the busy days indeed steals those moments from us. Pauline Daniel is a savvy Grandmother who has learned not only to record her grandson Jack’s little moments but to share them too. Those little gems grew into regular Facebook posts and now into Tuesdays with Jack, a memoir of the time spent with her young grandson on their standing Tuesday date during his pre-school years. Her observations are not only about Jack and his wisdom but also about her own personal transitions and the things Jack has helped her notice about her life. It is an honest and heartfelt account.

As a modern day grandmother (or a Baby Boomer Buba as Pauline thinks of herself) she Facebooks, Facetimes, is an entrepreneur, wears hoodies and does Cross Fit. She may not spend the majority of her time in the kitchen but she and Jack do embrace play there and literally whip up some special new traditions. Traditions, new and old, thread through Daniel’s writing but mostly, a Grandmother’s newfound patience, mindfulness, and joy in just ‘being’ in the moment comes to the forefront.

Lest this all sound knee deep in inward reflection, please know you will laugh out loud (as Buba does) while wee Jack delivers one innocent blow after another: ‘ “How strong are your muscles, Buba?” I proudly flex my bicep. “What’s that floppy bit?” ‘ or  ‘ “This is your fault Buba.” “What’s my fault?” “Everything!” ‘

Phyllis Diller is said to have declared on her way to the delivery room that she was having a child just so she could become a grandmother. If you’re a modern Gran, like Pauline, or a parent looking forward to Grand-hood, you will enjoy the simple pleasures of this quick and poignant read. It’s a great gift for a new Grandparent as well.

Enjoy!

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As wildfires rage through this extraordinarily dry summer, I find myself considering the role of the front line emergency personnel. Fighting fires requires an exceptional ability to manage personal fears and safety while combating one of Natures’ fiercest forces for the noble protection of property, personnel, and animals (livestock and wildlife). In our mountainous terrain here in British Columbia, there is a particular reliance on the Smoke Jumper – a fighter of remote wildfires who is deployed to the front line by parachute. I know I can say we are all immensely grateful to those who dedicate themselves to these risky battles.  Our gratitude should extend to the firefighters’ loved ones who support them and share the real threat of great personal loss as accidents occur.

Uncommon characters faced with perilous adventures are tried and true elements of a good read. A number of books have been written, fiction and memoir, giving us an opportunity to learn more about the life of a Smoke Jumper. Whether you wish to read the personal accounts or visit the scene through a beach bag novel, one of these should help you empathize with the wildfire warriors working so hard for us all this summer.

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Nicholas Evans of The Horse Whisperer fame has written a novel featuring Smoke Jumping characters based in Montana. Evans brings his documentary writing experience to all of his novels and his thorough research provides an element of authenticity. You’ll reliably find romance and personal growth in the stories too, of course.

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Smokejumper is a memoir by a “Top Gun” of the airborne firefighting fraternity. Based in our neighbouring Cascade Mountain Range, Jason Ramos shares a very personal account of the fiery front lines including insight into the rigours of the training and the psychological preparation and toll. Along with co-writer Julian Smith, he shares descriptions of actual harrowing and adrenaline charged experiences.

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Another memoir but from a slightly different perspective. This was highly recommended by Seattle’s Elliot Bay Book Company. Philip Connors writes beautifully and shares his very personal account of summers spent on lookout for wildfires in remote New Mexico. Here’s a link to an essay he wrote on the topic in The Paris Review so you can gather a sense of his prose.

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And back to the novel … a Nora Roberts thriller probably belongs in every dusty beach bag. Here’s one on point, also featuring Montana scenery and, this time, a female firefighter as protagonist and romantic lead.

Enchanted …

June 23, 2015

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So here’s an enchanting prospect …

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, has been considered a beloved classic since its publication in 1922. Successful theatre productions and an award-winning film followed, based on the story of four London-based women, initially unknown to one another and all in varying stages of disgruntlement, who travel to Italy and share the cost of lodgings in a seaside castle for the month of April.  Each is changed by the experience for the better, and for the reader’s enjoyment.

Skip ahead nearly a century and writer Brenda Bowen has taken inspiration from the original to create an “enchanted” experience for us herself, this time set in summery New England. In Enchanted August, four modern-day women escape their less than satisfactory New York lives for a reminiscent experience of house-sharing with strangers in an idyllic locale; personal adventures, enlightenment, and transformation ensue. A pretty new edition of The Enchanted April has been released in honour of the publication of its new relative and Brenda Bowen has even written the Introduction. I have an old edition but will have to find a way to read this new Intro.

I think these would be great companion reads – perhaps a Summer book club challenge to read both. The Enchanted April created a surge in tourist travel to the Italian Riviera, Enchanted August may do the same for New England shores. Vicarious travel from your beach blanket works too! Apparently if you enjoyed Beautiful Ruins, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or Downton Abbey, these are for you. Alrighty then, I’m ready to be enchanted!

 

Summer Books 2015!

June 8, 2015

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(Art by Suejean Rim)

Well, fancy meeting you here! Longtime readers of this blog will know that a few times during the last five and a half years, this writer has gone AWOL. Poof! Thanks to the encouragement of a number of devoted supporters, I’m back. And back with the annual summer reading list!

In the past, some of you have taken this list to heart and committed to working your way through all the titles over summer vacation. Others have used it as a general guide and randomly tried a title here and there. A few have bookmarked the entry until being called upon to offer a Book Club selection. This list is for ALL of you. Here’s hoping there are some gems in here – I’ll be reading right along with you. We can compare notes. Click on the covers to be taken to websites which will offer you more details. The recipe for this booklist involved a few doses of exotic locales, a dash of good humour, a pinch of creative thinking, and a wee bit of visiting with interesting characters. Here’s hoping we can cook up a summer of great reading …

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Remembering Alistair MacLeod

November 11, 2014

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I do enjoy the melodic musings of the CBC’s Michael Enright and was particularly captivated by the personal tone of a recent broadcast. Something in his voice caused me to stop my splashing in the dishwater to listen more carefully. Here is the text of his speech and a link to listen as well.

“Alistair MacLeod had a red moon face, twinkling eyes and the smile of a young boy. He spoke so softly you almost had to lean forward to hear him.

He always wore a cap, usually tweed. Now any middle-aged man wearing a tweed cap can look very dorky – I know first hand – or elegantly countrified. On Alistair, a tweed cap was as natural as a purring cat.

He was the gentlest of men. He always had time for people, especially young readers. This may have sprung from his decades as a university professor, but I also think it had something to do with his Celtic upbringing in the highlands of Cape Breton.

He was not a prolific writer. He published only one novel and 20 short stories. It took him ten years to write his masterpiece, No Great Mischief. He wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads. His great friend and editor, Douglas Gibson, called him “a stone carver, chipping out each perfect word with loving care.” His work is unique, unlike any other writer I can think of. It has the clarity of dialogue of Flannery O’Connor and the diagnostic precision and descriptive powers of Alice Munro.

Alistair died last April. He was 77 and had suffered a serious stroke. The mass was celebrated in St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Broad Cove, Cape Breton. I miss him terribly.

His last work is called Remembrance; and this month, it has been re-issued in a splendid little book by McClelland and Stewart. Remembrance tells the story of three men, three Cape Bretoners, all called David MacDonald. The elder, knowing it will be his last Remembrance Day ceremony, waits for his son and grandson. His mind wanders back to the day he joined up in 1942 when he was 21 and newly married.

The story weaves his experiences of war and its aftermath together in a startling way. It’s a story that makes you sit up straight and take notice; it’s not maudlin or sentimental. And although Alistair says none of the MacDonald characters is based on his father, there are similarities. “My father went to war when he was 17,” he told a reporter, “and he wasn’t full of patriotic zeal, he was just kind of starving.” The book is only 47 pages long but it is a small, brightly polished gem. It is published to coincide with Remembrance Day.

The last time I talked to Alistair was in Moncton a couple of years ago. After our public appearance together, we repaired to his hotel room, along with his son Alexander, also a wonderful teacher and short story writer. We broke open a bottle of single malt, probably Talisker. We talked of many things, of art and writing and death and Irish wakes and the tunes of glory and the songs of the Island. It was for me, a magic couple of hours.

I don’t usually wear a poppy in November. I throw some money into the vet’s tin can but I am uncomfortable with the outward demonstration of remembrance. I’m not keen seeing everybody on television wearing one, for instance. Don’t know why. Perhaps because the First World War destroyed the lives of three of my uncles. I also think the membrane between remembrance and glorification is very thin.

But on Tuesday, I think I will wear a poppy. For the two soldiers murdered in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu last month.

For all the soldiers killed anywhere, any time.

And for Alistair.”

Listen to the recording here and to read more about the story, Remembrance, click on the cover image shown above.

Three to Bookmark

September 24, 2014

Three favourite authors are set to release new books and I am taking note. Looking out at the first truly rainy day in some time, it seems like a perfect time to sink into a cozy chair and settle in with some of the great Fall releases hitting the shelves. Let us know what you’re looking forward to reading!

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I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

od_book_cover  us

I enjoyed this one ….                     so am looking forward to this one.

9781443422666  the-rosie-effect

I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

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“I love that Canadians love books, and that we boast a disproportionate number of outstanding authors. I’ve had the privilege of hosting CBC’s Canada Reads for the past seven years. It’s a celebration and discovery of homegrown lit. Last year, an American observer wrote, “Let me get this straight: In Canada they have a hit reality show … and it’s about books?! Wow.” I loved reading that. Pride. “ – Jian Ghomeshi, Broadcaster. Quoted in Canadian Living magazine, July 2014

Have you ever tuned into the above mentioned Canada Reads show on CBC Radio? I’ve followed along in the last few years and enjoy the lively format of a notable Canadian devotedly defending his or her literary favourite with a panel of fellow debaters. The discussions among panel members are often funny, even feisty, and always entertaining. It’s been proven that the final selections and the winning choice enjoy an enormous surge in sales following the show. The past seasons’ winners are listed on the website and it is worth a perusal if you’re new to the program. Tune in to Jian Ghomeshi on Q on CBC in early September to learn how the 2015 season will unfold.

Sticking with a CBC/Canada theme … CBC Radio has compiled a Canada Day themed list:  “100 Novels That Make You Proud to Be Canadian” I found myself impressed by the list itself – such a great collection of books – but, even more impressive, is the fact that all the authors are Canadian. Click on the red banner below to be taken to the page showing all 100 novels. I’ve included a few of the titles I’ve read below as a little teaser … How many have you read?

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book-u6-a183-b207-r423 419 by Will Ferguson Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards The Birth House by Ami McKay Annabel by Kathleen Winterfallonyuorknees-books100latenightsonair-Books100cellistofsarajevo-books100secretdaughter-books100lifeofpi-books100room-books100thebestlaidplans-books100

Happy Canada Day and Happy Reading Canadian!

Sarah Jio is a writer from the Seattle area who is enjoying considerable success with her novels: The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter, The Bungalow, The Last Camellia, and Morning Glory to date and more on the way. Book clubs seem to be particularly fond of her creative, multi-generational story lines, often set in the Pacific Northwest. I have read Morning Glory which takes place in a floating home community and look forward to making my way through her other tales.

In her recently released Goodnight June, Sarah has explored generational connections through a beloved classic children’s book and it’s sure to be a favourite of book and bookshop lovers. The back cover blurb states: “June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown — and steps into the pages of American literature.”

I’ve only read the Author’s Note and I’ve already learned all sorts of intriguing trivia. So if you feel like a nostalgic trip to the Green Room and an imaginary visit into the world of books, writers, letters, and bookshops, this may be your next cozy read. I know I’m looking forward to it!

goodnight-june-cover-final Goodnightmoon

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