November 30, 2011


Yes – I am fully aware that I have a stack of books right here waiting for me to get back to reading at a normal rate of consumption (Ve-e-ee-ery slow lately!) but … these relatively new titles are among those on my “Want-to-Read” list. You have one of those too, right?  I was chatting with a Bedside Table Books community member (Hello Jessica!) the other evening about good book club titles to suggest. These are ones I’d have on my suggestion list. Have you read any of them? Let us know what you thought. What titles are on your current “Want-to-Read” list?

Geraldine Brooks ranks among my most favourite writers so I’m particularly excited to learn that her latest story, Caleb’s Crossing, is about to be released on May 3rd, 2011.  On with the track shoes and get ready to sprint out and snag a copy. As with the other Brooks books (say that three times fast) a great deal of research and creativity appears to have gone into the story. 


Inspired by a moment or character in history or a quirky piece of trivia, Geraldine Brooks then puts to good use her acclaimed journalism skills and exceptional imagination to create stunning tales. The Year of Wonders, probably my most favourite of her books though I’ve enjoyed them all,  imagines life in a quarantined village during the Great Plague. Sounds dire but it’s an absolutely fascinating study of human nature as well as a time in history. Do read it if you can – a great book club discussion book too. (Thanks to my pal Al for the original recommendation!) I wrote about another of her books, March, in an earlier posting you can refresh your memory with here. People of the Book , about the journey of a rare and mysterious manuscript through generations, also comes highly recommended.

Here is the trailer for Caleb’s Crossing which I am sure will convince you it is a must-read.

I  recently read this tremendous book and must recommend it to you … and then you must recommend it to all your friends. Honest to goodness, I laughed out loud and teared up too and then on a high from the crescendo of the story closed the book and felt wistful – sorry I couldn’t join the characters for a chat in the local coffee shop. They were all such, well … characters! I have been on a great run of good books lately: Room, The Postmistress, Left Neglected and while each of those was moving in its own way and certainly enjoyable, this little book-that-could was the one that has inspired me most to share it with others.

The story behind the existence of the book is entertainment enough. Terry Fallis wanted to have the book he had written read by readers, and what writer wouldn’t? But he found it challenging to garner a publisher and finally resorted to creating a series of podcasts of his book just like the podcasts he enjoyed listening to himself. Sure enough, a following of listeners/readers began to tune in. And cheer! Then Terry decided to self-publish a few copies. Enough copies were printed that the book could be considered for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (2008) and lo and behold it won the award.  A great deal more copies were in demand as a result.  As positive an experience as that was, The Best Laid Plans was selected as a candidate for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2011 … and was that competition’s victor too. This success doesn’t surprise me one iota. It is rare to find a novel that strikes the funny bone and the heart with equal force. This was funny, heartwarming, intelligent and oh so Canadian.

The tale begins by following Daniel Addison as he attempts to extricate himself from a political career in Ottawa. Before he can move on he must recruit an electoral candidate for a write-off, never won riding on behalf of his federal political Party. He locates an extremely reluctant candidate – one gruff, unfailingly honourable Scot, Angus McLintock – who puts his name forward only so long as he’s guaranteed to never actually win the post. This duo reminds me of some of the oldtime caper movie partnerships – Redford and Newman or maybe more Abbott and Costello. The take on politics is satirical yet refreshing – a timely read during our current federal and provincial election campaigns. Dear Angus is recently widowed and poignantly reports his personal review of his antics and adventures to his late wife at the end of each chapter. More lovely characters join the cast and are just as enjoyable and fun. I don’t want to give any of the hilarity away but be prepared for a good guffaw.

And now for the reee-allly good news … there’s a sequel! No need to feel gloomy at the last page after all. The second installment for the cast is called The High Road and is already nominated for its very own Leacock medal. I’m off to locate a copy, pronto.  Chime in with your thoughts if you’ve read the book (or books) as well.

The Necklace

January 23, 2011


A reader and a friend loaned me the book The Necklace last week and I’m most grateful for the experience. An entertaining read, this is a non-fiction account of a group of women and a diamond necklace. The first, of what grew to become thirteen women in the group, had admired a spectacular diamond necklace in her neighbourhood jewelry boutique. Spontaneously she tried it on and learned its price: $38,000.00. Well beyond her budget and yet … she was so inspired by the beauty of the piece that she began to consider how it could become part of her life. (This isn’t a heist tale!)  Creatively she thought, “what if I gathered a group and we each purchased an equal share in the necklace and took turns wearing it and being its custodian?” And there begins the tale that was featured in People magazine, covered by Katie Couric and eventually became this book.  The story is as much about the inner workings of a group of  “fifty-something” women as they set goals and guidelines and grapple with differing opinions and strong personalities as it is about the necklace. Quickly given a name of its own, the necklace becomes the tie that binds the group and leads to the women’s personal growth and involvement in a number of philanthropic causes and adventures. Each chapter focuses on a single member of the group, gives her personal history and explains how she became a participant in the necklace “experiment”.  It’s a diverse group and there will be at least one who will remind you of yourself or someone you know well. A quick read but a fun one that will get you thinking. If read with a group of your own gal pals it will surely prompt animated conversation … and possibly even a shopping excursion!

If You Liked …

January 8, 2011

The new year brings with it releases of some new titles by writers of some of our old favourites. These all look terrific to me and will no doubt be big book club hits. If you haven’t yet read the old ones, you have time to get caught up. So …

if you liked … you’ll be delighted by the new ….


Still Alice by Lisa Genova must be one of my most frequently recommended books in recent years; its poignancy has remained with me long after the last pages were read. While Still Alice followed Alzheimer’s from the perspective of the patient, Left Neglected, (released on January 4th, 2011) features the sufferer of a traumatic brain injury. (left neglect or hemi-spatial neglect refers to a lack of awareness of the left side of one’s body as a result of an injury to the right side of the brain) Not light stuff but as a Harvard Neuroscientist the author is more than prepared to shine some fascinating light on the world of the brain. She wrote that her first book wasn’t just about the illness but also “… about identity, about living a life that matters, about family and what a crisis does to relationships.”  In telling a story of the recovery of a Type A over-achieving working mother after a life-altering accident, Left Neglected promises to do the same.


I read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter while snuggled up in a ski cabin in a snowstorm which was suitable considering the opening scenes of the story take place in a wild snowstorm. Now I’m off to find a cabin by a lake as it appears a lake plays a pivotal role in Kim Edwards’ latest tale. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter explored controversial and ethical decisions and their impact on a family in an absolutely enthralling way. A father decides to conceal the birth of his child with Down’s Syndrome and is thereafter haunted by his actions and the related actions of others.The Lake of Dreams (released on January 4th, 2011) also examines family and secrets and is apparently just as successful in creating memorable characters and evocative imagery. A young woman returns home, obsessed by her father’s earlier death and finds herself engaged in conflict and intrigue with her remaining family. Apparently there are secret letters and artefacts revealing a mysterious family past. Do tell.


I haven’t encountered a reader yet who wasn’t captivated by Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. In Loving Frank we followed a fictional account of the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A fascinating story made all the more interesting by the times in which it took place. In the new The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (to be released February 22,2011) we are drawn into the relationship between real life characters Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. The story is written from the fictional perspective of  Hadley during their time together, based mostly in Paris, during the 1920’s.  According to Goodreads: “The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Insert deep sigh here.


Another novel will also draw us back in history in an exciting way. Clara and Mr. Tiffany (to be released on January 11, 2011) is written by Susan Vreeland, known for Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Luncheon of the Boating Party, both successful fictional stories based in the real world of art of yore. “Clara” in the new title refers to one Clara Driscoll, an artist and designer for the famous Tiffany Studios in the late 19th century who until recently was unrecognized publicly for among other things, her creation of the Tiffany lamp and its iconic designs. Knowledge of her influence surfaced only with the discovery of three collections of revealing letters in 2005. Susan Vreeland was inspired and recounts her first introduction to Clara: “Here was the lively, sometimes rhapsodic voice of a woman who bicycled all around Manhattan and beyond, wore a riding skirt daringly shorter than street length, adored opera, followed the politics of the city, and threw herself into the crush of Manhattan life–the poverty of crowded immigrants in the Lower East Side as well as the Gilded Age uptown.” With a character like that to follow this is bound to be fun! Vreeland has proven herself with her previous books to be a solid researcher and a gifted fiction writer so be prepared to learn a great deal and enjoy the process immensely.

Don’t mind me while I mull over my preference for reading paperbacks – these are all hardcovers and I’m not sure I can wait!


Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a fossil collector and expert in paleontology from Lyme Regis in Dorset, England.  Among her most notable discoveries were an icthyasaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur (“saury” – won’t describe the ancient creatures here but you get the drift!) All important finds and instrumental in proving the theory of extinction: ancient species had existed at one time, in an age of “dinosaurs”.  Mary is a fascinating character in history, respected now for her extraordinary contribution to modern day understanding of prehistorical life and geographical history but challenged with a lack of recognition in her day due to her gender and low social status.  As an aside, she was also the inspiration behind the verse: “She sells sea shells by the seashore”.

Two accomplished writers were motivated to explore and capture Mary’s story in fiction for the rest of us to enjoy and, coincidentally, at just about the same time. The books were published within a few months of one another early in 2010. Curiosity by Canadian writer Joan Thomas is enjoying many accolades and celebration; it was  long listed for the Giller prize and named The Vancouver Sun’s inaugural selection in its new on-line book club.  Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier has also been reviewed positively and I’m sure will be picked up by those who’ve enjoyed her other terrific books: The Virgin Blue, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Burning Bright and others.  I’m an enormous fan of her writing.

Each of the authors took a distinct approach to imagining Mary’s story. I think this makes a great opportunity to read both and compare the versions of her so-called life – perhaps a good Book Club task for one of those longer spells between meetings. If one had to choose to read just one based on the cover alone, which would you select?  Let us know what you thought if you’ve already read one or the other. Click on the book covers to be taken to the authors’ websites and note the similarity there. You’ll find great information on each site.

CBC Radio One’s annual program “Canada Reads” provides a forum for five Canadian titles to be debated and defended by five noteworthy Canadians.  After each debate, a novel is voted out of the running until only one remains. This selection is deemed the essential novel for all Canadians to enjoy together. If you’ve not tuned in before, the debates are entertaining, witty, and occasionally feisty. Jian Ghomeshi as the host is brilliant at directing the conversation and unveiling unique perspectives and impressions.  The tenth edition of Canada Reads will air in February 2011.  In honour of this anniversary, rather than simply announce the 5 novels to be debated, Canadian readers have been asked to submit their choices for a list of  “Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade” (published after January 1, 2000).  This list will be narrowed down over the next few months and the top selections will be debated.

I count many Canadian books among my favourites but a particular standout for me published in the last decade is The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor. It was one of our book club selections and our members were unanimously enthused. The novel, as the title suggests, follows the many incarnations of one Charlotte Taylor – an amazingly resilient woman and pioneer as she ventures forth and establishes herself in early Canada. The Ottawa Citizen states: “The sweep is epic, a romantic narrative filled with passion, rebellion, adventure, heartbreak, triumph, legacy. It’s a heck of a story.” Sally Armstrong, a founding editor of Canadian Living magazine and editor at Homemaker’s and Macleans magazines, has taken her family’s lore relating to a great-great-great Grandmother and with wonderful imagination filled in the archival gaps with memorable characters and adventures. The fact that the tale itself is based on a woman whose pluckiness inspired generations to recount and share the legend of her just adds to the charm of the book. 

I will submit my request for The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor to be considered as a Canada Reads Top 40 Essential Canadian Novel … but in the meantime I hope you get a head start and enjoy it yourself!

What to read next

October 13, 2010


So many new books to explore but so many timeless ones yet to enjoy as well. I’m turning the tables today – if you could recommend one book (or a few if so inclined) what would it be?  It could be a recent read from the bestseller list or an all time favourite … let us know what we should read next!

 in·trep·id (ĭn-trěp’ĭd) adj. Resolutely courageous; fearless, brave, bold. See Synonyms at brave. (1627 (implied in intrepidness ), from L. intrepidus “unshaken, undaunted,” from in- “not” + trepidus “alarmed.”). Additional synonyms: audacious, gritty, gutsy, heroic.

I happened upon word of a wonderful endeavour in our fair city a month or so ago and it’s been dwelling in my thoughts ever since.  Our little blog here seemed like the perfect spot to launch a conversation about it and perhaps even inspire a flurry of action. While I dallied, sorting my thoughts and words, The Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier coincidentally both printed related articles this week. The focus?  The Intrepid Pens.

The Intrepid Pens is a creative writing workshop and book club based at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre on Cordova Street in Vancouver. Founder, facilitator and nurturer of the group, Amanda Grondahl  encourages the women living with addiction, poverty, and homelessness to engage their creativity and self-expression through writing of their own. She also gives them an opportunity to explore and discuss novels of the group’s choosing. In her own words from her blog she says: ” … how amazing it is when 15 (or so) women get together to talk, read, write, share, laugh, and grow; how group members’ writing has improved; how group members’ confidence is soaring; how some are sharing their stories for the very first time; how beautiful it is that those who struggle with reading or writing are read to by fellow group members – their work transcribed for them, and read aloud by their friends; how we’re learning through reading and healing through writing; how several group members have already been published, and how group members talk with excitement about writing more, learning more, and doing more…” Amanda believes there is a “quiet magic” taking place within the group. She is adamant that the women are as important to her as she might be to them and fondly speaks of “my ladies” as she writes “… we are a little family of writers and readers and friends now. …”      


Amanda makes it clear that she is enormously grateful to a number of sponsors, friends and families who offer help, support and donations. There are a few very easy ways in which Bedside Table Books and our readers can give The Intrepid Pens a little boost of encouragement too:

Firstly, Amanda and her fellow Intrepid-ers have applied to the Pepsi Refresh Grant Campaign with hope of qualifying for $25,000.00 toward their cause. The grants are based upon the number of supportive votes each applicant receives. Please take the time to add your vote by clicking here and then crossing your fingers that the group is selected to receive the money. Voting deadline is October 31st.

Secondly, The Intrepid Pens have need of the following:

  • Novels (new or used copies)
  • Writing supplies (journals, notebooks, and pens)
  • Bus tickets for transportation around the city (Adult 1-zone Faresavers)
  • Money (for books, supplies, food and drinks, transportation, field trips, and special events)

As readers, many in book clubs, you might like to review the Intrepid Pens’ impressive book list (they are reading great stuff!) and see if you have any copies you’d like to donate. If your book club or a group of your friends has recently read one of the list entries then suggest anyone not wishing to keep her copy share it with the Intrepid ladies. Another option is to shop for a few copies and send them along.

I hope this fine venture and its story captures your hearts as firmly as it does mine.

Visit the website for The Intrepid Pens here and follow their story or make contact.

You may recall another special book club in an earlier post this year. Read The Word is Their Bond from March 12th.

The Book Club

August 17, 2010



I have been in a book club for many years and have always found it one of my most enjoyable social activities.  Some of my fondest memories are of friends made and books read together in book clubs I belonged to while living in Santiago, Chile and London, England. I still try to keep in touch with some of those gals and inevitably we share titles we’ve been reading in our “clubs”.  Locally, many of us have fun cross-referencing our reading lists with friends within other book clubs. 

My most recent Book Club meeting with the current crew (see above) was the best ever – a sunny beach locale (hosted by a member at her summer getaway), a great book (The Disappeared by Kim Echlin) and a small but devoted, cheery, and engaged group of clubbers.  We were delivered by boat to our floating yellow platform with lawn chairs, books, and “provisions” in hand.  We chatted about the book, positively pleased to have had the opportunity to read it, and shared comments and observations with one another. We really could have chatted all night about the book itself but became distracted by the sheer glory of our surroundings and the fish leaping all around. Our chatter roamed off in philosophical directions … “If you could be anywhere else in the world right now … where would you be?”  Hard pressed to find anywhere better but a great conversation resulted just the same. As the sun set we were retrieved by our trusty captain and, after a brief detour for crab-trap hunting, were delivered back to the beach.   Heavenly!

So many people I know belong to book clubs and it seems these associations share similar successes and challenges.

Do you grapple with poor attendance?          

Can you still attend if you’ve not read the book?

Do you eat and drink? (Who just snickered?!  … Silly question)     

Do you stick with a theme or do you try something new every month?

Our club began with some guidelines:  must read book, must attend meetings regularly, paperback preferred, food and drink to be simple, hosting duties shared through the year, meetings at our homes (except when they are on the high seas!)  …

Lately we have been struggling with books getting read and meetings being poorly attended by about half our group. It is frustrating for the rest of us and I wonder if our book club needs a break – a fresh start?  Should we be more understanding about the busy-ness and the varying priorities?

What do you think? Is Book Club about the books or just the socializing? Tell us about yours! Describe your favourite book club meeting!

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