June 17, 2022
Amy Mair of Red Fern Books Podcast and I recently sat down (in person this time) for our second annual Summer Reads tie-in. Read the highlights below and then listen to more in our conversation over here.
If Amy managed to execute some editing wizardry, you will miss out on an epic coughing fit as this guest-of-the-week almost combusted. Mic-off is a safer bet for (hack, hack) this gal. Otherwise, we had a really fun chat!
These six books are chosen with an eye to variety across eras and themes. My hope is that we’ll all get a fresh glimpse into new worlds through these pages and be inspired and entertained along the way. Now just add some sunny weather, a cool drink, and uninterrupted time to read!
By the time this blogpost/podcast hits the airwaves I have no doubt you’ll be very familiar with this choice. Lessons in Chemistry has spent all of its young life on the bestseller and recommended lists, far and wide, unanimously celebrated. Bonnie Garmus is a debut author (at 65 years old) whose story was picked up for publication in 35 countries – impressive! If you liked Eleanor and Bernadette of Eleanor Oliphant or Where’d You Go Bernadette? you’ll most certainly enjoy Elizabeth Zott of Lessons in Chemistry. Despite her quirky outspokenness and her identity as an advanced scientific researcher, Elizabeth becomes a reluctant TV cooking show personality of the early 1960s. You’ll delight in plenty of chuckles but there’s surprising poignancy and social commentary and personal growth in the story as well. Elizabeth has a charming supporting cast of characters including a very special dog. This is a great summer read – any time of the year!
I’m sure you may wonder at times how I narrow down my book choices, especially when the selection may be a little bit off the radar as this one appears to be. In this case, it was simple, I encountered the paragraph below and was had. I don’t think I can really improve upon it so I’m sharing!
“It was Rachel Signer’s dream to be that girl: the one smoking hand-rolled cigarettes out the windows of her 19th-century Parisian studio apartment, wearing second-hand Isabel Marant jeans and sipping a glass of Beaujolais redolent of crushed roses with a touch of horse mane. Instead she was an under-appreciated freelance journalist and waitress in New York City, frustrated at always being broke and completely miserable in love. When she tastes her first pétillant-naturel (pét-nat for short), a type of natural wine made with no additives or chemicals, it sets her on a journey of self-discovery, both deeply personal and professional, that leads her to Paris, Italy, Spain, Georgia, and finally deep into the wilds of South Australia and which forces her, in the face of her “Wildman,” to ask herself the hard question: can she really handle the unconventional life she claims she wants?” (Hachette) Cheers!
If you’re a regular reader of Bedside Table Books, you’ll know that I’ve been singing the praises of essay collections as a way to re-boot one’s reading or to embrace variety. I recently stumbled upon two terrific pieces of writing, independent of one another, and discovered that by chance they were both selections in this Letters to a Stranger collection. I knew instantly that the connecting themes of brief encounters/missed connections/moments of shared humanity would be perfect for deep Summer sighing and if these two examples were any indication, the reading would all be excellent. 65 great writers have shared their experiences with strangers – you’ll encounter names like Maggie Shipstead, Lauren Groff, Pico Iyer … Can’t wait to savour this collection!
Another debut receiving a lot of positive attention, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a multi-generational saga which begins in Chinese occupied Tibet of the late 1950s and follows a family’s refugee experience through to modern-day Toronto. Family connections impacted by displacement, threatened cultural identity, and the haunting of harsh experiences are the basis of this compelling story. While author Tsering Yangzom Lama was born and raised in Nepal, she has strong ties to Vancouver and a BA in Creative Writing & International Relations from UBC. She followed that up with an MFA (Columbia) These descriptives taken from a wide array of blurbs are pretty convincing that this is some very fine writing: “achingly beautiful” “symphonic” “transcendent” “a marvel” and “magnificently textured”. Wow. I’m really looking forward to this one.
There is a particular delight in the discovery of a story that has been hiding away in the archives just waiting to be celebrated. Thanks to Kianna Alexander’s writerly curiosity, we are now able to enjoy a story inspired by one remarkable Josephine N. Leary. Leary was a freed black woman, born into slavery on a Southern Plantation in the 1800s. As a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, she overcame an incredible number of challenges but used her savvy financial management and investment skills to build an impressive real estate empire. A feat at anytime but particularly in the early 1900s. Kianna Alexander researched deeply into her fellow North Carolina native’s story and the result is this exciting new novel, based on Leary’s life.
I really don’t need to say much more than “Geraldine Brooks” to flag this one. Brooks has several hugely successful and popular reads under her belt and each one is a unique and fascinating tale based on extraordinary research. Think: Year of Wonders (worth re-visiting with present day pandemic context), Caleb’s Crossing, March, and People of the Book among others. Horse, released June 14th, 2022, grows out of more impeccable research, and links three stories through different eras all tied to the famous race horse “Lexington”. “A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history.” (Goodreads) As she has in previous novels, the author has provided a fascinating Afterword. Don’t skip those pages!
June 7, 2021
As promised, I’m back with a few more titles to consider for your Summer reading pile. We’ll continue with glimpses into different worlds and special relationships but some of these six might be considered a little lighter. Chime in and let us know what you’ve enjoyed and if there is another title you’d like to share.
Norman Foreman is a young fellow who’s just lost a best friend. The twelve year olds had been making big plans to take their comedy show on the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when Jax died and Norman is determined to still make the trip in honour of his friend. However, Jax was the funny one so there might be some cringe at the Fringe. Norman’s other loss is a father he’s never known. Mom decides she needs to step up and help Norman with his grief and need for closure. Loading themselves into a Mini with a neighbouring friend, they set off on an epic road trip from Cornwall to Edinburgh that inspires and warms the heart. Another debut novel that promises to gift you a memorable, beloved character in Norman. “Tender and hilarious.” “Moving and funny.”
This one might be well under the radar for most Summer read seekers as it’s located in the History and PoliSci section. However, this looks to me to be an enthralling read, any season. Journalist and travel writer Julia Cooke, whose father was a Pan Am executive, delves into the jet age heyday, the Pan Am brand, its significant cultural and historical contributions and the women who crewed and contributed to its success. Following the stories of a select few of these women, the author reveals a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the iconic carrier and the time in history. (The Vietnam War, Operation Babylift, Women’s Liberation … ) While weight, height make-up and grooming guidelines were fierce and strongly enforced, at the same time, the Pan Am “stewardess” was sophisticated and seeking to make an impact on an international scale. “Throughout the 1960s, a full 10 percent of Pan Am stewardesses had attended graduate school — a stunning figure at a time when only 6 to 8 percent of American women even held a college degree.” So many trivia gems in this one I think! Kirkus Reviews writes: “An entertaining, insightful look into a gritty and glamorous era in air travel.”
“So now what?” That is the question to be answered by four women, each at a crossroads in her life. The women respond to a message saying “you are invited to the rest of your life” and gather at Willa’s Montana home for a week-long retreat to explore what lies ahead. Fears and regrets and indecision are overcome with the support of good conversation, friendship, and the great outdoors. Descriptions of the natural landscape are apparently beautifully depicted. Some readers have found the girl talk to be a bit much while others have been brought to tears by the poignancy of the story and give it rave reviews. If a little retreat to the country with the girls sounds appealing to you, Laura Munson will have written with an authentic perspective – she hosts writing retreats in Montana and has found great success doing so after overcoming some personal challenges of her own. “Willa’s Grove is an affirmation of creativity, sisterhood, and the power of belonging.” – Chelsea Cain
Let’s start with the back cover of this book: “The novel is sheer delight” “A joyous, exuberantly fun-filled novel of second chances” “Bracing, hilarious, and warm” “Pure unadulterated reading pleasure” A quick glance at all that cheer leaves this potential reader with high hopes for sure. A family in Dublin, Ireland is coming to terms with multigenerational shenanigans. Long out of work Dad is overwhelmed by his 83 year old mother who has a penchant for shoplifting and who’s fully committed to aging disgracefully. At the same time, one of the four children, a daughter, is up to some capers of her own and boarding school is looking like a likely option. A caretaker for Granny is hired to help improve the situation, however, she brings along a little hullaballoo of her own and grand adventures ensue for all the troublemakers. Light and fun methinks.
Mayflies seems to be the story that hits the heartstrings in a more emotional way. I heard a bookshop employee taking to the airwaves about the impact this novel had on him and I jotted down the title immediately; he couldn’t possibly have reviewed it more positively. Prizewinning author, Andrew O’Hagan atmospherically starts us off in 1986 with two friends in small town Scotland, graduating from school and vowing never to lead the lives of their fathers. They celebrate the dimming of their carefree youth with an unforgettable, magical weekend trip to Manchester. Music and film and youthful energy have bonded them and feature prominently in the tale. Years later, they are connected again but for less celebratory reasons. The story unfolds in essentially two parts, the exuberance of youth and the challenge of growing old. “A beautiful ode to lost youth and male friendship.” – Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain and from Hilary Mantel, “There is no page on which there is not something surprising or quotable or pleasurable or thought-provoking.”
Yet another debut by a young writer who’s putting her life experience to good use. The “Point” in Beyond the Point is West Point, the iconic US Military Academy. Author Claire Gibson, daughter of a military man, was born at West Point and spent a good part of her childhood on its campus while her father taught there. The experience had an enormous impact on her and, as a writer later in life, she knew she wanted to capture the experience but wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. In 2013, Claire writes on her website, a friend from West Point contacted her and asked if she could share her experiences as a West Point grad and soldier with her. This initial conversation turned into multiple interviews with West Point women and Claire knew she had the inspiration for her novel. The story follows three West Point women and shines a light on their friendship and their courage as they share the demanding experience of military college and heartbreak in life in the world beyond. It’s a tribute to friendship and resilience. Claire’s website is fascinating unto itself; I can’t wait to read the book.
Wishing you all armloads of terrific books this Summer. Let’s circle back and share our thoughts after the pages have been flipped. Happy reading!
June 3, 2021
Here we are again … it’s Summer reading time. Whatever that means! I know you enthusiastic readers read all year long but there’s something about the permission we give ourselves to sink into a book on a summer day that feels different. We seem to plan and think about our reading more in the warm months. Only so much room in a beach bag so we need to be efficient. Great big classic? Light and frolicky? What’s your leaning? Let us know if you have a list of your own going and if you have any interesting titles bookmarked.
Amy Mair and I met up again virtually for another fun blog/podcast tie-in chat about books on her Podcast, Red Fern Book Review. Tune in here to listen to us talk about summer reading and the background to these first six titles. Selections were narrowed down from a list of fifty-three! Finalists were chosen for the ability to broaden our horizons in a well-written, entertaining way. Hope you enjoy any and all journeys you choose!
Just to be clear, this is not the Royal tell-all featuring Harry and Meghan. While they may also be Finding Freedom, this is not that. This is a memoir by the admirably successful Chef, Erin French of The Lost Kitchen fame. The Lost Kitchen is a renowned farm-to-table restaurant in the tiny town of Freedom, Maine and the inspiration for the cookbook, The Lost Kitchen – Recipes and A Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine: A Cookbook. While the restaurant itself could fill pages with it’s own iconic story, Chef Erin’s personal story is where this memoir focuses. Raised on a Maine farm, Erin spent her youth working in her Dad’s diner, developing a proficiency and love for making special meals. She set off for Medical school and then was faced with the reality of an unexpected pregnancy. This change in plans brought her back to the kitchen and then an unpleasant marriage and divorce, addiction to prescription drugs, loss of her first restaurant and just generally rock bottom. This is Erin’s story of finding her passion and courage to overcome while discovering success and happiness again. Lots of warm hearted reviews for this one and it will likely to appeal to lovers of Tembi Locke’s “From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home” which I adored and Jackie Kai Ellis’ “The Measure of my Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery and Paris” Also good and a little grittier.
Here’s a glimpse into the fraught world of real estate development, set in London’s old SoHo district. This apparently reads like “a great night out in a city that never sleeps” and features an array of strong characters: a real estate maven who wasn’t expecting the strength of conviction and solidarity among the sex trade worker, drug addict and alcoholic residents of the building she’s seeking to turn into condos. While a strong message about the spirit and heart of a city being compromised by development exists in the story, with an air of Dickens, it also manages to keep an “ambitious, clever, brilliant, very funny” tone. Author Fiona Mozley was on the Booker Prize shortlist with her first book, Elmet, so is considered an accomplished writer.
Author Paul Theroux has been a resident of Hawaii for some 30 years so it can be assumed he knows the world he writes about in this new novel. He is, of course, known for his earlier works, The Mosquito Coast (soon to be a new movie, again) and Riding the Iron Rooster along with a great number of other significant travel stories. Under the Wave at Waimea follows the story of an aging surfer, who’s “a man who’s come undone” and is struggling with his lost step in the surfing scene he previously dominated and with the tragic results of a drunk driving incident. His girlfriend, who happens to be a nurse, makes it her mission to try to set him right again. The story does follow along on some travels to the mainland but also delves into the sub-culture of the homeless in Hawaii. This is not a superficial travelogue but rather a dive into the deep essence of Hawaii and its social cultures. “A dramatic, affecting commentary on privilege, mortality, and the lives we choose to remember. It is a masterstroke by one of the greatest writers of our time.”(HMH)
“Unpredictable, cheeky and moving” ” Endearing and engaging” Those reviews sound like the types of reads we like! Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line follows the story of a young boy, living in an unnamed slum in a large Indian city. He loves the Police reality shows he watches on his family’s prized television and fancies himself a bit of a detective. When a child goes missing in the slum, our narrator sets off to solve the mystery but this isn’t Harriet the Spy, the crimes become greater in scope and more grim. It’s a detective story, a coming of age story and a social commentary. Writer Deepa Anappara is an award-winning Indian journalist who has extensively covered the impact of poverty in her country. In every review I’ve read, her incredible ability to capture and convey the very essence of the world in which her novel takes place is commented upon with admiration. I, personally, am not drawn to the new paperback cover but will not judge a book. I will however, take into account that the New York Times, Washington Post, and Time Magazine all deem this read one of the best books of the year.
This debut novel takes us to rural Oregon where three lonely souls find one another and a common love for beekeeping. A unique friendship forms and the likeable characters learn to overcome their grief and losses to become a sort of family to one another. The bees feature prominently and when their existence comes under threat, the friends strive to take a stand. “Eileen Garvin’s beautiful descriptions throughout this lovely novel immerse the reader in the seasons, the weather, the trees and the flowers, the river and the land and the rhythms of small-town life, but it’s the bees, with all their wonder and intricacy and intrigue, that make this story sing.”(Laurie Frankel) Eileen Garvin is a beekeeper herself in rural Oregon and has managed to share a “moving, warm and uplifting” story from her world. So looking forward to this. So many sources have named this as a “Favourite” for the season and beyond. Note that Eileen Garvin is scheduled to appear on an upcoming episode of Red Fern Book Review podcast.
Author Sara Nisha Adams is a mere 26 years old, lives in England, and is no doubt enjoying the release of her debut novel. The Reading List created a feeding frenzy among International publishers and is said to be “emotional and uplifting” as well as “an absolute joy” and “will make you fall in love with reading” The main character is a quiet widower who makes his way to Temple and to the shops in the west London suburb of Wembley and spends a great deal of time worrying about his bookworm granddaughter. Seeking a way to connect with her, the grandfather makes his way to the library where he finds guidance from another teen, a young girl working there. She has discovered a crumpled up list of novels tucked in the back of a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and has found great solace in exploring the books. She suggests the grandfather tackle the list as well and they begin to forge a special friendship around their reading. This book is a five-star-worthy read on almost every reviewing platform. Wonderful to see a young author achieve such great success. Can’t wait to join the legion of fans! (Releasing June 8th, 2021)
Fifty-three titles and a still growing list – it doesn’t seem fair not to share at least a few more titles with you. Stay tuned for an addition to Summer Reading 2021 in a separate post coming soon!
Meanwhile, tune in to Red Fern Book Review!
June 23, 2020
In a Summer where we’re being encouraged to stay close to home, how wonderful to have a new guidebook of sorts to help us explore our nearby neighbourhoods. If you’ve become too comfortable being housebound, this might be just the inspiration you need to get out there and investigate.
Illustrator and writer, Emma Fitzgerald has imaginatively captured scenes of little pockets around the city of Vancouver and included conversations with those she’s encountered or overheard. Her work has been described as “part sketchbook, part journal” by the Globe and Mail and we like both. We’re also big on “Whimsical” and “Charming” here at BTB and this promises each in abundance. I’m particularly fond of the storefronts and streetscapes captured in Emma’s drawings as we know, all too well, that the city is changing and these may be the nostalgic views we’ll treasure most in the future.
This little story explains the source of Emma’s inspiration: “My daily commute to school, an hour each way in the backseat of the car, was an education in the geography of the city. We passed through Dundarave and Ambleside, stalled in traffic at Park Royal, went over the Capilano River Reserve while crossing the Lions Gate Bridge, and then were momentarily surrounded by trees in Stanley Park. It was often a quick drive through the West End and Downtown, seemingly before anyone else was awake, then over the Burrard or sometimes Granville Bridge, through Kitsilano, all the way to Dunbar—only to do it all in reverse at the end of the day. Looking out of the window, I discovered that each neighbourhood had its own unique architecture and population, and they became endlessly interesting to me.”
While Emma mostly grew up in Vancouver, she also spent some time studying and living in Halifax. She successfully captured that city in Hand Drawn Halifax. Rumour has it that she’s now in Victoria and exploring that city for its own Hand Drawn edition. We’ll have to stay tuned!
June 16, 2020
These are beautiful coffee table books through the pages of which we can vicariously travel to traditionally dreamy domains of Summer. Coffee Table Books are not easy on the wallet, unless you compare them to the cost of the tickets to travel, yet they are a wonderful way to savour beautiful photography and design. I have a healthy little collection focused on travel and design and art and I enjoy visiting the titles often. They are indeed “trippy”! I don’t put them on my coffee table, however, lest someone spill the coffee.
Summer to Summer: Houses by the Sea is a new one, being released today in fact. It features the stories and photos of a selection of gorgeous homes along the North East Coast of the United States. The area really is a mecca for stunning Summer home architecture. Even if you are lucky enough to visit the region, you can’t always get inside the homes – through these pages you can! “All we need to do is settle back, kick off our shoes, and let the sun-kissed pages of Summer to Summer wash over us.” (publisher)
Summertime is colourfully filled with images that represent the epitome of an ideal summer; 46 different photographers share places that are lodged in their summer memories. Evocative quotes and summery reflections by literary icons are sprinkled among the photographs and there is true sense of nostalgia throughout. Joanne Dugan, the editor of this lovely book, writes: “It turns out that my first summer love was not a person but a place.” Read a mood-setting excerpt here.
Summer Houses by the Sea: The Shingle Style focuses on perhaps the most iconic design of a traditional summer home. Shingled summer homes “are an expression of the romantic longing for the sea.” (publisher) While this one may be more of an architectural study than a seasonal celebration, its photographic pages will still give you a sense of summer days spent in some treasured historic homes as well as in some newer shingled havens. You’ll learn a little in this one but the dreamy summer journey will be there too.
June 9, 2020
The Summer Reads list is a bit of a tradition here at Bedside Table Books and started as a way to help you make choices to fill your seasonal book bag. You won’t find Dostoevsky on this list (sorry, Fyodor!) but you will hopefully, without too much effort, travel the world a little bit with some interesting folks, learn a little here and there, have a good laugh and maybe even get a chill down your spine. I’ve researched and narrowed down a mountain of choices to these few. I’ll be digging in soon and hope you’ll join me. If you have found an ideal Summer Read yourself, feel free to share it with us.
The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell – A memoir of a young man and his penguin. How’s that for a unique start?! A young Englishman heads for South America to teach at a boarding school and on a weekend adventure finds himself rescuing a penguin who insists on sticking around.
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin – An elderly Irishman spends an evening at a hotel bar, making five toasts to five influential people in his life. This one might be your rainy day read as it seems reflective and bittersweet but by all accounts features a well written character who will remain with you. “If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said?”
Last Days of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan – There are many tales of people leaving Iran but few telling the story of returning. In this novel, a woman leaves San Francisco to return to Tehran and her family and the restaurant that has been their business for three generations. She brings her teen daughter and together they explore themes of change and family. Refinery 29 says, “… a love letter to family, food and culture.” I thought it interesting that the author is an award-winning Chef and former restaurateur – so many reviews mention how beautifully the Persian food features.
The Summer Country by Lauren Willig – This one travels in time and location, to Victorian era Barbados. A family saga, epic in scale, set in the Caribbean of the 1800s. Comparisons to the Thorn Birds had me convinced if the gorgeous cover art hadn’t already. A young woman surprisingly inherits, from her grandfather, a sugar plantation that no one even knew existed. The plantation, or what remains of it, has stories (romance, ghosts!) that must be explored. So many good reviews and apparently one to really sink into and savour.
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok – I absolutely loved the author’s first book, Lost in Translation, and so am really looking forward to this one. A Chinese immigrant family’s hidden story is revealed as a younger sister goes looking for her elder sister who’s mysteriously disappeared in the Netherlands. Suspense and secrets and sisters … sounds simple but it’s complicated!
Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski – A group of women, initially unknown to one another, meet annually to escape from their regular lives to ride horses in Iceland. The author recounts stories of her annual trip, her companions (four footed and two) and the extraordinary setting while exploring themes of identity, aging, friendship, freedom … “Filled with adventure and fresh humor, as well as an incredible portrait of Iceland and its remarkable equines, Wild Horses of the Summer Sun will enthrall and delight not just horse lovers, but those of us who yearn for a little more wild in everyday life.” Paperback will be released in August. I’ll be in line!
Grown Ups by Marian Keyes – Beloved Irish writer, Marian Keyes, takes on life and all its foibles with equal doses of humour and poignancy in her fiction and non-fiction. This one is a big juicy novel featuring a fancy family who becomes a bit unraveled when one member’s concussion causes her to become a little too unfiltered. The revelations cause the extended family to have to “grow up”. Along with the hilarity is some complexity in the lives of well-crafted characters.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – Already an accomplished author of The Mothers, Brit Bennett’s newest book was released on June 2nd into a world that could not be more ready to receive it. By all accounts this is an impressively written and important book. Identical twins escape their small town together but choose different paths in life, one as a black woman and the other, passing as white. The story moves forward through the 1950s to the 1990s, on to the next generation, and boldly examines the historical and social influences on their lives. Book clubs are going to be leaping for this one.
We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall – You may recall Susie’s last book, The Subway Girls, appeared on a previous Summer list. Susie takes inspiration from a moment in history, does extensive research for true authenticity, and weaves stories featuring intrepid heroines. The historical inspiration for this latest book was The 1939 New York World’s Fair. Two feisty young women are working at the Fair, both in positions beneath their aspirations and limited by the biased environment around them. They form a friendship which provides support and gives them courage to face their challenges. Susie describes the Fair meticulously and more than one reviewer described the book as “cinematic” with the Fair itself acting as a prominent character.
Beach Read by Emily Henry – This seems poised to be the runaway beach bag hit for the summer. Very generous reviews and apparently more depth to it than the cover might suggest. An acclaimed writer of Literary Fiction is spending the summer at a beach house. Next door is a bestselling Romance writer. Each is suffering from severe writer’s block and so begins the tale of them challenging each other to bust out of the creative doldrums. The witty banter, Lake Michigan in the summer, and a little romantic frisson evidently adds up to excellent summer entertainment.
Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks – “Endearing, emotional and uplifting” The reviews for this book are outstanding. Circumstances bring a father and son to an Anger Management class where they engage with a young woman, also enrolled. Neither adult is especially fond of the other but a bond develops between the young woman and the boy who happens to be on the Autism spectrum and the story evolves from there. This is Rachel Marks’ first book and her inspiration came from her struggles in understanding her own son’s autistic behaviours. She writes exceptionally well and also from a place of true empathy for the characters’ experiences.
July 14, 2018
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!
July 4, 2018
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!
July 9, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 23, 2015
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!