Red Fern Book Review podcast tie-in. Tune in to hear the chat!

Dusk, Night, Dawn by Anne Lamott – I have had Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, on my shelf for more than 25 years. It is well-thumbed, extensively highlighted and treasured. Anne’s voice is uniquely wise, honest, hilarious, self-deprecating and hits all the hard topics with a gentle touch. Recently, I heard Anne interviewed on a podcast and had to stop in my tracks to write down a fresh aha! gem. A few steps later, more gems to note. Slow walk that day! She is simply enchanting and her optimistic, yet realistic, view is most welcome when things seem gloomy out there. This latest writing is part of a series focused on coming to terms with Life’s essential truths and has been called “an ode to relishing small things.” While some categorize her writing under “Religion”, I would argue that she is universally appealing to the Human faith. Can’t wait to read her newest words and will surely have the highlighter handy!

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain – If you’ve been flipping pages in the historical fiction genre anytime in the last decade, you will surely know of Paula McLain. She has beautifully reimagined the lives of Hemingway’s wives, Hadley Richardson in The Paris Wife and Martha Gelhorn in Love & Ruin. Both were hugely popular reads with book clubs. My particular favourite among her books, so far, is Circling the Sun, which explores the exciting and unusual life of Beryl Markham. McLain’s newest story goes in a different direction and emerges in the realm of mystery and suspense. A Missing Persons Detective returns to her hometown for some much needed respite and becomes enmeshed in two intense new cases, each involving a young woman. Paula McLain has written honestly in essays about her own difficult childhood and one can imagine that When the Stars Go Dark may draw on some of this traumatic experience as inspiration. (See Real Simple essay called A Lesson In Motherhood and find others on Paula’s website) By all accounts it’s as beautifully written as her earlier works and grips the heartstrings all the way.

Brat: An 80’s Story by Andrew McCarthy – Brat as in Brat Pack. With us now? If you were coming of age in the 1980s, you may well have been living in a director John-Hughes-infused world of movies, soundtracks and fashions featuring stars known as the Brat Pack. Andrew McCarthy was the tall, quiet observer, angsty, best friend … Fast forward many years and I found myself noting the by-line of a remarkably well-written travel essay. “Would that be the one and same?”, I wondered. Sure enough! Turns out Andrew McCarthy had traveled widely in his adult life and recorded his thoughts and experiences in the most respected travel publications. Read some of his essays here. He’d also written a well-reviewed memoir called The Longest Way Home as well as the YA book, Just Fly Away. Both were NYT best sellers. Which is all only to say, I look forward to reading Brat for the writing. He’s also featured in the credits as a Director for many episodes of top popular television series. There are a few tetchy interviews on record in which McCarthy made it clear he was a reluctant member of the so-called band of Brats. This may lead one to believe that some conflict lies within the story behind the story. Good writing and perhaps some intriguing celebrity revelations ahead.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi – I really enjoyed reading The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi and know I wasn’t alone; it was a global best seller and a Reese’s Book Club favourite. In its pages we were introduced to the precocious little helper, “Malik”. Well, Joshi’s new book, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, follows along with Malik’s story. He’s back, 12 years later and working as an apprentice at the pink palace and enmeshed in tangled webs of love, lies and class struggles. Lakshmi is back too, providing connections and unraveling more of her own story. I love when a book lingers long in one’s memory and I expect The Secret Keeper of Jaipur will do so just as The Henna Artist did.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue – A very striking cover on this one! You may recognize the author’s name from her wildly successful book, Behold the Dreamers, published in 2016. That one has gone on to become an opera, a stage play and is now slated to become a television mini-series. I still have it on my must read list. Meanwhile, How Beautiful We Were, seems primed to achieve a level of greatness all its own. A young African woman returns to her fictional village following studies abroad and takes up the battle to defend her ancestral land and the dignity of her people in the shadow of an American oil company’s reckless and crushing endeavours: oil spills, tainted drinking water, the greed of profit seekers… Reviewers almost unanimously celebrate the main character, Thula, as a heroine to remember though the story reflects the perspectives of many.

The Elephant of Belfast by S. Kirk Walsh – Here is a debut novel from an accomplished essay writer who has thoroughly researched a little known true story from wartime Belfast. There are so many layers: The Belfast Blitz, British Loyalist/Irish political tension, Belfast’s first woman Zookeeper, the bond between a heartbroken young woman and an orphaned elephant (named Violet) and some suspenseful hide and seek. Oodles of stars being allocated in the reviews of this one! WWII themed historical fiction is so popular at the moment and this story offers a uniquely compelling take on wartime challenges. I love a good foray into a different time and place and early readers assure that this read will transport us and engage us dramatically. “A gripping and uplifting tribute.” (Hachette) A little bonus trivia … Published as The Zookeeper of Belfast in some regions while titled The Elephant of Belfast here in Canada – Zookeeper and elephant share equal billing in the story it seems. Also, beloved author Michael Morpurgo, discovered this story as well and wrote his version for children called An Elephant in the Garden. Bit of a spoiler there I guess!

More Spring book releases in the next Post!

May I Introduce You …

March 22, 2021

… to a fun little collaboration between Bedside Table Books and Red Fern Book Review. Red Fern Book Review is an excellent new podcast related to books and ably hosted by one Amy Mair.

Our lives intertwined in a few ways but it was while Amy and I were both volunteering at a Used Book Fair that our mutual love for reading surfaced. As we sorted the books, we realized we shared very similar taste in our literary choices and have enjoyed sharing reading recommendations whenever our paths have crossed since.

A few months ago, Amy decided to explore the world of podcasting. Red Fern Book Review is the delightful result. And what was that about a collaboration? Well, Amy kindly invited me to join her “on air” and share my favourite book picks among the Spring Releases. It seems like only yesterday that I posted about all the great New Year releases and now we’re into Spring with another fresh crop. Tune in on Wednesday, March 24th for Red Fern’s newest episode and Bedside Table Books’ first Podcast tie-in post.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for some fun book chat, catch up with Amy’s earlier episodes, here.

See you on Wednesday, with your headphones on!

Soon to be Released!

December 31, 2020

If your Christmas stocking featured a book shop gift card and you’re looking for spending inspiration or you want to get your name in early at the library, take a peek at these titles releasing in the next few weeks. 2021 is already shaping up to be a stellar book year! You will see some favourite writers in the midst along with a few new names (to me anyway). I have a burgeoning bedside table but know that I’ll be keeping an eye out for these too. 

Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson – Canadian Jennifer Robson has written several acclaimed novels based on historical events and eras. (The Gown, Somewhere in France, Moonlight Over Paris …) Her thorough research and ability to craft characters who capture our hearts leads me to believe this will be another winner. Set in Italy during the Second World War, and based on a true story, Our Darkest Night is “a compelling tale of bravery, perseverance, and the immeasurable power of love in the face of adversity.” (Kristin Beck) January 5/21

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves – Kind of cheating as this was actually first published in April 2019 but is about to be released in paperback. “… a compelling novel with beautifully rendered characters, an extraordinary tale filled with sensitivity and empathy that gives readers a peek into the world of autism through the eyes of a woman who proves to be as audacious as she is charming. Readers, don’t you dare miss this love story.” Descriptions make me think of a bit of a Queen’s Gambit vibe. Without the darkness and drinks! January 7/21

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson – “Better Luck Next Time crackles with wit and wisdom. This delightful novel of love and loss on a divorce ranch in Nevada during the Great Depression is poignant, hilarious, and, at times, achingly sad. I love this glorious book!” (Mary Pauline Lowry) Until the 1970s, Divorce ranches in Reno were destinations for those seeking a “quickie” divorce, granted after 6 weeks as a resident. Also known as getting Reno-vated! January 5/21

The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin – The Children’s Blizzard was an actual epic storm that took place in January 1888 across the Midwest US. It came up suddenly and caught many school children, most of homesteading immigrant families, making their way home. “In this atmospheric novel, as relentlessly paced as a thriller, you experience the encroaching storm from many perspectives and, in the process, understand something important about the tenacity of the human spirit.” (Christina Baker Kline) January 12/21

The Last Garden of England by Julia Kelly – “Kelly’s novel encompasses everything I love in historical fiction: a dramatic setting depicted so vividly I could’ve sworn I was strolling through the gardens of Highbury House as I turned the pages, and a series of stories that intertwine each other effortlessly, echoing the theme of love lost and found. A delight.” (Fiona Davis) If that review doesn’t have you on your way to putting this on the shelf … grand English Manors and luscious gardens … done! Julia Kelly has also recently written the well reviewed, The Light Over London and The Whispers of War. January 12/21

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry – Barry is an accomplished novelist and short-story writer with an exquisite gift for language. This is a collection of eleven short stories set among the characters and landscape of his native Ireland. This interview in the Paris Review (here) may give us a sense of the humour he is capable of incorporating into even sometimes darker tales. “I had to quit reading this book the first day I had it in my hands, just so I could have it to read the next day. It’s that good.” (Richard Ford) January 12/21

How the One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones – Set in a Barbados resort community where conflicts among the beach dwellers and the well-off mansion owners simmer and a botched robbery has dramatic repercussions. “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is simply brilliant. By the first chapter, it burned into my heart. Ambitious, poetic, and layered with the rich voices of its many stunning characters, this terrific debut novel by Cherie Jones opened my eyes to the many ways that her young Barbadian protagonist must fight for her life.” (Lawrence Hill) January 26/21

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – The Nightingale and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah are two of the most compelling reads I’ve experienced in recent years. This new novel is set in the 1930s Depression era and follows a woman making difficult decisions for her family while draught and despair surround her. I have no doubt that it will be at least as engaging as the earlier reads. “Hannah brings Dust Bowl migration to life in this riveting story of love, courage, and sacrifice…combines gritty realism with emotionally rich characters and lyrical prose that rings brightly and true from the first line –  (Publishers Weekly) February 2/21

Red Island House by Andrea Lee – Another one with an intriguing location and social challenges. “From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee, an epic, gorgeously evocative novel about love and identity, following two decades in the marriage between an African American professor and her wealthy Italian husband as it unfolds on the remote and mysterious island of Madagascar.” (Publisher) March 23/21

Holiday Books (2)

December 5, 2020

And now for Holiday books, part two … These are the novels that have caught my eye in the last little while and have made it on to “the list”. Another diverse selection of themes, generally great reviews, a few award-winners, all but one, by chance, by writers I’ve not yet read. In my opinion, a good selection from which to gift the readers in your life. Hope you find something that appeals! And, of course, do share any titles that are making it on to your lists.

Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell – I was so confused. Maggie O’Farrell’s name is also on the cover of a book called Hamnet. After some thorough, but not very rewarding research, it appears these two books are indeed one and the same. As sometimes happens, the Canadian edition goes by a different title. So … whether you read Hamnet or Hamnet & Judith, you will be reading an award winner. A Waterstone’s pick for book of the year too. The historical tale puts us into the 16th Century and witness to the life and death of a child, Hamnet, the little known son of Shakespeare. “A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time, Hamnet & Judith is mesmerizing and seductive, an impossible-to-put-down novel from one of our most gifted writers.” While I’m honestly not altogether uplifted by the sound of the tale itself, by absolutely all accounts, the prose in this novel is utterly sensational and must be experienced.

The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson – I confess to having already added this to my bedside table. It was too pretty to pass up! So many of us love this genre of historical fiction, where present and past generations connect through hidden clues from a war torn era. I’m a sucker for a British “rugged coastline” setting and do adore an old house restoration that reveals clues to the past too. “Intriguing” “Quite Magical” “Mesmerizing” “Poignant” “Sweeping Saga” and “Irresistible Epic” – well, those sound like the ingredients for a perfect story to me and definitely gift-worthy.

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie – Also historical, but takes us to post World War II Japan where a young bi-racial and illegitimate girl struggles to overcome the injustices toward her. Her imperially ranked grandparents, with whom she’s been abandoned, cannot overcome their shame and prejudices and mistreat her badly. Hope only reaches Noriko when her half brother, and heir to the family fortune, arrives and advocates for her. “Spanning decades and continents, Fifty Words for Rain is a dazzling epic.” A debut author and an award winner too. Looks so good and I love the idea of travelling to Japan through the pages. An important experience to consider during these confining times!

One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney – The novel takes place over the course of one evening as a young chaplain does her rounds, accompanied by a “rough and ready” dog, who may or may not be a ghost. “The perfect novel to combat pandemic angst.“… it’s filled with characters who are rich with stories and eager to tell them.” This one intrigues and is very generously reviewed. It’s apparently a philosophical, gentle, and hopeful story of companionship.

Pale Morning Light: A Novel of a Life in Art by Violet Swan – An aging artist has captured fame with her peaceful abstract paintings. She lives a quiet and private life in Oregon until the generations she’ll leave behind begin to inadvertently unravel secrets she’d intended to take to her grave. “Gorgeous, luminescent, and imbued with hope, meet Violet Swan, ninety-three years old, and with a heck of a story to tell. Be prepared to be spellbound.” – Rene Denfeld. I’m always fascinated by the lives of artists and this one has me curious while generational sagas always make great gifts.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – This novel appears on almost every Favourites and Must Read list there is. V.E. Schwab is a prolific and highly praised writer but in Fantasy, an area in which I rarely, if ever, dabble. While this story has an element of time-travelling magic in it, it seems to have captured the hearts of readers of every genre. “… Schwab sends you whirling through a dizzying kaleidoscopic adventure through centuries filled with love, loss, art and war — all the while dazzling your senses with hundreds of tiny magical moments along the way.” (Naomi Novik) That word “epic” gets bandied about again when talking about this one. Sounds like a riveting read and a great escape.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce – The description of Miss Benson’s Beetle reads like a buddy caper movie ready for the filming. Lead character Miss. Benson is reaching a breaking point with her dire personal circumstances and so, impulsively and bravely, decides to set off on an expedition in search of a particular beetle she’s been obsessed with since childhood. She advertises for an assistant to join her on the foray. “Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.” It’s one of the books already in my “read next” pile. Can’t wait! (PS – Rachel Joyce is the author of the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu “A stunning novel about identity, race, societal expectations, and crippling anxiety told with humor and affection and a deep understanding of human nature.” (The Washington Independent Review of Books) While the issues seem complicated and emotional, exploring Asian stereotypes and feelings of inferiority, almost every review makes mention of the good humour in this read. Creatively written, in the format of a screenplay and in second person, it may be a departure from the style of our usual reads but sounds like it’s definitely worth the journey. Fabulous reviews, a television adaptation in the works, a very likeable author, and a recent National Book Award all seem pretty convincing that this should be on our lists.

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane – This story also appears on a number of “good humour” lists. If you liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (and I think we all did!) this may be right up your alley. A sharp-witted, introverted heroine embraces an unexpected opportunity to revive a few long-neglected old friendships and sets off to do so, intentionally in person rather than through social media means. “Wry, witty, ultimately uplifting, this gem of a novel celebrates the gifts in our ordinary lives.” (Claire Messud) Another celebration of the little joys in life and the importance of good friendship, fitting for our times. And it’s a gem!

Happy reading and happy gifting! Let us know if you’ve already been through the pages of any of these. They’re all new to me but look enticing and gift-worthy.

Holiday Book List (1)

December 4, 2020

These are the non-fiction books on my most recent ever-evolving wish/gift list. It’s an eclectic selection for sure. Perhaps a sign of the times that comfort food and wine features along with personal profiles in kindness and community. Add a little cozy decor, book chat and trivia for good measure and it’s looking like a great reading and gifting season. (Click on bold titles to be taken to IndieBound for more information) The list of novels deserves a post of its own so standby for that in short order.

Half Baked Harvest Super Simple (Tieghan Gerard) – Had me at simple! Started off writing that I’m a Half-Baked fan but realized that would require more clarity. I’ve made quite a few Half Baked Harvest recipes discovered in the realm of Pinterest and have loved them all. I always appreciate when ingredients and skills are easily accessible.

Ina Garten’s Modern Comfort Food (Ina Garten) – The Barefoot Contessa gets it right every time. Nothing too complicated here either. Lovely photos and clear directions and delicious outcomes no matter who’s in the kitchen. Ideal for easy inspiration as we spend less time out and more time in these days.

Wine Folly: The Master Guide (Magnum Edition) (Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack) – Now this is a beautiful edition of a classic wine guide. Wine expert Madeline Puckette is not only an engaging purveyor of wine knowledge but she’s apparently also a graphic designer which enables her to present all sorts of interesting tidbits in a beautiful and clear way. There are charts and maps and little drawings, all frame worthy. In fact, many of the pages can indeed be ordered as posters. This would be appreciated equally in the library of a wine connoisseur or a wine newbie. A fantastic gift book.

Extraordinary Canadians: Stories from the Heart of our Nation (Peter Mansbridge and Mark Bulgutch) – Canadian icon Peter Mansbridge knows Canada and her people through and through. While he may have connections to the headliners, the extraordinary Canadians he’s chosen to feature are a little more under the radar. The publisher Simon & Schuster describes the book this way: “a collection of first-person stories about remarkable Canadians who embody the values of our great nation—kindness, compassion, courage, and freedom—and inspire us to do the same.” Even more reasons to be grateful to be Canadian.

Humans (Brandon Stanton) – I’ve written here before about the storyteller Brandon Stanton. I still loyally follow his series and look forward to this collection of stories gathered beyond the realm of New York. The same heartwarming (or wrenching) tales of love and goodwill but from all around the globe. The photos alone are stunning.

The 99% Invisible City – A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design (Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt) On occasion a Podcast becomes so popular it begets a book. 99% Invisible is one such example. Thought much about trash can design? Drinking fountains? Fire Escapes? Crosswalks? The backstories to urban design features and architecture for both the curious and oblivious. One reviewer (Mary Roach) writes: “Your city’s secret anatomy laid bare—a hundred things you look at but don’t see, see but don’t know. Each entry is a compact, surprising story, a thought piece, an invitation to marvel.” The information is conversational and tucked in amid striking line drawings. I love this stuff! Your Covid walks through town will never be boring again. Read this and be the star conversationalist at your next (Zoom) gathering!

The Writer’s Library: The Author’s You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives (Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager) – I’m always curious to know about the books that are treasured most on people’s bookshelves. It seems to me that successful writers would have the highest of standards and this collection of book titles must be pretty special and interesting. 23 contemporary authors (think Donna Tartt, Amor Towles, Laurie Frankel, Richard Ford …) “reveal the books that made them think, brought them joy, and changed their lives in this intimate, moving, and insightful collection” Sounds like you can cuddle up with this one and have your pen and paper handy for recommendations.

Natural Elegance: Luxurious Mountain Living (Rush Jenkins, Klaus Baer, William Abranowicz) – You know I can’t pass up a trip through the Design and Decor section. This incredibly attractive book takes us into a cozy wonderland of “refined rustic” interiors by award-winning WRJ Design of Jackson Hole. We get to play looky-loo into a number of their extraordinary home projects and come away with a lovely dose of inspiration. The views through the (many and large) windows are as breathtaking as the interiors. Armchair traveling at its best and a great gift for your own interior design geek.

Getting Cozy

November 10, 2020

I’ve written here before about the deliciousness that is Bella Grace magazine. A little spin-off that is equally worth delving into is The Cozy Issue. What a beautiful cover on the newest edition! Race you to the newstand! Available now at Chapters/Indigo and a few other independent magazine shops. Michael’s has had it in the past too … Worth the hunt I’m sure.

Marc Johns

November 2, 2020

It’s truly a sign That things will get better When a walrus named Frank Wears a crimson-striped sweater

I am not sure artist Marc Johns anticipated being a Covid-era charmer but, I must declare, discovering his whimsy and wit during this time has charmed me immensely. The illustrations are quirky and cute but the words are usually what seal (sorry) the deal for me. In investigating a little further into the source of these creations I was delighted to discover Marc and his family live nearby, on Vancouver Island. Not sure why this was so exciting to me as the world wide web makes us all essentially neighbours nowadays and I have no plans to set off stalking but I suppose it’s comforting to know these seals and gulls and people with banana ears are local inspiration.

It’s amazing we’re able to get through the day With no seagulls on bicycles, leading the way.
Going bananas.
The whisk wasn’t the tallest, but he had terrific hair.
Books were his favourite way to escape.
The bedside lamp, disgusted by the horrid selection of books that Mr. Denman insisted on reading lately, flew away in a huff.

If you fall for these little doses of cheer as soundly as I did then you can add them to your daily life by following Marc’s Instagram or Pinterest accounts, buying a calendar, poster, or other merchandise (merch as the cool kids say – I’m not cool enough to use the term but aspire enough to make mention) or buy one of his books. Visit Marc’s website here to learn more and may you all find a chuckle in his delightful work!

Celebrity Book Clubs

August 19, 2020

Hiking 2015, by Darren Thompson

Hope you’ve all been enjoying a good summer with books galore. I’ve had some hits and misses but overall there are some good pages in the bank. You’ll hear about the best ones soon.  Feel free to share your own hits!

I have an arm’s-length list of topics to share with you but it was a message in my in-box this morning that put me back in the chair to write. From whence the message? A shoe company I once patronized. The content? An invite to join their new Book Club! Not the first place I think of when I think of book clubs.

I’d already begun piecing together notes about the recent surge of celebrity book clubs so it seemed a sign. It seems everyone from the iconic, (Oprah and Reese and former NFL-er Andrew Luck), to all the TV hosts (Jenna and GMA), to every bookseller (Chapter’s, Parnassus, Powell’s) and yes, even to the shoe store, has formed a virtual book club. I haven’t actually joined in with any of the groups but I do give the books and their reviews a second look. Oprah’s picks have sometimes been a bit dark for my liking, Reese’s are quite consistently choices I’ve enjoyed though sometimes a little on the “lite” side and I’ve said before that Heather’s selections are dependably good ones for me too. What’s your experience been? Do you follow any celebrity book clubs you’d recommend?

Here are some of the latest picks that have caught my eye in a few of the most popular “Celebrity” Book Clubs:

Heather’s Book Club (Heather Reisman of Indigo-Chapters)

The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power, A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabelle Allende, The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

Hello Sunshine Book Club (Reese Witherspoon’s picks)

The Henna Artist by Akra Joshi, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat, Untamed by Glennon Doyle

 

Andrew Luck’s Book Club

The Overstory by Richard Powers, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, Preaching to the Chickens: The story of a young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

 

Good Morning America (GMA) Book Club 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis, In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, Long Bright River by Liz Moore

 

Read with Jenna (Today Show)

A Burning by Megha Majumbdar, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare, All Adults Here by Emma Straub

 

Oprah’s Book Club

Deacon King Kong by James McBride, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

 

And the shoe company, Margaux’s, inaugural selection for their new book club called (wait for it) Footnotes!

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Do You Read Me?

August 3, 2020

 

I know for certain that bookstores bring me comfort like few other places do. The beauty of the spines colourfully stacked together can be awe-inspiring but the fact that each book is evidence of some soul’s hard work, creativity, and commitment is even more inspiring to me.  I think above all,  I’m taken by the sense of optimism that perfumes the air of a bookshop. Therein may be your next favourite escape, your next learned thing, the next time someone “gets you”,  your next big laugh, the next time you can travel in time (back or forth) the next time you just savour the joy of well chosen words. Every visitor to a bookstore, whether they leave with a book or not, must feel a spark of optimism when they head in the door. So many potential experiences await. It’s downright thrilling. And so is this book.

I was recently gifted Do You Read Me? a book that explores bookstores around the world (Thanks, Mom!) and I’ve been enthralled.

Carturesti Carusel in Bucharest, Romania

From Tel Aviv to Tokyo, Porto to Portland, New York to New Delhi and beyond, Do You Read Me?  is a glorious study of some of the world’s most wonderful Independent bookstores. Being pandemically shackled, we’re not making treks to far off lands these days. Nothing, however, is stopping us from virtually voyaging world-wide through these pages. There are fascinating discussions on the independent bookstore business, the diverse and innovative bookshop keepers, and the importance of bookstores to communities. Throughout each feature are gorgeous photos and engaging back stories about what makes each store unique.  I’ve been known to steer a travel itinerary in the direction of a special book shop before, now entire “someday” trips may be inspired by a certain bookstore!

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.” – Neil Gaiman

Some of the bookstores are astonishing architecturally – converted banks, churches and theatres restored to epic glory. There are also a few modern architectural stars, new, sleek and shiny.  Others are quaint and cute and a puzzle of rooms pieced together. Some are thematically focused on travel, romance, art … Some are named with a wink to readers, like the  “The Wild Rumpus” and “The Ripped Bodice”  and others simply tell it like it is: “Books are Magic!”

I hope someday you can locate a copy of this lovely book and enjoy the journey yourselves.

“Running a bookshop is a curious profession. It is a delightful, weird, and wonderful thing. I am grateful to have been part of it.” – Jen Campbell

Twenty or so years ago, the creative home improvement reality shows we’ve come to love were just getting started on TV and the initiator of them all, the Belle of the Ball, was Debbie Travis (The Painted House to start …). She brought her effervescent personality and her zesty sense of humour to the mix along with her sponges and designer’s eye, providing the perfect formula for the legions of others who followed in her footsteps.

Not only did Debbie (along with her husband Hans) create an empire of TV production, home decor and paint products, books, speaking engagements etc., she, at the same time, was mother to two busy little boys. When she noticed an increased fixation among her fans on how she was managing family and firm, she responded by writing a wonderful book called Not Guilty: My Guide to Working Hard Raising Kids and Laughing Through the Chaos. I think the title says it all!

Just because we haven’t seen Debbie on TV as often in recent years, doesn’t mean she hasn’t been her usual busy and creative self. In fact, she had a bit of an epiphany and had an utter reinvention. In short form, inspired by Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, Debbie and Hans purchased a rundown villa in Italy and set to restoring it as a boutique hotel with a vision to Debbie hosting themed women’s retreats for starters. Of course, they’ve done it all beautifully. See Tuscan Getaway for a glimpse. I see now that Olive Oil, Lavender products and Wine sales have evolved from the groves, fields, and vines. Ever the business mind!

Fortunately for us, Debbie was again inspired to share the knowledge she gained along the path. The new book (recently released in paperback) is called Design Your Next Chapter: How to Realize your Dreams and Reinvent Your Life. It is a very personal account of her own recognition, in her early 50s, that she needed a change. The tools and exercises she (and her important friends and guides) found to help her choose and forge a new path are offered in the book. Stories of others who’ve dreamt and then pursued new directions are also featured. It’s a delightful memoir, a workbook and an inspiring self-help guide all in one! I would say, beyond her boisterous Brit humour, Debbie’s best qualities are her honesty and her easy-to-relate-to demeanour. You’ll read this and feel like you just walked the seawall with a best pal – the advice is that good and the tone that encouraging!

A bonus and a perfect companion read, Frances Mayes’ recent novel, Women In Sunlight, may well be inspired by one of Debbie’s women’s retreats. And if all of these gorgeous descriptions of the Italian people and countryside still aren’t enough for you, read the newest travel guide releases by Mayes called See You In the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy  and Always Italy with Ondine Cohane.

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