September 5, 2022
Summer is winding down and I hope everyone has been enjoying a good read or two. Or twelve for the lucky ones! Many of us were struggling with getting in the page turns so twelve might be a stretch … too many distractions. I have to say when I forced myself to turn off, tune out, and sit with a book, there were great reads to be had this summer. And, if finding a book that “speaks to you” was the challenge, you no longer have that excuse. I think this Fall may have more intriguing releases than any other I recall. Get a load of this list – strictly confined to new releases by tried and true writers. If you’re not familiar with the earlier book, you get two to consider. I imagine most of you have read the old and might be keen to try the new. I know what the good writers were doing those last two weird Covid summers … writing!
Release dates range from recent to November – pre-order those ones so you get a surprise in the mail!
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!
May 13, 2021
I’ve had a few “wait a minute!” moments of confusion at the bookshelves in recent times. On more than one occasion I’ve encountered an unfamiliar title or a new release and thought, “I’ve read about this one already” but alas, no. (And no, not middle age brain to blame for a change!) It seems that sometimes great minds of writers simply think alike. Here are a few newish books that look great to me and happen to have been inspired by a shared theme.
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Vera by Carol Edgarian
“Set in San Francisco during the great quake and fire of 1906, this wonderfully compelling novel takes us deeply into the heart and mind of an unforgettable fifteen year old girl, one who must find her way alone through a mother’s neglect, through bordellos and corrupt politicians, through the debris and ashes of what was once “The Paris of the West.” Vera is that rare novel that you’ll want to buy for loved ones just as soon as you reach its shimmeringly beautiful ending. And its street-wise, resilient protagonist will stay with you for a very long time indeed.”
— Andre Dubus III
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
“In 1906, Irish immigrant Sophie marries a stranger and moves to San Francisco. There, she discovers a hidden connection to two other women — and when a devastating earthquake strikes, they must fight to survive. “Exceptional… Ingeniously plotted and perfectly structured, this captivates from beginning to end” (Publishers Weekly).”
Kentucky Packhorse Library Service
Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes
“Based on the true story of the Pack Horse Library initiative — a Works Progress Administration project that ran from 1935 to 1943 and turned women and their steeds into bookmobiles — Moyes’s characters travel into the remote Eastern Kentucky mountains to deliver learning to the most isolated residents….’Giver of Stars’ is a celebration of love, but also of reading, of knowledge, of female friendship, of the beauty of our most rural corners and our enduring American grit: the kind of true grit that can be found in the hills of Kentucky and on the pages of this inspiring book.
– Washington Post
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
“Kim Michele Richardson has written a fascinating novel about people almost forgotten by history: Kentucky’s pack-horse librarians and “blue people.” The factual information alone would make this book a treasure, but with her impressive storytelling and empathy, Richardson gives us so much more.”
– Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of One Foot in Eden and Serena
The Barbizon Hotel for Women
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
“Multigenerational and steeped in history, The Dollhouse is a story about women—from the clicking anxiety of Katie Gibbs’s secretaries to the willowy cool of Eileen Ford’s models, to honey-voiced hatcheck girls and glamorous eccentrics with lapdogs named Bird. Davis celebrates the women of New York’s present and past—the ones who live boldly, independently, carving out lives on their own terms.”
—Elizabeth Winder, author of Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953
Barbizon: the Hotel that Set Women Free by Paulina Bren
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.
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.