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.

Summer Reads 2020

June 9, 2020

Art by Charlie Mackesy

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. 

The New Girl by Harriet Walker – This is the goosebumps contribution.  A psychological thriller in which a freelance journalist is brought in to cover the maternity leave of an accomplished fashion magazine editor. The temp plays at assuming the so-called perfect lifestyle of the editor in her absence while the new mother, responding to a few triggers, becomes highly suspicious and paranoid. Is it an innocent game or is something sinister at work? 

 

Book Clubs can be wonderful and book clubs can be tricky … Recently, Stuart McLean of The Vinyl Cafe (CBC Radio) told a story about “Morley” and her experience joining a book club.

Stuart recites: ” … the books she will read will take her to worlds beyond her own, and it’s always more fun to travel with friends.”

In the end, Morley sets some book club reading guidelines of her own:

Read …

1. A book about a man I could marry.

2. A book I read in Grade school.

3. A book that mentions chocolate favourably.

4. A book I haven’t read but have seen the movie.

5. A book my husband would quit after the first chapter.

Sounds like a fun book club to me!

So, set up the computer (or ipad or whatever you tune in on!) within earshot as you’re making dinner and enjoy the hilarity and the poignancy in this clip from the podcast. Just click on the link and Stuart will be chatting with you in no time.

Stuart McLean Vinyl Cafe podcast – April 1- 2012

The Gift of an Ordinary Day

October 24, 2010

Not long ago a lovely friend and reader of this blog forwarded me a book trailer video I’ve since been eager to share with you all.  As the book in question has just been released in paperback, now seemed a good time.  The Gift of an Ordinary Day – A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison has been described by Family Circle magazine in the following way:

“This eloquent book is subtitled “A Mother’s Memoir” but that’s not giving Kenison’s chronicle of her sons’ increasing independence its full due. It’s also about longing and fulfillment, taking stock of failures and achievements, a search for the elusive “something more” of one’s existence—and a reminder that life’s seemingly mundane moments are often where we find beauty, grace and transformation.”

The promotional video of Katrina Kenison reading aloud from her book reminds me a great deal of  Kelly Corrigan’s videos for her books, The Middle Place and Lift.  That’s a good thing.  I suggest you pop out for a minute if you have to stock up on tissues and then settle in for a moving and poignant glimpse into The Gift of an Ordinary Day. If you’re seeking a trigger for good discussion and conversation at your book club I am certain any of these three titles will do the trick.

The Book Club

August 17, 2010

 

 

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

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

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

Do you grapple with poor attendance?          

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Book Club Update

April 27, 2010

 

A few weeks ago I posted about making my selection for Book Club last month. Well, my choice was Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and while I really enjoyed it, I was awaiting the response from my book club with a little angst.  The pressure of putting a book out there and then waiting for the group to approve or disapprove can be uncomfortable!  Well, the verdict is in and it was a unanimous “thumbs up”!  You can now feel confident enough to read it and share.

Our next choice is The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens and it looks great. Here is the snippet (technical term I’m sure) from the back cover: “Driven from the only home he has known during Ireland’s Great Hunger of 1847, Fergus O’Brien makes the harrowing journey from county Clare to Canada, travelling with bold girls, pearl boys, navvies, and highwaymen. Full of vivid, unforgettable characters, The Law of Dreams is lyrical, emotional, and thoroughly extraordinary.”

Why don’t you let us know what you alone or you and your bookclub are reading? Post a comment by clicking on “Comments” at the bottom of the post.  Remember too if you are interested in having new posts sent directly to you, you can hit the “Sign Me Up” button .

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