Beach Bag Books

June 2, 2013

Beach Reading by Colin Page

As the month of June and a whiff of a promise of summer arrives, book columns inevitably turn to “The Beach List”. Summer reading seems to have a sensibility all its own – an excuse to read something lighter in most cases; I think perhaps fresh and light does feel more right. Last summer I read Beautiful Ruins and it was a perfect sunny days experience – I may not have been on the Italian coast but I felt its warmth just the same. Add that one to your list if you haven’t enjoyed it yet. (You can visit previous years’ lists here and here.) This summer, my list seems to embrace fresh characters … and primary coloured Primary art work if the covers are any indication! I didn’t notice the trend in quirky cover art until I started positioning the images for you. Is this a greater trend or am I just drawn to drawing? Let us know what your own reading recommendations are and if you have anything fresh and light on your list.

0be1bcb667efa6da21d1e7d3de38f16f This story was recommended by the well-read manager of my favourite local bookstore. She seemed to have been enchanted so I was won over.  “A novel as creative, brave, and pitch-perfect as its narrator, an imaginary friend named Budo, who reminds us that bravery comes in the most unlikely forms. It has been a long time since I read a book that has captured me so completely, and has wowed me with its unique vision. You’ve never read a book like this before. As Budo himself might say: Believe me.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Sing You Home

17335097  There are a few hits on my shelf with a Canadian/Irish connection – Janet E. Cameron is a Canadian (a Maritimer) living in Ireland. Her author Bio and Website entries confirm she’s witty and warm and evidently a nice blend of both her cultures. When asked to describe “Cinnamon Toast” she wrote:  “It’s funny, it’s sad, and we’ve all been there. Plus there are drunken house parties, midnight confrontations, the Cold War, hippies in cabins, pick-up trucks, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, bar fights, prom night, Star Trek, a roll in the hay (literally), gratuitous 80s song references, and a happy ending, even after the end of the world. What more could you want?”

the-knot Author Mark Watson is an English stand-up comedian though from reviews I’ve read this isn’t an entirely comic piece and, in fact, features a “dark secret”. Perhaps I’ve been hoodwinked by the pastel cover?! The story of a Wedding Photographer who captures moments in families’ lives explores his own family experiences. ‘A pitch-perfect tragicomedy of ordinary – and not so ordinary – family life‘ –Jonathan Coe

9781443422666 This story almost had a blog entry of its very own. I’ve been waiting for its Canadian release ever since reading Australian and English rave reviews. It’s been called ” The feel-good novel of 2013.”  The Harper Collins description: A first-date dud, socially awkward and overly fond of quick-dry clothes, genetics professor Don Tillman has given up on love, until a chance encounter gives him an idea. He will design a questionnaire—a sixteen-page, scientifically researched questionnaire—to uncover the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker or a late-arriver. Rosie is all these things. She is also fiery and intelligent, strangely beguiling, and looking for her biological father a search that a DNA expert might just be able to help her with.

The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy like no other. It is arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, and it will make you want to drink cocktails.” Summer cocktails I presume 

9780393345094_custom-776b617a76b6da1e9a68ffe00a05ca33c989d1a5-s6-c30  Capital is a modern day tale, featuring a cast of many – a creative peek behind the curtains in London in 2008.  “John Lanchester’s new book Capital tells the story of the residents of Pepys Road, and how their lives are changed by the global financial crisis; a post-crash, state-of-the-nation novel told with compassion, humour and truth.” This one brings the recent headlines to life and may not be as light as the others but offers fresh (fictional) insight.

images-154 I have been increasingly curious about The Fault in Our Stars as I’ve watched it become cult-like in status. The writing has been described as “exquisite” and “devastatingly beautiful”. The premise seems less than cheery, two cancer-stricken teens form a romantic relationship, but it is apparently a study in how we live life, love, and leave legacies. While categorized as a YA (Young Adult) novel, it has gained a huge following among adults as well. Reviews indicate the tears flow but the story sticks with you in a most inspiring way. Pop on your biggest sunglasses and enjoy.

So that’s a little list I’ll be working through.  The sun is shining this morning and I’m off to travel back to Nigeria in Will Ferguson’s 419 for a while … Happy Reading!

War Horse

September 25, 2011

Michael Morpurgo is a prolific and well-loved English writer of children’s literature. A number of his more than 120 cherished stories have been adapted for television, theatre and even opera and ballet. The beloved War Horse, first published in 1982, has recently been enjoying enormous success as a stage play in the West End of London and on Broadway in New York City.  Steven Spielberg has been working with Morpurgo to share the story on an even larger scale – his movie version will be released during the Christmas holidays this year. By all accounts it’s going to be a winner.

Our family had an opportunity to attend one of the theatre productions and we were all bewitched. The story is a classic heart-wrencher:  love, loss, pain, hope and reunion. Remarkable puppetry is used to portray the horses and must be seen to be believed – incredible! If you have an opportunity to attend one of the big shows or a travelling version, gallop, don’t trot, and get yourself a ticket. Here’s a quick glimpse though the clips really don’t convey the realism adequately:

We’ll be looking forward to the movie version as well. The trailer has recently been released:

It really is worth becoming familiar with Michael Morpurgo, the writer, himself. He receives accolades for his award-winning writing but is also a keen educator and philanthropist. I’m personally enthralled with the Farms for City Children project he and his wife masterminded and generously support. This endeavour allows urban children to experience the wonders of the rural world: “Over the years the formula has changed very little. Simply, children are involved in everything necessary to keep the farms going. They learn hands-on where their food comes from, the importance of caring for animals and the land, and the value of working co-operatively as a team. The rewards are, unusually, non-material and self-generated: children discover an active enjoyment in life and a sense of achievement, the effects of which remain with them long after they have waved the farms goodbye.” 

I hope as the weather cools you’ll find some cozy reading time and can enjoy some of Michael Morpurgo’s stories – he is a wonderful storyteller and his books shouldn’t be limited to children’s bedside tables – add a few to yours. I’m sure you’ll be delighted you did.

Lisa See

July 1, 2011



There are a few writers on whom one can depend to consistently provide a solid, entertaining and memorable read; Lisa See is one.  Her four most recent novels are wonderful journeys into the lives of strong and inspiring Chinese women and their experiences at different points in China’s (and the US’s ) history. Each story is engaging and poignant and, in the style of a historical novel (though each feels very contemporary), draws us into learning about an era we may never have had the chance to understand before. Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and Peony in Love stand alone while the very recent release, Dreams of Joy, is a sequel to Shanghai Girls. The author’s website gives wonderful background and descriptions for each novel – click on the book covers to be taken there.

The writing reflects thorough research and impeccable detail.  Lisa See, though she could be mistaken for an Irish lass, is in fact half Chinese. Her interest in the history of Chinese women is intensely personal and the depth of her care is evident in the writing. If you haven’t read her books before, then do make room on your bedside table for one or more of these. If you are seeking to read some of her other writing then explore her three mystery-thrillers (Flower Net, Dragon Bones, Interior) or the memoir based on her Grandfather’s journey from China to Los Angeles’ Chinatown (On Gold Mountain). Many of her books are award winners.

You’d think she’s been busy enough writing and facilitating sessions at the Smithsonian and beyond to share her considerable knowledge of the Chinese Immigrant experience but Lisa See has also seen her book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan become a movie set for release in early July.

Just in time for Father’s Day there’s a new read on the shelf recounting a special bookish bond between a father and his daughter.

Finding comfort in their bedtime reading ritual during a difficult time in their family, Alice Ozma and her father begin what they call “The Streak” – a mission for the librarian father to read to his nine year old daughter for 100 consecutive nights. While celebrating their 100 night achievement over a pancake breakfast, Alice puts forth a challenge to now strive for 1000 consecutive nights. And off they go. Some 3,218 nights of reading later, and upon her departure for university, the Reading Promise naturally comes to an end.  You can imagine that after almost 9 years the list of books read is a long one; a survey of the titles is included at the back of the book.  Alice, not surprisingly a successful English major, recounts in the memoir the significance books and reading have had in her life. I am sure anyone reading of her experience would be inspired to pursue a similar project, even if not quite as ambitious.

From the website: “The Reading Streak changed their lives so profoundly, Alice has made a commitment to spread the word about reading and the importance of making a reading promise. The reading promise is simply a promise to read to yourself, read to someone else, and protect and defend reading in your community.”

Now there’s a commitment we can get behind!

Have you ever made a Reading Promise or challenged yourself to a particular reading goal?

Four Fun Books for Gifting

December 8, 2010

A few unique books that I’m sure you’ll enjoy gifting or reading yourself… Feel free to send along titles or gifts you’ve loved giving or receiving as well.

   For the Book Clubbers in your world. This is a visual treat and veritable smorgasboard of delightful distractions: travels, books, hosting tips, recipes and an overall celebration of friendship. Offers a glimpse into the fun had by a group of Canadian book clubbers who took their love for reading and enjoying a good book together to new heights through travel and adventures together beyond their monthly meeting. In these pages they include reading recommendations and instructions for creating a book club in the style of their own. Click on the image to be taken to the authors’ website and view a few of the gorgeous pages within.

              I posted earlier about the Kate Spade group and their enthusiasm for words and books ( Whimsical Words by Design ) They’ve stepped up their quirky literary enthusiasm with a wonderful new project in collaboration with the famous New York City bookstore The Strand. A group of seven women writers were assigned the task of writing a short story in which the phrase “She is quick and curious and playful and strong” must appear. The results are apparently “charming” as is the packaging of course.  Click on the images to read excerpts and learn more about each writer.

         Perhaps you share my perfectionist angst that surfaces every time I come to start a fresh first page in a journal or notebook. Who is comfortable with scarring those initial pristine pages?  Keri Smith has recognised this dilemma and gives us permission to creatively “Wreck this Journal”. She even includes inspiring instructions on how to really do a number on the journal, having great fun expressing your personal creativity as you do.   Visit her website by clicking on cover and review the gallery to see how different users have interpreted her instructions.  A whimsical idea which results in a unique work of art.    

                                                                  Another enchanting find and on my all time favourite list. My boys have a rather worn out copy of Jamie Lee Curtis’ hilarious review of one’s many moods and we used to guffaw together at the hilarious illustrations by Laura Cornell. The story is told in rhyme and while it is very cute it also has a dose of poignancy in it.  This little volume should not be restricted to the children in your life – it’s scrumptious and will amuse all. A glimpse inside is just a click away!

What to read next

October 13, 2010


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


August 21, 2010

Starting a fresh book, with all that delicious anticipation, is a treat. Finishing a book and feeling sorry that it’s ended is relatively rare and an even greater pleasure. I believe the success of a story is in its emotional connection to the reader. I’ve connected with two stories this summer (so far) and felt privileged to have experienced them. My hope is that you will feel touched in the same way if you read them.

From my Paperbacks for Summer list (see entry on July 11, 2010) I read Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  Like many, I often ponder the prevalence of homelessness and struggle to imagine the best way out for those who seek to leave that way of life. Same Kind of Different as Me takes the reader to this world – it is the true story of one man’s path from poverty to the riches of friendship and family. It is also the story of a very wealthy man’s own personal enlightenment through his involvement with one homeless man in particular.  There is so much more to the tale as the men’s relationship is fostered by the strength and love of a special woman. Have your tissues close at hand! A strong religious element flows through the story which may be important to some readers or distract others. I appreciated its role in the account but focused more on the relationships in the story.  This is a book I know I’ll reflect upon often and recommend for a long time.

The second book, from Summer is Here At last – Your Recommendations (posted on July 4, 2010) was Open: An Autobiography by Andre Aggasi.  I was loaned the book by a friend with whom I play tennis and whose reading choices I respect and, though it did appeal, it was mostly her enthusiasm that prompted me to pick it up and get reading. I’m so glad I did – what a riveting tale!  It certainly fits the “un-put-down-able” category, causing me to shirk many duties this week and to suffer the effects of late nights in order to get to its final pages.  Whether you are a tennis fan or not, this well-written personal story of physical and mental dedication, personal anguish, loyalty, and love, will capture your attention. A bookish aside from Andre’s final words in the acknowledgements:  “I was late in discovering the magic of books. Of all my many mistakes that I want my children to avoid, I put that one near the top of the list.”

What books have you connected with this summer?


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