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.

Hand Drawn Vancouver

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

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? 

 

Charlie Mackesy

June 6, 2020

 

I’ve had such an urge to share a few recent discoveries with you. Never more insistently than when I came upon the gentle wonder of Charlie Mackesy and his Boy, Mole, Fox and Horse. This little crew will charm you with their poignant observations and kind support and encouragement of one another. The messages are sweet and thoughtful and oh, so precious. Charlie captivates and communicates with a sweep of ink and a splash of paint; seemingly simple arcs and wisps become the characters and his beautiful script, their wise words. Art and Lit!

I first encountered Charlie’s work within the wilds of Pinterest. As I joined the slightly more exotic Instagram world, there he was again. Lucky for all of us, he gathered those posts and pages into a charming book. While The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was published in October 2019 and was a popular Christmas gift, it has become a particularly comforting touchstone of the COVID era. I encourage you to take a peek into Charlie’s world; you will savour the friendship and adventures and your heart will grow three times. The actual book itself is beautifully bound and makes a pretty little gift.

Do follow along with Charlie and add his book to your shelf, or to someone else’s special collection. You’ll treasure always.

 

 

 

 

 

This has never been a place for politics; you come here to find out about books, reading and things bookish. This will always be a place for empathy though. One of the best ways, I find, to develop empathy is through our reading choices. Today’s post was going to be about travelling through books to experience new cultures when our ability to actually travel is limited. After the events of the past week, I felt a journey into race related reading was more merited. Jane Mount, whose work I’ve featured before, has nicely captured a very important reading list. I invite you to explore her Anti-Racism titles and to travel into these worlds if they’re not familiar to you already. (Click on image to see the titles more clearly)

Over the past year or so I’ve also read the following highly recommendable books.(Click on covers to learn more) In each of these novels there was at least one reference or scene where I found myself thinking, “Hmmm, I’d never considered that.” I appreciate any book that offers a different perspective. I feel it is my responsibility to choose books that educate as well as entertain. Feel free to share any suggestions you have where you’ve been challenged to think in new ways, especially with relation to race.

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Ok,  “Anonymous” commenter – this one’s for you.  I can’t resist responding to a “Quick, I need a book recommendation!” plea … These are the books that stood out to me in the last year or so of reading. Hope you find something that sparks your interest. Feel free to add your own recent favourites in the Comments.

The Braid by Laetitia Colombani – A creatively structured story of three women living across the globe from one another, in vastly different circumstances, whose tales become entwined in poignant ways. Not widely promoted for some reason but a special find. I hope more readers get to enjoy it.

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home by Tembi Locke – I simply adored this. I wasn’t expecting the writing to be so evocative but there were moments to stop and savour throughout. You will smell the Sicilian soil and tomatoes, I promise! An emotional story but told without high drama, just tenderly and respectfully shared. I don’t re-read very often (so many books, so little time) but am tempted already to re-visit this one.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins –  A juggernaut of positive promotion preceded its publication, Oprah blessed it too, but then controversy set in. I’ll leave you to the Googling to learn more about the politics but my experience as a reader was absolutely positive. I was captivated by the storytelling and found it to be a fascinating portrayal of a mother and son’s bond while bravely fleeing terrifying circumstances. I suggest reading the Author’s Note first. When I learned of the author’s inspiration for the story, I could personally reconcile any concerns raised among the naysayers.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – A big thank you to KM for this recommendation. A juicy big multi-generational saga set over several decades in Korea and Japan. An immigrant journey and a family story that is epic in scale and yet intimate in its portrayal of each character. Engrossing.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott – Sometimes when all the news articles seem to be too much, the reading of a personal essay can be a pleasant, just as brief, escape. This collection from a charming, self-professed Type A-overthinker, abounds with humour and poignancy. Philpott writes self-deprecatingly but honestly and often with a wink. Marriage, parenthood, big life moments, and more importantly, the little moments all feature.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali – A stationery shop in Tehran in the tumultuous 1950s provides the setting for a young love to ignite. The romance is complicated by politics, culture and family but the love remains intensely felt for a lifetime. An emotional story of paths taken and not taken – a really heart wrenching journey but so worth the read.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – Don’t let the title scare you away (or make you overly giddy for that matter!) This is a wonderful story of a writing group for Punjabi widows that takes a bit of an entertaining turn. I get so many requests for “funny book” recommendations and this one has lovely humour, though it has some feisty adventure in it too. In fact, I was surprised by the unexpected depth. Looking forward to Jaswal’s next work.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – AN thoughtfully gifted this to me and I looked forward to an interesting non-fiction foray. But let me tell you, I was not expecting this to be as riveting a tale as it was. Wow. I was fascinated by each of the many threads that Orlean wove together. It could be considered an academic account but it reads like a page-flipping novel. The essence of the story begins with the 1986 Los Angeles library fire and then fans out to explore the life of the suspected arsonist, the history of the library – its architecture and the people who were part of its soul over the years. This was written by a lover of reading, and this lover of reading approves!

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff – Homelessness is a social condition that intimidates many people. In this memoir, Laura Schroff writes honestly about her own lack of understanding and how, through a simple gesture that grew, her life was changed by a young boy on the streets of New York City. Reminiscent of The Blind Side, this is an inspirational story that will stick with you.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes – The word “romp” keeps coming forth whenever I describe this book. It reminds me of one of those Oscar Wilde plays, a comedy of manners, where everyone is dancing around everyone else and we’re only in on half of the story until it all pieces together in the end with a few wily maneuvers that leave you gasping and snickering. Julian Fellowes is of course the creator of the Downton Abbey antics and this, too, has become televised in the UK. The book was such fun, I can only imagine the TV series will be too.

Turbulence by David Szalay – A slim little chapter book oh-so-creatively pieced together and beautifully written. You know one of my favourite books of all time is Let the Great World Spin and this has a little sprinkle of that fairy dust. A passenger on a plane (you know, in the olden days) converses with his neighbouring seatmate. That seatmate goes on to have another conversation in a different city and so on and so on. The story winds around the globe and back again connecting regular people in extraordinary ways.

The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell – The world of first responders doesn’t often appear in mainstream novels and so this was an interesting world in which to travel. With elements of suspense and heart wrenching emotion, it provides a glimpse into the challenge of processing trauma, personally and professionally. A Canadian writer who has also written Under This Unbroken Sky.

illustration by Charlie Mackesy

This blog began February 9, 2010 (see the very first post here) The Help by Kathryn Stockett was #1 on the bestseller list, The Hurt Locker was about to win the Oscar, Vancouver was embracing Winter Olympic Fever, and the H1N1 Flu pandemic was winding down (say what?!!!) After a pretty reliable first few years, Bedside Table Books began to waver and then revive and then wilt again … poor thing. All along, whenever its writer was not actually writing, she’s continued to maintain regular blog conversations in her head. Worrisome, I know. Now, prompted by a pandemic, I, the Writer, have been propelled back to the blog page with burbling bookish thoughts I am irresistibly inclined to share. Not sure you’re still out there … anyone out there? … but stand by for a few of the most recent compelling, and propelling, thoughts!

To quote the character Babe in the TV show, Grace & Frankie, it’s time to “Get Crackin’ Toots!” 

 

 

 

 

I’d Rather Be Reading

December 6, 2018

I’d Rather be Reading. Wouldn’t we all?! “I’d Rather Be Reading – The Delights and Dilemmas of The Reading Life” is exactly what you should be reading. Though after reading “I’d Rather be Reading” I learned I should not be saying “should” – apparently that’s called being “Book Bossy”.  Made me laugh! I learned a few other terms that made me chuckle in recognition. In fact, the entire little book resonated with me on every level.

Besides being a charming personal memoir, this read felt just like sitting down for a chat over tea with a friend (a “book twin” apparently) who shares the same giddy delight in all things bookish. There’s happy chatter on topics like the joy of witnessing your children embrace reading, the process of choosing what to read next, books arriving at opportune times of life, managing library due dates, what to keep on your shelf, what not, and how to rein in the whole collection …  She even devotes a chapter to the secret fantasy of having a bookshop that so many readers harbour. It’s not a “how-to” though, it’s more of a gentle “isn’t-it-funny-how-we …?” Anne Bogel seemed to have special access to all my inner thoughts on what books have meant and do mean to me. I’m pretty sure you will all feel the same personal connection.

The book itself is simply beautiful – a lovely addition to any bedside for certain. Not much bigger than a large postcard and as pretty as one. 156 pages and I promise you’ll savour every one. This is such a perfect little gift for a fellow reader but be sure you buy yourself a copy too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to the Movies!

August 28, 2018

It seems movie makers have been inspired by our bookshelves lately and that’s not a bad thing. No debate from me that the book usually takes the cake over the movie but, based on their trailers, I think these will translate to the big screen quite well. If it’s not in the theatre quite yet, it will be soon.

Crazy Rich Asians

I admit, I started off as a reluctant reader of this book when it was selected for book club but ended up enjoying it immensely. The movie looks like just as much pure designer-dressed family saga fun.

The Children’s Act

One of Ian McEwan’s (of Atonement book and movie fame) more recent books. This looks awfully compelling!

The Bookshop

Was impressed by Emily Mortimer in The Newsroom series. Here she is nestled among books and huge stars, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Nighy.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’ve already seen this one (it’s new to Netflix) and it’s lovely, heartwarming entertainment.

Bel Canto

Can’t wait! Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto remains one of my favourite stories of all time.

Juliet, Naked

So many of Nick Hornby’s novels have appeared on screen and this is the latest.

 

Lots of Brit Lit it seems! Share your reviews … book or movie.

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