Bella Grace

August 2, 2018

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Is it a magazine? Is it a workbook? Is it a journal? Is it a treasure? Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Whatever you label it, Bella Grace is an absolutely beautiful publication.  Issued quarterly by Stampington & Company, its content is driven wholly by reader-submissions thereby striking a personal and intimate tone without any intrusion by garish advertising. You will find food for thought and inspiration in quotes, stories, lists, writing prompts, random reflections, and photography. Oh, the photography! The quality of the paper alone will have you sighing deeply. I promise.

Bella Grace really defies categorization because you will find yourself gazing at it and pondering new ideas like you would with a book or magazine but then you’ll also be sketching and scribbling in its pages as if it’s a workbook or journal. At first I was reluctant to scar the pretty pages but its messaging will convince you that you’re actually adding to the beauty.

As for that “message”, Bella Grace describes its aim: “to touch the souls of our readers through beautifully penned stories and striking photographs that capture life’s beautiful adventure.” The Bella Grace manifesto reads:

  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • An ordinary life can be an extraordinary life.
  • There is beauty and magic to be found everywhere.
  • It’s OK to embrace imperfection.
  • Life should be lived with a full heart and open eyes.

Hopelessly romantic? This one’s for you!

My favourite article in the latest issue (#16 Summer ’18) if I was forced to choose just one, is written by Holly Clark and called Beyond the Cutting Room Floor. Holly points out that those photos we eliminate because we deem them not quite “perfect” may in fact capture the real gold, the real essence of a person or a memory. I completely agree.

Locally, Bella Grace can be found at Chapters and Michael’s (of all places). Subscriptions and back-issues can be ordered on-line here.

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“I’m a rare book librarian. I get to touch books every single day. My colleague and I have a joke that we are Defenders of Wonder. A physical book assigns a sense of reverence to the content inside. It’s the same feeling you get when you look at a painting or hear a piece of music. And I think that’s something worth defending. And just like a book gives reverence to it’s content, I think the library gives reverence to books. The building itself is a masterpiece. So many famous thinkers have come here to study and write. Just being here connects you to that lineage.”

Just another gem from Humans of New York.

 

The title and the cover of this recent release convinced me it was most worthy of a summertime post. What could be more appropriate for a season when so many Canadian families hit the road than a book subtitled “The Informal Study of the Family Road Trip”? I couldn’t help but laugh at the title. What kid hasn’t heard this at some point? What parent hasn’t been known to utter the same?

Reviewer Andrew Ferguson (Land of Lincoln, Crazy U) writes: “A book with a title as good as Don’t Make Me Pull Over! has a lot to live up to, and somehow Richard Ratay manages to deliver. It’s a memoir, a work of popular history, and a love letter all in one. Books this wise are seldom so funny; books this funny are rarely so wise.”

Powell’s Books has a fun piece on its site by the book’s author Richard Ratay which includes a playlist of some of the music that forms the soundtrack to his travels. This article alone had me fondly recalling the songs we would croon at the top of our lungs, with windows down, on trips with my parents and brother and then later with my husband and our boys. Abba, anyone? Johnny Cash? Jimmy Buffet? 

… When things hit a lull after long hours on the road, I’ll flip this tune on and our car suddenly turns into a downtown club. My wife and two boys seamlessly spit every lyric, while I add “mad hype” and sing the female backup parts in a ridiculous falsetto. Because I’m the dad and that’s what dads do.”  (Richard Ratay)

While this book is an engaging social study, there is no doubt it will be a popular nostalgia trip for its readers. I’d offer to read it aloud but I’m afraid I’m one of those passengers!

Enjoy your road trips this summer, be safe, and … sing your lungs out!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reads 2018

July 4, 2018

Art by Laura Lacambra Shubert

Summer is already off to the races so it’s high time for the Bedside Table Books annual (except when it’s not!) Summer Reads list. For those new to the scene, the list is a collection of books that have caught my attention in recent times and seem suited to savouring over the slower pace of the Summer. I try to keep a variety of themes and genres in mind but in the end, they are just titles I can’t wait to read along with you!

    

 

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall – Probably the one I’m most looking forward to curling up with as I’ve been hearing and reading great things about this story for months now and it’s not even on the shelves until next week. I know we all love a little historical fiction and this one promises to deliver all we desire. Susie wrote a great article in Harper’s Bazaar magazine sharing her inspiration and some of the back story on the real Subway girls. Some of us hear interesting stories on NPR and then wander away to the next distraction, Susie is motivated to write an entire book! Can’t wait. A summer reading bonus: The Subway Girls of Decades Past

Travels Through the French Riviera: An Artist’s Guide to the Storied Coastline from Menton to Saint-Tropez by Virginia Johnson – Long time readers will know I swoon over a book beautifully illustrated with watercolours. This is capital G, gorgeous. Virginia is a Canadian treasure and you’ve met her here before when she illustrated for Kate Spade and Deborah Needleman. Now you can vicariously join her on her colourful (and detailed) travels along the Riviera and do it from your matching beach towel no less. The Bay presently carries Virginia’s art on a fluffy towel you may need to justify purchasing as a required Summer Reading accessory.

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – Another one written by an extraordinary over-achiever … The Right Honourable former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has written a very well reviewed courtroom thriller. Methinks she knows of what she writes! Ms. McLachlin was a mere appointee to the BC Court of Appeal when she was invited to address my high school graduating class; she was inspiring then and look at all she’s been up to since! Like all the good ones, she’s a big reader and shares her literary journey in this Globe and Mail article. Suspense in the summer is a good match. 

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce – The Guardian calls this a “Winning Wartime Romp” and refers to the heroine as “plucky” and “charming”. The reviewer also bandies about descriptives like “hilarious”, “poignant”, and that it has a “madly winning spirit”. The Irish Times calls her the “Bridget Jones of the Blitz”. ‘Nuff said. Sold! Set in the era of WW II London, it follows the antics of a twenty-something War-correspondent-wannabe who ends up instead typing the Problem Pages letters. She finds herself drawn in to the personal stories and becomes secretly a little more deeply involved than she should.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – “This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision …” according to the NY Times reviewer. A “wise and compassionate” story of a young newlywed couple who find themselves managing a wrongful conviction and its devastating impact on their relationship and family. Certainly more emotionally demanding than other titles on this list but I’ve heard this one’s an important read and highly engaging.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – The BBCE (Best Book Club Ever) has selected this as our one assigned Summer choice. I’ve yet to meet a reader who has not been deeply moved by Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale story and this one seems set to prompt as many positive experiences. The Great Alone is set in a post Vietnam era when a family affected by the War seeks a new life, off the grid, in the Alaskan wilderness. According to the author’s website, “The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.” Chills for you when it gets hot out!

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman – I’ve had this one on my YTR (Yet To Read) shelf for some time now. What better time to embrace a novel featuring a Gardening class than in the height of a flower flourishing summer!  While the initial premise sounds dark (young family loses father in a tragedy) its reviewers promise it’s laden with optimism and good humour as the little family finds its footing. Mom is an illustrator who is sent to a Gardening Class to learn the intricacies of the plants and finds a new and loving community of support. Dare I say, romance blooms?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern – The title alone put this one in the running of course. Everything I’ve read about its storyline brings to mind The Breakfast Club movie but this cast of misfits finds themselves in a small town library rather than on Saturday detention. Some of the characters are there to find solace in the ever-comforting realm of books, another to do community service for the crime of Dictionary theft of all things, and others circulate through as “offbeat” library regulars do. Together they are healing from past difficulties and are finding new ways forward. Sunny is a young girl who befriends the librarian with the mysterious past and seems to bring the light to the group.

Let us know how many you get through or if you have some of your own recommendations to share. What’s on your bedside table? Happy reading!

 

 

Tuesdays with Jack

June 26, 2018

Seems right to share this with you on a Tuesday ….

As new parents we’re inevitably advised to record the funny actions and observations made by our children. “Or you’ll be sure to forget!” The chaos of the busy days indeed steals those moments from us. Pauline Daniel is a savvy Grandmother who has learned not only to record her grandson Jack’s little moments but to share them too. Those little gems grew into regular Facebook posts and now into Tuesdays with Jack, a memoir of the time spent with her young grandson on their standing Tuesday date during his pre-school years. Her observations are not only about Jack and his wisdom but also about her own personal transitions and the things Jack has helped her notice about her life. It is an honest and heartfelt account.

As a modern day grandmother (or a Baby Boomer Buba as Pauline thinks of herself) she Facebooks, Facetimes, is an entrepreneur, wears hoodies and does Cross Fit. She may not spend the majority of her time in the kitchen but she and Jack do embrace play there and literally whip up some special new traditions. Traditions, new and old, thread through Daniel’s writing but mostly, a Grandmother’s newfound patience, mindfulness, and joy in just ‘being’ in the moment comes to the forefront.

Lest this all sound knee deep in inward reflection, please know you will laugh out loud (as Buba does) while wee Jack delivers one innocent blow after another: ‘ “How strong are your muscles, Buba?” I proudly flex my bicep. “What’s that floppy bit?” ‘ or  ‘ “This is your fault Buba.” “What’s my fault?” “Everything!” ‘

Phyllis Diller is said to have declared on her way to the delivery room that she was having a child just so she could become a grandmother. If you’re a modern Gran, like Pauline, or a parent looking forward to Grand-hood, you will enjoy the simple pleasures of this quick and poignant read. It’s a great gift for a new Grandparent as well.

Enjoy!

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As wildfires rage through this extraordinarily dry summer, I find myself considering the role of the front line emergency personnel. Fighting fires requires an exceptional ability to manage personal fears and safety while combating one of Natures’ fiercest forces for the noble protection of property, personnel, and animals (livestock and wildlife). In our mountainous terrain here in British Columbia, there is a particular reliance on the Smoke Jumper – a fighter of remote wildfires who is deployed to the front line by parachute. I know I can say we are all immensely grateful to those who dedicate themselves to these risky battles.  Our gratitude should extend to the firefighters’ loved ones who support them and share the real threat of great personal loss as accidents occur.

Uncommon characters faced with perilous adventures are tried and true elements of a good read. A number of books have been written, fiction and memoir, giving us an opportunity to learn more about the life of a Smoke Jumper. Whether you wish to read the personal accounts or visit the scene through a beach bag novel, one of these should help you empathize with the wildfire warriors working so hard for us all this summer.

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Nicholas Evans of The Horse Whisperer fame has written a novel featuring Smoke Jumping characters based in Montana. Evans brings his documentary writing experience to all of his novels and his thorough research provides an element of authenticity. You’ll reliably find romance and personal growth in the stories too, of course.

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Smokejumper is a memoir by a “Top Gun” of the airborne firefighting fraternity. Based in our neighbouring Cascade Mountain Range, Jason Ramos shares a very personal account of the fiery front lines including insight into the rigours of the training and the psychological preparation and toll. Along with co-writer Julian Smith, he shares descriptions of actual harrowing and adrenaline charged experiences.

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Another memoir but from a slightly different perspective. This was highly recommended by Seattle’s Elliot Bay Book Company. Philip Connors writes beautifully and shares his very personal account of summers spent on lookout for wildfires in remote New Mexico. Here’s a link to an essay he wrote on the topic in The Paris Review so you can gather a sense of his prose.

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And back to the novel … a Nora Roberts thriller probably belongs in every dusty beach bag. Here’s one on point, also featuring Montana scenery and, this time, a female firefighter as protagonist and romantic lead.

Enchanted …

June 23, 2015

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So here’s an enchanting prospect …

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, has been considered a beloved classic since its publication in 1922. Successful theatre productions and an award-winning film followed, based on the story of four London-based women, initially unknown to one another and all in varying stages of disgruntlement, who travel to Italy and share the cost of lodgings in a seaside castle for the month of April.  Each is changed by the experience for the better, and for the reader’s enjoyment.

Skip ahead nearly a century and writer Brenda Bowen has taken inspiration from the original to create an “enchanted” experience for us herself, this time set in summery New England. In Enchanted August, four modern-day women escape their less than satisfactory New York lives for a reminiscent experience of house-sharing with strangers in an idyllic locale; personal adventures, enlightenment, and transformation ensue. A pretty new edition of The Enchanted April has been released in honour of the publication of its new relative and Brenda Bowen has even written the Introduction. I have an old edition but will have to find a way to read this new Intro.

I think these would be great companion reads – perhaps a Summer book club challenge to read both. The Enchanted April created a surge in tourist travel to the Italian Riviera, Enchanted August may do the same for New England shores. Vicarious travel from your beach blanket works too! Apparently if you enjoyed Beautiful Ruins, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or Downton Abbey, these are for you. Alrighty then, I’m ready to be enchanted!

 

Summer Books 2015!

June 8, 2015

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(Art by Suejean Rim)

Well, fancy meeting you here! Longtime readers of this blog will know that a few times during the last five and a half years, this writer has gone AWOL. Poof! Thanks to the encouragement of a number of devoted supporters, I’m back. And back with the annual summer reading list!

In the past, some of you have taken this list to heart and committed to working your way through all the titles over summer vacation. Others have used it as a general guide and randomly tried a title here and there. A few have bookmarked the entry until being called upon to offer a Book Club selection. This list is for ALL of you. Here’s hoping there are some gems in here – I’ll be reading right along with you. We can compare notes. Click on the covers to be taken to websites which will offer you more details. The recipe for this booklist involved a few doses of exotic locales, a dash of good humour, a pinch of creative thinking, and a wee bit of visiting with interesting characters. Here’s hoping we can cook up a summer of great reading …

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Three to Bookmark

September 24, 2014

Three favourite authors are set to release new books and I am taking note. Looking out at the first truly rainy day in some time, it seems like a perfect time to sink into a cozy chair and settle in with some of the great Fall releases hitting the shelves. Let us know what you’re looking forward to reading!

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I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

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I enjoyed this one ….                     so am looking forward to this one.

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I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

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Wouldn’t you love to perch upon one of these literarily-themed benches? If you’re visiting London, England this summer you can indeed take a seat.  In fact, you’ll have a choice from among fifty benches positioned throughout the city. The benches will be auctioned off for the benefit of the National Literacy Trust in October 2014. This special event was planned to “celebrate reading for enjoyment” and, in so doing, also show off some of the wonderful artistic talent and strong literary heritage of the city. To read more about this endeavour and to get a glimpse of all the benches, click here. I think visiting the benches in person or even just pictorially will inspire us all to pick up an old, favourite read. Have you been able to guess the titles represented above?

Four different Books About Town Book Bench trails have been established: The Bloomsbury, The City, Greenwich, and Riverside. Relevant literary works in bench form have been positioned along each path. If you would like to vicariously travel a route, then visit one of the map pages.

Souvenir posters are also available for purchase through the travel map and bookstore, Stanford’s:

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