July 21, 2022
THE AMBUSH OF A GOOD BOOK
A good novel is an invasion;
it marches in and you try
to resist, to put it down
but eventually you surrender,
and it burrows every word
into the thickest parts of you,
in an ambush of emotion
so that years later,
you think of them
not as characters at all,
but your own memories
of a life you got tricked
was your own.
~ Samantha Reynolds
Long time readers will know I’ve long been an enormous fan of bentlily, the daily poetry project by Samantha Reynolds. My first post featuring bentlily was on May 12, 2013 and I’m so pleased to report that all this time later, she’s still going strong with daily inspiration, laughs and, well, heart-sprongs, for lack of the right word. Poet I’m not. There is a rumour a book will soon appear. You can bet I’ll be back to report on that. In the meantime, couldn’t resist sharing this gem with you, fellow readers. I know you’ll get it!
Been ambushed by anything special lately?
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!
June 10, 2022
So I heard a phrase the other day and it gave me pause. “Palate cleanser” but used with regard to reading. As in a palate cleanser between books. A way to refresh your reading mind. While in the world of fine dining this may manifest as a cool and citrusy taste distraction between heavier courses, in the book world, perhaps it is something more light and less demanding of one’s brain. Or simply a diversion from a particular course.
I read a few books (all good) back to back that each just happened to feature a quirky but charming older gentleman. It was time for something entirely different so I broke the chain with something lighter and featuring a quite different cast of characters, themes and mood. I’ve chatted with a few of you seeking respite from World War II themes, thriller mania, and celebrity memoirs. For others, those may be the “sorbet”! Have you fallen into a pattern? Do you find yourself reaching for a common theme? Maybe it’s time to cleanse and challenge yourself with something new!
A book that really stood on its own as almost uncategorizable and was hugely enjoyable for me was Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. It was also one of my 2020 Holiday Book recommendations. Great palate cleanser potential! Any other highly palatable palate cleansers you’ve found?
October 8, 2021
The seasons are rolling by and today we have another tie-in with the Red Fern Book Review podcast, this time focused on an Autumn selection. Things got a bit giddy during our chat (Say what? Who doesn’t love PS. I Love You?!) but Amy Mair and I did manage to stay focused on discussing six new recommendations. Our Summer weather vanished quite dramatically this year and it definitely feels like time to curl up and sink into a good read. So tune into the chat with Amy at Red Fern and hear a bit more background to the great stories described here.
When I Ran Away by Ilona Bannister – This novel begins with an encounter between two people during their escape from the falling towers in New York City on 9-11. Their story travels from Staten Island, NY to London England and encompasses grief, family life, loss of identity, motherhood … all the big complex stuff! It has been described as a powerfully emotional novel, yet funny and “a big hug of a read” too. That contrast caught my attention! Ilona Bannister’s own life experience closely parallels the story and so it seems we can count on a level of authenticity. We’ve just acknowledged the 20th anniversary of 9-11 so this story may give us some insight into what post 9-11 life might have been for some of its survivors.
Brothers on Three – A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana by Abe Streep – As an accomplished journalist, usually in the realm of Sports for publications like Outside magazine, NYT, and The New Yorker, Abe Streep has an eye for a good underdog story. After coming across a billboard promoting a High School State Championship basketball game in a small indigenous community in Montana, Streep felt there was a story to be pitched. As he delved into the background and learned more about the players and the community, he realized this was more than an article, it was a whole book. The boys on the winning team take on legendary status in their small town and Streep follows their progress as they assume responsibilities and challenges beyond their years. While it’s a feel-good sports story (and we all love those!) it also provides a glimpse into life as an Indigenous youth in a modern world. Reviews say it’s “exquisitely written and meticulously reported”.
Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi – You may recognize the author’s name from her earlier book, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell Once again, Hashimi explores the experience of an Afghan woman. Sparks like Stars follows the story of a woman, adopted and raised by an American diplomat, as she investigates and comes to terms with the violent death of her parents during a coup in Kabul when she was a young child in the 1970s. With Afghan heritage herself, and a personal commitment to supporting Afghan women with their present day challenges, Hashimi writes with a deep connection to her character’s experience. As we watch the news reels from Afghanistan over the last few months, this is a timely and important opportunity to understand a bit more about the history of this region in an accessible way.
Island Queen by Vanessa Riley- I had never heard of Dorothy “Doll” Kirwan Thomas but once I learned that this historical fiction novel is based on her life, I looked her up and can assure you this will be an inspiring and entertaining read. What a character! Ms. Thomas was a free woman of colour who went from a life of slavery to becoming one of the most wealthy and powerful landowners in the West Indies. Vanessa Riley takes us on a fictionalized trip through 1700s Montserrat to Dominica, Barbados, and beyond following the brilliant schemes and adventures of a woman who lived a most remarkable life. Historical fiction is almost always in our wheelhouse here and this one promises to deliver great writing and an epically engaging story as we travel back in time.
My B(igg)est Mistake – Epic Fails and Silver Linings by Terry O’Reilly – I love the cover of this one. Just a hint at the creativity marketing guru Terry O’Reilly often exhibits. If the name is familiar (and his voice will be even more so) Terry O’Reilly is the entertaining host of the “Under The Influence” and “Age of Persuasion” radio programmes on CBC, also available as popular podcasts. If you are a listener, you will know that Terry shares the fascinating stories behind the scenes of big marketing campaigns and familiar brands. In this new collection, the stories are focused on the big blunders that turned into super successes. A green ink printing glitch gave the Hulk his hue, for instance – he’d originally been grey. Not sure a boring old grey Hulk would have been nearly as threatening or memorable! Along with juicy gems like that, there is a positive message about embracing the failures in life as they may well turn out to be the best thing going forward.
Freckles by Cecilia Ahern – Cecilia Ahern is the prolific author on whose novels movie RomComs like “Love, Rosie” and “PS I Love You” have been based. She has consistently been producing heartwarming, romantic tales, often with a dash of her native Irish charm, almost annually since 2004; 25 million copies of her books out there now! Her latest, Roar, was a bit of a departure from her usual Romance genre, being instead, a collection of short stories about women finding their inner power. Nicole Kidman and a few other big name actors are presently at work on it’s production for AppleTV. But, back to the newest news, Freckles! The inspiration for this story came from a conversation about the theory that each person is the average of the five people with whom they spend the most time. The main character in the story, nicknamed Freckles for obvious reason, is a bit of a lost soul and makes a move to the big city (Dublin) to create a new future. She applies the “Five People” hypothesis and the story follows her new connections and personal transformation. Warm, witty, endearing, touching and hopeful … all words that appear repeatedly in the reviews. Amy of Red Fern Book Review podcast may not have been as keen as I am on this genre but I firmly believe these heartwarming tales are a joy when they hit you at the right moment. If you’re having a moment, here’s the cure!
Tune in to the Fall Reading episode at Red Fern Book Review here.
October 4, 2021
Under these covers, it’s all the same. Does the cover influence your decision to select and read a book? Just a little food for thought. These are books that all look good to me but I may be more inclined to choose one cover over another. Typically, the North American and the United Kingdom covers vary. And sometimes, the UK and Canadian versions are the same while the US version differs. And let’s not even get started on Down Under. It’s all a matter of marketing! Apparently, tastes are different in different parts of the world. Any preferences? Can you tell which is destined for which market?
June 7, 2021
As promised, I’m back with a few more titles to consider for your Summer reading pile. We’ll continue with glimpses into different worlds and special relationships but some of these six might be considered a little lighter. Chime in and let us know what you’ve enjoyed and if there is another title you’d like to share.
Norman Foreman is a young fellow who’s just lost a best friend. The twelve year olds had been making big plans to take their comedy show on the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when Jax died and Norman is determined to still make the trip in honour of his friend. However, Jax was the funny one so there might be some cringe at the Fringe. Norman’s other loss is a father he’s never known. Mom decides she needs to step up and help Norman with his grief and need for closure. Loading themselves into a Mini with a neighbouring friend, they set off on an epic road trip from Cornwall to Edinburgh that inspires and warms the heart. Another debut novel that promises to gift you a memorable, beloved character in Norman. “Tender and hilarious.” “Moving and funny.”
This one might be well under the radar for most Summer read seekers as it’s located in the History and PoliSci section. However, this looks to me to be an enthralling read, any season. Journalist and travel writer Julia Cooke, whose father was a Pan Am executive, delves into the jet age heyday, the Pan Am brand, its significant cultural and historical contributions and the women who crewed and contributed to its success. Following the stories of a select few of these women, the author reveals a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the iconic carrier and the time in history. (The Vietnam War, Operation Babylift, Women’s Liberation … ) While weight, height make-up and grooming guidelines were fierce and strongly enforced, at the same time, the Pan Am “stewardess” was sophisticated and seeking to make an impact on an international scale. “Throughout the 1960s, a full 10 percent of Pan Am stewardesses had attended graduate school — a stunning figure at a time when only 6 to 8 percent of American women even held a college degree.” So many trivia gems in this one I think! Kirkus Reviews writes: “An entertaining, insightful look into a gritty and glamorous era in air travel.”
“So now what?” That is the question to be answered by four women, each at a crossroads in her life. The women respond to a message saying “you are invited to the rest of your life” and gather at Willa’s Montana home for a week-long retreat to explore what lies ahead. Fears and regrets and indecision are overcome with the support of good conversation, friendship, and the great outdoors. Descriptions of the natural landscape are apparently beautifully depicted. Some readers have found the girl talk to be a bit much while others have been brought to tears by the poignancy of the story and give it rave reviews. If a little retreat to the country with the girls sounds appealing to you, Laura Munson will have written with an authentic perspective – she hosts writing retreats in Montana and has found great success doing so after overcoming some personal challenges of her own. “Willa’s Grove is an affirmation of creativity, sisterhood, and the power of belonging.” – Chelsea Cain
Let’s start with the back cover of this book: “The novel is sheer delight” “A joyous, exuberantly fun-filled novel of second chances” “Bracing, hilarious, and warm” “Pure unadulterated reading pleasure” A quick glance at all that cheer leaves this potential reader with high hopes for sure. A family in Dublin, Ireland is coming to terms with multigenerational shenanigans. Long out of work Dad is overwhelmed by his 83 year old mother who has a penchant for shoplifting and who’s fully committed to aging disgracefully. At the same time, one of the four children, a daughter, is up to some capers of her own and boarding school is looking like a likely option. A caretaker for Granny is hired to help improve the situation, however, she brings along a little hullaballoo of her own and grand adventures ensue for all the troublemakers. Light and fun methinks.
Mayflies seems to be the story that hits the heartstrings in a more emotional way. I heard a bookshop employee taking to the airwaves about the impact this novel had on him and I jotted down the title immediately; he couldn’t possibly have reviewed it more positively. Prizewinning author, Andrew O’Hagan atmospherically starts us off in 1986 with two friends in small town Scotland, graduating from school and vowing never to lead the lives of their fathers. They celebrate the dimming of their carefree youth with an unforgettable, magical weekend trip to Manchester. Music and film and youthful energy have bonded them and feature prominently in the tale. Years later, they are connected again but for less celebratory reasons. The story unfolds in essentially two parts, the exuberance of youth and the challenge of growing old. “A beautiful ode to lost youth and male friendship.” – Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain and from Hilary Mantel, “There is no page on which there is not something surprising or quotable or pleasurable or thought-provoking.”
Yet another debut by a young writer who’s putting her life experience to good use. The “Point” in Beyond the Point is West Point, the iconic US Military Academy. Author Claire Gibson, daughter of a military man, was born at West Point and spent a good part of her childhood on its campus while her father taught there. The experience had an enormous impact on her and, as a writer later in life, she knew she wanted to capture the experience but wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. In 2013, Claire writes on her website, a friend from West Point contacted her and asked if she could share her experiences as a West Point grad and soldier with her. This initial conversation turned into multiple interviews with West Point women and Claire knew she had the inspiration for her novel. The story follows three West Point women and shines a light on their friendship and their courage as they share the demanding experience of military college and heartbreak in life in the world beyond. It’s a tribute to friendship and resilience. Claire’s website is fascinating unto itself; I can’t wait to read the book.
Wishing you all armloads of terrific books this Summer. Let’s circle back and share our thoughts after the pages have been flipped. Happy reading!
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 31, 2020
If your Christmas stocking featured a book shop gift card and you’re looking for spending inspiration or you want to get your name in early at the library, take a peek at these titles releasing in the next few weeks. 2021 is already shaping up to be a stellar book year! You will see some favourite writers in the midst along with a few new names (to me anyway). I have a burgeoning bedside table but know that I’ll be keeping an eye out for these too.
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson – Canadian Jennifer Robson has written several acclaimed novels based on historical events and eras. (The Gown, Somewhere in France, Moonlight Over Paris …) Her thorough research and ability to craft characters who capture our hearts leads me to believe this will be another winner. Set in Italy during the Second World War, and based on a true story, Our Darkest Night is “a compelling tale of bravery, perseverance, and the immeasurable power of love in the face of adversity.” (Kristin Beck) January 5/21
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves – Kind of cheating as this was actually first published in April 2019 but is about to be released in paperback. “… a compelling novel with beautifully rendered characters, an extraordinary tale filled with sensitivity and empathy that gives readers a peek into the world of autism through the eyes of a woman who proves to be as audacious as she is charming. Readers, don’t you dare miss this love story.” Descriptions make me think of a bit of a Queen’s Gambit vibe. Without the darkness and drinks! January 7/21
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson – “Better Luck Next Time crackles with wit and wisdom. This delightful novel of love and loss on a divorce ranch in Nevada during the Great Depression is poignant, hilarious, and, at times, achingly sad. I love this glorious book!” (Mary Pauline Lowry) Until the 1970s, Divorce ranches in Reno were destinations for those seeking a “quickie” divorce, granted after 6 weeks as a resident. Also known as getting Reno-vated! January 5/21
The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin – The Children’s Blizzard was an actual epic storm that took place in January 1888 across the Midwest US. It came up suddenly and caught many school children, most of homesteading immigrant families, making their way home. “In this atmospheric novel, as relentlessly paced as a thriller, you experience the encroaching storm from many perspectives and, in the process, understand something important about the tenacity of the human spirit.” (Christina Baker Kline) January 12/21
The Last Garden of England by Julia Kelly – “Kelly’s novel encompasses everything I love in historical fiction: a dramatic setting depicted so vividly I could’ve sworn I was strolling through the gardens of Highbury House as I turned the pages, and a series of stories that intertwine each other effortlessly, echoing the theme of love lost and found. A delight.” (Fiona Davis) If that review doesn’t have you on your way to putting this on the shelf … grand English Manors and luscious gardens … done! Julia Kelly has also recently written the well reviewed, The Light Over London and The Whispers of War. January 12/21
That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry – Barry is an accomplished novelist and short-story writer with an exquisite gift for language. This is a collection of eleven short stories set among the characters and landscape of his native Ireland. This interview in the Paris Review (here) may give us a sense of the humour he is capable of incorporating into even sometimes darker tales. “I had to quit reading this book the first day I had it in my hands, just so I could have it to read the next day. It’s that good.” (Richard Ford) January 12/21
How the One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones – Set in a Barbados resort community where conflicts among the beach dwellers and the well-off mansion owners simmer and a botched robbery has dramatic repercussions. “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is simply brilliant. By the first chapter, it burned into my heart. Ambitious, poetic, and layered with the rich voices of its many stunning characters, this terrific debut novel by Cherie Jones opened my eyes to the many ways that her young Barbadian protagonist must fight for her life.” (Lawrence Hill) January 26/21
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – The Nightingale and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah are two of the most compelling reads I’ve experienced in recent years. This new novel is set in the 1930s Depression era and follows a woman making difficult decisions for her family while draught and despair surround her. I have no doubt that it will be at least as engaging as the earlier reads. “Hannah brings Dust Bowl migration to life in this riveting story of love, courage, and sacrifice…combines gritty realism with emotionally rich characters and lyrical prose that rings brightly and true from the first line“ – (Publishers Weekly) February 2/21
Red Island House by Andrea Lee – Another one with an intriguing location and social challenges. “From National Book Award–nominated writer Andrea Lee, an epic, gorgeously evocative novel about love and identity, following two decades in the marriage between an African American professor and her wealthy Italian husband as it unfolds on the remote and mysterious island of Madagascar.” (Publisher) March 23/21
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.