Summer Reads 2022

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!

 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

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!

 

You Had Me at Pet-Nat – A Natural Wine-soaked Memoir by Rachel Signer

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!

 

Letters To a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us by Colleen Kinder

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!

 

We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama

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.

 

Carolina Built: A Novel by Kianna Alexander

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. 

 

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

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!

Reflections on Reading

September 19, 2021

Our first big soggy storms of the season have hit now and the above quote from the pages of Bella Grace seems a good fit.

As Summer winds down I find myself reflecting on my reading over the last few months. I’ve realised not all of my best reading has been within the pages of actual books. While my Summer Reading List and all of its associated best intentions may be less accomplished this year, I actually feel I’ve discovered some of the best writing I’ve read in a long while; small joys found unexpectedly. It’s all been book-related though and may lead to even more book reading so don’t ever think I’ve gone cold on my beloved caressable pages!

And so, as we hunker down on a dreary day, I am sharing a few of those unexpected joys of reading I encountered this Summer (may all the links connect forever and ever!) Each of these lovely finds deserves a blog post of its own but for now, please be introduced, tap on the links, and enjoy.

Rob Walker – The Art of Noticing – The Art of Noticing is a book but the newsletter associated with it has grown legs of its own and is a worthy addition to any inbox; so many pondering prompts within. I loved a piece written about the interesting conversations we may be missing due to our dependence on Google. One regular feature is called Dictionary of Missing Words in which we’re asked to pay attention to the “sensations, concepts, feelings, slippery things – that could be named but don’t seem to be” For instance: “The feeling you have when hearing the garbage truck outside and you haven’t put the garbage can at the curb yet …Rob Walker The Art of Noticing Newsletter

Katherine Centre – Katherine Centre is a novelist whose books (Things you Save in A Fire, How to Walk Away) are colourfully queued up in my TBR pile. The gorgeous covers alone! Sigh. I became more motivated than ever to read her books after encountering her essay: The Joy of Reading. Read the whole thing because I guarantee you’ll love it but here’s a little glimpse: “Because stories are, at their cores, emotion machines. They can make us laugh, make us cry, make us angry, make us fall in love, make our hearts sprint with fear. They distill human experience, and capture its meaning, and connect us to our humanity like nothing else can. They are the closest thing we have to magic.” Find the essay here on her website.

Ann Patchett – We know her and love her for Bel Canto, State of Wonder, The Dutch House… and I yearn to visit her bookshop Parnassus Books in Nashville. Her fresh essays in The New Yorker and Harper’s were a Covid era delight for me and for so many others. I beseech thee, pour the tea and sit down for a spell to read these heart wrenchingly beautiful essays.

My Three Fathers

These Precious Days

Cup of Jo Blog – I stumbled upon this blog over a decade ago. We were all new to blogging then and Joanna Goddard seemed to have an early grip on what it was all about. She has built an awesome (in the true sense of the word: eliciting awe) community of readers who comment freely and often and without fear of judgement. The comments are abundant because Joanna, beyond her own candid insightful writing, has gathered a stable of extraordinary writers and essayists who prompt unbridled engagement with their contributions. Oh, you’ll have the window opened to makeup trends and fashion faux pas and learn what to feed a vegan in 30 minutes or less but the real meat (if I dare say) of the site is in the honest and perceptive writing about small moments in Life. I respect and enjoy every one of the writers but Caroline Donofrio inevitably strikes a chord. Here are two of her Cup of Jo essays that I consider keepers: (And don’t forget to read the comments!)

Do You Have a Not-so-Strange Stranger?

How to Stand Still

Kelly Corrigan – Kelly is an idol. She communicates the truth of so many in a disarmingly genuine way. I have read and loved every one of her books (The Middle Place, Lift, Glitter and Glue, Tell Me More) and now, her podcast and TV show are musts too. I will wind up this far-too-lengthy post with a video link to a speech (subtitles can count as reading too!) given by Kelly. The conclusion might just be the best part (tissues required). The Walker School Commencement Speech.

(A reminder that this post is riddled with links – connect with any/all of the recommendations by clicking on the bold text)

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.

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson

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.

Come Fly the World: The Jet Age Story of the Women of Pan Am by Julia Cooke

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.”

Willa’s Grove by Laura Munson

“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

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman

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 by Andrew O’Hagan

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.”

Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson

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!

Here we are again … it’s Summer reading time. Whatever that means! I know you enthusiastic readers read all year long but there’s something about the permission we give ourselves to sink into a book on a summer day that feels different. We seem to plan and think about our reading more in the warm months. Only so much room in a beach bag so we need to be efficient. Great big classic? Light and frolicky? What’s your leaning? Let us know if you have a list of your own going and if you have any interesting titles bookmarked.

Amy Mair and I met up again virtually for another fun blog/podcast tie-in chat about books on her Podcast, Red Fern Book Review. Tune in here to listen to us talk about summer reading and the background to these first six titles. Selections were narrowed down from a list of fifty-three! Finalists were chosen for the ability to broaden our horizons in a well-written, entertaining way. Hope you enjoy any and all journeys you choose!

Finding Freedom – A Cook’s Story: Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French

Just to be clear, this is not the Royal tell-all featuring Harry and Meghan. While they may also be Finding Freedom, this is not that. This is a memoir by the admirably successful Chef, Erin French of The Lost Kitchen fame. The Lost Kitchen is a renowned farm-to-table restaurant in the tiny town of Freedom, Maine and the inspiration for the cookbook, The Lost Kitchen – Recipes and A Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine: A Cookbook. While the restaurant itself could fill pages with it’s own iconic story, Chef Erin’s personal story is where this memoir focuses. Raised on a Maine farm, Erin spent her youth working in her Dad’s diner, developing a proficiency and love for making special meals. She set off for Medical school and then was faced with the reality of an unexpected pregnancy. This change in plans brought her back to the kitchen and then an unpleasant marriage and divorce, addiction to prescription drugs, loss of her first restaurant and just generally rock bottom. This is Erin’s story of finding her passion and courage to overcome while discovering success and happiness again. Lots of warm hearted reviews for this one and it will likely to appeal to lovers of Tembi Locke’s “From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home” which I adored and Jackie Kai Ellis’ “The Measure of my Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery and Paris” Also good and a little grittier.

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

Here’s a glimpse into the fraught world of real estate development, set in London’s old SoHo district. This apparently reads like “a great night out in a city that never sleeps” and features an array of strong characters: a real estate maven who wasn’t expecting the strength of conviction and solidarity among the sex trade worker, drug addict and alcoholic residents of the building she’s seeking to turn into condos. While a strong message about the spirit and heart of a city being compromised by development exists in the story, with an air of Dickens, it also manages to keep an “ambitious, clever, brilliant, very funny” tone. Author Fiona Mozley was on the Booker Prize shortlist with her first book, Elmet, so is considered an accomplished writer.

Under the Wave at Waimea by Paul Theroux

Author Paul Theroux has been a resident of Hawaii for some 30 years so it can be assumed he knows the world he writes about in this new novel. He is, of course, known for his earlier works, The Mosquito Coast (soon to be a new movie, again) and Riding the Iron Rooster along with a great number of other significant travel stories. Under the Wave at Waimea follows the story of an aging surfer, who’s “a man who’s come undone” and is struggling with his lost step in the surfing scene he previously dominated and with the tragic results of a drunk driving incident. His girlfriend, who happens to be a nurse, makes it her mission to try to set him right again. The story does follow along on some travels to the mainland but also delves into the sub-culture of the homeless in Hawaii. This is not a superficial travelogue but rather a dive into the deep essence of Hawaii and its social cultures. “A dramatic, affecting commentary on privilege, mortality, and the lives we choose to remember. It is a masterstroke by one of the greatest writers of our time.”(HMH)

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

“Unpredictable, cheeky and moving” ” Endearing and engaging” Those reviews sound like the types of reads we like! Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line follows the story of a young boy, living in an unnamed slum in a large Indian city. He loves the Police reality shows he watches on his family’s prized television and fancies himself a bit of a detective. When a child goes missing in the slum, our narrator sets off to solve the mystery but this isn’t Harriet the Spy, the crimes become greater in scope and more grim. It’s a detective story, a coming of age story and a social commentary. Writer Deepa Anappara is an award-winning Indian journalist who has extensively covered the impact of poverty in her country. In every review I’ve read, her incredible ability to capture and convey the very essence of the world in which her novel takes place is commented upon with admiration. I, personally, am not drawn to the new paperback cover but will not judge a book. I will however, take into account that the New York Times, Washington Post, and Time Magazine all deem this read one of the best books of the year.

The Music of the Bees by Eileen Garvin

This debut novel takes us to rural Oregon where three lonely souls find one another and a common love for beekeeping. A unique friendship forms and the likeable characters learn to overcome their grief and losses to become a sort of family to one another. The bees feature prominently and when their existence comes under threat, the friends strive to take a stand. “Eileen Garvin’s beautiful descriptions throughout this lovely novel immerse the reader in the seasons, the weather, the trees and the flowers, the river and the land and the rhythms of small-town life, but it’s the bees, with all their wonder and intricacy and intrigue, that make this story sing.”(Laurie Frankel) Eileen Garvin is a beekeeper herself in rural Oregon and has managed to share a “moving, warm and uplifting” story from her world. So looking forward to this. So many sources have named this as a “Favourite” for the season and beyond. Note that Eileen Garvin is scheduled to appear on an upcoming episode of Red Fern Book Review podcast.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

Author Sara Nisha Adams is a mere 26 years old, lives in England, and is no doubt enjoying the release of her debut novel. The Reading List created a feeding frenzy among International publishers and is said to be “emotional and uplifting” as well as “an absolute joy” and “will make you fall in love with reading” The main character is a quiet widower who makes his way to Temple and to the shops in the west London suburb of Wembley and spends a great deal of time worrying about his bookworm granddaughter. Seeking a way to connect with her, the grandfather makes his way to the library where he finds guidance from another teen, a young girl working there. She has discovered a crumpled up list of novels tucked in the back of a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and has found great solace in exploring the books. She suggests the grandfather tackle the list as well and they begin to forge a special friendship around their reading. This book is a five-star-worthy read on almost every reviewing platform. Wonderful to see a young author achieve such great success. Can’t wait to join the legion of fans! (Releasing June 8th, 2021)

Fifty-three titles and a still growing list – it doesn’t seem fair not to share at least a few more titles with you. Stay tuned for an addition to Summer Reading 2021 in a separate post coming soon!

Meanwhile, tune in to Red Fern Book Review!

Beverly Cleary

March 27, 2021

Anne Lamott once wrote: “Librarians and teachers should all be seated closest to the dessert table in Heaven.” Well, I hope Beverly Cleary, a librarian and the reason many of us became readers and writers, is pulled up right next to the biggest of all the cupcakes!

When I heard the news, I was swept right back to my lovely elementary school library where I can picture exactly where the Beezus, Ramona, Ribsy and Henry Huggins books were shelved. I can see, smell and feel those well-worn copies and oh, I loved them all dearly. I was more of a Beezus but I sure admired that pesky Ramona!

I suppose when one delights as many children as Beverly did, she is rewarded with an extra year, here and there. 104 of them for Beverly and now we’ll finally allow her to enjoy that cupcake. Thank you for the fond memories, Ms. Cleary, and for instilling in so many of us a love for good characters and a true lifelong joy of reading.

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.

Aaaah dear Stuart, you’ve been on my mind so often in recent times. We lost you just over three years ago and we’ve missed you terribly but these recent months have created a chasm that it seems only you, and maybe a little dose of Dr. Bonnie Henry, could fill. Stu, things have been grim, glum and grating. But there have been shiny moments too. I know you would have found them, sprinkled them with your fairy dust and invited us down the path with you to see and savour these little joys. There is no way you’d have allowed us to wallow and whine. 

It’s Canada Day today and there has probably never been another Canadian who has visited and embraced as many parts of this country as you did. You and your vibrant curiosity were welcomed warmly at coffee shops, and bake shops and book shops (especially book shops!) in cities and towns, big and small. The small were clearly your favourites (though you would never play favourites) and you conveyed their very essence to us in a way that made us feel we were there along with you and the villagers. Thank you for helping us know and love our Canada and all its citizens.

I heard your voice the other day and it stopped me in my tracks. CBC was playing in the background and all of a sudden you were there with me in my kitchen. I can’t begin to explain how that felt. I know you would have found the perfect words and captured the moment. One follower of the Vinyl Cafe wrote this: “I was listening to the Current on Friday and suddenly the story came on. I wasn’t prepared. I had to lean against the counter and feel the emotions rise.” So I wasn’t alone with the surging sentimentality. Lest anyone doubt your lofty position in the hearts of Canadians, this comment made me laugh out loud: “Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s address was broadcast instead of (Stuart’s) story in Manitoba. Any way it can still be heard via another source? Was very disappointing!” You will always be the Primest of our Primes.

The CBC and its legion of fellow Stuart and Vinyl Cafe devotees recognized your voice was desperately needed in our kitchens and hearts again, and soon. The Current played a few of your stories to overwhelming delight and now, it’s been officially announced – you’re back for the Summer! I know exactly where I’ll be on Sundays at noon. And I can’t wait. I can’t wait to hear your comforting cadence, your playful pauses to allow us to catch up with your wit, your own battles to overcome the giggles … and I’ll have the tissues at the ready, for the inevitable happy tears and for the ones shed in missing you too. 

Happy Canada Day, Stuart!

(illustration by Michael deAdder)

 

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!

 

 

 

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? 

 

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.

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