Getting Cozy

November 10, 2020

I’ve written here before about the deliciousness that is Bella Grace magazine. A little spin-off that is equally worth delving into is The Cozy Issue. What a beautiful cover on the newest edition! Race you to the newstand! Available now at Chapters/Indigo and a few other independent magazine shops. Michael’s has had it in the past too … Worth the hunt I’m sure.

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.

I think I can safely say most of us love a Saturday morning. My Saturday mornings have recently become even more special thanks to my friend Karen and the Bookless Club.

At the beginning of May, a new column written by the talented Jane Macdougall, surfaced in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. A few kind friends immediately alerted me to this delight, “The Bookless Club“, knowing it would be right up my alley. They were so right! They also know condo living has complicated my newspaper delivery so I’m not savouring my Saturday papers in the same way anymore and may have missed out.

Karen took things further and has devotedly and reliably (even when she’s road tripping!) snapped a photo of the column each week and forwarded it to me. This spark of joy, courtesy of Karen, makes my day. The texted photo arrives with a “Have a lovely day!” and a “This is a great one!” Sometimes we have a quick conversation generated by the article. The Comfort Food column prompted this exchange: “Honey on toast!”  and “PB on toast fingers dipped in chocolate milk!”

What’s a Bookless Club you ask? Well, according to its creator, it takes the best part of book club which is the conversation and community but isn’t limited by a single focus; it’s not just one story, it’s an exchange of stories. Jane explains: “For me, author Carol Shields summed it up best when she said, “We want, need, the stories of others. We need, too, to place our own stories beside theirs to compare, weigh, judge, forgive and to find, by becoming something other than ourselves, an angle of vision that renews our image of the world.”  The Bookless Club found its footing when, housebound in a Pandemic, Jane realised that “I miss conversation. My mind is going to weeds without it.

The actual column is lively and facilitates thoughtful conversation just as Jane intended. The most recent featured the friendship between Jane’s son and his best buddy. “One of them brings the fireworks, the other one knows where the hoses are. One of them spits in the wind, the other one makes sure the getaway car is gassed up. I like to think they complement each other, that they’re good for one another.” Deep sigh. I loved this!  Each week, Jane provides a prompt based on the column’s theme and the replies appear the following Saturday. Tune in and see the submissions to: “Are old friends best? Do you have friendships that go back to childhood?” Search the Archives for Car Loves, Precious Pandemic Pets, Memorable Travel Moments and more … all terrific.

Storytelling indeed connects us and Jane oversees a wonderful forum during a time when connectedness is most meaningful. Look her up, enjoy the well-written content, and join the conversation with your own stories. And, if you have a heart as big as my friend Karen, pass the article along to someone and make their Saturday!

 

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.

I’d Rather Be Reading

December 6, 2018

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Somewhere in my travels through the world wide web, I came upon an image of a painting by Karin Jurick.  I was smitten. Her use of such vivid colour and the ability to capture moments of pure relaxation delighted me. As I explored more of Karin’s work, I noted a commitment to featuring readers. She does it so well, I simply had to share with you. Learn more about Karin here on her Bio page. Karin also writes a daily blog, A Painting Today – the Results of the Life of a Paintaholic. Tune in and enjoy her prolific talents. Meanwhile, I do hope you are savouring moments like those featured in Karin’s work.

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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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