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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tumblr_nus2wwaD4p1qggwnvo1_400

“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.

 

2014-weather-california-wildfires-sept-16

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.

413DS5XAQXL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 51CLCE4p+DL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

9341909

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.

  chasing-fire-cover

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.

3edbcbd229c37b9783ccb95de5f6ecda

e06c8cc5cb9878f069bf481fe3d82ef9

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.

8cc9419e0f6a9a1f9fbff07ba2763038231b6443600f326c018100e7f01abf8f fc4c279de67cbbefcef2522421a23789 a0c78c77b0d616705de24dd60a86037a 7353a4303c977300ce874aa8c4af8759ec5af296ddadf66de18394bc4dcc7bf1  27ffa3605845e453779de0fe790ad7fa 2481c435e5a1145c788ccb05992c8009

219e5eaf6217e689e67768edf392eb28  e21d6aeb6f7ac1078d2de701b264c81e 11ab33d73ce6f2f1556d1c506d78969c

Summer Books 2015!

June 8, 2015

45e13a5c013921744d133f334da05e0d

(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 …

17934521  landing-gear  97806796444222e7cd660d46e029ebc3f847b7a88c5ed-w204@1x   Where+the+Air+is+Sweetimgres-2 9780349140353    y450-29321936857  imgres-1   41Gw4S7yuAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_20342540

Three to Bookmark

September 24, 2014

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

images-126   mambo-in-chinatown

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

od_book_cover  us

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

9781443422666  the-rosie-effect

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

paddington bear_hunt lion_witch

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

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

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

9786000509859_BATBookBechRiversideP_cov

 

 

Zoot and Sandy

July 10, 2014

I always love making a special discovery and then being able to share it with all of you. I am particularly charmed by this find and hope you will be too. Zoot and Sandy are the lovely critters you see perched so amiably next to one another in the image below. Their creator, one Bobby Stevenson, writes beautifully evocative prose and poetry in a creative writing forum called ReadWave (another new discovery!)

And so, allow me to introduce to you, Zoot and Sandy and The Universe.

4888_50d22e909e47e9.51010125-big

 

Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating passed (sic) their little seat.

“Looks like another great day,” said Zoot.

“It’s always a great day,” agreed Sandy. “Tell me something pal, what do you see when you look in the mirror?” Asked the elephant.

“Usually I notice that the paint in the wall behind me needs painting, that’s what I see. To be honest it annoys me,” said the dog.

“Anything else?” Asked Sandy in a real curious manner as elephants tended to do.

“Well I see me.”

“Aha!” Shouted Sandy.

“What? What have I said?” Questioned the dog, feeling as if he must have put his paw in it once again.

“You see what you think is yourself. What your brain tells you to see.”

“So you’re saying, that I ain’t a dog?” Asked Zoot.

“Of course you’re a dog, Zoot and if you don’t mind me saying, the best dog I’ve ever met. But you don’t see what I see.”

“Cause you see an elephant when you look in your mirror,” said Zoot smugly.

“I grant you that point, but when I look at you, I see you through an elephant’s brain and it won’t be what you see through a dog’s brain.”

“Is there a point to all of this?” Asked a perplexed Zoot.

“I’m just saying that we judge folks on what we see, and we sometimes think that they are wrong when all the time it’s just the way our brain is warping everything that makes us see them differently.”

“So we don’t really stand a chance at being fair, is that what you’re saying Sandy?”

“I’m just saying that you have to make allowances. I make allowances for you being a dog, just as you make allowances for me being perfect,” said Sandy with the biggest elephant grin.

“Oh I make allowances for you, that’s for sure,” said Zoot.

“Meaning what?” Asked a curious elephant.

“Meaning that you are much bigger than me and sometimes when you sit on the bench real hard, I shoot up several feet. Twice I’ve landed in the sea.”

“And I make allowances for you, Zoot when you get in to one of those ‘chasing your tail’ things.”

“I do it because it’s fun, Sandy.”

“Exactly Zoot. You see a wild thing that needs to be chased and I just see a dog’s tail. Beautiful as it is. No one sees the universe the same. Some people look at those birds and wonder where they’re headed. Some look at them and wonder what they’d taste like with some potatoes and some just look at them in wonder.”

“So what do we do, Sandy?”

“We make allowances for everyone and everything.”

And with that Zoot and Sandy just stared at the universe and saw different things.”

~ Written by Bobby Stevenson

If you want to spend a little more time with these pals you can read about Zoot and Sandy discussing Happiness here.

 

%d bloggers like this: