June 17, 2022
Amy Mair of Red Fern Books Podcast and I recently sat down (in person this time) for our second annual Summer Reads tie-in. Read the highlights below and then listen to more in our conversation over here.
If Amy managed to execute some editing wizardry, you will miss out on an epic coughing fit as this guest-of-the-week almost combusted. Mic-off is a safer bet for (hack, hack) this gal. Otherwise, we had a really fun chat!
These six books are chosen with an eye to variety across eras and themes. My hope is that we’ll all get a fresh glimpse into new worlds through these pages and be inspired and entertained along the way. Now just add some sunny weather, a cool drink, and uninterrupted time to read!
By the time this blogpost/podcast hits the airwaves I have no doubt you’ll be very familiar with this choice. Lessons in Chemistry has spent all of its young life on the bestseller and recommended lists, far and wide, unanimously celebrated. Bonnie Garmus is a debut author (at 65 years old) whose story was picked up for publication in 35 countries – impressive! If you liked Eleanor and Bernadette of Eleanor Oliphant or Where’d You Go Bernadette? you’ll most certainly enjoy Elizabeth Zott of Lessons in Chemistry. Despite her quirky outspokenness and her identity as an advanced scientific researcher, Elizabeth becomes a reluctant TV cooking show personality of the early 1960s. You’ll delight in plenty of chuckles but there’s surprising poignancy and social commentary and personal growth in the story as well. Elizabeth has a charming supporting cast of characters including a very special dog. This is a great summer read – any time of the year!
I’m sure you may wonder at times how I narrow down my book choices, especially when the selection may be a little bit off the radar as this one appears to be. In this case, it was simple, I encountered the paragraph below and was had. I don’t think I can really improve upon it so I’m sharing!
“It was Rachel Signer’s dream to be that girl: the one smoking hand-rolled cigarettes out the windows of her 19th-century Parisian studio apartment, wearing second-hand Isabel Marant jeans and sipping a glass of Beaujolais redolent of crushed roses with a touch of horse mane. Instead she was an under-appreciated freelance journalist and waitress in New York City, frustrated at always being broke and completely miserable in love. When she tastes her first pétillant-naturel (pét-nat for short), a type of natural wine made with no additives or chemicals, it sets her on a journey of self-discovery, both deeply personal and professional, that leads her to Paris, Italy, Spain, Georgia, and finally deep into the wilds of South Australia and which forces her, in the face of her “Wildman,” to ask herself the hard question: can she really handle the unconventional life she claims she wants?” (Hachette) Cheers!
If you’re a regular reader of Bedside Table Books, you’ll know that I’ve been singing the praises of essay collections as a way to re-boot one’s reading or to embrace variety. I recently stumbled upon two terrific pieces of writing, independent of one another, and discovered that by chance they were both selections in this Letters to a Stranger collection. I knew instantly that the connecting themes of brief encounters/missed connections/moments of shared humanity would be perfect for deep Summer sighing and if these two examples were any indication, the reading would all be excellent. 65 great writers have shared their experiences with strangers – you’ll encounter names like Maggie Shipstead, Lauren Groff, Pico Iyer … Can’t wait to savour this collection!
Another debut receiving a lot of positive attention, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a multi-generational saga which begins in Chinese occupied Tibet of the late 1950s and follows a family’s refugee experience through to modern-day Toronto. Family connections impacted by displacement, threatened cultural identity, and the haunting of harsh experiences are the basis of this compelling story. While author Tsering Yangzom Lama was born and raised in Nepal, she has strong ties to Vancouver and a BA in Creative Writing & International Relations from UBC. She followed that up with an MFA (Columbia) These descriptives taken from a wide array of blurbs are pretty convincing that this is some very fine writing: “achingly beautiful” “symphonic” “transcendent” “a marvel” and “magnificently textured”. Wow. I’m really looking forward to this one.
There is a particular delight in the discovery of a story that has been hiding away in the archives just waiting to be celebrated. Thanks to Kianna Alexander’s writerly curiosity, we are now able to enjoy a story inspired by one remarkable Josephine N. Leary. Leary was a freed black woman, born into slavery on a Southern Plantation in the 1800s. As a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, she overcame an incredible number of challenges but used her savvy financial management and investment skills to build an impressive real estate empire. A feat at anytime but particularly in the early 1900s. Kianna Alexander researched deeply into her fellow North Carolina native’s story and the result is this exciting new novel, based on Leary’s life.
I really don’t need to say much more than “Geraldine Brooks” to flag this one. Brooks has several hugely successful and popular reads under her belt and each one is a unique and fascinating tale based on extraordinary research. Think: Year of Wonders (worth re-visiting with present day pandemic context), Caleb’s Crossing, March, and People of the Book among others. Horse, released June 14th, 2022, grows out of more impeccable research, and links three stories through different eras all tied to the famous race horse “Lexington”. “A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history.” (Goodreads) As she has in previous novels, the author has provided a fascinating Afterword. Don’t skip those pages!
June 9, 2020
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.
June 3, 2012
A few of you kind souls have shared with me that you visit Bedside Table Books on your phones when you’re standing in front of the bookshelf in a store or library … that you drop in to the site to find a few recommended titles. If this sounds like you, then bookmark this entry. I dedicate the following list to the shelf-stalkers!
It’s that time of year again – the Summer Reading Lists are emerging everywhere in the media, on-line and off. I’ve been collecting titles that have piqued my interest in some way for months now and thought I’d just post the whole darn catalogue here for you to ponder along with me. Now a few of these are sooo fresh off the press that they haven’t quite made it to the shelves yet so be patient – a list this long is going to take us a while to get through, maybe until next summer! Some seem plain old fun (beach worthy) and some seem thought-provoking (for rainy days) – the whole gamut. So dust off ye olde beach bag and start packing!
Please feel welcome to add your own recommendations and discoveries in the Comments! (As always, click on the cover to learn more about the book)
Remember Beachy Book recommendations from last year? Refresh your memory here.
June 17, 2011
July 11, 2010
Thank you to those of you who shared some of your summer suggestions (posted last time). Today I am sharing my stack of paperback hope-to-reads-by-end-of-the-summer. As I see them all together I realize the covers don’t look particularly chipper considering this is the season for light and bright! Better send me your bubblegum coloured chick lit suggestions to perk things up around here …
Meanwhile, here’s my list and why each one made the cut:
Silas Marner by George Eliot – A classic. I’m hearing quite a bit about a return to reading the classics missed (or avoided?) through the years. This was a gift from a dear English friend and I’ve harboured great guilt in not yet having given it it’s due attention.
The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser – On the night of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and roamed the Museum’s galleries, stealing thirteen works of art. The stolen works include some of the most important in art history. I visited the museum around this time (not guilty!) and absolutely loved it. Am intrigued by this unsolved mystery.
Same Kind Of Different As Me: A Modern-day Slave, An International Art Dealer, And The Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore – A wealthy businessman is encouraged by his wife to volunteer with the Union Gospel Mission. He meets a homeless man there who becomes deeply intertwined in his life. “A story so incredible no novelist would dare dream it.”
The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee – A tale of love and betrayal beginning in war-torn Hong Kong of 1942 and carrying on to a decade later when “impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.”
At Least in the City Someone Would Hear me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life by Wade Rouse. Wade Rouse captured my heart at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Conference and I’ve been looking forward to the guaranteed combination of laughs and poignancy in this newly released paperback.
The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella – The worlds of business and romance and coffee in end of the 19th Century London and beyond. I’m thinking an entertaining recipe!
The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick – A “man of means” from Wisconsin seeks a wife through newspaper ads in the late 1800s and selects one who is not all that she says she is.
The Secret Daughter by Shalpi Somaya Gowda – A Globe and Mail bestseller for many weeks now. The story of a child born in a small village in India and given up for adoption to a woman doctor in America. “The story moves between the two families, one struggling to eke out an existence in Mumbai, the other grappling with the challenge of raising a brownskinned child from another culture.”
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson- I ended a recent visit to Chicago with a desire to read about some of the lively characters that populated its history. “Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, this spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men–the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World”s Fair, striving to secure America’s place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.
What are you reading this summer?
July 4, 2010
More summer reading recommendations next time!