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.

These are beautiful coffee table books through the pages of which we can vicariously travel to traditionally dreamy domains of Summer. Coffee Table Books are not easy on the wallet, unless you compare them to the cost of the tickets to travel, yet they are a wonderful way to savour beautiful photography and design. I have a healthy little collection focused on travel and design and art and I enjoy visiting the titles often. They are indeed “trippy”! I don’t put them on my coffee table, however, lest someone spill the coffee.

Summer to Summer: Houses by the Sea is a new one, being released today in fact. It features the stories and photos of a selection of gorgeous homes along the North East Coast of the United States. The area really is a mecca for stunning Summer home architecture. Even if you are lucky enough to visit the region, you can’t always get inside the homes – through these pages you can! “All we need to do is settle back, kick off our shoes, and let the sun-kissed pages of Summer to Summer wash over us.” (publisher)

Summertime is colourfully filled with images that represent the epitome of an ideal summer; 46 different photographers share places that are lodged in their summer memories. Evocative quotes and summery reflections by literary icons are sprinkled among the photographs and there is true sense of nostalgia throughout. Joanne Dugan, the editor of this lovely book, writes: “It turns out that my first summer love was not a person but a place.” Read a mood-setting excerpt here.

Summer Houses by the Sea: The Shingle Style focuses on perhaps the most iconic design of a traditional summer home. Shingled summer homes “are an expression of the romantic longing for the sea.” (publisher) While this one may be more of an architectural study than a seasonal celebration, its photographic pages will still give you a sense of summer days spent in some treasured historic homes as well as in some newer shingled havens. You’ll learn a little in this one but the dreamy summer journey will be there too.

 

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? 

 

The title and the cover of this recent release convinced me it was most worthy of a summertime post. What could be more appropriate for a season when so many Canadian families hit the road than a book subtitled “The Informal Study of the Family Road Trip”? I couldn’t help but laugh at the title. What kid hasn’t heard this at some point? What parent hasn’t been known to utter the same?

Reviewer Andrew Ferguson (Land of Lincoln, Crazy U) writes: “A book with a title as good as Don’t Make Me Pull Over! has a lot to live up to, and somehow Richard Ratay manages to deliver. It’s a memoir, a work of popular history, and a love letter all in one. Books this wise are seldom so funny; books this funny are rarely so wise.”

Powell’s Books has a fun piece on its site by the book’s author Richard Ratay which includes a playlist of some of the music that forms the soundtrack to his travels. This article alone had me fondly recalling the songs we would croon at the top of our lungs, with windows down, on trips with my parents and brother and then later with my husband and our boys. Abba, anyone? Johnny Cash? Jimmy Buffet? 

… When things hit a lull after long hours on the road, I’ll flip this tune on and our car suddenly turns into a downtown club. My wife and two boys seamlessly spit every lyric, while I add “mad hype” and sing the female backup parts in a ridiculous falsetto. Because I’m the dad and that’s what dads do.”  (Richard Ratay)

While this book is an engaging social study, there is no doubt it will be a popular nostalgia trip for its readers. I’d offer to read it aloud but I’m afraid I’m one of those passengers!

Enjoy your road trips this summer, be safe, and … sing your lungs out!

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Enchanted …

June 23, 2015

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So here’s an enchanting prospect …

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, has been considered a beloved classic since its publication in 1922. Successful theatre productions and an award-winning film followed, based on the story of four London-based women, initially unknown to one another and all in varying stages of disgruntlement, who travel to Italy and share the cost of lodgings in a seaside castle for the month of April.  Each is changed by the experience for the better, and for the reader’s enjoyment.

Skip ahead nearly a century and writer Brenda Bowen has taken inspiration from the original to create an “enchanted” experience for us herself, this time set in summery New England. In Enchanted August, four modern-day women escape their less than satisfactory New York lives for a reminiscent experience of house-sharing with strangers in an idyllic locale; personal adventures, enlightenment, and transformation ensue. A pretty new edition of The Enchanted April has been released in honour of the publication of its new relative and Brenda Bowen has even written the Introduction. I have an old edition but will have to find a way to read this new Intro.

I think these would be great companion reads – perhaps a Summer book club challenge to read both. The Enchanted April created a surge in tourist travel to the Italian Riviera, Enchanted August may do the same for New England shores. Vicarious travel from your beach blanket works too! Apparently if you enjoyed Beautiful Ruins, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or Downton Abbey, these are for you. Alrighty then, I’m ready to be enchanted!

 

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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Sarah Jio is a writer from the Seattle area who is enjoying considerable success with her novels: The Violets of March, Blackberry Winter, The Bungalow, The Last Camellia, and Morning Glory to date and more on the way. Book clubs seem to be particularly fond of her creative, multi-generational story lines, often set in the Pacific Northwest. I have read Morning Glory which takes place in a floating home community and look forward to making my way through her other tales.

In her recently released Goodnight June, Sarah has explored generational connections through a beloved classic children’s book and it’s sure to be a favourite of book and bookshop lovers. The back cover blurb states: “June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown — and steps into the pages of American literature.”

I’ve only read the Author’s Note and I’ve already learned all sorts of intriguing trivia. So if you feel like a nostalgic trip to the Green Room and an imaginary visit into the world of books, writers, letters, and bookshops, this may be your next cozy read. I know I’m looking forward to it!

goodnight-june-cover-final Goodnightmoon

Beach Bag Books

June 2, 2013

Beach Reading by Colin Page

As the month of June and a whiff of a promise of summer arrives, book columns inevitably turn to “The Beach List”. Summer reading seems to have a sensibility all its own – an excuse to read something lighter in most cases; I think perhaps fresh and light does feel more right. Last summer I read Beautiful Ruins and it was a perfect sunny days experience – I may not have been on the Italian coast but I felt its warmth just the same. Add that one to your list if you haven’t enjoyed it yet. (You can visit previous years’ lists here and here.) This summer, my list seems to embrace fresh characters … and primary coloured Primary art work if the covers are any indication! I didn’t notice the trend in quirky cover art until I started positioning the images for you. Is this a greater trend or am I just drawn to drawing? Let us know what your own reading recommendations are and if you have anything fresh and light on your list.

0be1bcb667efa6da21d1e7d3de38f16f This story was recommended by the well-read manager of my favourite local bookstore. She seemed to have been enchanted so I was won over.  “A novel as creative, brave, and pitch-perfect as its narrator, an imaginary friend named Budo, who reminds us that bravery comes in the most unlikely forms. It has been a long time since I read a book that has captured me so completely, and has wowed me with its unique vision. You’ve never read a book like this before. As Budo himself might say: Believe me.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Sing You Home

17335097  There are a few hits on my shelf with a Canadian/Irish connection – Janet E. Cameron is a Canadian (a Maritimer) living in Ireland. Her author Bio and Website entries confirm she’s witty and warm and evidently a nice blend of both her cultures. When asked to describe “Cinnamon Toast” she wrote:  “It’s funny, it’s sad, and we’ve all been there. Plus there are drunken house parties, midnight confrontations, the Cold War, hippies in cabins, pick-up trucks, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, bar fights, prom night, Star Trek, a roll in the hay (literally), gratuitous 80s song references, and a happy ending, even after the end of the world. What more could you want?”

the-knot Author Mark Watson is an English stand-up comedian though from reviews I’ve read this isn’t an entirely comic piece and, in fact, features a “dark secret”. Perhaps I’ve been hoodwinked by the pastel cover?! The story of a Wedding Photographer who captures moments in families’ lives explores his own family experiences. ‘A pitch-perfect tragicomedy of ordinary – and not so ordinary – family life‘ –Jonathan Coe

9781443422666 This story almost had a blog entry of its very own. I’ve been waiting for its Canadian release ever since reading Australian and English rave reviews. It’s been called ” The feel-good novel of 2013.”  The Harper Collins description: A first-date dud, socially awkward and overly fond of quick-dry clothes, genetics professor Don Tillman has given up on love, until a chance encounter gives him an idea. He will design a questionnaire—a sixteen-page, scientifically researched questionnaire—to uncover the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker or a late-arriver. Rosie is all these things. She is also fiery and intelligent, strangely beguiling, and looking for her biological father a search that a DNA expert might just be able to help her with.

The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy like no other. It is arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, and it will make you want to drink cocktails.” Summer cocktails I presume 

9780393345094_custom-776b617a76b6da1e9a68ffe00a05ca33c989d1a5-s6-c30  Capital is a modern day tale, featuring a cast of many – a creative peek behind the curtains in London in 2008.  “John Lanchester’s new book Capital tells the story of the residents of Pepys Road, and how their lives are changed by the global financial crisis; a post-crash, state-of-the-nation novel told with compassion, humour and truth.” This one brings the recent headlines to life and may not be as light as the others but offers fresh (fictional) insight.

images-154 I have been increasingly curious about The Fault in Our Stars as I’ve watched it become cult-like in status. The writing has been described as “exquisite” and “devastatingly beautiful”. The premise seems less than cheery, two cancer-stricken teens form a romantic relationship, but it is apparently a study in how we live life, love, and leave legacies. While categorized as a YA (Young Adult) novel, it has gained a huge following among adults as well. Reviews indicate the tears flow but the story sticks with you in a most inspiring way. Pop on your biggest sunglasses and enjoy.

So that’s a little list I’ll be working through.  The sun is shining this morning and I’m off to travel back to Nigeria in Will Ferguson’s 419 for a while … Happy Reading!

Lisa See

July 1, 2011

    

     

There are a few writers on whom one can depend to consistently provide a solid, entertaining and memorable read; Lisa See is one.  Her four most recent novels are wonderful journeys into the lives of strong and inspiring Chinese women and their experiences at different points in China’s (and the US’s ) history. Each story is engaging and poignant and, in the style of a historical novel (though each feels very contemporary), draws us into learning about an era we may never have had the chance to understand before. Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and Peony in Love stand alone while the very recent release, Dreams of Joy, is a sequel to Shanghai Girls. The author’s website gives wonderful background and descriptions for each novel – click on the book covers to be taken there.

The writing reflects thorough research and impeccable detail.  Lisa See, though she could be mistaken for an Irish lass, is in fact half Chinese. Her interest in the history of Chinese women is intensely personal and the depth of her care is evident in the writing. If you haven’t read her books before, then do make room on your bedside table for one or more of these. If you are seeking to read some of her other writing then explore her three mystery-thrillers (Flower Net, Dragon Bones, Interior) or the memoir based on her Grandfather’s journey from China to Los Angeles’ Chinatown (On Gold Mountain). Many of her books are award winners.

You’d think she’s been busy enough writing and facilitating sessions at the Smithsonian and beyond to share her considerable knowledge of the Chinese Immigrant experience but Lisa See has also seen her book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan become a movie set for release in early July.

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