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? 

 

Summer Reads 2018

July 4, 2018

Art by Laura Lacambra Shubert

Summer is already off to the races so it’s high time for the Bedside Table Books annual (except when it’s not!) Summer Reads list. For those new to the scene, the list is a collection of books that have caught my attention in recent times and seem suited to savouring over the slower pace of the Summer. I try to keep a variety of themes and genres in mind but in the end, they are just titles I can’t wait to read along with you!

    

 

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall – Probably the one I’m most looking forward to curling up with as I’ve been hearing and reading great things about this story for months now and it’s not even on the shelves until next week. I know we all love a little historical fiction and this one promises to deliver all we desire. Susie wrote a great article in Harper’s Bazaar magazine sharing her inspiration and some of the back story on the real Subway girls. Some of us hear interesting stories on NPR and then wander away to the next distraction, Susie is motivated to write an entire book! Can’t wait. A summer reading bonus: The Subway Girls of Decades Past

Travels Through the French Riviera: An Artist’s Guide to the Storied Coastline from Menton to Saint-Tropez by Virginia Johnson – Long time readers will know I swoon over a book beautifully illustrated with watercolours. This is capital G, gorgeous. Virginia is a Canadian treasure and you’ve met her here before when she illustrated for Kate Spade and Deborah Needleman. Now you can vicariously join her on her colourful (and detailed) travels along the Riviera and do it from your matching beach towel no less. The Bay presently carries Virginia’s art on a fluffy towel you may need to justify purchasing as a required Summer Reading accessory.

Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – Another one written by an extraordinary over-achiever … The Right Honourable former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has written a very well reviewed courtroom thriller. Methinks she knows of what she writes! Ms. McLachlin was a mere appointee to the BC Court of Appeal when she was invited to address my high school graduating class; she was inspiring then and look at all she’s been up to since! Like all the good ones, she’s a big reader and shares her literary journey in this Globe and Mail article. Suspense in the summer is a good match. 

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce – The Guardian calls this a “Winning Wartime Romp” and refers to the heroine as “plucky” and “charming”. The reviewer also bandies about descriptives like “hilarious”, “poignant”, and that it has a “madly winning spirit”. The Irish Times calls her the “Bridget Jones of the Blitz”. ‘Nuff said. Sold! Set in the era of WW II London, it follows the antics of a twenty-something War-correspondent-wannabe who ends up instead typing the Problem Pages letters. She finds herself drawn in to the personal stories and becomes secretly a little more deeply involved than she should.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – “This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision …” according to the NY Times reviewer. A “wise and compassionate” story of a young newlywed couple who find themselves managing a wrongful conviction and its devastating impact on their relationship and family. Certainly more emotionally demanding than other titles on this list but I’ve heard this one’s an important read and highly engaging.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – The BBCE (Best Book Club Ever) has selected this as our one assigned Summer choice. I’ve yet to meet a reader who has not been deeply moved by Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale story and this one seems set to prompt as many positive experiences. The Great Alone is set in a post Vietnam era when a family affected by the War seeks a new life, off the grid, in the Alaskan wilderness. According to the author’s website, “The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.” Chills for you when it gets hot out!

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman – I’ve had this one on my YTR (Yet To Read) shelf for some time now. What better time to embrace a novel featuring a Gardening class than in the height of a flower flourishing summer!  While the initial premise sounds dark (young family loses father in a tragedy) its reviewers promise it’s laden with optimism and good humour as the little family finds its footing. Mom is an illustrator who is sent to a Gardening Class to learn the intricacies of the plants and finds a new and loving community of support. Dare I say, romance blooms?

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern – The title alone put this one in the running of course. Everything I’ve read about its storyline brings to mind The Breakfast Club movie but this cast of misfits finds themselves in a small town library rather than on Saturday detention. Some of the characters are there to find solace in the ever-comforting realm of books, another to do community service for the crime of Dictionary theft of all things, and others circulate through as “offbeat” library regulars do. Together they are healing from past difficulties and are finding new ways forward. Sunny is a young girl who befriends the librarian with the mysterious past and seems to bring the light to the group.

Let us know how many you get through or if you have some of your own recommendations to share. What’s on your bedside table? Happy reading!

 

 

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