October 21, 2022
When I last posted, I was remarking just how many great books were being released this Fall and shared a “shortlist” of nine well-known writers launching new works. Amy Mair of Red Fern Book Review podcast and I met recently to discuss another list of books showing up on the book shop shelves this season. Among the five books we discuss on air, you’ll find character-forward novels, a literary psychological mystery, and an intriguing non-fiction work too. Be sure to tune in for our fun rambling chat about the books described below and a few other related (or unrelated) recommendations and topics.
Carter Bays was a writer on the very entertaining and popular show, “How I Met Your Mother”. His first novel, The Mutual Friend, sports an equally contemporary, youthful, and wide ranging cast of characters, all digitally connected through their devices. The story focuses on a 28 year old woman who is navigating the challenges of moving forward in her life while under the distracting influence of “screen time” – a modern and very real scenario. While she works as a nanny, dreaming of writing her MCAT and going to medical school, she is caught up in the chaos between life through her phone and her real live life. Described as “a comedy of manners in an era of buzzing gadgets” and “a modern epic brimming with charm”, this promises to be a thought provoking story as well. Reviews indicate it’s a refreshing exploration of new territory but one should be prepared to commit to keeping the many intertwined characters straight and to sticking with a longer read. Fine by me if we can just put down our phones and carve out the time for a great story!
Mike Gayle is a prolific and popular writer based in the UK. I’ve long been meaning to read his work and I’m so pleased this most recent novel is available for us to enjoy here in Canada. While the title may evoke the melancholy tones of a Beatles song (Eleanor Rigby) this story brings the humour while also acknowledging difficult times. Reminiscent of “A Man Called Ove”, the main character, Hubert, is eighty-four years old, and settled into his reclusive ways after a lifetime of hurt and struggle as a Jamaican “Windrush” immigrant, raising a family in a bi-racial marriage in an often unwelcoming environment. On their weekly calls, Hubert convinces his daughter who is living abroad in Australia, that he is thriving and busily engaged in a social and happy life. He makes up wonderfully fun stories to keep her entertained and worry-free. However, when his daughter plans a visit to see him, Hubert realizes he’s going to be caught out unless he quickly creates the life he has fibbed about. Let the games begin! Looking forward to this one.
Another author with past success, Matthew Quick will be familiar to readers of Silver Linings Playbook; those of us who saw the movie may be more familiar with its stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. While Quick poignantly dealt with family, friendship and mental illness struggles in Silver Linings, he takes us into the realm of grief and a broken community in We Are the Light. The story that “reminds us that life is full of guardian angels” is epistolary, told in letters to a former Jungian Analyst and features the special relationship between widower Lucas and a grief-stricken eighteen year old, named Eli as they bond together to heal their community and themselves. Hope and Empathy are the two words that appear most often in reviews and while grief may seem a difficult topic for some readers, the message is uplifting and heartwarming. One reviewer wrote that reading Quick’s books was like going to your favourite restaurant, you always know it’s going to be good!
There are loads of readers who crave a good mystery out there. I may be a bit of a wimp when it comes to the thriller genre but I, too, do enjoy a good twisty whodunnit; this compelling mystery is waiting on my bedside table for me now. I was hooked as soon as I saw the Boston Public Library was the setting for the intrigue but the story and its author’s background further convinced me to get aboard the bandwagon. First, picture a table of strangers in the Reading Room, near where a crime occurs, being held by Security as the investigation gets under way. During the long wait, they begin to befriend one another and personal stories are shared. One of them, however, will prove to be the culprit. Described as a psychological mystery within a mystery, The Woman In the Library is a “literary thrill and page turner”. Author Sulari Gentill first studied Astrophysics and then went on to become a corporate lawyer. She started writing historical crime novels in her free time and her intelligent approach to the stories garnered her several awards. She is now a productive full time writer, living on a farm in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia.
This newest book by Susan Cain is on its way to launching an entire movement just like her Quiet book did. In 2012, the world became fascinated by her revelations about introversion and its impact on individuals, workplaces, and families. Her TED talk on the topic became one of the most popular ever produced. Now Susan is using research, storytelling, and memoir to explore the concept of Bittersweet and its impact on creativity, compassion and connection. She considers this state of mind “a superpower” – that there is a hidden power generated in sad songs and rainy days. Beyond the book itself, there is an online quiz, a Ted Talk and a Spotify playlist to help immerse us in the concept of Bittersweet. I, for one, am very curious to know more and really look forward to reading this.
If you do wish to hear more about these book choices along with several other recommendations and to listen to a bit more back story and general bookish chat, tune in to Red Fern Book Review’s, Season 2 episode # 4 here.
Happy Reading! And Listening!
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.
September 28, 2010
You may remember my reference to Katrina Kittle in an earlier entry related to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. I promised to write more about her and today is the day. Katrina spoke at the conference not about humour (though she was charming and witty to be sure!) but about the craft of writing. She is a writer who takes the responsibility of her role very seriously and while it is tempting to say she’s “gifted” the reality is her gift is her dedication to exploring social issues and then presenting their nuances in a most readable and inspiring way. Please do not be daunted by the tough topics (AIDS, Child Abuse, Addiction, Divorce …) Do yourself a favour and take the plunge. She is a sincere storyteller – you will find humour along with some sadness and be left with a hearty whiff of optimism. I have read The Kindness of Strangers and The Blessings of the Animals and am delighted there are two more to relish. (Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie)
I most recently read The Blessings of the Animals. The story focuses on a veterinarian (Camden) who is left by her husband and must forge a new understanding of herself and the important relationships in her life. The characters in the wide cast have intriguing stories of their own and are surrounded by a delightful troupe of wise animals, each with its own tale too. (Tale/Tail? I know … too much!) For the record, I’d like to come back in another life as Muriel the Goat – ahhh the sass!
A wonderful discovery within the pages was a reference to a real-life Blessing of the Animals. This enchanting ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (there are others around the world too) celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (this Sunday, October 3rd in 2010) and blesses the animals in his honour. Katrina incorporates it into a poignant part of her story but this video gives you a little peek of the real deal.
The cover of the the Blessings of the Animals book is so appealing. Katrina shares her feelings about it in her own blog: “What I love about this cover for The Blessings of the Animals is that not only does it suggest (rightly) that a woman and a horse will be key players, but it speaks to me of love, of trust, of comfort (which one is comforting the other, or is it mutual?), and even hope (grass that shade of green can only be springtime). Combined with the title, hopefully it will compel potential readers to want to know more.”
Pick up a copy of The Blessings of the Animals and keep an eye on the news media this weekend for coverage of the feasts and ceremonies.
Click here for an earlier post on books and their covers.
August 30, 2010
When you think of your favourite author hard at work, what do you picture? Rustic ateliers with views of rooftops? Remote cabins deep in the woods a la Henry Thoreau at Walden? The Guardian newspaper in the UK featured an entertaining series called Writers’ Rooms showing a photo and a bit of back story on the space by the writer his or her self. I loved some of the unexpected little details and found the entries witty and fun. The Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival followed up with a version of its own on its website, exploring the work spaces of local authors. Equally engaging!
Steven Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo etc.) wrote: “The sign on my door read “Roy’s Poodles, Poodle Training and Poodle Related Services” and from time to time I’d advertise a job opening. Once someone from the Government of Canada’s Human Resources division put their card under the door in response to a posting for a fully accredited canine acupuncturist. Good times.”
Michael Morpurgo (The Butterfly Lion, Alone on a Wide Wide Sea etc.) wrote: “For many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets, dirty feet on the bed, and we felt we should try to create somewhere else, a storyteller’s house.” (Read more )
And of Jane Austen’s space: “Having no room of her own, she established herself near the little-used front door and here ‘she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away or covered with a piece of blotting paper’. A creaking swing door gave her warning when anyone was coming, and she refused to have the creak remedied.”
Writers in the movies seem to always have enviably well turned out havens for their work. Remember Diane Keaton’s alcove in Something’s Gotta Give? or Colin Firth in Love Actually hard at work on a novel in Italy and feeling quite distracted by his Portuguese housekeeper… Click on the photos to connect with the videos of these scenes.