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!

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is a novel categorized as Fictionalized Memoir or Historical Fiction. This has become one of my favourite genres as so many superb novels have recently appeared on this shelf. I believe it may have all started with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. Or maybe it goes further back to The Red Tent, Memoirs of a Geisha, or Girl with a Pearl Earring. See what I mean? All excellent reads. I have just finished another in the genre by Tanis Rideout called Above All Things about George Mallory, and his wife Ruth, during his famed ascent of Mt. Everest in 1924. It does indeed deserve the exuberant praise of its cover blurbs! Here is a link to an essay by Tanis about the challenges with writing “Fact and Fiction”   When I finished reading Above All Things, I immediately wanted to learn more about the inspiration behind the tale. So … (back to the Aviator’s Wife!) in anticipation of reading about Anne Morrow Lindbergh in novel form, I have rallied a few non-fiction pieces to have at the ready when the cover closes.

First, here is a summary of The Aviator’s Wife courtesy of the author, Melanie Benjamin’s website:

“For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century—from the late twenties to the mid-sixties—and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator’s Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage—revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.”

Enticing stuff already! Some of the younger among us will not recall the actual headlines but may be more familiar instead with the beautiful book Gift From the Sea written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh herself. It is a classic and to be savoured, over and over.

Gift from the Sea Lindbergh

Susan Hertog had significant access to Anne and the Lindbergh clan but has been accused of misrepresenting her writing goals – the family apparently believed she was researching for a study of feminism. When it was clarified that the interviews would be sources for a biography, the family balked. Apparently neither Anne, nor her husband Charles, wanted biographies researched or published during their lifetimes. Controversial as it is, this has been a well-reviewed Biography.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh - Her Life by Susan Hertog

And finally, Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne, has written her own version of events in Under A Wing. Goodreads describes it as: “At once an eloquent reminiscence and a slice of American history, Under a Wing is, at its core, a heartfelt tribute to an extraordinary family.” 


Are you a fan of this genre? Any recommendations, recent or classic, you’d like to share?

Happy reading!

Summer Reading

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.

Book Clubs can be wonderful and book clubs can be tricky … Recently, Stuart McLean of The Vinyl Cafe (CBC Radio) told a story about “Morley” and her experience joining a book club.

Stuart recites: ” … the books she will read will take her to worlds beyond her own, and it’s always more fun to travel with friends.”

In the end, Morley sets some book club reading guidelines of her own:

Read …

1. A book about a man I could marry.

2. A book I read in Grade school.

3. A book that mentions chocolate favourably.

4. A book I haven’t read but have seen the movie.

5. A book my husband would quit after the first chapter.

Sounds like a fun book club to me!

So, set up the computer (or ipad or whatever you tune in on!) within earshot as you’re making dinner and enjoy the hilarity and the poignancy in this clip from the podcast. Just click on the link and Stuart will be chatting with you in no time.

Stuart McLean Vinyl Cafe podcast – April 1- 2012

Reading Russian

February 19, 2012

Geographical trends seem to occur in books, don’t you find? For a while, there was a rash of “India” writing (A Suitable Boy,  A Fine Balance …) and then stories set in China or Hong Kong (Snowflower and the Secret Fan,  The Piano Teacher …) My former book club read a number of stories set in Africa until consensus had us move on – to the UK. Well, I’ve noted a recent trend to reading Russian. I read the classic Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago years ago but recently finished The True Memoirs of Little K and A Mountain of Crumbs – I enjoyed them all. Such an intriguing history and fascinating characters making their way through it. In only the past few months/weeks The Winter Palace, Catherine the Great, Enchantments, and The Little Russian have all been released. Each one looks appealing to me so it appears another literary trip to Russia could be in the works! (As usual, click on the image to be taken to a website with more information about the book.) Where have your books been taking you?


November 30, 2011


Yes – I am fully aware that I have a stack of books right here waiting for me to get back to reading at a normal rate of consumption (Ve-e-ee-ery slow lately!) but … these relatively new titles are among those on my “Want-to-Read” list. You have one of those too, right?  I was chatting with a Bedside Table Books community member (Hello Jessica!) the other evening about good book club titles to suggest. These are ones I’d have on my suggestion list. Have you read any of them? Let us know what you thought. What titles are on your current “Want-to-Read” list?

Geraldine Brooks ranks among my most favourite writers so I’m particularly excited to learn that her latest story, Caleb’s Crossing, is about to be released on May 3rd, 2011.  On with the track shoes and get ready to sprint out and snag a copy. As with the other Brooks books (say that three times fast) a great deal of research and creativity appears to have gone into the story. 


Inspired by a moment or character in history or a quirky piece of trivia, Geraldine Brooks then puts to good use her acclaimed journalism skills and exceptional imagination to create stunning tales. The Year of Wonders, probably my most favourite of her books though I’ve enjoyed them all,  imagines life in a quarantined village during the Great Plague. Sounds dire but it’s an absolutely fascinating study of human nature as well as a time in history. Do read it if you can – a great book club discussion book too. (Thanks to my pal Al for the original recommendation!) I wrote about another of her books, March, in an earlier posting you can refresh your memory with here. People of the Book , about the journey of a rare and mysterious manuscript through generations, also comes highly recommended.

Here is the trailer for Caleb’s Crossing which I am sure will convince you it is a must-read.

I  recently read this tremendous book and must recommend it to you … and then you must recommend it to all your friends. Honest to goodness, I laughed out loud and teared up too and then on a high from the crescendo of the story closed the book and felt wistful – sorry I couldn’t join the characters for a chat in the local coffee shop. They were all such, well … characters! I have been on a great run of good books lately: Room, The Postmistress, Left Neglected and while each of those was moving in its own way and certainly enjoyable, this little book-that-could was the one that has inspired me most to share it with others.

The story behind the existence of the book is entertainment enough. Terry Fallis wanted to have the book he had written read by readers, and what writer wouldn’t? But he found it challenging to garner a publisher and finally resorted to creating a series of podcasts of his book just like the podcasts he enjoyed listening to himself. Sure enough, a following of listeners/readers began to tune in. And cheer! Then Terry decided to self-publish a few copies. Enough copies were printed that the book could be considered for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (2008) and lo and behold it won the award.  A great deal more copies were in demand as a result.  As positive an experience as that was, The Best Laid Plans was selected as a candidate for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2011 … and was that competition’s victor too. This success doesn’t surprise me one iota. It is rare to find a novel that strikes the funny bone and the heart with equal force. This was funny, heartwarming, intelligent and oh so Canadian.

The tale begins by following Daniel Addison as he attempts to extricate himself from a political career in Ottawa. Before he can move on he must recruit an electoral candidate for a write-off, never won riding on behalf of his federal political Party. He locates an extremely reluctant candidate – one gruff, unfailingly honourable Scot, Angus McLintock - who puts his name forward only so long as he’s guaranteed to never actually win the post. This duo reminds me of some of the oldtime caper movie partnerships – Redford and Newman or maybe more Abbott and Costello. The take on politics is satirical yet refreshing – a timely read during our current federal and provincial election campaigns. Dear Angus is recently widowed and poignantly reports his personal review of his antics and adventures to his late wife at the end of each chapter. More lovely characters join the cast and are just as enjoyable and fun. I don’t want to give any of the hilarity away but be prepared for a good guffaw.

And now for the reee-allly good news … there’s a sequel! No need to feel gloomy at the last page after all. The second installment for the cast is called The High Road and is already nominated for its very own Leacock medal. I’m off to locate a copy, pronto.  Chime in with your thoughts if you’ve read the book (or books) as well.

The Necklace

January 23, 2011


A reader and a friend loaned me the book The Necklace last week and I’m most grateful for the experience. An entertaining read, this is a non-fiction account of a group of women and a diamond necklace. The first, of what grew to become thirteen women in the group, had admired a spectacular diamond necklace in her neighbourhood jewelry boutique. Spontaneously she tried it on and learned its price: $38,000.00. Well beyond her budget and yet … she was so inspired by the beauty of the piece that she began to consider how it could become part of her life. (This isn’t a heist tale!)  Creatively she thought, “what if I gathered a group and we each purchased an equal share in the necklace and took turns wearing it and being its custodian?” And there begins the tale that was featured in People magazine, covered by Katie Couric and eventually became this book.  The story is as much about the inner workings of a group of  “fifty-something” women as they set goals and guidelines and grapple with differing opinions and strong personalities as it is about the necklace. Quickly given a name of its own, the necklace becomes the tie that binds the group and leads to the women’s personal growth and involvement in a number of philanthropic causes and adventures. Each chapter focuses on a single member of the group, gives her personal history and explains how she became a participant in the necklace “experiment”.  It’s a diverse group and there will be at least one who will remind you of yourself or someone you know well. A quick read but a fun one that will get you thinking. If read with a group of your own gal pals it will surely prompt animated conversation … and possibly even a shopping excursion!

If You Liked …

January 8, 2011

The new year brings with it releases of some new titles by writers of some of our old favourites. These all look terrific to me and will no doubt be big book club hits. If you haven’t yet read the old ones, you have time to get caught up. So …

if you liked … you’ll be delighted by the new ….


Still Alice by Lisa Genova must be one of my most frequently recommended books in recent years; its poignancy has remained with me long after the last pages were read. While Still Alice followed Alzheimer’s from the perspective of the patient, Left Neglected, (released on January 4th, 2011) features the sufferer of a traumatic brain injury. (left neglect or hemi-spatial neglect refers to a lack of awareness of the left side of one’s body as a result of an injury to the right side of the brain) Not light stuff but as a Harvard Neuroscientist the author is more than prepared to shine some fascinating light on the world of the brain. She wrote that her first book wasn’t just about the illness but also “… about identity, about living a life that matters, about family and what a crisis does to relationships.”  In telling a story of the recovery of a Type A over-achieving working mother after a life-altering accident, Left Neglected promises to do the same.


I read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter while snuggled up in a ski cabin in a snowstorm which was suitable considering the opening scenes of the story take place in a wild snowstorm. Now I’m off to find a cabin by a lake as it appears a lake plays a pivotal role in Kim Edwards’ latest tale. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter explored controversial and ethical decisions and their impact on a family in an absolutely enthralling way. A father decides to conceal the birth of his child with Down’s Syndrome and is thereafter haunted by his actions and the related actions of others.The Lake of Dreams (released on January 4th, 2011) also examines family and secrets and is apparently just as successful in creating memorable characters and evocative imagery. A young woman returns home, obsessed by her father’s earlier death and finds herself engaged in conflict and intrigue with her remaining family. Apparently there are secret letters and artefacts revealing a mysterious family past. Do tell.


I haven’t encountered a reader yet who wasn’t captivated by Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. In Loving Frank we followed a fictional account of the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A fascinating story made all the more interesting by the times in which it took place. In the new The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (to be released February 22,2011) we are drawn into the relationship between real life characters Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. The story is written from the fictional perspective of  Hadley during their time together, based mostly in Paris, during the 1920′s.  According to Goodreads: “The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Insert deep sigh here.


Another novel will also draw us back in history in an exciting way. Clara and Mr. Tiffany (to be released on January 11, 2011) is written by Susan Vreeland, known for Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Luncheon of the Boating Party, both successful fictional stories based in the real world of art of yore. “Clara” in the new title refers to one Clara Driscoll, an artist and designer for the famous Tiffany Studios in the late 19th century who until recently was unrecognized publicly for among other things, her creation of the Tiffany lamp and its iconic designs. Knowledge of her influence surfaced only with the discovery of three collections of revealing letters in 2005. Susan Vreeland was inspired and recounts her first introduction to Clara: “Here was the lively, sometimes rhapsodic voice of a woman who bicycled all around Manhattan and beyond, wore a riding skirt daringly shorter than street length, adored opera, followed the politics of the city, and threw herself into the crush of Manhattan life–the poverty of crowded immigrants in the Lower East Side as well as the Gilded Age uptown.” With a character like that to follow this is bound to be fun! Vreeland has proven herself with her previous books to be a solid researcher and a gifted fiction writer so be prepared to learn a great deal and enjoy the process immensely.

Don’t mind me while I mull over my preference for reading paperbacks – these are all hardcovers and I’m not sure I can wait!


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