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As wildfires rage through this extraordinarily dry summer, I find myself considering the role of the front line emergency personnel. Fighting fires requires an exceptional ability to manage personal fears and safety while combating one of Natures’ fiercest forces for the noble protection of property, personnel, and animals (livestock and wildlife). In our mountainous terrain here in British Columbia, there is a particular reliance on the Smoke Jumper – a fighter of remote wildfires who is deployed to the front line by parachute. I know I can say we are all immensely grateful to those who dedicate themselves to these risky battles.  Our gratitude should extend to the firefighters’ loved ones who support them and share the real threat of great personal loss as accidents occur.

Uncommon characters faced with perilous adventures are tried and true elements of a good read. A number of books have been written, fiction and memoir, giving us an opportunity to learn more about the life of a Smoke Jumper. Whether you wish to read the personal accounts or visit the scene through a beach bag novel, one of these should help you empathize with the wildfire warriors working so hard for us all this summer.

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Nicholas Evans of The Horse Whisperer fame has written a novel featuring Smoke Jumping characters based in Montana. Evans brings his documentary writing experience to all of his novels and his thorough research provides an element of authenticity. You’ll reliably find romance and personal growth in the stories too, of course.

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Smokejumper is a memoir by a “Top Gun” of the airborne firefighting fraternity. Based in our neighbouring Cascade Mountain Range, Jason Ramos shares a very personal account of the fiery front lines including insight into the rigours of the training and the psychological preparation and toll. Along with co-writer Julian Smith, he shares descriptions of actual harrowing and adrenaline charged experiences.

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Another memoir but from a slightly different perspective. This was highly recommended by Seattle’s Elliot Bay Book Company. Philip Connors writes beautifully and shares his very personal account of summers spent on lookout for wildfires in remote New Mexico. Here’s a link to an essay he wrote on the topic in The Paris Review so you can gather a sense of his prose.

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And back to the novel … a Nora Roberts thriller probably belongs in every dusty beach bag. Here’s one on point, also featuring Montana scenery and, this time, a female firefighter as protagonist and romantic lead.

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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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Remembering Alistair MacLeod

November 11, 2014

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I do enjoy the melodic musings of the CBC’s Michael Enright and was particularly captivated by the personal tone of a recent broadcast. Something in his voice caused me to stop my splashing in the dishwater to listen more carefully. Here is the text of his speech and a link to listen as well.

“Alistair MacLeod had a red moon face, twinkling eyes and the smile of a young boy. He spoke so softly you almost had to lean forward to hear him.

He always wore a cap, usually tweed. Now any middle-aged man wearing a tweed cap can look very dorky – I know first hand – or elegantly countrified. On Alistair, a tweed cap was as natural as a purring cat.

He was the gentlest of men. He always had time for people, especially young readers. This may have sprung from his decades as a university professor, but I also think it had something to do with his Celtic upbringing in the highlands of Cape Breton.

He was not a prolific writer. He published only one novel and 20 short stories. It took him ten years to write his masterpiece, No Great Mischief. He wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads. His great friend and editor, Douglas Gibson, called him “a stone carver, chipping out each perfect word with loving care.” His work is unique, unlike any other writer I can think of. It has the clarity of dialogue of Flannery O’Connor and the diagnostic precision and descriptive powers of Alice Munro.

Alistair died last April. He was 77 and had suffered a serious stroke. The mass was celebrated in St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Broad Cove, Cape Breton. I miss him terribly.

His last work is called Remembrance; and this month, it has been re-issued in a splendid little book by McClelland and Stewart. Remembrance tells the story of three men, three Cape Bretoners, all called David MacDonald. The elder, knowing it will be his last Remembrance Day ceremony, waits for his son and grandson. His mind wanders back to the day he joined up in 1942 when he was 21 and newly married.

The story weaves his experiences of war and its aftermath together in a startling way. It’s a story that makes you sit up straight and take notice; it’s not maudlin or sentimental. And although Alistair says none of the MacDonald characters is based on his father, there are similarities. “My father went to war when he was 17,” he told a reporter, “and he wasn’t full of patriotic zeal, he was just kind of starving.” The book is only 47 pages long but it is a small, brightly polished gem. It is published to coincide with Remembrance Day.

The last time I talked to Alistair was in Moncton a couple of years ago. After our public appearance together, we repaired to his hotel room, along with his son Alexander, also a wonderful teacher and short story writer. We broke open a bottle of single malt, probably Talisker. We talked of many things, of art and writing and death and Irish wakes and the tunes of glory and the songs of the Island. It was for me, a magic couple of hours.

I don’t usually wear a poppy in November. I throw some money into the vet’s tin can but I am uncomfortable with the outward demonstration of remembrance. I’m not keen seeing everybody on television wearing one, for instance. Don’t know why. Perhaps because the First World War destroyed the lives of three of my uncles. I also think the membrane between remembrance and glorification is very thin.

But on Tuesday, I think I will wear a poppy. For the two soldiers murdered in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu last month.

For all the soldiers killed anywhere, any time.

And for Alistair.”

Listen to the recording here and to read more about the story, Remembrance, click on the cover image shown above.

Three to Bookmark

September 24, 2014

Three favourite authors are set to release new books and I am taking note. Looking out at the first truly rainy day in some time, it seems like a perfect time to sink into a cozy chair and settle in with some of the great Fall releases hitting the shelves. Let us know what you’re looking forward to reading!

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I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

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I enjoyed this one ….                     so am looking forward to this one.

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I enjoyed this one ….                       so am looking forward to this one.

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“I love that Canadians love books, and that we boast a disproportionate number of outstanding authors. I’ve had the privilege of hosting CBC’s Canada Reads for the past seven years. It’s a celebration and discovery of homegrown lit. Last year, an American observer wrote, “Let me get this straight: In Canada they have a hit reality show … and it’s about books?! Wow.” I loved reading that. Pride. “ – Jian Ghomeshi, Broadcaster. Quoted in Canadian Living magazine, July 2014

Have you ever tuned into the above mentioned Canada Reads show on CBC Radio? I’ve followed along in the last few years and enjoy the lively format of a notable Canadian devotedly defending his or her literary favourite with a panel of fellow debaters. The discussions among panel members are often funny, even feisty, and always entertaining. It’s been proven that the final selections and the winning choice enjoy an enormous surge in sales following the show. The past seasons’ winners are listed on the website and it is worth a perusal if you’re new to the program. Tune in to Jian Ghomeshi on Q on CBC in early September to learn how the 2015 season will unfold.

Sticking with a CBC/Canada theme … CBC Radio has compiled a Canada Day themed list:  “100 Novels That Make You Proud to Be Canadian” I found myself impressed by the list itself – such a great collection of books – but, even more impressive, is the fact that all the authors are Canadian. Click on the red banner below to be taken to the page showing all 100 novels. I’ve included a few of the titles I’ve read below as a little teaser … How many have you read?

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book-u6-a183-b207-r423 419 by Will Ferguson Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards The Birth House by Ami McKay Annabel by Kathleen Winterfallonyuorknees-books100latenightsonair-Books100cellistofsarajevo-books100secretdaughter-books100lifeofpi-books100room-books100thebestlaidplans-books100

Happy Canada Day and Happy Reading Canadian!

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!

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Summer Reading

May 31, 2014

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In my opinion, the best reading list, summer or otherwise, offers up a good variety of themes and places to visit, intriguing characters with whom to visit, and challenges to the imagination. An opportunity to come away from the experience having learned something new or having enjoyed a few belly laughs along the way is certainly a bonus.  And so, with these parameters in mind, here is a list of books I think are worthy of accompanying you on your summer adventures. I will be choosing from among these titles as I toodle to the deck chair or beach blanket or ferry line. Most are paperback though a few exceptionally well-reviewed new hard covers have made the cut. (Click on above covers for links)

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

Have had this on my shelf for a while. Summer seems the best time to tuck into its pages as its description reads: “a young woman in turn-of-the-century England finds love and independence at a seashore resort.” Light perhaps but engaging view of the times.

The Storied LIfe of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

An enormously popular book with all reviewers. Features a grumpy book shop owner and his emergence into a fresh new approach to life motivated by the arrival of a mysterious package. A charming community of characters and a devotion to books are at play. Count me in!

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crossley

Released in 2008, this has been on my list to explore for a while. A book of short humorous essays seems like a good choice during the summer and these promise to be entertaining.

The Ghost Horse: A True Story of Love, Death, and Redemption by Joe Layden

This might not be for everyone but I’m already loading the beach bag with tissues in anticipation of this true tale of an underdog filly and her trainer/owner. You’ll find the book in the Sports section under Horse-racing but it is a love story too as the trainer finds a connection with his beloved late wife through time spent with the horse.

Studio Saint Ex by Ania Szado

We’ve talked before about the delicious genre of historical fiction and the fictionalized memoir. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan about Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps one of the most popular in recent times. Studio Saint Ex is a novel that brings to life Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Writer Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) sums up perfectly: “Studio Saint-Ex is an unputdownable novel about twentieth century fashion, French expatriates in Manhattan during World War II, the miracle of creative genius and the lives of the great writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery and the women he loved.”

The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt (also titled My Wish List)

Translated from a very well loved French edition … just a wee book to sneak in between the long ones. Have you ever played the “If I Won the Lottery …” game? This heartwarming novel takes the dream to a new level in one simple woman’s life with thought provoking results.

North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunrise Person

A memoir of an entirely unique upbringing and how it influenced a young woman’s choices in her adult life. Cea Sunrise Person grew up in remote Northern Alberta with her hippy family devoted to escaping civilization. Her life was unorthodox and highlighted as even more so when Cea became a model at the age of 13. Quite a ride and quite a tale.

Love, Nina – A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe

If you love London, British humour, and a dash of Brit Lit gossip … I read the review in the NYT and knew it would have to be on the list. Nina Stibbe heads to London to serve as a Nanny and finds herself working for a prominent literary figure and her family. During her time there she writes to her sister of her adventures and the real-life characters who spend time with the household, many of them well-known. Her letters are hysterically funny and were only shared with the family and friends much later on at a party. They were such a hit that, with the family’s blessing, they have become this cheeky book.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

A modern take on things … Recommended to me by BTB blog reader AM who warned this story makes one think twice about the way we use social media. Prolific writer Dave Eggers writes of an optimistic young woman who gives up her private life to work at a company called the Circle. Promises to be a bit provocative.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The one book which appears on almost every single Summer/Beach Reading list this season. Opening the cool as a cucumber cover (still in hardback) reveals an account of a family heading on vacation to Mallorca, Spain. They’re bringing lots of baggage, if you catch my drift , and with apparent heartwarming humour sort through the drama over the course of the holiday. Leading best seller lists everywhere.

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

Newly in paperback, this novel seems to rest comfortably on the fluffy chick-lit shelf (not that that’s a bad thing) however, I’m quite intrigued by the real life source of the story. J. Courtney Sullivan has researched the life of  Mary Frances Gerety, the copywriter responsible for creating the advertising tag-line “a diamond is forever” for De Beers in the 1940s. Using Mary Frances as inspiration this story explores the lives of a number of women through various decades and social and personal challenges during the twentieth century. A diamond engagement ring links the characters and each plot strand together.

I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum

A good stream of humour apparently flows through this novel about an artist and his desire to re-ignite his marriage following his wife’s discovery of his wayward ways. Almost every review of this book comments on the humour and the poignancy of this tale and, of particular note, declares this author one to keep an eye on.

 

So there it is. Let us know what selections you make this summer and be sure to share any others you’re reading and loving. A special hello to Janice who when I met her recently for the first time, (You’re the Blog lady!) told me of her commitment to reading every book on last year’s Summer list. Impressive!

Happy reading, one and all!

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The Rosie Project

May 19, 2014

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I have yet to meet a Rosie Project reader who hasn’t become smitten with the quirky charm of its protagonist and  the premise of his “project”; such a universally appealing cast and adventure. If you haven’t had a chance to read this yet, do yourself a favour and cuddle up this long weekend with a copy.

Author Graeme Simsion was recently visiting Vancouver from his native Australia and appeared at a Meet the Writer event hosted by the cozy 32 Books bookstore of Edgemont Village in North Vancouver. Graeme Simsion’s personal back-story is an intriguing one with several successful career incarnations before the extraordinary success of Rosie allowed him to leave his day job. At one point, he delights in pointing out, he was even “an alien with extraordinary abilities” according to Immigration officials. Graeme’s address exuded enthusiasm and good-natured self-deprecating humour – he assesses his success with an Innocent’s air of awe at his own good fortune and a cheerful commitment to enjoying the ride. The Rosie Project, which had its start in a short story and then morphed into a screenplay and finally evolved into a novel, is now in the process of becoming a movie. (Starring role actors were not revealed but were happily described as “unexpected” like Russell Crowe was in A Beautiful Mind. That gets the imagination churning!)  Graeme did share the good news that a sequel to The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, will appear on shop shelves in September. Can’t wait!

Blog readers AW, DH and I had a fun, quick chat with the personable Graeme. He is a fierce advocate of the Independent Bookstore and was quick to give credit to an indie book shop for his “Fictional Character” tee-shirt seen in the picture below. (available here) Inevitably, comparisons between the character Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory and Rosie character Dan Tillman are made but Graeme explained he’s never seen an episode and will strategically avoid Big Bang viewings in order to remain true to his version of Dan. Dan is in fact inspired by a long-time friend of his.

Graeme expressed concern that any reader ever feel he is ridiculing Dan’s Asperger’s condition; he indicated it was his goal to simply reveal the social anxieties we all feel and I am sure readers would feel he has indeed done that sensitively and very well.

I enjoy attending these events as it gives one some insight to the humanity behind the stories – a real person, sitting at a real desk or kitchen table, creating our entertainment from a spark of an idea. Hearing Graeme speak only enriched the Rosie experience. I hope you have chances to attend meet-the-writer events soon too!

 

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Graduation Goodies

May 7, 2014

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The commencement of Commencement season is well underway and I’m sure, as every year, there will be memorable speeches given. Perhaps some not-so-memorable ones too – do you recall who spoke at your graduations? Some speeches are so well-received that they end up published as books for gifting as inspiration to generations beyond. If you’re seeking a little gift for the Grad this year, here are a few books based on speeches and a few that just seem timely with their wisdom.

Congratulations, by the Way – Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders – Presented at Syracuse University in 2013. If you’d like to read the speech in its entirety, and I recommend you do, it’s available right here on the NYTimes website. If you’d like a precious little hardbound copy with a pretty cover, then off to the bookshop you go.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow – Not Commencement Speech based but full of lovely, nostalgic Life advice gleaned from the pages of the treasured little books (golden) we all had/have on our bookshelves. Diane Muldrow is the Editorial Director of Golden Books in her real-life and shares her personal connection to the books here in a Huffington Post blog post.

 A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen – Inspired by a speech given by Anna to a high school graduation class. An excerpt can be read here.

Wear Sunscreen – A Primer for Real Life by Mary Schmich – This was a column written almost 20 years ago by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune. Though she stated in her introduction that this was merely her version of the Graduation Speech we all have inside us, it has been mistakenly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. Filled with plenty of important guidelines like “Floss” and “Sing” (Wait a minute, … maybe my Dad wrote this!) The original can be read here. A Tenth Anniversary edition was published, a Twentieth can’t be far off.

 This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace – From a speech given by DFW in 2005 at Kenyon College. The original can be read here. Another message gone viral and particularly poignant now that Wallace is gone.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow – Speaking of poignant … (You have my permission to step out and stock up on tissues.) A speech about what matters most, given by a university professor with the knowledge his own life is ending soon. Randy Pausch titled his presentation, “Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams” and spoke about living life most fully. One for the ages. Carnegie Mellon (Pausch’s university) has video and text of the speech available here.