When your travel plans are no more exotic than a journey to the grocery store and back, why not page your way to Paris? There are shelves and shelves of Parisian accounts; it is a city that inspires creativity and romance in almost all of its visitors.  Its charms and lasting impressions prompt wonderful records as those who’ve experienced its grasp are motivated to share. Here is a petite selection of non-fiction titles, some recently rolled out, and others which are becoming classics.

    

   

Le Road Trip is delightful. Long time readers know I love a little watercolour with my words – this has gorgeous painterly illustrations and wisdom to boot. Just click on any of the book covers to be taken to their full description. A bientot!

   

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Thrillin’

August 29, 2012

Thrillin’, chillin’, and spine-tinglin’ … are you a fan of Suspense novels? As I primarily read at night before sleep I am cautious about entering the domain of the Thriller (bit of a scaredy-cat!) but I do enjoy the genre very much. It always impresses me when a writer can create such an emotional response in a reader simply by piecing together the right words. There are a few of you out there (Lisa C!) who are devotees and encouraged me to post about some “must-reads” in the category.

The BIG thriller this summer that readers are most raving about is definitely Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Have you read it yet?

“On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love.”

Another word-of-mouth success story has been S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. I was riveted!

“Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle- aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more un- believable it seems.”

A reliably entertaining and accomplished writer, Ian McEwan, has a new release which appears in this category, Sweet Tooth.

Set in Cold War 1971, “MI5 sends Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, on a secret mission that brings her to Tom Healy, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? What is deception and who is deceiving whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage — trust no one. Ian McEwan’s mastery is more dazzling than ever in this superb story of intrigue, love… and mutual betrayal.”

John Grisham has become the go-to guy for Legal thrillers. He also has a new release ahead, The Racketeer.

“Given the importance of what they do, and the controversies that often surround them, and the violent people they sometimes confront, it is remarkable that in the history of this country only four active federal judges have been murdered. Judge Raymond Fogletree just became number five.

His body was found in the basement of a lakeside cabin he had built himself and frequently used on weekends. When he did not show up for a trial on Monday morning, his law clerks panicked, called the FBI, and in due course the agents found the crime scene. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies—Judge Fogletree and his young secretary.

I did not know Judge Fogletree, but I know who killed him, and why.

I am a lawyer, and I am in prison.

It’s a long story.”

There are a number of popular (and prolific) writers in the Thriller genre. Do you have any recommendations? Any suggested reads guaranteed to tingle? Do share!

Going for Gold

July 21, 2012

   

Bust out your patriotic gear – the Summer Olympics are almost here!  Let the Games begin in six short days, on the 27th of July, live from London. It’s only taken a few athlete profiles in recent media to remind me to stock up on tissues – I am a sucker for those inspiring back stories of grit and sacrifice and loving support … and inevitably I’m impressed to tears. Now wait, good stories? (check!) emotional engagement? (check!) adventure, challenge and love? (check!) – aren’t these the qualities we want in a great book?  A-ha!

Here are four new-ish releases – just in time for the Summer Games – all with an Olympic theme.

The Underwater Window by Dan Stephenson (June 11, 2012)

Swimming is the sport and rivalry and friendship spark the emotion. The novelist was/is a competitive swimmer so knows of what he writes.

The Secret Olympian by Anon (June 26, 2012)

Secret? Anonymous? Here is clearly the titillating non-fiction entry in the list. Reviews aren’t stellar but it might just be perfect for the beach while waiting for the North American and European time zones to coincide. “Anonymous” is a former British Olympian sharing stories from competition and the Olympic Village (“Dorm sports” are apparently medal worthy) extricated from his journals.

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (January 9, 2012)

This sounds like a winner! Award-winning itself, (The Bellwether Prize for Fiction) the novel tells the tale of a young boy –  a Rwandan Tutsi runner  – and his drive to compete and survive within the political conflict that surrounds him. Despite the challenges, he maintains his dream of being an Olympian for Rwanda.

Gold by Chris Cleave (June 5, 2012)

Due to Cleave’s enormous success with his previous release, Little Bee, this novel is being welcomed enthusiastically and covered broadly. You’ve no doubt seen the bright yellow cover in every book shop window. The sport is Cycling and the athletes are women balancing “ambition, loyalty and love”. Another athletic writer, Chris Cleave knows cycling and is being commended for his ability to capture the speed and intensity of the racing.

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?

Before there was “It’s A Wonderful Life” (the movie that’s become a heartwarming Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed) there was a charming little short story that seemed destined never to be read.

Philip Van Doren Stern was a writer and editor with particular expertise on the topic of the Civil War. One morning he awoke having had a strikingly clear dream about a suicidal man who was given an opportunity to view what life would have been like for those he loved had he not lived to impact their lives. Van Doren Stern quickly wrote down the dream in its entirety and then, over the following few years, worked it into a short story he called “The Greatest Gift”. When he believed it was ready to share, he distributed the story in hopes of publication but was met with unanimous rejection. Finally, during World War II, he printed 200 copies himself and distributed them as Christmas cards to friends and family. By chance, a Producer at RKO pictures had a chance to read the short story and was immediately motivated to purchase its film rights. At about the same time, Good Housekeeping magazine printed the story in their January 1945 issue with the title, “The Man Who Was Never Born”. In 1945, RKO sold the film rights again to Frank Capra who created the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, released in 1946. “It’s a Wonderful Life” did not enjoy box office success at all but still managed to be nominated for 5 Oscars – it won none. The movie faded away until the early 1970s when a clerical oversight resulted in a failure to renew the film’s copyright. It entered public domain and was promptly picked up by television networks whose frequent seasonal airings turned it into the classic it is now considered.

This holiday season, Graphic Image has issued a limited edition hard cover reproduction of Van Doren Stern’s first self-printed pamphlet which he shared with his friends. It’s a beautiful little book and can even be purchased in a fancy red leather collectible version. Take a peek at it here on the Graphic Image website. What a wonderful Christmas gift for your friends.

I love when a book is the star of the story!

I hope you’re finding time during this week to enjoy a few holiday classics – either in written or movie form.

Biographies

June 23, 2011

I enjoyed a conversation with a friend yesterday about summer reading and we decided that a Biography or two should be on the list. These are a few new releases that captured my attention. Any great biographies you’d like to recommend?

Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias by Don Van Natta Jr.

My Faraway One – Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933 edited by Sarah Greenough

No Regrets – The Story of Edith Piaf by Carolyn Burke

A Romance on Three Legs – Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano by Katie Hafner

Nothing Daunted:The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden


A Fresh Start

January 4, 2011

I always think of the year as having two fresh start opportunities – September with back to school and its new beginnings and then the flip of the calendar to a new year in January.  “Self-help” books (now more often referred to as “Health and Well Being”) tend to garner more attention during these times of year so I thought we’d take a peek today at one of the titles in the genre deemed “buzz-worthy”.

  

The Happiness Project or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin  

 “For those who generally loathe the self-help genre, Rubin’s book is a breath of peppermint-scented air.” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Gretchen Rubin devoted a year to an experiment in which she “test-drove the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier”.  She recorded her findings in a blog and then in this book. View the video below to understand the impetus for her project. 

The Happiness Project has been wildly popular; book clubs galore are reading this together and challenging one another to pursue “Happiness Projects” too.  The book (and Gretchen’s) appeal is apparently in the lack of “preachiness” – resolutions and tasks are left open for a reader’s personal interpretation while the author readily admits her failings. She does not feel her way is the only way, she simply shares her experience and enthusiastically encourages others to pursue their unique version of Happiness Project. 

Let us know if you’ve read the book and what your thoughts are. Have you launched your own Happiness Project for 2011?

A Christmas Tradition

December 18, 2010

Christmas stories are a holiday tradition I always enjoy.  While reading them is fun (of course!) these are particularly moving when heard in audio form on the radio or podcast.  Imagine baking Christmas cookies with a story being read to you or curling up with your beloveds in front of a lit Christmas tree and a warm fire all listening together.

The Gift of the Magi (above) is truly romantic and heartwarming.  A classic short story by O. Henry it tells of a newlywed couple in tight times each finding creative ways to purchase a meaningful gift for the other. In typical O. Henry fashion, there is a little twist in the tale. I was searching for a copy recently and every bookseller I asked lit up and nostalgically crooned, “Ooooo I love that story!” It may have been difficult to locate last week but about 4 store owners have now been motivated to order!

    Frederick Forsyth is primarily associated with his compelling thrillers and accounts of espionage (Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File… ) The Shepherd, a novella,  is as enthralling but has a sentimental bent to it and an element of the mysterious. It was apparently written by Forsyth as a Christmas Gift to his wife when she requested a ghost story. His gift to her, and us, tells of an RAF pilot flying home to England from Germany on Christmas Eve. He inexplicably encounters electrical difficulties in flight and just when he fears all is lost, an escort plane appears. Huge suspense is built up in a mere 123 pages or so and you will find yourself riveted. Every year CBC Radio broadcasts The Shepherd and it has become a beloved tradition to listen to for many families.

    Now this one I really do associate most with the radio reading.  A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is classic Christmas fare. In my favourite version Thomas himself reads aloud and paints the most extraordinary images with his words and voice. “… snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.”  “… Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled...” It’s absolutely wonderful!

The countdown is on – hope you find a few moments in the busy-ness to enjoy a Christmas storytime.

Cozy Books

November 14, 2010

I’ve been craving a  “cozy” book lately – one of those lovely yarns filled with delightful folks who find themselves in a pickle or two over which they anguish and then happily resolve by the end. Sometimes there are charming towns filled with quaint cafes, blooming gardens, book shops and quirky old houses.  There is usually an eccentric character or two, a misunderstanding or a secret, maybe even a dramatic journey. I do enjoy challenging reads in which I develop an appreciation for something, someone, or somewhere new but as the sun and the temperatures sink, a cozy book craving inevitably strikes.

Here are some of  the  books I’ve cuddled up with and enjoyed:

     

Adriana Trigiani is a character unto herself and prolifically generates heartwarming and funny tales. I recommend starting with the Big Stone Gap series (and quickly – rumour is there is a movie in the works!)

Maeve Binchy is a classic in the genre. Light A Penny Candle was my first Binchy read and I have a clear memory of  racing through the last pages in the light of the headlights of the car following ours on a long drive home. Just that riveting. Fortunately for us, Maeve Binchy is also dedicated to her writing and provides us with new choices on a fairly regular basis.

Rosamunde Pilcher‘s The Shell Seekers is an all-time favourite. There is a sequel called September and many other stories as well that I’ve enjoyed but The Shell Seekers is the one of which I’m most fond. While Rosamunde has retired her son Robin Pilcher now writes similarly themed books.

A few new “cozies” are arriving on the book shop shelves and my wish list:

   

And so as you tuck your blanket in around you and get the fireplace going, which cozy books are you craving?

Books of our Youth

November 6, 2010

I was out shopping this week for my very special niece’s birthday.  Predictable, I know, but I ended up in the bookstore. I have so many great memories of books I read in my youth that I savour still and was inspired to share some with her as she’s been a good little reader from an early age.  A quick survey with some friends today revealed that I’m not the only one with precious memories of books we read long ago – what a fun conversation we had! My shopping excursion ended up with a classic favourite (Heidi) and I resisted (strongly) the popular, modern books covered in bubblegum pink with generous sprays of metallic stars. Perhaps the flashy new stories would be more appealing these days but I’m an old school Auntie and trust the stories that captivated us all those years ago will resonate just as strongly today. What are your thoughts? Are there any new books you think will stand the test of time?  Feel free to share your nostalgic favourites too!

My all time favourites from the day: