July 9, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
June 23, 2015
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!
June 8, 2015
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 …
May 31, 2014
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!
July 22, 2013
I promised I’d write when I’d finished your book, Cinnamon Toast at the End of the World. Your web scouting let you know it was featured on my summer reading list and you were curious, as I imagine every writer must be, to learn how your work would be received. Lots of pressure for both of us there! What if I’d promised, and then abhorred the book? What if I couldn’t finish it, even? Fortunately, neither of those scenarios applies.
Let’s start at the very beginning ( a very good place to start, tra la,la) What led me to selecting your book from among the many vying for attention on the shelves of my neighbourhood book shop? The cover of the book is enchanting – pastel tones with a portly little toaster popping up toast. Intriguingly, said toaster seems to be sitting at the beach. I had beach books on my mind so this must have been a subliminal draw. (I’m none the wiser after finishing the story as to why the toaster is at the beach but really not an issue. I also understand that most authors have little to no say in the appearance of the book.) The “Cinnamon Toast” in the title evokes cosy nostalgia and simple traditions … a waft of burnt toast always reminds me of breakfasts with my late Grandmother who preferred her bread charred … “The End of the World” had me a bit confused but I was convinced there was humorous hyperbole involved – a good thing in my mind. I flipped to the opening paragraph and found immediate clarification:
“ ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ That’s what people will tell you. That’s what people will tell you when they want to say, ‘Your problems are stupid, your reaction to them laughable, and I would like you to go away now.’
‘Oh, Stephen, for God’s sake, it’s not the end of the world,’ my mother will say, over and over, in tones of sympathy or distraction. Or sometimes plain impatience.
So of course if she’s ever running around looking for her keys and cursing, I’ll always tell her, ‘It’s not the end of the world, Mom.’ And if she’s really been pissing me off, I’ll scoop the keys up from wherever she’s left them and stick them in my coat pocket. Then I’ll settle back to watch with a sympathetic expression while she tears the house apart looking. Lost keys? Not the end of the world.“
You had me, right there. Fantastic! This Stephen seemed a bit of a scamp and I wanted to get to know him. As an ’85 Grad myself, the promise of a nostalgic tour through the era in his company seemed inviting too … So Writer, I purchased your book.
In this modern era, a quick trip to the author’s website is often a worthy venture. Sometimes, you’ll find out she/he is a wit, a charmer, friendly to fans … and sometimes, not so much. You, Ms. Cameron, come across as the former: personable and fantastically fun. And thoughtful too – an 80’s music soundtrack to accompany a reader is kindly provided on your site along with photos of the setting’s inspiration.
And so, all of this pastel and perkiness had me ready to ease myself into a light and airy read …
Alas, I was hoodwinked!
As I merrily started in, it soon became clear that this journey was going deeper than a mere trip to the beach. I won’t expose the tale but let’s just say as I compulsively turned pages, my heart broke and then was pieced back together with optimism and then out loud laughter (OLL?) – repeatedly; tears ran down my cheeks on several occasions. You took me so convincingly to small town Nova Scotia and the era with wonderfully evocative details like a “Welcome to Town” sign with a “Thanks for Visiting” message on the reverse and a Grandmother sporting those crocheted slippers with the pom poms on the toes.
I am astonished by your compelling ability to write from the perspective of a teenaged boy – an awkward, tormented teenaged boy. Frankly, I wouldn’t normally be drawn to a character exhibiting tormented traits and you might have lost me (especially as I had toast at the beach in mind) but you imbued him with the most lovely optimistic spirit despite his situation in life. He’s a character who will linger with me. Beyond Stephen, the story illuminates the importance of family, whatever it may look like, and friends, whatever they may look like. Vital values indeed. One reviewer declared this “an important book” and I couldn’t agree more.
And so, I thank you for the positive experience of Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World. As your publisher, Hachette Ireland, fittingly included on the last page of your book:
“Reading is so much more than the act of moving from page to page. It’s the exploration of new worlds; the pursuit of adventure; the forging of friendships; the breaking of hearts; and the chance to begin to live through a new story each time the first sentence is devoured.”
Your story succeeded in doing all of those things for this reader. I already look forward to reading your next endeavour … perhaps a love story featuring a Nick Hornby book? (Blog readers will be let in on the joke in the next post)
All the best to you, Janet. Do hope you are happily writing your way through a lovely summer!
July 1, 2013
June 2, 2013
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.
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
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?”
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
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 …
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.
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!
May 10, 2013
Today is the release of the latest cinematic version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Are you Gatsby-ed out already? Are you thinking of re-reading the book? Or going to read it for the first time perhaps? It’s not a long endeavour (fewer than 200 pages) so I’m considering a refresher. The movie appears to be an extravaganza – influencing trends in fashion and design for almost a year now and promising to launch what marketers claim we’ll remember as the “Summer of Gatsby”.
A few Fitzgerald/Gatsby inspired books are appearing on the shelves too – the biggest among them probably Z – a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. So maybe I’ll set aside Gatsby and take on Zelda instead. It’s a fictionalized memoir, focusing on Zelda’s search for self during the roaring 20’s. I read an article today recounting how she and F. Scott hunched on all fours on a stranger’s doorstep in New York City, barking to be let into the party. When the door was finally opened to them, Zelda marched in and up the stairs to have a bath. Hmmm … if that’s any indication, this could be a rather lively read. Click on the cover for a summary if you’re intrigued.
And if you’ve done all of your reading already and are thinking of heading to the movies, here’s a trailer of what’s in store:
April 14, 2013
There is a special joy in seeing a new release by an author with whom you have earlier established a good fit. That zippy anticipation with any new book is more of a cosy feeling when it’s by an already favourite writer. Some universally “favourite” writers are emerging with new books in the coming months and I wanted to be sure you didn’t miss a beat. Jot these down and get ready to read! Let us know if you’ve discovered any favourite writers with a new work.
Edward Rutherfurd – Paris, April 23rd
I raved about Rutherfurd’s New York a few summers ago and I also enjoyed his London before that. In a style comparable to that of James Michener, Rutherfurd explores the history of a place – social, geographical, and beyond – by introducing readers to a fictional family and then following its members’ endeavours for a number of generations. I’m a big fan of these big books – truly sagas – and am delighted the next setting is Paris. Ooo la la!
Colum McCann – Transatlantic, June 4th
I can’t imagine narrowing down favourite book choices to a top 10 list but if I were forced to, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin would be guaranteed a spot; definitely one of my favourite reads in recent times. I am therefore tickled pink that a new McCann read is on the horizon. As with Spin, this story weaves together several story-lines, some true-to life, and relates them in unexpected ways. While Manhattan was the setting in his last tale, this one connects North America with Ireland. Can’t wait – and love that cover!
Khaled Hosseini – And the Mountains Echoed, May 21st
There are very few shelves around without a copy of The Kite Runner. Its enormous success and popularity was followed by another winner, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Hosseini skillfully, and sensitively, introduced a generation of us to the realities of modern Afghanistan through his compelling characters and their stories. His novels also illuminated the universal ties of family across generations and this new one will explore this theme as well, from Kabul to Greece to the U.S. By all early-reader accounts, this one’s another keeper for the shelf.
Isabel Allende – Maya’s Notebook, Just published (April)
Isabel Allende is another family saga specialist with almost twenty popular fiction and non-fiction works to her name. Famously hailing from Chile, Allende writes novels that feature themes of the Latino experience – immigration, political upheaval, balancing South and North American identities, and the evolution of family and place over generations. Her latest book, just released, is more of a contemporary tale than some of her historical ones and blends the Chilean and American experiences in an engaging way.
Jeannette Walls – The Silver Star, June 11th
A sentimental favourite for her startling, and riveting, memoir The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls shared more of her family’s unique story with Half Broke Horses. Both were un-put-downable. The Silver Star is a novel, rather than memoir, and so follows a fictional arc. The themes are familiar – extraordinary families, resilience, and ultimately, triumph.
Joseph Boyden – The Orenda, September 2013
A Canadian favourite, Boyden is known for his award-winning Three Day Road, and Through Black Spruce – beautifully evocative writing and emotionally-charged stories from the Native Canadian experience. His new novel is still a wee wait away but worth anticipating. This time, the setting begins in very early Canada and explores the meeting of traditional and emerging approaches to social, political and spiritual thought. Guaranteed good methinks.
Lauren Weisberger – Revenge Wears Prada, June 4th
This will appear in shops just as you’re busting out your beach bag so be sure to save room. The Devil Wears Prada had us all feeling titillatingly voyeuristic as the shocking behind-the-scenes dynamics of a famous fashion magazine were revealed – all fiction, of course. Substantial sport followed in imagining the true-life inspiration for the antics, just the same. I’m always a champion of book over movie, but Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Emily Blunt shall always vividly remain the personification of Weisberger’s written characters. They’re back on the page in Revenge so buckle up for more hijinks.
Amy Tan – The Valley of Amazement, November 2013
Remember The Joy Luck Club? I think it was one of the first real book club favourites when it was released in, brace yourself, 1989! Tan followed her first novel with other successes, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and several more. This new story will similarly pursue the experience of several generations of Chinese women in China and North America – the intriguing world of Courtesans being the feature this time. “Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a deeply moving narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters.” (goodreads) While you’re waiting, you might want to read Amy Tan’s biographical notes – her personal story is a wild tale unto itself.
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.