Summer Time . . . Book Time . . .

It’s that time of year when friends are packing up and heading out on holiday. Books inevitably find their way into carry-ons and suitcases, and I’m sometimes asked to recommend titles. It’s easy if I know their taste (and especially if I share it) but that’s not always the case. When I’m at a loss I always recommend they talk to their favorite book seller or check out some of the lists that pop up at this time of year.

Time Magazine has compiled a list of 22 new books to read this summer:

Since Canada Day is less than a week away, my attention was drawn to the CBC’s 100 Novels That Make You Proud to be Canadian list. Check out their recommendations here:

If you’re buying for children and teens, Scripps National Spelling Bee has released its 2018-2019 Great Works (and Great Words) book list. I especially like that they break their recommendations into very specific age ranges (they use grades but you can easily extrapolate to determine suitability for the children in your life). I also like the fact that they mix classics with contemporary reads.

Finally, if you’re looking for an easy summer beach read you can’t go wrong with one of these romances:

Happy reading and happy travels!

The Importance of Fallow Ground

Gardeners and farmers know the importance of fallow ground. Allowing a field or a garden bed to rest for a bit – to go fallow – gives the soil’s nutrient balance a chance to naturally restore itself. As the ground rests, fertility can be restored. Letting ground go fallow was a common practice centuries ago, but it’s not as common anymore. As commercial fertilizers became more readily available and the agricultural industry became ever more competitive, it became less and less popular to leave land fallow. Constant production was the goal.

Constant agricultural production, however, is rarely sustainable, at least not in any kind of healthy way. And it’s the same for people. Though we can, and often do, push ourselves to constantly produce, we function best when we have time to rest, time to naturally restore ourselves, to go fallow.

With the ground frozen and the garden resting for the winter, and with the holidays nearly here, it seems only natural that we pause not just to celebrate the season but to renew ourselves. To fill the well, however you define that personally.

So along with wishing you a Happy Solstice and a Merry Christmas, I wish you time for peaceful reflection. And time for peaceful reading too.

Book Buys for 2017

Books make awesome gifts. If you’re looking for the right title for that special someone, here’s a selection of books I’ve enjoyed reading this year. If my suggestions don’t resonate or if you’re still feeling uncertain, wrap up a gift card to an independent book store or on line book seller.

Books make awesome gifts. I know I said that already, but it’s worth repeating.

For fiction Lovers:

General Fiction: The Almost Sisters by Jocelyn Jackson. A timely southern drama featuring quirky characters, sharp writing, and a complex story that manages to deal with some heavy issues yet not get bogged down. I love Jackson’s writing and this was a satisfying read.

Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs. A nicely layered, emotional story that moves between present day and World War 11 France. The setting is beautifully rendered, family dynamics (and the concept of a second chance at love) are deftly explored, and there’s a bit of a mystery that kept me turning the pages until the end.

Romance: Blood Vow by J.R. Ward. I’m a huge fan of Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series so naturally I wanted to dip into her Black Dagger Legacy series. This, the story of Axe and Elise, is book two in the series and it’s dark, sexy, funny and fast-paced. It’s the perfect read for vampire aficionados, or for those who need to be converted.

Dating-ish by Penny Reid is book six in Reid’s Knitting in the City Series though I read it as a standalone and it worked well for me. Fresh and funny with surprising depth and intensity, the character development and attraction between Matt and Marie was extremely well done. Reid was a new-to-me author and I’ll be looking for more of her books.

Young Adult:

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan. A thought-provoking young adult fantasy with touches of mystery and suspense, Julia Vanishes is book one in the Witch’s Child Series. Julia is an appealingly flawed heroine with the ability to make herself unseen, a skill that comes in handy since she’s a spy and thief. Clever, original and ideal for readers who appreciate strong female protagonists and fantasy fiction.

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren. A poignant coming-of-age novel about two boys who fall in love in a writing class, one who comes from a progressive family and the other from a deeply religious one. Beautifully written and a profound look at bisexuality, the love of family, religion and how we view right and wrong.

For the wee readers on your list, Stephanie Simpson McLellan’s The Christmas Wind is a gorgeous, just released picture book and a lovely reminder of what’s really important, not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

For mystery thriller fans The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. Here’s the promo line for the book: Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind. If you like thrillers, how can you not buy it? I did and I loved it. Anybody who appreciates a good, dark read will devour this book.

For the non-fiction lovers on your list, check out these titles:

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal Al-Sharif. A gripping true story by Manal, a devout woman from a modest family in Saudi Arabia who was arrested by the religious police for daring to drive. While there’s no law forbidding women from driving, the religious police are powerful; Manal became the unexpected leader of a courageous movement to support women’s right to drive.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sandburg, the COO of Facebook, faced the unexpected death of her 47-year-old husband while they were away on holiday. What followed was painful and raw as she tried to figure out what life could look like when it wasn’t what she had planned. Not always an easy read but one that lingered with me afterwards.

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters. Any foodie on your list has heard of Water’s Chez Panisse, the iconic restaurant which quite literally redefined North American cuisine for chefs and food lovers. This memoir recounts the events leading up to the opening of America’s most influential restaurant.

Since we’re talking about food, there’s always a time when you want to get in and out of the kitchen quickly, yet still want to eat well. That’s why Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients, Quick & Easy Food is wrapped and under the tree waiting for a lucky recipient in my life. I may have to spring for my own copy; I have several of Oliver’s books and this one looks like a keeper too.

Finally, any gardener, no matter what they like to grow, will appreciate receiving a copy of The Bee Friendly Garden by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn. Winner of the American Horticultural Society 2017 Book Award, this book gives you all the information you need to create a vibrant and colorful habitat that will attract both honeybees and native bees. And with threats to our beloved honeybees on the increase, it’s a resource every gardener will utilize over and over again.

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada (Columbus Day weekend for my friends south of the border). It’s that time of year when we gather with friends and family to celebrate the many blessings in our lives.

It’s not always easy to be grateful, particularly if we follow the news and witness horrors like we did last week in Las Vegas or when we see world leaders using Twitter to taunt, bully and inflame. It can also be difficult to feel appreciative when we face our own personal challenges, and we all have them. But that’s the time gratitude is particularly important.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I’m grateful for many things, but I’m especially grateful to live on the beautiful west coast in a city where nature is valued and in a country with strict gun laws. I’m lucky, and I need to remember that.

Early last week, in the middle of all the horror unfolding in Las Vegas, a Steller’s jay appeared in our back garden. We’ve lived here thirty years and this is the first time we’ve had one in our yard. They aren’t common on the south coast, at least not in our area. He came with a partner (jays pair for life) and the two of them spent most of the week swooping from tree to pond and back to the tree again. They’ve gone now; they’ve moved on to grace another garden with their presence but I’m grateful they visited us at all.

Happy Thanksgiving to  you and yours.

A Treat for the Holidays

christmascandlesMerry Christmas and Happy New Year. Whether you celebrate quietly or have a pile of people around, I hope the holiday season is everything you want it to be. I also hope 2017 brings you some pleasant surprises and many reasons to smile.

The blog is breaking for the season and will be returning in January. Since my website redesign, the blog subscription process has been wonky so I’ll probably be switching to MailChimp for blog delivery in the New Year. You shouldn’t notice any difference but if there are disruptions, they’ll be minimal.

Meanwhile, here’s a little treat to kick off the holiday season: homemade poppycock. We’ve played around with recipes for years and after some trial and error, have settled on this as the best, no-fail poppycock recipe there is. You don’t need a candy thermometer (bonus!) but you do need to bake the mix in a low oven for an hour to make sure the syrup hardens. Personally, I’d rather do that than fret about candy temperatures. Grab a helper because you really need one person to pour the syrup over the popcorn and the other to stir. And before you get started, watch for bulk mixed nuts (sans peanuts) to go on sale. Unsalted nuts are better, but if you screw up and buy salted like I did this year just rinse and dry them before using in the recipe.


No Fail Poppycock


I cup/240 mL butter

1 cup/240 mL white sugar

1 cup/240 mL brown sugar

½ cup/120 mL white corn syrup

1 tsp/5 mL salt

1 tsp/5 mL vanilla

½ tsp/2.5 mL baking soda

5 quarts popped corn

3 cups/700 mL mixed nuts (we like almonds, pecans and cashews)


Pop corn and pour it into a large, greased container (we use our largest roasting pan). Mix in nuts. Set aside. Grease two large cookie sheets; set them aside. Preheat oven to 250.

In a large pot, bring butter, sugar, syrup and salt to a boil over medium heat. Boil for five minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from boiling over. Remove from heat, add vanilla and soda. Stir well. Pour over popcorn and nuts and mix carefully. We pour and mix in three or four stages to make sure the corn is well-coated. Spread the mix between the two cookie sheets. Bake at 250 for one hour, and stir three times at twenty minute intervals. Cool and store in airtight containers or put into freezer bags and freeze until ready for gift-giving. Yield: never enough.poppycock


A Promising Start

readingbythefire (2)2016 started in the best possible way – with time to read. The trick is giving everybody else books for Christmas and then making sure I set aside a block of time after the company leaves but before I have to go back to work.

This year the stars aligned and I had some uninterrupted reading time during the holidays. Having a fridge full of leftovers helped, as did having a relatively clean house. Aside from a few visits with friends (at their house!) and making sure Team Sheltie got out for their daily walks, I was able to relax in front of the fire with a few new books. I’ll be tracking the books I read again this year and tallying up the numbers every month or so. I read 79 books in 2015 which is up from 65 books in 2014 but nowhere close to my goal of reading two books a week.

However, I got off to a good start this year and that’s encouraging! Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle: Find the Good by Heather Lende

At the gym: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Beside the bed: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Books read to date in 2016: 4

Gifts of a Writing Life

Gold-giftIt’s the season for giving and receiving so it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been pondering the topic in some depth over the last few weeks. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the gifts I’ve received from having a writing life.

There have been many. Everything from the mundane (a love of really good pens) to the profound (a lengthy and life-changing interview with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross years ago). But three gifts stand out above all others.

First, writing allowed me to work and stay home with my kids when they were young. It wasn’t always easy juggling deadlines and revisions and (occasionally) book tours, but, for the most part, I was there before and after school, I was at the end of the phone if there was an emergency, and with a little bit of juggling I was able to pick up the odd volunteer shift for pizza day or the school fair. Speaking of fair, it’s only fair to point out that I did it with considerable support from Mr. Petrol Head who was as close to a hands-on parent as one can be when working out of the house.

The second gift writing has brought into my life is the ability to understand the (sometimes poor) behavior of people. Admittedly, I have a natural tendency to analyze people and try to figure out where they’re coming from anyway, but writing helped me grasp on a far deeper level how character and motivation can sometimes lead to choices and actions that are, well, less than ideal. Life can be challenging. People don’t always behave heroically. An awareness of what makes people tick hasn’t always prevented me from being hurt but it has helped me make sense of things and gain perspective.

Finally, writing has brought me wealth. Not money or new cars or the ability to travel on a whim, but wealth in the form of an abundance of friends. I’m incredibly lucky to have a community of friends and colleagues who get this gig in way non-writers don’t. They’re willing to celebrate the successes and commiserate over the challenges. They understand that writing may look easy but it’s not. That the lifestyle may look glamorous and carefree but that, too, is false. They know that many people have stories to tell but not many people are willing to put in the time and dedication needed to tell them, and tell them well. My writing friends are on the path beside me. Their very presence is a gift. A gift that continues to give and give and give some more.

To them I say thank you. And Merry Christmas.

Book Buys for the Holidays

christmas-books-440x435At the request of my kids, I just handed off my Christmas wish list. The list gets smaller every year. That’s partly because I’m blessed with everything I could ever want (other than a spot on the NYT list and maybe a lottery win) and also because these last few years have taught me that the most important things in life truly are priceless: the loyalty of family & friends, good health, unconditional love.

That said, I was able to come up with a few suggestions for Teen Freud and Uptown Girl. Books were, to no one’s surprise, on the top of my list. I’m hoping to receive Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

Since I’ve tracked my reading again this year, I thought it might be helpful if I listed out a few of my favorite books to help you choose for the readers on your list.

For fiction lovers:

A Long Time Gone by Karen White.  A lyrical multi-generational novel set in the Mississippi Delta with themes of tradition, families, forgiveness and love. Multiple points of view from different time periods make this a contemporary as well as historical read.

In the Blood by Lisa Unger. For the suspense readers on your list. A twisted psychological thriller with secrets, lies and brisk plotting that will keep you reading late into the night.

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow. Molly is dead and watching from the hereafter as her loved ones try to discern if her death was murder, suicide or an accident. By turns hilarious and thought-provoking, this will appeal to anyone with an offbeat sense of humor and even a light interest in metaphysics.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Women’s fiction with a touch of mystery, beautifully drawn characters and some laugh-out-loud scenes. A brilliant relationship read. Moriarty is becoming an auto buy for me.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. A literary read dealing with a serious theme and delivering an ultimately uplifting message. Badly injured in a car accident, self-proclaimed over-achiever Sarah Nickerson suffers a brain injury in which she’s completely incapable of processing anything on her left side. She can’t see, feel or recognize anything on that side of her body. Her left is neglected. A clever title and a clever read.

I was on a metaphysical YA kick this year and these two books stood out for me:

Guardian by Natasha Deen. Seventeen-year-old Maggie sees the dead and helps them go from bewilderment to the beyond. But one spirit will not leave until she figures out who killed him. And finding the answer might be the death of her. Great characterization, well-paced and lots of twists and turns.

Best Friends Through Eternity by Sylvia McNicoll. Fourteen-year-old Paige is killed at a railway crossing while taking a detour to avoid school bullies. She is quickly transported to a nether world where she sees Kim, a friend who died seven years earlier. Gifted with the opportunity to return to earth and relive her last days, Paige is determined to fix past mistakes and prevent her death. A beautiful story about friendship and choices, this book was hard to put down.

Shameless self-promotion time. My title The Art of Getting Stared At is now available in paper and makes a terrific stocking stuffer!

Finally, four suggestions for non-fiction lovers:

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott. A collection of essays on faith, family and community. Lamott writes with wit and wisdom, and while some of the passages touch on difficult subjects in every case Lamott leaves the reader feeling hopeful and uplifted. Highly recommended.

Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Verant. For those who adore both a love story and the city of Paris. The log line for this book reads: twenty years, seven letters, and one long-lost love of a lifetime. Love letters and a happily ever after fairy tale. What could be better?

King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels.  An American secretary learns she’s been chosen to lead 7,000 subjects in a tiny fishing village on Ghana’s central coast. Returning to her ancestral home, she must blend her American sensibilities with the traditions of her native Ghana as she works to improve the lot of her countrymen. A fascinating glimpse into tribal customs and village life in Ghana.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower. An intimate, behind-the-scenes look at life in the White House seen through the eyes of the staff who serve. Insightful anecdotes about presidential families from the Kennedys through to the Obamas are presented along with archival information. Well-written and entertaining, I was sorry when this book ended.

Summer Immersion

I hope you’re enjoying the summer. We took a quick trip across the water to Vancouver recently.  We saw family, ate at a few great restaurants (Ten Ten Tapas and Espana – both highly recommended) and we rode our bikes all the way around Stanley Park. The weather cooperated and we had a fabulous time. I took no pictures while we were cycling but I remembered to pull out the cell phone during a trip to Granville Island.

From the aquabus on the way there:

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Checking out the bakery. Can’t decide on a flavor?



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Towering cherry trees.





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The only way to eat chocolate. With lavender.





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Don’t hate on the geese. They’re parents too.





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Making concrete look pretty.



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Peony love.







And so to bed.june 2015 140