Holiday Reading

It’s a different kind of holiday for many this year as Covid prevents us from traveling or celebrating with other households. For us, it means our first Christmas as a twosome in over thirty years! Rather than being upset, I’m seeing it as an opportunity to focus on the things that bring us joy, rather than focusing on the needs of family and friends. For instance, I’ll have a lot more time to read, and that always makes me happy. But because this year has been a challenging one, I’m looking for books that offer an escape, or ones that are ultimately uplifting, and if there’s food or travel involved, so much the better. Here are some non-fiction titles to consider. Stop back next week for some fiction recommendations. 

Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters by Dominique Crenn and Emma Brockes.  By the time twenty-one-year-old Dominique Crenn decided to become a chef, she knew it would be tough in France where almost all restaurant kitchens were run by men. So, she moved to San Francisco to train under Jeremiah Tower. Almost thirty years later, Crenn was awarded three Michelin Stars in 2018 for her restaurant Atelier Crenn, and became the first female chef in the United States to receive this honor. Part biography starting with her childhood in Versailles and part food memoir as she details out her cooking journey, this is a lovely read about a chef’s personal discoveries.

Hidden Places: An Inspired Traveller’s Guide by Sarah Baxter. Here’s some armchair travel for those who feel housebound. Travel journalist Sarah Baxter reveals twenty-five of the world’s most obscure places.  She takes us to little-known spots in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada and the U.S. Some locations are remote, others are near more widely known attractions, but each destination has a story to tell. Evocative text and beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by Amy Grimes. A short, quick read and a lovely escape.

The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell. Even though it’s not a new release (this book has been out for five years) it was new to me and I enjoyed it enough that I’ll be seeking out more by Helen Russell.  Denmark is officially the happiest nation on earth, so when Russell’s husband is offered his dream job at LEGO in Denmark, Helen goes along and begins her quest to find out what makes Danes so happy. Each month, she shares a primary takeaway contributing to the country’s general happiness level and the related lessons she learned. Though she also touches on the not-so-great parts of living in Denmark, Russell’s narrative is upbeat and even funny at times.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman.  An honest and sometimes funny book that celebrates friendship and what it takes to stay close for the long haul. Sow and Friedman tell the story of their first decade of friendship, both its joys and its pitfalls. More memoir than intellectual study, and very occasionally veering into the preachy, Big Friendship is nevertheless entertaining and affirming.

Together: Why Social Connection Holds the Key to Better Health, Higher Performance, and Greater Happiness by Vivek H. Murthy. Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy delves into scientific research to explain how our brains function from social interaction or the lack of it. A great book to read and help us understand why we may be feeling strange or uneasy during these times of isolation. The good news is that social connection is innate and a cure for loneliness. Filled with interesting anecdotes, this is an inspirational read that reminds us to practice compassion as often as possible.

We are Santa: Portraits and Profiles by Ron Cooper. Not only feel-good but seasonally appropriate! Award-winning photographer Ron Cooper has curated a collection of fifty professional Santas from across the USA. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who slip into the red suit to spread Christmas cheer. Before and after portraits as Santa transforms from his (or her) everyday world to becoming Santa, and behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes to bring home the wonder and joy of the seasonal Santa. Highly recommended.

Reading Canadian

Tomorrow is the inaugural I Read Canadian Day, an event designed to bring attention to and celebrate Canadian books for young people. Let’s broaden out and support ALL Canadian books and authors, even those written for adults.

For information on the I Read Canadian program for children and teens, go here:

If you’re looking for a good read by a Canadian author, check out this list from Booknet Canada. You’ll find fiction and non-fiction, and some juvenile titles too.

Happy Reading!

The Gift of Reading Non-Fiction

If you have non-fiction readers on your gift giving list, you have many books to choose from this year.

In the biography category, artists will undoubted appreciate Ninth Street Women: Five Painters and The Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel. Young sports aficionados will be inspired by Open Heart, Open Mind by Canadian Olympian and advocate for mental health Clara Hughes. And memoir lovers with an interest in politics will enjoy Michelle Obama’s Becoming Michelle which details her journey from working class Chicago to the White House.

For the coffee drinker who loves to travel, consider The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. A gripping account of a 24-year-old Yemeni American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee and travels to his ancestral home to source the beans only to face militia roadblocks, kidnappings and threats against his life. Another option for foodies: Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by award-winning journalist Jonathan Kauffman. An outstanding food and cultural history that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and shows how the concept of health food evolved in the kitchens of young baby boomers before becoming mainstream.

If your reader is focused on social justice and immigration The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu is a shocking insider look at US immigration from the perspective of a border patrol agent. Another powerful read is The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Iraqui-American poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail.

An Amazon best book of 2018 that reads like a thriller and will appeal to crime aficionados as well as business geeks is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Bad Blood is the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up whose charismatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes, raised nearly one billion dollars over 15 years for a company founded on lies, falsehoods, bullying and fraud.

In a year when laughs were hard to come by, at least as far as current events were concerned, John Cleese, Professor At Large is a sharp and clever collection of Cleese’s lectures at Cornell University while he was a visiting professor. For some mother-daughter humor, I See Life Through Rose`-Colored Glasses by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella is a hilarious collection of essays about the pitfalls of daily life.

And finally, for inspiration and motivation an ideal pick is Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.  Named a best book of the year by Real Simple and Bustle, this is a story-driven collection of essays on twelve powerful phrases we use in our relationships including I don’t know; tell me more; no; I was wrong; and I love you. Both funny and touching, Corrigan’s book is a fabulous read heading into a new year.


My June Reads

It’s been a ‘bookish’ few weeks around here as the Graduate packed up and moved into his own space. Change is exciting, though the process of integrating change can be a messy one. And things did get chaotic as we helped him sort and toss and pack and schlepp his belongings across town to his new place. We sorted through a lot of books. A LOT of books. It was like a snapshot of his growing up years as we paged through picture books, early readers, teen novels and his more recent adult reads, including a number of educational textbooks.

At the same time, I accepted an assignment to write an article on almonds. Since I have to develop a healthy recipe using raw almonds, I gravitated to my large cookbook collection. I lost several hours and took another trip down memory lane flipping through vegan and vegetarian cookbooks purchased on trips over the years. Each book was a reminder of a country we once visited and a stage of life now gone – a time before we had our kids when vegetarianism, at least at home, was viewed with skepticism and veganism was barely understood.

Times change. Kids grow up and move on. Vegan dishes are on just about every restaurant menu these days. But books?  Books – electronic or paper, fiction or non-fiction – remain pretty much the same; they’re still informing, still entertaining and still providing some much needed escape. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

On the Kindle: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Before bed: The Dogs by Allan Stratton

Books read to date in 2017: 35

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.

Reflecting: Top Picks for Memoirs & Biographies

memoirI have eclectic reading taste. I love everything from literary to genre fiction . . . from serious, intense reads to frothy escapism. I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I particularly love memoirs and biographies. When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, they offer a change of pace and a welcome break from thinking about character and conflict and resolution. Right now, I’m waiting to get my hands on a copy of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichel. I’m told it’s a cross between a memoir and a cookbook (my current favorite hybrid!) and well worth the read. Meanwhile, here’s a roundup of some of the other memoirs and biographies I’ve enjoyed over the years, some dark and others much lighter.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. A classic, what more is there to say? Anyone who has read Frank’s account of hiding during World War 11 never forgets it.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A memoir about growing up in extreme poverty with a shockingly dysfunctional family and not only surviving but thriving. Walls believes everything that happens in life is both a blessing and a curse. It’s up to each person to decide what to focus on. Riveting.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s coming-of-age story shows how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome low self-esteem, racism and trauma. Graphic and gripping.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Not an easy read, this book details the grief Didion worked through following the death of her husband, John Dunne. At the same time as she’s trying to grapple with her loss, she must deal with the hospitalization of her daughter, Quintana.

Brain on Fire; My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. Cahalan is a New York Post reporter who crossed the line between sanity and insanity when an unknown pathogen invaded her body and caused an autoimmune reaction that jump-started brain inflammation, paranoia and seizures. Hospitalized, she was lucky enough to have a doctor determined to get to the bottom of her illness (and lucky to be insured too; her treatment cost $1 million). Haunting and intense.

Delancey – A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. Funny, frank and uplifting, this memoir details the trials and tribulations of opening a restaurant soon after being married. I discovered Molly Wizenberg through her blog, Orangette (which I also recommend) and have subsequently read Delancey and her first memoir, A Homemade Life. I enjoyed both.

Home Cooking – A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking – A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. Colwin was a novelist and food writer for Gourmet Magazine before her untimely death in 1992 at the age of 48. Less memoir and more a series of essays, I turn to these books again and again for Colwin’s wit, warmth and love of food. How can you not adore a chapter called Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir or one called Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant? These slim little volumes are two of my most treasured books.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson. I’m a sucker for a well done celebrity biography, especially if they’re funny, honest and contain more grit than fluff. Ferguson’s biography delivers all three. It’s also well-written, full of insights and heavy on the theme of second chances. Highly recommended.

My July Reads

guyWith one notable exception, I’ve been binging on non-fiction books lately.  Part of it is due to the fact that I’m in a transitional phase in my current manuscript and can’t afford to distract myself with another novel (that’s polite speak for the thing is a red hot mess and I need to sort it out).  But along with that, the book I’m writing, One Good Deed, seems to require it. Or maybe I require it.  One of the characters is a homeless man who has spent the better part of two decades alone. At least he appears to be homeless in the opening few scenes. But he has hidden depths and a secret life that comes to light as the story progresses.  So I’ve found myself drawn to introspective books over the last while. The one exception is a series of novels by Karen Robards featuring Dr. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Stone, a psychiatrist who also sees dead people.   They’re fast paced and fun, just what I need to power through a session on the elliptical.

What I’m Reading:

On the Patio: Solitude; Seeking Wisdom in Extremes by Robert Kull

At the Gym: The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards

On the Kindle: A Journey of Days; Relearning Life’s Lessons on the Camino de Santiago by Guy Thatcher

Books read to date in 2014:  46