Beach blanket book bash

Everyone reads in our house. Taz prefers non-fiction.

The fantabulous part of summer reading is the lack of any desire on my part to better my mind in any way whatsoever.

Summer reading is ALL beach reading, glorious, often fluffy, always escapist, this is what I want. Reading on the beach, reading while reclining with a cold drink on the back deck, reading while driving (as a passenger of course) to the next camping destination. Oh, and don’t forget reading at breakfast before anyone else is awake. I have to cram in reading when I can, and for that reason alone, we have reading material in every room of the house. And I do mean every room. That way I can pick something up and fly though a few pages or chapters when I get the chance.

Years ago, pre-kids, pre-career, pre-anything really, my BFF and I would pickle ourselves in baby oil, grab a towel, drinks, snacks and a nice trashy paperback novel each and head to the beach for an afternoon of sunbathing, reading and watching all the other teenagers who were hanging out. OH, the freedom! These days we use SPF 85 sunscreen, carry at least three bags of stuff, and spend the whole time making sure our children don’t jump off the dock and drift away on the tide.

I still get some summer reading in, though, and I am plotting the books for this season. The obvious beach reads are those by authors like Iris Johansen, Nora Roberts, Fern Michaels, Susan Wiggs, and those kind of romance-thriller&suspense authors. And believe me, there are few of those in my stack. But I thought I would share some of the maybe lesser-known or long-forgotten books on my list as well as some of my all-time favourite summer reads.

Pageturners for summer reading

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier: Love this. Books set in Cornwall get me every time, but this little volume about a bored noblewoman who falls for a charming pirate (and aren’t they all charming?) is SUCH a guilty pleasure. DuMaurier’s books are all worth picking up.

Casting off by Nicole Dickson: The main character travels to a tiny island off Ireland to write a book about the region’s traditional fisherman knit sweaters, and is embraced by the tight-knit (little knitting pun there) community. Makes me want to go there. Makes me want to knit.

Thinking of you by Jill Mansell: Funny, funny, quirky. British writers are my go-to authors when I am looking for self-deprecating humour, and this is a good one. The romantic male lead is named Finn Penhaligon. Need I say more?

Good in bed by Jennifer Weiner: Cannie Shapiro is a Big Girl. Voluptuous, curvy, real-woman sized. She is a great character, looking for love in all the wrong places, but surprises ensue and her whole life path changes. It will make you cheer.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Perennial favourite, big, sweeping family epic set in Cornwall. Like I said, Cornwall, I love it. Covers several generations of a family and all of their secrets, scandals, love and wind-blown beaches.

The birth house by Ami McKay: Best. Book. Ever. It is such a good read that I have forced it upon almost anyone who asks in the library. “Oh, looking for a book? Read THIS.” Set in rural Nova Scotia, it is set during the time when midwives were slowly being pushed out by the medicalization of childbirth. A few strong women fought back, and it makes for a great story.

Ones I am planning to read

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo: I hear a LOT about the Scandinavian writers of murder mysteries, but this guy gets the most talk.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James: Okay, so, fabulous mystery writer takes on the world of Jane Austen?? I am so there.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: Heard a lot about this, so I must try it.

Something by Tess Gerritson : Because everyone tells me I should read her.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: This series has just gotten better and better, and I cannot wait for this latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache book to be released in August.

Reading anything good? What is your best summer read? Please share… I still have room on my list for more titles! Now if only I can find the time…

The morning walk

This morning I figured since I was outside already at 8 taking Kat out to the bus, I might as well just keep going out the driveway and go for a walk.

I headed up our rural road, trying to walk fast without actually breaking a sweat, trying to listen to music without totally drowning out the birdsong. You know, trying to be mindful and get a workout at the same time, if that is possible. The fields are like rusty red corduroy right now, as the farmers prepare for planting. The potato trucks and tractors are out in the fields starting early, and their breaks will be few and far between for a while. I walk towards the bay, where the waves sparkle and the oyster fishermen are already out on the water. I’ve got the Wailin’ Jennys on my iPod. The song, appropriately, is called “Birdsong,” and I am thinking how mellow their music makes me feel. Sure, there are songs that make me walk faster but this morning mellow is where I am at.

Oh, yes, if you’re not “from here,” here is a bit of what our fields look like :

Rusty fields shot by Dan

As I walk, I get a whole lot of thinking done, which you might think would motivate me to do it more often. Apparently clear thought is not a priority in my day.

What crossed my mind was a whole lot of nonsense about the bad news that seems to be everywhere at the moment. Economies are grim, and the news is filled with job cuts and worries about the debt loads of people and nations alike. Our home is no different, as good jobs seem few. As always, talk turns in many circles to going out west.

It is fascinating, really. How many generations has it been where “going out west” is always on the horizon? Here on the east coast past generations have also gone to “The States,” to Boston or somewhere in the New England states to find work, but that is not quite as simple as it once was.

I have been one of those going out west, and someday I may be again. Honestly, I did love it there although I was young and terribly homesick, feeling like I had landed on a different planet or at the very least a different country. The motivation to head west is the same now as it always has been: jobs, work, and a need to forge your own way in a totally new place where everyone doesn’t know you and your father and your grandfather and your uncle and…well, you get the picture.

The potato farmers and the oyster fishermen are assured their work will never be done. What will be on the horizon for others? How can we adapt to the changes that surely seem to be coming for all? Is the answer to be flexible, to diversify how we make a living, to work harder at self-sufficiency? Alarmist is not a word anyone would use to describe me (except perhaps my children, who think I am making a big deal out of the messy play room). I do find that I am drawn to books about sustainable living and self-sufficiency. It is a fascinating genre, written by a mix of those authors who believe the oil is going to run out any minute and chaos will break out in the world, and those who just want to grow their own food and cut energy costs.

Here are a few I found:

Sufficent: a modern guide to sustainable living by Tom Petherick: I like what this author is saying about what is “sufficient,” meaning simply what we need for our own family’s consumption. He speaks out against the extreme consumerism of today’s society, where so much food and other things go to waste. This book is beautifully photographed and illustrated.

The self-sufficientish bible by Andy and Dave Hamilton: This book just looks really good, and is quite common-sense in its approach to gardening, recycling and such.

Time to eat the dog? : the real guide to sustainable living by Robert Vale: Heavy, heavy, serious stuff. Perhaps a little TOO serious.

Less is more : embracing simplicity for a healthy planet, a caring economy and lasting happiness by Cecile Andrews: This is a really good little read, filled with essays that get you thinking about what you need and what you just WANT, and how we can live more simply with what we have.

The everything guide to living off the grid: We have no plans to get off the grid, but this book is also a good choice for people who just want to save energy and be more self-sufficient.

Independence days: A guide to sustainable food storage and preservation by Sharon Astyk: A good guide to canning and preserving food, and a lot of interesting stuff on creating our own food security (and that does not mean eating more comfort foods).

Ecological gardening by Marjorie Harris: One of Canada’s best-known gardening experts, she packs a LOT of information on everything from beneficial insects to composting to natural lawn care into this slim little volume.  No pictures, but makes up for it with simple, no-nonsense facts.

How do you focus on what is important in the face of all the bad-news stories? We keep our eye on the beautiful horizon.

on the horizon


Free stuff, who doesn’t want it? I am always on the lookout for the best Free Stuff, but believe it or not, I was not always this way. Money used to just disappear from my wallet like so much magical fairy dust, but there was rarely anything of substance left over when the money disappeared. Oh, pretty candle, I’ll take five. Nice dinner out with wine with friends, okay, let’s add dessert and more wine. For all! Fascinating carved gourd handmade by a little-known tribe in Kenya, oh YES I must have that for my collection of, um, stuff.

Yes, I was a terrible manager of money. I have improved in leaps and bounds, coupon-clipper and bargain-hunter, frugalista (is that a word?) extraordinaire, that is me. But oddly enough, there is one habit in which I partook (is THAT a word? past-tense of partake?) even in those days of glorious excess, and that is the greatest freebie of all, the LIBRARY. No matter where I have roamed, one of the first things I have sought in every new town has always been the library. As a result I have a fine collection of library cards from a number of different provinces and cities across the country. I see libraries as a tourist attraction of sorts, a place to visit when we travel and a comfortable place to hang out whether for reasons of rainy weather or homesickness. When we travel, one of the best free attractions we have found is the local library, and along with our daughters we have enjoyed free programs ranging from the typical story time to poetry readings and classical music concerts. We return to one particular library in Nova Scotia so frequently that I finally got a library card, which we use when we are camping in the area to get fresh reading material for all.

I guess it was inevitable that I would end up working in libraries myself, being such a fanatic. Now I am officially a library cheerleader. Give me some pompoms, ’cause I am shouting it from the rooftops, people. The library is the best free thing ever.

Books are the just the tip of the iceberg. Rent movies or pay for Netflix? Why would I do that when I can get thousands of free and current titles at the library? Yes, I just watched Hanna (oh, so gripping!) and the new version of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender last week. For free. And I didn’t have to illegally download them either. Watch television, with all those annoying commercials? Why torture myself? I just get it from the library on DVD and watch when I want. E-books? We’ve got that, free, just download them from home with a library card. Music? Yup. Board games? Check. It is like Amazon. Only FREE. I guess now wouldn’t be a good time to set myself up as an Amazon associate with a store widget, would it? I should have a library widget. By the way, I am not getting paid extra for this.

Anyhow, the best thing about my work is the book talk. The book talk is like a fantasy for a bibliophile such as myself. So I work in a public library, a branch where I am the one and only employee and therefore the sole source of book chit-chat for the many patrons of that sophisticated little branch. I know, some people think working in a library would be SO BORING. But to me it is a dream job. Handle books, advise readers, talk about books, all of this for a paycheque? Oh, YES. It is good. It’s like my own personal ginormous book club. I have a constant running list in my head of authors that people suggest I try, and I TRY. I like to think of myself as a book diviner. I talk to a patron, ask them a few questions and then go to the shelves, kind of wave my hands over the books and then a book I think they will love just speaks to me. Fun, eh?

So, now I am going to do a list. It was going to be a top-ten list, but I think I will just do five. Something about top ten lists just sucks me in every time. It can be a top ten list of just about anything and I will read it, just because for some very bizarre reason I need to know what the number 1 reality show in Korea is, or the top destination for skinny-dipping in Canada, or the pinnacle of rotten movies over the last decade. Who would not want to know these vital facts? Now I am going to add further to that lovely statistical clutter by creating my own top five list of books. But, let’s be clear here, this is just top five I have read (or re-read) lately, and is totally dictated by my own occasionally odd taste and sometimes just by what I stumble upon in the course of my week.

ANYHOW. Using a lot of all caps today. Down to the list of just a few books I recommend everyone crack this year.

Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Creepy, just in its sheer ability to make something really horrible seem totally normal and real.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I love this book. Jane is a fantastic heroine, even for modern times. My daughter’s middle name is Jane, for her and Jane Austen.

The forgotten garden by Kate Morton. It is tough to find a really big, delicious epic story, and Kate Morton’s books are wonderfully gothic and gloriously atmospheric.

Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane. Scared me much more than the movie. I could not put it down.

The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby. Fun!! I love an undiscovered jewel, and when my friend loaned me this one I had no idea what it was. City girl dreams of starting a farm, and then does, only it is quite pathetic. Great characters, very funny.

Got any other great books for me? I would love to read your list…