Month: June 2023

Distractions

It’s bird hatching season in my part of the world. (My friend A.M. Stuart lives in Australia and I always do a double take when she writes of cold, wintry days while I’m picking roses.) Anyway, here in the northern hemisphere the baby birds are hatched and learning to fly. On Sunday we found a tiny sparrow sitting on the grass beside the porch steps. He had no injuries and was breathing fine. We couldn’t find a nest, so we put him into a berry box and set him up on top of the hedge away from feline predators and waited. I was astounded –and indignant–that  no parent birds were flying about raising a fuss. 

However, when I looked up fledgling sparrows I learned that this is normal behaviour and that the parents could be absent for several hours. We tried not to harass the little fellow  but we did check on him three hours later and he had gone. I trust he just flew away and wasn’t snatched by a raptor. 

This morning I watched the world’s stupidest bird, a killdeer, bring her two chicks out of a safe, fenced field to sit in the middle of the street with cars whizzing by. There is nothing to eat on the pavement but there they sat for what seemed like ages while I watched anxiously from the window. Eventually they completed the trek from the yellow line to the ditch and then onto our lawn. At last check they were happily pecking about under the apple trees — lots of chickweed there.

All of this is a round about way of saying I’m spending a lot more time watching life in my garden than creating stories at my computer. My excuse is that someone has to keep an eye on the little feathered ones. 

Beach Reads

But we are officially into summer, the season for lemonade, lazy afternoons and beach reads. I just visited my local library and all their suggestions for beach reads were tragedies. The characters in these novels grew and learned from their heartbreak, but that is not my idea of a gentle few hours.

To counter the darkness, I offer my suggestions for a summer holiday reading.

The Village

When it comes to easy reads I find myself drawn to “village” type stories. I’ve mentioned The Chillury Ladies’ Choir on this blog, but there are others. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are usually set in the village of St. Mary Mead. One of the major appeals of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries is the village of Three Pines with its assortment of eccentrics. Maeve Binchy’s Whitethorn Woods is peopled with interesting characters, but it is the village that is at the heart of the story. Romance author Robyn Carr makes use of the village trope in her Virgin River series. I used the idea of place in my three Prospect books. 

As an author, I find returning to a familiar setting deepens the writing. Once I know the layout of the town, the folk who live there and the themes of the times, I am free to concentrate on developing my characters, deepening the love story, and adding in sub-plots for the minor characters of Prospect, B.C. 

As a reader I like to return to a setting I’ve enjoyed for the comfort of the place. Even though there are a remarkable number of murders in Three Pines, I love the sense of tranquillity and sanctuary Penny evokes when she describes the spot. I also enjoy learning more about the minor characters and how their lives evolve over the course of eighteen  novels.

Of course, these suggestions barely scrape the surface of books I love for summer reading. Susan Wiggs, Nancy Warren, Kathleen LawlessJane Austen, Alice Munro, Helen Simonson, Helen Humphreys — all of these writers are engaging, accessible and take the reader on a wonderful adventure — and, in my opinion, qualify as a beach read.

In honour of summer, this blog will publish only sporadically over the next two months.

Happy holiday reading.

 

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20 Books that Mattered

My book club is preparing for our last meeting before the summer break. As well as discussing this month’s book, we’ll be generating a list for next season’s reading. We have been doing this since 2000, with mostly the same members. Five of us could be considered charter members. We hover around nine members most years so over half of us have been there from the beginning and are still going strong. 

Just for fun, I looked back at our previous reading lists. The very first book we read was the best seller of the time, Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone.  I can’t say it was my favourite of all time, but I’m glad I read it just to know what all the fuss was about.

My favourites from over twenty years of book club include

  • The Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard
  • And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
  • Parallel Lives  by Phyllis Rose
  • Coventry by Helen Humphreys
  • The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Amazing Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
  • The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
  • Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright
  • Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers
  • Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
  • God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicolson
  • Old Square Toes and His Lady by John Adams
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • The Book that Matters Most by Ann Hood
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  • The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The Company we Keep by Frances Itani
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
  • Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page

So, a list of 20 from over 200 books read. Ten percent.  It is not that I didn’t enjoy the other books we read. Maybe 10% of them didn’t suit my taste. Usually these were books from the best seller lists. 😕

My personal biases are showing here as many of the books on my list are historicals, or women’s fiction, or Canadian authors. The books listed above are not necessarily the “best” books from our reading list, or the most popular, or the ones destined to become classics. What these books did was make an impression on me. I admit, that when I read over the titles on  our old lists, some of the books I’d forgotten entirely, even though I enjoyed reading them at the time.

My list of twenty are books that became touchstones for me. Whenever I hear the word “Coventry” the story of its bombing during WWII instantly springs to mind. “Old Square Toes. . .” is about Sir James Douglas. I can’t drive down Douglas Street in Victoria, without remembering the book.  I cannot read Charles Dickens in the same way since I read Parallel Lives. That is how I created the list. If the story, or the writing, or the idea has stuck with me, then the book made my personal list.

My friend, Laura Langston, often blogs about the books she is reading, but she doesn’t say if they have become an integral part of her memory bank.

As my readers group considers our next set of books, I’d love to hear of any book you think should be on our list. A book that left a mark on your heart or your mind.  Please list it in the comments to this blog. 

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