Friday, June 28, 2024

Summer Reading Plans and A Little Wool-gathering

Hear blessings dropping their
blossoms around you.

Head's up... this is going to be a rambling kind of post. I've had a busy week with appointments along with some proofreading project deadlines I need to finish. I looked up from my desk yesterday and realized it was almost Friday, and my blog post was barely a draft. So please excuse any meandering going on, as I didn't have time to properly distill my thoughts.

Today I wanted to chat about my summer reading plans. This year, I am feeling—and remembering—how it felt when I was a girl, to be all excited for summer holidays. It's not like we have plans to travel anywhere, at least not too far this year, but there is anticipation in the air for a change in routines, with some lazy days for lollygagging on the deck or sitting in the garden, meeting up with friends for iced coffees, going on picnics and drives in the countryside.

And, at the top of my wish list this summer is to read a pile of books. Reading as a girl during the summer holidays was one of my favourite things to do (slurping orange popsicles and DQ chocolate dipped soft cones were a close second). Back in the day, with blue skies and warm sunshine forecast, I'd grab my book, a blanket, suntan lotion (probably baby oil - can you believe we actually used to do that?), and something to munch on. Settled on a comfy grassy spot in the sun, of course, I'd read until I got too hot, at which point I'd check to see if a tan was starting and either stick it out for a little while longer or head for the shade of the tall poplar trees.

Cathy Rentzenbrink, UK author, sent out her June newsletter today. In it, she talked about reading and mentioned that a main reason she reads is to have an enjoyable few hours off from her life. She also reads for the escapism and hopes to leave a book feeling expanded. When she writes, she wants to give that to her readers as well. Oh yes, I get that—it's what I want from my summer reading. Maybe a few nail biting adventures but I'm looking forward to some relaxing, gentle reads where one can jog along with the characters in an ordinary, easy way. No scary plots to keep me on the edge of my lawn chair. And on the last page, closing the book with a contented sigh that it all turned out well for my new friends, I come away ready to pick up my own life again.

I saw a book at the library yesterday that sounded like a good summer read. I love to read children's novels in the summertime. Probably because it takes me back there. In any case, the book I brought home is The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. It was on the Staff Picks shelf for young readers (ages 9-12). Not familiar with the title or its author, I was charmed by the delightful yellow cover with branches and leaves twisted around the edges and a silhouette of a young girl in the centre catching butterflies. I'm captivated by the blurb on the back cover:  "The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia's sleepy Texas town, and there aren't a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine, but instead, Callie's contemplating cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She's also spending a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. But just when Callie and her grandfather are about to make an amazing discovery, the reality of Callie's situation catches up with her. She's a girl at the turn of the century, expected to cook and clean and sew. What a waste of time! Will Callie ever find a way to take control of her own destiny?" I started the book last evening.

Two books I just finished in the last few days that I recommend as nice summer reads are: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller and Music in the Hills by D.E. Stevenson. Both were published decades ago.

And it's been several decades since I read Helen Keller's short account of her life story. I'd forgotten how descriptively she expresses what she felt, smelled, and experienced, describing her sensations when she was out and about, often in the garden or woods. Having lost her hearing and sight as a toddler, of course Helen relied heavily on her remaining senses. She lets the reader see the world through her 'eyes' of touch and smell. It made me stop to ponder. We really do experience our world through our senses. And how it can shift our lives and change who we are when one of those senses is taken away. I try to imagine that for myself, but cannot dwell too long. How bereft I'd be without sight. I'm a visual person. How would I cope not having that visual stimulation. Helen's story gives me a new appreciation for my five senses and for the changes people who do lose them must endure as they discover new ways to interpret life around them. Helen certainly showed us that it can be done... and successfully, too.

As for my D.E. Stevenson book, I thoroughly enjoyed this recently reissued novel. Music in the Hills is one of those comfort book reads (you know about The Comfort Book Club if you follow Miranda Mills on YouTube). This novel is a gentle story about Mamie Johnstone, happy wife to Jock Johnstone, who both live near the village of Mureth, farming not far from the Scottish Borders. Alexander McCall Smith wrote the introduction for this edition. It seems appropriate since their writing styles are similar. He says: "These are not simple romances; nor are they anything that would today be recognized as thrillers. They are in a category of their own: clearly-written straightforward tales that take the reader through a clear plot and reach a recognizable and unambiguous ending.  . . . These are gentle books, very fitting for times of uncertainly and conflict." D.E. Stevenson wasn't highly considered by literary critics in her day, but her books sold millions. Readers loved her writing. This new-to-her reader does too. I look forward to reading more of her reissued works.

Other books I hope to read this summer (the list is by no means complete, we're just getting started):
- Some Agatha Christie summer-set mysteries (perhaps A Murder is Announced and 4:50 from Paddington).

- Maybe some Rosamunde Pilcher: The Blue Bedroom & Other Stories; Voices in Summer in which the novel opens on a lovely afternoon in late July, and convalescing Laura heads to Cornwall to stay with family while she recuperates after surgery; and The Empty House which opens "...on a Monday afternoon in July, sunny and warm, the hay-scented air cooled by a sea breeze...". You just know some adventures are about to begin.

- The Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery. I read this years ago but am looking forward to dipping into the world LMM creates for her readers of all ages.

- The World War II thriller by Kate Quinn, The Rose Code. This is a re-read for me, one of my favourite Kate Quinn books. It's unputdownable. Unforgettable story, unforgettable characters that you come to love. A gripping and utterly satisfying read for a summer's afternoon.
- Perhaps one of Louise Penny's earlier novels. She has her newest book coming out in the autumn. And in the meantime I wouldn't mind rereading my favourite of all her novels All the Devils are Here, in which readers find Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in Paris, the City of Light. Another favourite is The Beautiful Mystery, where the crime takes place "in the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer"... until someone is murdered.
- On my shelf for several months now is the daunting 800-page classic novel Middlemarch by George Eliot. I was never tempted to undertake this prominent novel of the Victorian era until I read something Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her wonderful book of essays Small Wonder. She advised readers to forget about reading bad books, or even moderately good ones... "With Middlemarch and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in the world, a person should squander her reading time on fashionably ironic books about nothing much?" I was intrigued! And I had to know why she considered these two books the benchmark of great literature. With both in my possession, perhaps this summer is the right time to read them.

- And last for today's list, but not least, is Susan Branch's delightful memoir Martha's Vineyard, Isle of Dreams. And, did you know that Susan Branch is leaving Martha's Vineyard and is moving back to California? It was a big surprise. I'm happy for her as she looks forward to new adventures back where she first started out, but I cannot believe how it shook my own moorings to find out she was moving away. I always felt settled knowing she was in that lovely place creating beauty for herself and her readers, which includes me,  and I always looked forward to visiting her blog to see what new things she and Joe and kitty Jack were up to. Anyways, I'm going to immerse myself in her book while she travels west this summer. You can read all about it, if you're not familiar with the story, on her blog

Here I stop and call it done for today. I do hope you found something today that made it worth your while to visit. I'd be interested to know, do you have any reading plans for your summer?

Wishing you a beautiful week, and to all my fellow Canadians,
Happy Canada Day on July 1st!

Photo credits:
Top Image by Erik_Lyngsoe from Pixabay
Book Image by Brenda Leyland @ It's A Beautiful Life

My Summer blog schedule:
I post on Fridays


  1. I love Rosamunde Pilcher’s books, all of them. In the 90s I made it my goal to find copies of all her books in thrift stores. I was pretty successful. My favourite remains “Winter Solstice” , her last book. I read it every fall. I’m a fan of Susan Branch, too, and was surprised when I heard she and Joe and Jack are moving to California. I’ll always think of her living in Vineyard Haven. Enjoy your summer reading list, Elaine (in Toronto).

    1. Thank you, Elaine, for visiting - so glad to 'meet' you. I, too, love Winter Solstice and reread it every December. It's a tradition - the novel is a forever favourite. Wishing you a wonderful weekend and a beautiful summer ahead.

  2. My tradition too Brenda, Christmas reading of Winter Solstice! My book is slightly tattered now, but gives me such pleasure every single time.....and I often find things that I had forgotten, or even not read properly. What would we do without books? I remember as a child being described as 'always with her head in a book'.True!
    Now I've been reading some books with a slightly historical slant. 'A light in the window' by Marion Kummerow, a novel of WW2, and 'The Secrets of Flowers' by Sally Page. That was so interesting, written from the point of view of a florist who wanted to discover the history of the flower arrangers on the Titanic.
    Thank you for another of your lovely posts, which I always read at least twice!

    1. Barbara, I'd like to look for those two books you suggest by Marion Kummerow and Sally Page, especially the florist one. I read a memoir by one of the former White House florists - it was so interesting. Here's the title: "My First Ladies: Twenty-Five Years as the White House Chief Floral Designer" by Nancy Clarke and Christie Matheson. You made my day with your kind and lovely last comment. Thanks so much, dear friend.

  3. Summer reading. What an evocative little phrase which stirs all manner of memories for me! Car trips, camping holidays, family picnics, hot lazy afternoons--all spent with a good book. My loose reading plan for this summer includes some of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret stories. I am currently reading Maigret Enjoys Himself--a story set in Paris, during hot weather, so it seems a perfect fit for the "summer reading" category. Happy hot-weather reading!

    1. You remind me of all the places we used to read as kids - car trips, camping holidays, family picnics - as well as the hot lazy afternoons. Oh, I think I need to find that "Maigret Enjoys Himself" to add it to my summer reading. Thanks, Kathy! xo

  4. Brenda, you definitely put me in the mind to read some children's or young adult books. Summer reading as a child is a good memory for me. And oh my yes... I remember slathering on baby oil to sunbathe. Younger generations, who surely don't do this sort of thing, should have so much better skin as they age, and hopefully less skin cancer. We just didn't know! Or did we just not think it would catch up with us? I honestly don't remember.

    1. Oh I'm glad, Becki, that you're going to chase down some young reader books for your summer reading. Where I grew up, we weren't aware of getting skin cancer from sun tanning. It might have been known else but not in my circle. Thankfully we know better today. Happy summer!

  5. I love browsing through your reading lists, Brenda. This summer I had made up my mind to re-read all my favorites -- Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers is among them. Then, I saw a book on your pile a couple of posts ago -- The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club -- and I was off to read a new book. I like breaking my own "rules". I will still get to the Shell Seekers. I think the fun of summer reading is just going with the wind and picking up what suits me at the time. Happy reading to you!

    1. Karen, I was only planning to read a couple of Pilcher's books, but I'm immersed so I might be reading more. Enjoy your reread of her books - they are such lovely stories to disappear into. Haha - I'm with you about breaking my own rules when it comes to which book I'll read next. There are just so many wonderful titles to beckon and beguile us. How can we stay on track?? Happy reading and happy summer!

  6. I searched and searched for Music in the Air, but couldn't find it. Music in the Hills finally came up -- that must be the book you're recommending? The intro from McCall Smith impresses me, too!

    Reading and summer just go together, in my life. A couple of times the book was Middlemarch! Oh, I hope you do get to delve into that wonderful novel this summer. It is just the most splenid world to get lost in.

    1. Oh my goodness, Gretchen, thank you for spotting that error. Yes, it's Music in the Hills. And I agree, the intro by McCall Smith is wonderful. Thanks for stopping by. With your added recommendation, Middlemarch is marching closer to the top of the pile. Happy summer!


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo