Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for August

I hate to be the bearer of crummy news but . . . well . . . summer is on the wane. Before you know it, we’ll be celebrating Labour Day and you know what that means: the party’s over.

So if you’re planning to make the most of summer’s dog days – a week at the cottage perhaps, or camping in Algonquin or a lazy couple of Staycation Days lounging on a park bench on the boardwalk, my five must-reads this month are your ticket to an end-of-summer kick back.

Bookworm Alert: Indigo has a beautiful new app that makes it easy to recommend, discover and discuss great books with a global community of booklovers. I hope you’ll take my word that RECO is totally awesome but if you want more cred Margaret Atwood loves it and so does Neil Pasricha.

RECO lets you share the books you love instantly on your fav social media channels. What’s more, you can publish complete book lists for all your new friends (and complete strangers, for that matter) to subscribe to. You can also build a personal profile and subscribe to lists curated by other people who share your passions. And as if all that weren’t incentive enough to download the app, you’ll also discover a spot where you can talk about books with friends – a virtual book club!


Artists Painting Techniques

OK here’s an out-of-the-box summer Sunday activity: pack a picnic and a copy of Artist’s Painting Techniques(DK Publishing) head to the lake and channel Matisse.

This beautiful book begins with the basics – how to choose what to paint (tip: get to know your subject – how it behaves, how heavy it is, how fast is runs – this is the key to capturing it accurately); choosing a medium – watercolours? acrylics? oils? pencils?; and how to sharpen your skills of observation (another tip: it’s about learning how to interpret what you see).

Then, using pretty spectacular images to illustrate the points, the book gives step-by-step workshops from professional artists organized as beginner, intermediate and advanced including lots of advice and encouragement.

I think I’ll start by sketching with pencils – one of the artist’s quoted says, “Painting is an extension of drawing, so pencils are the best place to start.” I’m not sure I have any talent but if I don’t try I won’t know. Heck, look at Grandma Moses. She didn’t start to paint till she was 78. She had no formal training and sold her work internationally: Sugaring Off fetched $1.2 million US in 2006. That’s pretty decent.


Kitchen Bible

So, you’re thinkin’ maybe it’s time you learned how to cook more than KD in the microwave? The Illustrated Kitchen Bible (DK Publishing) serves up 1000 family recipes from around the world, but more importantly they are all totally easy, don’t require a Hell’s Kitchen pantry, and look yummy enough to delight your mom.

Recipes are organized by courses: starters and tapas sorta dishes, mains and sides, cakes and desserts and then specific sections for breads, pies, cookies and jams.

And if you need help with the basics, despite binge watching Guy’s Big Bite, the Techniques chapter shows you step by step, with pictures, how to separate eggs, make an omelet, stir fry vegetables, make fresh tomato sauce (just in time for the annual August Tomato Fest) . . .

A couple of tastiest-ever offerings (yes, I tested them; I am a journalist after all)? A tarted up Tuna Melt. Seriously delicious. A spicy orzo and spinach side I turned into dinner (serves 4; ate the whole thing). And Shrimp Diavolo worthy of Bar Italia.


All is Not Forgotten 

Fifteen-year-old Jenny Kramer arrives at the parents-out-of-town party excited, nervous and looking forward to hooking up with Doug Hastings, the senior who has invited her. She had spent a week planning what to wear, how to do her hair and writing the romantic script she was sure would play out. Instead, she arrives to see Doug with another girl. Jenny drinks too many vodkas shots, stumbles to the bathroom where she rides the porcelain bus to the great amusement of oh-so-clever highschoolers and shattered, runs out the door and into the woods to the sound of loud music and mocking laughter.

Jenny is brutally raped – for an hour – and when she’s discovered crawling out of the woods by two partygoers looking for some privacy, she is rushed to emerg where her parents demand she be given The Treatment, an experimental drug cocktail designed to block her memory of the rape. It will be as if nothing ever really happened.

But the nightmare isn’t over. Because sometimes not remembering is worse. Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten is a taut psychological thriller that explores how memory works, what memories mean and how they shape who were are and how we walk through the world. Reese Witherspoon bought the movie rights. Just sayin’.


Truly Madly Guilty

An afternoon BBQ in suburban Sydney. Three couples – all neighbours, two of the women lifelong friends – and three kids. Good food. Fancy drinks, lots of them. What could go wrong? Well, plenty.

The latest from Australian author Liane Moriarty (The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and What Alice Forgot) ultimately asks: how well do we know the people we love? And how well do we really know ourselves?

Sam and Clementine have a crazy-busy but all things considered, a happy life. Sam is starting his dream job, Clementine, a cellist, is auditioning for a fulltime gig with a prestigious symphony and their two girls are all kinds of good and adorable.

Clementine’s best friend since forever, Erika and her husband Oliver are kid-less and damaged (her mom is a hoarder; his parents are alcoholics). Erika and Oliver’s neighbours, Vid and Tiffany, invite them to a BBQ. They bring along Sam and Clementine and their girls – Vid and Tiffany’s daughter will babysit.

The afternoon goes sideways – I can’t tell you what happens because Moriarity goes to enormous lengths to keep you in the dark till the end – but I will tell you that no one at the party will ever be the same. And that, my friends, is the point.

Truly, Madly Guilty is a compelling exploration of relationships – the half lies we live instead of the whole truths we think we want; the guilt we wrap in social convention; and what happens when our inside voices join our outside conversations. Betcha it will be optioned.


Unearthed: Love, Acceptance and Other Lessons From an Abandoned Garden

Alexandra Risen’s memoir Unearthed, is a beautifully crafted story of family secrets, tangled relationships and what happens when you redefine “love” and accept that most times parents are just trying to get by the best they can.

Alexandra’s Ukrainian parents met and married in a Displaced Persons camp, eventually immigrating to Edmonton. They don’t talk about the past: dad lives a silent and solitary life and mom seeks peace in her garden.

Alexandra’s dad dies just as she and her husband purchase an odd little house in the middle of Toronto overlooking a gorge. The garden is immense but overgrown and filled with crumbling structures. The garden reminds her of the forest close to her childhood home, the place she escaped to when “home” became too bleak and empty.

As Alexandra focuses on bringing the garden back to life, she realizes that she is also letting go of resentments and misunderstandings and accepting that love comes in many shapes when you open your heart.

Organized around flowers, shrubs and trees that bring back fond childhood memories, each chapter cleverly ends with a recipe. My favourite – and perfect for nibbling on a hot summer night – Momiji Tempura, a harvest treat made with Japanese maple leaves. OK, I haven’t made it but sounds yummy – just add a cold Sapporo.

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by LEZ AUTRES


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  1. I can vouch for Unearthed by Alexandra Risen. A beautifully written and uplifting read . . . whether you care for gardening or not.