Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for July

Canadian summers are too short not to savour every sticky-sweet minute, dontcha think? I don’t own a cottage so instead of joining the wildebeest migration know as “getting out of town” I head 20 steps to my backyard patio to welcome the weekend with a Campari and soda and my latest book. Summer in the City – bliss!


The History Book by DK Publishing

If you’re a regular reader of this column – and I hope you are! – you know I love DK’s Big Ideas series – they’re fat with snappy infographics, beautiful images, witty illustrations, sharp and often-unexpected commentary and full of stuff I can quote and sound smart. The History Book (DK Publishing, 2016) is no exception.

Opening with George Santayana’s often misquoted quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” The History Book invites you to explore the human story – all 4000 years. Don’t wrinkle your nose now; this is no history geek bible. It’s a fascinating journey chronicling the most significant human events – and how they contributed to getting us from where we were to where we are.

Did you know that the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 led the U.S Defense Department to consider a way to communicate in the event of a nuclear attack, and that led, eventually, to a network of connected computers known as the Internet? Snapshots of some of the most influential change makers put a human face on the facts, and sidebars serve up context; what lead up the event and the impact after.


Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine

I have a little herb garden out back planted with the usual – some basil, thyme, rosemary . . . If I had tucked into The Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine (DK Publishing, 2016) in May instead of July, I could have planted a cornucopia of feel good/get well herbs instead. Who knew?

Well, apparently Andrew Chevallier did. An experienced medical herbalist, Chevallier has written the definitive guide, whether you’re a committed herbalist or simply curious about the whole plants-as-healers movement.

Now just in case you think herbal medicine is mostly a Chinese practice Chevallier tells us that a 60,000-year-old burial site excavated in Iraq turned up eight different medicinal plants including ephedra, used today in the West and China for problems ranging from chills and fevers to asthma and hay fever.

In fact, cultures on every continent have a history of herbal healing and Chevallier highlights them in simple and jargon-free language. He includes advice on how to make sure you’re buying quality products, a step-by-step if you want to grow your own medicinal herbs, and easy recipes to make creams, tinctures, infusions and more. My fave? Tonic wines to increase vitality and improve digestion. Another reason to pour a big glass of red. Like I needed one. Oh. And there’s a hangover recipe, too. It involves dandelions. Page 309.


Raised Bed Revolution

How do you spell summer? Fresh vegetables. Sure, you can pick up juicy tomatoes or crisp green beans at famers’ markets and roadside stands. But heck – why not grow your own and save the gas? “I don’t have a backyard,” I can hear you muttering. No excuse. Raised Bed Revolution by gardening guru Tara Nolan shows you how you can grow herbs and vegetables on your deck, terrace or balcony and reap the mouth-watering rewards.

Raised bed gardening is hot and RBG is your ultimate guide to get on trend. The book offers the basics – size, soil, location and irrigation – plus specifics – raised beds for big and small spaces, and what to plant in each – with lip-smacking photography that makes salad greens look like still life paintings. And if you own a tool box (or live with someone who does), Tara and her team offer you-can-do-it instructions for building the perfect raised bed from a plain and simple utility box to an antique kitchen table turned into a raised bed for lettuce.

And get this: build a cold frame with a clear glass or plastic top and enjoy arugula, mache (my go-to salad green), kale and carrots all winter long. Strange but true.


The Girls

Emma Cline’s debut novel is loosely based on Charles Mason, his “family” and the murders they committed but that’s really just a plot devise and not the point of the story. Which is: adolescent girls, limitations, powerlessness and the gut wrenching need to be seen.

Evie Boyd is 14. It’s the summer of ’69. Evie lives in a small town in Northern California. Her parents are divorced. Dad has married a much younger woman and Mom is desperately trying to redefine herself. Evie is invisible.

She catches sight of Suzanne and the girls in the park, “sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water” – and mesmerized by their aura of dangerous self-possession, is drawn into the “family” of Russell and his girls, and closer and closer to handing over her self.

The Girls captures what it means to be a teenage girls on the edge of womanhood with raw emotion and an authentic voice. And it’s a story of how a single moment defines the woman you will become. I couldn’t put it down.


The Singles Game 

The new novel from Lauren Weisberger, best selling author of The Devil Wears Prada is the quintessential summer read: a fast-faced romp peopled with a host of entertaining characters that doesn’t demand a lot from you.

Tennis pro Charlotte “Charlie” Silver knows she needs an overhaul if she is going to take her game to the next level. She replaces her long-time coach and friend with Todd Feltner, an aggressive and controlling men’s coach known for creating champions.

Charlie’s a nice woman, polite, friendly to her competitors, temper-tantrum-less on court. Todd takes over more than her training, rebranding her as The Warrior Princess, kitting her out in all-black tennis garb, and shoving her into the Page 6 world of sports celebrity.

Charlie’s career takes off but, she finally asks herself, at what cost? OK, The Singles Game plays out like a Hallmark Channel movie – honour, niceness and true love wins – and Charlie gets the life a good girl searches for. But when it’s 90 degrees in the shade, you don’t really want War and Peace do you?

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by LEZ AUTRES


Leave a reply