Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for June

Vegan on the Go

I don’t eat meat. Or fish. Or eggs. I don’t call myself a vegetarian though because I’m not that particular. I’ll gobble up a yummy risotto made with chicken broth – just don’t nestle it next to a strip loin, thank you so much. And if you’re serving a 12-egg white Angel Food Cake, I’ll ask for seconds, please.

Weird, right? But there you are. So when I opened Vegan on the Go (DK Publishing, 2017) I wasn’t sure I would add it to my cookbook collection. Wrong.

Here’s the genius of Vegan on the Go: lunch recipes. Exclusively. Well, I guess you could enjoy them for dinner, too, but that’s beside the point.

And – they’re tinkerable. Carnivores can add animal protein, vegetarians can add real cheese . . . quiet down you Vegans, it’s all good.

Vegan on the Go serves up 100 tasty recipes – really – for soups, sandwiches, snacks, sweets and more substantial mains, in pretty much one large or two small servings.

They call for ingredients you can probably get at the grocery or health food store. Best of all: they are super easy to make and take.

A couple of my favourites: Potato “Risotto”, a sorta stew with potatoes taking on the rice role, plus peppers, shallots, capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes – delish! Pot Sticker Noodles; rice noodles, bok choy, broccoli (I added red pepper and mushrooms just because) in a sesame and red curry sauce. Yum!

Oh. And the food photography is page lickable.

Eyewitness Travel Guide Canada

We’re celebrating 150 years since confederation and chances are you’re planning some sort of discover-the-country road trip this summer.

If that’s your vacay this year, you need Eyewitness Travel Guide Canada (DK Publishing, 2017) an awesome entry into their award-winning guidebook collection.

As with all the Eyewitness Travel books, Canada is crammed with iconic imagery, beautiful illustrations and aha facts that invite you to experience Canada through our history, art, architecture and culture.

The first chapter, A Portrait of Canada, sets the stage, offering an overview of the people, places and things that shape who we are. Quick – what’s our official – I said official – national sport? Wake up – it’s lacrosse.

Did you know that the Pronghorn Antelope, the last of its species in North America, can reach a cruising speed of over 75 km an hour? Or that the Great White Polar Bear spends most of its life alone – that’s sad – on the ice pack – that’s cold – hunting seals? Me either.

The second chapter offers The History of Canada, starting from 30,000 BC when nomadic hunters arrived in North America across a land bridge from Asia.

Then, Canada takes you on a tour by region, from Atlantic Canada to British Columbia, finishing in the North including Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Baffin Island.

Canada includes don’t-miss destinations in each chapter; guided walking tours; illustrated 3-D cutaways for major museums; great places to eat and drink and a whole lot more.

Canada is a huge country, let’s face it, so the chapter on Making the Most of Canada is uber useful: seven-day itineraries in each region and two-day itineraries for Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

So pop in in your backpack and get going!

Fierce Kingdom

It’s 4:55 and Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln have stopped by the Dinosaur Discovery Pit at the zoo on their way home from school. She hears several cracks, pops like balloons bursting. Or fireworks. Kids, she thinks. The zoo closes at 5:30. Pack up your stuff, Joan tells Lincoln, we need to go.

But as mother and son hurry to the zoo entrance, Joan discovers they are in the middle of a mass shooting. She picks up Lincoln and starts to run.

For the next three hours – the story takes place in real time – Joan and Lincoln are hunted like animals, their only link to the outside world Joan’s cell, until night falls and she realizes the phone’s light is a liability. Their only hope of escape now: each other.

Fierce Kingdom, Gin Phillips’ latest, is a tight, high-adrenalin read – I dare you to put it down before you’ve turned the last page. But it’s also so much more: a powerful exploration of motherhood and our animal instinct to protect our young at all costs – even if the cost is the lives of others.

How often have you heard me say, “This will be a movie”? Well, Fierce Kingdom will be a blockbuster. Trust me.

The Child

Journalist Kate Waters spots a news snippet in the local paper: a long-buried baby’s body has been uncovered at a demolition site in a gentrifying section of London. She sets out to give the baby a name – and what she discovers is a connection to a decades-old story about a newborn stolen from the maternity ward, and a maze of secrets that will change the lives of three women forever.

Fiona Barton’s The Child – her debut novel The Widow was a runaway best seller last year – is a smart, well-crafted whodunit that keeps you guessing right up till the end. Barton is a journalist and her story telling is not only straightforward and hyperbole-free, her portraiture rings true, probably because of her journalist’s eye for the small details that bring a story to life.

Like all good crime novels, the what keeps you turning the page. But it’s the why – and what that says about the human condition – that makes The Child a compelling read. Barton posits that none of us is ever who we seem to be; we all have secrets and secret selves we don’t want exposed because we will be unmasked as petty or unkind or shameful – or worse – and our lives will be destroyed altogether.

And that makes settling back with The Child the perfect way to while away a quiet afternoon on the deck, dock or a bench in the park.

Theft By Finding Diaries

David Sedaris is a brilliant humourist/essayist who both surprises and delights, often in the same sentence. His genius is his ability to share his observations of everyday people and the weird stuff they say and do, without passing judgment or sounding superior. In fact, the joke is often on him.

Sedaris’ latest, Theft by Finding Diaries 1977 – 2002, is a window into his journey from homeless, drug taking, family drop out with a weakness for International House of Pancakes and an inability to hold down a real job, to one of the world’s most accomplished humourists.

Theft by Finding – the first of a two-volume set – begins in 1977, as 21-year-old Sedaris hitch hikes around America, sleeping in a dried-out riverbed, on a golf course and under a bridge, and working at odd jobs – think washing dishes, picking and packing fruit – and ends in 2002 when he moves to England.

The book is an edited record of the people, places and experiences that caught Sedaris’ attention along the way. But I confess, I didn’t find the diaries nearly as insightful or entertaining as his other work. Maybe that’s because his stories are carefully crafted, for all their apparent effortlessness; here, the stories don’t read like authentic diary entries (I think the editing part is to blame) but because they are pretending to be diaries, they haven’t been elegantly written either.

That said, Sedaris doesn’t think you’ll read the book straight through.

“I don’t really expect anyone to read this from start to finish,” he explains in the Introduction. “It seems more like the sort of thing you might dip in and out of, like someone else’s yearbook or a collection of jokes.”

And that’s good enough for me.

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by LEZ AUTRES

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