Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for March

Canadian Gardener’s Guide

Cicero, a Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher, knew a thing or two about what matters in life. “If you have a garden and a library,” he apparently said, “you have everything you need.“

So when the revised and expanded Canadian Gardener’s Guide (DK Publishing, 2019) arrived on my desk I thought, “Well, this beautiful book about gardens is what Cicero was yakking about.”

Whether you’re planning a miniature garden on your terrace or a kitchen garden in your backyard, Canadian Gardener’s Guide is your go-to for goods to create and care for the garden of your dreams.

Starting with the basics, Canadian Gardener’s Guide sets up what plants need to thrive, how to choose the right plants for the right spot, what to look for when you shop for healthy plants and more.

Before you go shopping, though, you need a plan. The Design Your Garden chapter helps you sort out how you want to live in your outdoor space and offers design ideas, sample plans and inspirational garden shots to get you thinking beyond predictable impatiens and marigolds.

Featuring more than 1000 stunning pictures, Canadian Gardener’s Guide covers the A to Z of gardening including new features on cold frame gardening and rain gardens, an on-trend chapter on vegetable gardening, whether you’re planning a plot in a community garden or just want a couple of containers of herbs and tomatoes.

A back-of-the-book catalogue helps you find the perfect plant whether you’re looking for spring perennials, summer climbers or fall shrubs, or need to know what will thrive in a shady corner or a sunbaked border.

Especially useful: Canadian hardiness zones, ratings and a map ‘cause what grows happily in one part of the country will die a slow and painful death in another.

Canadian Gardener's Guide by DK Publishing.
Canadian Gardener’s Guide by DK Publishing.

Birds of Eastern Canada + Birds of Western Canada

So one cold and gloomy day last month, I saw a flock of Canada Geese flying in that Snowbird-y V formation and thought, “What gives? I’m pretty sure they should be in Sarasota right now making a mess of some high-end golf course.”

Well, according to Birds of Eastern Canada, there are two distinct sorts of Canada Geese: migratory birds that breed in northern North America and winter in central and southern North America; and resident birds that live in and around towns year-round. Who knew?

You don‘t have to be an actual birder to enjoy Birds of Eastern Canada and its sister Birds of Western Canada (DK Publishing, 2019).

Both guides feature more than 350 of the birds you’ll find east and west of the 100th Meridian, an invisible north/south barrier around Winnipeg that divides Canadian landscape types. Details include notable characteristics like flight patterns, wingspan and lifespan as well as identification data, behaviour, nest construction and more, all in regular (read, no jargon) English that makes all that info easy to understand. And the moment-in-time photography is jaw dropping.

I’m already dining out on some of the stuff I’ve learned:

  • Bird experts agree that birds evolved from dinosaurs about 150 million years ago but they’re still arguing about exactly which dinosaurs.
  • Those often annoying Canada Geese are monogamous and once they find The One they stay together for life.
  • The Snowy Owl’s wingspan is 41/4 to 51/4 feet. Seriously.
  • The Cattle Egret, a grassland species of heron, is thought to have originated in the short grass prairies of Africa.
  • Blue Jays often raid the nests of smaller birds, eating the eggs and the nestlings. Not nice.

Birds of Western Canada + Birds of Western Canada are great reads to while away a blustery March Sunday afternoon – and, by the way, pretty awesome Mom and Dad Day gifts!

A duo of bird books for Canadian nature lovers.
A duo of bird books for Canadian nature lovers.

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Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for February

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Charlotte’s Top 5 Must Reads for December

Daisy Jones and The Six

You remember Daisy Jones and The Six, right? The iconic 1970’s rock band? Classic rock stations still play Chasing the Night from their chart-busting Aurora album.

They sold out their July 12, 1979 concert in Chicago and then bam! they imploded. Weird – and no one knows why.

Until Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six, an as-told-to memoir of the band, assembled from eight years worth of interviews, the first and only time the band have talked about their split and their history together.

Spoiler alert: this page-turning ode to ‘70s pop culture is pure fiction.

Written documentary style – the narrative is all quotes – the plot centres on the complex push/pull relationship between The Six’s lead singer Billy Dunne, recovering addict and committed husband and father, and sexy, self-absorbed 70s party girl Daisy Jones. The Six were a pretty good band, but when Daisy joined she catapulted them to super stardom – and changed the band’s chemistry for good and for bad.

Daisy Jones and The Six is a clever, intelligent and super smart story that captures the zeitgeist of the ‘70s with all its excesses, the Big Three being of course, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

This one will keep you turning pages well passed lights out.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker

Damon Young’s memoir in essays is brilliant.

If his name doesn’t ring a bell, check him out: he’s the cofounder and editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas, an award-winning blog about pop culture, race, and relationships; a senior editor at The Root, an online magazine focusing on black news, opinions, politics and culture; a columnist for GQ; and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN . . . I could go on but you get the point – he is a big deal.

For Young, living while Black is an extreme sport. The question, “Did this happen because I’m black?” is on continuous loop. “And it is, sometimes, when necessary, a bone-vibrating celebration of all the blackness and all the life delivered from America’s faithful and undeviating efforts to kill us,” he writes.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker explores the “perpetual surreality” of being black in America. It’s about masculinity, white supremacy, insecurities, race relations, love, parenthood and less weighty issues like why bacon is a dust up.

The essays are dark, emotionally honest and introspective, but also often hilarious. My favourite: Bomb-Ass Poetry. In college, Young tells us, he started writing poetry to get the hustle on a girl named Tracey. When it became clear he was not very good at this, he hopped on Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive, cutting and pasting and messing a bit with the lines. He didn’t get the girl.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young.

A Good Wife

Samra Zafar’s memoir, written with Meg Masters, is a remarkable study in courage, strength and the invincible power of the human spirit.

Zafar grew up in Ruwais, a city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, in a Muslim household where education was prized, and girls could become anything they wanted to be.

Zahar and her three sisters attended a co-ed private school; she captained the girls’ cricket team; edited the school paper (and assigned herself the sports column); went to the mall unchaperoned; and debated what she would study at university.

All that changed when she was 17 and was married to a stranger 10 years older. Zahar followed her husband to Canada, leaving behind her family, friends – and her future.

Despite what her husband had promised her, there would be no university. She was a wife now, a prisoner in her husband’s home, expected to cater to her in-laws and do as she was told.

Suffering years of emotional and physical abuse but refusing to give up or give in, Zafar planned her escape, taking her two young daughters with her.

With no education, no job and no money, Zafar walked away, and with the support of friends began to build her own life, working multiple jobs to look after her girls as she attended the University of Toronto, receiving dozens of awards and scholarships and graduating as the top student.

Today, Samra Zafar is an international speaker, two-time TEDx presenter, human rights activist, scholar, author and social entrepreneur, a testament to what is possible when you refuse to give up on your dreams.

Samra Zafar’s A Good Wife.
Samra Zafar’s A Good Wife.

Written by Charlotte Empey with Illustrations by Mark Scheibmayr

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