Alone in Berlin

Wartime resistance always makes for powerful reading or viewing. These stories stir up deep feelings in us, especially if they are true.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (book and DVD) is a hot item at the library these days. It tells of a zookeeper and said wife in Warsaw, Poland who save the lives of hundreds of Jewish people. A number of years back everyone was talking about Schindler’s List (again, book and DVD) The movie won the best picture Oscar and many other awards in 1993. It’s the story of a German businessman in Poland, who although initially not a sympathetic character, goes on to save 1,000 Jewish people.

So that brings me to another great DVD about wartime resistance: Alone in Berlin.

Based on a true story Alone in Berlin, tells of two working-class Berliners, Otto and Anna Quangel. When their only son is killed in the war they turn to resistance. Their method: they write post cards with anti-Nazi slogans and then leave them all over the city. Of course, the post cards come to the attention of the police and Gestapo who hunt for those responsible. The movie is taut and suspenseful as the Quangels continue their campaign, even as the authorities zero in on them. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but it does not end well for the Quangels.

Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson star. Thompson is excellent, as always. But I think Gleeson outshines her in his portrayal of stoic determination.

Watching the movie made me wonder a number of things. Leaving anti-Nazi post cards all over town seems rather futile to me. The Quangels surely didn’t believe they could challenge the Nazi regime by such means. So why did they do it? Why did they knowingly risk their lives? You also have to wonder how each one of us would act if we lived under a similar regime.

The movie is based on the book Every Man Dies Alone by the German writer Hans Fallada (1893-1947) and both are available at WPL.

-Penny D.

Best school year ever

I’ve stopped actually saying these words out loud, “this is going to be the best school year ever”, but I still secretly think them.  And every year I start planning for making it the best school year ever by looking at books from the library that will help me to better organize our home or cook the perfect meals and snacks that will  help to tamp down the chaos.  This year we will have two kids in high school so you would think that I have either pulled my act together by now or raised the white flag and given up.  I have not.  Every July I begin again with fresh enthusiasm and new books – I just don’t say the words aloud any longer as I have teens at home and they make fun of me.

Although I didn’t use this book for planning for the new school year it did turn out to be a real treat to have at home over the summer.  When the kids were just hanging around it was nice to have this one on the kitchen counter for them to flip through.  They never did grab a cutting board and try any of the more ambitious chicken recipes but the ones that involved ingredients we have in the pantry or fridge were popular, like DIY Hummus (so much less expensive and delicious than the one from the grocery store) and the variations on plain cheese quesadillas.  It also inspired  them to request a few trips to the store for meals that we hadn’t tried before which is what I always ache for – someone please suggest something new for dinner.  This kind of inspiration for a quick and easy meal can come in handy during the busy school season.  A book like this looks like it is made for kids but it can be a perfect choice for anyone.  Give it a try.  We loved it – maybe your kids will use it too.  Or just look at it for a few minutes and give you some moments of peace while you are cooking.

Some years I have become too caught up in making a system out of the back-to-school planning and that has been my downfall.  Well, one of the things that led to my downfall.  There are several problems in trying to make it the best school year ever and one is taking the fun out of it.   In times of trouble like this it is always a good idea to turn to Jenny Rosenstratch, blogger and author of three lovely books about food and life.  Her most recent book, How to celebrate everything, reminds us that there are little moments to treasure in the busy days of getting meals on the table, even on Thanksgiving.  She also gives great tips on how to cope with all of the regular events that come at you in a school year – bake sales, Halloween, sleepovers, birthday parties and making the perfect celebration cake.  Jenny’s book will give you the inspiration to cook beautifully when you can manage it, love your family, enjoy your home and sneak in a few treats once in a while.  And, she reminds everyone to give yourself a break during the school year so you can rest easy with less pangs about what might have been.  Good-bye guilt!  Oh, and if you are having trouble sleeping any night, just turn down the brightness on your device and spend some time with Jenny on her site right here – http://www.dinneralovestory.com

Speaking of great sites you might want to puruse here is a sensational Canadian one to love.  The Sweet Potato Chronicles authors (former magazine editors) have spectacular images and recipes on their site and came out with a cookbook in 2013 that just rocked my world.  I can’t keep track of the times I have checked out this cute cookbook with the image of a little plastic giraffe toy on the cover.  Well, just in time for the 2017-2018 school year they have given us their version of a best school year ever cheat sheet.  It is a little thin on the planning side of things but it more than makes up for it in valuable recipe suggestions broken into sections that work for most families – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats.  Within those sections they have been sensible enough to know that every family has challenges in a busy week so they include make-ahead meals.  Snacks are broken into two sections – one that can be enjoyed at school another for those that need to be enjoyed at home where food allergens are not a concern.  However, their Chocolate snack balls are incredible, look like Timbits but are filled with pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, oh my.  Not a nut in sight so eat them at home and at school.   It’s a colourful cookbook with practical suggestions that are relevant to the Canadian market.  I just love it.  They might be a little impractical in suggesting that we will all clean out our pantries and replace the containers with lovely matching jars but they are magazine editors so we can forgive them for thinking that we might ever find that possible.  I am trying to get through a school year here,  I don’t have time to find matching jars.

One simply gorgeous book I found when I was trying to streamline our planning for the ‘new year’ is this 2017 release from a former recipe tester from Saveur magazine.  Personally, I would like to be a taster at Saveur, but I don’t think that is a real job and I looked very carefully at their web site just to be sureIn any case she has put her skills to good use in One pan and done : hassle-free meals from the oven to your table and the title does not lie.  She provides some of the best instructions I have ever seen and, something I rarely see in cookbooks, she does this with a fantastic sense of humour.  The recipes are diverse, from cozy classics to things you would see in a hipster café, but she admits that some of the things she has included weren’t popular with her family at first or that she had to tweak them as she went to make them more family-friendly.  This sounds familiar.  We have made several of the meals in this book – including the cover recipe – and, they looked nothing like the pictures but were so popular at our house that I have actually written them onto recipe cards so that I can make them again.  Just imagine.  This doesn’t have the cachet of being a book marketed to families – there are no toys displayed on the cover – but it will make the cook in the family happy and save you time.  That makes everyone happier, I think. 

Okay, I’ve changed my mind.  I’ve read some fantastic books, I’ve made some good plans, sourced some new ingredients, tried many great recipes and I have the weight of hundreds more on the shelves to back me up.  I’m saying it – this is going to be the “best school year ever”.

-Penny M.

The legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright

Hey Canada, you’re not the only one celebrating the big 150 this year.

There’s Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of Little House on the Prairie) and French chemist Marie Curie.

And then there’s someone else whose work I admire tremendously: American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).  I think he can justifiably be called a genius (he certainly thought so!). Heck, he even inspired a popular song. Can you name it?

WPL has quite a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright material. I started off with two DVDs, The Homes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Now I’m on to books and looking at great big beautiful pictures of his amazing buildings. I recommend The Life and Works of Frank Lloyd Wright by Maria Costantino, Frank Lloyd Wright: a Visual Encyclopedia by Iain Thomson and Frank Lloyd Wright: the Houses .

I especially like Wright’s so-called Prairie houses (built with long horizontal planes to harmonize with the American Midwest landscape). Although these houses are more than 100 years old, even today they manage to look cool and sleek and modern.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. I visited the Martin house in Buffalo a number of years ago. More recently, I saw his first home/architect’s studio in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. That was a big wow moment for me. I hope one day I can visit two of his most celebrated buildings: the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Fallingwater, a home built over a waterfall in rural Pennsylvania (both pictured above).

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Answer to question above: “ So long, Frank Lloyd Wright” by Simon & Garfunkel from their hugely successful Bridge Over Troubled Water LP. Gold star if you got the (W)right answer.

-Penny D.

A quiet bravery

So Much Love is exactly what I have for this novel. I read it quickly in a few days, walking around the house with it; holding it in one head while I brushed my teeth and propping it up in the kitchen while I made dinner. I couldn’t put it down. It is about a horrible crime, but it is not a thriller, not in any way you would expect. It reminds you of Emma Donoghue’s Room for a chapter in the beginning and then it completely changes it’s course, for which I was glad. There is no mystery. This novel is about what happens after, to the victims and the people who love them. There is nothing sensational about the crime. This book is about simple lives and the small, everyday things that keep us connected to each other. Not the holidays or major events, but the tiny acts that make up our homes and our families.

The writing is gorgeous. Every chapter has a voice of another player in the story, which reminded me also of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterage (read it also if you haven’t). We read about how the crimes affect so many people and how strong their love remains for the victims. It is about resilience and it is quiet and brave. It is the first novel written by Canadian Rebecca Rosenblum and I cannot wait to read her next one!

-Sarah C.

 

 

This Beautiful Fantastic

Warning! The film, This Beautiful Fantastic, contains NO violence, coarse language or sexuality. However, it does contain some lovely moments of whimsicality threaded throughout an age old story.

Bella Brown, who was abandoned at birth and raised in an orphanage, becomes enchanted with literature and longs to write a children’s book. As a young adult with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, she lands a job at the local library ruled by an overbearing librarian who is not a fan of Bella’s gentle and inquisitive demeanor. Her next door neighbour, a curmudgeon of a man, holds the same opinion of Bella and thus, it feels like the forces of darkness are conspiring against this sweet woman.

One of the regular library patrons is a man who describes himself as an inventor and his quirkiness and innocence touches Bella in a way she has had no experience with. This ray of sunshine is marred by events unfolding at home. Bella, who is terrified of the ‘great outdoors’, receives a visit from her landlord and discovers that she needs to do some serious work on the gardens on the property that she is occupying or risk eviction.

The grumpy fellow next door offers some advice to Bella on how to get the garden into a reasonable state and it is through these encounters that their relationship begins to grow and blossom like the very garden she is trying to create. We get a glimpse of the glorious parkland that the neighbour has developed over the years and the imagery of the flowers is stunning. While Bella’s horticultural efforts are being rewarded, her love life takes a turn which upsets the apple cart. With the support of her neighbour and his loyal employee, Bella begins the healing journey that will help her in her quest to write the children’s book she dreams of.

This is a simple story but beautifully filmed and terrifically heart-warming.

-Nancy C.

A life of loss

I always feel a little sad when I see a severely neglected and abandoned house. I wonder about the people who might have lived there, the joys and sorrows they might have experienced within its walls, and how they might feel to see their former home in such a state.

In Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage, the main character becomes obsessed with the dilapidated cottage near his great-aunt’s house, especially after he sees the ghost of a missing boy. The cottage was dubbed “Grief Cottage” by the locals after a mother, father, and 14 year old boy disappeared from it when Hurricane Hazel hit. Their bodies were never found.

Marcus, the 11-year-old main character, has had to deal with a fair amount of grief of his own. In fact, the title could easily be a metaphor of his own life. He had already suffered losses before his mother is killed in a car accident. Marcus is sent to live with his only remaining relative, his great-aunt Charlotte, who is a talented but reclusive artist that lives on a small island in South Carolina.

Marcus reminds me of Disney’s Pollyanna, only without her eternal optimism. Godwin has written this character to be extremely sensitive to others and wiser than his years: the result produces a profound effect on those around him. In many ways, Marcus is as neglected and abandoned as Grief Cottage, and I found myself bracing for the hurricane that eventually releases inside him. Grief Cottage is a good read but not a happy read: even the positive twists near the end are tinged with loss.

Overall, I give Grief Cottage a 4 out of 5 stars.

-Sandy W.

 

Join us at a book club conversation

Please join us for a book club conversation at any of our meetings. No need to sign up – you can just drop in!  This month we are discussing the One Book One Community (OBOC) selection – Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady.  To learn more about OBOC and upcoming related events go to http://oboc.ca

Monday, August 14 at 7 p.m. – Main Library Auditorium

Thursday, August 17 at 1:30 p.m. – Main Library Boardroom

 Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

How far would a son go to escape his past? And how far will a father go to help him?

With his wicked grin and confident swagger, navy musician Jack Lewis evokes Frank Sinatra whenever he takes the stage. While stationed in Newfoundland during the Second World War, Jack meets Vivian Fanshawe, a local girl who has never stepped off the Rock. They marry against the wishes of Vivian’s family—hard to say what it is, but there’s something about Jack they just don’t like—and as the war ends, the couple travels to Windsor, Ontario, to meet Jack’s family.

But when Vivian encounters Jack’s mother and brother, everything she thought she knew about her husband—his motives, his honesty, even his race—is called into question. And as the truth about the Lewis family tree emerges, life for Vivian and Jack will never be the same.

Told from the perspective of three unforgettable characters—Vivian, the innocent newlywed; Jack, her beguiling and troubled husband; and William Henry, Jack’s stoic father—this extraordinary novel explores the cost of prejudice on generation after generation. Steeped in the jazz and big band music of the 1930s and 1940s, this is an arresting, heart-rending novel about fathers and sons, love and denial, and race relations in a world on the cusp of momentous change.

You can find more information about WPL Book Clubs here or contact Christine Brown at 519-886-1310 ext. 146.

 

Gifted: keep the Kleenex close

Gifted is a touching story about family (in all its many, complicated forms), loss, forgiveness and helping children reach their potential in the various aspects of their lives. It’s the story about a young girl named Mary whose uncle is dedicated to raising her to be a normal child. But Mary isn’t normal. She’s a math prodigy whose family has more than their fair share of baggage.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie but picked it up at WPL because, let’s be honest, Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer are in a movie together. Did I mention Chris Evans? But I digress … I knew very little about this movie before popping it in my DVD player but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became engaged in the lives of this family.

This film has got a lot of heart, a touch of humour and, like I mentioned, a truly stellar cast. We have Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans as Frank Adler, the uncle who is trying to do his best to raise his young and brilliant niece so that she leads a normal life. I enjoyed seeing a new, tender side to Evans and I liked that he got to exercise his acting chops more than his biceps in this movie.

gifted-648673583-largeThen you have Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who is always captivating and could play a potted palm that would leave me slack jawed in awe of her. The only person in this film who can hold a candle to Ms Spencer may be young McKenna Grace who plays Mary Adler, the 7-year-old child at the heart of the movie. Wow, can this girl act. Grace is as talented as her eye lashes are long. Her portrayal of the precocious, brilliant young girl is wonderfully natural, touching and believable. She vacillates between childish innocence, a spunky attitude, a wee case of potty mouth and shows viewers Mary’s extraordinary brilliance which is well beyond her years. The deep connection between Evans and Grace comes through to the audience and I recommend that viewers keep some Kleenex handy.

The cast of characters also had a complexity to them that I wasn’t expecting. This is a complicated family situation filled with emotion, power struggles and grief. You’ll feel for Frank as he struggles to figure out what is best for Mary in the wake of family upheaval that threatens to damage the bond between them.

Overall, this is a wonderful little movie that is endearing, poignant and shows the complexities of family. You will quickly become wrapped up in the lives of Frank, Mary and even Fred, their one-eyed cat. I highly recommend this movie.

— Laurie P.

New DVD Anticipation

I’m in a state of eager anticipation. I’m really excited about a couple of great new DVDs coming to the library soon.

Thing is, I am not good at waiting. I want those two DVDs, My Cousin Rachel and The Circle, here today—if not yesterday. So in the meantime, I’ve been reading the books the movies are based on.

I was a huge fan of English writer Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) when I was a teenager and scarfed back all of her classics, including My Cousin Rachel. So I was really pleased when a movie version (starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin) came out earlier this year.

WPL does not at present have the book version, but it is on order. However I have my own copy and am currently re-reading this classic novel of suspense.

My-Cousin-Rachel-2017-movie-posterMy Cousin Rachel (published in 1951) is about a young Englishman in Italy who meets and marries his distant cousin Rachel. The man falls mysteriously ill, believing he has been poisoned, and then dies. Rachel then goes back to his estate in Cornwall, England and meets his ward, who (a) finds himself falling in love with her and (b) also falling mysteriously ill. Has Rachel committed the crimes she is suspected of, or is she innocent?

I’m also waiting (none too patiently!) for the release of the DVD The Circle, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It has quite a holds list. So if you are interested, better place that hold now!

I just recently read the book (published in 2013) by Dave Eggers. It’s about a young woman Mae Holland who lands her dream job at The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. At first everything about the organization seems perfect. But slowly questions start to creep in. Questions involving surveillance, privacy, collection of data (who is doing it and for what purpose) and authoritarianism. The Circle is a good read with lots to think about.

— Penny D.

Creative Nonfiction is a term that often gets thrown around in literary discussions, but do any of us really know what it means? I sure didn’t. I often described it as nonfiction that was…creative, or if I was feeling really clever, as nonfiction that was experimental. Needless to say, those definitions would not satisfy any vocab teacher.

Luckily, the internet had the definition I was looking for. On the website for a literary journal called Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind describes creative nonfiction like this:

The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

As I learned more about creative nonfiction, I realized how great this genre is. It’s the perfect bridge for dedicated readers of fiction who find nonfiction boring. I’ve met lots of people who want to expand their reading habits, but find it difficult to slough through some of the heavier (both literally and figuratively) nonfiction titles. If you’re looking to venture to the nonfiction side of the library this summer, then some of the creative nonfiction listed below might be for you.

Whether you’re a lover of nonfiction, or someone who just wants to dip their toe in, I hope this list can serve as an introduction to a genre that has a lot to offer. Happy reading!

Five Creative Nonfiction Books that You Should Check Out at WPL:

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

“David Sedaris tells all in a book that is, literally, a lifetime in the making. For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences. Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world.”

Hannus by Rachel Lebowitz

“Hannus is a creative biography of Ida Hannus, a Finnish-Canadian suffragist and socialist living in Vancouver and in the BC Finnish commune Sointula through the turn of the century to the Cold War. Approached from different angles, employing a collage of techniques, Hannus is a constantly shifting – and consistently engaging – narrative that raises questions about the reliability of history and biography.”

Getting out of town by book and bike by Kent Thompson

“Getting Out of Town by Book and Bike is a collection of popular essays which take an often comic look at how reading and bicycling both transport people to places unknown. Thompson introduces the reader to travel writing by the nineteenth-century bicycle adventurer Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg and Canadian rock star Neil Peart, explains why he visits small-town libraries in search of copies of Anna Karenina, and ponders the social significance of the Tim Hortons coffee shops which dot the Canadian landscape. Writing in the spirit of James E. Starrs’ The Literary Cyclist, Thompson also contemplates the role of the bicycle in works by writers from George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells to Elizabeth Bishop and Ernest Buckler. On the whole, it’s an offbeat and entertaining book of curiosity. George Elliott Clarke calls this book “a cool meditation on the Zen of cycling, a zesty memoir about growing up in the rural Maritimes, and an ‘off-duty’ scholar’s energetic studies of a host of writers.”

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

“This book has two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks–writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer. Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles–and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.”

Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir by Lorna Crozier

“A volume of poignant recollections by one of Canada’s most celebrated poets, Small Beneath the Sky is a tender, unsparing portrait of a family and a place. Lorna Crozier vividly depicts her hometown of Swift Current, with its one main street, two high schools, and three beer parlors–where her father spent most of his evenings. She writes unflinchingly about the grief and shame caused by poverty and alcoholism. At the heart of the book is Crozier’s fierce love for her mother, Peggy. The narratives of daily life–sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking–are interspersed with prose poems. Lorna Crozier approaches the past with a tactile sense of discovery, tracing her beginnings with a poet’s precision and an open heart.”

-Jenna H.

*All book synopses were taken from the Encore catalogue.