A story for all ages

The Hate You Give is classified as Young Adult but it is a story for all ages, not only for it’s theme but for its timeliness. Starr Carter is a black teen whose parents, a nurse and an ex-con store owner, have decided that she and her step-brother Seven need to go to a ‘white’ school’ in order to escape the perceived hopelessness of education offered in their home district. Being the only black girl at her school, she learns at an early age how to be black in a white world, meaning black enough to be cool but not black enough to generate racial tension.

The story begins with Starr and her long-time friend Khalil running out of a neighbourhood party after shots have been fired. Khalil offers to drive Starr home but en route, the unimaginable happens. Their car is stopped by a white police officer who ends up shooting and mortally wounding Khalil.

As the news goes viral, Starr’s neighbourhood erupts. Starr’s identity as the witness to the shooting is not made public due to concerns for her safety and consequently, she must deal with the horror of what she has experienced mostly alone. Her school friends have no concept of what she has experienced and her friends from home are caught up in the protests for justice to be served.

Agonizingly, Starr is faced with the decision of going public and telling the real story of what happened, thereby putting herself and her family at risk, or allowing the police and the media to portray the cop as a hero and her best friend as a drug dealer who brought this on himself.

The backdrop of this narrative is the gang culture that runs rampant in Starr’s neighbourhood and the death grip that the King Lords have on everyone. Sadly, Starr’s step-brother is the son of King, the ruthless leader of the gang, and Seven’s loyalty to his mother and sisters is tested by the violence that permeates all aspects of their lives.

And yet in spite of the violence and hatred, a thread of love and loyalty permeates throughout the family and the neighbourhood, both large and small, bringing the reader the slightest hope that this madness will soon end.

-Nancy C.

For the love of the game

The first time we step into the arena each season I say “I love the smell of the ice” and I really do.  I think that it smells clean and familiar and it reminds me of the happiness we have every year as our daughters play hockey. I know that some families have mixed feelings about their seasons but ours have been filled with rewards, despite the early mornings, incredibly cold temperatures, the absolutely horrible drives (on snowy roads) to arenas that seem to be deliberately hidden as you drive to the small town you are trying to find, and occasional bad behaviour in the stands and on the ice.  So, when a new book comes out that features the sport of hockey I find those hard to resist because reading about this sport just feels cozy to me even though it is a sport based on me constantly sitting or standing in a cold arena. I do skip over some of the more complicated statistics (so, I skip over all of the statistics) and focus on the story behind each book but they always provide entertaining reading, especially during the colder months.

Earlier this year we received copies of a wonderful biography of David William Bauer, known to people in Waterloo as Father David Bauer, the Basilian priest and teacher, but for so many in the hockey world he is a respected coach and hockey innovator. When I first met my husband and got to know the K-W area I would drive along Father David Bauer Drive and was fascinated to learn the story of this incredible man, born in Kitchener in 1925 to a family of eleven children, who started his hockey career as a little skater on a backyard rink. Finally, in this book written by hockey fan Greg Oliver, we have a complete history of the origins of Father David’s passion for the game and his strategy for turning his students into good people and good hockey players. It’s a chance to take a trip down memory lane – into the old arenas and traditions of the past – while you see how the first national hockey team was built.  This is a treat of a book with so many delightful mentions of streets, people and businesses in the area.  It’s worth reading twice, once for the hockey stories and once to learn more about our region.

Another hockey book published this year will take you from Jamaica to northern Ontario, then to Toronto… and then to so many hockey arenas you will lose track.  It’s written by Karl Subban, father of P. K, Malcolm and Jordan. At the moment that I am typing these words he has sons playing with the Nashville Predators, the Vegas Golden Knights and one signed and drafted by the Vancouver Canucks (but currently playing with their AHL affiliate – the Comets). With three hockey players in the family you would expect many of his examples to centre around the sport, and they do, but Karl Subban also shares wonderful memories of coming to Canada as a boy, finding his way as a novice teacher and following his path as an school administrator in the busy world of the Toronto District School Board.  It’s a quick read, with the author’s strong personality shining through, and I felt like the book was a great blend of personal story plus his perspective on parenting and the world of hockey.  I had always been a P.K. Subban fan (although never a Habs fan) and now I am a Karl Subban fan.

At WPL we aren’t just fans of books, we also have big sports fans among the staff here and it is absolutely clear where loyalties fall. Team hats or sweaters are occasionally worn and there are heated discussions after pivotal games, as the promising seasons begin, and as playoffs begin and end.  Some years library sports fans see their dreams realized and then.. there are the Toronto Maple Leafs fans.  I’ve just finished reading a book that should be required reading for those who cheer for Toronto, it has been so worth waiting for, the autobiography of Doug Gilmour. This book is such a blast to read the pages almost turn themselves. You just can’t stop reading it. From the first pages of Killer: My Life in Hockey you know you are reading a book written by someone who feels lucky that they were ever able to tie on skates. Each little tidbit he chooses to share, whether it is about his life as a player, coach or from his family life, feel genuine.  It’s like sitting down beside him in his local restaurant and having a chat. Some of his family stories made my heart ache and the risks he took as a kid and the pranks he played made me feel fortunate that he wasn’t my kid – it had a bit of the roller coaster feel for me. A fabulous hockey read and a tribute to his parents which really feels good at this time of year.

Any one of these books would be a perfect choice for someone who is sitting in a cold arena, clutching their thermos of hot tea, while their own hockey player work their hardest on the ice, occasionally shooting the puck at the boards directly where you are sitting just to scare you. Maybe that is just the players that I know?  Or, reward yourself with one of these fantastic books after you get home and enjoy a second cup of tea. If you are looking for books about hockey players, coaches, the history of hockey or maybe you need directions to the arena in that small town you can stop by the library – we are here to help you.  Even if you cheer for Montreal.

-Penny M.


The Alice Network

The Alice Network unfolds along two timelines, one being 1915, the early years of the Great War and the other being post-WWII 1947. The 1915 story is based on real characters from WWI, a fact that I didn’t realize until I finished the book. I am a fan of historical fiction and this one did not disappoint. The unfolding of the lives of the women who were part of the real-life Alice spy network was fascinating. The patriotism that propelled them into this kind of dangerous work and the bravery they demonstrated day after day in their attempts to bring down the German war machine are hard to comprehend by someone who has never had their own existence challenged in such a way. I found myself wondering how I would have managed myself given the same circumstances.

One of the main characters in the 1947 segment is a 19-year-old girl from a wealthy New York family who has broken the chains of her parent’s bondage and has fled to France to solve the mystery of her cousin who went missing during WWII. She attempts to persuade Eve Gardiner, a war-weary former member of the 1915 Alice Network, to help her on her quest. Eve agrees to accompany Charlotte, ‘Charlie’, to France but not for the purpose that Charlie has envisaged. During their journey, the story of Eve’s experience as a spy unfolds and a thread of connection is drawn between the two women.

Eve, as a young woman of 22, is determined to do more with her life that work in the steno pool and when she is approached by Captain Cameron, who recruits candidates for the English spy network, she jumps at the chance to be part of the action. After a mere 2 weeks of training, she is sent to the field where she is met by Lili, the leader of the Alice Network, who trains her on what it really means to be a spy. Hired to be a  waitress in a restaurant owned by Rene Bordelon, a narcissistic and exceedingly greedy man, she begins her spy work in a most intense and compelling manner.

Eve at 54 is war-weary and broken by her experiences 30 years in the past. Charlie is repelled by her officious and offensive attitude and behaviour but continues to pressure Eve to help her find her missing niece, Rose. That search takes them on a journey of self-discovery and the devastating unraveling of the past that threatens to do them both in.

It doesn’t hurt the story at all that a handsome Scot, Finn Kilgore,  who happens to be Eve’s ‘minder and driver’, accompanies the pair on their journey. He is a supportive character but not a ‘rescuer’ of the women who are ‘rescuers’ in their own right.

This is a relatively easy read in spite of some content that at times can be most disconcerting.

-Nancy C.

Wonder is truly wonderful

With the newly released movie Wonder in the spotlight these days, I thought it was important to remind everyone that this heartwarming movie with its A-list cast is based on a very popular book series.

One of my all-time favourite books, to be exact.

Written in 2012 by R.J Palacio, Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a 5th grader who has severe craniofacial deformities who goes from being home schooled to attending public school. The story is told by Auggie and five other characters which sounds like it could be confusing but Palacio gives her characters clear voices which give readers insight into how Auggie influences those around him.

Auggie is an inspiring, funny and strong main character who will stay with readers for a long time. He’s a Star Wars loving boy with an extraordinary face who has a great support system at home. His parents and sister have instilled in him a strong sense of self and he uses humour to deal with other people’s issues with his face.

This book could very easily do a tailspin into a very woeful read about bullying but I found it uplifting and I loved its important message:

“Be kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

Simple, yet oh so important.

This is a must read for anyone from ages nine to ninety-nine. It’s about bullying, the true meaning of friendship and doing what is right, not necessarily what is the easiest. I adored this book and still think of Auggie five years after first reading it. Having yet to see the film, my hope is that Hollywood does this much loved book justice in its tone, intention and feeling that Palacio so eloquently imparted to her readers back in 2012.

Wonder is truly wonderful.

-Laurie P.

While you’re waiting…

Hillary Rodham Clinton is not the only person searching for the answer to the question “ what happened?” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as her recently published memoir was our most requested book in recent weeks. It looks like WPL customers also want that fly-on-the-wall feeling as she leads the reader through what must be one of the most disappointing moments of her political life. The question is what would be a good book to read while you are waiting to read Hillary’s book, What Happened, or to read after you have finished it – in that post-reading glow you have when a book is finished and you want to continue your reading journey on that theme. Our shelves are bursting with books that can supplement that interest.

You will find other books in our catalogue written about Hillary Clinton and you could dip your toes right back into her own writing with her 2014 book Hard Choices where she provides readers with her perspective on her role as the Secretary of State in the years 2009 to 2013. She wrote this book cautiously, knowing that a presidential run might be in her future, without giving away too many secrets although she is frank about her discouraging loss to Barack Obama in 2008. Hillary recently said that her defeat in the 2016 election would have felt entirely different if it had been to any other Republican candidate and it could be interesting to compare her reactions in these two memoirs.

Maybe you could just take a break from the U.S. election (it’s probably a good idea when you can) and dig into the lives of other remarkable women through their biographical writing. Although Hillary Clinton was born in 1947 and Joni Mitchell in 1943 they have much in common – both have had long careers in the spotlight and faced criticism for making unpopular decisions. In her own words is actually a combination of interviews, photographs and reproductions of Joni’s paintings and could possibly inspire you to take a trip to browse our CD shelves as well. A change of pace and a chance to listen to some fantastic music.

How about a recent memoir by Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif?  It’s still a memoir about a powerful woman but it is the transformational story of one from a modest family who became frustrated by the constrictions of having to be chauffeured around despite having a car in the garage and a license she had obtained while working in the U.S.  In her book, Daring to drive : a Saudi woman’s awakening, she shares her experiences of growing up in a culture where a guardian’s permission was required for virtually all decisions she made in her life and how this helped to transform her into the face of the Women2Drive movement. In September of this year that longstanding ban was overturned and Manal turned to Twitter to say that she is working on her next campaign which is to end guardianship laws with a hashtag #IamMyOwnGuardian.

It’s always a good idea to turn to books from home when you are in the mood for a good read. There really is nothing more exciting than when an author references a street name that you are familiar with or you read that they are eating in a restaurant or visiting a hotel that you have been to. Reading Vij Vikram’s 2017 memoir, Vij, is like worldwide travel and cooking inspiration in book form.  lara Hughes is so relatable and can always bring people to their feet whether you are cheering for her on your TV screen, listening to her on the CBC, or reading her 2015 story about her struggle with depression. You could also learn more about our own Canadian politicians with Elizabeth May’s Who we are: reflections on my life and Canada or Tom Mulcair’s Strength of conviction.  It might be a good time for us to reflect on the future of our own country now that we have read, or are going to read, the thoughts of Hillary Clinton.  Using the autobiographical writing of any person can be a fantastic opportunity to sort through your own life – consider where you are going and think about where you have been.  You might have your own ‘what happened’ moment, with or without the question mark.

-Penny M.

On the road again

The library’s music collection has been coming in handy lately as I’ve been taking quite a few solo road trips and the music available on the radio has become repetitive when I hear it for hours each week.  I do try to find new stations to listen to as I drive and also rely on CBC for much of my in-car entertainment but some of their content can be a bit ‘unusual’ depending on the time of day. Anna Maria Tremonti can usually be a lock for at least 45 minutes of good listening but recently she was talking to people about the pros and cons of eating human placenta and the producers chose to include audiotape of how it could be prepared on a grill!  I had to turn it off and use my carefully planned WPL road trip music collection instead.

Here is the beauty of using the WPL collection. It contains music for every one of my mercurial moods which can change so quickly depending on the weather – if it is sunny I sometimes feel like a deep dive into the music of my teen years and pull out a wonderful Greatest Hits collection we have from the Cure. If the 401 is rainy then I might feel like singing something a bit less bright but still from the same era and naturally gravitate to Morrissey and the thrill of “What difference does it make” from their self-titled album The Smiths. It’s just lovely stuff for a gloomy day. And I never have a problem with a bit of The Clash. The voice of Mick Jones is not weather dependent. I just grab the jewel case from my pile on the passenger seat, pop it in,  and hit ‘play’.

Our music collection allows me to go back to the ‘80s, stock up on the ‘70s with classics that my oldest brother liked to sing, maybe a bit of Jim Croce’s “Time in a bottle” and “Bad, bad Leroy brown”, or even grab some CDs that remind me of the music my mother talks about when she reminisces about dating our father. She has a great story about going to see Bill Haley and His Comets when they came to play in Hamilton.  I always imagine her wearing a lovely dress with a massive skirt and I know, because she has told me the story a few times, that our father and his friends were wearing their nicest suits and had their hair slicked back.  Talk about a great memory.  So, when I play a CD like Bill Haley’s, you know that it makes the car ride go more quickly and it doesn’t really matter what the weather or the traffic is like.

Another favourite section for me in the music collection is soundtracks because, occasionally, I am coming home from a long day in the later hours and I am not at my best and need a melodious boost. The only thing that can keep me energized on those days is great music and the offerings of CBC later in the evening tend to become fairly sedate and pop radio is absolutely disappointing.  Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are fabulous in the daylight but cannot help me at all once the sun goes down. I turn to Broadway musicals every time. West Side Story is enjoying it’s 60th anniversary this year and I think this adds an extra snap when I sing my favourite tunes from the driver’s seat of my little car. Or, sometimes I imagine that I am Gordon MacRae just singing my heart out in the middle of the fields of Oklahoma. I’m not really picky about what I sing and sometimes I’ll choose to play a great compilation album that we have on the shelves called Somewhere over the rainbow because it has all of the greatest voices – Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Betty Hutton, Louis Jourdan, Bing Crosby and Jane Powell – and you can just play it on shuffle and never hit a bad song.  morrisseyS’ wonderful.

And, we get new music every week here at the library so, if I am in the mood to play recently released music by the contemporaries of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift I can take them on the road with me too.  I’m pretty sure that I’ll still prefer Fred & Judy over Ed & Taylor but I’m glad that the WPL music collection gives me the choice.

-Penny M.

Late to the party

Over the past few weeks I have been happily catching up on some books I’ve been meaning to read for years. News of upcoming titles from the authors finally gave me the push. That and my friend Emma Straub (she’s not really my friend, but she would be right?) is a brilliant writer (Modern Lovers, The Vacationers) who owns a bookstore named Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, US and I take her recommendations very seriously.

Jennifer Egan – Oh my goodness! I finished reading her last novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad and I honestly was reading slowly at the end to keep me from finishing it. It’s a novel written in linking short stories and it’s so, so good! I think I’d been putting it off, to be honest, because I’d always heard how great it was and was worried I’d be disappointed.  Not disappointed!  Egan’s new novel, Manhattan Beach, just hit the shelves and her backlist includes many others.

Meg Wolitzer – I am halfway through The Interestings, her latest novel (she also has an impressive backlist) and I’m smitten. It’s a big, thick novel about teenage friends and the paths their lives take, together and apart in New York. She’s brilliant and funny and I love her too. Her new book, The Female Persuasion comes out next year.

Donna Tartt – Yes, only now have I read The Goldfinch in all of it’s 800 page glory! I picked it up the first day my kids went back to school and walked around with it so much for the next week you would have thought I have gained some muscle. It was amazing, I wasn’t disappointed at all. It’s the story of a boy’s life after losing his mother. I’m not going to tell you anything because I went into it blind and think you should too. Tartt also has two other amazing books.

I have also loved this year Grace O’Connell (Be Ready for the Lightning), Rebecca Rosenblum (So Much Love), Maile Meloy (Do Not Become Alarmed) and J. Courtney Sullivan (Saints for all Occasions).

Obviously, I have been reading all women writers these days and I think I’m going to continue to do so. In the words of one of my favourite Queen songs, “Don’t stop me now / I’m having such a good time / I’m having a ball!”

-Sarah C.