Last Resort

Marissa Stapley’s The Last Resort is a character-driven story that focuses on the crumbling relationships of several couples who attend a two week relationship boot camp at a secluded, luxury resort in the Mayan Riviera in a last ditch attempt to save their failing marriages. The retreat is lead by powerhouse couple, Miles and Grace Markell, who appear to have the perfect relationship themselves. But as the days progress, the struggling couples end up getting much more than they bargained for when unorthodox therapy methods and an impending tropical storm unearth secrets, deceptions and manipulations leading to a tension-filled ending.

This was a well-paced story (which I read in less than a day) that engaged me throughout with a solid plot, interesting characters, a great baddie readers will love to hate, and an enjoyable Big Little Lies vibe. The only issue I had was that the format took a bit of getting used to. It blends different points of view with celebrity news releases and an interview between an unidentified man and woman. Why this format was used becomes clear to readers towards the end so I advise readers to keep with it! It’s totally worth it!

This was an entertaining read filled with deceit, secrets and an exciting whodunnit. With its beautiful tropical setting, The Last Resort would make an excellent holiday or summer read.

Marissa and I croppedI was lucky enough to meet Marissa (photo left, the author with WPL blogger Laurie P.) at a Kitchener Public Library author event recently. She is delightful and I enjoyed hearing her talk about this book and give her readers a chance to get to know her better. I eagerly look forward to reading what she has in store for us next!

— Laurie P.

 

July Book Clubs

Join us for book club conversation at any meeting. No need to sign up. No need to clean your house. The WPL Book Clubs have “open” membership, so you can drop in once in a while, or come faithfully every month.

Monday, July 8, 2019 at 7:00pm
Main Library, 35 Albert Street
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

Contemplate these discussion questions provided courtesy of LitLovers

Read The New York Times review of “The Light Between Oceans”.

Check out (or place a hold on) a WPL copy of the book or the movie.

Thursday, July 18, 2019 at 1:30pm
Main Library, 35 Albert Street
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he was the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys–best friends–are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.

Contemplate these discussion questions provided courtesy of LitLovers here

Read the Kirkus review of “A Prayer for Owen Meany”.

Check out (or place a hold on) a WPL copy of the book.

For more information on WPL’s Book Clubs, contact Christine at cbrown@wpl.ca or 519-886-1310 ext. 146.

Facing My Fear

“Limits, like fear, are often an illusion.” – Michael Jordan

I once had a tragic happening in my kitchen that scarred me for life. Well. Okay. That’s me being overly dramatic but it was a baking fail that I’ve never forgotten or confronted, until now.

Many years ago (and that, actually, isn’t an exaggeration) I attempted to make bread. Not bread machine bread. Real bread. From scratch. I found a recipe for French bread in a long-forgotten cookbook borrowed from the library. It was, apparently, suitable for beginners and that was me!

I don’t remember the process but I do remember that the dough rose okay for the first proofing, almost no second rise, and the result was bread that would have only been suitable for anchoring a small boat. I was so put off by that failure that I never made anything using yeast again.

My personal opinion (or excuse, if you prefer) was that a person needed to have a certain touch to make bread, or pastry for that matter. Then I recently saw “Bake It Better : Sweet Buns & Breads” by Linda Collister on the new book display at the library.

I took a quick flick through. It’s divided into three sections: Easy Does It, Needs a Little Skill, and Up for a Challenge. I immediately saw a number of recipes in the easy section that I’d love to try. So, I took a deep breath, checked the book out and decided to face my fear!

I started off with something that was a bread but didn’t involve yeast: scones. I love scones (and prefer when it is pronounced so that it rhymes with “yawns”, thanks very much) and have a good recipe courtesy of my Mum. The Bake It Better recipe has just 6 ingredients and a basic method. I didn’t have any buttermilk so went with their recommended substitute of a milk and yogurt combination. The scones were fantastic! And just in case you think I’m dissing the family recipe, my Mum tried them as well and concurred. She loved them as much as I did. That recipe is going to become a standard in our home.

IMG_20190406_1955158Then it was time to try…yeast. I liked the look of the Devonshire Splits. They are small rolls with a soft crumb served split in half and filled with cream and jam. How could you not like the look of that? I followed the step-by-step instructions carefully and appreciated the images shared as well as advice on kneading. Imagine my surprise when the dough rose beautifully. I knocked it down with my knuckles, divided the dough, shaped it and, like magic, it rose again. I was ridiculously excited. I think my husband thought I was losing my mind (again). Fifteen minutes later and they were out of the oven and looked exactly like the photo in the book. They tasted divine even without the cream and jam. Soft crumb, lightly sweetened and truly, it was hard to eat just one!

With new found confidence I also made hot cross buns and a milk and honey loaf. Both recipes turned out really well. I was elated and amazed. I am now a happy baker of bread and am looking forward to the day when I graduate to “Needs a Little Skill” and “Up for a Challenge”!

I will note that one minor downfall of this little British cookbook is the measurements being listed in grams and millilitres. A previous borrower had actually penned the conversions to cups right in the margin, a practice we don’t support here at the library of course but unfortunately it does happen. My suggestion: just use an online converter on your favourite device. No pen required.

  • Sandi H.

Devonshire Splits

400 grams strong white bread flour plus extra for dusting
6 grams salt
1 tsp sugar
60 grams butter, at room temperature, diced small
1 – 7 gram sachet fast-action dried yeast
250 ml lukewarm milk
Vegetable oil for dusting
Icing sugar for dusting

To serve: clotted or whipped cream and raspberry jam or preserves

DIRECTIONS

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the pieces of butter and rub in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Sprinkle the yeast into the bowl and thoroughly mix in. Make a well in the centre.

Pour the lukewarm milk into the flour mixture. Work in with your hands until you have a soft dough. If it feels at all dry or crumbly, add in milk (just a tablespoon at a time). If the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl, add more flour.

Rub a little oil on the worktop. Don’t sprinkle it with flour. Scrape out the dough and knead until very pliable and satiny smooth (10 minutes). Return the dough to bowl. Cover with clingfilm or a snap-on lid. Leave to rise on worktop for 60 minutes or until double in size.

Punch down to deflate dough. Lightly dust work service with flour. Knead once or twice. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Cover with dry tea towel to rest for 5 minutes.

Shape into balls. Set out on lined baking sheet. Slip the sheet into an extra large plastic bag, trapping air inside but making sure that the plastic won’t touch the dough even when it rises again.

Leave the to rise for 45 minutes. The dough will double in size again.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Uncover the buns – they will now be touching – and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

As soon as they are done, set the sheet on a wire rack and sift icing sugar over the top. Carefully slide the rolls onto the cooling rack. Cover them with a dry tea towel and let cool until barely warm.

Uncover and gently pull the buns apart. When ready to serve, slice each ¾ of the way across. Spread with jam and cream. Serve immediately.

Game On!

Grab some snacks, clear off the kitchen table and invite your friends over – WPL now has board games! There are over 40 different games available for you to borrow. The games range from simple card games to more creative role-playing games. WPL bloggers Ashley T., Jenna H. and Lesley L. tried out a few of them.

Ashley’s Picks

Hanabi
Number of Players: 2 to 5
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Easy
Objective: To work together to create full suits of fireworks in numerical order, and have a successful fireworks show!

Review: Hanabi (which is Japanese for fireworks), is a unique card game in that you only know everyone else’s cards and not your own. It is a co-operative game, where players have to communicate with each other in order to make sure the right cards are played in the right order to create the fireworks display. You can play with different rule variations to change things up as well. It’s a nice and quick little game.

Dixit
Number of Players: 3 to 6
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Medium
Objective: To choose cards that best describe the clues, and be the first player to reach 30 points.

Review: Dixit is one of my favourite board games. The game has a deck of beautifully drawn cards with abstract scenes. When it is your turn, you get to be as creative as you want when you think of a clue for a card in your hand. It can be a word, a scenario, or anything you can think of. Other players then need to pick a card from their hand that best fits your clue, then the cards are displayed anonymously and everyone votes on which card they think was the original. It is so much fun to see how everyone thinks, and how the different images can describe the same clue. You also have to be very creative with your clues, because if everybody or nobody guesses your card then you don’t get any points. It’s a creatively challenging game that is so much fun to play.

Pandemic
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Medium
Objective: To work together to eradicate the diseases that are ravaging the world.

Review: This is a co-operative game where players work together to cure 4 diseases that broke out in various countries and are spreading around the world. Each player takes on a different role, like medic or researcher. Each role has a different special ability that can help stop the crisis. The deck options make for a different game experience every time. You can increase or limit the difficulty level by adjusting the number of epidemic cards in the deck. It feels very satisfying to win, and even more satisfying if you can eradicate all the diseases instead of just curing them. Players have to strategize together and try to use each turn to its full advantage in order to succeed. Pandemic is a really enjoyable game – who knew rampantly spreading diseases could be so much fun!

Jenna’s Picks

NMBR 9 : take it to the next level
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Age range: 8+
Complexity: Easy
Objective: Each round a card is flipped over, showing which number tile you have to add to your individual board. The goal is to fit the tiles together so that you can stack additional tiles on top to create new levels. The higher the level, the higher the score. The game goes until all the cards are flipped.

Review: This is a great puzzle game that will be fun for the whole family! We played it with only two people and still had a great time. The instructions were simple to understand, making for a quick setup when playing for the first time. The different shapes of the number pieces make the game satisfyingly challenging, without being too difficult. At first I was concerned that we would create the same boards, since everyone draws the same number tile, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem, since everybody thinks so differently and there are so many ways to build the board. For that same reason, the game didn’t get repetitive when we played it a few times, which was a huge bonus. Another bonus (depending on who you ask!) is that it exercises your multiplication skills when it comes time to score the levels, so this would be a great game to play with kids who are learning basic math skills. I definitely recommend borrowing NMBR 9 this summer.

Biblios
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Age range: 10+
Complexity: Instructions make it seem harder than it is. Once you get the hang of it, it’s relatively easy.
Objective: Win the most Victory Points by having the biggest collection of Scribes, Illuminators, Manuscripts, Scrolls, and Supplies. Resources can be collected during the donation round or purchased during the auction round. Victory Points are determined by values on a die that can be raised or lowered throughout the game.

Review: This game was fun once we got through the instructions. The instruction booklet is quite lengthy, which is nice because it’s thorough, but a little overwhelming when you just want to get to the game. We played this game with two people, and we both agreed that it would have been a little more enjoyable with more people. We did appreciate that the game offers some alterations that you can make based on the number of players. The Medieval trappings were visually impressive, including the manuscript-like box that the game comes in, but they don’t really affect the game-play. We found that once we made up a few “House Rules,” such as forcing the first player to make a bid during the auction round, the game was much more enjoyable. I think this is definitely a fun game, but I wouldn’t count on it for all your entertainment when you’re off to the cottage this summer.

Lesley’s Picks 

Animal Upon Animal
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Age range: 4+
Complexity: Very Easy
Objective: Players take turns stacking wooden animals on top of the alligator base. The first player to safely stack all their animals wins the game.

Review: Animal Upon Animal is a bit like playing Jenga in reverse. Players roll the dice to see how many animals they must stack. It is easy enough for small children to play but it’s interesting enough to keep older kids and adults entertained as well. As the game progressed, I had to get fairly creative at how to stack my animals so they wouldn’t fall. Certain animals are a lot harder to stack than others. I highly recommend this to play on family game night!

Exploding Kittens
Age Range: 7+
Number of Players: 2 to 5
Complexity: Easy
Objective: Players draw cards from a deck. If a player draws an Exploding Kitten card, they lose. All the other cards in the deck are used to strategically avoid drawing an Exploding Kitten card.

Review: The first time I played Exploding Kittens I found it a bit confusing but by the second round, I had caught on completely. There are a lot of little rules that take a bit of getting used to, but once you understand, it’s so much fun. It is a highly tactical game. You must avoid that Exploding Kitten card at all costs! Keep a close eye on where it moves in the deck. Exploding Kittens can be played by older children, but I would recommend it more for teenagers and adults.

Bananagrams
Age Range: 7+
Number of Players: 2 to 8
Complexity: Easy
Objective: Players individually arrange their letter tiles into a crossword format. The first player to correctly use all their letters wins the game.

Review: Bananagrams is similar to scrabble but played at warp-speed. If you enjoy word puzzles, you will love this game. It’s really easy to play and to transport. There is no board, just a small bag filled with letter tiles. I found it rather addictive; the rounds go by so fast that I just wanted to keep playing over and over.

Fun Employed
Age Range: 18+
Number of Players: 3 to 7
Complexity: Medium
Objective: This is a role playing game where players are given four random ‘qualifications’ they must use to apply to a real life job. Players improvise a job interview scenario and the most convincing player gets the job.

Review: This game is hilarious and is definitely not for children. The more creative you get with your qualifications the better your chances of winning. For example, in one round I had to interview for a job as a gynecologist using the qualifications that I am emotionally hollow, I have jazz hands, and I own a jet pack and a jack hammer. It’s a great party game. The more players you have, the better the game works.

The River

As we approach summer, here is a great read for those who long for outdoor living. In  “The River“, the story centres on two young men, Wynn and Jack, who have been best friends since their freshman year. They bonded with a similar curiosity and love for fishing, the mountains and camping.

Deciding to take a long wilderness canoe trip on the Maskwa River in northern Canada, the lads get themselves outfitted sparingly but wisely with the best quality equipment they will require during their adventure. Having done some canoeing myself, I loved reading about the gear they brought.. the utility of the cooking devices, the kind of sleeping bags and clothing, each piece chosen for the multi-faceted uses that would be required of them. They were able to live in a kind of sparse luxury. Even the food they brought was well-planned and intended to supplement a diet of fish and whatever other food that could be derived from nature.

At the outset, we find them living idyllically, paddling leisurely throughout the day and making camp as the sun ebbed. Books are a common denominator and they spend their leisure time discussing their favourite reads.

One day while out on the water, they smell smoke and as the day wears on, they come to understand that this smoke is the harbinger of peril for them. Knowing a massive forest fire is heading in their direction, they make the decision to run hard to their final destination. They try to warn a couple of Texan fisherman about the imminent danger but they drunkenly laugh it off.

The next day, en route, there is a commotion coming from the shore, the sounds of a couple arguing intensely. Making the decision not to interfere, Wynn and Jack keep a brisk paddling pace until making camp that evening. This is the part of the story when mayhem breaks out and the skills and intuitive sensibilities of these young men are tested to the limits.

Author Peter Heller’s research into forest fires, wildlife and survival training is what takes this fast-paced, well-written psychological thriller to the next level. I was absolutely glued to this book and felt emotionally spent at the end. I gave it 5 stars!!!

— Nancy C.

“A word after a word after a word is power” Margaret Atwood

When you hear the name Margaret Atwood, what comes to mind? I asked several people this question and besides the “Who’s that?” I got from my son (…sigh…), most people answered that she’s Canadian and that she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Other people said she wrote stuff that was “weird” or “dark.”

In fact, Margaret Atwood is a world famous novelist of many titles, as well as a poet, teacher, literary critic, environmental activist with a particular focus on oceans, and an inventor. I recently had the opportunity to hear her speak at a fundraiser THEMUSEUM hosted at Centre in the Square. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the headliner “From The Handmaid’s Tale to Art &Technology.” What I discovered was Margaret Atwood is actually quite funny, brilliant, profound, and a little bit saucy!

Daiene Vernile, former journalist, politician and cabinet member, led the conversation…that is unless Atwood wagged her finger and either pointed out that she wasn’t finished talking, or would say “Didn’t you mean to ask me about…?”

I learned that Atwood grew up with very scientific parents in northern Quebec where there was no school to attend. Instead, she read any book she could get her hands on, including her parents scientific books.

When Vernile described her as visionary, Atwood disagreed. She said she reads a lot of science newsletters and magazines, and that the seeds of her ideas can be found in these items. Scientific American is something she reads faithfully: you can also read it at WPL in magazine format, or through our digital library using RBdigital and your library card.

As you may know, The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of a totalitarian group named Gilead, who has taken over the government in the United States. Women who are still fertile are forced to become handmaids, in order to bear children for their masters and their wives. These handmaids have had their families, careers, and even their names have been taken away from them. Offred (she is now named this because she is of-Fred who is her master) tells her story, switching between her past life and her current circumstances.

Atwood said she had one rule while she was writing The Handmaid’s Tale: that she would only include things that had already been done TO someone BY someone. I don’t know about you but I found this very scary. She finished writing this book in Alabama, and mentioned the irony of this considering their recent anti-abortion law.

The popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale has increased dramatically with the release of the TV series by the same name. WPL has Season 1 and Season 2 in our collection for customers to borrow. Many people don’t realize that a lot of taping for the show occurs nearby, in Cambridge. You can search the Internet to look for familiar scenes or follow this link to Cbridge.ca for pictures and information.

The handmaid’s red cloak and wide white bonnet have become common sights at protests around the world. No words or signs are needed but the message they present is clear. Atwood seemed humbled that a costume she created in a book has become a powerful “voice” for women today.

Atwood has now written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale entitled The Testaments. It will be released this fall, on September 10th. WPL already has copies on order. I can’t wait!

— Sandy W.

Time Flies

When I recently borrowed Cooking for Friends by David Wood, I received a shock. I remember the first David Wood cookbook I borrowed. Not his iconic Food Book but, unsurprisingly for those who know me or read my blog posts, The Dessert Book. I could even recall the cover, which featured an amazing-looking strawberry pie which I proceed to make and, yes, it tasted amazing too.

Seeing a new book by David Wood on the shelves, I just had to borrow it. The shock came when I realized it was 30 years (!!) since his Dessert Book was published which meant 30 years has passed since I made that bit of strawberry bliss! How is that possible when I’m barely over 30 myself? 😉 I even visited Wood’s gourmet food shop in Toronto once and treated myself to some decadent goodies.

Wood was born and raised in post-war Scotland where food was rationed and was viewed as something to fuel the body rather than rhapsodize over. As a young adult, Wood honed his cooking skills and his tastes became, like most people, more refined as he matured. Moving to Canada in 1973, he opened the first of three gourmet food shops 1984. A catering business and two cookbooks soon followed. In the 1990s, following some tough times including the closure of his shops, Wood left Toronto for the warmer climes of BC and in 1996 opened Salt Spring Island Cheese Company after “…six years of trial and error on the farm and in the kitchen.”

As Wood says in the Introduction to “Cooking for Friends” (which is worth reading, as is the forward), “…the best thing about food is that it brings us together with friends and family (who are also friends) – it eases conversations and opens our hearts and minds…” This cookbook is about creating delicious, satisfying and attractive food at home, without needing the skills of a professional chef.

I chose to make just one sweet (although the Pear and Ginger Galette will definitely be on the menu at my house at a future family get together), a starter and two mains. The dessert recipe I tried was Lemon Possets. The recipe contains just 3 ingredients but the result is a smooth, citrusy custard that is just divine. You can decorate the possets with a raspberry or two and some lemon zest or just eat as is. Wood’s Chicken Wonderful is, well, wonderful! He recommends serving it with salad and a baguette but we opted for a mixture of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Easy and scrumptious. I could happily eat this once a week.

The Spicy Garlic Shrimp would be a wonderful starter but the night I made it we enjoyed the shrimp as a main, perched atop my own un-fried vegetable fried rice. My favourite of the four recipes tried though was the Tagliatelle with Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Chives. This dish looked and tasted amazing even though I substituted a mixture of sour cream and yogurt for the crème fraiche. Served with a glass of chilled Oyster Bay chardonnay from New Zealand it was a treat on a weeknight. Yes, easy enough to make at the end of the work day.

Cooking for Friends would be a wonderful addition to any collection. This Canadian cookbook features beautiful photos, an excellent selection of recipes and clear, concise directions. Two whisks up from me!

— Sandi H.

Tagliatelle with Salmon, Crème Fraiche and Chives

2 egg yolks
2 c. crème fraiche (or try a yogurt/sour cream substitute like I did!)
½ c grated Parmesan
¼ c chopped fresh chives
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tblsp chopping Italian parsley + some for garnish
12 oz boneless fresh salmon fillet
1 tsp salt
1 lb. fresh tagliatelle

In a small bowl beat together yolks, ½ c of the crème fraiche, Parmesan, chives, zest, pepper and parsley. Set aside.

In a pot big enough to hold the cooked, drained pasta, bring the remained 1 ½ c. crème fraiche to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer.

Carefully cut the salmon into 1/4” slices, then cut the slices across into strips, each about the size of 4 matchsticks tied together. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain when done, reserving 1 c of the cooking water.

Transfer the pasta to the large pot containing the warmed crème fraiche and stir to coat. Add in the egg yolk mixture and stir to combine. Use cooking liquid as need to prevent the pasta from drying out or the sauce from becoming too thick. Add salmon and stir very gently to avoid breaking up the fish. The heat from the pasta will cook the thin strips of salmon perfectly.

Note: I chose to bake the salmon whole and serve the tagliatelle on the side.

salmon_blog

Mrs. Everything

I think every woman will find a bit of herself in Jennifer Weiner’s latest book. With story lines that focus on the good, the not-so-good and the wonderful aspects of being a woman, Mrs. Everything contains voices of mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunts and partners and weaves in issues that women can relate to in varying degrees.

This is a lengthy novel that spans decades and follows the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie. Through their stories, Weiner addresses many issues that women faced in the past, the issues we have in the present and as well as those that may continue to affect the future of women. She hits on emotional topics through the changing decades and blends them into a story that will captivate readers as we tag along on the bumpy journey of these two women as they figure out who they are on their own and together as sisters.

This is a hearty read at 464 pages and, I’ll admit, it felt like it dragged a bit at times. But it’s this length that allows Weiner to dig deeper into important issues and show how they reverberate through the sisters’ lives – issues that include women’s roles within family and society as well as our continued struggle for the right to choose what happens to our own bodies.

Through Jo and Bethie, Weiner discusses topics that were important to the women who came before us, to the women we are now and hopefully will embolden society to bring much needed change as we work to transform a world that lifts up and encourages the daughters we’re raising today.

This is a powerful story that will run readers through a spectrum of emotions. You’ll cry, laugh, feel frustrated and empowered as you read this story about two sisters and their journey to find fulfillment, love and acceptance as women in complicated and ever-changing times.

Note: I highly recommend that readers read Weiner’s forward which describes where her inspiration for this story began.

— Laurie P.

Escape at Dannemora

A Real Life Shawshank Redemption Miniseries

On the morning of June 6 2015, two prisoners were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Since its construction over 150 years ago, no one had ever escaped from this New York State maximum security prison. What followed was a 3-week manhunt that would be plastered across the media. Convicted murders David Sweat and Richard Matt tunneled out of their cells, crawled through a heating pipe and made their way out of a manhole to the streets in Dannemora. Once outside, they hid in the wilderness for weeks planning to cross the border into Canada.

escape-at-dannemora-dvdEscape at Dannemora is a dramatic television miniseries that retells how Sweat and Matt, along with the help of prison worker Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, orchestrated a real life Shawshank Redemption prison break.

The first episode starts with Tilly being brought in wearing a black and white jump suit. Her involvement with Matt and Sweat is fully fleshed out throughout the series. Without her, their escape would not be possible. Six more episodes follow, focusing not only on the escape plot but on character motives as well. It is a far more complex story than just two men breaking through cell walls.

In the beginning of the series, the story humanizes Sweat and Matt. Although they are inmates, you can understand that their lives in prison are brutal. You can relate to their desperate need to get out. Then, after the pair escapes, the story very bluntly reminds you that they are in fact very dangerous people who have committed horrendous acts. They were in prison for a reason.

At the start, Tilly’s character was also somewhat sympathetic, only to show, little by little that in her own way she is as sinister as Sweat and Matt.

The biggest surprise for me was that it was directed by Ben Stiller. Looking at his previous movies, which are mostly over-the-top comedies like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed he could create such an exceptional dramatic production. He has shown to have remarkable ability when it comes to storytelling and character development. The shots Stiller used to visibly demonstrate the escape plan were brilliant. Where was he hiding this talent for all these years?

This series puts Ben Stiller on par with the likes of directors Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and Joe Chapelle (The Wire). Escape at Dannemora has proven that Stiller has an incredibly versatile skill set. I can only hope he takes on more dramatic projects in the future.

— Lesley L.