If You Want To Make God Laugh

After recently reading an advanced copy of If You Want To Make God Laugh, I can now say that South African-Canadian author Bianca Marais has officially secured a spot in my “must read” author list.

I first came across Marais in 2017 after reading and loving her previous book, Hum If You Don’t Know The Words which was a beautifully written story that tackled big topics with compelling characters, heart and compassion.

With her new book, If You Want To Make God Laugh, Marais has once again written an engaging story but this time there is a personal connection as she draws from her own experiences as a volunteer with HIV-infected children in her native South Africa. These experiences bring a depth, authenticity and emotion to her writing as she describes life in 1990’s South Africa as Apartheid is ending and the AIDS epidemic is firmly taking hold.

I appreciate that Marais doesn’t shy away from the big issues – such as the stigma of HIV, racism, homophobia, religious corruption and abuse of power. She sets these issues within a touching story that follows the lives of three women and the little boy who brings them together. These women learn to find strength in each other during a time of much suffering, rampant bigotry and ignorance. (Note: fans of Hum If You Don’t Know The Words will also enjoy the brief cameo of two of its characters within this story.)

I highly recommend this well-written, powerful and poignant story that focuses on the resiliency and tenacity of women, from different backgrounds, as South Africa experiences its turbulent transition to democracy.

— Laurie

Bring on the Dishes!

I have never had a dishwasher. Growing up, my sister and I WERE the dishwasher in our house. When I flew the nest, I opted for extra storage space in my little kitchen over having another large appliance in the room. And to be honest, I don’t mind washing dishes. I’m not a huge fan of drying (usually my husband does that chore) but washing dishes, not a big deal at all.

Having a small kitchen, you learn to be efficient and organized in meal prep. An “A type” personality, I can quite happily make a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings and bake a dessert at the same time without my limited counter space and single sink teeming with cookware, bowls etc.

I don’t know if it’s because of being able to neatly “juggle” or something else entirely but I’ve just never been drawn to crockpots, instant-pots or one-pan meals. I know they are super popular all year round and must be quite handy in the hot days of summer, especially with those who do not have a/c at home. Perhaps if I had a big family to feed I’d be more welcoming to anything that is dish-saving and time-saving but I don’t, so while instant-pots seem to be in every home, there isn’t one in mine which means I’m unable to review any of those specific cookbooks at WPL. On the heels of the Instant-pot craze, though, it seems that one-dish cookbooks have regained their popularity. That I can do.

The first one I borrowed was One Pan, Whole Family : more than 70 complete weeknight meals by Carla Snyder. There were a number of interesting recipes between the covers and for the most part the instructions looked straight forward. The majority of the recipes take 45 minutes or less to prepare. The down side, the recipes I was most intrigued by would require me to make a return trip to the grocery store for key ingredients. So, I made a few “notes to self” and may revisit this book at a future date.

The second was 13 x 9 The Pan That Can : 150 fabulous recipes by Better Homes & Gardens.  As they describe it, the 13 x 9 (or 9 x 13) pan is “… the star of the kitchen, able to produce just about any dish from one-pan dinners to an easy big-batch dessert.” and the cookbook reflects this with recipes for all sorts of dinners, pizzas, breakfast bakes, bars and more. Nutritional information is provided for each recipe as well as ideas on making the recipes more healthy plus make ahead tips and “flex it” advice which is practical suggestions on how to make the recipe meatless, incorporate leftovers and more.

I tried two recipes from “13 x 9 The Pan That Can”. First up, Lemon Chicken With Potatoes. One of my favourite recipes of all time is the “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten’s roast chicken with lemon and lots of garlic. It’s a winner…always delicious and juicy. So, this seemed similar but different. The only change I made to the recipe was eliminating the olives (my husband is decidedly anti-olive) and it turned out quite good. Not as good as Ina’s if I’m honest, but tasty enough to make again. For dessert I tried the Bananas Foster Bake. Bananas, rum, oat streusel topping. What’s not to like? Wellll…we had a mixed result here. My husband absolutely loved it and went back for seconds. Me, I wasn’t impressed with the flavour or the mixture of textures and didn’t even finish my portion.

Odd as it may sound, in the end I’d be more likely to recommend One Pan, Whole Family with its many mouthwatering-sounding recipes over 13 x 9. The recipes in 13 x 9 just didn’t wow me and the results of my test recipes were mixed. But you borrow them from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Lemon Chicken and Potatoes

4 chicken breast halves, fresh or thawed
1 lb fingerling or baby Yukon potatoes
3 lemons, halves crosswise
1/3 c. pitted green and/or black olives
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp honey
6 c arugula or mixed salad greens

Preheat oven to 450F.

Place chicken, potatoes, lemons and olives in ungreased 9 x 13/3 quart casserole. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and toss to coat.

Rearrange chicken in a single layer, skin side up, and lemons cut-side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rose uncovered for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove from oven. Remove lemons from casserole. Cover chicken/potatoes/olives with foil to keep warm.

When lemons are cool enough to handle, squeeze juice in to small bowl. Remove any seeds. Whisk in 4 tbsp olive oil and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve chicken and potatoes over greens. Drizzle with lemon dressing.

We have a great summer read for you!

Summer is upon us and that means a double edition of Featured Titles! With 14 Non-Fiction and 14 Fiction titles to choose from, we’re sure you will find a book (or two or … ) to sit back, relax, and enjoy the summer sun with.

Looking for even more great reads? Check out our Staff Picks List for Summer 2019 too.

We hope you have a wonderful summer full of beautiful weather, happy times with family and friends and, of course, great reads!

Summer Reading for Kids

Summer is here! That means sunshine, vacations and being outdoors. While you are enjoying the warm weather, continue to make time to read with your kids. Summer reading is critical for students to retain the skills they learned in the previous school year.

Every year WPL has summer reading fun activities to help keep children engaged in reading. The activities are free to join, just drop in to any WPL location to sign up, then check out some great titles to keep your child reading all summer:

Picturebooks

How to Catch a Unicorn by Adam Wallace

Rainbows, glitter and unicorns, oh my! This is a beautiful book. It is about a group of children who set up a series of clever traps hoping to catch the elusive unicorn. The brightly coloured illustrations are enough to keep young ones engaged all through the story.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

Three warriors seek to find an opponent worthy of their fighting skills. Rock, Paper and Scissor finally meet and the legendary game is born.  I loved the narration style in this book.  It makes for a great read out loud story that will entertain parents and children.

Junior Fiction

Song For a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Iris is the only deaf student at her school. Communication with others is difficult and this often leaves her isolated. Blue 55 is a whale who sings at a different frequency than other whales. Communication with other whales is impossible and it leaves Blue 55 isolated. Iris is determined to create a song for Blue 55 to let him know he is not alone. Iris is a bright, spirited young girl and I admired her tenacity. This story taught me so much about deaf culture and the deaf community. It is a beautifully written story full of emotion and adventure.

The Almost Epic Squad: Mucus Mayhem by Kevin Sylvester

This book is gross, disgusting and completely revolting. Kids absolutely LOVE it. It’s about snot, phlegm, goobers and farts.  The main character Jessica Flem has allergies. I mean really bad, tissue devouring, allergies. It turns out that she was exposed to an element at birth that made her develop super allergic reactions to just about everything. But once she hits the age of 13, she also starts developing super powers. Now some malevolent forces want her power for their own gain.

Chase by Linwood Barclay

The Institute has successfully integrated computer software into canine bodies.  Chipper is a dog with enhanced intelligence and a USB port implanted into his body.  He escapes from the Institute and is found by a young boy named Jeff. Now both Chipper and Jeff must run before the Institute captures them. Author Linwood Barclay puts every bit of suspense and anticipation into his young adult books as he does with his adult fiction novels.

Junior Graphic Novel

Breaking Cat News by Georgia Dunn

Three cats make up the Breaking Cat News team:  lead anchor Lupin and field reporters Puck and Elvis. They report on news that matters to cats. This includes hard news stories such as: when a bee infiltrated the bathroom and the time the kibble dish was left empty. This is a great book for reluctant readers. The story doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover. You can open the book at random and start reading.

  • Lesley L.

Mind & Matter

Beach read, smeach read. I think that we should all read anything we want in the summer – spin the wheel and pick a genre, any genre. The New Yorker (available to us online, 24-hours a day, through RBdigital) published an article which unveiled the truth behind the summer reading season.

It turns out that the whole summer reading phenomenon is a put-up job created by the publishing industry at the turn of the last century. Those clever marketing people just wanted to sell more books! When vacation getaways became popular, thanks to railways and steamships, they got to work and made sure that their product would be ready for packing into stylish suitcases. They repackaged older titles as “summer” editions (I know that I would be fooled by this – I can easily be taken in by a book with a straw hat on the cover), encouraged their authors to write novels set on campsites and summer resorts and poof, made the summer novel an important part of the publishing market. Well, it all worked out well for them, didn’t it?

Now it seems like every newspaper and magazine we receive here in the library runs a feature on summer reads, beach reads, resort reads or cottage reads. Men’s Health magazine (available on the shelf and through RBdigital) has even promoted books that are ‘unsung beach reads’ in their July/August issue. I’m in favour of this, wholeheartedly. Let’s all read more!

I recently fell so hard for a book that didn’t have a straw hat on the cover and looks more like a back-to-school title than anything else but I encourage you to rush out and grab a copy. Mind and Matter, the memoir by former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel is not your typical NFL story. It’s really not like any book I’ve ever read before. The subtitle of his book is “a life in math and football” because at the time his book was published John was working towards his PhD in math at MIT. Not something might expect to read about a former NFL player and maybe that is what makes this book a fantastic read. I read it, one of my daughters read it and then my husband picked it up and we all have not stopped talking about it whenever we can move conversation towards the topic of John Urschel. If we have talked to you in the last few weeks we have probably mentioned him.

Although he was born in Winnipeg, Urschel had moved to Buffalo by the time he attended high school. He began to play football because he was inspired by his father’s college career and saw it as a way to be popular. Urschel enjoyed the sport and loved being on a team right away but it wasn’t easy. He worked hard, practiced at home and had extra coaching from his father so that he could catch up with kids who were far stronger players. But something that did come easy to him, even at a very young age, were puzzles and math.

When John Urschel was just 13 his mother arranged for him to audit a college-level Calculus course because she knew that he would enjoy it so much. They played a little game where she would let him have the change from their shopping trips if he could calculate the tax before the cashier finished tallying their purchases. She had to stop that quickly as his mental work was so quick.

Everything Urschel writes in this autobiography is very matter of fact, partially because he wants to tell a convincing story about following the path that feels right to you, even when people around you are telling you it isn’t the right one, and all of the little glimpses he shares about his younger grades just jump off the page.

He wrote this book with the assistance of his partner, author Louisa Thomas, and it is honest and inspiring (even when he gets down to the nitty gritty of explaining a multi-step logic problem). Urschel made the choice to accept a scholarship to Penn State in 2010 although his mother was pressuring him to attend Stanford because he felt like their football team would be the best fit for him. When he arrives on their campus it’s the first step in a long journey to the NFL and this half of his life story is filled with exactly what you would expect – grueling workouts, games out of town, making lifelong friendships with other players and fighting to keep his spot on the roster. Learning about his time at Penn State is particularly interesting as he was there during the time that football players were sanctioned for the acts of their former coach Jerry Sandusky. It’s the first of many moments in John’s life that the reader feels like they have that “fly on the wall” experience.

When Urschel was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 draft he had completed his master’s degree and even published a paper in an academic journal. At this time in his football career he was starting to feel the pull of his academic interests but still wanted to stay with the team. Incredibly he was able to balance both his school world and the life of an NFL player. It’s wonderful to read the story of his management saying that now that he is signed to a big football contract it’s time to do something about the horrible car he has been driving. Urschel had been driving the same car for years so he agreed to this and asked that they order him a Nissan Versa. A new one, certainly, but not the type of car you would expect of someone who has just signed an NFL contract. And definitely a slightly smaller car than would comfortably fit an offensive lineman. It’s a story that is constantly fascinating.

Something you would expect in a memoir about a football player is for it to discuss concussions. He talks about the possibility of injury, brain and body, throughout his career and the part they play in his life. Each time he considers whether he will continue on in the sport this is something that is on his mind and he spends time in the book discussing how he is able to compartmentalize his feelings about injuries. He is aware of the chance he could develop CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and addresses his concerns. He is honest about how it might change the direction of his career as a mathematician but he continues to work at both math and football with equal passion despite experiencing a concussion during Ravens training camp in August of 2015.

His love of football and mathematics are interwoven perfectly throughout the book and that is one of the things that make it such a pleasure to read – the balance. He gives equal weight to both and as you read you can see why he devotes so much to making both parts of his life a success. This isn’t an autobiography that gives much detail outside of those two pursuits but this helps you to see why he does so well in both vocations. He occasionally mentions other players on his teams, shares details about the mentors he has at the universities or says how much he enjoys the campus where he lives but there are very few incidental moments shared about how he spent his life. At the end of the book you realize the reason for this is because it’s likely he didn’t have much extra time between playing a competitive sport and his academic life. Well, he does mention wanting to take a break at one point, and this is when he takes up chess in a more serious way. He had enjoyed it off and on throughout his life but when he decides he needs it for a change of pace he orders specialized books, studies the most famous games, and finds himself spending hours contemplating a particular position on the board.

Finally Urschel does find that his life at MIT is the more appealing one. He acknowledges that either football or mathematics would benefit from his full-time attention and he knows that he is looking forward to going back to school more than being at ‘work’ on the football field. It isn’t a decision that he makes easily (and in an interview I read he says that he does miss his NFL pay cheque) and he notes that his fiancé and their daughter factor into his retirement from the NFL.

At a young age John Urschel decided that he wanted to choose an unexpected career path and put everything he could into making his unlikely future happen. In Mind and Matter he has written an inspiring, enjoyable memoir that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages – whether they enjoy math or football or neither of those things – his story is so compelling. And, if you want to, skip ahead to the logic puzzle it is on pages 8 through 12 (yes, it takes 5 pages to describe this puzzle and the solution, he is the real deal).

— Penny M.