This Little Light

This Little Light” is a compelling story that takes place in the near future and features relevant issues, a tense plot, a strong main character and a shocking ending. The intensity grows throughout the story, which is set over 48 hours, as two teenage girls flee for their lives when they’re accused of bombing their high school’s “Virtue Ball”.

This is a Dystopian read where issues of socio-economic disparity, immigration, climate change, the power of the government, media and fundamentalist religion are at the forefront. Abortion has been re-criminalized and birth control is hard to obtain, which creates an underground “Pink Market” for these services. The rights of women have been whittled away to the point where teen girls are told their place in society, which includes declaring a chastity promise to their fathers. That’s a whole lotta issues, but it works.

Rory, as the protagonist, is a breath of fresh air. I love her strength and conviction as she voices her opinions and relentlessly questions the way things are being done (her outspokenness often being blamed on her being half Canadian! Atta, girl!). She’s one small voice in a sea of media, Christian fundamentalists and politicians who want to control the rights of women and keep immigrants “in their place”.

This story has a strong teen vibe to it which is great, but unexpected. The only thing I didn’t love was the teen speak which felt contrived and often grating. For example, “I wanted to tell Fee to go up and have a shower because smell ..” This kind of dialogue occurred a lot and felt awkward – like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teen.

Overall, this was an engaging, eye-opening read that handles some big issues within a compulsive story that shows the importance of people questioning how things are done and not just accepting what you see in the media as fact. This is, obviously, a good pick for people itching for books with a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.

— Laurie P.

National Treasures

If you are a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1 and Season 2) on TV, but are afraid to read a book by Margaret Atwood, I encourage you to give The Testaments a try! The Testaments is the long awaited and much anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale that reads more like pop fiction novel than a traditional Margaret Atwood book.

The Testaments takes place approximately 15 to 16 years later than The Handmaid’s Tale.  The reader sees what the world now looks like through the testimony of three female narrators: Aunt Lydia (yes, that Aunt Lydia), Witness 369A, and Witness 369B.

Aunt Lydia reveals that Gilead’s citizens are more power-hungry and corrupt than ever. Trust is a rarity and Aunt Lydia says to “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Having no friends, I must make do with enemies.” Witness 369A tells the reader about her life growing up as the daughter of a Commander in Gilead. Witness 369B lives in Canada, and gives the reader her perspective as an outsider of Gilead, looking in. I can’t give you any more details about the narrators without spoiling the many twists, turns, shocks and surprises you will encounter as you read the book.

I’ve been waiting for this sequel for so long that I really wanted to take my time reading it.  However, my copy must have contained chocolate because it kept calling me to come back to it, and I ended up reading it within a day. I found myself totally engaged with the narrators and each new morsel of information they revealed made it that much harder for me to put down.

I recently attended a “Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas” event that was presented onscreen at a local Cineplex. Ann Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, read two excerpts from Aunt Lydia’s narrative in The Testaments. Two other readers each read an excerpt from Witness 369A and 369B. Atwood was also interviewed and she was asked was what made her decide to finally write a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale after 34 years? Her answer?  When Trump got elected as President of the United States. Atwood was also asked what she thought was the most important issue facing the world today. Without hesitation she said our planet, and she feels if we focus on healing and protecting our planet, our other issues will fall into place.

— Sandy W.

Meet Author Joanna Goodman

Joanna Goodman, author of the One Book, One Community selection for 2019, The Home For Unwanted Girls, is visiting the Region of Waterloo from September 24 to 26. Four (4) author events, including book signings, have been scheduled:

Tuesday, September 24
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Knox Presbyterian Church, 50 Erb St W, Waterloo, ON N2L 1T1

Wednesday, September 25
1:15pm to 2:15pm
Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School, 1206 Snyder’s Road West, New Hamburg N3A 1A4
Note: this event is open to the general public, not just to students of Waterloo Oxford.

Wednesday, September 25
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Kitchener Public Library – Central Library, 85 Queen St N, Kitchener, ON N2H 2H1

Thursday, September 26
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Trillium United Church, 450 King Street East, Cambridge, ON N3H 3M9

All of the author events are free but attendees are advised to arrive early for a good seat.

To learn more about Joanna, The Home for Unwanted Girls and One Book, One Community, visit oboc.ca

In-Between Days

In-Between Days is a memoir about living with cancer. For people who are sad-averse, this subject matter would be enough to keep them away from this book. Having it presented in a graphic novel format could be the last straw for the reader sitting on the fence. However, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and experience this illustrated emotional, spiritual and physical cancer journey that Teva Harrison takes us on.

At the age of 37, Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, a disease that, at the time, was classified as incurable but controllable. Believing that she would be living with this disease as a chronic illness, Teva sought the help of a psychiatrist who worked in the oncology department at her hospital. Talking through her concerns led her to creating drawings of the dark emotions she was experiencing. Her doctor encouraged her to continue with this therapeutic exercise and from that encouragement, this graphic novel was born.

The reader is taken through Teva’s cancer journey from diagnosis through numerous treatments to her eventual acceptance of the incurability of the disease. The illustrations are done in black and white, which allowed her to depict her experience, both starkly and also more-lightheartedly. Visually, the drawings are stunning in their simplistic detail.

We learn of her first meeting with her soul-mate/husband David and the incredibly beautiful way their romance unfolded and the solidity of that relationship through some of Teva’s darkest moments.

Anyone who has experienced a devastating diagnosis of any kind, whether personally or alongside a friend or family member, will understand the oscillating moments of torment and hope that patients experience. The need for connection versus the need to be alone; the need to eat versus the emptiness of hunger; the need to get up and out versus the paralyzing fatigue that makes the smallest movement seem monumental. Harrison walks us through the map of the intimacies of her life with candor and humour. She was blessed with a family of exceptional women and that legacy and support was the steel in her spirit when the days seemed their darkest.

Spoiler alert. I’m not going to lie to you… by the time I reached the end, I really thought/hoped/prayed that Teva’s story would end well. And I think to a certain extent, it likely did insofar as she lived with passion and ferocity, in the face of an uncertain future. I expect that she packed more ‘living’ into her dying days than some people do in their ‘living’ days. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming tale told by a very brave and very talented woman.

— Nancy C.

Leaf Through a Good Book This Autumn

I wonder if Salman Rushdie and Colson Whitehead thought about asking their publishers to put their most recent novels into a drawer for a few months when they learned that Margaret Atwood was releasing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale? The fall publishing season is always so competitive plus they have that upstart, previously sticking with non-fiction, Georgia-born Delia Owens sitting on the NY Times bestseller list for over 50 weeks, and now Mags has more to say about the Republic of Gilead. Poor guys looking at their sales numbers, just feeling glum.

Well, they have a lot more competition on the way. So much more. And it’s all great news for readers! There is an absolute rush of wonderful material coming into the library every week and it’s almost too hard to keep up. Even better news for us – we don’t have to buy any of them. We just place holds, come into the library to ask for suggestions, or browse the shelf and marvel at the treasures. It could not be easier to find something to read this fall.

With her 10th book Emma Donoghue has created a novel that is once again completely different from anything she has written before (and she has written so many good things). A childless widower, Noah, almost 80 years old, agrees to take in his 11-year old great-nephew just as he is planning a trip to Nice. It seems as if it might be a story about an unlikely friendship but becomes something entirely different. Their relationship is surprisingly funny and takes the reader deep into Noah’s family history while he is learning about the future through 11-year old Michael. Akin is a vacation novel that you won’t easily forget.

Usually when reviewers say that a book is ‘ambitious’ I worry they are hinting an author has bitten off more than they can chew with the scope of a novel but with Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) I think a demanding storyline is not a concern. In The Water Dancer the main character, Hiram Walker, is born with a mysterious power he doesn’t fully understand but is able to use in guiding escapees from plantations in the South to freedom in the North. Magical realism combine with historical fact in a novel that is sure to be one of the highlights of this season and we also have it in recorded book format so you can just let the story wash over you.

Author Ami McKay has been sharing tidbits about her memoir Daughter of Family G through posts on her website and recently said that she had recorded an interview with Shelagh Rogers for CBC’s The Next Chapter but I just want to read it. I want to cuddle up in a chair and learn – in the tone that we have all come to love – her family’s story. When I learned that she was publishing this memoir it reminded me of other similar books; The Juggler’s Children and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but they were written after the fact. Ami McKay is researching her family’s legacy of hereditary cancer with the full knowledge that it will have an impact on her health and that of her children. It will be an absolutely fascinating read from a favourite author.

There are other big names publishing this season who just might make Salman and Colson worry a bit before they fall asleep each night. Ann Patchett will be giving us the gift of The Dutch House this fall, Jeanette Winterson has reimagined the Mary Shelley story with Frankissstein, and Elizabeth Strout has written Olive, Again (although maybe we are all thinking of it as ‘Olive, Again!!!’ as we are so happy to see her on the shelves). Perhaps not in the running for a Booker, a Giller (wrong country, I know), or a Pulitzer Stephen King has published another full-length novel called The Institute. It begins in a very small town with the reader falling for a no-nonsense ex-cop named Tim before the action abruptly switches to the workings of a frightening institute. Children are being kidnapped from their homes and tested by scientists in an attempt to learn more about their unusual abilities. Some of the children have telekinetic powers, others can read minds, but they are united in their desire to escape the compound and the horrifying tests. Everything, including the reason for the Institute’s existence, is untwisted at the end (you will see Tim again) but not before you find yourself wishing you had read this book during daylight hours only.

Even if I just leave it on my kitchen table to impress people when they come over I am looking forward to From the Oven to the Table. Just look at that cover. Doesn’t that look like a book someone would check out if they were an incredibly impressive home cook? In 2018 the author published the absolutely sublime How to Eat a Peach which I was sure I would use for more than the desserts (I never did) but I loved checking it out of the library more than once just to allow myself to imagine I could cook fish that way (instead of the same three ways I always do it). This new cookbook promises quick recipes for dinner after work and substantial dishes we can use to charm our friends. I like to do both of these things! Friends and food sound so good to me when the weather starts to get colder. This is one of the many new cookbooks that will be on the shelves to tempt me this fall. Keep them coming, I am ready.

Keep all of the gorgeous books coming, I really can’t wait.

— Penny M.

Odd Recipe. Delicious Cookie.

Recently I had quite a number of cookbooks at home from the library. It was overwhelming, in a good way. Knowing how much my husband loves cookies, I gave him American Cookie by Anne Byrn and asked him to find at least one unusual recipe for me to try. In just minutes he was asking “Have you ever heard of Forgotten Chocolate Cookies?” What? How could a chocolate cookie be forgettable? I just cannot believe that but all was revealed when we read the blurb provided by Byrn.

Forgotten Cookies were named after the baking method for these old fashioned meringue-type delights, not due to the fact that the cookies were so mediocre that they were forgettable. Bakers “back in the day” used to start baking these cookies, then turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside as the oven cooled. This would dry the cookies and give them the light but chewy texture they are known for.

91JRXYpGxoLApparently there are a myriad of methods of making “Forgotten Cookies”. Some require additional steps like beating the egg whites separately until a certain consistency before adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. The method shared by Byrn, almost an all-in-one, is super easy, seems strange (the method will seem so wrong but it is so right) and the resulting dough is unlike any cookie dough I am familiar with. However, bear with it and you will end up with some amazing, light, rich, super-chocolatey decadent cookies.

I also made a batch of Victorian Ginger Drop Cakes for my colleagues. This tea cake recipe was adapted by Byrn from one featured in Victoria Cakes by Caroline B. King, published in 1941. A contributor to various women’s magazines, King was also the lead US Army dietician in France during WWI. These drop cakes were a favourite from her childhood. The ingredients would vary depending on what her mother had in the pantry.

A colleague of mine, Kerstin, also borrowed American Cookie. Kerstin tried two recipes: the “Joe Frogger” and “The Cowboy Cookie”.  The former is an “adult” gingerbread cookie with rum, although she thought brandy with a sprinkling of sugar on top would be a wonderful alternative. The dough for the Cowboy Cookies was very dry so Kerstin ended up hand-shaping them into mounds rather than using a cookie dough scoop. The cookies held their shape when baked and tasted like a more decadent version of a granola bar.

I really liked Ann Byrn’s book and both Kerstin and myself especially enjoyed the morsels of history shared alongside each recipe. Not only is there a wonderful selection of recipes to choose from, you’ll learn a bit of American food history along the way.

  • Sandi H.

About Those Cookie Sheets

“When I was baking the Joe Frogger cookies I noticed that in the instructions Byrn advised bakers to let the cookie sheets/pans cool before putting more cookie dough onto them. Because I didn’t want to have to wait between batches, I rotated bakes between two different types of cookie sheets. Doing this allowed me to discover that my preferred, insulated cookie sheet is actually not ideal for baking cookies because it takes too long to bake them!  The cookies didn’t rise at all, look anemic and almost tasted raw. In comparison, the cookies that were baked on a traditional, single layer cookie sheet were absolutely lovely. Something to keep in mind when buying your next cookie sheet.”  — Kerstin

Forgotten Chocolate Cookies

2 ¼ c icing sugar
½ c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp corn starch
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 c finely chopped pecans

Place rack in centre of oven. Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In large bowl combine icing sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Add egg whites and beat on low to incorporate into the dry ingredients. Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute or until well combined. Stir in vanilla and pecans.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet…only 8 per sheet as the cookie spread a lot.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes until shiny and firm on the outside but a little soft inside. Let the cookies cool for 2 minutes on the pan then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve or store in airtight containers at room temperature for a week or freeze for up to 3 months.

Tea With Our Bloggers

Meet some of our More Books Please bloggers for tea at the Harper Branch and join in fun discussions about books and more.

John M. Harper Branch
2:00pm to 3:00pm
Registration opens one week before each program

September 30

Tea with Lesley L. Learn about books that are “not just for kids.” Junior/Teen books are great for adults too. Online registration opens September 23.

October 28

Tea with Penny M. She’s sharing her favourite thrillers and horror novels in celebration of the season of fright. Online registration opens October 21.

November 11

Tea with WPL Blogger Sandy W. We’re discussing novels and stories about war and remembrance that you won’t be able to put down. Online registration opens November 4.

December 2

Tea with Jenna H. Discover how to read like a writer. Online registration opens November 25.

All the Ever Afters

Most of us have heard the story of Cinderella many times over – as children, as adults reading to children and Disney’s take on the popular tale. But Canadian author Danielle Teller is asking readers to put aside their preconceived ideas of Cinderella, her stepsisters and, most especially, her ‘evil’ stepmother.

You may be thinking, “I already know the story of Cinderella – bullied, Fairy Godmother, glass slipper, Prince + happily-ever-after”. But in Teller’s version, All the Ever Afters, we witness the story of Cinderella through the eyes of Agnes, the woman who would become Cinderella’s stepmother. Despite being such a well-known tale, I found this quite an engaging read. The popular aspects of the fairy tale are woven into this re-imagined story that includes insight into Agnes’ early life, the life of her two daughters and how their relationship with Elfilda (aka Ella) developed over time. I especially enjoyed seeing the complexities and dynamic relationships within this family. Life isn’t all glass slippers and Fairy Godmothers, am-I-right?

This is a creative retelling of a well-known, much loved fairy tale that gives readers a different perspective which may leave some readers feeling differently about the much maligned evil stepmother. With its stunning cover art, this is an eye-catching book but it’s also an engaging coming-of-age story that features complex family dynamics, set within a well-known fable.

— Laurie P.

When “Back to School” Means “Off to University”

We started preparing for the start of the new school year in a very different way than any year before because one of our kids was making a bigger change than normal – with a school year that involved moving out of the house and into a university residence – so some of the things we usually fit into our new school year planning had to be adjusted.

It turns out that packing your first child up to send them off to university is a lot more involved than I first thought and I was relieved to use the resources of WPL to get it done more easily (some of the research could even be done from the comfort of my own dining room table when I used our Digital Library – super cozy). It’s far too early to say whether or not things have gone well but I feel like we’ve done our best. Here are some of the best things we used to get ‘ready’.

It was helpful to read both fiction and non-fiction about this topic because any time I found myself thinking back to what my university years were like I would realize things like my own cell phone had been the same size as a men’s dress shoe and textbooks back then were still made of paper so I really needed to get some idea of the kind of pressure a modern university student is under. I can recommend Jean Hanff Korelitz’ Admission, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and My Oxford Year which gave me an idea of what contemporary university life is like. An unexpected bonus came our way through the memoir by American disability rights advocate Haben Girma which is absolutely non-fiction but reads so beautifully it is like a witty, best friend novel. She is just telling you her captivating story of growing up in California, attending a small college in Oregon, and deciding to go to law school, and it’s as good as any YA novel out there. A wonderful picture of college life.

We also found many solid resources that focused on student mental health, finances, academic success, making new friends, choosing a career path, separating from home and family, potential romantic difficulties… I almost can’t keep typing… it’s really too much. Each year Maclean’s publishes their guide to universities in Canada with a survey of almost 50 schools and over 24 thousand students – it’s a great source and we receive the updated guide every year here at the library. My absolute favourite (I quoted it a few times, read it aloud at mealtimes, it became a bit of a ‘thing’ for the kids to tease me about but it really helped) among the books that I read was called Letting Go : a parents’ guide to understanding the college years because it included anecdotes from students, university staff, and parents. It was written by two college advisors in the U.S. and I found myself thinking about sections in this book often. I’m sure that it saved me from making some unwise choices during the weeks leading up to our last days of summer.

In school years past we would usually hit the cookbooks and find new meals to try in the first weeks of September but this year we were looking at food in a different way. We were helping our university-aged student prepare for the co-op term that will arrive in four very short months. Although we started with very elaborate ideas of what a university student’s perfect meal will look like (what were we thinking?) in the end we decided that it is more realistic to choose meals that are tasty and easy to prepare. We had success with a few cookbooks and have even added some of their recipes to the family rotation – Kevin Curry’s Fit Men Cook : 100 meal-prep recipes for men and women and The 5-minute Salad Lunchbox were our top two for realistic ingredients and flavour. In Kevin Curry’s book he provides a whole plan for approaching food and meal prep and, despite the use of the word ‘men’ in the title, we all found it useful.

During the last days of prep for her final move in day all I could focus on was reading cozy mysteries and I’m so pleased that I found a really good series on the shelves that had absolutely nothing to do with universities, children, packing, or choosing a career. It was all about two women who run a gingerbread cookie-baking business in a small murder-filled town outside of Washington, D.C. It’s so much fun (other than the murders) and it included a few lovely recipes to try. Just distracting enough. Now all I am thinking is “I can’t wait for Thanksgiving” and reading week. Who’s with me?

— Penny M.

Deconstructing The Beatles

I watched a fabulous film series at The Princess Cinemas over the past year. A couple of WPL co-workers also saw the series –and loved it! And now it has come to the library.

It’s called Deconstructing The Beatles and it’s a fun and fascinating look into the creative process behind The Beatles’ music. Presenter Scott Freiman is lively and engaging and has a ton of knowledge about music and the recording studio. Now I know and love The Fab Four and their music (slight understatement) but after viewing this series I now hear and appreciate their music in a whole new way. I think you will too.

Deconstructing The Beatles is the centrepiece of the series, a 4-DVD set, with 1 disc for Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and The White Album. This is The Beatles at the very top of their game, eager to experiment and take their music in new directions. Using a multitude of audio and visual clips, Freiman highlights unusual instruments used, looks at early takes of songs, the evolution of key songs, and ideas attempted and then abandoned, among other things. Very, very interesting.

Or check out this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Magical Mystery Tour (1 disc). This is The Beatles in their psychedelic phase, so Scott Freiman shows you how all those glorious (and strange) sounds were made. Hearing the earliest version of Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon playing into his own tape recorder) is an absolute “wow” moment. And hearing the whole story of the recording of this song will blow your socks off.

And there’s this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Early Years (2 discs). These discs focus on the musical influences of the Beatles and the wildly exhilarating year of 1963 when the Beatles went from nobodies to the biggest name in music in Great Britain and were poised, though they didn’t know it, to take on the rest of the world.

And lastly… there may be, fingers crossed, one more segment coming to WPL in the future. Earlier this summer I saw Abbey Road Parts I and II (one for each side of the album). These two films were—need I say it– great. Hopefully when the Abbey Road segment is released onto DVD, it will be joining the others at the library. (BTW, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road LP. Bonus marks for you if you knew that.)

— Penny D.