The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer is a stellar debut novel for Ta-Nehisi Coates. While he has had an illustrious career in journalism, this is his first foray into fiction and he has hit a home-run! Coates’ writing style is stunningly eloquent, creating passages that transport the reader into the images and scenes created by his masterfully selected language. This is a gorgeously written piece of literature!

The story revolves around the life of Hiram Walker, one of the ‘Tasked’ on a plantation in Virginia called Lockless, owned and run by the ‘Quality’ Walker family. Once a thriving operation, the land is dying and the plantation and the ways of the gentry are facing a slow death.  We meet Hiram at a young age after his mother has been sold into bondage. He finds safe haven with a cantankerous woman in the slave village and it is during this time that he realizes that, even unschooled, he has an extremely unusual capacity to remember things. This talent brings him to the attention of the plantation owner, Howell Walker, who also happens to be Hiram’s birth father. Recognizing the tremendous gift that the boy has, Walker Sr brings the boy up to the main house to be educated and to be his white son Maynard’s servant.

This is the beginning of a journey that will take Hiram through oppressive suffering toward a future that will enable him to become a soldier in the underground war between the Quality and the Tasked. He will begin to unearth the memory of his mother, buried deep within him, that will allow his gift of ‘conduction’ to emerge, a gift that will help him to understand that freedom without love and family is bondage in its own way.

The story is based on the real life experiences of William and Peter Still, African-American brothers who were able to purchase their freedom from slavery and went on to become active abolitionists and conductors on the Underground Railroad. Fleeing For Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railway and The Underground Railroad Records are compilations of experiences of  the slaves and conductors who worked on the secret network and reflect the perils, tactics, and emotional struggles faced by the freedom seekers and fighters.

A warning to the reader: the inhumanity depicted in this story is almost beyond belief and yet multitudes of blacks have this savagery imprinted into their DNA through the generations that lived and continue to live in a country still much defined by its roots of slavery. 

— Nancy C.

Beer, Polkas and … Murder!

As K-W celebrates Oktoberfest season – a time of beer, polka and all things Bavarian – it’s the perfect time to pick up the Sloan Krause cozy mystery series by Ellie Alexander. The series is set in a small town known for its own Oktoberfest celebration and focuses on the growing culture of craft beer.

The first book in the series, Death on Tap, introduces readers to the town of Leavenworth, Washington. This Bavarian-inspired tourist town has a colourful cast of citizens including Sloan Krause, whose life revolves around her family-owned brew house and restaurant. When a murder occurs at one of the small craft breweries, Sloan finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.

While the mysteries in the first three books of this series are at the forefront, Alexander also provides readers with interesting tidbits on craft brewing and its growing culture. As someone who enjoys craft beer, I found the info on the brewing process, flavours etc. quite interesting. But it was the underlying mystery surrounding Sloan’s murky past that kept me coming back for more. Since this mystery about Sloan’s early life builds over the three books, I highly suggest reading the books in order.

Book 1: Death on Tap
Book 2: The Pint of No Return
Book 3: Beyond a Reasonable Stout

Whether you’re a craft beer aficionado or simply not a beer person, I think fans of lighter mysteries will enjoy cozying up this Fall with this series.

— Laurie P.

Beyond “Notting Hill”

Julia Roberts is up to something. I can tell. Her name keeps popping up in my newsfeeds. I am not suspicious, I don’t think it is anything outrageous. It did make me feel like watching the movie “Notting Hill” again and after I watched it I did a little research and realized that it has been 20 years since that film came out. The movie still holds up. Her character, Anna Scott, is still the a star that you would be gobsmacked to meet at a dinner party and Hugh Grant’s character, William Thacker, still seems like a charming bookseller with floppy hair. Their relationship goes through many swoops but you cheer at the end. That’s the thrill of a good romantic story, in book or movie form.

We’ve seen some good ones at our house lately because I never stop hoping that I am going to find another romantic story that will resonate like Anna & Will’s. I’m always on the hunt for the next story that will make me feel it is worth watching more than once, perhaps many times. Looking back at the DVDs I have recently checked out of the library I have been bewitched by the beauty of “Crazy Rich Asians”, found “The Big Sick” to be outrageously funny, and enjoyed many of the twists in “Isn’t It Romantic”. Three films made in the recent years that I really liked, would probably watch again, but they didn’t really make my heart sing.

I recently watched a movie that I think is just about good enough to be my new “Notting Hill”. It is… Seth Rogen’s “Long Shot”. Who knew? My family does not agree with my 9 out of 10 rating for this movie. I loved the movie, believed in their love story, and felt that it was like a flipped version of “The American President”. That’s right, I am comparing it with Aaron Sorkin’s 1999 gem of a film, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, one of the early influences of “The West Wing” (also known as the best television show ever made). It’s not exactly the same, of course, but in the way that an unlikely friendship slowly blossoms into love, both films contain a nugget of the same perfect romance. And, I’m telling you, Seth Rogen plays an alarmingly believable love interest to Charlize Theron. I would never have thought this could happen. Rogen hasn’t typically played love interests, he has played far more successful animated characters than romantic leads. For example, he was a very good Mantis in both “Kung Fu Panda” movies but there really wasn’t a lot of romance there.

With romantic stories you have to be ready to suspend disbelief. It’s important to be able to accept a circumstance you wouldn’t normally believe in traditional fiction so that the essential “meet cute” can happen. Like, in “Singin’ in the Rain” Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon find each other again after a few obstacles (and some great musical numbers) and their romance blooms. It’s something that couldn’t happen in real life but works with the right comic twist and a solid romantic arc. When it works, it works.

In “Long Shot” Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a talented journalist who recently lost his job, and Charlize Theron is the U.S. Secretary of State, Charlotte Fields, who has decided to make a run for President. The sweet twist is that they knew each other when they were younger – she was his babysitter – and reunite because she needs someone who really knows her to make her speeches more compelling. In between falling in love there is one epic fall down the stairs at a New York fundraiser, an outstanding prank played on Flarsky by Charlotte’s staffers, all of the best behind-the-scenes campaign scenes you could ever want, and one glamorous dance where he wears a tuxedo and she wears a red dress worthy of the Oscars. Their chemistry is magic, undeniable, and the writing is warm and so funny. It is definitely a production of Seth Rogen’s company, Point Grey, so the R rating is well-deserved but it also suits the setting of the story and the characters. The supporting cast is fantastic, it has a better-than-average soundtrack, and it was refreshing to see a powerful female character making decisions for herself – for her career, for her future, and for her love life.

I will always be a fan of the romantic comedy, it turns out that I like them that much more when it features a fabulous woman changing the world with someone outrageously funny and charming by her side.

— Penny M.

WPL Book Clubs’ Picks for October

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, October 21 – Monday Evening Book Club
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
7:00pm – Main Library, Auditorium

21 Lessons For the 21st Century provides a kind of instruction manual for the present day to help readers find their way around the 21st century, to understand it, and to focus on the really important questions of life. Once again, Harari presents this in the distinctive, informal, and entertaining style that already characterized his previous books.

The topics Harari examines in 21 Lessons include major challenges such as international terrorism, fake news, and migration, as well as turning to more personal, individual concerns, such as our time for leisure or how much pressure and stress we can take.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century answers the overarching question: What is happening in the world today, what is the deeper meaning of these events, and how can we individually steer our way through them? The questions include what the rise of Trump signifies, whether or not God is back, and whether nationalism can help solve problems like global warming.

Few writers of non-fiction have captured the imagination of millions of people in quite the astonishing way Yuval Noah Harari has managed, and in such a short space of time. His unique ability to look at where we have come from and where we are going has gained him fans from every corner of the globe. There is an immediacy to this new book which makes it essential reading for anyone interested in the world today and how to navigate its turbulent waters.

Read a review of the book by Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates!)

Goodreads: 4.2* rating and reviews

Just want a summary of the book?  Find it here

Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book, the eBook or on the eAudiobook.

Thursday, October 17 – Thursday Afternoon Book Club
Transatlantic by Colum McCann
1:30 p.m. – Main Library, Boardroom

In 1845, Frederick Douglass, a black American slave, lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling around him. In 1919, two brave young airmen emerge from the carnage of World War I to pilot the first transatlantic flight from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to the west of Ireland. In 1998 an American senator criss-crosses the ocean in search of a lasting peace in Ireland.

Taking these stories as his point of departure, Colum McCann weaves together the lives of Douglass, Alcock and Brown, and Senator George Mitchell in a tapestry that is both ambitious and unforgettable.

Goodreads: 3.8* rating and reviews

NY Times review of the book

Place a hold on a WPL copy of the book.

Forever is a Long Time

Better Homes & Gardens (BHG) has been around for a long time. It was founded in 1922 by Edwin Meredith, who had previously been the United States Secretary of Agriculture and originally named his magazine “Fruit, Home & Garden” before changing to BHG in 1925. So, they are closing in on 100 years of sharing recipes as well as information on gardening, crafts and entertaining. Okay, so maybe that’s not “forever” but a century isn’t something to sneeze at.

BHG192207COVThe original magazine (July 1922) cost $0.10 per issue and contained curious articles like “The Almighty Sprayer”, “A Trunk Rest” and “Cannibals in the Orchard.” However, it also had articles that could be referenced by today’s homeowner: what to do with grass clippings, how to start a backyard flock of chickens (well, in City of Kitchener at least), and tips for successful transplanting.

Fast forward to a 2019 issue and the cost is $3.99US. And while there are still articles for gardeners and homeowners, like “The Art of the Garden”, others are now a sign of the times with titles like “The House That YouTube Built” and “What’s Trending at BHG”.

Better Homes & Gardens, which is also one of the top selling magazines in the States, is so famous that it has been referenced many times in hit songs, television shows and movies. And of course, besides the magazine there is the cookbooks, especially the iconic “My Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook” which came out in 1930. The book is regularly updated (it’s now on the 16th) and, with over 34 million copies sold, is as popular as ever with home cooks.

The BHG cookbook I borrowed recently was “100 Recipes You’ll Make Forever”. First off can I say that I love the binding of the book (as happy cooks commented back in the 1930s, too) as it allows the pages to stay open to the selected recipe without a special placeholder or tin of corn weighing it down! It’s a wide-ranging cookbook and I had difficulty narrowing down what to try. When I first borrowed it from the library, we were still being inundated with mulberries from our towering tree in the garden so I went with a few fruit-based bakes.

The fruit coffeecake with mulberries instead of raspberries was wonderful. Easy to make and so moist. The only part I didn’t like was the streusel topping. I prefer mine with brown sugar and oatmeal rather than white, which I felt formed too hard a crust. As the mulberries continued to fall, I tried the double-blueberry (yes, substituted mulberries) muffins which, again, were a success as was the double-crust fruit pie with, fooled you, apples. I’m still re-discovering making pastry and a meat pie I made recently was divine and the fruit pie from this cookbook was excellent. The BHG pastry came together quickly, was easy to handle and tasted wonderful. Two thumbs up from my husband, an apple pie addict.

My favourite recipe though was Oven Barbecued Chicken. Super easy and the sauce is fantastic. It made quite a bit of sauce and, as there was just two of us dining, we had leftover sauce. Besides the initial dish with boneless chicken (cut up, doused in sauce and served with rice and salad), we tried it on burgers, pork and hot dogs too. The right mix of sweet and heat. It is fingerlicking! Yes we will be making this sauce FOREVER.

If you’d like to browse the original BHG magazine, or any, really, Better Homes & Gardens has made their entire archive available online.

  • Sandi H.

Oven Barbecued Chicken

4 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and/or drumsticks)*
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup butter
1 cup finely chopped onion (1 large)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup tomato paste
¼ cup molasses

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with parchment paper or foil; set aside. Skin chicken. In an extra-large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken; cook until browned on all sides, turning to brown evenly. If necessary, brown chicken in batches, adding more oil if needed. Drain chicken well.

Arrange chicken pieces, bone sides up, in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a large saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onion, salt, and garlic; cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Add paprika, chili powder, crushed red pepper, and black pepper; cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add the water, cider vinegar, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce; bring to boiling. Whisk in tomato paste and molasses until smooth. Boil gently, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until sauce is thickened and reduced to about 4 cups, stirring occasionally.

Turn chicken pieces bone sides down. Transfer 1 cup of the sauce to a small bowl; brush this sauce over the chicken. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink (170°F for breasts; 180°F for thighs and drumsticks). Reheat some of the remaining sauce; pass with the chicken. Store any remaining sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

*I had thawed boneless chicken breasts that day and was tight on time. I cut the chicken into cubes, cooked them in the pan and coated liberally with sauce…wonderful!