I Love Lucy

We don’t buy a lot of books at our house because we really don’t need to – everything we need to read is right here on the WPL shelves or, if we want to dip into something off the beaten path, it can usually come to us through the joys of an interlibrary loan.

Once in a while we do buy books and it is most thrilling if it can come through an interaction with the author. I know, from comments made by authors online, that they enjoy these conversations even though book tours can be exhausting so I try to keep the chats brief but sometimes it is so hard to keep that in mind. A favourite author (maybe I’m obsessed) of mine is returning to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year and she will be signing copies of her latest book Kid Gloves: nine months of careful chaos and I am buying a copy of that one. Even though I have already read it. I read it straight through the very first day that I picked up my hold and then read it through again. She is that good.

The first Lucy Knisley book I came across was Relish: my life in the kitchen which she published in 2013. I think I found it while I was looking for inspiration in our own mealtime – a constant battle – but found so much more than cheerfully illustrated recipes she includes at the end of each chapter. It’s about Knisley’s relationship with food, complicated but optimistic, and how that is tied up with how she feels about her parents and herself. It’s definitely a helpful reference for a young cook, and includes clever tips with gorgeous illustrations, but it’s the kind of book that mixes facts with autobiographical references so a reader can use it as a chance to reflect on their own relationships with family and food. The two are inextricably linked and Knisley uses a combination of humour and honesty to make this clear. She will make you think, enjoy your meals more, possibly try something new, and you might even connect differently with family members.

Relish was such an unusually pleasant book – a great mix of comfort and challenge – that I went to the catalogue to see if we had anything else from this author and I was thrilled to find an earlier book she wrote called French Milk. In this graphic novel Knisley is celebrating her 22nd birthday while her mother is celebrating her 50th. They head to Paris to enjoy the beauty and food of the city they both love. It’s a wonderful travel journal because she includes photographs as well as her own illustrations of their six week journey but it is also a poignant story of a mother and daughter. A story that is sometimes difficult – all mother-daughter relationships have some tension, right? Travel just brings it into focus for both. The author brings the same honesty to this novel that she did to Relish and you really do ache for her as she describes disagreements with her mother, the turmoil of her own romantic life, and what she is feeling as she realizes that it is time for her to become an adult.

Knisley hits adulthood at high speed in Displacement: a travelogue which is another travel journal but entirely different French Milk. In this novel she volunteers to go on a ten-day cruise with her grandparents. Both grandparents are in their 90s when this trip happens and, wishing that she had more time to spend with them, Knisley decides this is the perfect time to bond and maybe ask her grandfather some questions she has about his WWII memoir. She is also realistic about the possibility of the trip becoming the topic of another graphic novel.

Early in the book Knisley describes the trip as possibly being “comedy gold”, “a bonding trip with my grands”, “a frustration fest”, “a worrisome glimpse into decadent first-world irresponsible luxury”, “a depressing insight into my grands’ deteriorating health”? And then she answers herself with “all of the above”? It turns out that she is right. It is possible to laugh while reading this book but the realities of caring for her grandparents gives Knisley constant anxiety throughout the trip and even her cheer falters more than once. This book can hit very close to home if your life has ever taken you down the path of caring for an elderly relative or friend and if that hasn’t been your experience I’d suggest you pick it up for the chance to see and feel it as close to first-hand as possible. Well, experience it while trapped on a ten-day cruise.

Turning to the other end of the life cycle Lucy Knisley published (after considerable excitement online) her latest book Kid Gloves. This book is getting a lot of attention from librarians and book reviewers – it has joined many of her other books by making it onto the New York Times Best Seller List – debuting at #13! Kid Gloves is a memoir of her experience with fertility, conception, pregnancy and the first few days with her child (she calls him ‘Pal’ in an effort to give the baby some privacy) and it is raw and so honest. As she has done with her previous novels she chooses to blend her autobiographical storyline with something ‘more’ and this time she is taking on the mounds of misinformation in history and science about reproductive health. She weaves in some fascinating and important facts while battling misconceptions that are worth attacking.

Kid Gloves is a book that could be on a reading list for expectant parents, health-care professionals and anyone who supports them. So, it’s a book for everyone. I wish you could reach down under your chair right now and find a copy of this book. Like Oprah used to do. “You get a book! You get a book! You get a book!!” A fan favourite at book signings because she goes the extra mile for readers, Knisley included a playlist for this novel on her website – it even includes Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine” from Waitress. Perfection. I really can’t wait to meet this author and try to act cool about it. If you can’t make it to TCAF2019 you can read her books and meet her that way. Reading is a great way to make a new friend.

— Penny M.

The Perfect Cookie

Gingerbread. No, peanut butter. No, oatmeal. No, shortbread. Okay. Really there are so many “perfect” cookies out there. I’ve hardly ever met a cookie I didn’t like and my waistline is proof of that. But seriously, I take cookies seriously and am actually quite picky when it comes to what cookies (and cookie recipes!) that I would score a perfect 10.

Do you chase perfect recipes? For some things, I do. It took me years, after coming oh-so-close on a number of occasions, to find what I felt was the “perfect” brownie recipe. Same with gingerbread cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip and shortbread. Peanut butter was easy as a neighbour shared an awesome recipe with my Mum back in the early 70s and it is the PB cookie every other is measured by…and usually are found wanting.

Recently America’s Test Kitchen came out with a 400+ page book dedicated to cookies, brownies and bars. Drop cookies. Sandwich cookies. No bakes. Gluten free. You get the idea. If it’s a cookie, it’s in The Perfect Cookie.

As is usual with ATK books, it starts out with a few chapters to help readers prepare to make those perfect cookies properly. Mixing, baking and cooling methods. A list of “essential” equipment. I put “essential” in quotes as I have been baking a variety of cookies for more years than I want to tally up and have never needed to invest in a stand mixer or food processor to have success. The rest of the items on the list though I agree with, all necessities for a happy baking experience. They also offer insight into selecting and storing ingredients and even cookie troubleshooting. These people take cookies seriously too which means we should be a match made in heaven.

The very first recipe in the book is The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. As they say, it’s “…the most iconic American treat.” While chocolate chip cookies aren’t my #1 favourite, a chewy one with just the right balance of chips to cookie dough are pretty darn irresistible. I decided to give this recipe plus the Trail Mix Cookies a try.

For the chocolate chip cookies, the method was a little unusual, melting and browning the butter instead of just creaming it with the sugar. The dough came together quickly and they looked good coming out of the oven. As for the trail mix cookies, they were chock-a-block with oats, whole wheat flour, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pecans and chocolate chips. When baking, they smelled heavenly and looked wonderful, holding their shape.

Instead of asking my husband to be the taste tester (as is tradition) I instead tested the cookies on the Waterloo Wolves Major Midget AAA Hockey Team. These 16 & 17 years old players train and play hard and when they leave the ice, are HUNGRY. That doesn’t mean that they are devoid of tastebuds.

So, can you guess the results? The team was presented with 24 of each cookie. At the end, there were 7 chocolate chip cookies left…and ZERO trail mix. The trail mix cookies easily beat out the “Perfect” chocolate chip cookies.

I did try both myself (of course I did!) and I have to agree with the players. The chocolate chip cookies are definitely good. Would I say they are perfect; the best I’ve ever had? No. Just a good, run-of-the-mill homebaked chocolate chip. The trail mix cookies though had great chew, wonderful flavour and were filling. That recipe will definitely be made in our household again in the future.

Flipping through The Perfect Cookie, I did see lots of recipes to try including Noche Buena Sandwich Cookies with decadent dulce de leche, Key Lime Bars, Applesauce Cookies and Gingerbread Brownies. If the beautiful photos are anything to go by, they should be pretty tasty.

If you’re looking for a good (I won’t say perfect though, because that result is up to the baker) cookie recipe, this is definitely a book worth borrowing.

– Sandi H.

Trail Mix Cookies

1 c old fashioned rolled oats
½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking soda
5 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 c brown sugar, packed
½ c dried cherries, dried cranberries or raisins
¼ c toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
¼ c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets.

In medium bowl combine oats, flours, salt, cinnamon and soda. Set aside.

Whisk butter, egg and vanilla together in large bowl. Stir in sugar until smooth. Add in oat mixture, stirring until just combined then stir in fruit, seeds and chips.

Working with 1 tblsp of dough at a time, roll into balls. Place on baking sheets 2” apart.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until edges are set but centres are soft and puffy.

Remove from oven. Let cool on baking sheet 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

The Widows

I have to admit at the outset that I struggled a bit to get into The Widows by Jess Montgomery. I don’t know if it was the book or just my attitude at the time but I came very close to bailing. However, I am glad that I didn’t as I became quite engaged with the story and the strong female characters within.

Based in 1924 Ohio coal-mining country, this is the story of two women, both young widows, who overcome the powerful grip of grief and pain to stand strong for what they believe in. Lily Ross’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, had been murdered and pregnant Lily is asked to replace him as Sheriff until elections can be held to fill the role ‘properly’. Marvena Whitcomb, Daniel’s best friend, (unbeknownst to Lily) is in the throes of grieving for her own husband who was killed in an explosion at Ross Mining Company’s Mine No 9, also known as “The Widowmaker”.

Two prominent themes, still evident today, thread through this story. Both Lily and Marvena are powerfully courageous women butting up against a male-dominant societal norm that is eager to suppress and negate them.

In a town where corporate greed has been responsible for the killing and maiming of many of the town’s miners, organizing for unionization puts Marvena directly in the sights of the ruthless mine owner, Luther Ross. He will stop at nothing to suppress calls for improved conditions at his mine.

Lily too meets powerful resistance as she tries to uncover the truth about her husband’s murder. In a town where trusting someone can be a fatal mistake, these two women must find the courage to overcome their fear and join forces to uncover the truth that will set them and their community free.

All of the female characters in this story demonstrate an iron rod of internal strength and commitment to caring and nurturing their families and their community.

In the author’s notes, Jess Montgomery talks about learning that in 1925, in Vinton County Ohio, a woman by the name of Maude Collins was elected Sheriff after filling the post temporarily upon the unexpected death of her husband, Fletcher Collins. She went on to have a long career in law enforcement.

Technically, The Widows is at times well-written and then, variously choppy. I struggled off and on to keep characters straight but the underlying story was strong and some of Montgomery’s descriptions of the countryside landscapes were just gorgeous. So, I would rate The Widows 3*** for writing but 4**** for the story and the character development.

— Nancy C.

You Had Me at Profiteroles

Profiteroles. When a cookbook arrives at WPL all shiny and new, promoting 450 foolproof recipes AND it features a stunning cover image of beautiful pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate well, who am I to resist? That book, even though it weighed a tonne, HAD to come home with me.

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book is the latest in their series of comprehensive cookbooks. Cook’s Illustrated is a popular American bi-monthly magazine founded almost 40 years ago and known for its carefully tested recipes and very detailed instructions.

I must say the Baking Book is impressive. At the beginning there are 20 pages dedicated to giving absolute baking beginners key information on basic ingredients, the correct way to measure and kitchen equipment options. This is followed by 15 (yes, 15) chapters on everything from muffins to pizza, angel food cake to quiche.

Each recipe is accompanied by black and white method illustrations (which fans of the magazine will be well used to) as well as background info on the baked good. Most also have a beautiful colour photo. A feature I enjoyed was the alternatives/options listed beside the regular recipe just in case you’d like to switch things up a bit. The notes with answers to the “whys” of a recipe are interesting.

One thing I have to say I personally found very annoying is listing the measurement for butter/margarine in tablespoons. Who would measure out 24 tablespoons of butter? Why not just say 1 ½ cups? I’ve noticed this in a number of American cookbooks and, yes, it is a pet peeve of mine.

Anyhow, I tried two recipes from the Baking Book and no, not the profiteroles although I was tempted. The first was Classic Cream Scones with currants. My Mum has a wonderful recipe for sweet scones that has been a family favourite since the early 70s so this recipe was really going to be tested. It was an easy recipe and the dough came together quickly although I did have to add a bit more cream than listed to get the right consistency. Out of the oven they looked identical to the photo in the book. They were tasty and went very nicely with a cup of tea…but…my family’s recipe is safe. Mum, I still prefer your lighter, fluffier scones!

cooks illus 002The other recipe I tried were Thin & Crispy Oatmeal Cookies but I used one of the options offered and went with the oatmeal-coconut blend. Once again, the recipe was very easy. They did recommend using a stand mixer (as many new cookbooks do) but a wooden spoon worked just as well for me. I rolled the dough into balls and pressed to flatten to the advised thickness before baking. They smelled wonderful but didn’t really flatten or crisp up at all. The cookies had stayed thick and chewy and were really tasty. I would definitely make them again.

Will I be buying my own copy? No, but for a beginner baker Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book would be an excellent resource and most certainly worth borrowing from the library or buying from a favourite bookstore.

— Sandi H.

Thin & Crispy Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies

1 c. all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
14 tbsp (or ¾ c. plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
¼ c. light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups oatmeal
1 ½ c. sweetened flaked coconut

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheet.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars at medium-low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula.
4. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.
5. With mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture until just incorporated and smooth, 10 seconds. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oats and coconut and mix until well-incorporated, 20 seconds.
6. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
7. Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons (I did smaller cookies…about 1 tbsp each), then roll between palms into balls. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart, 8 dough balls per sheet. Using fingertips, gently press each dough ball to 3/4-inch thickness.
8. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, edges are crisp, and centers yield to slight pressure when pressed, 13 – 16 minutes
9. Cool cookies a minute or two before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

On the Come Up

After devouring and waxing poetic about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I was among the eager fans awaiting On The Come Up. It’s a coming-of-age story about a Black teenage girl named Bri who finds her calling, the power of her own voice and, ultimately, discovers who she wants to be.

I easily connected with Thomas’ writing style. It’s powerful, engaging and authentic as she shows Bri and her family’s struggles to make ends meet and deal with their complicated past. Through her dialogue, she reveals the bonds between the characters and adds humorous bits, delightful nerdy references and some solid banter.

I loved that Bri is so different compared to Starr (the main character of The Hate U Give). She is brash, headstrong, outspoken and occasionally makes poor choices but its through those choices, and their consequences, that we see Bri find out who she wants to be. She is flawed but passionate and once she focuses on what’s important to her, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Angie Thomas need not worry about Sophomoric Writer Blues. On The Come Up is a wonderful, thought-provoking read about self-discovery and while many readers may not connect with Bri’s hip hop world, Thomas has written a story about relatable issues (loss, friendship, the messiness of family, standing up for yourself) and allows her readers to take a look at the world through Bri’s eyes and walk in her Timberlands for at least a few hundred pages.

— Laurie P.

Shade

In Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents author Pete Souza throws plenty of shade and how.

Souza was the official White House photographer for Barack Obama. When Donald Trump became President, Souza took to Instagram @petesouza to highlight the differences between the two presidents. So, he takes say, a newspaper headline or a Donald Trump tweet and juxtapositions it with one of his own photos of Barack Obama, and serves it up with a caption. People started to notice Souza’s work and some commented that he was “throwing shade.”

What does that mean, “throwing shade”? I didn’t know and neither apparently did Souza. So he consulted a dictionary which told him it’s “a subtle, sneering expression of contempt or disgust with someone.” Though as Souza says “You can call it shade. I just call it the truth.”

Shade is a compilation of Souza’s Instagram posts. Some of them are sooo funny. When I first picked up the book I started laughing so hard I think I scared a few people. Other posts made me feel sad or appalled—in a how-did-we-get-here kind of way.

Here are a couple of Pete Souza’s posts that grabbed my attention (though really you have to get the book and see for yourself. And yes, you really have to.)

Donald Trump’s tweet: “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” juxtaposed with a photo of Barack Obama and someone dressed up as Abraham Lincoln with the caption “Two, like, really smart Presidents.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

And here is the one that really got me. Trump at the time of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville very famously — or is it infamously — said there were “…very fine people…” on “…both sides.” And Obama on that occasion? He took to Twitter and quoted Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” Just let that sink in — the stark, worlds-apart difference between those two men.

pete-souza-white-house-obama-favorites-51I would also highly recommend Pete Souza’s previous book: Obama: an Intimate Portrait. Obama is a collection of Souza’s photos of the former president. I especially loved the photos of Obama and his family and of Obama interacting with ordinary Americans.

— Penny D.

Back to Basics

Not to be conceited but my baking skills are beyond basic. That being said, I am far (far) from being a professional baker and am always ready to learn something new and try something new. When I saw Rose’s Baking Basics on the new book display with a beautiful meringue-topped pie on the cover, I tucked it away in my book bag along with 3 other new cookbooks.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of 12 cookbooks, blogger, award-winning food writer and baker, is also known as the “Diva of Desserts”. She is a 3-time winner of a James Beard Award, had her own TV series on PBS and has a line of cookware. This is all super impressive but as many readers know, just because an author/book wins an award doesn’t mean the book will be a winner with us!

At first her name wasn’t familiar to me but as I did a little research for this review I recognized the covers for “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” (c1990) and “Rose’s Pie & Pastry Bible” (c1998). So I actually revisiting recipes by Rose Levy Beranbaum and it was a triumphant return.

With all the sweets popping up lately, first over Christmas and New Year’s and now with Valentine’s Day on the horizon,  I was ready to make something less sugary. The first recipe I tried from Rose’s Baking Basics was the Butter Biscuits. I’ve made biscuits before of course and they were okay-to-good but nothing to write home about, if I’m honest. This changed on the weekend when I tried Rose’s recipe.

In “Baking Basics” there are detailed, step-by-step instructions along with lots of photos of the process as well as the finished product. As I looked at the list of ingredients for the biscuits I was puzzled by the first on the list: 3 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only. Hardboiled egg yolks? In biscuits? I read the recipe again. These are biscuits, right? Yes. Then I took the time to read the intro to the recipe:

“These biscuits are exceptionally soft, tender and velvety. The secret ingredient is from James Beard, with whom I studied fifty years ago: hard cooked egg yolk.”

rose_biscuits_003Who am I to argue with James Beard and Rose Levy Beranbaum? I followed the recipe, cutting the amounts by 50% to make just a half batch. The dough came together with hardly any kneading at all. I cut out my biscuits and popped them in the oven. Fifteen minutes later I had fresh, warm biscuits that looked exactly like the photo in the book. My husband could hardly wait for them to cool. They were fantastic! The first one I tried with some butter but really they are absolutely delicious on their own. This is a recipe to keep forever.

I also made the Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumprint cookies. They were easy to make and pretty tasty. I must say though that I have used the same peanut butter cookie recipe for my entire life and although Beranbaum’s recipe is a good one, I think next time I’ll use my cookie recipe but steal her idea re: the jammy thumbprint.

This gorgeous cookbook is a wonderful addition to the WPL collection and would also be a great addition to a personal collection, whether you’re a newbie to baking or a seasoned baker.

— Sandi H.

Butter Biscuits

3 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only
1 ½ c. all purpose flour
¾ c cake & pastry self raising flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ c white sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 c heavy (whipping) cream

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

Press egg yolks through mesh strainer (I used a tea strainer) into small bowl. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine flours, powder, salt and sugar. With a pastry blender, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cream until the flour is moistened and coming together in a ball.

Empty dough onto a lightly floured counter or baking board. Knead a couple of times until it feels smooth and not sticky.

Pat until 3/4” thickness. Using cutters (I just use a glass tumbler), cut into medium-sized circles. Place on baking sheet and put in oven.

Increase heat to 400F. Bake for 5 minutes then lower the temperature back to 375F. Bake for 10 more minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve plain, or with butter or jam. They are best served warm from the oven or eaten within a day or so of baking.

NOTE: this is a condensed version of the instructions. If you would like more details and information on freezing the biscuits, or info on baking with soft sides vs crisp sides, borrow Rose’s Baking Basics from the library.

Waffles, Knope & Galentine’s Day

February needs all the help it can get. It’s the shortest month in the calendar but just seems so long. Breaking it up midway with a cheerful holiday on the 14th really helps give February a much needed boost. Here at the library we celebrate Library Lovers month in February so it’s a special month for us and in recent years I have also been participating in the wonderful celebration of Galentine’s Day, on February 13th, with the encouragement of friends. I’ve found that this makes all the difference in getting me through the second month of the year.

If you aren’t yet participating in this worldwide celebration sensation you can get started by watching Parks and Recreation, Season Two (Episode Sixteen) where the always enthusiastic Leslie Knope first brings all of her very best female friends together for a brunch which she describes as being “…like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas!”

Knope honours her friends with appropriate gifts (Leslie is the best at gift giving) and the personalized gift bags include fabulous items including gorgeous mosaics she has made of their faces. In seasons four and six of the show the writers return to Galentine’s Day and the theme of enjoying breakfast foods continues as does the emphasis on the strength of friendship. These are traditions worth adopting and you can find inspiration across the Internet as the special season arrives.

Turn to Etsy for gifts and cards made by talented artists. Or look to our collection of books that can help you to craft something special for your friends. I think a sweet little origami box made in your BFF’s favourite colour that you fill with delicious treats could be just the thing to drop into her book bag on February 13th. Or, if you really want to do this Knope-style you can make that mosaic of her face but you’d better get started now. That kind of gifting magic takes a long time to pull together.

Cover.final_.wAnother great way to celebrate Galentine’s Day is with a wonderful meal. We have so many great spots in town that you can hit for a delicious meal but how about you invite some friends over to your house for some treats and a good long chat about your friendship. There really is nothing better. When you eat at home there is no chance of feeling like you need to give up your table because the restaurant is getting busy – it’s your table. Just brew some more coffee or boil additional water for tea and make the fun last longer. It’s the best feeling. You can choose to go with a Parks and Rec classic and make the very best waffles or splash out make frittatas. You can’t help but be inspired by this 2017 cookbook from Rebecca Wellman, called First, we brunch: recipes and stories from Victoria’s best breakfast joints – your breakfast and brunch will really never be the same.

Should you feel like you want to keep your Parks and Rec vibe going after February 13th I heartily recommend the books of actors Amy Poehler and Retta (both women narrate their own audiobooks so you could listen to their wonderful voices tell you the secrets behind filming the television show where they first met – it is so much fun).

And finally. A personal tip. If you cut up your waffles in advance and make a small pool of whipped cream on your plate, you can dip each bite one-handed while you hold your book in the other hand and make it seem like you are celebrating a one person Galentine’s Day at any time of the year. We are all, as Lesley Knope says, “…beautiful rule-breaking moths.”

— Penny M.

Long Live the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll

When we think of Tina Turner we tend to think of wild hair, red lipstick and legs that can dance for days. Everyone knows of course about her tumultuous marriage to Ike Turner and how she left with nothing but 36 cents in her pocket. We know some of her greatest hits like “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and “Private Dancer” came out some years later. What most of us don’t know, however, is what happened in the years between her split from Ike and becoming a superstar.

My Love Story is an autobiography about the second half of Tina Turner’s life – the life that began after walking away from her success with Ike.

The beginning of the book does cover Turner’s early days and how Ike controlled every aspect of her career including her name. Born Anna Mae, Ike came up with the stage name Tina, had it trademarked and therefore owned everything she did. It does go into the abuse and how she reached her lowest point before walking out the door. But the majority of the book is about Tina’s resilience. How she remade her career and how she found love again.

The journey starts with her giving up everything she knew. Tina was finally free of her marriage but what else did she have? She was a woman approaching 40 and only known for performing with Ike on stage. She didn’t have the conventional looks of other female artists. She wasn’t curvaceous, her voice was raw rather than sensual and to top it off, she was being sued for breach of contract for the concert dates she missed after leaving Ike.

North America had a hard time accepting Tina Turner as a solo artist. She really did have to start from nothing. At times all she had to rely on was meditation and prayer, which she learned as a student of Buddhism. I found myself devouring page after page of her story as she takes back her life and transforms herself into the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Even if you are not a fan of Tina Turner herself, the book is full of historical events in music including her Las Vegas show with Sammy Davis Jr. and her iconic performance with the Rolling Stones at Live Aid. (She claims to have been the one who taught Mick Jagger his moves).

My Love Story is just that – a love story. Like any story it has a villain, a hero and some romance but most of all it’s a story about loving yourself. It is simply the best!

— Lesley L.

Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.