This is your holiday read

I just read the best book. It’s called Roost and it’s written by Ali Bryan who is Canadian. It came out in 2013 and is her first novel. I can’t wait for her next which is called “The Figgs” and comes out May 2018.

Bryan’s novel is the first person story of single mother Claudia who lives in Halifax and works full-time. She shops at Canadian Tire and Joe Fresh, often thinking back to happier days when she didn’t buy her clothes in a grocery store. Claudia lives with her two toddlers, Wes and Joan who are hilarious and so well written they dance off the page. This entire book is so funny I laughed out loud during the whole thing and it’s also so, so smart. I had the treat to go to Toronto to visit my Aunt a week ago and started reading it on the early morning train and I was laughing before 7am in the No-Talk zone! Don’t tell!

Claudia is separated from her husband Glen but still relies on him heavily to help out with household maintenance like finally removing the ugly rooster border in her kitchen. She knows she needs to let go, but not yet. Every time he comes over to help or take the children for his weekend, she notices something new about him; a new car or pair of pants. He gets a new dog and a fancy apartment and takes up painting when Claudia barely has time most days for a shower. Even the kids behave better around him. These details take Glen further and further away from Claudia while she feels like she can barely keep her head above water.

Things get worse when her mother dies; no spoiler here, it’s how the book begins. She and her brother Dan and his wife must find time to grieve while caring for their father who is not doing well on his own. It’s just all too much. Dan’s life is perfect and completely opposite from Claudia’s, until he shows what a jerk he is when his wife begins to suffer from postpartum depression and he can’t understand or help her. There are so many poignant parts that are lovely and make your heart do that happy/sad heavy flippy thing (I know you know what I mean).

It is a story everyone can relate to; family squabbles, overtired children during the holidays, running around but never feeling you’re doing well enough. It’s about having a hard time when things have to change and you don’t want them to. It’s about those lovely and chaotic moments with you kids. It is a short book, just under 300 pages and I’d say perfect for reading over the holidays, one night when you can sneak away from the craziness and take a bath. It is a glimpse into the lives of this family. There are no surprises or lessons learned, just about good people doing their best.

-Sarah C.

Baring one’s soul

The Memory of Light is a beautiful book about a serious situation. It was like reading someone’s bare soul – brave and honest. It breaks through the glorified clichés that so often surround stories of suicide to capture a realistic account of depression.

Vicky Cruz comes from a wealthy family. She has people who love her. She has more opportunities and privileges than most. Her depression is not caused by a specific event or trauma. Her suicide attempt shocks everyone and has her family begging the question ‘why?’. Vicky can only reply that it is possible to be loved and still want to kill yourself.

What I liked best about The Memory of Light is its realism. It’s not a fairy tale where she finds the meaning of life and suddenly all is well. It treats depression as exactly what it is: a disease. It isn’t something that will simply go away – she will have to deal with it for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, there will always be people who fail to grasp that concept. In the book, her father doesn’t understand her illness and probably never will, even impatiently asking her at one point if she’s still suicidal, as if it’s something she should have gotten over by now.

Perhaps the book is so real because author Fransico X. Stork has his own battle with depression. In his author’s note he writes that mental illness has affected him most of his life and he wanted to write a story ‘not about the downward spiral toward darkness, but about the much harder, much more hopeful and suspenseful steps toward light.’

The novel follows Vicky as she takes baby steps to recovery. The ground she walks on is often shaky and uneven. There are no short cuts. But she meets others along the path – young people her own age that are also battling mental illness. Each person she meets is from a completely different background, illustrating the idea that depression does not discriminate.

The Memory of Light is one of those rare stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. I still find myself wondering about Vicky and her family.  I do hope Fransico X. Stork continues writing, as anything he publishes will immediately go on my holds list.

-Lesley L.

A Break from the Chaos

As we head into the holiday season with all the shopping, decorating, cooking and baking, life can get a bit (or very!) chaotic. What better at the end of a long day than to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and a nice, relaxing book?

I recently completed Jan Karon’s latest volume, To Be Where You Are, book 14 in the Mitford series. If you haven’t read any of these yet, I highly recommend you start at the beginning with At Home in Mitford. Mitford is a small fictional town set in North Carolina. From the series’ beginning, Father Tim Kavanagh has been its main protagonist, an Episcopal priest (what we in Canada would call Anglican), whose goal is to serve both God and the flock he’s been given to shepherd. And what a peculiar flock it is!

If you’ve read the previous books, you’ll know that Mitford’s inhabitants face many of the same challenges we do. In the current book Father Tim tries to find his place post-retirement, his adopted son Dooley struggles with the financial aspects of his new veterinary business, Dooley and Lacey parent their adopted child Jack, Dooley’s natural mother strives to right the wrongs of her own parenting. What sets these stories apart from ours are the bucolic environment and Karon’s writing style, which is charming, entertaining, and ultimately gratifying.

To Be Where You Are begins on October 1st and apart from a brief postlude the following June 2nd, wraps up on December 25th. It’s a wonderful book to tuck under your arm and delve into as we head into the winter season.

Done Mitford? Try these cozy series/reads:

The Butternut Creek series beginning with:

welcomecommitteeofbutternutcreek

The Harmony Series, beginning with:

hometoharmony

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion:

therosieproject

And books by Maeve Binchy, Jennifer Chiaverini, Robin Jones Gunn and Miss Read.

-Susan B.

A story for all ages

The Hate You Give is classified as Young Adult but it is a story for all ages, not only for it’s theme but for its timeliness. Starr Carter is a black teen whose parents, a nurse and an ex-con store owner, have decided that she and her step-brother Seven need to go to a ‘white’ school’ in order to escape the perceived hopelessness of education offered in their home district. Being the only black girl at her school, she learns at an early age how to be black in a white world, meaning black enough to be cool but not black enough to generate racial tension.

The story begins with Starr and her long-time friend Khalil running out of a neighbourhood party after shots have been fired. Khalil offers to drive Starr home but en route, the unimaginable happens. Their car is stopped by a white police officer who ends up shooting and mortally wounding Khalil.

As the news goes viral, Starr’s neighbourhood erupts. Starr’s identity as the witness to the shooting is not made public due to concerns for her safety and consequently, she must deal with the horror of what she has experienced mostly alone. Her school friends have no concept of what she has experienced and her friends from home are caught up in the protests for justice to be served.

Agonizingly, Starr is faced with the decision of going public and telling the real story of what happened, thereby putting herself and her family at risk, or allowing the police and the media to portray the cop as a hero and her best friend as a drug dealer who brought this on himself.

The backdrop of this narrative is the gang culture that runs rampant in Starr’s neighbourhood and the death grip that the King Lords have on everyone. Sadly, Starr’s step-brother is the son of King, the ruthless leader of the gang, and Seven’s loyalty to his mother and sisters is tested by the violence that permeates all aspects of their lives.

And yet in spite of the violence and hatred, a thread of love and loyalty permeates throughout the family and the neighbourhood, both large and small, bringing the reader the slightest hope that this madness will soon end.

-Nancy C.

The Alice Network

The Alice Network unfolds along two timelines, one being 1915, the early years of the Great War and the other being post-WWII 1947. The 1915 story is based on real characters from WWI, a fact that I didn’t realize until I finished the book. I am a fan of historical fiction and this one did not disappoint. The unfolding of the lives of the women who were part of the real-life Alice spy network was fascinating. The patriotism that propelled them into this kind of dangerous work and the bravery they demonstrated day after day in their attempts to bring down the German war machine are hard to comprehend by someone who has never had their own existence challenged in such a way. I found myself wondering how I would have managed myself given the same circumstances.

One of the main characters in the 1947 segment is a 19-year-old girl from a wealthy New York family who has broken the chains of her parent’s bondage and has fled to France to solve the mystery of her cousin who went missing during WWII. She attempts to persuade Eve Gardiner, a war-weary former member of the 1915 Alice Network, to help her on her quest. Eve agrees to accompany Charlotte, ‘Charlie’, to France but not for the purpose that Charlie has envisaged. During their journey, the story of Eve’s experience as a spy unfolds and a thread of connection is drawn between the two women.

Eve, as a young woman of 22, is determined to do more with her life that work in the steno pool and when she is approached by Captain Cameron, who recruits candidates for the English spy network, she jumps at the chance to be part of the action. After a mere 2 weeks of training, she is sent to the field where she is met by Lili, the leader of the Alice Network, who trains her on what it really means to be a spy. Hired to be a  waitress in a restaurant owned by Rene Bordelon, a narcissistic and exceedingly greedy man, she begins her spy work in a most intense and compelling manner.

Eve at 54 is war-weary and broken by her experiences 30 years in the past. Charlie is repelled by her officious and offensive attitude and behaviour but continues to pressure Eve to help her find her missing niece, Rose. That search takes them on a journey of self-discovery and the devastating unraveling of the past that threatens to do them both in.

It doesn’t hurt the story at all that a handsome Scot, Finn Kilgore,  who happens to be Eve’s ‘minder and driver’, accompanies the pair on their journey. He is a supportive character but not a ‘rescuer’ of the women who are ‘rescuers’ in their own right.

This is a relatively easy read in spite of some content that at times can be most disconcerting.

-Nancy C.

Wonder is truly wonderful

With the newly released movie Wonder in the spotlight these days, I thought it was important to remind everyone that this heartwarming movie with its A-list cast is based on a very popular book series.

One of my all-time favourite books, to be exact.

Written in 2012 by R.J Palacio, Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a 5th grader who has severe craniofacial deformities who goes from being home schooled to attending public school. The story is told by Auggie and five other characters which sounds like it could be confusing but Palacio gives her characters clear voices which give readers insight into how Auggie influences those around him.

Auggie is an inspiring, funny and strong main character who will stay with readers for a long time. He’s a Star Wars loving boy with an extraordinary face who has a great support system at home. His parents and sister have instilled in him a strong sense of self and he uses humour to deal with other people’s issues with his face.

This book could very easily do a tailspin into a very woeful read about bullying but I found it uplifting and I loved its important message:

“Be kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

Simple, yet oh so important.

This is a must read for anyone from ages nine to ninety-nine. It’s about bullying, the true meaning of friendship and doing what is right, not necessarily what is the easiest. I adored this book and still think of Auggie five years after first reading it. Having yet to see the film, my hope is that Hollywood does this much loved book justice in its tone, intention and feeling that Palacio so eloquently imparted to her readers back in 2012.

Wonder is truly wonderful.

-Laurie P.

While you’re waiting…

Hillary Rodham Clinton is not the only person searching for the answer to the question “ what happened?” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as her recently published memoir was our most requested book in recent weeks. It looks like WPL customers also want that fly-on-the-wall feeling as she leads the reader through what must be one of the most disappointing moments of her political life. The question is what would be a good book to read while you are waiting to read Hillary’s book, What Happened, or to read after you have finished it – in that post-reading glow you have when a book is finished and you want to continue your reading journey on that theme. Our shelves are bursting with books that can supplement that interest.

You will find other books in our catalogue written about Hillary Clinton and you could dip your toes right back into her own writing with her 2014 book Hard Choices where she provides readers with her perspective on her role as the Secretary of State in the years 2009 to 2013. She wrote this book cautiously, knowing that a presidential run might be in her future, without giving away too many secrets although she is frank about her discouraging loss to Barack Obama in 2008. Hillary recently said that her defeat in the 2016 election would have felt entirely different if it had been to any other Republican candidate and it could be interesting to compare her reactions in these two memoirs.

Maybe you could just take a break from the U.S. election (it’s probably a good idea when you can) and dig into the lives of other remarkable women through their biographical writing. Although Hillary Clinton was born in 1947 and Joni Mitchell in 1943 they have much in common – both have had long careers in the spotlight and faced criticism for making unpopular decisions. In her own words is actually a combination of interviews, photographs and reproductions of Joni’s paintings and could possibly inspire you to take a trip to browse our CD shelves as well. A change of pace and a chance to listen to some fantastic music.

How about a recent memoir by Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif?  It’s still a memoir about a powerful woman but it is the transformational story of one from a modest family who became frustrated by the constrictions of having to be chauffeured around despite having a car in the garage and a license she had obtained while working in the U.S.  In her book, Daring to drive : a Saudi woman’s awakening, she shares her experiences of growing up in a culture where a guardian’s permission was required for virtually all decisions she made in her life and how this helped to transform her into the face of the Women2Drive movement. In September of this year that longstanding ban was overturned and Manal turned to Twitter to say that she is working on her next campaign which is to end guardianship laws with a hashtag #IamMyOwnGuardian.

It’s always a good idea to turn to books from home when you are in the mood for a good read. There really is nothing more exciting than when an author references a street name that you are familiar with or you read that they are eating in a restaurant or visiting a hotel that you have been to. Reading Vij Vikram’s 2017 memoir, Vij, is like worldwide travel and cooking inspiration in book form.  lara Hughes is so relatable and can always bring people to their feet whether you are cheering for her on your TV screen, listening to her on the CBC, or reading her 2015 story about her struggle with depression. You could also learn more about our own Canadian politicians with Elizabeth May’s Who we are: reflections on my life and Canada or Tom Mulcair’s Strength of conviction.  It might be a good time for us to reflect on the future of our own country now that we have read, or are going to read, the thoughts of Hillary Clinton.  Using the autobiographical writing of any person can be a fantastic opportunity to sort through your own life – consider where you are going and think about where you have been.  You might have your own ‘what happened’ moment, with or without the question mark.

-Penny M.

Late to the party

Over the past few weeks I have been happily catching up on some books I’ve been meaning to read for years. News of upcoming titles from the authors finally gave me the push. That and my friend Emma Straub (she’s not really my friend, but she would be right?) is a brilliant writer (Modern Lovers, The Vacationers) who owns a bookstore named Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, US and I take her recommendations very seriously.

Jennifer Egan – Oh my goodness! I finished reading her last novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad and I honestly was reading slowly at the end to keep me from finishing it. It’s a novel written in linking short stories and it’s so, so good! I think I’d been putting it off, to be honest, because I’d always heard how great it was and was worried I’d be disappointed.  Not disappointed!  Egan’s new novel, Manhattan Beach, just hit the shelves and her backlist includes many others.

Meg Wolitzer – I am halfway through The Interestings, her latest novel (she also has an impressive backlist) and I’m smitten. It’s a big, thick novel about teenage friends and the paths their lives take, together and apart in New York. She’s brilliant and funny and I love her too. Her new book, The Female Persuasion comes out next year.

Donna Tartt – Yes, only now have I read The Goldfinch in all of it’s 800 page glory! I picked it up the first day my kids went back to school and walked around with it so much for the next week you would have thought I have gained some muscle. It was amazing, I wasn’t disappointed at all. It’s the story of a boy’s life after losing his mother. I’m not going to tell you anything because I went into it blind and think you should too. Tartt also has two other amazing books.

I have also loved this year Grace O’Connell (Be Ready for the Lightning), Rebecca Rosenblum (So Much Love), Maile Meloy (Do Not Become Alarmed) and J. Courtney Sullivan (Saints for all Occasions).

Obviously, I have been reading all women writers these days and I think I’m going to continue to do so. In the words of one of my favourite Queen songs, “Don’t stop me now / I’m having such a good time / I’m having a ball!”

-Sarah C.

In good health

One of my favourite things about working in the library is the treasures I find shelving or among the returns in the book chute. Many times, my interest is captured by an item I would never have thought to search the catalogue for on my own. Hot Detox, by Registered Holistic Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, is new to the library and one of my latest finds. The title hooked me right away, and when I quickly flipped through the book I found lots of beautiful photographs and healthy-looking recipes.

Later, at home, I discovered whole chapters dedicated to cleansing toxins from your “gut”, liver, lymph system, kidneys, lungs and skin. Julie Daniluk, who is also the author of the Meals that Heal Inflammation and Slimming Meals that Heal cookbooks, explains how she suffered from colitis and joint pain for years until she began to experiment and eat foods that reduced inflammation in her body. In Hot Detox, Daniluk takes her experience and learning even further, by using warming spices in all the recipes, traditional Ayurvedic practices from India, and medicinal techniques from China. Hot Detox provides a 3 day, 10 day, or 21 day detox plan, each complete with suggested menus.

I decided to try the 21 day detox. In the first 9 days of the plan (Phase 1) you are weaned from gluten, dairy, refined sugar and caffeine. This sounds way worse than it is!  I did have a bad headache for a couple of days, which Daniluk suggests could be caused by shifting hormones or toxins, dehydration, or caffeine withdrawal. Phase 2 of the detox (days 10, 11, and 12) eliminates animal products and relies heavily on liquids. Phase 3 allows you to choose whether you want to remain vegan or reintroduce animal products again. There is also more of a focus on rebooting and nourishing all the systems in your body.

I have to say I really surprised myself!  Not only did I stick to the plan, but I didn’t feel hungry or have cravings. I tried lots of new-to-me foods, such as hemp hearts, chia seeds, coconut flour, and coconut milk. My whole family found the supper recipes to be especially good, and some even provided leftovers for another meal. I think the only recipe I really didn’t like was called Detox Rocket, which was a smoothie that included boiled beets. Other members of my family, who are counting calories, didn’t like the fact that the detox recipes do not include a nutritional breakdown. To save money, I went to Bulk Barn to get only the amounts I needed of ingredients I wasn’t sure I would use again after the detox, rather than buy them in big bags at Goodness Me or the grocery store. Some of the recipes also require additional preparation time, so I either chopped up ingredients in advance, or tried the recipe on a day that wasn’t as busy.

I lost 12 pounds on the 21 day detox plan. People ask me, “But how do you FEEL?”  Other than the obvious answer, “I feel great!  I lost 12 pounds!” I think the biggest change happened after the detox was over, when I ate a cookie a friend had made. One small taste of refined sugar and I felt very sick for several hours. This has only given me more incentive to carry on, and I have now borrowed Meals that Heal Inflammation and Slimming Meals that Heal. All three of Daniluk’s books are available at the Main Library, and the John M. Harper and McCormick branches.

Hot Detox has been shortlisted for the Taste Canada Cookbook Awards 2017.  Daniluk, who lives in Toronto, has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, is a resident expert for The Marilyn Denis Show, and hosts The Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).  Daniluk’s blog, free recipes and video cooking classes can be found on her website at http://www.juliedaniluk.com.

-Sandy W.

 

Resources for Writers

As I was looking through the WPL’s Adult Programs & Events Guide for fall 2017, I noticed an interesting lecture series being offered at the Main Library.  On October 11, Jane Ann McLachlan spoke about Publishing and Marketing Your Novel and, on October 25,  will speak on how to be Motivated to Write.

There’s something cyclical and lovely about a public library offering programming to develop writers whose books could one day stock the library shelves. If you’re a budding writer, or an old hand polishing up a ten-year project, I’d encourage you to check out the talk. Registration is required.

WPL has more writing resources beyond the McLachlan lectures. Here are five valuable resources for budding authors:

1. Writer’s Digest Magazines

This magazine has all sorts of writing tips and advice, including the business parts of writing (such as finding an agent, writing a query letter etc.). Writer’s Digest has eight issues a year plus back issues are available for borrowing.

2. Gale Courses

Gale Courses are online classes that are available for anyone with a library card. There is a whole category dedicated to Creative Writing. Take courses like “Write Fiction Like a Pro” and “Writeriffic: Creativity Training for Writers.”

3. Books

The library has tons of books that talk about pursuing the craft of writing. Look for classics like On Writing by Stephen King or peruse the 808.3 section in Adult Nonfiction.

4. Market Directories

Figure out where to sell your writing by taking a look at Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. This directory is updated yearly and helps you find the right publisher for your work.

5. Bookable Study Rooms

Sometimes you need a fresh, dedicated space to help you focus on your writing. The John M. Harper Branch has study rooms that you can book with your library card. The Main Library also has lots of common work spaces available.

The great thing about these library resources is that they’re all FREE! It’s such a terrific opportunity to be creative without having to spend a penny (or a nickel). Why not be inspired by these resources and pen your own story?

— Jenna H.