It’s All About Pi(e)

We live in a great city for celebrating Pi Day (March 14). I’m not entirely sure when the idea to full-on celebrate the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter began but any celebration is a good thing and I love this one.

Each year we are surrounded by celebrations of 3.14. The University of Waterloo marks the occasion in multiple faculties as do groups at Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College and our Main Library’s neighbours, the Perimeter Institute. It’s everywhere and it’s so much fun.

There’s no shortage of people in Waterloo who might feel inclined to get involved in the classic “How many digits of Pi can you recite?” contest and I’m sure that they don’t need to be convinced to enjoy sweet or savoury pies in a tribute to the day.

When I think of Pi I must confess that I think of pie and this in turn gets me thinking of some of my very favourite music. On the WPL shelves we have one of the most beautiful CDs from American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. It’s full of gorgeous songs that she created for the 2015 Broadway musical, Waitress. Just put it on repeat. Once you get started you won’t be able to stop singing along and thinking about friendship, family, love, heartache and baking. Great news too! The Mirvish theatre schedule includes a production of Waitress for summer 2019.

You can also borrow the 2007 movie that the musical is based on. The film has a fabulous cast – Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion – and seems like a standard Southern rom-com (one character is even named ‘Earl’) but it has so much more depth. Treat yourself to a generous slice of pie and some time watching The Waitress.

Should you actually want to learn how to bake your own delicious pie, we have many books to offer you recipes and guidance. You could select a classic cookbook like Joy of Cooking or pick something a little more modern like Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s The Home Cook: recipes to know by heart. I have read that she includes a personal favourite in there called “dark chocolate rum pie”. Oh. Yum.

So, whether you want to sing, eat, bake, or learn more about the magic of Pi, we will be happy to help you celebrate – and maybe we’ll sing you a song too.

— Penny M.

Need To Know

Have you ever been watching a TV show or film when suddenly the scene depicted becomes so tense you feel like you just can’t bear to watch and want to hide until it’s over? I have but not while reading a book…until now.

In Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, Vivian Miller is a busy wife and mother of four children, one of which has special medical needs. She is also a CIA counterintelligence analyst. Vivian develops an algorithm to root out Russian agents hiding in the United States, but what she discovers will turn her whole world upside down. She is forced to choose what is more important, the security of her country, or the lives of her family.

Need to Know is a nail-biter from beginning to end. I found Vivian’s character very real and believable, and felt as if I were struggling right along with her, trying to decide what I would do. The twists and turns in plot keep the story moving at a fast pace, and I found that I was still thinking about the ending days after finishing the book.

I first heard about Need to Know from the author Louise Penny, who highly recommended it in her monthly newsletter. Other best-selling authors, such as John Grisham, Lee Child, and Patricia Cornwell all have high praise for this book as well.

The author, Karen Cleveland, was a former CIA analyst herself, so the subject matter is obviously very familiar to her. It is hard to believe that Need to Know is Cleveland’s first novel. I only hope, for the sake of everyone who enjoys reading it as much as I did, that it won’t be her last.

— Sandy Wilmering

What’s everyone reading?

Well, the book with the highest number of holds in the library this past month was Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside The White House – again! Which is…fine. We are still very curious to learn more about his behind-the-scenes take on the contentious people working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let’s look at the second most popular book at the library this month. It is exactly the thing to take your mind off of all things political. You won’t be able to resist this thriller with a reclusive main character watching through the windows of her New York City home as a new family moves into their neighbourhood. A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is already in development for film – no surprise – as you read the book you can almost picture the camera angles. Remember how the we all talked about the astonishing twists in Gone Girl? This is an absolute roller coaster of a novel but you really care for Anna Fox, a child psychologist who is coping with her own crippling agoraphobia while she helps others in an online support group, so you are turning the pages with a mixture of both curiosity and dread as you think “oh, what could possibly be happening to Anna now?” Although Anna is quite unwell she still enjoys photography, caring for others, playing chess, drinking wine and watching old black and white mysteries so she is a character you can’t help but adore. Be prepared to become 100% invested in her life and what might happen to her in this unusual take on the thriller.

In Alafair Burke’s latest outstanding book The Wife it’s hard to decide which character you can trust and that is what makes it so wonderful to read. You are constantly wondering who is telling the truth? Here we have Angela and Jason in a comfortable marriage with one son and beautiful home that would fit into the pages of a decorating magazine. Burke provides a complete picture of their lives and the events that led to the current state of their marriage but she gives the details slowly, causing you to keep reading just one more chapter – long past the time when you should have gone to sleep.  So, Angela finally feels safe from a dark past that she keeps carefully hidden.  She is content with the daily habits of their picture-perfect home life, and so hopeful that the increased attention her NYU professor husband is receiving from a successful book won’t crack the shell of their amazing life. Her comfort does not last long. Angela is blindsided by sexual assault allegations from young women who work in her husband’s office and the investigation into their life is a fascinating and terrifying read. As her world crumbles and the police start knocking on the door, we have a front row seat while it happens. This is another page-turning look at a life turned upside down by deception and infidelity. It is absolutely guaranteed to distract you from today’s newspapers even though the themes might remind you somewhat of current events.

Laura Lippman is another author we can always count on to write a suspense-filled novel. Her Baltimore-based Tess Monaghan series is always a first choice for customers who request ‘something good to read’ when they are on vacation. She has never failed me yet (and I haven’t had anyone come back to voice a complaint) and, with Sunburn, a one-off novel about Polly and Adam – both hiding something, such a good sign in a novel – she has created a different style from her usual novels. At first Adam and Polly seem like they are just passing through when they meet in the High-Ho diner and their attraction keeps them in town where secrets, betrayal and a murder follow. Perfect! What is it that keeps them together even though they are determined to hide things from one another? It’s not just romance, there is something going on. We know that someone is hiding something but we just can’t put our finger on it….Although the book is set in the mid-90s it has the feel of something much older which just adds to the delight you feel in reading it. You step into another world as soon as you spend the first moments in that little High-Ho diner. This is a sizzling read from Laura Lippman.

These are the books that keep you guessing, written by authors who are pushing the boundaries of the traditional thriller. They are amusement park rides that make you gasp out loud when you get to the shocking twists and then apologize to the person next to you on the bus or at the lunch table. I love books like these and I wish Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke, Gillian Flynn and A. J. Finn long and healthy lives where they will have lots of time to write more just like them. The shelves – and customers of WPL – are ready.

-Penny M.

The power of books

There are only eight books in her library. Dita protects every last one of them with her life. Prisoners are forbidden to have books. To be caught with a book is an instant death sentence. The SS guards will send you to the gas chambers. Or worse, they will send you to Dr. Mengele’s experimentation block.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a 14-year-old Auschwitz prisoner. The few books in her library are tattered, ripped and worn. They are used to teach children in a secret school in Block 31, the family block. It is one of the few places in the camp where there are young children. Those who come to the camp who are deemed unfit for labour (mostly children, the elderly and pregnant women) are sent to the gas chambers. Block 31 is a propaganda tool. It exists to give outsiders the impression that life at Auschwitz is ordinary.

Although it involves difficult subject matter, The Librarian of Auschwitz is not a dark story. It is a story of life and hope. The secret school created by the prisoners in Block 31 serves to go beyond simple teaching: it serves to create a sense of normalcy for the children, to prevent them from giving into despair, to show them that life goes on and to give them hope for better days.

As the librarian, Dita keeps track of which books were lent to which teacher. She collects the books after school and returns them to their secret compartment. At night, she mends their worn out spines with thread and glue smuggled in from the working block. To expand her library, Dita invents the idea of a living library, where adults recite stories and events to the children from memory.

As time goes on and conditions in the camp worsen, Dita draws strength and assurance from her library. The books allow her to forget, even if it’s just momentarily, the terrible place where she’s living.

“A book is like a trap door that leads to a secret attic: you can open it and go inside. And your world is different.”

As a library assistant, I’m always in awe over the power books can hold. The books Dita had were mildew stained and broken but they gave her the ability to transport her mind to somewhere far from the nightmare of Auschwitz. Something as simple as an atlas gave a group of children the chance to see all the major cities and countries on the earth. A history book allowed them to learn about civilizations of the past. They gave hope to a group of people who would otherwise have none. For me, The Librarian of Auschwitz really enforced the importance of libraries. They are so much more than just a collection of books – they open doors to the past and let you dream of the future. Ultimately, they change lives. In Dita’s case, they saved lives.

-Lesley L.


Inside a marriage

For Valentine’s Day I want to share with you a book that I love and it just happens to be about love. When the brilliant Lauren Groff opens her novel Fates and Furies, we are introduced to newlyweds Lotto and Mathilde. They are everything – brilliant, young and beautiful. So much in love and with their entire lives in front of them. That, and they have only just met. As the chapters go by we learn about Lotto’s past and watch the couple through the years – yes, they stay together! Groff provides us with what we think is a clear view of their marriage until something happens and we realize that for the twenty some years that have gone by, we’ve only seen things from Lotto’s point of view. What about Mathilde? Who is she really? We realize we don’t know her until Groff gives us the chance with the entire second half of the novel. Now the marriage is different – it doesn’t crumble, they remain in love – but it’s amazing how much we didn’t know before.

I have read reviews saying this book it terrible. Reviews that say it’s a literary Gone Girl because of the secrets revealed through Mathilde’s part of the story. It’s not. Everything Mathilde does is to keep herself and her husband alive. She spends her years with Lotto loving him and taking care of him, but she also has to take care of herself. Also, this book is not a thriller.

One question that could come up when reading this book is whether we need to like the protagonist in order to enjoy a story. I don’t think we do because reading about different people – whether we like them or not – is a way to open our minds, become more empathetic and learn. It’s great to sometimes read out of your comfort zone.  That’s why in the past year there has been a big push to read BIGGER with online challenges like this one.  I didn’t find this novel uncomfortable, I really did love it and already have Groff’s other novels and short stories piled up at home and ready to attack. I did tell my husband after I finished it that I may not have loved it if I’d read it twenty years ago, when I was in university and perhaps not as open-minded as I am now. And that makes me so happy because that means growth, right?

But this book doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be something you relate to (although there is something for everyone, if not just the beauty of the language and the story that kept me turning pages long after my bedtime). Books open windows, they’re magic. They let us travel in time and place and we’re always okay with that. So to take in something that’s a little different, even if we don’t agree with it, can open our minds. And right now, the world needs bigger minds and stronger hearts.

– Sarah C.

Treasures from afar…mostly

In the 80s there was a television commercial for a hair replacement company where the spokesperson would enthusiastically say “I’m not just the president, I am also a client!” and I think of this when I use our interlibrary loan, or ILLO, services here at WPL. I work here but “I am also a client!”, and I really love using all of the library’s services. Which is fitting because February is known as Library Lovers’ Month and my interlibrary loans are just one of the things that I adore about the library.

By filling out a simple form which includes information about how to contact me and the book I would like staff to find, I actually have access to the library catalogues of the many libraries that WPL has lending agreements with and the possibilities can seem endless.  Our ILLO staff will do the search and then reply to let me know if they have been successful. If things work out I receive a notice through e-mail and my beautiful book is wrapped in an ILLO wrapper and placed on the Holds shelf for me – is there anything more lovely that this? It’s part of the thrill to just imagine where my interlibrary loan might be coming from because you really never know.  Books can sometimes arrive from as far away as Calgary or Vancouver or arrive from a library as close as Hamilton. Of course, if the item is only available to be loaned to us from a library at a greater distance then there might be charges involved but you have an opportunity to set that preference when you first make the request.

I just never know when I am going to come across an unusual book I will want to read and am reassured to know that the interlibrary loans staff will get to work and try to find that unique book for me. A few months ago I asked them to find Madeleine Albright’s Read my Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box which was part memoir and part social history as it illustrated the way that she used the pins that she wore to indicate the way that she was feeling when she met world leaders during her time as the Secretary of State for Bill Clinton.  Her memoir, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, was a favourite of many local book clubs because of the vivid stories she shared and the way that she addresses political and historical impact of the war.  Two wonderful books I was able to read and learn more about this outstanding woman, one from our collection and the other on loan from a library who was willing to share their treasure with us.

I’ve also used the interlibrary loan service to do a deep dive into the world of picture books that I have loved. John Burningham’s style of art and the gentle stories he told have always been favourites of mine so when I came across a newspaper article that mentioned a book he had written about himself I checked our catalogue to see if we had purchased it. When I saw that it hadn’t made its way onto our shelves I asked the ILLO staff to try and find it for me and was thrilled with the chance to read more about his early life, his development as an artist and get a behind-the-scenes look at his approach to creating picture books. With a few clicks of my keyboard and a few weeks of waiting I was able to get Behind the Scenes in my hands and it was a wonderful read.  I probably drove my kids crazy with reading parts of this book aloud when really they just wanted to remember how much they loved us reading Mr. Gumpy’s Outing over and over again when they were small.

Sometimes the items I request through ILLO are not as spectacular as an autobiography of an award winning author-illustrator or a memoir from a former Secretary of State… sometimes they can be a lighter read. A recent book which came to me all the way from Edmonton was the less-than-fabulous Amber Fang: The Hunted, the first in a YA series from popular Canadian author Arthur Slade. You see, there are so many reasons someone might need to request a book through the ILLO system. A book might no longer be in print and we can get it from a library that still has it on their shelf – this can happen with specialty genres like Westerns, for example. We might have a series of nineteen books and the sixteenth book is missing from our shelves but a customer really wants to know what happens before they go on to read the seventeenth book. Or, in the case of Amber Fang, it isn’t a great book and WPL never needed it on our shelves in the beginning. I was fooled by a catchy tagline of “Librarian.  Assassin.  Vampire.” Amber was really all of these things but she was only good at being one of them – the vampire one – and that’s usually okay with me. Not this time. I do like a good vampire book but I won’t be putting in an ILLO request for the next one in this series. I’m not sure what my next ILLO request will be but if you want to give it a try here is the link to the ILLO services on our web site: I know you will love it.

-Penny M.

Girl Power

There has been a huge shift in the world recently: women and girls are taking centre stage, their voices are being heard, their talents, strengths, and abilities recognized. Books, movies, and television are featuring strong female characters, such as Katniss from The Hunger Games, Diana Prince from Wonder Woman, and Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

The heroine in Tyrell Johnson’s The Wolves of Winter is no different. Gwendolynn (Lynn) McBride is a survivalist in a world laid to ruin from nuclear war and a pandemic flu. Lynn and her family eke out an existence in the cold and snowy Yukon, away from what’s left of humankind and the clutches of disease. Lynn spends her days skillfully hunting with a bow and arrow, trapping animals, and remembering what life was like before. She is not afraid to speak her mind, or fight for what she feels is right. In my mind I picture Lynn like Ygritte, the wildling from Game of Thrones (she even has long red hair).

After seven years in the wilderness, Lynn is surprised to encounter a man named Jax and his dog, Wolf. She brings them home, never imagining the whirlwind that follows. Jax seems full of secrets and dangerous talents, and, when more strangers appear, things quickly spiral out of control. Lynn will find herself questioning everything and everyone she thought she knew.

This may be Johnson’s first book but I feel he does an amazing job of making you feel like you can see what Lynn is seeing; the Yukon he describes is beautiful but also dangerous.  Johnson’s apocalypse is believable: you only have to read newspaper headlines to feel afraid this book could come true. The plot really quickens in pace after Lynn meets Jax. The Wolves of Winter has action scenes, plot twists, and even some romance. I would not be surprised to see Johnson write a sequel to continue Lynn’s story. Overall, I would give The Wolves of Winter 4 out of 5 stars.

-Sandy W.

The hidden wolves

Wolves are wild. Wolves are sly. Wolves are elusive. Most wolves are never seen.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund is told from the perspective of an adult Linda, trying to make sense of the decisions she made in her youth. In the first chapter we learn that a four-year-old boy named Paul has died and his parents are on trial. It is clear that Linda has a connection to Paul. The remainder of the book flips from present to past giving us clues and details to how Paul came to be part of Linda’s life.

Her teenage years take place in rural Minnesota, miles away from civilization. The setting paints a picture of cold and solitude, much like Linda’s life. She lives in a neglected and derelict cabin, left over from the ruins of a now disbanded commune.  Ignored by her parents, Linda is left to raise herself.

At school she is called ‘commie’ or ‘freak.’ She sits on the outside of things, a permanent spectator, never quite fitting in.

Her isolation is lifted one spring when she meets young Paul and his mother Patra. Linda is offered the job of watching Paul during the day. Patra suggests she adopt the title of ‘governess’ instead of babysitter or nanny, symbolizing her new role within their family. Nurturing does not come easily to Linda. At times Paul irritates her and she struggles to bond with him. But her desire to belong is overwhelming. Paul and Patra offer her an intimacy that she has long desired.

Unfortunately, there are wolves hiding among this seemingly perfect life. Indeed, there are wolves hidden throughout entire the book.

History of Wolves leaves so much to be unraveled; it will be a popular choice for book clubs. Emily Fridlund is a master at creating both descriptive metaphors and themes that cycle through the story. Self awareness is at the core of the book, as is loneliness. It opens up many questions to be answered – who is the real wolf in the story?

History of Wolves was long listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and was a finalist for the Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards.

-Lesley L.

The Language of Thorns

I confess – I love fairy tales. I love mermaids. I love witches. I love goblins, golems, trolls and elves. I especially love animals that talk. Add in a few magic spells and I’m hooked. There is just something about how fairy tales are written that I can’t resist. There is a benevolent hero with an impossible problem and just when everything seems to be lost *poof!* there is some sort of magical resolution and everyone lives happily ever after.  The heroes always win and villains always lose.

When Leigh Bardugo’s latest book The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (illustrated by Sara Kipin) crossed my desk, I was thrilled. It’s not often that I find fairy tales written for grownups. Not that this book is hard to miss. The front cover is adorned in bright, detailed artwork. Inside, every page has a vivid illustration. It is worth peeking through just for the art alone.

The Language of Thorns is compromised of six short stories that have similarities to popular fairy tales. You will recognize elements of classic tales such as the Nutcracker and the Little Mermaid. However, each story has a new twist. The princess doesn’t always marry the prince. The hero doesn’t always turn up to save the day. But each story will transport you to a new world of enchanted woods and mythical creatures.

Ayama and the Thorn Wood
“Interesting things only happen to pretty girls.”

A poor farmer is blessed with two daughters: one beautiful and one plain. The beautiful daughter is raised to marry a prince. The plain daughter is sent into the woods to make a treaty with a beast.

The Too-Clever Fox
“Just because you escape one trap, doesn’t mean you will escape the next.”

Koja the Fox has a talent for evading death. Armed with a silver tongue, he has outwitted every predator in the forest. One day a hunter enters the woods and Koja’s wit is put to the test.

The Witch of Duva
“Dark things have a way of slipping in through narrow spaces.

A classic fairy tale turned upside down and inside out. Witches, stepmothers and heroines have their roles reversed in this tale about missing children.

Little Knife
“But as you leave that dark gap in the trees behind, remember that to use a thing is not to own it.”

The old Duke is blessed with a daughter of extraordinary beauty. He schemes to marry her off to the richest man in the kingdom.

The Soldier Prince                                                                                                                       “This is the problem with even lesser demons. They come to your doorstep in velvet coats and polished shoes. They tip their hats and smile and demonstrate good table manners. They never show you their tails.”

Beware of gifts from the clocksmith. Clara could play with dolls for hours. However, when she’s given a wooden toy soldier, strange things begin to happen.

When Water Sang Fire
“I was not made to please princes.”

There have always been whispers about Ulla. That she was different somehow. But no one could deny the power of her voice. Ulla’s fate is forever changed when her song catches the attention of Prince Roffe.

Curl up with The Language of Thorns and live amongst mermaids, witches and golems for an evening. It will leave you feeling happily ever after.

-Lesley L.

What a Great Read!

What a great read! One wouldn’t think so given The Prisoner and the Chaplain by Michelle Berry is about a man who is down to his last twelve hours on earth before his execution for a heinous crime.  The chaplain who is to accompany the prisoner during this final stage of his life is a substitute for the regular chaplain who has been known to the prisoner, Larry, during his 10 years on death row. The chaplain, Jim, has tried to get up to speed about Larry’s life and crimes but knows that he is entering into a situation for which he is not prepared.

Being opposed to the death penalty, Jim struggles as he listens to Larry begin to unpack the story of his life, a childhood that was atypical in that his mother ran off with his older brother when he was just seven years old. Having been left with an older sister and an alcoholic, emotionally abusive father, Larry learns to navigate his way through his lonely life the best way he knows how. Without a mentor to keep him on the straight and narrow, Larry turns to petty crime and discovers that this is something at which he can and does excel.

Larry’s recounting of the story of his life triggers within Jim the anguish of his own personal failings brought on by challenges he faced as a child. Those same failings are what have directed him to the chaplaincy and he is torn by the conflicting emotions that Larry’s story has awakened within him.

The final hours creep by as both men are consumed in the devastation of their personal journeys and yet, in spite of the differences in their circumstances, they develop a mutual trust and bond that will endure, at least for Jim, well beyond the final act of cruelty.

To me, this story reinforces why the death penalty should not be the retribution of a civilized people.

— Nancy C.

Note: author Michelle Berry is the owner of an independent bookstore, Hunter Street Books, in Peterborough, Ontario