Fascinated by Queen Victoria

Good old Queen Victoria was born on May 24, 1819…200 years ago!! Queen Victoria may be long dead and gone, yet in a way she lives on. She lent her name and birthday to the glorious long weekend we are now celebrating. And she lives on in numerous place and street names around the globe as well as inspiration for books and movies.

My daughter and I recently decided we wanted to watch a TV series together, something British. We selected Victoria and steadily worked our way through Seasons 1 and 2. We were enthralled — addicted? — from the get go! Just so you know, this is NOT your stout, dowdy, “we are not amused” Queen Victoria. This is a young, vibrant Victoria (just 18 years of age when she came to the throne), a headstrong Victoria filled with steely determination to do things her own way. Viewers are treated to pomp and circumstance, romance (both royal and below stairs variety), juicy scandal, and plenty of scheming and intrigue.

The cast is superb. Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria, Tom Hughes is her husband, Prince Albert, and Rufus Sewell portrays Lord Melbourne, the prime minister. I have to confess to a secret hankering after the Prince Ernst character (David Oakes), the oh-so-handsome and charming but badly-behaved older brother of Prince Albert.

Season 3 of Victoria comes out on DVD later this month. Cannot wait!

As we watched the series, I also read the companion book, Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, the creator and writer of the TV series. Highly enjoyable. Looking for more Victoria-inspired reading or viewing? Here are a couple of newish offerings I would recommend: Victoria & Abdul (DVD) and Queen Victoria: twenty four days that changed her life (book) by Lucy Worsley.

I have become quite fascinated with Queen Victoria, so I will leave you with two facts I bet you did not know. First, when Victoria was born the chances of her ever becoming queen were extremely remote as she was the daughter of the fourth son of the old King. Also, when Queen Victoria died (in 1901) she was the longest reigning monarch in British history (at 63 years) … though that record has recently been surpassed by her great-great granddaughter, the present Queen, at 67 years, and counting.

Happy Victoria Day!

— Penny D.

The Hottest Titles for Spring 2019

The snow has melted, and dreams of lounging in the sun will soon be a reality. What better way to welcome the new season than with a good book or two from our  Spring Featured Titles list.

Non-Fiction

Our topics are, as ever, wide ranging on the Featured Titles List. From a study of animal emotions to a look at how Canada’s past is affecting its future to following Alex Hannold on his free solo climb up el Capitan. We have a true tale of star-crossed lovers in Sicily or you could get the buzz from Meredith May about growing up on a honeybee farm. Hungry for more? There’s the latest from writer and food critic Ruth Reichl (including recipes!) and a behind-the-scenes look at Queer Eye’s Karamo.

Fiction

There are so many great new novels coming out this spring it was difficult to select just seven! “The Stranger Diaries” is a modern gothic novel which will have you guessing at the killer’s identity until the last page. In “If, Then” by Kate Hope Day, small glimpses at another life lead four neighbours to discover something cataclysmic in their small town. A woman suspects her new neighbour was involved in an unsolved murder but will anyone believe her? “Before She Knew Him” is a must read. High school romance moves to an elite university battleground for Marianne and Connell in the award-winning “Normal People” by Sally Rooney. Wilderness survival has never been as thrilling as it is in “The River” by Peter Heller. Or if fantasy mysteries are more to your taste, give “The Binding” by Bridget Collins a try. And finally, once again focusing on the relationship between neighbours, “White Elephant” by Julie Langsdorf is a darkly humoured look at the suburban town of Willard Park as it becomes a battleground.

FT-Spring-2019

My Unexpected Encounter with Father Brown

As a young millennial, I never thought I’d find myself watching period-drama mysteries. Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders and the like–those were TV shows for other people of a more *ahem* mature lifestyle to enjoy. I was in for a big surprise when on a whim I borrowed Season 1 of the BBC’s Father Brown.

I originally intended to let this show play in the background, while I worked on other things around my apartment. Before I knew it my housework had been forgotten, and I was fully enthralled in 1950’s era mystery. I had gotten lost in the world of Kembleford and fallen in love with Father Brown and his hodge-podge group of sidekicks.

As I watched through the episodes of Father Brown, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was enjoying it so much. Normally I lose interest in the “one-and-done” crime shows that don’t have any over-arching plot lines and the crimes are contained to one episode, never to be spoken of again. The episodes of Father Brown were of the “one-and-done” variety, but I was addicted.

Somewhere in Season 3, I figured out the Father Brown appeal: escapism. The power of escapism is often overlooked in conversations about the stories we consume. We boast that good stories help us see other people’s point-of-views, inform us of other ways of living and ultimately make us more empathetic human beings. This is all true, but good stories have another role.

Watching Father Brown — in all of it’s “one-and-done” glory–gave me an escape from the stresses of everyday life, and that’s why I loved it so much. I could turn on the TV and know what to expect. By the end of the episode, the balance would be back in check and I’d have had the opportunity to spend a good 45 minutes with the now-familiar characters. It might sound silly to some, but the episodes were a stable comfort during a chaotic period in my life.

So, if you’re looking for an escape or just enjoy a plain, old-fashioned mystery, I’d definitely recommend trying a season or two (or six!) of Father Brown.

— Jenna H.

The great war is here. The living will battle the dead. The fate of the Seven Kingdoms will be declared. Fans of Game of Thrones will finally see who will sit on the Iron Throne. Will it be Jon Snow? Daenerys Targaryen? Will Cersei destroy King’s Landing with wildfire rather than give up her power? Or will the Night King kill them all? These topics should not be discussed on an empty stomach.

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White Walker Walnut Whip

Game of Scones : all men must dine (a parody) is a highly creative cookbook that parodies characters, places and events from the series. It is written by “Jammy Lannister” who claims to have “…lost his right hand in a tragic accident involving spun sugar and went on to become the greatest left-handed whisker this side of the Narrow Sea.” It is divided into three categories which fans will immediately recognize as the show’s most pivotal quotes:

Easy: Why is it always the innocents that suffer most?
Medium: What is dead may never die; but rise again stronger
Hard: Valar Morghulis

Some recipes come right from the show, including Sansa’s Lemon Cakes and Hot Pie’s Wolf Bread. Others are character shaped cookies such as Tyrion’s Shortbread (complete with a jagged scar across the face.) Every recipe is cleverly written with theme related instructions.

The first step in the White Walker Walnut Whip recipe is to clear your work surface from any dragon glass and the last step is to let out a shrieking battle-cry to let your guests know tea is ready.

The Unsullied Soldiers are made without nuts. What else can you say?

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Oberyn’s Smashing Surprise

My personal favourite: Oberyn’s Smashing Surprise. His head is made out of chocolate, which explodes into a red gooey mess when you press on the eyes. It is a good reminder that you shouldn’t get too cocky when fighting opponents twice your size.

The ‘piece de resistance,’ however is the Red Velvet Wedding Cake. Standing three layers high, it is topped with a miniature decapitation scene. It is a truly impressive cake to commemorate the murder of the Starks.

There is no better way to celebrate the final season of Game of Thrones then with recipes that represent the best parts of the series. Regardless who takes the Iron Throne, have no fear: dinner is coming.

— Lesley L.

Red Velvet Wedding Cake
Red Velvet Wedding Cake

The Five

the fiveFrom August 1888 to November 1888, five women were murdered in the Whitechapel area of London by a person (or persons?) known only as Jack the Ripper. There have been countless articles, books and movies of the infamous crimes, with most focusing on the violence and mystery surrounding Jack’s identity.

The Five takes a different view with author Hallie Rubenhold focusing on the five female victims who, for more than 100 years, were labelled as prostitutes. Through tremendously detailed research piecing together the lives of the five – Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, Rubenhold shows readers how and why these depictions of the victims are gravely false.

The book has five chapters, one for each victim, but doesn’t focus on their brutal and well-publicized deaths. Instead, it focuses on their humble beginnings up until they were murdered because these women were so much more than grisly deaths and the misconstrued labels society gave them.

What struck me the most about The Five was the author’s vivid and unflinching look at the lives of the lower class in the 19th century – lives that were often brutal, uncertain and set within horrific living conditions. Rubenhold also focuses on the limitations imposed upon women of the time, especially those of the lower classes.

With no rights and few options available, most women were at the mercy of the men in their lives and could look forward to working to support their family at a young age, getting married, have numerous children (of whom they’d lose a significant number to disease and malnutrition) and an early death. In general life was hard in the late 19th century but was certainly significantly harder for women.

With this unique focus, Rubenhold shines a light not on the vicious crimes of a notorious mad man, but on the five female victims. And while at times the book was a little info-heavy, I applaud Rubenhold for humanizing the victims of these infamous murders that have captivated the world for over a century, as well as shining a light on the hardships of women in the late 19th century.

— Laurie P.

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.

The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.

Mary Berry Everyday

Mary Berry. What can you say about Mary Berry? Although a food writer and TV presenter since the 1960s, many people (here, at least) have only come to know her more recently as co-judge with Paul Hollywood on the runaway British hit, “The Great British Bake”. Each week on the show (known as The Great British Baking Show in North America) home bakers are pitted against one another, taking on a variety of challenges in order to win the grand prize: a much-coveted crystal cake plate.

I love food shows and this is one of my favourites. My husband, who is not a baker, watches as well…and enjoys the home baked treats somewhat inspired from my watching.

Mary’s bare bone bio is:

  • she trained at The Cordon Bleu in Paris and ran a cookery school at her home
  • in the 1960s she was the cookery editor two major magazines in the UK
  • her first television series came in the 1970s
  • since 1970, she has written 75 cookbooks…and counting

I recently borrowed her new book, “Mary Berry Everyday”, which accompanies the television program of the same name. Having a flick through, there were many recipes that I was tempted to try but in the end I went with the biscuits featured on the cover. And they ARE cover worthy! Melt-in-the-mouth, buttery and with a lovely citrus flavour thanks to fresh orange peel and juice in the glaze. Oh, and easy to bake too.
Two floury thumbs up from me. Borrow “Everyday” and get baking!

— Sandi H.

Mary Berry’s Orange Oat Cookies

Dough

1 c butter, softened
1 c white sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 ¾ c self-raising flour
¼ c oatmeal

Glaze/Icing

1 c icing sugar
¼ tsp orange oil (optional)
2 tblsp freshly squeeze orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together butter and sugar. Mix in egg, oil and 2/3 of the zest. Stir in flour and oatmeal.

Lightly dust a work surface with small amount of flour. Roll the dough into balls about the size of a walnut. The flour will make this easy; stopping them from being too sticky.

Set on prepared cookie sheets, about 8 per sheet as they do spread. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass until ½” thick.

Bake for 13 minutes or until just golden at the edges. Watch closely as they burn easily!

Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar with approximately 2 tblsp juice.

When the cookies are completely cool, spread glaze on top of cookies or drizzle with the glaze. Sprinkle with rest of the orange zest.

Makes 2 dozen.

One Day in December

A little bit comedy + a little bit drama, One Day in December by Josie Silver, will hit readers in their heart strings and funny bones in equal measure as they witness the sometimes tumultuous and complicated love life of Laurie James and her ‘bus boy’ – a man who catches her eye and her heart in one brief encounter on a December afternoon.

These two strangers experience love at first sight but are unable to meet in person at that precise moment. Their brief connection continues to haunt both of them until they suddenly find themselves thrown together but are unable to act on their feelings. The story has likable, believable characters and is a slow-burn kind of read since the story is told via different points of view over the course of a decade. The timeline and points of view are woven together well and I enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of the interconnected relationships of these friends and lovers.

I fully admit that I am not normally a big reader of romances (I often find them to have a strong ‘ode de fromage’ feel) but while One Day in December is a light-hearted romance, it also touches on some serious topics and complicated relationships making it more than a simple love story. This is a wonderful, escapist-type read that I read in just over a day. But don’t just take my word for it. This novel has caught the eye of Hollywood actress and avid reader Reese Witherspoon who recently selected it for her popular book club.

This romantic dramedy is a perfect pick for fans of When Harry Met Sally, Me Before You and Notting Hill.

While this a lighter romantic read, the addition of its deeper moments about friendship, love, loss, regret and missed opportunities make it a book that will appeal to many different readers. It’s romance with some deeper issues, topped with some laughs, hold the cheese.

— Laurie P.

Bake It Better

The Great British Bake Off has spawned a LOT of cookbooks, from judges (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), from winners, and others. GBBO’s Bake It Better : Puddings and Desserts is written by food stylist Jayne Cross.

The Bake It Better series, which came out in 2016, is a new addition to WPL’s collection. The “Puddings and Desserts” volume (#5) with a beautiful trifle gracing the cover caught my eye and, yes, traveled home with me from the library that night.

It guarantees the recipes are tried and true. There are more basic recipes for newbees as well as “show stoppers” for those more seasoned bakers or for those looking for a challenge. I have to say I thought that, although not overly impressive on first glance, the book was interesting and I confess I did find it difficult to decide on which recipe to try so I left it in the hands of my chief tester: my husband.

He took a quick look through, lingered over a couple of recipes (one of which sounded particularly good but I didn’t have the ingredients for…it happens) before choosing the Coconut Lime Rice Pudding.

The pudding was very easy to make and the flavour was good. I chose to add some raisins (what is rice pudding without raisins??) as well as a bit of dried coconut which I think complimented the lime perfectly. I also like a less creamy pudding, so chose to add a bit more rice. The recipe made quite a lot of pudding so we’ve ended up reheating and it was scrumptious. The lime came through even a bit stronger second time round.

In my opinion, this cookbook is definitely worth borrowing but perhaps not worth buying, but you borrow it from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

For the Pudding
2 tblsp butter
½ c rice
¼ c white sugar
1 – 400 ml can coconut milk
400 ml homogenized milk
Grated zest of 2 limes
For the Sauce*
¾ c fresh or frozen raspberries
¼ c white sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 275F.

To make the pudding, put the butter in a heat/oven proof casserole. Set over element on low to melt. Stir in rice, then sugar. Stir for 5 minutes or until the sugar melts.

Add in both milks, stirring. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in zest. Cover casserole with foil and bake for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

While the pudding cooks, make the sauce. Put raspberries, sugar and lime juice in small saucepan over low. Heat, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the raspberries start to soften.

Serve the pudding with warm topped with the sauce.

*Option : if you don’t want to make the sauce, serve the pudding plain, or with raisins mixed in or with a dollop of high-quality red jam on top.

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