The Family Upstairs

Lisa Jewell is one of my all-time favourite authors. When she has a book out, you know I’ll be reading it. Her latest book, The Family Upstairs is a delightfully sinister psychological thriller with a bit of a gothic vibe that was engrossing until its final pages.

The story occurs in two different time frames and is told using three different points of view (and short chapters) which keeps the tension high and the pages turning quick. The pieces of the story surrounding a dysfunctional family, their posh manor house and their guests, gradually come together as the mystery of what happened to the manor’s earlier occupants unfolds for the reader.

There are a lot of characters, but Jewell gives them distinct voices and an impressive amount of depth. This is distinctly darker than Jewell’s previous books but just as gripping and I enjoyed the clever twists and even the disturbing feel. While I’m not a fan of open-ended stories, the loose ends in this book didn’t bother me as much as I would have expected.

Overall, this was a wonderfully gripping, slightly ominous, twisted family drama. Without divulging the plot, I’ll just say that this is another must-read book by Lisa Jewell.  WPL has ordered paper copies and audiobook on CD for this book that publishes November 5th.

— Laurie P.

The Water Dancer

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

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

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

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

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

— Nancy C.

This Little Light

This Little Light” is a compelling story that takes place in the near future and features relevant issues, a tense plot, a strong main character and a shocking ending. The intensity grows throughout the story, which is set over 48 hours, as two teenage girls flee for their lives when they’re accused of bombing their high school’s “Virtue Ball”.

This is a Dystopian read where issues of socio-economic disparity, immigration, climate change, the power of the government, media and fundamentalist religion are at the forefront. Abortion has been re-criminalized and birth control is hard to obtain, which creates an underground “Pink Market” for these services. The rights of women have been whittled away to the point where teen girls are told their place in society, which includes declaring a chastity promise to their fathers. That’s a whole lotta issues, but it works.

Rory, as the protagonist, is a breath of fresh air. I love her strength and conviction as she voices her opinions and relentlessly questions the way things are being done (her outspokenness often being blamed on her being half Canadian! Atta, girl!). She’s one small voice in a sea of media, Christian fundamentalists and politicians who want to control the rights of women and keep immigrants “in their place”.

This story has a strong teen vibe to it which is great, but unexpected. The only thing I didn’t love was the teen speak which felt contrived and often grating. For example, “I wanted to tell Fee to go up and have a shower because smell ..” This kind of dialogue occurred a lot and felt awkward – like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teen.

Overall, this was an engaging, eye-opening read that handles some big issues within a compulsive story that shows the importance of people questioning how things are done and not just accepting what you see in the media as fact. This is, obviously, a good pick for people itching for books with a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.

— Laurie P.

Someone We Know

Shari Lapena, the Toronto-based lawyer-turned-author, is on my short list of ‘Favourite Suspense Authors Evah’. With her latest book, Someone We Know, she once again provides her readers with a fast-paced, suspenseful and twist-riddled whodunnit.

This was a thrilling ride through a suburb that is full of secrets, deceit and a dead woman with a complicated past. Ooooo, right? Lapena provides great twists and many plausible suspects leaving readers to question pretty much every character’s motives. The characters are a diverse and complicated bunch, but each felt well-developed and featured a wide range of personalities – with some being not so likable and others hiding deep, dark family secrets with smiles on their faces. You just don’t know who to trust.

My only beef is a small one – it’s but a wee moo – but I found there were a lot of characters to keep track of and with the police sometimes referring to characters as ‘Mr. so-and-so’ versus their first names, it got a bit confusing remembering who was who. The author is good at reminding the reader but this suburb has a lot of residents that readers will have to keep track of.

I don’t want to give away any secrets or twists but I’ll just say that Lapena has, once again, written a clever, compulsive, hard-to-put-down suspense read with a long list of culprits that will keep readers guessing (and second guessing) until the bitter end. You’ll want to get your hands on this book ASAP. As luck would have it, WPL has copies of this title in regular print, large print and audiobook on CD that you can borrow!

— Laurie P.

WPL Book Club Picks for August

Join us for book club conversation at any meeting. No need to sign up. No need to clean your house. The WPL Book Clubs have “open” membership, so you can drop in once in a while, or come faithfully every month.

Monday, August 12, 2019 – Monday Evening Book Club
The Outsider by Stephen King
Main Library, Auditorium, 35 Albert Street

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when his brand has never been stronger, Stephen King has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

Goodreads rating = 4.02 and reviews
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the (print) book, the eBook or the recorded book (audiobook on CD)
Consider the discussion questions found on Goodreads

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Thursday, August 15, 2019 – Thursday, Afternoon Book Club
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Main Library, Boardroom, 35 Albert Street

A historical novel about an early 19th-century Englishman transported to Australia for theft, The Secret River explores what might have happened when Europeans colonized land already inhabited by Aboriginal people.

Goodreads rating = 3.97 and reviews
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the (print) book or the eBook
Consider these discussion questions found on LitLovers

We have a great summer read for you!

Summer is upon us and that means a double edition of Featured Titles! With 14 Non-Fiction and 14 Fiction titles to choose from, we’re sure you will find a book (or two or … ) to sit back, relax, and enjoy the summer sun with.

Looking for even more great reads? Check out our Staff Picks List for Summer 2019 too.

We hope you have a wonderful summer full of beautiful weather, happy times with family and friends and, of course, great reads!

Last Resort

Marissa Stapley’s The Last Resort is a character-driven story that focuses on the crumbling relationships of several couples who attend a two week relationship boot camp at a secluded, luxury resort in the Mayan Riviera in a last ditch attempt to save their failing marriages. The retreat is lead by powerhouse couple, Miles and Grace Markell, who appear to have the perfect relationship themselves. But as the days progress, the struggling couples end up getting much more than they bargained for when unorthodox therapy methods and an impending tropical storm unearth secrets, deceptions and manipulations leading to a tension-filled ending.

This was a well-paced story (which I read in less than a day) that engaged me throughout with a solid plot, interesting characters, a great baddie readers will love to hate, and an enjoyable Big Little Lies vibe. The only issue I had was that the format took a bit of getting used to. It blends different points of view with celebrity news releases and an interview between an unidentified man and woman. Why this format was used becomes clear to readers towards the end so I advise readers to keep with it! It’s totally worth it!

This was an entertaining read filled with deceit, secrets and an exciting whodunnit. With its beautiful tropical setting, The Last Resort would make an excellent holiday or summer read.

Marissa and I croppedI was lucky enough to meet Marissa (photo left, the author with WPL blogger Laurie P.) at a Kitchener Public Library author event recently. She is delightful and I enjoyed hearing her talk about this book and give her readers a chance to get to know her better. I eagerly look forward to reading what she has in store for us next!

— Laurie P.

 

The River

As we approach summer, here is a great read for those who long for outdoor living. In  “The River“, the story centres on two young men, Wynn and Jack, who have been best friends since their freshman year. They bonded with a similar curiosity and love for fishing, the mountains and camping.

Deciding to take a long wilderness canoe trip on the Maskwa River in northern Canada, the lads get themselves outfitted sparingly but wisely with the best quality equipment they will require during their adventure. Having done some canoeing myself, I loved reading about the gear they brought.. the utility of the cooking devices, the kind of sleeping bags and clothing, each piece chosen for the multi-faceted uses that would be required of them. They were able to live in a kind of sparse luxury. Even the food they brought was well-planned and intended to supplement a diet of fish and whatever other food that could be derived from nature.

At the outset, we find them living idyllically, paddling leisurely throughout the day and making camp as the sun ebbed. Books are a common denominator and they spend their leisure time discussing their favourite reads.

One day while out on the water, they smell smoke and as the day wears on, they come to understand that this smoke is the harbinger of peril for them. Knowing a massive forest fire is heading in their direction, they make the decision to run hard to their final destination. They try to warn a couple of Texan fisherman about the imminent danger but they drunkenly laugh it off.

The next day, en route, there is a commotion coming from the shore, the sounds of a couple arguing intensely. Making the decision not to interfere, Wynn and Jack keep a brisk paddling pace until making camp that evening. This is the part of the story when mayhem breaks out and the skills and intuitive sensibilities of these young men are tested to the limits.

Author Peter Heller’s research into forest fires, wildlife and survival training is what takes this fast-paced, well-written psychological thriller to the next level. I was absolutely glued to this book and felt emotionally spent at the end. I gave it 5 stars!!!

— Nancy C.

“A word after a word after a word is power” Margaret Atwood

When you hear the name Margaret Atwood, what comes to mind? I asked several people this question and besides the “Who’s that?” I got from my son (…sigh…), most people answered that she’s Canadian and that she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Other people said she wrote stuff that was “weird” or “dark.”

In fact, Margaret Atwood is a world famous novelist of many titles, as well as a poet, teacher, literary critic, environmental activist with a particular focus on oceans, and an inventor. I recently had the opportunity to hear her speak at a fundraiser THEMUSEUM hosted at Centre in the Square. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the headliner “From The Handmaid’s Tale to Art &Technology.” What I discovered was Margaret Atwood is actually quite funny, brilliant, profound, and a little bit saucy!

Daiene Vernile, former journalist, politician and cabinet member, led the conversation…that is unless Atwood wagged her finger and either pointed out that she wasn’t finished talking, or would say “Didn’t you mean to ask me about…?”

I learned that Atwood grew up with very scientific parents in northern Quebec where there was no school to attend. Instead, she read any book she could get her hands on, including her parents scientific books.

When Vernile described her as visionary, Atwood disagreed. She said she reads a lot of science newsletters and magazines, and that the seeds of her ideas can be found in these items. Scientific American is something she reads faithfully: you can also read it at WPL in magazine format, or through our digital library using RBdigital and your library card.

As you may know, The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of a totalitarian group named Gilead, who has taken over the government in the United States. Women who are still fertile are forced to become handmaids, in order to bear children for their masters and their wives. These handmaids have had their families, careers, and even their names have been taken away from them. Offred (she is now named this because she is of-Fred who is her master) tells her story, switching between her past life and her current circumstances.

Atwood said she had one rule while she was writing The Handmaid’s Tale: that she would only include things that had already been done TO someone BY someone. I don’t know about you but I found this very scary. She finished writing this book in Alabama, and mentioned the irony of this considering their recent anti-abortion law.

The popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale has increased dramatically with the release of the TV series by the same name. WPL has Season 1 and Season 2 in our collection for customers to borrow. Many people don’t realize that a lot of taping for the show occurs nearby, in Cambridge. You can search the Internet to look for familiar scenes or follow this link to Cbridge.ca for pictures and information.

The handmaid’s red cloak and wide white bonnet have become common sights at protests around the world. No words or signs are needed but the message they present is clear. Atwood seemed humbled that a costume she created in a book has become a powerful “voice” for women today.

Atwood has now written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale entitled The Testaments. It will be released this fall, on September 10th. WPL already has copies on order. I can’t wait!

— Sandy W.

Escape at Dannemora

A Real Life Shawshank Redemption Miniseries

On the morning of June 6 2015, two prisoners were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Since its construction over 150 years ago, no one had ever escaped from this New York State maximum security prison. What followed was a 3-week manhunt that would be plastered across the media. Convicted murders David Sweat and Richard Matt tunneled out of their cells, crawled through a heating pipe and made their way out of a manhole to the streets in Dannemora. Once outside, they hid in the wilderness for weeks planning to cross the border into Canada.

escape-at-dannemora-dvdEscape at Dannemora is a dramatic television miniseries that retells how Sweat and Matt, along with the help of prison worker Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, orchestrated a real life Shawshank Redemption prison break.

The first episode starts with Tilly being brought in wearing a black and white jump suit. Her involvement with Matt and Sweat is fully fleshed out throughout the series. Without her, their escape would not be possible. Six more episodes follow, focusing not only on the escape plot but on character motives as well. It is a far more complex story than just two men breaking through cell walls.

In the beginning of the series, the story humanizes Sweat and Matt. Although they are inmates, you can understand that their lives in prison are brutal. You can relate to their desperate need to get out. Then, after the pair escapes, the story very bluntly reminds you that they are in fact very dangerous people who have committed horrendous acts. They were in prison for a reason.

At the start, Tilly’s character was also somewhat sympathetic, only to show, little by little that in her own way she is as sinister as Sweat and Matt.

The biggest surprise for me was that it was directed by Ben Stiller. Looking at his previous movies, which are mostly over-the-top comedies like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed he could create such an exceptional dramatic production. He has shown to have remarkable ability when it comes to storytelling and character development. The shots Stiller used to visibly demonstrate the escape plan were brilliant. Where was he hiding this talent for all these years?

This series puts Ben Stiller on par with the likes of directors Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and Joe Chapelle (The Wire). Escape at Dannemora has proven that Stiller has an incredibly versatile skill set. I can only hope he takes on more dramatic projects in the future.

— Lesley L.