For the love of audiobooks

Here’s the thing: LeVar Burton has a new podcast where he performs short stories. I think that this is lovely, exciting, reminiscent of the Reading Rainbow (which I loved so, so much) and I adore LeVar Burton because he is Geordi La Forge, was Kunta Kinte, and continues to be a champion of literacy. But we have our own ‘podcast’ of stories being read to us by world-class actors and it is available to us 24 hours a day in the downloadLibrary so I’m left a little cold by the news of this cool new podcast. Podcast? Who needs it? We never have to wait for the next episode of anything to be released and can just search for the story or topic that interests us. I think that this is so much better than any podcast, and, did you know that LeVar Burton reads more than one title available to us on the downloadLibrary? He reads a beautiful children’s book and the autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. There you go.

With the downloadLibrary you can ask yourself “am I in the mood for romance?” and search the database with a result of over 650 of them to choose from. How about looking for something truly hilarious to listen to as you commute into work? We have it right here for you – you will find more than 450 of those titles available through the downloadLibrary. Tina Fey reads her own autobiography and it is sensational – I’ve listened to it more than once. And, if you have a particular voice that you would like to hear you can search using that actor’s name. Benedict Cumberbatch has recorded audiobooks. So have Patrick Stewart and Stephen Fry. Now those are voices to listen to any time of the day. Annette Benning, and Anne Hathaway have all recorded audiobooks. Amazing voices reading incredible stories to you, just like when you were a kid. Does it get any better than this?

So many Broadway stars have chosen to lend their voices to the world of audiobooks that it is hard to imagine they have any time at all to perform on the stage. Alan Cumming has, of course, recorded his own autobiography as have many other actors, but he has also recorded Scott Westerfeld’s entire Leviathan series for us and that is a treat that the whole family can enjoy. Many actors have chosen to stay with a series through all of the books allowing for a sense of continuity that is so satisfying. You have a real sense of character when you hear that voice throughout a series and it is just amazing when you hear one actor play fifteen or twenty people so beautifully.

A recent bestseller, Lincoln in the Bardo, was one of the most interesting books I have ever read and a superb audiobook. It was popular with every reviewer and they all claimed it to be ‘remarkable’ and ‘extraordinary’, praising George Saunders for his brilliance in telling the story of Abraham Lincoln and his son on the night after Willie’s death. It features the voices and stories of the many ghosts that Willie meets in the graveyard where he is freshly buried. It was a strange and beautiful story with each peculiar personality introducing themselves to the little ghost/boy one by one. I enjoyed reading them in the ‘voice’ in my head but it became so much more real when I heard the audiobook because the author, George Saunders, and 164 other people recorded the voice of each character individually. Saunders tapped some friends, like the actor Nick Offerman, to participate and then they asked their friends to be a part of the book so the whole thing is like a fantastic radio drama. It’s outstanding. It is so worth a listen, in your car, kitchen, at the cottage.

And that’s the thing about audiobooks. You can listen to them while you drive, walk or bike and they are available for you to rewind if you miss something or play again because you were laughing so hard (as you might with Tina Fey’s memoir). I enjoy listening to them while I am working on an ambitious baking project or during a particularly long day of cleaning. I can play a novel from my phone and carry it around with me in my apron pocket. And, truly, is there anything more delicious than listening to a favourite children’s book again as an adult? Did you know that E. B. White recorded the entire text of Charlotte’s Web himself? He starts off the reading of his book by saying “this is the story of a barn. I wrote it for children and and to amuse myself. It is called Charlotte’s Web and I will read it to you.” I don’t think I will ever get tired of hearing those words in that voice. We have choices galore through our downloadLibrary ‘podcast’ – Romance, Mystery, Science Fiction, Non-Fiction, even the voices Broadway stars – it is absolutely magical. The kind of magic that you can only get at a library, I think.

-Penny M.

 

The Dark Town Series Continues

Lightning Men is the latest offering from Thomas Mullen and picks up two years after Darktown, the first book in the series, left off.

Once again, Mullen brings his readers into the gritty streets of post-WWII Atlanta with its social and political issues, racial intolerance, corruption and outright brutality that continues to be the status quo for so many. Mullen doesn’t shy away from these emotionally charged topics in this character-driven crime novel.

Readers continue to witness the Black officers struggle within the confines set for them by their supervisors as they police the Black neighbourhoods which are grossly overpopulated and in need of even basic necessities. This is in stark contrast to the White neighbourhoods — and many Whites are fine with the way things are, thank you very much. The dichotomy between Black and White continues within this second Darktown book and I like that Mullen doesn’t give easy answers or hold back on the gritty, hard-to-read scenes.

Mullen also continues to educate readers about aspects that many may not know about, myself included. For me, that issue involved the Columbians (aka Lightning Men) who formed soon after the end of WWII. With their lightning patches on their uniforms they, like the Nazis that inspired them, reveled in promoting hate against Blacks and any diversity and were a smack in the face to those American soldiers who had just returned from battling similar hatred overseas.

The cast, including Rake, Boggs, Smith and MacInnis, continue to show great depth and readers get some backstory on each but I still feel there’s a lot of untapped issues that Mullen will bring forth in future books. The only issue I had with this book is that I found there to be a lot of characters to keep track of.

48538-v1-600xMullen shows that, unfortunately, the process for social change is a very slow one as we sadly continue to witness in recent events. Racism, both blatant and covert, remains a timely issue and racial tensions ran high then as they do now.

Like the first book in the series, Lightning Men is eye-opening, gritty and gripping with well-rounded, well-flawed characters who struggle within the stifling confines of racial injustice, ignorance, indifference and intolerance. Mullen weaves compelling characters with historical issues within his story with great skill. I highly recommend this book but strongly suggest starting with Darktown.

— Laurie P.

Note: in 1948, eight African-American men (picture above) joined the Atlanta police force. They inspired Thomas Mullen’s latest novel, Lightning Men.

In the words of women

While this would be a book that I would normally consider a ‘light’ read, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much!

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows centres around Nikki, the daughter of Sikh parents living in London, England. Having abandoned her father’s dream of her becoming a lawyer, she finds herself working in a bar while trying to figure out what she really wants to do in her life. Having embraced the life of a modern woman in her twenties, she regularly comes into conflict with her mother’s view of how and where she should be living. Nikki’s life becomes interesting when she impulsively and successfully applies to teach a ‘creative writing’ class in a local Sikh community centre. However, her students, who are a group of Punjabi widows, believe that they are coming to a class to learn basic English literacy. The intersection of their varying goals for this class gets very interesting.

There is an East Indian cultural narrative that is woven throughout the story which is very revealing and the reader is witness to the struggle that young people face when intertwining cultural tradition with modern ways. Additionally, we get a glimpse into the challenging life of an immigrant and the lengths to which they will go to create a sense of security and familiarity in their new country.

Layered on top of that is the repressed sexuality of the Punjabi widows who have gathered to share, in written form, their dreams, fantasies and amorous experiences. The women, who have had varied degrees of matrimonial experiences in the bedroom, are eager to break free from the cultural chains that left many of them to be merely housemaids, child bearers and receptacles for their husband’s desires. The stories they create are lush with sensuality and imagination and they bring comfort and a sense of unity to the widows. However, the need to keep their activities secret is intense within the confines of a community kept in cultural check by the Brotherhood, a gang of self-appointed militia, whose mission is to keep people true to the doctrines and strictures of the faith. Nikki’s relentless support of her ‘students’ places her in serious danger with the Brotherhood and others who see her as a threat to their cultural cohesion. As one would expect, word about the stories does eventually leak and many people within the community begin to benefit from the tales being spun in the ‘Learn to Write English’ class being held at the temple. A sensuous romp!

-Nancy C.

While you’re waiting…

It’s really no surprise that Louise Penny’s latest book, Glass Houses, was at the top of our holds list for September. It’s the 13th in her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and with each book fans love Louise, and her writing, even more. Every one of her book signings sell out in just a few hours and this summer she hosted Hillary and Bill Clinton in the small Quebec town where she lives and writes – her fans can be found everywhere. Her bestselling novels involve Gamache and his team puzzling through a complicated investigation and, more often than not, using his impeccable instincts to find their way through the darker side of human nature.  Members of the entertaining supporting cast from the village of Three Pines have a chance to shine in each novel but it’s Gamache at the centre of it all every time.

Should you be looking for another pensive, Canadian inspector to fill your TBR pile while you wait for your copy of Glass houses you might want to spend some time with Domenic Jejeune, the recently appointed Chief Inspector in a small British town. Quite unlike Inspector Gamache who has the respect and admiration of many, you will find that Jejeune spends a great deal of his time coping with officers who are openly suspicious of him and his methods. From the moment he arrived in the UK he has had to work on his cooperation and diplomacy skills when he would prefer to be solving crime or just taking a long walk outdoors. You see, this series is about a brilliant police inspector who also enjoys birding as a hobby. Don’t let the sweetness of the title, like A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, make you think this is a cozy mystery – these books will keep you fascinated to the last page and author Steve Burrows delivers fantastic detail to satisfy anyone who is interested in the police procedural side of a mystery.

Louise Penny has said that she modelled Chief Inspector Gamache on her own husband Michael Whitehead. When she decided to write mystery novels she thought that she would need a main character with characteristics she could love for many years. There is no doubt that she succeeded with her inspector just as Donna Leon has done with the cultured and capable Commissario Guido Brunetti. Crimes don’t just happen in a remote part of Quebec, they can also occur in sunny Venice, and for Donna Leon’s successful series they have happened twenty-six times. In Earthly Remains, her most recent novel, Bruno has made a brash decision during an investigation which leads to a forced leave of absence. Even as he is taking a break from his work he finds himself involved in a criminal investigation and this is good news for mystery fans but makes the time off far less relaxing for poor Bruno.

With police officers and inspectors you expect crime to be a regular part of their lives but with a citizen it can change the path of their lives, as it did with one of Gail Bowen’s characters, Joanne Kilbourn. In Bowen’s first novel Joanne is a university professor helping with a political campaign when the politician becomes the victim.  As the series progresses her skills as a sleuth develop and by the time Bowen’s latest book arrived on the shelves she had become a favourite here at WPL. In The Winners’ Circle Joanne and her husband are involved in an investigation surrounding a triple homicide and, as usual, she is grappling with bigger questions than just finding out who committed this crime. Joanne is loved for being trustworthy, honourable and thoughtful – characteristics that she shares with the investigators created by Donna Leon, Steve Burrows and Louise Penny. Their characters are solving crimes as they also try to decipher what they mean on a deeper level – making for fabulous reading each and every time a new one is published. Here at WPL we eagerly await the next book in a beloved series like these and can help you to find something else to read while you wait because we are doing exactly the same thing.

-Penny M.

Hum if you don’t know the words

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is a wonderful book that gave me all the feels. It made me cry, laugh, feel angry, shocked and even hopeful. But what surprised me was that this is Bianca Marais’ debut novel. Marais uses imagery and beautiful, even poetic, language to describe South Africa’s multicultural and linguistic diversity as well as the complicated and blatantly bigoted dynamics between South Africans in the 1970’s.

I have always been an avid reader of books dealing with racism and civil rights and after reading (and loving) Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime a couple of months ago I have become more interested in books related to apartheid. With this book, Marais sheds light on the flagrant racism and abuse of power of apartheid and also addresses other issues including homophobia, loss, grief, abandonment, bravery and the deep need we have for family connections.

Marais humanizes apartheid by showing how the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976 affected her two main characters. The story is narrated by two very different points of view – Beauty, a highly educated Black Xhosa single mother and teacher from the Transkei region and Robin, a 10-year-old white girl from the Johannesburg suburbs. These two are brought together after the Uprising and show two contrasting views of the effects of apartheid and the prevalent, often flippant attitude of racism as the status quo.

Both Robin and Beauty are given equal page time and are well-rounded characters but I had a much stronger connection to Beauty.  She had such strength, tenacity, grace and conviction even after enduring unimaginable losses and hardship. Robin is precocious and deals with the loss of her family in her unique way but often she was used to bring humour to the story. While these lighter moments offset the more serious scenes, at times, it got to be a bit much.

I will caution readers that there were a few scenes, especially towards the end involving Robin, that will require readers to suspend belief. This is fiction, I get that, but I think that the story went a little too far past what I’d feel was plausible. That is the only part of the book that faltered for me. Otherwise, this is an outstanding read that will keep readers transfixed.

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words will hit readers in the heart, head and hopefully conscience about how we need to treat and respect others. A little compassion, respect and empathy can go a long, long way. This is a poignant and important story that shows the damaging and long-lasting effects of inequality and bigotry with heart, some humour and wonderfully vivid language.

-Laurie P.

Can’t Get Enough of Outlander

Have you ever read a series of books that combine history, political intrigue, battles and war, adventure, time travel, and the supernatural with a love story so captivating it has generated millions of fans around the entire world? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books do just that.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was originally published in 1990. The story begins in 1945 when Claire Beauchamp and her husband, Frank Randall, are on a second honeymoon in Scotland. They are hoping to re-connect after serving separately in WWII.

Alone on a ramble in the countryside, Claire is drawn to an ancient circle of standing stones. She accidentally walks through a magical portal and finds herself in the war-torn Scotland of 1743. Due to her appearance and English accent, she is considered a spy by Redcoat Captain “Black Jack” Randall (no the last name is NOT a coincidence!). Only Jamie Fraser, a tall, red-headed, strong-willed Scottish Highlander, can save Claire from danger.

Claire soon becomes torn between the two very different men (husband, Frank, and Highlander, Jamie) in her two separate worlds.

The remaining books in the series, which should definitely be read in order, are:

  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

66a08d71d8a20de6e487672119ec0226Diana Gabaldon is currently working on the ninth book, Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone. Gabaldon does an incredible amount of research and puts great historic detail into her books, so there is usually a span of a few years between each publication.

When I first learned that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books were going to be made into a television series, I was very skeptical that the screen version would live up to the images of Jamie and Claire that have been entrenched in my mind for so many years. However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

Season 1 and 2 successfully capture the important people, places, and events of the first two books, and it has been thrilling to see all these things come to life in vivid colour and detail. The screen version seems to be just as popular as the book series. Rotten Tomatoes has given Season 1 a score of 91%, with an audience rating of 94%. It also set a Rating Record for Multi-Platform Viewing. Season 1 (which is divided into Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Season 2 are available to borrow on DVD from WPL as well as all of the books, of course. Season 3 of Outlander premiered on the W Network on September 10th.

One final note: the Outlander series (both book and screen versions) contain scenes of extreme violence which is indicative of the time period. There are also some very steamy parts so keep a fanning device handy!

— Sandy W.

A quiet bravery

So Much Love is exactly what I have for this novel. I read it quickly in a few days, walking around the house with it; holding it in one head while I brushed my teeth and propping it up in the kitchen while I made dinner. I couldn’t put it down. It is about a horrible crime, but it is not a thriller, not in any way you would expect. It reminds you of Emma Donoghue’s Room for a chapter in the beginning and then it completely changes it’s course, for which I was glad. There is no mystery. This novel is about what happens after, to the victims and the people who love them. There is nothing sensational about the crime. This book is about simple lives and the small, everyday things that keep us connected to each other. Not the holidays or major events, but the tiny acts that make up our homes and our families.

The writing is gorgeous. Every chapter has a voice of another player in the story, which reminded me also of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterage (read it also if you haven’t). We read about how the crimes affect so many people and how strong their love remains for the victims. It is about resilience and it is quiet and brave. It is the first novel written by Canadian Rebecca Rosenblum and I cannot wait to read her next one!

-Sarah C.

 

 

A life of loss

I always feel a little sad when I see a severely neglected and abandoned house. I wonder about the people who might have lived there, the joys and sorrows they might have experienced within its walls, and how they might feel to see their former home in such a state.

In Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage, the main character becomes obsessed with the dilapidated cottage near his great-aunt’s house, especially after he sees the ghost of a missing boy. The cottage was dubbed “Grief Cottage” by the locals after a mother, father, and 14 year old boy disappeared from it when Hurricane Hazel hit. Their bodies were never found.

Marcus, the 11-year-old main character, has had to deal with a fair amount of grief of his own. In fact, the title could easily be a metaphor of his own life. He had already suffered losses before his mother is killed in a car accident. Marcus is sent to live with his only remaining relative, his great-aunt Charlotte, who is a talented but reclusive artist that lives on a small island in South Carolina.

Marcus reminds me of Disney’s Pollyanna, only without her eternal optimism. Godwin has written this character to be extremely sensitive to others and wiser than his years: the result produces a profound effect on those around him. In many ways, Marcus is as neglected and abandoned as Grief Cottage, and I found myself bracing for the hurricane that eventually releases inside him. Grief Cottage is a good read but not a happy read: even the positive twists near the end are tinged with loss.

Overall, I give Grief Cottage a 4 out of 5 stars.

-Sandy W.

 

Join us at a book club conversation

Please join us for a book club conversation at any of our meetings. No need to sign up – you can just drop in!  This month we are discussing the One Book One Community (OBOC) selection – Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady.  To learn more about OBOC and upcoming related events go to http://oboc.ca

Monday, August 14 at 7 p.m. – Main Library Auditorium

Thursday, August 17 at 1:30 p.m. – Main Library Boardroom

 Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

How far would a son go to escape his past? And how far will a father go to help him?

With his wicked grin and confident swagger, navy musician Jack Lewis evokes Frank Sinatra whenever he takes the stage. While stationed in Newfoundland during the Second World War, Jack meets Vivian Fanshawe, a local girl who has never stepped off the Rock. They marry against the wishes of Vivian’s family—hard to say what it is, but there’s something about Jack they just don’t like—and as the war ends, the couple travels to Windsor, Ontario, to meet Jack’s family.

But when Vivian encounters Jack’s mother and brother, everything she thought she knew about her husband—his motives, his honesty, even his race—is called into question. And as the truth about the Lewis family tree emerges, life for Vivian and Jack will never be the same.

Told from the perspective of three unforgettable characters—Vivian, the innocent newlywed; Jack, her beguiling and troubled husband; and William Henry, Jack’s stoic father—this extraordinary novel explores the cost of prejudice on generation after generation. Steeped in the jazz and big band music of the 1930s and 1940s, this is an arresting, heart-rending novel about fathers and sons, love and denial, and race relations in a world on the cusp of momentous change.

You can find more information about WPL Book Clubs here or contact Christine Brown at 519-886-1310 ext. 146.

 

The smaller things

First off, I loved this book.

I have read a lot of “small books” lately, stories that are less than 200 pages but in no way lacking heart. My favourite at the moment is Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong. This novel is about Ruth, who after suffering through a major breakup with her fiancé realizes she must finally acknowledge the mess that is her parents’ marriage as well as her father’s dementia. Ruth’s discovers good things as well; that her father kept a diary from when Ruth was little. He rips pages from it and leaves them around the house for Ruth to find and they are lovely and funny. There are so many funny bits in this novel, little discoveries given to us from the author, different ways of seeing simple things.

At one point Ruth wonders why she spends so much time on spending money instead of spending time with her family. Another time she is thinking about a good day she had with her stupid ex-fiancé Joel and wonders if now, since they are no longer together, it still counts as something that matters in her life. She is tired of things that don’t matter or don’t count.

Like I’ve said, the book is small so Khong gives us glimpses into these thoughts, but that’s all we need for them to stick. The novel is beautifully written and it is hard to imagine how the author fit so much into such a small space. It made my heart feel big. And have I mentioned how gorgeous the book’s cover is, because it is gorgeous.

Other wonderful, small books I have loved:

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout
On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
The Great Gatsby  – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Chicken soup with rice: a book of months – Maurice Sendak

-Sarah C.