This is your holiday read

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

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

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

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

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

-Sarah C.

A Break from the Chaos

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

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

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

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

Done Mitford? Try these cozy series/reads:

The Butternut Creek series beginning with:

welcomecommitteeofbutternutcreek

The Harmony Series, beginning with:

hometoharmony

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion:

therosieproject

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

-Susan B.

A story for all ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nancy C.

The Alice Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nancy C.

Wonder is truly wonderful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, yet oh so important.

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

Wonder is truly wonderful.

-Laurie P.

Late to the party

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Sarah C.

Want to talk books?

Join us for book club conversation!

No need to sign up. The WPL Book Clubs have “open” membership, so you can drop in once in a while, or attend every month.

Date and Time: Monday, November 13 at 7 p.m.

Location: Auditorium, Main Library

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

avenueofmysteries

Summary: This is the story of Juan Diego Guerrero (né Rivera), who is either “a kid from Mexico or a grown-up from Iowa,” depending on his mood. As an adult, Juan Diego is a famous writer, a professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop no less, and an international literary sensation. Although he lives a somewhat glamorous life — first-class travel, occasional groupies — he is not entirely happy, owing to the trauma of his childhood. Not that he has disturbing recollections; on the contrary, and as counterintuitive as it seems, Juan Diego is bothered by the lack of them. He is under the influence of two prescription drugs: Viagra, with its obvious benefit, and Lopressor, a beta-­blocker that leaves him feeling “diminished.” Even worse, it robs him of his dreams, the only means by which he can access his memories.

 

Date and Time: Thursday, November 16 at 1:30 p.m.

Location: Board Room, Main Library

A Force for Good by Daniel Goleman

aforceforgood

With the help of his longtime friend Daniel Goleman, the New York Times bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, details the science of compassion and how this singular guiding motivation has the power to :

* break such destructive social forces as corruption, collusion, and bias

* heal the planet by refocusing our concerns toward our impact on the systems that support all life

* reverse the tendency toward systemic inequity through transparency and accountability

* replace violence with dialogue

* counter us-and-them thinking by recognizing human oneness

* create new economic systems that work for everyone, not just the powerful and rich

* design schooling that teaches empathy, self-mastery, and ethics

Millions of people have turned to the Dalai Lama for his unparalleled insight into living happier, more purposeful lives. Now, when the world needs his guidance more than ever, he shows how every compassion-driven human act–no matter how small–is integral for a more peaceful, harmonious world, building a force for a better future.

For more information about WPL Bookd Clubs, contact Christine at cbrown@wpl.ca or 519-886-1310 ext. 146.

A wild ride of secrets & betrayal

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda is a domestic thriller that takes readers on a wild ride of secrets, betrayal and deceit. Readers witness one full day in the lives of Paul and Mia Strom as they set off on a short holiday that they expect to be the ‘best day ever’. As the minutes and hours tick by, readers are privy to the main character’s innermost feelings and motivations and witness their idyllic holiday spin out of control.

The beginning of the book has a slower pace than I had expected and I’ll admit that it took me awhile to feel invested in Paul and Mia’s lives. But if readers are patient they’ll enjoy the slow building of tension as the author reveals, in wee doses, the cracks in her main character’s perfect veneer.

You never know what goes on behind closed doors and Rouda brings this idea home by giving her readers a chilling, bird’s eye view of a dysfunctional and toxic relationship that appears perfect to those who know the Stroms. Best Day Ever is a story of a sociopath who has manipulated people and events to build a perfect life. This character will easily go down as one of the least likable yet compelling characters I can remember reading. You can’t help but be mesmerized and a little bit fearful of their narcissism, sense of entitlement and total lack of empathy.

The story has a slow build and while some of the plot was predictable to this well-read suspense reader, overall this was a good creepy page turner that readers will have a hard time putting down. It has a memorable evil character and I enjoyed how the simple plot is slowly infused with a sinister feel as Rouda unfolds her story and reveals her characters’ true natures to her readers.

-Laurie P.

 

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.