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.

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Wunderland

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction page-turner that brings readers into the lives of two teenage friends, Ilse and Renate, who have vastly different perspectives and experiences during World War II.

The story begins in 1989, shortly after Ilse’s death, when her daughter, Ava unearths Ilse’s long-held secrets. The story then heads back in time, to Berlin in the late 1930’s when Ilse and her best friend Renate are teenagers. It’s through the bond of these two young women that we get varying views of the war and witness the disintegration of their friendship and the reasons for it.

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What made this book stand out from the many, MANY WWII historical fiction books I’ve read, is how Epstein vividly describes what life was like for German citizens leading up to and including WWII. She describes the rise of the Nazi regime and their horrific methods of growing their power and shows how some German citizens began to believe the propaganda and felt justified when they participated in fear mongering and terror of their own neighbours. She also reveals the dire restrictions, discrimination and abuse Jewish families faced from their own government as well as the pitiful aid from other countries as they tried to flee.

While there’s a fair bit of jumping back and forth between time lines (and one that I was less invested in), in the end, Wunderland is an engaging read with story lines that merge into an incredibly revealing look at the rise of Nazism within Germany. But ultimately, the focus on the poignant, heart-wrenching tale about a complicated friendship, long-held secrets, loss and betrayal is what will keep readers glued to the pages.

— Laurie P.

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.

The Island of Sea Women

Fans of Lisa See know and love her for her detailed historical fiction stories that include strong female characters. In See’s latest book, The Island of Sea Women, her story begins in the 1930’s and 40’s during the Japanese occupation of Korea and the island of Jeju. Through the eyes of best friends, Young-Sook and Mi-ja, two young haenyeo, we witness the political upheaval after WWII, the atrocities committed against citizens, and their desire and struggle to control their own country without interference from others.

I had never heard of the haenyeo before reading this book. With her meticulous research, See introduces readers to these well-respected, strong and staunchly independent women and their unique matrilineal society. They are the heads of their families and the sole providers who risk their lives daily to fish using the methods haenyeo have used for generations while their husbands typically stay home to watch the kids (and apparently not much else).

While the haenyeo culture and its matrifocal way of life was interesting to witness, the story itself is a bit of a slower read. A lot of historical detail is given and having that background is important to understanding Korea’s struggle for independence and how that influenced the haenyeo. While some scenes were difficult to read due to their violence, I respect that See doesn’t hold back on her descriptions detailing the horrors inflicted on the people of Jeju as they struggled under Japanese occupation and later when the US got involved.

51kn-DDoHlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Island of Sea Women is a historical fiction novel that focuses on the lives of the unique and powerful haenyeo (a culture many people have probably have never heard of), the history of Korea (that many people may have never learned about in school) and the lives of two friends whose sister-like bond is put to the test by family loyalty, hardships, loss and misunderstanding. This is an eye-opening and touching read about culture, friendship and the struggle of a nation to be autonomous.

— Laurie P.

Note: our friends at Kitchener Public Library are presenting “An Evening With Lisa See” on March 25, 2019 at 7:00pm at the Central Library on Queen Street. Registration is required for this free event.

The Defiant

Rarely will I ever read a book series out of order. Reading a series out of order can be a recipe for disaster. You risk the plot not making sense. You risk missing key character points. And truthfully, you’re losing the overall effect of the author’s storytelling. But every so often I will come across a book that is so interesting that I fall to the temptation of starting a series in the middle. The Defiant just had too many of my interests to pass up. It’s historical fiction, it takes place in ancient Rome and it has strong female characters that kick butt and take names. And it’s written by Lesley Livingston, who wrote The Wondrous Strange series which I adored. I was so thrilled when I saw it; I dove right in without reading the first book.

Set in ancient Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar, The Defiant tells the story of Fallon, the daughter of a Celtic King.  Her homeland was attacked by Roman forces and she was taken captive. Sold as a slave to a ludus (a gladiator academy) she now fights as a gladiatrix named “Victrix.” Over time she wins the love of the crowd but earns the ire of those she has defeated. She finds herself in a violent feud with a rival ludus and one night her academy falls under attack. Fallon and the other gladiatrices escape, however their survival as fugitives is uncertain.

Although there are records of female gladiators during Roman times, very little is known about them. Male gladiators were depicted in artwork all across the Empire, while only one example of female gladiators exists. Nothing is known about their training or fighting styles. This leaves the narration of their story wide open. Author Lesley Livingston makes good use of this creative freedom. Fallon’s fighting style is so formidable, I found myself silently cheering her on as I read.  There is a tight comradery between Fallon and her fellow warriors that isn’t common to read. Most often stories will pit woman against woman in a rivalry for success. In this story, these gladiatrices will gladly die for one another.

The Defiant may be the second book in the series but I didn’t find myself lost or confused. The back story was blended into the plot so well that I could navigate the story without missing anything. As soon as I finished the book, I put a copy of The Valiant (book #1) on hold, only to discover that there is third book (The Triumphant) in the series set to be released this spring.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, action based stories, ancient Rome or women who kick butt.

— Lesley L.

 

The Widows

I have to admit at the outset that I struggled a bit to get into The Widows by Jess Montgomery. I don’t know if it was the book or just my attitude at the time but I came very close to bailing. However, I am glad that I didn’t as I became quite engaged with the story and the strong female characters within.

Based in 1924 Ohio coal-mining country, this is the story of two women, both young widows, who overcome the powerful grip of grief and pain to stand strong for what they believe in. Lily Ross’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, had been murdered and pregnant Lily is asked to replace him as Sheriff until elections can be held to fill the role ‘properly’. Marvena Whitcomb, Daniel’s best friend, (unbeknownst to Lily) is in the throes of grieving for her own husband who was killed in an explosion at Ross Mining Company’s Mine No 9, also known as “The Widowmaker”.

Two prominent themes, still evident today, thread through this story. Both Lily and Marvena are powerfully courageous women butting up against a male-dominant societal norm that is eager to suppress and negate them.

In a town where corporate greed has been responsible for the killing and maiming of many of the town’s miners, organizing for unionization puts Marvena directly in the sights of the ruthless mine owner, Luther Ross. He will stop at nothing to suppress calls for improved conditions at his mine.

Lily too meets powerful resistance as she tries to uncover the truth about her husband’s murder. In a town where trusting someone can be a fatal mistake, these two women must find the courage to overcome their fear and join forces to uncover the truth that will set them and their community free.

All of the female characters in this story demonstrate an iron rod of internal strength and commitment to caring and nurturing their families and their community.

In the author’s notes, Jess Montgomery talks about learning that in 1925, in Vinton County Ohio, a woman by the name of Maude Collins was elected Sheriff after filling the post temporarily upon the unexpected death of her husband, Fletcher Collins. She went on to have a long career in law enforcement.

Technically, The Widows is at times well-written and then, variously choppy. I struggled off and on to keep characters straight but the underlying story was strong and some of Montgomery’s descriptions of the countryside landscapes were just gorgeous. So, I would rate The Widows 3*** for writing but 4**** for the story and the character development.

— Nancy C.

Shade

In Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents author Pete Souza throws plenty of shade and how.

Souza was the official White House photographer for Barack Obama. When Donald Trump became President, Souza took to Instagram @petesouza to highlight the differences between the two presidents. So, he takes say, a newspaper headline or a Donald Trump tweet and juxtapositions it with one of his own photos of Barack Obama, and serves it up with a caption. People started to notice Souza’s work and some commented that he was “throwing shade.”

What does that mean, “throwing shade”? I didn’t know and neither apparently did Souza. So he consulted a dictionary which told him it’s “a subtle, sneering expression of contempt or disgust with someone.” Though as Souza says “You can call it shade. I just call it the truth.”

Shade is a compilation of Souza’s Instagram posts. Some of them are sooo funny. When I first picked up the book I started laughing so hard I think I scared a few people. Other posts made me feel sad or appalled—in a how-did-we-get-here kind of way.

Here are a couple of Pete Souza’s posts that grabbed my attention (though really you have to get the book and see for yourself. And yes, you really have to.)

Donald Trump’s tweet: “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” juxtaposed with a photo of Barack Obama and someone dressed up as Abraham Lincoln with the caption “Two, like, really smart Presidents.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

And here is the one that really got me. Trump at the time of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville very famously — or is it infamously — said there were “…very fine people…” on “…both sides.” And Obama on that occasion? He took to Twitter and quoted Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” Just let that sink in — the stark, worlds-apart difference between those two men.

pete-souza-white-house-obama-favorites-51I would also highly recommend Pete Souza’s previous book: Obama: an Intimate Portrait. Obama is a collection of Souza’s photos of the former president. I especially loved the photos of Obama and his family and of Obama interacting with ordinary Americans.

— Penny D.

Turning 100

Frank’s Jewellers and the Ellis Little History Room

There is a prevailing perception that libraries are a place for books only. Like most library customers, I’ve spent most of my years visiting WPL for the sole purpose of checking out books. It wasn’t until my teen years that I discovered that the library also has a vast collection of movies, CDs, audio books and programs. Yet the one resource that remained elusive to me over the years was the Ellis Little Local History room. The door was always open and inviting, but I didn’t have a reason to venture inside. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I went in for the first time.

I’ve grown up in Waterloo with a strong connection to the King Street business community. My father was the owner of Mr. Sub for forty-one years. I spent many summers and weekends serving sandwiches and smiles to both Waterloo patrons and neighbouring business owners regularly. The King Street business community as I remember it was tight knit and familial. While we were known as the place to pick up a quick lunch, there were other businesses on King Street that were known for other things: McPhail’s for sports equipment, Tora Tattoo for piercings and tattoos, Ontario Seed for seeds (and a handful of peanuts for my dad), and Frank’s Jewellers for jewellery and gifts.

franks 001Since my dad retired in July 2016, I’ve found myself missing that connection to the Uptown Waterloo community. It wasn’t until Bob Frank, owner of Frank’s Jewellers, approached me with a local history inquiry that I found a way to reconnect with the uptown business community. How was I going to do my research? I would begin by visiting the Ellis Little Local History room.

His inquiry was simple. Bob, the third-generation owner and operator of Frank’s Jewellers on King Street, wanted to confirm that his business was indeed celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2019. Realizing that the Ellis Little Local History Room was the best place to begin my research, I made my first visit and began exploring the shelves of Vernon business directories, local business news clippings, and archives of photo negatives to find evidence that in 1919, Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank, took over operations from the previous owner.

During this search, my research expanded from finding evidence to solve this important question to finding any artifacts that trace the mark Frank’s Jewellers has had on the Uptown business community for the past one hundred years. The search has been fruitful! I’ve found many old articles and pictures in the Ellis Little Local History room. I’ve found pictures that reflect the changing landscape of King Street over the years like the image above of Frank’s Jewellers from the mid-1970’s when Bob’s father was the owner.

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 I’ve also found pictures that reflect the strength and camaraderie of the Waterloo business community that traces back to July 27, 1938 when a wide landscape of Waterloo merchants gathered for a first annual picnic which Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank (Picture left: middle row center with striped tie) attended.

I’ve lost myself for hours poring over business directories, maps, and books that map the history of Waterloo Region by local authors. I know I’ve only scratched the surface but these discovers have allowed me to appreciate the library for another purpose: being a local history keeper. The library not only brings people together for a love of reading, but for a shared history of our community that has grown from the small farming town to a modern tech start-up city.

Another local history resource that I’ve perused is OurOntario where I’ve searched through thousands of photographs as well as digitized Waterloo Chronicle newspapers. It’s an excellent resource that saves the time and energy previously spent going through microfilm and has been a very helpful resource.

The online and offline history collection at the Waterloo Public Library has been and continues to be an excellent resource to find answers to any local history inquiries. Should you require help with more specific requests, contact Janet Seally to assist your local history missions. To see Frank’s Jeweller’s collection of historical artifacts, follow them on Instagram and/or Facebook.

It’s easy to live somewhere for your whole life without questioning where you live. You may have just moved to Waterloo two years ago. You may be a third-generation resident. It’s worth questioning and learning about the place you live in because each of us plays a part in how it became the place you inhabit today. History may be the story of our past, but it’s easy to overlook our place in the present.

— Eleni Z.

Hillary : Everest & Beyond

Recently, the Waterloo Public Library added the DVD Hillary: Everest and Beyond to its feature film collection. It’s a fictionalized version of the life of New Zealand adventurer and philanthropist Sir Edmund Percival Hillary. I wanted to try something different (I usually prefer mysteries or action packed thrillers) so I took this one home. To my surprise it was quite good.

In Hillary it was very interesting to learn that as early as 1885 there were suggestions that climbing Everest would be possible. People were eager to scale the mountain. Some of the earlier attempts are briefly dealt with in the film and feature the northern approach which was discovered in 1921 by Brits George Mallory and Guy Bullock even though they were not equipped for such an attempt. In 1922, Mallory and Bullock returned with George Finch. They climbed using oxygen which allowed the team to travel at a pace of more than 951 feet per hour but still they did not reach the summit.

In 1924, Mallory and Geoffrey Bruce’s attempt was cancelled due to poor weather conditions but Norton and Somervell, who climbed without oxygen and had good weather, managed to reach 28,050 feet. They attempted to finish the climb using oxygen but did not succeed. On June 8, 1924 Mallory (this time with Andrew Irvine) tried again via the North Col-North Ridge-Northeast Ridge route but never returned. On May 1, 1999 Mallory’s body was found by the Mallory-Irvine Expedition. Irvine’s was never recovered.

screen-shot-2017-04-02-at-09.28.28There were several other early yet unsuccessful expeditions in the 1920s also mentioned in the film, as well as attempts in 1933 and 1936 via the North Face. Also in 1933 (and not mentioned in the movie) British Millionaire Lady Huston financed the Houston-Mount Everest Flight Expedition, in which aircraft flew over the summit of Everest for the first time.

In 1950 access to the north-to-west route was closed after China took control of Tibet. Bill Tilman and a small party made an attempt using the route which has become the standard approach to Everest (or what the Tibetans call “Chomolungma,” or “Holy Mother”) from the South. A Swiss expedition in 1952 led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant was granted permission, taking the Khumbu Icefall and ascending to an elevation of 26,201 feet. Raymond Lambert and Nepali-Indian born Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached 28,199 feet on the southeast ridge setting a new climbing altitude record. As a result of Norgay’s experience he was hired to be part of the British expedition in 1953.

After all the build-up from the other expeditions and Hillary’s sheer determination (which is depicted marvelously in the film) at 11:30am local time on May 29, 1953 the then unknown man, Hillary from South Auckland, New Zealand, along with trusty Sherpa Norgay, successfully made it to the summit of Mount Everest. News of the expedition reached London on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Several days later Hillary, along with Col. John Hunt (who led the expedition), received knighthoods.

Although there were parts of Hillary’s life that the film didn’t depict it is a worthwhile watch and made me want to find out more about this fascinating man. If you want to learn more about his exploits and philanthropy check out the following titles from WPL’s collection. They will fill in the gaps left by the film and help readers better understand the tall, shy, sensitive man who loved to read and also to push life’s limits.

High Adventure: true story of the first ascent of Everest” – in this autobiography, Sir Edmund Hillary recounts his life, his ascent of Everest and the history of mountaineering expeditions in China and Nepal.

To the Top! Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain” – in this eBook for kids, author S.A. Kramer describes how Hillary and his Sherpa reached Everest.

View from the Summit” – another autobiography where Sir Edmund Hillary recounts more about his life including jet boating up the Ganges and initiating a building program which included schools, clinics, airstrips and bridges in Nepal.

Sir Edmund Hillary & the People of Everest” – this coffee table book illustrates the social life and customs of the Nepalese people, as well as the life of Hillary and mountaineering. It’s filled with beautiful photos and celebrates 50 years and the golden anniversary of the conquest of Everest.

— Teresa N-P

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