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
Title: The Outsider by Stephen King
Location: 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
Title: The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Location: 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

Failure Is Not An Option

In the library we see publishers responding quickly to events in the hope that they will capitalize on reader interest and sell more books. In some cases their rush to get a book on the shelves can result in books that meet a need but won’t find their way into your top ten list. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing publishers, authors, illustrators, scientists and astronauts had ample time to pull together every resource to make their products top-notch and it has been an absolute thrill to see these book treasures arrive on our shelves. It seems like I have been taking home a book or two a month to read or share with my space-loving family and we have learned some wonderful new facts, sneaky behind-the-scenes tidbits or relived the details we already read.

coderWhen we look back at those blurry images on the moon it’s hard to comprehend that it was only fifty years ago that engineers and technicians (almost entirely men) huddled over the desks to wait and see if decades of work would pay off. It seems like much more than fifty years because advances in technology have reached an absolutely dizzying pace. The computers used to provide guidance for the Apollo mission were so big that they took up entire rooms but are known to have been no more powerful than a calculator used by today’s high school student. It’s astounding to realize that the code was fed into the guidance computer using punch cards. You can actually see the code listing on the Caltech archive and imagine the incredible amount of work that went into just one part of the mission. Or you don’t have to imagine it. Here is a photograph of Margaret Hamilton, an MIT computer programmer working at NASA during the Apollo missions, standing next to a stack of some of the Apollo guidance computer source code.

Landing on the moon is the anniversary being celebrated on July 20th but there could have been hundreds of thousands of individual anniversaries celebrated before that day. An estimated number of about 400,000 people worked to make it possible for three men to safely travel to the moon and two men to walk upon it. The dedication, the incredible risks, the scientific advances and the decades of research and development since the Apollo mission have culminated in a publishing surge and it’s making for some fabulous reading.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy shared his goal that the United States put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and put into motion his plan to conquer space and the world at the same time. Historian Douglas Brinkley (a professor at Rice University where Kennedy gave his famous “we choose to go to the moon speech”) has done well in tying together the story of Kennedy’s family, that of engineer Wernher von Braun, NASA’s role in American politics and the space program’s future following the president’s assassination. He successfully blends politics, history and the thrill of the space race into one compelling narrative in American Moonshot : John F. Kennedy and the great space race. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the Kennedy story or someone who wants to get a feel for all of the forces that came together to make Apollo 11 happen.

Another 2019 book that has far fewer pages but held me captivated for hours was a gorgeous picture book by Dean Robbins and Sean Rubin. The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon is not about the Apollo 11 mission but about the mission that follows and the images are so beautiful. It’s a sweet choice to take home to read aloud but a reader of any age could learn from this one. Alan Bean was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12 and was the fourth person to walk on the moon but is also known as the only artist to have ever seen the moon up close. What a perfect chance to use your art to communicate a unique experience! This picture book is a wonderful opportunity to learn a little more about his life as a navy pilot and his work at NASA but focuses more on his work as an artist. The author was able to collaborate on this story with the astronaut before his death and the illustrations share some of Bean’s own bold use of line and shape. It’s a little more STEAM than STEM and it’s perfect. Read more about Alan Bean on his own website or through the NASA website.

Alan Bean was a part of the group known as Astronaut Group 3 which included Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. But in the early days at NASA all of the astronauts worked closely together by backing each other up at mission control, training together, testing equipment, flying together and helping each other to learn the dense material required to make each mission a success. We have so many fantastic books on the shelves about these fascinating days – some old and some new – but Neil Armstrong’s authorized biography (the one that the Ryan Gosling biopic was based on) is one that stands out in my mind because it is so clearly written. It reads like a textbook because it is free of extra emotion but filled with incredible fly-on-the-wall detail. The chapters that cover his time as a test pilot are so explicit that I am sure I will remember the types of the planes he flew longer than I will remember the names of the people in his family or the town he was born in (Wapaknoeta, Ohio). If you read one book about the Apollo 11 mission then I suggest you set aside a few evenings and spend some time with First Man : the life of Neil A. Armstrong. It’s the closest you will ever get to feeling like you have experienced the life of an astronaut.

For another perspective on the Apollo 11 mission we have a newly reissued copy of Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire here on the shelves. As a member of the crew, he followed a similar astronaut career path to many of the other pilots with a graduation from West Point, time spent as a test pilot and a spacewalk on Gemini 10. Where his story becomes interesting is that with Apollo 11 he had the unique worry of being the man who might have to fly home and leave Buzz and Neil behind. He was concerned that they might crash on the moon, that there might be a failure to launch from the moon or any one of a number of other catastrophes. He writes about this weighty knowledge in his memoir. Mike had time to think about this as he piloted the command module and listened to his crewmates make their historic first steps onto the lunar surface. So much of the spotlight has focused on their actions in those days on the moon but his story – and his feeling of being truly alone out there – make this a fascinating memoir.

We have also been experiencing an increase in other material focusing on the Apollo 11 anniversary so if you haven’t satisfied your curiosity through shiny, new books you can view a documentary like the one that features newly discovered 65mm footage of mission control and the astronauts on the moon. It’s a truly unbelievable viewing experience. You can also check out one of the many magazines that have featured the moon landing – Make, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics and Sky & Telescope are a few of the periodicals that I’ve been reading lately – the photographs and features have been a great way to augment my reading about the anniversary.

We have some of the classic books about space flight on the shelves like NASA flight director Gene Kranz’s Failure is Not an Option and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (many contemporary astronauts say that this book was an early inspiration for their career choice) and your options for fiction about astronauts are endless. We have so many great books to suggest that you could be reading until we return to the moon. I know I’ll be on the holds list for the book about that mission.

— Penny M.

NOTE: if your children are into space, check out the Moon Lander (see below) in the Children’s Department at the Main Library. And don’t forget to register for the super-fun, space-themed Summer Reading Club. Activities, events, challenges and prizes all summer long.

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The voices of strong women

Call Your Daughter Home is a Historical Fiction novel set in 1920’s South Carolina in an area which recently suffered a devastating boll weevil infestation leaving cotton crops decimated. Only 50 years since the Civil War, and still a few years away from The Depression, author Deb Spera shows how these issues influence the lives of three women with vastly different backgrounds.

Reeta, a first generation freed slave, Annie, a rich business owner and Gertrude, a poor mother of four girls, each take turns narrating the story. Their voices are strong and distinct, allowing them to share their different points of view as women living during this uncertain time as well as illustrate how the men in their lives greatly influence their experiences. Despite their differences in social status, these three women find strength, loyalty and a degree of friendship in each other.

The book has a slower pace and while the plot was somewhat predictable, readers will find the ending quite satisfying. The inclusion of interesting and varied secondary characters strengthens the story and provides readers with an interesting read that focuses on these three women whose love for their children, despite their differing experiences and hardships, push them onward.

– Laurie P.

Fascinated by Queen Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Victoria Day!

— Penny D.

The Hottest Titles for Spring 2019

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

Non-Fiction

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

Fiction

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

FT-Spring-2019

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.