Crowing About “Hollow Kingdom”

I’m not wishing for the end of the world any more than I long for a murder to happen but I do love reading about both of them.  So many interesting things happen in novels about the apocalypse.  Remember R.E.M‘s song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”?  It’s a checklist of perfectly terrifying elements that make a captivating story – “Birds and snakes and an aeroplane”, “Governments for hire” and the “Furies breathing down. your neck” – all the best parts of great Apocalyptic fiction.  I don’t want the end of the world to happen but when the writing is so good well, I do feel fine.  Thank you, Michael Stipe.

So many books featuring a possible apocalypse stand out when I think of my ‘best ever’ books, starting with Stephen King’s The Stand (which I first read way back in high school).  We get to meet the characters in these books when they are at their weakest, when everything is stripped away, so we really get to know them.  I still remember conversations between Stu and Franny in Stephen King’s book more vividly than I do the actual content of any class I took in high school.  It’s also fascinating to see how authors like Emily St. John MandelEdan Lepucki and Neal Stephenson choose to end our world – what exactly are the  catastrophic mistakes that they see our society making that takes us to destruction?  How do they imagine our society will rebuild?  These are the nitty gritty details that I love about this type of book.  If an advance review mentions genetic engineering gone wrong, pandemics-getting-out-of-hand, any instance where the CDC makes a mistake and tries to cover it up then I place my hold right away.  At least they will be an entertaining read and the really beautiful ones give me a chance to ponder what we value in our civilization – what would we miss if it all starts to fall apart?

I knew that I would read this debut novel about the apocalypse seen through the eyes of a domesticated crow (these were the keywords thrown around for the last few months when Hollow Kingdom was being chatted about online) but I didn’t know if it would just be a quirky read or one that rises above ‘book about a crow’.  I also wondered who I might share it with. How many other readers would like to read a book written from the perspective of a crow? From the first chapter I knew that it was a book for everyone.  Everyone!

The story begins with S.T., his human friend Big Jim, and their dog, Dennis, enjoying a fine day outside their home near Seattle. Looking back S.T. realizes that there might have been other indications that Big Jim’s health was declining but when one of Big Jim’s eyeballs falls out and rolls across the lawn he knows that things are starting to get serious. S.T. is a clever bird. Crows are, of course. He thoughtfully scoops it up and puts it into one of the cookie jars in the kitchen in case it can be used by Jim later and then spends the next few days trying to cure Jim of this terrifying illness. He tries everything – brings him the keys to his truck, tries feeding him Cheetos, carries him their favourite photographs from the fridge door, brings some medication from the local Walgreens – but nothing works.   With Dennis by his side (he attaches Dennis’s collar to a leash and leads him away from their home) they go on a mission to see if there are any uninfected humans who can help Big Jim.

It’s horrifying like all good infection-turns-humans-into-zombies novels but it’s wonderfully different because it’s all told through the language of animals and how they see us.  Author Kira Jane Buxton must have enjoyed books like The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down when she was a kid because she has the natural world built to perfection.  If the violence level weren’t so high I would be tempted to share this book with junior readers because there was so much to love and her passion for animals is evident throughout.

S.T. is the main voice but he is joined by Dennis and they meet other crows and dogs throughout their adventure.  We see some of the adventure from the perspective of moles, a poodle, a seagull, an armadillo, a polar bear and an octopus and it is all bewitching.   Their travels take them across the state, through a university campus, into abandoned neighbourhoods, a large zoo, an aquarium, forests and to the beach and it leads to a wide variety of discoveries about humans.  Some work out well for our team of crow and dog and some really do not.

I’m trying not to spoil the plot of the story (or the ending) but with many of the remaining humans preoccupied with their zombie thoughts this leaves an opportunity for the natural world to take over and it is all beautifully described by Buxton.  Seeing the destruction of the human world through S.T.’s opinionated eyes is the very best view. He was perfectly content being a crow who felt like he was almost human.  He has more enemies than friends among animal kind so the challenges that he and Dennis face together are doubly hard.  It becomes an opportunity for the reader to fall hard for both of them; especially as the author describes them as “a rejected crow with an identity crisis partnering a bloodhound with the IQ of boiled pudding.”

There are some moments in this book that were a little scary to read and had to be returned to – if I could have read them with my eyes partially covered like you watch a horror film, I might have done so.  I read this book quickly because I almost couldn’t believe how clever it was, how she was able to make her crow’s voice seem authentic, and yet I didn’t want to finish it because the time spent with S.T. and Dennis seems far too short.  It’s the classic problem with a book that you love – reading it fast because it is perfection but just not wanting it to end.

Yes, Hollow Kingdom can also be described as a zombie novel, and it is narrated by a Cheetos-eating crow with a name that is so profane I can only share the initials in this blog post, but there were moments in this book that moved me to tears and caused me to want to write down quotations from Buxton’s beautiful text.  I could needlepoint them on a pillow with a cute little crow and dog image maybe?  The author might be trying to send us a message about the environment or the dangers of relying on technology.  She might be saying all or none of this and wants to remind us of the importance of animal welfare.  It’s an unforgettable book about the end of world as we know it and you really should read it – Cheetos optional.

— Penny M.

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

I Love Lucy

We don’t buy a lot of books at our house because we really don’t need to – everything we need to read is right here on the WPL shelves or, if we want to dip into something off the beaten path, it can usually come to us through the joys of an interlibrary loan.

Once in a while we do buy books and it is most thrilling if it can come through an interaction with the author. I know, from comments made by authors online, that they enjoy these conversations even though book tours can be exhausting so I try to keep the chats brief but sometimes it is so hard to keep that in mind. A favourite author (maybe I’m obsessed) of mine is returning to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year and she will be signing copies of her latest book Kid Gloves: nine months of careful chaos and I am buying a copy of that one. Even though I have already read it. I read it straight through the very first day that I picked up my hold and then read it through again. She is that good.

The first Lucy Knisley book I came across was Relish: my life in the kitchen which she published in 2013. I think I found it while I was looking for inspiration in our own mealtime – a constant battle – but found so much more than cheerfully illustrated recipes she includes at the end of each chapter. It’s about Knisley’s relationship with food, complicated but optimistic, and how that is tied up with how she feels about her parents and herself. It’s definitely a helpful reference for a young cook, and includes clever tips with gorgeous illustrations, but it’s the kind of book that mixes facts with autobiographical references so a reader can use it as a chance to reflect on their own relationships with family and food. The two are inextricably linked and Knisley uses a combination of humour and honesty to make this clear. She will make you think, enjoy your meals more, possibly try something new, and you might even connect differently with family members.

Relish was such an unusually pleasant book – a great mix of comfort and challenge – that I went to the catalogue to see if we had anything else from this author and I was thrilled to find an earlier book she wrote called French Milk. In this graphic novel Knisley is celebrating her 22nd birthday while her mother is celebrating her 50th. They head to Paris to enjoy the beauty and food of the city they both love. It’s a wonderful travel journal because she includes photographs as well as her own illustrations of their six week journey but it is also a poignant story of a mother and daughter. A story that is sometimes difficult – all mother-daughter relationships have some tension, right? Travel just brings it into focus for both. The author brings the same honesty to this novel that she did to Relish and you really do ache for her as she describes disagreements with her mother, the turmoil of her own romantic life, and what she is feeling as she realizes that it is time for her to become an adult.

Knisley hits adulthood at high speed in Displacement: a travelogue which is another travel journal but entirely different French Milk. In this novel she volunteers to go on a ten-day cruise with her grandparents. Both grandparents are in their 90s when this trip happens and, wishing that she had more time to spend with them, Knisley decides this is the perfect time to bond and maybe ask her grandfather some questions she has about his WWII memoir. She is also realistic about the possibility of the trip becoming the topic of another graphic novel.

Early in the book Knisley describes the trip as possibly being “comedy gold”, “a bonding trip with my grands”, “a frustration fest”, “a worrisome glimpse into decadent first-world irresponsible luxury”, “a depressing insight into my grands’ deteriorating health”? And then she answers herself with “all of the above”? It turns out that she is right. It is possible to laugh while reading this book but the realities of caring for her grandparents gives Knisley constant anxiety throughout the trip and even her cheer falters more than once. This book can hit very close to home if your life has ever taken you down the path of caring for an elderly relative or friend and if that hasn’t been your experience I’d suggest you pick it up for the chance to see and feel it as close to first-hand as possible. Well, experience it while trapped on a ten-day cruise.

Turning to the other end of the life cycle Lucy Knisley published (after considerable excitement online) her latest book Kid Gloves. This book is getting a lot of attention from librarians and book reviewers – it has joined many of her other books by making it onto the New York Times Best Seller List – debuting at #13! Kid Gloves is a memoir of her experience with fertility, conception, pregnancy and the first few days with her child (she calls him ‘Pal’ in an effort to give the baby some privacy) and it is raw and so honest. As she has done with her previous novels she chooses to blend her autobiographical storyline with something ‘more’ and this time she is taking on the mounds of misinformation in history and science about reproductive health. She weaves in some fascinating and important facts while battling misconceptions that are worth attacking.

Kid Gloves is a book that could be on a reading list for expectant parents, health-care professionals and anyone who supports them. So, it’s a book for everyone. I wish you could reach down under your chair right now and find a copy of this book. Like Oprah used to do. “You get a book! You get a book! You get a book!!” A fan favourite at book signings because she goes the extra mile for readers, Knisley included a playlist for this novel on her website – it even includes Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine” from Waitress. Perfection. I really can’t wait to meet this author and try to act cool about it. If you can’t make it to TCAF2019 you can read her books and meet her that way. Reading is a great way to make a new friend.

— Penny M.

The Matchmaker’s List

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli is a heartwarming and impressive debut novel that is a mix of a few things. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story with a touch of romance, a sprinkle of humour and a dash of Canadian pride that looks at the positive aspects and complications of family, friendship, culture and community.

While it appears to be a cute romantic comedy (and it is!), Lalli also introduces several deeper issues into a story that focuses on one determined grandmother as she tries to find her single granddaughter Raina a husband. Readers get a look into the rich Canadian-Indian culture of Raina’s family and also witness the pressures it puts on three generations of women. It’s through these relationships of family and friends that Lalli shows how cultural expectations can sometimes clash with individual needs.

The story is set in “Toronno” (aka Toronto) and with Lalli’s vivid descriptions of that vibrant city and its diversity, it makes it a great setting for this story. And can I just say how much I love it when a Canadian author sets their story in Canada?!!

My only issue with the book is how Raina, in one instance, tries to curtail her grandmother’s husband hunting. It just didn’t sit well with me. While I appreciated the discussions it will create and the insight it gives readers about an aspect of the Indian community, I wasn’t fond of the execution and felt this misunderstanding went on for too long. However, it will spark some good book club discussions!

Overall, this was an enjoyable multi-cultural romance that had a touch of humour and went beyond the typical romantic fluff. I applaud the author for tackling larger issues including diversity, acceptance versus shame, multicultural and generational differences, and the deep influence tradition and culture have on people of all generations.

— Laurie P.

Juliet, Naked

Ooh I love the English writer Nick Hornby. He writes about human frailties and vulnerabilities in a way that is always smart, funny and so spot-on.

I recently read his book Juliet, Naked (from 2009) and also saw the movie during its recent run at the Princess Cinema.

Juliet, Naked is a great read! What’s with the title, you might be wondering. It sounds a little, er, provocative. But there is no clothing-less woman named Juliet parading through the book. Juliet, Naked is, in fact, a music album. Perhaps that will come as a disappointment to some.

Anyway, Annie and Duncan live in the north of England and have been together for 15 years, wasted years as far as Annie is concerned. Then she starts an email correspondence with Tucker Crowe, who also knows a thing or two about wasted time. Tucker used to be a famous singer-songwriter, who Duncan just happens to be obsessed with, and which will throw a few curveballs into the story line. It has been 20-odd years since Tucker’s last album and his life has been pretty aimless since then.

Tucker comes to England to deal with some complicated family stuff and arranges to meet up with Annie. They have built up quite a connection through their correspondence. The burning question (no real surprise here): are they willing to give relationships a second shot?

The movie Juliet, Naked stars Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd. All of them are excellent. I have to say I preferred the book over the movie (mostly because I love Nick Hornby’s writing so much) but a fellow WPL staffer told me that she preferred the movie. So there you go, two different people, two completely different opinions–and that’s great.

The DVD is not yet available at WPL, but is on order.  Here’s the link to the trailer in case you want a sneak peek. There are quite a number of holds on it already so if you are interested you might want to place your own hold soon. Like, now.

— Penny D.

Is the RomCom Alive & Well?

One of our daughters told me that she read an article online that the RomCom is dead and the author was blaming Tom Hanks. I was so horrified that I couldn’t even look it up. I mean, really? Did this person even watch You’ve Got Mail? How about Sleepless in Seattle? Romance galore. Then our daughter wondered if she was mistaken and it might have been Hugh Grant and I gasped out loud. Not the floppy haired star of Notting Hill? What about his wonderful role in Four Weddings and a Funeral? Hugh Grant? A killer of romantic movies? Never. I loved those movies. How could Hugh or Tom be to blame for the end of one of the most delightful genres of film ever? The absolute pinnacle of meet cute occurs in Notting Hill because Anna Scott casually enters Will Thacker’s travel bookshop and then meets him later – collides with him – and he invites her to his house with “the blue door” to clean up. Oh my. Can this glorious style of film truly be finished?

And then I thought about it and realized that I’ve never really been able to convince myself that showing these movies to my own daughters is a fabulous idea. They are very sweet movies and I love them nostalgically but they don’t show a version of romance or life that I want them to aspire to. We need more than a meet cute. Falling in love because you both like school supplies and bagels is not enough even if you do have the on-screen chemistry of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The great news is that these cheerful films are still being made but in a more thoughtful way. Kumail Nanjani and Zoe Kazan wrote a semi-autobiographical film about their relationship that was so funny that I think we could call it a ComRom and I was just 100% swept away by their romance. It was beautiful, despite the fact that much of it was spent in a hospital, with Zoe’s character in a coma. We watched The Big Sick and loved it so wholeheartedly that we had to sit through all of the extra features because we didn’t want the magic to end. Okay, I was the driving force on that but it was a splendid film.

Fabulous news for fans of romantic comedies is that Kevin Kwan’s wonderful novel Crazy Rich Asians has been made into a film and will be in theatres to charm us all. It should meet the needs of both romantic and comedy perfectly but will be an updated take on this genre of film.

Main character Rachel Chu is an accomplished Economics professor who has been dating history professor Nicholas Young for a substantial amount of time when he asks her to go with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding (there is no meet cute in the book because they are set up by a mutual friend but in the book they are eating at Tea & Sympathy in an early scene so that is a lovely, romantic touch – maybe their delicious scones will feature in the movie?) and they pack their bags and fly together like a calm, normal couple. It’s the last average thing that they do together because Rachel is absolutely astounded to find that when she visits his grandmother for the first time she is living in a palatial home surrounded by what looks like acres of forest in the middle of a busy city. This where the comedy and the romance start to mix together in the most enjoyable way with fantastic pacing throughout the novel. I laughed and laughed and hope to do the same in the theatre.

Kwan wrote an outlandish but charming fish-out-of-water story with Rachel meeting the in-laws, going to Singapore for the first time, learning that Nick is from one of the wealthiest families in the country and participating in an almost daily battle with women who want to marry this most sought after bachelor and facing the knowledge that Nick’s own mother doesn’t approve of her. Honestly, if she weren’t perfectly sure that Nick was the first person she had ever considered spending her life with, I think she might have made a hopped on the next flight back to New York. See? New York, the home of the RomCom. Her awareness that she is the one making the decisions here, that Nick isn’t her only option for happiness, is what puts Kwan’s novel squarely in this decade and will make the screenplay a different animal from Romantic films of the past.

The first book in this trilogy (it is followed by China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems) was so instantly likable that Kwan was approached to sell the film rights before it was even published. It has been reported that he turned down one of the first offers because they requested that he change Rachel Chu’s character to a non-Asian woman so that they could more easily cast the role. By taking on the role of executive producer on this film he was able to play a part in guiding the choices made in the casting of the parts and they are absolute perfection.

Constance Wu – of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat – has the part of Rachel and she will be a force to reckon with, exactly what is required to carry this film. She will play opposite a new actor, Henry Golding, as Nick. The director of the film, John M. Chu, wanted to be sure that the film had an outstanding all-Asian cast to match this incredible book so after they announced that they had signed Constance Wu for the main role he posted a video with an international open casting call. Who could resist this guy?

They received thousands of two minute videos with the hashtag #CrazyRichAsiansCasting and combed through them to find exactly the right actors to fill their cast. The social media accounts of author Kevin Kwan, the director, the principal actors and many of the creative leads were filled with colourful tidbits of news during the months leading up to the filming and once they were on set it was thrilling to see them post photographs of the actors together on location and in their glorious couture costumes. It’s really been a treat to watch everything come together. Check out this photo from one of their cast parties – so glamorous.

crazy rich

True to Kevin Kwan’s vision, the sets, flowers, food, cars, and dresses were opulent and vibrant. According to everything I have been reading even the soundtrack and orchestration will match his vision for the story – everything is absolutely over the top. Give yourself the treat of watching the trailer. Have you already seen it? Watch it again. Watch it for Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Gemma Chan and Michelle Yeoh – and that’s just in a two and a half minute trailer. That is just a fraction of what you will see in the theatre. Can you believe it? It’s stellar.

So, are Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant to blame for the death of the romantic comedy? I really don’t know because I was too much of an ostrich to look it up. I know that I wouldn’t read it even if I found the article. I do know that I look forward to seeing this film succeed and hearing all about how Constance Wu saved the romantic comedy. Long live the meet cute!

– – Penny M.

Have You Met The Durrells?

You know how bookstores have ‘Staff Picks”?  Well I think we should have ‘WPL Customer Picks’.  Or maybe when customers return a popular DVD or book we could keep a tally of who is reporting that it is good/bad/worth the trouble and then post it at the returns desk with a little image of a thumbs up or thumbs down.  The opinions of our neighbours should be more important than the reviews we read in the Globe & Mail or the New York Times, and I would rather watch a DVD that a WPL customer recommends rather than one that gets a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  In fact, I find that material suggested to me by WPL customers is a guaranteed good read or good watch.  Thumbs up!

A favourite customer ‘gifted’ me with the television miniseries The Durrells in Corfu recently and I was as smitten with the series as she so confidently said I would be.  In fact, when I placed my hold on Season One she told me that I should place a hold on season two right away as I would be sure to want to watch Season Two as well.  She was right – it was that good (I have since thanked her for her sage advice, not to worry).  The miniseries originally aired on the British television network ITV and was picked up by PBS as part of their Masterpiece series.  We are fortunate to have both seasons at WPL and when the third season is encased in plastic on our shelves I will be faithfully waiting for it to arrive.  I will have a cup of tea ready to go and might even break out a festive meal in celebration.

The television show is an adaptation of the trilogy of books that Gerald Durrell wrote about the years his family spent on the island of Corfu.  He is at the centre of the books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods but the screenwriters have chosen to make his mother, Louisa, the focus of their stories.  This was a great decision on their part – it gives the series a bit of snap that might be missing if the stories all centred on a young boy.  I’m sure that it would have been lovely but not quite the masterpiece we now have to enjoy.  It is fabulous.

After struggling to raise four willful children alone on a widow’s pension in gloomy England, Louisa decides to move them to a sunny Greek paradise.  Well, Louisa decides with the enthusiastic prompting of her eldest, Larry, who is determined to be a successful novelist (and becomes one – renowned author Lawrence Durrell ). The reaction of the other three is mixed at best. The chemistry between the family members is just magical.

When Louisa, Larry, next oldest son Leslie, only daughter Margo and young Gerald arrive on the island they are warmly welcomed by a taxi driver named Spiros who becomes their interpreter, protector and negotiator for everything – a villa, furniture, and the release of their funds from the bank.  While the family waits for their money to arrive they must ‘forage’ for something to eat and this is the first of many opportunities to see the different ways that the Durrells cope with adversity.  Larry flat out refuses to help, saying that he is busy writing.  Margo says that she is looking for a job and does so by sitting on their sundrenched patio in a bikini.  Leslie, always keen to help his mother, goes out with one of his many rifles and shoots some of the local wildlife while Gerald hunts for berries but ends up eating many, feeding some to their dog, and letting the remainder spoil while he is distracted by a neighbour who offers him a puppy.  Oh, the glorious little puppies.

Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals started when began keeping local wildlife as pets. They pile up so quickly that I can’t remember them all.  He had many species of birds, several types of mice, a number of insects, plus scorpions (!), turtles, otters, tortoises, snakes. In one lovely episode he wanted a goat so, so much.  The classic W. C. Fields quote about not working with children or animals does not apply in this series because actor Milo Parker, who plays Gerald, is top-notch and the furry and feathery supporting actors are sublime.  Animals and children are everywhere and make the show that much more enjoyable.  If you were to play this series without sound you would enjoy watching it for the visuals alone.

The three older children of the Durrell family also play their parts to perfection.  Larry is an aspiring novelist who spends every day wearing his underclothes and a polka-dotted robe while he types away in his room and when forced to provide encouragement or advice to his siblings he grudgingly does so but there is love behind the snide remarks.  Poor Leslie stomps about trying to find his place in their family, on the island, in the world and says “maybe I’m not the sort who is meant to be happy” but when Larry wonders if it might be time for him to return to England and they have a real brotherly conversation it is as if the two actors have really grown up together.  There is great chemistry there.  And Margo is sublime.  I’m sure that this young actor, Daisy Waterstone, is meant for great things.  She delivers every line – comic or dramatic – with such flair.  When she confesses to a local countess, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, “I’m a bit dim”, there is really nothing more delightful.  It is so hard to choose a favourite among this cast of wonderful actors.

Each episode finds the family getting to know their new neighbours, the culture of the island, and finding their way to a happiness that they did not have in England.  It’s not an easy journey for them, thankfully, or the series would end and it would seem far too effortless.  It’s because life is a struggle for Louisa and her children that you keep watching, you become invested in their success, whether it be in Leslie’s love life, Margo’s quest for employment, or Larry’s constant pecking away at the typewriter.  And they are doing all of this while the sun is shining, they are wearing the most colourful clothes (well, Larry is usually wearing a dressing gown) and eating glorious meals on their patio which overlooks the Ionian Sea.  What more can you ask of a miniseries?  I read some terrific news online (there are spoilers about Louisa’s romantic prospects in this article so tread carefully) which tells us that ITV has committed to making a fourth season of The Durrells and that many key figures are returning to produce, direct and act in the show.

Besides Season One and Season Two on DVD,  we have many, many books written by Gerald and Lawrence in the collection.  Rosy is My Relative is a fabulous pick if you wanted something to read aloud on a car journey – it is sure to please everyone in your family.   You will find endless information about all of the Durrells on the Internet including wonderful content about Gerald’s conservation efforts and his Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s possible that after enjoying this miniseries you might be inspired to cook like Louisa, dress like Margo or plan a trip of your own to Greece.  The Durrells will keep you busy all through the summer with the help of the staff here at WPL.  And, if you are inspired to adopt a goat or a turtle then that’s entirely on Gerald.

— Penny M.

Tis the Season…for Wedding Movies!

The warm weather is here along with the flowers and bells of wedding season. Horse drawn carriages, brides in white gowns, vows of love all sealed with a kiss – weddings are fairytales come to life. The Waterloo Public Library has an extensive collection of movies showcasing all the charms and attractions that weddings have to offer, along with all the over-the-top drama that comes with planning them.

The Royal Wedding
Let’s start off with the biggest wedding of the year – Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle. When there is so much tragedy featured in the media it is refreshing to finally see something happy on the news. This DVD covers the pre-wedding celebrity arrivals, the ceremony and post-wedding farewells from the crowds lining the streets.

The Wedding Plan
An Israeli movie about an Orthodox Jewish woman named Michal on her path to marriage. However, things between Michal and her fiancé crumble one month before the wedding ceremony. Rather than cancel the wedding, she continues her planning with the belief that her faith will guide her to true love in time for the ceremony.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
This is my personal favourite wedding movie. It originally started out as a one-woman play and went on to become one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. The star of the film, Nia Vardalos, based the story on her own Greek family life and eventual marriage to a non-Greek man.

The Wedding Singer
Adam Sandler plays a disgruntled wedding singer so bitter that he sets out to ruin other people’s weddings. This is until he meets a bubbly waitress played by Drew Barrymore. As time goes on he realizes there may be hope for true love after all.

Four Weddings and Funeral
Although it was originally released in the 90’s, this movie has stood the test of time. Full of British humour and a brilliant performance by Hugh Grant, the film centres on an awkward young man and his romantic life. He becomes love-struck by a young American woman who he keeps meeting at different weddings and of course, a funeral.

The Hangover
This is a wedding movie for guys. The film begins when the groomsmen get together to give the groom-to-be one last hurrah in Las Vegas. They have a wild night that no one can seem to remember. The next day the groom is nowhere to be found and the wedding is just hours away.

Bridesmaids
Comedies aren’t always recognized for Academy Awards, but Bridesmaids received both an Original Screenplay and a Best Supporting Actress (Melissa McCarthy) nomination. Annie, a down-on- her-luck sales clerk is asked to be the Maid of Honour at her best friend’s wedding where she instantly clashes with the other girls serving as bridesmaids. This original film pushes the boundaries when it comes to vulgar humour and female comediennes.

There are many more wedding movies and romantic comedies in our collection. Curl up with a glass of wine and a few tissues and enjoy some great wedding flicks.

— Lesley L.

Ethel & Ernest

Now here’s a real charmer for you. By turns sweet, sad and funny, the animated film Ethel & Ernest will steal your heart.

I looked for this recently-made animated film at the local theatres, but didn’t spot it playing anywhere. So when a fellow library worker mentioned it had just come into WPL, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed.

PEOPLE-PROD-Ethel-and-ErnestEthel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name by renowned children’s writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, and many others) and pays affectionate tribute to Briggs’s real life parents. Ethel and Ernest are working-class Londoners who meet in 1928 and stay together until their deaths in 1971.

The movie consists of little vignettes of daily family life, told against the backdrop of changing times. The days of the Second World War are particularly fraught. The parents argue over whether to evacuate young Raymond to the countryside (“Over my dead body!” wails Ethel. “No, it will be his dead body.” counters Ernest), the family’s house and street are damaged by bombs and Ernest, working as a volunteer fireman, is utterly overcome by the destruction he has witnessed.

Ethel & Ernest packs a lot of emotion, but in an understated, maybe English, kind of way. I was a bit surprised at how involved I became with the characters, something I didn’t expect from an animated film. Watching Ethel & Ernest age and their health decline and then pass away, well, it is moving.

So yes, check out Ethel & Ernest. You might also want to have a look at the graphic novel (published in 1998). It is every bit as lovely as the DVD.

— Penny D.

 

What to read next

Each time we review customer holds on books, CDs, and DVDs to ensure the wait lists aren’t becoming too long I see names that are familiar; James Patterson is often there and I also see Nora Roberts, Stuart Woods, Linwood Barclay. Customers at WPL are also such big fans of every award-winner going so as soon the longlists are announced for anything we see an increase in the interest in those titles, whether they be books or films. Once in a while there are surprises on these lists and that is what makes working at a public library constantly invigorating and that is what makes coming to work every day so interesting.

The most recent list had the most encouraging title at the top of the list, a title from the shelves of our Children’s Department, not a spy thriller or the latest Hollywood memoir.  The book that WPL customers are most interested in reading right now is R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, a book that has recently been adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay. We’ve had this fabulous novel on the shelves since 2012 with constant love from the families and kids who have taken it home. From the very moment that young readers started to get to know the main character, Auggie Pullman, they knew that they had read something authentic and wanted to talk about it, share it with friends, and find out more. This is a story about a previously homeschooled 10-year old boy who decides to start attending school (with all of the pressures you would expect plus the fact that he has several medical conditions including a severe facial deformity) and the author chooses to use this as an opportunity to model friendship, acceptance and empathy instead of your typical fish out of water story. It’s the perfect choice for a read-aloud or read alone.

It’s tough to find something exactly like Auggie’s situation but we have so many beautifully written novels to tempt you. The quality of writing for the middle-school audience is outstanding and, once you read your first one, you will find yourself coming back for more. Sarah Weeks wrote a fantastic book that will bring everyone back to their days of sitting in the school cafeteria with Save Me A Seat. She tells the story of Joe, who has just lost his best friends because they moved away, and Ravi, who has arrived in New Jersey from India. Joe has been bullied his whole life and Ravi is struggling with trying to be understood while he navigates the strange world of an American middle school.  They find their way through the lunch line, the humiliation thrust upon them by classroom bullies and a week’s worth of homework together.  This is where real friendships are formed.

Schools and friendships are the cornerstone of great literature for kids. It also really helps make the story ‘zing’ if the parents are absent in some way. They don’t have to be deceased exactly but their interference in a book can really slow down a narrative. Just think of every great book you loved when you were a kid – did the mother/father/grandparent/guardian feature prominently? If any adult was a big part of the story they were usually a very cool aunt or spectacularly helpful older cousin or mature neighbour. It can never be someone in authority – this spoils absolutely everything. Wonder‘s author addresses this in interviews about her book and many other authors, like Neil Gaiman and Kate Di Camillo, have done so as well. Stories are better without a cumbersome adult around.

Author Donna Gephart had written several successful novels for kids before she came to write the story of Lily and Dunkin in 2016. They meet in the beginning of their grade eight year when they find they have something in common – they dislike their birth names (Lily was originally Tim and Dunkin was born Norbert and takes up his new name due to his fondness for the doughnuts) – and are grappling with bodies that are betraying them.  In Lily’s case she knows that she is a girl but others assume she is a boy and classmates bully her as she slowly exhibits her identity by wearing makeup in public and Dunkin is hiding his bipolar disorder from his team so that he can become a part of their a successful basketball program. As Dunkin chooses to stop taking his anti-psychotic medications so that he can have more energy for basketball and Lily works on environmental issues their friendship grows. Gephart’s gift for humour makes this so much more than a book about kids with difficulties in middle-school.

Should you be interesting in approaching the middle-school world through something more visual you might want to check out CeCe Bell’s El Deafo. It’s a graphic novel of the author’s own experience but she has chosen to make all of her characters anthropomorphized bunnies so it seems oddly current – who knows exactly how old a bunny is, really. CeCe contracted meningitis as a child, loses her hearing, and goes through the experience of learning to use a hearing aid, requiring cords and a large receiver worn on her chest. The real magic in this book is her ability to dig deep into her memory and help the reader feel as if they are by her side as she relives the terrifying moment when she first realizes that she can’t hear her mother’s voice, how wonderful it is to hear again when she first uses the hearing aid, what it feels like to use her super hearing power for good by spying on the teachers in the hallway. The image of the girl-bunny on the cover of the book is a representation of how she felt – superhero-like – and the author is careful to say that her experience of deafness is hers alone but her experience of being a kid searching for a true friend will seem genuine to all.

These are sublime, universal stories which will capture the hearts of families. The books are as brave and bright as the children who will enjoy reading them. Kids just like Auggie, CeCe, Lily, Dunkin, Ravi and Joe are here in our library and these books, and so many others, are ready for them to love.

-Penny M.