Pizza & Murder!

Pizza 911

9781459728073On a cold winter’s day there is nothing better to do than to curl up with a good mystery and a hot slice of pizza. Put the two together and you get Pizza 911.

A coworker of mine discovered this gem sometime ago. It actually became something of a joke amongst the WPL staff. It just looked so ridiculous. We’ve seen our fair share of odd books here at the library but this one was right at the top. Pizza 911. Complete with a cover showing a pizza cutter covered in blood. But then one day, I had nothing to read, so I thought…..why not?

Well let me tell you, this book had us all fooled. Pizza 911 a great read. Seriously. It’s a clever, fast-paced mystery about Vancouver-based crime journalist Hakeem Jinnah who is struggling to keep his status as a front page reporter. He gets a tip about a ghastly murder – a body was found inside a pizza oven. Desperate to get the scoop on the murder before anyone else, Jinnah follows the clues to a biker bar where a rage-fueled brawl erupts. Satisfied that he’s on the right trail, the mystery leads Jinnah all the way to Africa.

Jinnah is an unscrupulous, egotistical, self-centered jerk but somehow author Donald Huaka makes him very likable. He mixes in the right amount of humour with Jinnah. I found myself laughing at his egocentric outbursts and cunning journalistic tactics. You can’t help but root for him when the pieces of the mystery start to fall into place. His world of tabloid journalism is so accurately described, right down to the adrenaline addicted reporters eager to stab each other in the back for a lead, to the no-nonsense editor nicknamed “Frosty.”

I guess I learned my lesson. Don’t judge a book by cover – or its title. I enjoyed every minute of this story and I was happy to find out that reporter Hakeem Jinnah appears in another novel: She Demons.

If you need a fun, quick read, give Pizza 911 a try. Then check out Joe Beddia’s Pizza Camp and learn how to make some real gourmet pizza.

Pizza Camp

31305588Joe Beddia didn’t plan on owning a pizzeria but that’s where he ended up. Food was a big part of his childhood and he still remembers the taste of Argento’s cheese pizza from when he was a kid. Beddia studied hotel, restaurant and institutional management in school, which led him to working in numerous pizzerias. Finally, he opened his own pizza shop, Pizzeria Beddia, in 2013. A few years later, Bon Appetit voted it the “Best Pizza in America.” Beddia has now shared some of his best recipes in Pizza Camp.

Pizza Camp is unlike any cookbook I’ve ever read. It is part recipes, part artwork and part memoir. The beginning of the book starts off with very basic instructions, including a diagram of how to set up your cooking space with ”stainless steel bowl” and “cheese grater” labeled for clarity. The recipes are organized from basic pizza to composed pizza – with every kind of pizza you’d ever want. This includes: pistachio pesto, fennel and sausage, as well as breakfast pizza, just to name a few.

The pictures in the book aren’t just your typical shots of ingredients and perfectly baked food. There are street shots, food inspired landmarks and a section of just dogs eating pizza. Dozens of anecdotes are intermixed with the recipes, often detailing what inspired a particular pizza creation. For example, the creation of marinara and anchovy pizza is quite a story:

“Some drunk guy invented this pizza. He came into the shop and ordered, ‘Hold the mozzarella cheese, add garlic and anchovy. The grated cheese is ok, too, but no mozzarella.’ And then didn’t come back to pick it up. That forced me to eat it and I discovered how great this pizza is. “

Even if you don’t use any of the recipes, Pizza Camp is so full of interesting stories that it reads like a regular book. There is plenty of Beddia’s personality sprinkled in the pages which makes for a light and enjoyable read.

— Lesley L.

Joe Beddia’s Marinara and Anchovy Pizza (14 inch to 16 inch)

1 ball of dough
1.5 cups tomato sauce
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic (or more, if you like) thinly sliced
2 pinches of Sicilian oregano
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup or more grated hard cheese
6 to 8 anchovy fillets cut in half

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F or if possible, 550°F.

(To make the dough and the sauce there are great instructions in another section of the book)

Spread sauce on the dough. Add the garlic then the oregano and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until well done. Just keep checking so you don’t burn it. Look for the cheese to color and the crust to turn a deep brown. This pizza normally cooks a minute or two faster than one with cheese. It will also be crispier. (Both good things.)

Sprinkle the grated hard cheese over the finished pie. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the pizza. Lastly, arrange your anchovies so each slice has one anchovy, adding more if you like.

 

The Book of Books

Did you watch the PBS series The Great American Read? It was wonderful. It was a booklover’s delight from beginning to end. The network began promoting it about 6 months before it aired so there was lots of time to get excited about it.

I know that library customers and staff enjoyed the series because I have been a part of some spirited conversations about it. Some of the people I follow online were so passionate about the books that they wished were included that their posts got quite heated. We watched some of it ‘live’ at our house and watched some if it taped but the good news is that all of the episodes are available online and the series’ creators have published a fabulous illustrated book as a companion that we have been flipping through with happiness at our house.

The Book of Books has a page or two dedicated to each of the novels that were featured in the PBS series. Within the entry for each book they include a summary of the book, some text dedicated to the author and interesting tidbits about the publishing history or how the book might have influenced other writing. It’s a meaty little coffee table book with great bonuses like a section of read-alikes and summaries of trends in the reading world. This is a book written for fans of books and authors with each page including something fascinating. On one page they included a photograph of a letter opener that was specially made for Charles Dickens (his book, Great Expectations, was #29 on the final list) out of the paw of his favourite cat “Bob”.

dogThey kicked off the series in May 2018 with a 2-hour special that began in the Library of Congress with host Meredith Vieira encouraging everyone to vote and share their feelings about their favourite books online, perhaps start a book club, maybe even read all 100 books (although she eventually admitted to Diana Gabaldon that she hadn’t read her fabulous series until she started working on this PBS show). I had a lot of fun following the voting and competition online throughout the summer. I loved seeing the shameless things bibliophiles would do to get people to vote for their book. The image above is a plea from someone to request that everyone vote for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (this book was recently defended by a last-minute stand-in at Waterloo Reads : the battle of the books, coincidentally).

The process for The Great American Read began with a national survey of about seven thousand people that narrowed the book choices down to the 100 that PBS used as their final list. The kick-off special featured people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chelsea Clinton, John Green, and Venus Williams sharing their own favourite books and encouraging people to read their book (or any book really) on the list. George R. R. Martin’s pitch for The Great Gatsby almost made me cry. I think that the next time we have a student in the library who isn’t pleased to have been assigned that F. Scott Fitzgerald classic I’ll call up this video and have them watch Martin speak about how the language in the novel has always moved him.

askfmlThis contest and the show they produced put libraries and literacy front and centre and it really felt wonderful to hear people – young and old – say that libraries meant so much to them. I remember loving my little library branch in Hamilton so much and still think that it was the best thing ever that I was never reprimanded for checking out a favourite book more than once. The freedom of the library shelves is such a perfect thing. The Freeport Memorial Library in Freeport, NY created the coolest social media campaign that I’ve seen in a long time with one of their library staffers taking photographs of coworkers, library visitors, and authors in poses that were inspired by their favourite books, adding quotes from the book, and then manipulating them. You really have to check out these inspirational moments on their twitter feed at @ASKFML They are amazing – this is one that they did for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Although the program was called The Great American Read, the final list of 100 books had only fifty-one books set in the U.S.A. and only sixty-four of the authors were American. Flipping through the gorgeous book that they created is a lovely trip through literature – for kids, adults and teens. You will start thinking about other books you might have wanted to include, you might consider re-reading favourites or picking one up that you haven’t read yet. I think that you will end up with a list – keep your pencil and paper handy.

The team at PBS did not limit their choices to literary classics. They included popular authors like Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook was voted #51), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code made it to #33), and Stephenie Meyer’s Twlight series came in at respectable #73 beating out James Patterson who only made it to #81 for the Alex Cross series (although I’m quite sure he isn’t worried about his popularity). They have details about the original voting process and how the 100 books were determined on the website but we talked about the final list at our house often and I think they did a pretty good job of including a diverse section of books, authors and genres. I was disappointed to note that Madeleine L’Engle was not included in their choices but I think everyone has a pet author that likely didn’t make the cut and, in her introduction, the author notes that some of her favourites were missing from the final list as well. Culling a list to one hundred must have been painful for that team.

The final episode of the show had Meredith Viera and nominated authors, librarians, celebrities and readers on stage talking about the five semi-finalists and counting down from 100 the list of books that had been featured in the previous shows with a little bit of extra time spent on the ‘big five’. I cheered aloud when I learned that there is a convention for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, was thrilled to hear that actor Wil Wheaton feels his wife fills the role of Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings in his life and felt that inviting a Harry Potter superfan onto the stage to talk about the series was spot on – fans have always been loyal to J.K. Rowling and the voting showed this.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird received special attention as they were able to invite the cast and playwright for the Broadway adaptation to discuss the themes of the book and how they are using them to inform their performances. The final book in the top five was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which had an accompanying video filled with people holding copies of the novel, some dressed in period costume, and one enthusiastic fan wearing a shirt that read “I ❤ Mr. Darcy”.  I’m going to look into getting one for myself, to wear here at the library, on casual day.

So, which book took away the big prize? I don’t mind typing it here in this post (spoiler alert!) because it was on so many websites the next day that it was impossible to miss – you can go to their website for the final reveal, if you like – but I’m pretty sure that many of you will have a strong guess of which of those top five would make it to number one. The book with the most votes was Harper Lee’s classic novel from 1960. It led the voting from the first day they opened the polls and never dropped below first place. It was a clear winner in the eyes of people who were participating in the PBS contest and is always a favourite book here at WPL.

I don’t know if I could choose. I always find it very difficult to choose one favourite book. We receive boxes and boxes of new ones here at the library each week and I find something wonderful in those shipments almost every week. I have several that I return to almost every year – some by John Irving (his interview in the PBS series was fabulous!). I have re-read The Stand (#24) more times than I can count and Charlotte’s Web (#7) never fails to cheer me, especially when I hear the recorded book in E.B. White’s own voice.

I think the most enjoyable part of this series was learning how books and libraries impacted individual people. Hearing Margaret Atwood read aloud from Anne of Green Gables (#11) and knowing that she was having difficulty with the emotion behind the words that she was saying as she quoted Marilla felt so special. Only a television show about books could bring this kind of magic alive. I encourage you to pick up this wonderful book, go online and click on a few inspiring snippets of video from PBS, and start a conversation about a book that meant something to you – if you need someone to talk to about that book we’ll be here, at the library.

— Penny M.

Hold It!

If WPL customers were going to pick one book that they most want to read right now (let’s assume that the book with the highest number of holds is that book) then The President is Missing  written by a former U.S. president and the world’s best-selling author is a good choice.

It’s a safe bet that many readers would be able to find something interesting about a thriller that has espionage, a killer computer virus, gripping suspense and the guarantee that it will have behind-the-scene information that we have not seen before.  Truly excellent details.

When Bill Clinton is the co-writer on a novel and the character is sneaking away from his Secret Service minders you think he has either successfully done this before or knows exactly how it could be done when necessary.  All of the elements have come together in this book for a great beach read – it’s like they manufactured this book to satisfy as many people as possible and waited until the right time to get it on the shelves.  Clever.  Their publishers must be happy with the success of this book as it has outsold much of the competition in the busy summer season and reports say that they have sold the TV rights for their book. TV shows set in the White House do tend to be popular and with the added weight of Bill Clinton behind it – whoa.  I know that I’ll be watching.

So, what should you read once you have finished the Clinton-Patterson team up?  It’s a quick read because you can’t wait to find out how it ends so you will need to have a second book at the ready.  James Patterson is a successful author because he knows how to craft a plot and deliver a surprise at the end – teaming up with Bill Clinton did not change that pattern in the least – this book will go by quickly.  Despite them coming up with 513 pages of White House-related suspense I would suggest that you take a second book with you to the cottage or download something else because you will finish this one and be ready for another faster than you think.  Here are a few suggestions of what you could read next.

If presidential stories have caught your fancy and you are willing to try something new you really should try this one from Quirk Book’s Andrew Shaffer.  He has set Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the roles of Holmes and Watson in what I really hope will be a successful series.  The story of Hope Never Dies begins with our lonely hero Amtrak Joe learning that one of his favourite train conductors has been killed in a train accident.  In fact, Barack comes to tell him the news and Joe is relieved to see him again.  Joe has been feeling a bit left out lately.  After years of spending time together he has watched and wondered about where their friendship is going post-White House and too many nights looking at Barack’s photos online with famous actors and politicians have left him a bit melancholy.  As Joe digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding his conductor friend’s death some of the details look fishy so he turns to Barack for assistance and their bromance heats up again.  This fabulous story allows them to put on their shades, get back in the saddle, and drive a car for themselves instead of having the Secret Service do it for them.  This isn’t a hard-boiled crime novel at all so if that is what you are hoping for you should probably take a pass on Joe and Barack but there is a solid mystery to be solved and a chance to laugh a bit as you wonder if this version of their personalities is at all like the one we imagine them to have.  It’s not all sharing ice cream cones and going to basketball games you know, there are car chases, they wear disguises and Barack carries a weapon when they storm into a warehouse.  It sounds pretty good, right?

Joe and Barack were once powerful men with the full force of the White House behind them when they are trying to solve their mystery but Michael Tanner is just an average guy on the way home from a business trip when he makes the mistake of picking up the wrong briefcase and stepping into a mess that is almost too terrifying to contemplate.  I love the idea of mixed up briefcases.  It sounds like something that might happen in a Disney movie but in this book it all turns dark so very quickly. In The Switch he picks up a case belonging to a U.S. senator who has top secret information on her laptop.  Once she knows he has, there is a target on his back and the clock is ticking to get the contents back from Michael.  He strongly believes they want him dead to hide the evidence which just adds to the feeling of desperation.  The narrative goes back and forth between Michael’s story and that of the Senator’s Chief of Staff who will do anything to solve this problem for his boss.  It’s a gripping tale and has the added bonus of being written by a journalist who specializes in covering espionage and international affairs for the New York Times and The Washington Post.  The terrifying authenticity in books like this will make you think twice when you pick up your personal items from the security line at any airport.

Really, any of these thriller/suspense/murder-mystery type stories can be so much fun to read but you don’t want them to happen to anyone in the real world.  A mystery about the President of the United States is safely set far from your own experience but when you read something like The Switch it is much more personal.  This is exactly the case with the novels of Clare Mackintosh.  Her debut novel, I Let You Go, about a hit and run accident involving a 5-year old boy caught readers by the throat, partially for her beautiful writing, and partially because it seemed like something that could happen to any one of us.

With Let Me Lie the main character is a young mother coping with the double suicide of her mother and father when she receives a note that causes her to rethink the circumstances of their deaths.  She convinces a local retired detective to help her in her investigation and then starts receiving threats on her life and that of her child.  There are plot twists that will cause you to gasp out loud while you read this book, you might even say things to the characters – questioning their decisions – but it’s a book that keeps you turning pages long into the afternoon or evening.  There are no spies and not a single member of the Secret Service but this is a truly satisfying thriller.  If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy her two previous novels, oh, so much good reading is ahead for you.

Thrillers are the perfect choice for late summer reading, whether they are written by a man who Forbes once said is second only to J. K. Rowling in total earnings or one who is known for writing a guide to surviving a sharknado – there really is so much time for a great book.

— Penny M.

 

Back to Reading

A List of Classics You May Have Missed from your Childhood

Ever since I finished my formal education, September has been an odd month. Gone are the days that September connotated a new beginning with new timetables, assignments, and renewed optimism. Now that I’m out of school, I find myself with plenty of free time after work, time that I can finally devote to reading what I want to read rather than what I need to study. It’s liberating, but it can be a bit overwhelming. When I try to determine what I feel like reading, I am left asking myself: Where do I start?

I did what any diligent bookworm would do. I went on Goodreads and consulted my TBR (To Be Read) list. I saw books of all genres from fiction to non-fiction, mystery to historical fiction, but what I noticed at the beginning of my list were children’s books. And then I remembered why I started this TBR list in the first place. I wanted to record a list of children’s classics that I missed during my childhood. Some titles included Inkheart, Maniac Magee, Julie of the Wolves, and Stuart Little. The list was long, and I thought to myself, why not start with these books?

There’s something to be said for reading a children’s story as an adult. Children’s stories can remind us of our youthful wonder, a freeness to experience the fullness of our vulnerability and innocence while asking life’s greatest questions. It’s never too late to read a children’s book. It shouldn’t be taboo either.

WPL’s children’s collection offers a variety of old and new favourites to revisit or discover. Here are a few books that I’ve revisited and enjoyed as an adult recently:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Twelve-year-old Jonas is living in a seemingly ideal world until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memories. During his training, he begins to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community. Lowry has continued this series with three other books: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son.

2. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
After Cole’s anger erupts into violence, he agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative that is based on the Native American Circle of Justice to avoid going to juvenile prison. Cole is sent to a remote Alaskan island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life. This gripping and graphic survival story offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.

3. Holes by Louis Sacchar
What begins as a family curse becomes an inevitability for Stanley Yelnats the Fourth as he is unjustly sent to Camp Green Lake where the Warden makes boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging a five-foot-wide by five-foot-deep hole. Holes is a deceptively complex mystery that questions fate, luck, and redemption all while being rolled into a multi-generational fairy tale.

4. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When 10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family’s secret, she learns that drinking from a magic spring could doom or bless her with eternal life. The Tuck family takes Winnie away for a couple days to explain why living forever is less a blessing then it may seem. This slim novel packed with vivid imagery will leave you asking: would you want to live forever?

5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This thirteen-book series follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in the aftermath of their parent’s death in a fire. The Baudelaire’s are placed in the care of Count Olaf, a relative, who orchestrates numerous disasters that they must flee from. While the books offer a dark and mysterious tone, they are both clever and full of literary allusions, dark humour, and sarcastic storytelling that would be an excellent revisit or introduction for adults.

There are countless more classic children’s books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Are there any books from your childhood that you always wanted to read but never got around to? Check out the WPL Catalogue and/or the shelves at your local branch. You’ll never know what magical wonder you may find.

— Eleni Z.

We Promise You…It’s Great!

Really, everyone likes to read a crime story, preferably one that is completely solved at the end with the killer safely locked away. A classic thriller that lets you feel like all of the loose ends are tied up when you turn the last page and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t live in that town. This is the kind of reading pleasure that comes from the 2018 One Book, One Community (OBOC) title, Broken Promise.

Customers are responding to the enjoyment of getting to know new characters, rooting for a small police department under strain as they sort through the clues and then rushing to the end of the book as the author, Linwood Barclay, throws in some surprising plot twists. Some of our customers have enjoyed Broken Promise as their book club choice, some have picked it up so that they can keep up with personal OBOC reading and others have been inspired to try it out because of the posters that they see in the library.

Every season of OBOC brings us fresh book chat from customers. It’s great to hear which character is a favourite after they have finished reading the book, even one that features a grisly murder. This year we’ve heard approval for the main character, David Harwood, who moves back to his hometown in an attempt to get his life back on track for himself and his son. Maybe he is getting the sympathy vote – living with his parents, an unemployed widower, ferrying casseroles around his old home town. We’ve also seen a strong showing of support for Detective Barry Duckworth who is charged with solving the murder at the centre of the novel and several peculiar crimes that pop up as the story moves along.

Did you know that Linwood Barclay published a standalone title related to this series in October of last year? It’s called Parting Shot and gives us all a chance to return to the beleaguered town of Promise Falls. Local vigilantes are taking things into their own hands by running a website to promote the punishment of alleged criminals who have escaped the law. Oh, poor, overworked Detective Duckworth. Maybe he should just give in and eat one of those doughnuts that he is trying so hard to avoid?

Customers have also been enjoying a hearty discussion of the characters that they ‘love to hate’ in this novel. Former investigative reporter David finds himself piecing together the bits and pieces of this case at the request of his well-meaning mother. She is keen for David to get to the bottom of this as his cousin, Marla, is one of the police department’s strongest suspects, and he quickly finds out that there are many targets for his investigation. It is almost impossible to not want to reach into the book and shake some of the people you find involved in the horror surrounding this crime. They seem like they are straight out of a really good 80’s soap opera. Maybe we could start creating a dream cast? Jessica Lange would be fantastic as Marla’s mother, the busy hospital administrator, so obsessed by details. And the psychiatrist, Dr. Sturgess? We should choose someone with a face that makes you wonder if you should fear or trust him. A horrible man.

When you reach the last pages of the book your loathing for the killer will reach new heights. All of the loose ends are tied up, at least as far as the suspicion around David’s cousin Marla is concerned, and you could find yourself setting this book aside and moving on to another if it weren’t for Detective Duckworth and all of the little things that are nagging at him. This is very bad news for town residents but great news for readers and OBOC fans because there are two more books for us to read after this because the crimes continue.

Far From True begins with the murder of four Promise Falls residents at a local drive-in and soon the police link that crime back to those of the previous novel which proves their nasty serial killer theory. The twenty-three has the whole town at risk of being poisoned on May 23rd (Memorial Day weekend) if Duckworth doesn’t get to the bottom of the killer’s latest plot. So much good reading in there. In both of these novels Linwood Barclay continues with his style of multiple storylines and a gallows humour in the dialogue between his law enforcement officers. Something has to balance all of that darkness.

This story of a cozy town that seems safe but is hiding multiple secrets has been resonating with customers. All of these readers will have a chance to come together in September for free author events across the Region.

The event in Waterloo will take place on September 26 at 7:00pm at Knox Church across from the Main Library.

Broken Promise is a fast-paced thriller with more than one character you can cheer for and several you will despise – a safe bet for any customer who wants a good summer read.

— Penny M.

Eat A Little Better

When a book promises a behind-the-scenes look at something I find it irresistible. If the author is telling me that the secrets they will provide will be about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue then I never miss reading that book. It’s a tempting mix – the White House and secrets. One of my favourite cozy mysteries is top of this list partially due to the way that the author made her series seem authentically set in an atmosphere that is notoriously hard to get any information about. It’s just too good.

The White House Chef series by Julie Hyzy is one of the most enjoyable cozy mysteries on our shelves. Her books are action-packed, funny, with a supporting cast of sous chefs, fussy West Wing staffers, and gruff secret service agents who make the White House feel like a real community you want to return to in each book, despite constant murders and kitchen chaos. Hyzy includes recipes for a “complete Presidential menu” at the end of each book and the details about the high pressure life serving the First Family make this one of my favourite choices to read or recommend.

However, I was truly thrilled when I read that a real White House chef for the Obamas, Sam Kass, was publishing his own cookbook. A chance to really learn about the daily work life of one of the White House chefs? Sign me up!

This cookbook, Eat a Little Better, is more than just recipes – it is inspirational. Sam Kass is gently encouraging us to try and eat better, adjust the way we shop for food, arrange our pantry and think about how this will change our world. And the very best part of his message is that he writes the whole book without using guilt or making it seem like his suggestions are easy to accomplish. I was relieved that Kass acknowledges that very few families can quit eating brownies altogether and that he, as a former advisor to the First Family, couldn’t make that happen. Even Michelle Obama wasn’t able to make her kids listen to her so how can we be expected to make magic happen when people walk into the house after school and work, claiming that they are ‘starving’? Instead Kass suggests that there be a balance between the healthy choices and less healthy choices for everyone and outlines how that can happen in his book. It’s the idea that we can all eat a little better that is so appealing.

t1larg.elmoThe recipes in the book vary in difficulty but there weren’t many that seemed overly daunting. Kass is realistic in his expectations of us. I like Sam Kass. He even spent time with the gang from Sesame Street – you can look this up. He did forget to include a chapter on desserts in Eat a Little Better which I found disappointing. He mentioned that Barack Obama was a fan of pie but neglected to include many stellar recipes for that favoured choice. Do you remember how Barack’s performance in the first presidential debate in 2012 was a little lackluster but in the second he seemed to turn up the heat on Mitt Romney? It seems that it wasn’t the days of reported prep work in Virginia that gave him the extra fire. According to the story in this book, Kass asked Obama what he wanted to eat (and he was ready for anything, having packed a variety of ingredients to take along and cook in a tiny kitchen on Air Force One) and made him exactly the right meal for crushing the competition. He liked it so much that he cooked it for him again on election night making it “lucky pasta”. If there is one recipe you try from this cookbook it has to be this one – not to mention it is chock-a-block full of wonderful stuff – garlic, spinach, basil, pine nuts, chicken – and then it will be your family’s lucky pasta. It also makes a tasty leftover so you can take it to work the next day and impress your friends by saying you are eating President Obama’s favourite pasta.

The real highlight of the recipes for me was the last grouping, where he organized beans and grains into different seasons in an attempt to encourage families to add them into every meal of the year. His inventive suggestions for using up pantry staples will make so many busy weeknight meals (and lunches!) easier. I know that I am going to be checking this practical cookbook out so many times over the next few months and will love it even more when September hits.

Sam Kass began cooking for the Obama family long before they moved into the White House. It’s really hard to say which is a more challenging meal to cook – one for a family with a parent who is the leader of the free world or a meal for one who is working 24-7 trying to get that job. This cookbook is actually an opportunity to learn a bit about how the food that they ate and how they connected over meals was a part of what kept that family strong during challenging times. He started on the journey of being more conscious of the impact of food when he worked as a senior policy advisor for nutrition in the White House and as the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and he includes that journey in this book making it a little bit like an autobiography.

Kass was an important part of the work that Michelle Obama did when she created a kitchen garden on the South Lawn. This was a controversial decision at the time but it allowed them to invite thousands of children and adults into the space and let them see how food is grown instead of seeing it come in glossy packages from the local supermarket. They chose to go even further by using that produce in state dinners, advancing to add honey production to the garden and eventually creating more than one White House beer while they were in office. Since leaving the White House Kass has continued to work on initiatives with Michelle and Barack Obama. If you wanted to fall into an inspiring Internet rabbit hole you could check out what he is up to now – he is hard to keep up with.

We might not all have kitchens with the same accoutrements as Sam Kass, have the opportunity to entertain heads of state (or Elmo) but we can all try some of his recipes, learn from his research, and enjoy reading about the real life of a White House Chef.

— Penny M.

Reading by the fire

Over the weeks that are Christmas holidays when you have children at home, the hours stretch out as far as your legs under a blanket before the fire. This can be lovely or madness. Some years you count the minutes until the school bus pulls up in January, other years – like this one for me – you want the fire and the board games and the eggnog (yes, the eggnog) to keep coming. Especially if it means you get to read, and read I did.

I started the days by finishing up the second novel in Louise Penny’s Gamache series, Dead Cold. I’m new to the party that is Inspector Gamache but enjoying it, even if I’m reading it out of order. This one was all about snow and food and murder and ice and more food. Perfection.

Next I moved on to a new favourite – Terri Favro’s Sputnik’s Children. It was so, so good! It’s written by a Canadian author, its a little science fiction (if you love Dirk Gently, read this!) but not overpowering so don’t let that put you off!  It’s about family and a woman trying to figure things out, albeit it is tricky when she has no choice but to jump back and forth between timelines to save the universe from destruction. I loved it and my husband’s enjoying right now.

Then I started the first of my new books. My younger son had heard me talking about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and gave it to me for Christmas. It’s a tricky book to talk about without sounding out of touch and overly privileged. It’s a WOW book for sure that everyone should read it. It’s also being made into a movie. My older son bought me the best pillow ever, and I read all these books while cuddling up against it. They’re kind of the best – kids and books and pillows.

Other books I got for Christmas and can’t wait to read are The Power by Naomi Alderman and What is Going to Happen Next by Karen Hofmann, another Canadian author.

Right now I’ve dipped back into my summer stash and I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s (remember how much we LOVED A Visit from the Goon Squad!) Manhattan Beach. It is a historical novel set in New York during World War II. The protagonist, Anna, is sick of doing her part for the War by sitting in a room sewing with other women. She wants to dive in the harbour with the men and repair boats. She wants to find her father who abandoned her mother and severely handicapped sister. One night at a nightclub she meets a wealthy gangster who might be able to help her. It’s a fantastically researched and written story. There’s danger and intrigue and heartbreak and feminism. Wrap it up with a bow!

I’ll just finish it up, and then I’ll go back to my Christmas pile – too bad I’m out of eggnog.

-Sarah C.

While you’re waiting…

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

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

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

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

-Penny M.