Meet Author Joanna Goodman

Joanna Goodman, author of the One Book, One Community selection for 2019, The Home For Unwanted Girls, is visiting the Region of Waterloo from September 24 to 26. Four (4) author events, including book signings, have been scheduled:

Tuesday, September 24
7:00pm to 9:00pm
Knox Presbyterian Church, 50 Erb St W, Waterloo, ON N2L 1T1

Wednesday, September 25
1:15pm to 2:15pm
Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School, 1206 Snyder’s Road West, New Hamburg N3A 1A4
Note: this event is open to the general public, not just to students of Waterloo Oxford.

Wednesday, September 25
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Kitchener Public Library – Central Library, 85 Queen St N, Kitchener, ON N2H 2H1

Thursday, September 26
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm program begins
Trillium United Church, 450 King Street East, Cambridge, ON N3H 3M9

All of the author events are free but attendees are advised to arrive early for a good seat.

To learn more about Joanna, The Home for Unwanted Girls and One Book, One Community, visit oboc.ca

Leaf Through a Good Book This Autumn

I wonder if Salman Rushdie and Colson Whitehead thought about asking their publishers to put their most recent novels into a drawer for a few months when they learned that Margaret Atwood was releasing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale? The fall publishing season is always so competitive plus they have that upstart, previously sticking with non-fiction, Georgia-born Delia Owens sitting on the NY Times bestseller list for over 50 weeks, and now Mags has more to say about the Republic of Gilead. Poor guys looking at their sales numbers, just feeling glum.

Well, they have a lot more competition on the way. So much more. And it’s all great news for readers! There is an absolute rush of wonderful material coming into the library every week and it’s almost too hard to keep up. Even better news for us – we don’t have to buy any of them. We just place holds, come into the library to ask for suggestions, or browse the shelf and marvel at the treasures. It could not be easier to find something to read this fall.

With her 10th book Emma Donoghue has created a novel that is once again completely different from anything she has written before (and she has written so many good things). A childless widower, Noah, almost 80 years old, agrees to take in his 11-year old great-nephew just as he is planning a trip to Nice. It seems as if it might be a story about an unlikely friendship but becomes something entirely different. Their relationship is surprisingly funny and takes the reader deep into Noah’s family history while he is learning about the future through 11-year old Michael. Akin is a vacation novel that you won’t easily forget.

Usually when reviewers say that a book is ‘ambitious’ I worry they are hinting an author has bitten off more than they can chew with the scope of a novel but with Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) I think a demanding storyline is not a concern. In The Water Dancer the main character, Hiram Walker, is born with a mysterious power he doesn’t fully understand but is able to use in guiding escapees from plantations in the South to freedom in the North. Magical realism combine with historical fact in a novel that is sure to be one of the highlights of this season and we also have it in recorded book format so you can just let the story wash over you.

Author Ami McKay has been sharing tidbits about her memoir Daughter of Family G through posts on her website and recently said that she had recorded an interview with Shelagh Rogers for CBC’s The Next Chapter but I just want to read it. I want to cuddle up in a chair and learn – in the tone that we have all come to love – her family’s story. When I learned that she was publishing this memoir it reminded me of other similar books; The Juggler’s Children and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but they were written after the fact. Ami McKay is researching her family’s legacy of hereditary cancer with the full knowledge that it will have an impact on her health and that of her children. It will be an absolutely fascinating read from a favourite author.

There are other big names publishing this season who just might make Salman and Colson worry a bit before they fall asleep each night. Ann Patchett will be giving us the gift of The Dutch House this fall, Jeanette Winterson has reimagined the Mary Shelley story with Frankissstein, and Elizabeth Strout has written Olive, Again (although maybe we are all thinking of it as ‘Olive, Again!!!’ as we are so happy to see her on the shelves). Perhaps not in the running for a Booker, a Giller (wrong country, I know), or a Pulitzer Stephen King has published another full-length novel called The Institute. It begins in a very small town with the reader falling for a no-nonsense ex-cop named Tim before the action abruptly switches to the workings of a frightening institute. Children are being kidnapped from their homes and tested by scientists in an attempt to learn more about their unusual abilities. Some of the children have telekinetic powers, others can read minds, but they are united in their desire to escape the compound and the horrifying tests. Everything, including the reason for the Institute’s existence, is untwisted at the end (you will see Tim again) but not before you find yourself wishing you had read this book during daylight hours only.

Even if I just leave it on my kitchen table to impress people when they come over I am looking forward to From the Oven to the Table. Just look at that cover. Doesn’t that look like a book someone would check out if they were an incredibly impressive home cook? In 2018 the author published the absolutely sublime How to Eat a Peach which I was sure I would use for more than the deserts (I never did) but I loved checking it out of the library more than once just to allow myself to imagine I could cook fish that way (instead of the same three ways I always do it). This new cookbook promises quick recipes for dinner after work and substantial dishes we can use to charm our friends. I like to do both of these things! Friends and food sound so good to me when the weather starts to get colder. This is one of the many new cookbooks that will be on the shelves to tempt me this fall. Keep them coming, I am ready.

Keep all of the gorgeous books coming, I really can’t wait.

— Penny M.

Tea With Our Bloggers

Meet some of our More Books Please bloggers for tea at the Harper Branch and join in fun discussions about books and more.

John M. Harper Branch
2:00pm to 3:00pm
Registration opens one week before each program

September 30

Tea with Lesley L. Learn about books that are “not just for kids.” Junior/Teen books are great for adults too. Online registration opens September 23.

October 28

Tea with Penny M. She’s sharing her favourite thrillers and horror novels in celebration of the season of fright. Online registration opens October 21.

November 11

Tea with WPL Blogger Sandy W. We’re discussing novels and stories about war and remembrance that you won’t be able to put down. Online registration opens November 4.

December 2

Tea with Jenna H. Discover how to read like a writer. Online registration opens November 25.

All the Ever Afters

Most of us have heard the story of Cinderella many times over – as children, as adults reading to children and Disney’s take on the popular tale. But Canadian author Danielle Teller is asking readers to put aside their preconceived ideas of Cinderella, her stepsisters and, most especially, her ‘evil’ stepmother.

You may be thinking, “I already know the story of Cinderella – bullied, Fairy Godmother, glass slipper, Prince + happily-ever-after”. But in Teller’s version, All the Ever Afters, we witness the story of Cinderella through the eyes of Agnes, the woman who would become Cinderella’s stepmother. Despite being such a well-known tale, I found this quite an engaging read. The popular aspects of the fairy tale are woven into this re-imagined story that includes insight into Agnes’ early life, the life of her two daughters and how their relationship with Elfilda (aka Ella) developed over time. I especially enjoyed seeing the complexities and dynamic relationships within this family. Life isn’t all glass slippers and Fairy Godmothers, am-I-right?

This is a creative retelling of a well-known, much loved fairy tale that gives readers a different perspective which may leave some readers feeling differently about the much maligned evil stepmother. With its stunning cover art, this is an eye-catching book but it’s also an engaging coming-of-age story that features complex family dynamics, set within a well-known fable.

— Laurie P.

When “Back to School” Means “Off to University”

We started preparing for the start of the new school year in a very different way than any year before because one of our kids was making a bigger change than normal – with a school year that involved moving out of the house and into a university residence – so some of the things we usually fit into our new school year planning had to be adjusted.

It turns out that packing your first child up to send them off to university is a lot more involved than I first thought and I was relieved to use the resources of WPL to get it done more easily (some of the research could even be done from the comfort of my own dining room table when I used our Digital Library – super cozy). It’s far too early to say whether or not things have gone well but I feel like we’ve done our best. Here are some of the best things we used to get ‘ready’.

It was helpful to read both fiction and non-fiction about this topic because any time I found myself thinking back to what my university years were like I would realize things like my own cell phone had been the same size as a men’s dress shoe and textbooks back then were still made of paper so I really needed to get some idea of the kind of pressure a modern university student is under. I can recommend Jean Hanff Korelitz’ Admission, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and My Oxford Year which gave me an idea of what contemporary university life is like. An unexpected bonus came our way through the memoir by American disability rights advocate Haben Girma which is absolutely non-fiction but reads so beautifully it is like a witty, best friend novel. She is just telling you her captivating story of growing up in California, attending a small college in Oregon, and deciding to go to law school, and it’s as good as any YA novel out there. A wonderful picture of college life.

We also found many solid resources that focused on student mental health, finances, academic success, making new friends, choosing a career path, separating from home and family, potential romantic difficulties… I almost can’t keep typing… it’s really too much. Each year Maclean’s publishes their guide to universities in Canada with a survey of almost 50 schools and over 24 thousand students – it’s a great source and we receive the updated guide every year here at the library. My absolute favourite (I quoted it a few times, read it aloud at mealtimes, it became a bit of a ‘thing’ for the kids to tease me about but it really helped) among the books that I read was called Letting Go : a parents’ guide to understanding the college years because it included anecdotes from students, university staff, and parents. It was written by two college advisors in the U.S. and I found myself thinking about sections in this book often. I’m sure that it saved me from making some unwise choices during the weeks leading up to our last days of summer.

In school years past we would usually hit the cookbooks and find new meals to try in the first weeks of September but this year we were looking at food in a different way. We were helping our university-aged student prepare for the co-op term that will arrive in four very short months. Although we started with very elaborate ideas of what a university student’s perfect meal will look like (what were we thinking?) in the end we decided that it is more realistic to choose meals that are tasty and easy to prepare. We had success with a few cookbooks and have even added some of their recipes to the family rotation – Kevin Curry’s Fit Men Cook : 100 meal-prep recipes for men and women and The 5-minute Salad Lunchbox were our top two for realistic ingredients and flavour. In Kevin Curry’s book he provides a whole plan for approaching food and meal prep and, despite the use of the word ‘men’ in the title, we all found it useful.

During the last days of prep for her final move in day all I could focus on was reading cozy mysteries and I’m so pleased that I found a really good series on the shelves that had absolutely nothing to do with universities, children, packing, or choosing a career. It was all about two women who run a gingerbread cookie-baking business in a small murder-filled town outside of Washington, D.C. It’s so much fun (other than the murders) and it included a few lovely recipes to try. Just distracting enough. Now all I am thinking is “I can’t wait for Thanksgiving” and reading week. Who’s with me?

— Penny M.

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.

Someone We Know

Shari Lapena, the Toronto-based lawyer-turned-author, is on my short list of ‘Favourite Suspense Authors Evah’. With her latest book, Someone We Know, she once again provides her readers with a fast-paced, suspenseful and twist-riddled whodunnit.

This was a thrilling ride through a suburb that is full of secrets, deceit and a dead woman with a complicated past. Ooooo, right? Lapena provides great twists and many plausible suspects leaving readers to question pretty much every character’s motives. The characters are a diverse and complicated bunch, but each felt well-developed and featured a wide range of personalities – with some being not so likable and others hiding deep, dark family secrets with smiles on their faces. You just don’t know who to trust.

My only beef is a small one – it’s but a wee moo – but I found there were a lot of characters to keep track of and with the police sometimes referring to characters as ‘Mr. so-and-so’ versus their first names, it got a bit confusing remembering who was who. The author is good at reminding the reader but this suburb has a lot of residents that readers will have to keep track of.

I don’t want to give away any secrets or twists but I’ll just say that Lapena has, once again, written a clever, compulsive, hard-to-put-down suspense read with a long list of culprits that will keep readers guessing (and second guessing) until the bitter end. You’ll want to get your hands on this book ASAP. As luck would have it, WPL has copies of this title in regular print, large print and audiobook on CD that you can borrow!

— Laurie P.

Great Teen Reads to Start the School Year

The days are growing shorter and the leaves are starting to change colour. This can only mean one thing: the school year is about to begin. If you are looking for a good book for a novel study or just a great story to read in your spare time, the Waterloo Public Library has got you covered with a great selection of teen reads.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
We Set the Dark on Fire is a perfect blend of the classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the teen bestseller Divergent. In the story there are three social classes: upper class, lower class and those that live beyond the wall. Men in the upper class have two wives: a Primera and a Segunda. A Primera is responsible for fulfilling the needs of his household. A Segunda is responsible for fulfilling his sexual needs. Young girls in this society are sent to school to learn how to properly serve their future husband.
Daniela graduates at the top of her class and is chosen by the wealthiest family to serve as a Primera. It is the highest honor that a girl could receive. However, Daniela is keeping a secret that could destroy everything– she was born beyond the wall.

A group of insurgents discover her true past and threaten to expose her, unless she aids them in their rebellion against the upper class. Daniela soon finds herself sympathizing with the rebellion and works to bring down the unjust class system.

There are so many parallels to our current political climate – the role of women in a male dominated society, the power of the rich elite over the poor and the vilification of those who live outside our borders. It prompts a lot of questions about the society we live in today – why do we settle for things the way they are? We Set the Dark on Fire opens the door for a lot of discussion.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiaomara is a lioness. She’s a fierce, independent young woman with a voice of her own. The problem is her family wants her to be a sheep. Her mother wants her to fall in line with religion, to silence her voice and obey.

With her voice gone, Xiaomara begins to pour her emotions onto the lines of a leather notebook, creating raw poetry. She keeps her words locked away from the world until she joins a slam poetry club. For the first time she has a platform to express herself and people are listening to what she has to say.

The book is written in verse, making it a quick read but it is full of so many different themes: family, friendship, sexuality, body image and self esteem.

The poetry Xiaomara creates is both genuine and sympathetic. She questions why things have to be the way they are simply because she’s young and female. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will relate to her words.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
The earth is damaged beyond repair. The icecaps have melted. The far north is submerged. Earthquakes have caused the west coast to drop into the ocean. The Great Lakes are so polluted that the water has turned into grey sludge. Hordes of people now scavenge the land looking for clean water and scraps of food. But perhaps the worst part of all – people have lost the ability to dream.

The only dreams that remain are those that live within Indigenous people, who are now being hunted for their bone marrow.

At first glance, The Marrow Thieves may seem like a basic dystopian novel, but it is really about the resilience of Indigenous people. The story echoes the real life residential schools that once tried to kill the culture and the dreams of Indigenous people. But in this novel it is the reverse- Indigenous people are being killed to restore the dreams of others.

The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Kirkus Prize and the White Pine Award. It is the kind of book that sweeps you into the story from the first page.

The Art of Breaking Things by Laura Sibson
Skye is a teflon girl. Nothing sticks to her. Nothing bothers her. Everything just slides right off. She might party too much. She might use more drugs than she should. She might get too familiar, a little too fast with any boy who gives her a second glance. But that’s just her style – she breaks the rules and pushes boundaries.

The truth is that Skye’s rebellious attitude is just a cover. Underneath she is struggling to bury her past. Something that’s too painful to remember. The only outlet she has is her art. Art helps her express what’s going on inside – what she keeps hidden from everyone.

The Art of Breaking Things is a realistic story that deals with difficult subject matter. The character of Skye is beautifully complex. She works hard at keeping a bad girl image, yet inside she is incredibly damaged and vulnerable. Her path to healing is powerful and full of emotion. Readers will be reminded of the character Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

— Lesley L.

The Stationery Shop

A stationery store is unsurprisingly the focal point in this story by Marjan Kamali which tells the tale of four families and their inextricable connections to one another.

Based in Iran from 1916 until the present, we watch the blush of young love between forbidden classes unravel against the backdrop of political conflict and rebellion.

The Stationery Shop opens in New England 2013 with an elderly couple preparing to visit a seniors home to visit someone who has yet to be identified. As the narrative unfolds, we are transported back to 1953 Iran to a stationery store owned by a kind, gentle and learned man named Mr Fakhri. His shop is an oasis of intellectual and literary treasures. It is also, as it turns out, a location where forbidden love is given a chance to blossom.

Enter the main characters Roya and Bahman, two teenagers who are instantly drawn to each other with a power neither of them understands or can suppress. The stationery shop is their nesting ground for the love that is flourished between them. When the time comes to introduce family into the picture, we find that Bahman’s mother has totally different marriage plans for her son, plans that are not to be altered.

The tale takes another turn when we are transported to Iran 1916 where a young man from the upper class falls madly in love with the melon seller’s daughter, clearly a match that will be vehemently opposed by his family who has already chosen his future bride.

The character’s stories begin to intertwine and the reader becomes aware of the interconnections of the families, and the devastation that has rained down on the ill-fated lovers. Through it all, we witness the political turmoil within Iran during the 20th century. Pro-Shah and pro-democracy groups collide throughout with deadly results. The influence of the oil-hungry western world upon the machinations of ruling parties continues to this day and weighs heavily upon the lives of the characters in this story.

This is an easy read and yet packed with romance, political intrigue, and best of all, Persian cuisine. The reader can almost smell and taste the dishes that are offered throughout.

— Nancy C.

Books About Books

I find it hard to resist a novel that features a librarian or bookseller as the main character. Part of the thrill of reading these books is in finding out whether or not the author has been successful in getting the nitty gritty of working with books exactly right. It’s entirely possible that I won’t identify with the character in the same way that all chefs don’t feel an instant sense of kinship in reading about other chefs. I might not feel like the bibliophile at the centre of the story is someone I could be friends with but I really like seeing similarities in their work life and mine. If the author has done their homework and put some time into making sure that the details are top notch then I love this kind of book more than any other. And I love to put these in the hands of co-workers and library customers. Books about people who love books!? It’s the best kind of reading, I’m certain.

I try to never miss any “books about books” that come across our desks (even those that focus a little less on actual library work like The Librarian and the Spy by Susan Mann, a fun book but not so much cataloguing or reference work) but this summer there were two spectacular choices that rose above many of the other books I read this summer. Both novels were choices that I enjoyed so much I kept talking about them weeks after I read them and purchased copies to give as gifts.

If an author has created a character with a personality and sense of humour that makes me long to have them come alive and join me for lunch then I think they’ve gone beyond crafting a good story, they have created a world that I wish I could inhabit. Not for the rest of my life – I’m not logging off and buying a plane ticket out of here – just a book that is so good I know I’ll read it again and think of those characters when something reminds me of them.

With both of the main characters in these books I felt as if their life choices, friendships, families and work environments were entirely believable and that isn’t something that happens often in ‘domestic fiction’ and even less so if the books are sold with a romantic arc involved. The vibrant colours on the covers and spine and the snappy text chosen by their marketing department might scare you away but I’m telling you that the women inside of these novels are like flesh and blood humans that you will be so glad you got a chance to meet – oh yes.

In the case of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler we encounter our book-loving character just as she has finally gotten into the groove of being a single parent and full-time teacher-librarian in the same school her two children attend in rural Pennsylvania. Her daughter Cori is fifteen and son Joe is eleven and it takes everything she has to get them to school, activities, maintain their aging house and try to make acceptable meals – her social life takes a back seat but she knows she should make it a priority ‘someday’. At least when she isn’t wondering why her husband left them to find himself in Hong Kong several years before (this is how her life becomes ‘overdue’, a truly great pun). When that long absent father/husband decides to reinsert himself into their lives to get to know the kids again she thinks her best plan is to head out of town for a while and, practical person that she is, she finds a library conference in New York City. She will accumulate some professional development hours while she takes a break from the routine at home and visit an old friend at the same time. Amy is so sensible in her choices! Her college friend, Talia, edits a successful fashion magazine and thinks using Amy as a makeover candidate will help rejuvenate her brand. Win-win? This leads to some super Devil Wears Prada fashion montages and great jokes about uncomfortable shoes and outfits. Initially Amy is reluctant to make changes in her clothing, hair, and makeup but agrees to give it a try when Talia and her assistant start sending her out on blind dates as part of their unfortunately named ‘momspringa’ feature articles on the magazine’s website. Author Kelly Harms uses romance in this novel with a light touch and it is more the story of a person trying to decide the direction that their life should go.

With The Bookish Life of Nina Hill the setting could not be more different than Amy Byler’s. Instead of rural Pennsylvania Nina lives in Larchmont, California, a small neighbourhood that she has never wanted to leave (I looked it up – you would never want to leave either) where she works in a small independent bookshop. Nina’s life has been carefully crafted around her interests and the anxiety she has managed since childhood. She plans her day carefully each morning in her planner and knows what will happen today, tomorrow and the days that follow. She is not a spontaneous person but she is always ready for a touch of fun and has an inner monologue of observations about herself and the world around her. She lives with a charming and remarkably funny cat named Phil. One of her weekly activities is a trivia competition with her team named “Book ‘em, Danno” and they have been kicked out of several bars – not for being rowdy – but for winning too often. Her passion and knowledge for literature is prized on the team and through this group of supportive friends she meets her love interest, Tom (I won’t spoil it and tell you what his occupation is – you must read to the end).

Like Kelly Harms does in her novel, author Abbi Waxman doesn’t make Tom the most important part of this story. Nina discovers that she has a large extended family beyond her single mother, a substantial and mysterious inheritance, she learns that the bookstore she loves is in jeopardy, and everything triggers her anxiety – the possibility of romance is often the last thing on her mind. Nina has priorities and reading is often first on the list, or in her planner, she devotes entire Thursday nights to it. Although she is at a much different stage of life from Amy Byler she is also trying to decide on her direction in life and you can’t help but be inspired by the way that finds a way that is right for her quirky, lovable personality.

Books, authors and literary quotes are sprinkled throughout both novels (in the case of Nina’s life it is a weekly occurrence because of her extremely competitive trivia team) and the characters of teacher-librarian and bookseller are letter perfect. When Nina describes the customer who walked up to the counter and asks for a refund on a copy of Pride and Prejudice because she didn’t like it and Nina has to refuse (the customer had read it all the way through before coming to back to the store) I was reminded of a similar experience from my own working days in a bookstore. Nina’s bookstore world, and her sarcastic bookstore manager/owner, are so true to real life. It’s a delight.

Amy Byler is an absolute treat of a bibliophile, as well as a gem of a devoted teacher-librarian, and the experience in that book is multi-layered because her daughter Cori is spending the summer with ‘assigned’ reading from her own mother and her comments (in letter form) are included, so we see the book-loving relationship from all sides. When Amy attends the library conference in New York City she is required to make a presentation about an ongoing project in her school library and the details about this effort are quite interesting, the conversations she has with other professional librarians 100% credible and the books they are discussing absolutely relevant. If I met Amy at a conference I would love to sit down and talk to her – I’d probably have asked for her business card and checked in with her a few weeks later. I’m almost sad that she doesn’t exist. Same thing with Nina but her trivia skills are intimidating… maybe she would let me feed her cat.

Books about librarians and booksellers are always being published – across all genres – vampire librarians, librarian spies, booksellers who solve mysteries, and I read them all with great happiness. This summer has been a particularly good one for newly published titles but I have other favourites from years past that I take from the shelves over and over as a part of my comfort reading. I turn to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore when I want a dash of fantasy, I look up Jenny Colgan when I want to be transported to Scotland and I can read about A. J. Fikry and his wonderful shop on Alice Island on any day. The story of how his life changes is absolute perfection and I’m a little nervous to hear that an actor and director have been assigned to the film based on the book – what if they don’t get the details right? What if they are not able to evoke Fikry’s love of Roald Dahl on screen the same way it exists in the novel? Sometimes a book is perfect just the way it is, especially when it is a book about books.

— Penny M.