The Family Upstairs

Lisa Jewell is one of my all-time favourite authors. When she has a book out, you know I’ll be reading it. Her latest book, The Family Upstairs is a delightfully sinister psychological thriller with a bit of a gothic vibe that was engrossing until its final pages.

The story occurs in two different time frames and is told using three different points of view (and short chapters) which keeps the tension high and the pages turning quick. The pieces of the story surrounding a dysfunctional family, their posh manor house and their guests, gradually come together as the mystery of what happened to the manor’s earlier occupants unfolds for the reader.

There are a lot of characters, but Jewell gives them distinct voices and an impressive amount of depth. This is distinctly darker than Jewell’s previous books but just as gripping and I enjoyed the clever twists and even the disturbing feel. While I’m not a fan of open-ended stories, the loose ends in this book didn’t bother me as much as I would have expected.

Overall, this was a wonderfully gripping, slightly ominous, twisted family drama. Without divulging the plot, I’ll just say that this is another must-read book by Lisa Jewell.  WPL has ordered paper copies and audiobook on CD for this book that publishes November 5th.

— Laurie P.

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.

Staff Picks for Summer

WPL staff love sharing what they’re reading…or looking forward to reading! If you’re looking for a new great read, why not check out our Staff Picks List for Summer 2019. This list of fiction and non-fiction is for adult readers.

We’re also sharing our top picks for kids and teens. We hope you have a summer full of sunshine, good times and great reads.

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WPL Book Club Picks for August

Join us for book club conversation at any meeting. No need to sign up. No need to clean your house. The WPL Book Clubs have “open” membership, so you can drop in once in a while, or come faithfully every month.

Monday, August 12, 2019 – Monday Evening Book Club
The Outsider by Stephen King
Main Library, Auditorium, 35 Albert Street

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when his brand has never been stronger, Stephen King has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

Goodreads rating = 4.02 and reviews
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the (print) book, the eBook or the recorded book (audiobook on CD)
Consider the discussion questions found on Goodreads

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Thursday, August 15, 2019 – Thursday, Afternoon Book Club
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Main Library, Boardroom, 35 Albert Street

A historical novel about an early 19th-century Englishman transported to Australia for theft, The Secret River explores what might have happened when Europeans colonized land already inhabited by Aboriginal people.

Goodreads rating = 3.97 and reviews
Place a hold on a WPL copy of the (print) book or the eBook
Consider these discussion questions found on LitLovers

The River

As we approach summer, here is a great read for those who long for outdoor living. In  “The River“, the story centres on two young men, Wynn and Jack, who have been best friends since their freshman year. They bonded with a similar curiosity and love for fishing, the mountains and camping.

Deciding to take a long wilderness canoe trip on the Maskwa River in northern Canada, the lads get themselves outfitted sparingly but wisely with the best quality equipment they will require during their adventure. Having done some canoeing myself, I loved reading about the gear they brought.. the utility of the cooking devices, the kind of sleeping bags and clothing, each piece chosen for the multi-faceted uses that would be required of them. They were able to live in a kind of sparse luxury. Even the food they brought was well-planned and intended to supplement a diet of fish and whatever other food that could be derived from nature.

At the outset, we find them living idyllically, paddling leisurely throughout the day and making camp as the sun ebbed. Books are a common denominator and they spend their leisure time discussing their favourite reads.

One day while out on the water, they smell smoke and as the day wears on, they come to understand that this smoke is the harbinger of peril for them. Knowing a massive forest fire is heading in their direction, they make the decision to run hard to their final destination. They try to warn a couple of Texan fisherman about the imminent danger but they drunkenly laugh it off.

The next day, en route, there is a commotion coming from the shore, the sounds of a couple arguing intensely. Making the decision not to interfere, Wynn and Jack keep a brisk paddling pace until making camp that evening. This is the part of the story when mayhem breaks out and the skills and intuitive sensibilities of these young men are tested to the limits.

Author Peter Heller’s research into forest fires, wildlife and survival training is what takes this fast-paced, well-written psychological thriller to the next level. I was absolutely glued to this book and felt emotionally spent at the end. I gave it 5 stars!!!

— Nancy C.

Escape at Dannemora

A Real Life Shawshank Redemption Miniseries

On the morning of June 6 2015, two prisoners were discovered missing from their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility. Since its construction over 150 years ago, no one had ever escaped from this New York State maximum security prison. What followed was a 3-week manhunt that would be plastered across the media. Convicted murders David Sweat and Richard Matt tunneled out of their cells, crawled through a heating pipe and made their way out of a manhole to the streets in Dannemora. Once outside, they hid in the wilderness for weeks planning to cross the border into Canada.

escape-at-dannemora-dvdEscape at Dannemora is a dramatic television miniseries that retells how Sweat and Matt, along with the help of prison worker Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, orchestrated a real life Shawshank Redemption prison break.

The first episode starts with Tilly being brought in wearing a black and white jump suit. Her involvement with Matt and Sweat is fully fleshed out throughout the series. Without her, their escape would not be possible. Six more episodes follow, focusing not only on the escape plot but on character motives as well. It is a far more complex story than just two men breaking through cell walls.

In the beginning of the series, the story humanizes Sweat and Matt. Although they are inmates, you can understand that their lives in prison are brutal. You can relate to their desperate need to get out. Then, after the pair escapes, the story very bluntly reminds you that they are in fact very dangerous people who have committed horrendous acts. They were in prison for a reason.

At the start, Tilly’s character was also somewhat sympathetic, only to show, little by little that in her own way she is as sinister as Sweat and Matt.

The biggest surprise for me was that it was directed by Ben Stiller. Looking at his previous movies, which are mostly over-the-top comedies like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed he could create such an exceptional dramatic production. He has shown to have remarkable ability when it comes to storytelling and character development. The shots Stiller used to visibly demonstrate the escape plan were brilliant. Where was he hiding this talent for all these years?

This series puts Ben Stiller on par with the likes of directors Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and Joe Chapelle (The Wire). Escape at Dannemora has proven that Stiller has an incredibly versatile skill set. I can only hope he takes on more dramatic projects in the future.

— Lesley L.

My Summer Reading Preview

A few months ago I read a magazine article featuring Crazy Rich Asian-worthy leather bags with the hottest spring novels poking out of them.  I’m pretty sure they were capitalizing on the idea that in the last year or so every celebrity has started a book club and many are choosing to be photographed with book in hand.  It looks like books are a go-to accessory.  Well, we always knew that in the library!

Of course a sturdy, stylish bag is required to carry these important items.  I approved of their thinking until I checked out the prices on the suggested handbags! One carried the caption “price available upon request” which is never a good sign if you are budget-minded.  Now if you are the Duchess of Sussex then any bag is a possible purchase.  Her bags will need to be roomy and practical for a while and the books she is more likely to carry will be board books.  Or maybe she could look into reading Weird Parenting Wins?  Perhaps she will be able to enjoy a novel once in a while if Harry shares the parenting.  I do hope so.

If you are looking for some fabulous summer reads to carry around in your beach tote, here you go (they are also gorgeous so you will look extra snazzy just in case you happen to be caught by Waterloo paparazzi):

81Z2hxtqlYLRoselle Lim’s debut novel is going to check several boxes for delightful summer reading because she is from Scarborough (let’s celebrate reading a Canadian author), and the book takes place in Montreal AND in San Francisco so it feels like taking a book vacation.  Also, her main character struggles with some mother-daughter-grandmother guilt and then falls in love giving us a prize at the end of all of that painful family reflection. In Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, Natalie has to return to the apartment she shared with her mother to tidy up, plan her mother’s funeral and decide what she will do with her legacy – the family restaurant.  There is a love story in this book, the grief of losing her mother, and the excitement of lots of cooking (the author includes recipes) all set in a cozy San Francisco neighbourhood.  I can’t think of anything more delicious – just look at that cover.

811i2lI31-LThe last book that Blake Crouch wrote was so much fun to read that I am planning to pop some popcorn before I sit down with this one.  Reading Dark Matter felt like watching a film with a full on thriller plot plus a touch of romance for balance and it looks like Recursion shares some of that same mix.  Crouch has a neuroscientist researching false memory syndrome as a way to help Alzheimer patients but the wealthy tech guru who is funding her project might not have the best motives.  Fantastic! In combination with this plot we have a NY detective investigating crimes that are linked to false memory syndrome and the thrills just keep piling on.  It might be worth popping two bags of popcorn (or use any manner of snack preparation you feel is appropriate in your home) because with a story like this you will not want to leave the couch for a moment.

the-stationery-shop-9781982129866_hrRoya and Bahman meet at the stationery shop in 1953 Tehran and slowly fall in love after an introduction by the owner, Mr. Fakhri.  They start meeting weekly and agree to marry despite the protests of Bahman’s mother.  One night he doesn’t appear at their agreed time and after several attempts to contact him Roya must eventually give up and move on with her life.  Sixty years later they meet in Boston and she is able to find answers to the questions she has carried with her for decades.  It’s a vibrant, lush story by Marjan Kamali of a young woman’s life and how she tries to move on from heartbreak.  You can’t help but wonder what their first conversation will be like after those years apart.

91Q73aHp3PLAnd in the category of books I would have wished to be written if I knew that I should have been wishing for them is Evvie Drake Starts Over.  This novel about an unlikely friendship between a grieving widow and a former Major League pitcher who has lost the ability to throw a baseball is going to be the highlight of my summer (even though I didn’t know that I could have been wishing for it).  Baseball novels and summer go together like peanuts and Cracker Jack and their unlikely friendship turns into a romance.  How do these people become friends and possibly more?  They are introduced to each other by a mutual friend because Dean (the pitcher) needs somewhere to hide away from the New York media and a small town in Maine seems like the place.  The best part of this remarkable summer read is that this is the first novel from NPR Host Linda Holmes so we know it is going to be warm, quirky and filled with authentic baseball references as she is known to frequent sports podcasts as a guest.  Batter up!  Evvie and I are going to be such good friends – I just know it.

downloadWho wouldn’t want to read a thriller about a book club where too many bottles of wine are enjoyed and a game of never-have-I-ever goes too far?  In the hands of Joshilyn Jackson I know that I am going to be invested in her characters but also a little bit tense because I will constantly worrying about them.  This is the perfect book recipe for a summer afternoon read on a porch, dock or extra-long soccer practice.  According to early reviews the main character, Amy Whey, is the perfect hostess, the kind of person who bakes cookies for new neighbours, and gets along with everyone (she is also a part-time diving instructor which is surely going create scenes which terrify me at some point) but finds herself on edge when a new book club member obviously knows too much about her secrets.  Yes!  How will it end?  I couldn’t possibly guess but the publisher used the words “betrayal, deception & temptation” so you know it’s going to be great.  I just hope it doesn’t cause me to worry when new people join our book club.  Maybe I’ll just discourage everyone from playing ‘never have I ever’ after we talk about the book.

You might not be thinking like Emma or SJP and carrying books around strategically or basing your next project on a novel like Reese does but you still need something wonderful to fill your book bag.  We have shelves filled with the latest choices for summer reading and would also be happy to help you out with a bargain of a stylish bag.  For just $3.00 you can carry one that proudly says “Waterloo Public Library” and holds at least eight hardcovers and twice as many paperbacks.  Come on summer – we are ready for you.

— 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.

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Get the Night Light Ready

At Halloween do you like to settle down and watch a spooky movie to get you in the mood for handing out candy to the ghosts and ghouls on your doorstep? Perhaps you have more of a taste for the macabre. Reflecting on Halloween makes me think of how I would rank my favourite fright-filled films.

Now, I’m not really a horror fan. I have been known to watch a movie with a blanket pulled up, covering my face, with one eye peeking over the top while I ask my husband to tell me when the scary part is over. Still, there a few films that I’ve watched and enjoyed which do fit the bill.

One of the most recent horror films I’ve watched is Winchester. It was Helen Mirren playing Sarah Winchester, the widow of the Winchester Firearms company magnate, that first intrigued me. This partly fact-based film (with some creative license of course) wasn’t one of those blood-gushing, over-the-top violent films. However, it does make you jump at the right times and the underlying theme of ‘why’ resonated with me. Although only a few parts of the movie were filmed at the actual Winchester mansion it made me want to visit and see just what made Sarah frantically build this mysterious house in San Jose, California. If you’re as intrigued as I was, watch the film and then check out the mansion’s website.

Another of my favourite horror films is Sleepy Hollow, based on the Washington Irving legend that we’re all familiar with. A headless horseman haunts a town. People are scared. A gruesome death occurs.

What makes the Johnny Depp version of Sleepy Hollow a favourite of mine is the romantic twist on this piece of European folklore that’s been popular since at least the Middles Ages. In this version a personally troubled police constable from the city, Ichabod Crane (Depp), is asked to help the village. Arriving in Sleepy Hollow, he meets Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Ichabod falls in love with Katrina while trying to help rid the town of its monster. This “battle” is highlighted by some CSI-like techniques which have been adapted to fit in with the time period. As dark as the cinematography of this film is, the light in the outcome of the story makes it one to watch.

This brings me to my two favourite films based on Stephen King novels: The Shining and Misery. In The Shining Stanley Kubrick adapts the story of a boy whose psychic powers brings out the evil in an old hotel. Being isolated in a large hotel during a snowy winter creates cabin fever for one of the main characters with murderous outcomes. The historic setting of the hotel and the film’s score of music from the past gives the film a nostalgic feeling which is partly what attracted me at first. The scary scenes will make you jump out of your seat and although the film is slightly different from the book it’s a great movie to watch!

In Misery it’s the spectacular performances of Kathy Bates (who won the Academy Award for this role) and James Caan that originally caught my attention. Rob Reiner directs and one of the best scenes happens as Caan’s character slowly, painfully hobbles across the screen towards freedom and then … BANG … our excitement is squashed and we cringe as Bates’ character ends his attempt to free himself of this ‘misery.’

The final films on my Halloween “must watch” list are:

I’m sure there are much scarier movies out there with blood and guts that would give me nightmares forever but I digress. Whether it’s the spinning head of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, the mysterious woman’s appearance in the Woman in Black, the question of is he dead or alive in The Sixth Sense, the satanic plot of the people in Rosemary’s Baby, the classic shower scene in Psycho or the static on the television in Poltergeist these frightening, suspenseful moments always draw me in. I get the shivers just thinking about these films. For now though, I think I’ll just wrap my blanket around me tightly and make a run for the candy bowl!

— Teresa N-P