It’s All About Pi(e)

We live in a great city for celebrating Pi Day (March 14). I’m not entirely sure when the idea to full-on celebrate the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter began but any celebration is a good thing and I love this one.

Each year we are surrounded by celebrations of 3.14. The University of Waterloo marks the occasion in multiple faculties as do groups at Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College and our Main Library’s neighbours, the Perimeter Institute. It’s everywhere and it’s so much fun.

There’s no shortage of people in Waterloo who might feel inclined to get involved in the classic “How many digits of Pi can you recite?” contest and I’m sure that they don’t need to be convinced to enjoy sweet or savoury pies in a tribute to the day.

When I think of Pi I must confess that I think of pie and this in turn gets me thinking of some of my very favourite music. On the WPL shelves we have one of the most beautiful CDs from American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. It’s full of gorgeous songs that she created for the 2015 Broadway musical, Waitress. Just put it on repeat. Once you get started you won’t be able to stop singing along and thinking about friendship, family, love, heartache and baking. Great news too! The Mirvish theatre schedule includes a production of Waitress for summer 2019.

You can also borrow the 2007 movie that the musical is based on. The film has a fabulous cast – Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion – and seems like a standard Southern rom-com (one character is even named ‘Earl’) but it has so much more depth. Treat yourself to a generous slice of pie and some time watching The Waitress.

Should you actually want to learn how to bake your own delicious pie, we have many books to offer you recipes and guidance. You could select a classic cookbook like Joy of Cooking or pick something a little more modern like Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s The Home Cook: recipes to know by heart. I have read that she includes a personal favourite in there called “dark chocolate rum pie”. Oh. Yum.

So, whether you want to sing, eat, bake, or learn more about the magic of Pi, we will be happy to help you celebrate – and maybe we’ll sing you a song too.

— Penny M.

Need To Know

Have you ever been watching a TV show or film when suddenly the scene depicted becomes so tense you feel like you just can’t bear to watch and want to hide until it’s over? I have but not while reading a book…until now.

In Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, Vivian Miller is a busy wife and mother of four children, one of which has special medical needs. She is also a CIA counterintelligence analyst. Vivian develops an algorithm to root out Russian agents hiding in the United States, but what she discovers will turn her whole world upside down. She is forced to choose what is more important, the security of her country, or the lives of her family.

Need to Know is a nail-biter from beginning to end. I found Vivian’s character very real and believable, and felt as if I were struggling right along with her, trying to decide what I would do. The twists and turns in plot keep the story moving at a fast pace, and I found that I was still thinking about the ending days after finishing the book.

I first heard about Need to Know from the author Louise Penny, who highly recommended it in her monthly newsletter. Other best-selling authors, such as John Grisham, Lee Child, and Patricia Cornwell all have high praise for this book as well.

The author, Karen Cleveland, was a former CIA analyst herself, so the subject matter is obviously very familiar to her. It is hard to believe that Need to Know is Cleveland’s first novel. I only hope, for the sake of everyone who enjoys reading it as much as I did, that it won’t be her last.

— Sandy Wilmering

What a Great Read!

What a great read! One wouldn’t think so given The Prisoner and the Chaplain by Michelle Berry is about a man who is down to his last twelve hours on earth before his execution for a heinous crime.  The chaplain who is to accompany the prisoner during this final stage of his life is a substitute for the regular chaplain who has been known to the prisoner, Larry, during his 10 years on death row. The chaplain, Jim, has tried to get up to speed about Larry’s life and crimes but knows that he is entering into a situation for which he is not prepared.

Being opposed to the death penalty, Jim struggles as he listens to Larry begin to unpack the story of his life, a childhood that was atypical in that his mother ran off with his older brother when he was just seven years old. Having been left with an older sister and an alcoholic, emotionally abusive father, Larry learns to navigate his way through his lonely life the best way he knows how. Without a mentor to keep him on the straight and narrow, Larry turns to petty crime and discovers that this is something at which he can and does excel.

Larry’s recounting of the story of his life triggers within Jim the anguish of his own personal failings brought on by challenges he faced as a child. Those same failings are what have directed him to the chaplaincy and he is torn by the conflicting emotions that Larry’s story has awakened within him.

The final hours creep by as both men are consumed in the devastation of their personal journeys and yet, in spite of the differences in their circumstances, they develop a mutual trust and bond that will endure, at least for Jim, well beyond the final act of cruelty.

To me, this story reinforces why the death penalty should not be the retribution of a civilized people.

— Nancy C.

Note: author Michelle Berry is the owner of an independent bookstore, Hunter Street Books, in Peterborough, Ontario


The Music Shop

For anyone who has a love of music, The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is a delightful read!! Set in 1988, the story is based in a vinyl record store owned by a music aficionado named Frank who has an uncanny ability to find the right piece of music for anyone who comes in need of musical solace or inspiration. Frank’s encyclopedic knowledge of music came at the knee of his unorthodox mother ‘Peg’ who taught him to heartfully and soulfully listen to music.

Frank’s store lacks the order of other record stores; boxes and cartons abound and it is only Frank that knows the order to the chaos. He would pair Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and the Beach Boys Pet Sounds together as he felt the  soul of the music was similar. For the reader who wants to enhance their appreciation of an eclectic range of music, Frank is a gift!

Frank is steadfast in his refusal to sell CD’s which is a testament to his love of the pure sound that can only be found on vinyl. In spite of the many obstacles that record companies put in his way, Frank remains adamant but soon discovers that bucking the music giants can and will backfire.

Frank and his motley crew of friends and fellow neighbourhood business owners have created a real sense of community in their run-down neighbourhood and in spite of many attempts to have them removed from the area, they support each other  and fend off interlopers.

Frank’s calm and carefree existence is shaken when a woman, Ilse Brauchmann, faints outside his store. This singular event turns Frank’s world upside down catapults him into an unending spiral of self-doubt and overwhelming agitation especially after the woman asks him to share his vast knowledge of music with her. And so begins a tumultuous journey of pain and healing for both Frank and Ilse as they both learn that they are more than their secrets. Unfortunately, neither is prepared for the complexity of the emotional journey on which they have embarked.

The writing is easy yet generous and you just can’t help but be drawn into the stories of these wonderful characters! A great read!!!

— Nancy C.


Resources for Writers

As I was looking through the WPL’s Adult Programs & Events Guide for fall 2017, I noticed an interesting lecture series being offered at the Main Library.  On October 11, Jane Ann McLachlan spoke about Publishing and Marketing Your Novel and, on October 25,  will speak on how to be Motivated to Write.

There’s something cyclical and lovely about a public library offering programming to develop writers whose books could one day stock the library shelves. If you’re a budding writer, or an old hand polishing up a ten-year project, I’d encourage you to check out the talk. Registration is required.

WPL has more writing resources beyond the McLachlan lectures. Here are five valuable resources for budding authors:

1. Writer’s Digest Magazines

This magazine has all sorts of writing tips and advice, including the business parts of writing (such as finding an agent, writing a query letter etc.). Writer’s Digest has eight issues a year plus back issues are available for borrowing.

2. Gale Courses

Gale Courses are online classes that are available for anyone with a library card. There is a whole category dedicated to Creative Writing. Take courses like “Write Fiction Like a Pro” and “Writeriffic: Creativity Training for Writers.”

3. Books

The library has tons of books that talk about pursuing the craft of writing. Look for classics like On Writing by Stephen King or peruse the 808.3 section in Adult Nonfiction.

4. Market Directories

Figure out where to sell your writing by taking a look at Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. This directory is updated yearly and helps you find the right publisher for your work.

5. Bookable Study Rooms

Sometimes you need a fresh, dedicated space to help you focus on your writing. The John M. Harper Branch has study rooms that you can book with your library card. The Main Library also has lots of common work spaces available.

The great thing about these library resources is that they’re all FREE! It’s such a terrific opportunity to be creative without having to spend a penny (or a nickel). Why not be inspired by these resources and pen your own story?

— Jenna H.

The Dark Town Series Continues

Lightning Men is the latest offering from Thomas Mullen and picks up two years after Darktown, the first book in the series, left off.

Once again, Mullen brings his readers into the gritty streets of post-WWII Atlanta with its social and political issues, racial intolerance, corruption and outright brutality that continues to be the status quo for so many. Mullen doesn’t shy away from these emotionally charged topics in this character-driven crime novel.

Readers continue to witness the Black officers struggle within the confines set for them by their supervisors as they police the Black neighbourhoods which are grossly overpopulated and in need of even basic necessities. This is in stark contrast to the White neighbourhoods — and many Whites are fine with the way things are, thank you very much. The dichotomy between Black and White continues within this second Darktown book and I like that Mullen doesn’t give easy answers or hold back on the gritty, hard-to-read scenes.

Mullen also continues to educate readers about aspects that many may not know about, myself included. For me, that issue involved the Columbians (aka Lightning Men) who formed soon after the end of WWII. With their lightning patches on their uniforms they, like the Nazis that inspired them, reveled in promoting hate against Blacks and any diversity and were a smack in the face to those American soldiers who had just returned from battling similar hatred overseas.

The cast, including Rake, Boggs, Smith and MacInnis, continue to show great depth and readers get some backstory on each but I still feel there’s a lot of untapped issues that Mullen will bring forth in future books. The only issue I had with this book is that I found there to be a lot of characters to keep track of.

48538-v1-600xMullen shows that, unfortunately, the process for social change is a very slow one as we sadly continue to witness in recent events. Racism, both blatant and covert, remains a timely issue and racial tensions ran high then as they do now.

Like the first book in the series, Lightning Men is eye-opening, gritty and gripping with well-rounded, well-flawed characters who struggle within the stifling confines of racial injustice, ignorance, indifference and intolerance. Mullen weaves compelling characters with historical issues within his story with great skill. I highly recommend this book but strongly suggest starting with Darktown.

— Laurie P.

Note: in 1948, eight African-American men (picture above) joined the Atlanta police force. They inspired Thomas Mullen’s latest novel, Lightning Men.

Can’t Get Enough of Outlander

Have you ever read a series of books that combine history, political intrigue, battles and war, adventure, time travel, and the supernatural with a love story so captivating it has generated millions of fans around the entire world? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books do just that.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was originally published in 1990. The story begins in 1945 when Claire Beauchamp and her husband, Frank Randall, are on a second honeymoon in Scotland. They are hoping to re-connect after serving separately in WWII.

Alone on a ramble in the countryside, Claire is drawn to an ancient circle of standing stones. She accidentally walks through a magical portal and finds herself in the war-torn Scotland of 1743. Due to her appearance and English accent, she is considered a spy by Redcoat Captain “Black Jack” Randall (no the last name is NOT a coincidence!). Only Jamie Fraser, a tall, red-headed, strong-willed Scottish Highlander, can save Claire from danger.

Claire soon becomes torn between the two very different men (husband, Frank, and Highlander, Jamie) in her two separate worlds.

The remaining books in the series, which should definitely be read in order, are:

  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

66a08d71d8a20de6e487672119ec0226Diana Gabaldon is currently working on the ninth book, Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone. Gabaldon does an incredible amount of research and puts great historic detail into her books, so there is usually a span of a few years between each publication.

When I first learned that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books were going to be made into a television series, I was very skeptical that the screen version would live up to the images of Jamie and Claire that have been entrenched in my mind for so many years. However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

Season 1 and 2 successfully capture the important people, places, and events of the first two books, and it has been thrilling to see all these things come to life in vivid colour and detail. The screen version seems to be just as popular as the book series. Rotten Tomatoes has given Season 1 a score of 91%, with an audience rating of 94%. It also set a Rating Record for Multi-Platform Viewing. Season 1 (which is divided into Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Season 2 are available to borrow on DVD from WPL as well as all of the books, of course. Season 3 of Outlander premiered on the W Network on September 10th.

One final note: the Outlander series (both book and screen versions) contain scenes of extreme violence which is indicative of the time period. There are also some very steamy parts so keep a fanning device handy!

— Sandy W.

Who Done It? (or as the French say, Qui Fait?)

I love a good mystery. And even though I haven’t read many Agatha Christie novels (shame on me), I was interested in Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games when I recently saw this DVD on WPL’s list of new items. I always like to consult the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to get an impression of viewer ratings, but when I typed in this title, it didn’t come up. Instead, there was something called Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie, a French television series. A quick review of the DVD description on the catalogue confirmed that these must be one and the same, and the IMDB rating was 7.5 out of 10. Not bad. I took it home.

That night when we popped it into the DVD player and pressed play, I was a bit dismayed to see English subtitles pop up with French audio. While I have high school level French and did a minor in university, it’s been a while. I can get us through Quebec, but this was France French, not Quebecois. And my husband’s French is pretty much limited to oui, comment ca va, au revoir, and frites. I wasn’t sure he’d go for watching the movie, but given his interest in learning French, he agreed to give it a chance.

8409e218d65dde23069e23e5295a1a3aIt was a good decision. Even though it meant a lot of pausing to read the subtitles, I eventually picked up much of what was being said audibly and my husband expanded his French vocabulary. Not only that, but the actors did an excellent job of portraying their characters. Samuel Labarthe convinced the viewer that he was an arrogant Commissaire, the only detective with the intelligence to get the job done. Blandine Bellavoir (I just love saying her name) is fantastic as his sidekick, Alice. An advice columnist seeking the big story that will finally earn her recognition as a bona fide journalist, she is always underfoot and an aggravation to the Inspector. Of course, the viewer also gets the sense that the two have an attraction for each other, though each pursues alternate romantic interests. A third prominent character is played by Elodie Frenck. Marlene is the Commissaire’s receptionist/ secretary. She is head over heels for her boss, but he either doesn’t see this, or pretends not to.

We had a ball watching this and were sorry when the discs ended after only six episodes. I don’t know whether too much translation work was involved in creating subtitles for more episodes, but hope there’s a sequel that includes English language viewers. The plotlines are quite intriguing and there’s always a twist at the end.

Next on the list of foreign language films I’d like to see are A Man Called Ove (Swedish) and Son of Saul (Hungarian)

Wonder if I can get my husband to join me!

— Susan B.


Why I Love Short Books

When I was a kid, I yearned after long books. 500 pages was chump change. The longer the book, the better. There was a certain pride in picking the thickest, heaviest book from the school library bookshelves. I loved to pick the book that didn’t quite fit in my already overflowing backpack. There was nothing like having to walk home from school with a giant chapter book in my arms. I wanted everybody to know that I was a reader. The bigger the book, the smarter the kid. That’s what I used to think.

af907240-20a9-0132-7156-0add9426c766I’ve grown up (a little bit) since then, and I’ve come to realize that more pages does not equal more pleasure. Short narratives have something great to offer. My to-be-read pile is full of short novels and short stories. Those slender spines on the bookshelves have taken on a new appeal for me.

At first, I was drawn to the short books because they promised to be quick reads (and they fit nicely in my purse for on-the-go reading), but I soon realized that they have a merit of their own. Shorter novels tend to be tighter stories. Often there’s more dialogue and less exposition. More story-showing, and less story-telling. The sparse style of shorter books allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about theme and meaning within the story. Shorter novels have greater potential to engage the reader beyond the page.

What solidified my loyalty to short books was the last long book that I read. In the spring, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Coming in at 771 pages and 32 hours on audiobook, it definitely classified as a “long book”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful book, but it was long. The story covers a lot of ground in the characters’ lives, but the ending dragged out a bit for me. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition in the final section of the book. I found myself wishing that the book was a hundred pages less and that Tartt would let her story stand on its own.

Although long books can have so much to offer and short books can be superciliously stylistic, I will always love the short book.

Here are some short books and books of short stories that you can borrow from the Waterloo Public Library:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (192 pages)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (180 pages)

All Saints by K.D. Miller (short stories)

Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl (short stories)

— Jenna H.


Gifted: keep the Kleenex close

Gifted is a touching story about family (in all its many, complicated forms), loss, forgiveness and helping children reach their potential in the various aspects of their lives. It’s the story about a young girl named Mary whose uncle is dedicated to raising her to be a normal child. But Mary isn’t normal. She’s a math prodigy whose family has more than their fair share of baggage.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie but picked it up at WPL because, let’s be honest, Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer are in a movie together. Did I mention Chris Evans? But I digress … I knew very little about this movie before popping it in my DVD player but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became engaged in the lives of this family.

This film has got a lot of heart, a touch of humour and, like I mentioned, a truly stellar cast. We have Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans as Frank Adler, the uncle who is trying to do his best to raise his young and brilliant niece so that she leads a normal life. I enjoyed seeing a new, tender side to Evans and I liked that he got to exercise his acting chops more than his biceps in this movie.

gifted-648673583-largeThen you have Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who is always captivating and could play a potted palm that would leave me slack jawed in awe of her. The only person in this film who can hold a candle to Ms Spencer may be young McKenna Grace who plays Mary Adler, the 7-year-old child at the heart of the movie. Wow, can this girl act. Grace is as talented as her eye lashes are long. Her portrayal of the precocious, brilliant young girl is wonderfully natural, touching and believable. She vacillates between childish innocence, a spunky attitude, a wee case of potty mouth and shows viewers Mary’s extraordinary brilliance which is well beyond her years. The deep connection between Evans and Grace comes through to the audience and I recommend that viewers keep some Kleenex handy.

The cast of characters also had a complexity to them that I wasn’t expecting. This is a complicated family situation filled with emotion, power struggles and grief. You’ll feel for Frank as he struggles to figure out what is best for Mary in the wake of family upheaval that threatens to damage the bond between them.

Overall, this is a wonderful little movie that is endearing, poignant and shows the complexities of family. You will quickly become wrapped up in the lives of Frank, Mary and even Fred, their one-eyed cat. I highly recommend this movie.

— Laurie P.