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

In-Between Days

In-Between Days is a memoir about living with cancer. For people who are sad-averse, this subject matter would be enough to keep them away from this book. Having it presented in a graphic novel format could be the last straw for the reader sitting on the fence. However, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and experience this illustrated emotional, spiritual and physical cancer journey that Teva Harrison takes us on.

At the age of 37, Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, a disease that, at the time, was classified as incurable but controllable. Believing that she would be living with this disease as a chronic illness, Teva sought the help of a psychiatrist who worked in the oncology department at her hospital. Talking through her concerns led her to creating drawings of the dark emotions she was experiencing. Her doctor encouraged her to continue with this therapeutic exercise and from that encouragement, this graphic novel was born.

The reader is taken through Teva’s cancer journey from diagnosis through numerous treatments to her eventual acceptance of the incurability of the disease. The illustrations are done in black and white, which allowed her to depict her experience, both starkly and also more-lightheartedly. Visually, the drawings are stunning in their simplistic detail.

We learn of her first meeting with her soul-mate/husband David and the incredibly beautiful way their romance unfolded and the solidity of that relationship through some of Teva’s darkest moments.

Anyone who has experienced a devastating diagnosis of any kind, whether personally or alongside a friend or family member, will understand the oscillating moments of torment and hope that patients experience. The need for connection versus the need to be alone; the need to eat versus the emptiness of hunger; the need to get up and out versus the paralyzing fatigue that makes the smallest movement seem monumental. Harrison walks us through the map of the intimacies of her life with candor and humour. She was blessed with a family of exceptional women and that legacy and support was the steel in her spirit when the days seemed their darkest.

Spoiler alert. I’m not going to lie to you… by the time I reached the end, I really thought/hoped/prayed that Teva’s story would end well. And I think to a certain extent, it likely did insofar as she lived with passion and ferocity, in the face of an uncertain future. I expect that she packed more ‘living’ into her dying days than some people do in their ‘living’ days. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming tale told by a very brave and very talented woman.

— Nancy C.

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.

Odd Recipe. Delicious Cookie.

Recently I had quite a number of cookbooks at home from the library. It was overwhelming, in a good way. Knowing how much my husband loves cookies, I gave him American Cookie by Anne Byrn and asked him to find at least one unusual recipe for me to try. In just minutes he was asking “Have you ever heard of Forgotten Chocolate Cookies?” What? How could a chocolate cookie be forgettable? I just cannot believe that but all was revealed when we read the blurb provided by Byrn.

Forgotten Cookies were named after the baking method for these old fashioned meringue-type delights, not due to the fact that the cookies were so mediocre that they were forgettable. Bakers “back in the day” used to start baking these cookies, then turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside as the oven cooled. This would dry the cookies and give them the light but chewy texture they are known for.

91JRXYpGxoLApparently there are a myriad of methods of making “Forgotten Cookies”. Some require additional steps like beating the egg whites separately until a certain consistency before adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. The method shared by Byrn, almost an all-in-one, is super easy, seems strange (the method will seem so wrong but it is so right) and the resulting dough is unlike any cookie dough I am familiar with. However, bear with it and you will end up with some amazing, light, rich, super-chocolatey decadent cookies.

I also made a batch of Victorian Ginger Drop Cakes for my colleagues. This tea cake recipe was adapted by Byrn from one featured in Victoria Cakes by Caroline B. King, published in 1941. A contributor to various women’s magazines, King was also the lead US Army dietician in France during WWI. These drop cakes were a favourite from her childhood. The ingredients would vary depending on what her mother had in the pantry.

A colleague of mine, Kerstin, also borrowed American Cookie. Kerstin tried two recipes: the “Joe Frogger” and “The Cowboy Cookie”.  The former is an “adult” gingerbread cookie with rum, although she thought brandy with a sprinkling of sugar on top would be a wonderful alternative. The dough for the Cowboy Cookies was very dry so Kerstin ended up hand-shaping them into mounds rather than using a cookie dough scoop. The cookies held their shape when baked and tasted like a more decadent version of a granola bar.

I really liked Ann Byrn’s book and both Kerstin and myself especially enjoyed the morsels of history shared alongside each recipe. Not only is there a wonderful selection of recipes to choose from, you’ll learn a bit of American food history along the way.

  • Sandi H.

About Those Cookie Sheets

“When I was baking the Joe Frogger cookies I noticed that in the instructions Byrn advised bakers to let the cookie sheets/pans cool before putting more cookie dough onto them. Because I didn’t want to have to wait between batches, I rotated bakes between two different types of cookie sheets. Doing this allowed me to discover that my preferred, insulated cookie sheet is actually not ideal for baking cookies because it takes too long to bake them!  The cookies didn’t rise at all, look anemic and almost tasted raw. In comparison, the cookies that were baked on a traditional, single layer cookie sheet were absolutely lovely. Something to keep in mind when buying your next cookie sheet.”  — Kerstin

Forgotten Chocolate Cookies

2 ¼ c icing sugar
½ c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp corn starch
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 c finely chopped pecans

Place rack in centre of oven. Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In large bowl combine icing sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Add egg whites and beat on low to incorporate into the dry ingredients. Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute or until well combined. Stir in vanilla and pecans.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet…only 8 per sheet as the cookie spread a lot.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes until shiny and firm on the outside but a little soft inside. Let the cookies cool for 2 minutes on the pan then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve or store in airtight containers at room temperature for a week or freeze for up to 3 months.

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.

Deconstructing The Beatles

I watched a fabulous film series at The Princess Cinemas over the past year. A couple of WPL co-workers also saw the series –and loved it! And now it has come to the library.

It’s called Deconstructing The Beatles and it’s a fun and fascinating look into the creative process behind The Beatles’ music. Presenter Scott Freiman is lively and engaging and has a ton of knowledge about music and the recording studio. Now I know and love The Fab Four and their music (slight understatement) but after viewing this series I now hear and appreciate their music in a whole new way. I think you will too.

Deconstructing The Beatles is the centrepiece of the series, a 4-DVD set, with 1 disc for Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and The White Album. This is The Beatles at the very top of their game, eager to experiment and take their music in new directions. Using a multitude of audio and visual clips, Freiman highlights unusual instruments used, looks at early takes of songs, the evolution of key songs, and ideas attempted and then abandoned, among other things. Very, very interesting.

Or check out this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Magical Mystery Tour (1 disc). This is The Beatles in their psychedelic phase, so Scott Freiman shows you how all those glorious (and strange) sounds were made. Hearing the earliest version of Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon playing into his own tape recorder) is an absolute “wow” moment. And hearing the whole story of the recording of this song will blow your socks off.

And there’s this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Early Years (2 discs). These discs focus on the musical influences of the Beatles and the wildly exhilarating year of 1963 when the Beatles went from nobodies to the biggest name in music in Great Britain and were poised, though they didn’t know it, to take on the rest of the world.

And lastly… there may be, fingers crossed, one more segment coming to WPL in the future. Earlier this summer I saw Abbey Road Parts I and II (one for each side of the album). These two films were—need I say it– great. Hopefully when the Abbey Road segment is released onto DVD, it will be joining the others at the library. (BTW, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road LP. Bonus marks for you if you knew that.)

— Penny D.

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.