Have You Met The Durrells?

You know how bookstores have ‘Staff Picks”?  Well I think we should have ‘WPL Customer Picks’.  Or maybe when customers return a popular DVD or book we could keep a tally of who is reporting that it is good/bad/worth the trouble and then post it at the returns desk with a little image of a thumbs up or thumbs down.  The opinions of our neighbours should be more important than the reviews we read in the Globe & Mail or the New York Times, and I would rather watch a DVD that a WPL customer recommends rather than one that gets a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  In fact, I find that material suggested to me by WPL customers is a guaranteed good read or good watch.  Thumbs up!

A favourite customer ‘gifted’ me with the television miniseries The Durrells in Corfu recently and I was as smitten with the series as she so confidently said I would be.  In fact, when I placed my hold on Season One she told me that I should place a hold on season two right away as I would be sure to want to watch Season Two as well.  She was right – it was that good (I have since thanked her for her sage advice, not to worry).  The miniseries originally aired on the British television network ITV and was picked up by PBS as part of their Masterpiece series.  We are fortunate to have both seasons at WPL and when the third season is encased in plastic on our shelves I will be faithfully waiting for it to arrive.  I will have a cup of tea ready to go and might even break out a festive meal in celebration.

The television show is an adaptation of the trilogy of books that Gerald Durrell wrote about the years his family spent on the island of Corfu.  He is at the centre of the books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods but the screenwriters have chosen to make his mother, Louisa, the focus of their stories.  This was a great decision on their part – it gives the series a bit of snap that might be missing if the stories all centred on a young boy.  I’m sure that it would have been lovely but not quite the masterpiece we now have to enjoy.  It is fabulous.

After struggling to raise four willful children alone on a widow’s pension in gloomy England, Louisa decides to move them to a sunny Greek paradise.  Well, Louisa decides with the enthusiastic prompting of her eldest, Larry, who is determined to be a successful novelist (and becomes one – renowned author Lawrence Durrell ). The reaction of the other three is mixed at best. The chemistry between the family members is just magical.

When Louisa, Larry, next oldest son Leslie, only daughter Margo and young Gerald arrive on the island they are warmly welcomed by a taxi driver named Spiros who becomes their interpreter, protector and negotiator for everything – a villa, furniture, and the release of their funds from the bank.  While the family waits for their money to arrive they must ‘forage’ for something to eat and this is the first of many opportunities to see the different ways that the Durrells cope with adversity.  Larry flat out refuses to help, saying that he is busy writing.  Margo says that she is looking for a job and does so by sitting on their sundrenched patio in a bikini.  Leslie, always keen to help his mother, goes out with one of his many rifles and shoots some of the local wildlife while Gerald hunts for berries but ends up eating many, feeding some to their dog, and letting the remainder spoil while he is distracted by a neighbour who offers him a puppy.  Oh, the glorious little puppies.

Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals started when began keeping local wildlife as pets. They pile up so quickly that I can’t remember them all.  He had many species of birds, several types of mice, a number of insects, plus scorpions (!), turtles, otters, tortoises, snakes. In one lovely episode he wanted a goat so, so much.  The classic W. C. Fields quote about not working with children or animals does not apply in this series because actor Milo Parker, who plays Gerald, is top-notch and the furry and feathery supporting actors are sublime.  Animals and children are everywhere and make the show that much more enjoyable.  If you were to play this series without sound you would enjoy watching it for the visuals alone.

The three older children of the Durrell family also play their parts to perfection.  Larry is an aspiring novelist who spends every day wearing his underclothes and a polka-dotted robe while he types away in his room and when forced to provide encouragement or advice to his siblings he grudgingly does so but there is love behind the snide remarks.  Poor Leslie stomps about trying to find his place in their family, on the island, in the world and says “maybe I’m not the sort who is meant to be happy” but when Larry wonders if it might be time for him to return to England and they have a real brotherly conversation it is as if the two actors have really grown up together.  There is great chemistry there.  And Margo is sublime.  I’m sure that this young actor, Daisy Waterstone, is meant for great things.  She delivers every line – comic or dramatic – with such flair.  When she confesses to a local countess, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, “I’m a bit dim”, there is really nothing more delightful.  It is so hard to choose a favourite among this cast of wonderful actors.

Each episode finds the family getting to know their new neighbours, the culture of the island, and finding their way to a happiness that they did not have in England.  It’s not an easy journey for them, thankfully, or the series would end and it would seem far too effortless.  It’s because life is a struggle for Louisa and her children that you keep watching, you become invested in their success, whether it be in Leslie’s love life, Margo’s quest for employment, or Larry’s constant pecking away at the typewriter.  And they are doing all of this while the sun is shining, they are wearing the most colourful clothes (well, Larry is usually wearing a dressing gown) and eating glorious meals on their patio which overlooks the Ionian Sea.  What more can you ask of a miniseries?  I read some terrific news online (there are spoilers about Louisa’s romantic prospects in this article so tread carefully) which tells us that ITV has committed to making a fourth season of The Durrells and that many key figures are returning to produce, direct and act in the show.

Besides Season One and Season Two on DVD,  we have many, many books written by Gerald and Lawrence in the collection.  Rosy is My Relative is a fabulous pick if you wanted something to read aloud on a car journey – it is sure to please everyone in your family.   You will find endless information about all of the Durrells on the Internet including wonderful content about Gerald’s conservation efforts and his Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s possible that after enjoying this miniseries you might be inspired to cook like Louisa, dress like Margo or plan a trip of your own to Greece.  The Durrells will keep you busy all through the summer with the help of the staff here at WPL.  And, if you are inspired to adopt a goat or a turtle then that’s entirely on Gerald.

— Penny M.

Weddings: read all about them

Each week the CBC Toronto afternoon drive show does a feature where they pick a topic and request that listeners call in to suggest songs along that theme.  Gill Deacon – the host – reads an email or plays a listener voicemail that introduces the song and it is one of the highlights of my week each day as I drive home from the library.  It’s called “Gill’s Jukebox” and they post complete song lists on Spotify.

Recently the Jukebox theme was “Songs That You Would Play at a Wedding” and it got me thinking about the fabulous weddings I have attended and the endless great books we have at WPL about weddings.  We have so many as they come out every year at this time to take advantage of our passion for the wedding season.  I like to read wedding books throughout the year, just as I will read a Christmas-themed murder mystery on a blazing hot summer afternoon, but if you have a wedding in your future then I have some glorious books to help get you in the mood for a spin around the dance floor.

downloadGrant Ginder’s 2017 novel, The People We Hate at the Wedding, could have been a little bit more like that scene from Steel Magnolias where one character says to the other, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone then come sit by me.” but other than that small criticism I loved this book.  It was a solid drama with several members of one family traveling to London to attend the wedding of perfect, elegant, well-educated Eloise in a small town in the southwest of England.  Memories of Four Weddings and a Funeral were flooding into my mind as I read some of the scenes of the pre-wedding preparations.  The actual wedding day is filled with extravagant touches which is so much fun to read about but members of Eloise’s extended family have some longstanding grudges to work out before they can make their way to the celebration.  It’s a bit of an outrageous journey, certainly, but one that works for a book with this title and cover.  You pick up this book expecting some chaos and can’t help but be pleased when things work out.

If you would like your wedding reading to seem like it was lifted directly from a movie you might see on the W Network then you have got to read The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. This book was pure entertainment reading – great for a dock or hammock.  Alexa meets Drew in a hotel elevator when she goes to LA to celebrate her sister’s promotion.  Of course the elevator gets stuck and they are forced into a lengthy conversation while they share snacks from Alexa’s stylish purse.  Naturally they are attracted to each other and Drew (you must suspend disbelief here) asks her to come with him to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend the very next day because he just can’t imagine walking into the room alone.  Their single date turns into a second date and they find themselves carving out time to be together in the following weekends.  He is a pediatric surgeon and she is the chief of staff for the Mayor of Berkley so it isn’t easy to find moments that match up in their busy schedules.  They make it work.  This is a fake romance that turns into something real and it all began in a stalled elevator – an overused romance novel trope but author makes it fresh and believable.

Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements is a wonderful summer read with a wedding at the centre – bonus points.  Right from the start you feel like you are on a vacation because you are traveling to a gorgeous family retreat on a fictional New England island called Waskeke.  You feel the sunshine, smell the breeze, almost want to dip your toes into the water and also feel a tiny bit smug that you aren’t involved in the kind of shenanigans that some of these people are dealing with or considering that they might become involved in.  Family patriarch Winn Van Meter has a good marriage, wonderful children, and a life of privilege. Although he should be enjoying the wedding of one of his daughters, he is obsessed with outward shows of status (like being accepted in a country club) and what people think of him.  His wife – Biddy! – has the wedding weekend planned down to the last minute. Daughters Daphne and Livia don’t really seem like they deserve the kind of devotion their mother shows them.  If the author didn’t have such a way of making the situation funny it might be impossible to like many of the characters in this novel but it is enjoyable to watch them all – talking about their Ivy League educations and wearing their preppy clothes – until this unique celebratory weekend comes to an end.

There are scads of wonderful YA books where weddings are featured so please come to the desk and we will tell you about some of our favourites.  Come to think of it there are a several solid junior titles as well, I can suggest the Penderwicks series and dear Richard Peck’s The Best Man.  Weddings are such an integral part of life that they feature prominently in many novels and are a natural fit for any list of favourite books.  One of my top teen titles, Always and Forever Lara Jean, by the incredible Jenny Han, is actually the third in her series which features three sisters – Margo, Kitty and Lara Jean – and their widowed father.  He has decided that he can start to consider a romantic future with someone again and finds love with their wonderful neighbour Ms. Rothschild.  This book is a window into Lara Jean’s senior year as she makes decisions about where she wants to go to college and what her future will bring but the strength of these books has always been their family unit.  It’s the lure of the sisters and how they relate to their father that sets this series apart from others on the YA bookshelves.  Jenny Han’s first book has just been made into a film for Netflex (you can see all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Twitter @jennyhan) and I’m excited to see it. I just really hope that they stay true to the wonderful family scenes that Han depicts in her books.  That is part of what made the wedding in this book so meaningful as the sisters have worked hard to be kind to each other, to take care of their father after the death of their mother, and welcoming Ms. Rothschild into their lives is a big step. This YA book is worth a read and includes a sweet wedding that will make you cry.

And finally, if you are in the market for a wedding shower gift then you must have a look at the latest offering from the editors of Martha Stewart Living.  They have pulled together valuable tips and tricks and gorgeously photographed recipes in Martha Stewart’s Newlywed Kitchen and it is a superb resource.  The book is divided into three stellar sections.  The first one helps the new couple get organized by sorting out their pantry, buying supplies, and choosing spiffy new tools.  The second section includes recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two people, and then the third section is all about entertaining.  That final section is called “Gather Round” and is divided into events that a couple might find themselves hosting, including the dreaded Thanksgiving meal.  Really, this could be considered a welcome resource for any cookbook shelf and not just those recently wed.  You could give it a try first for three weeks – just borrow it from your friendly neighbourhood library.

As for Gill’s Jukebox, I didn’t get a chance to call in and make a request but in case you wondered, the song that I always choose at weddings is Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.  A classic since 1973 – just try not to dance when you hear it.

— Penny M.

 

 

The Map of Salt & Stars

According to the United Nations’ website, every single minute 20 people have to leave everything behind to escape war, persecution, or terror. The United Nations Refugee Agency approximates that at least 65.6 million people have been “forcibly displaced” from their homes worldwide. In 2001, the UN established June 20th as World Refugee Day, to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees”.

Syria currently remains the world’s largest source of refugees (United Nations). The United Nations Refugee Agency states that there are approximately 13 million people in Syria that are in need, another 6 million internally displaced, and an additional 3 million in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. Over 5.6 million Syrians have found asylum in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt and are registered as refugees.

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar follows the plight of Nour, a young Syrian girl and her family.  Nour’s family was living in New York City but after the death of her father (Baba), Nour’s Mama decides to move the family back to Syria. The family isn’t back in Syria long before they are touched by war. Nour tries to take comfort in the stories her Baba told her of Rawiya, a legendary girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to travel with a mapmaker charting the Mediterranean for the first time.  Nour’s mother also makes maps, and, as her family flees Syria for Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Ceuta, they end up mirroring the journey of Rawiya.

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked the parallels the author drew not only between maps of the past and present, but also the maps we contain within ourselves, as we journey through our lives. There are many instances where you get a real sense of the danger, suffering, and loss that refugees must feel as they try to find food, safety, and someone who will give them a new “home.”

Nour has synesthesia, a condition that allows her to see colours and shapes for smells, sounds and letters. For example, Nour sees her mother’s angry voice as red, almost white; her sister’s laugh as pink-and-purple; and, when oil and fat sizzle in a pan, it pops like yellow and black bursts in her ears. The fact that Nour experiences multiple senses in colours and shapes also reminds me of the colours and shapes on a map.

I also like that there were strong female characters in this book: all of them had to make hard choices and sacrifices. I continue to be amazed about civilization’s ability to be humane and inhumane in times of crises.

However, I found the transitions between the Nour and Rawiya’s stories very confusing. Three asterisks were all that separated one timeline from another within the chapters, and sometimes there was extra spacing between paragraphs making me think the storyline was switching when it wasn’t. I also had to flip back through the book at times to remember where one girl’s story had ended off before it went to the other girl’s story. I feel the poor transitioning prevented me from truly engaging with either storyline, and turned what could have been a great book into just a good book.

— Sandy W.

Happy Pride!

I look forward to so many things, things that are lovely and happy and serve as distractions from the news and general horribleness. Spring is obviously one of those things, the first few weeks when everything is green and in bloom. So to me things don’t get much better then when the weather is gorgeous and there are Rainbow Pride flags flying outside of my children’s schools.  It is without doubt one of the prettiest flags especially when so much goes along with it – living in a country where it is safe and encouraged to be yourself.

This is a lesson that is so easy to teach and to learn because it really is just about love. Love yourself, your family and your neighbours. Celebrate everyone and what makes us unique.  At WPL we are celebrating PRIDE and our LGBTQ community all month (and always!) with a gorgeous list of books for families to read and talk about.

Spring and reading and rainbows and love! Does it get any better?

– Sarah C.

Ethel & Ernest

Now here’s a real charmer for you. By turns sweet, sad and funny, the animated film Ethel & Ernest will steal your heart.

I looked for this recently-made animated film at the local theatres, but didn’t spot it playing anywhere. So when a fellow library worker mentioned it had just come into WPL, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed.

PEOPLE-PROD-Ethel-and-ErnestEthel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name by renowned children’s writer/illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, and many others) and pays affectionate tribute to Briggs’s real life parents. Ethel and Ernest are working-class Londoners who meet in 1928 and stay together until their deaths in 1971.

The movie consists of little vignettes of daily family life, told against the backdrop of changing times. The days of the Second World War are particularly fraught. The parents argue over whether to evacuate young Raymond to the countryside (“Over my dead body!” wails Ethel. “No, it will be his dead body.” counters Ernest), the family’s house and street are damaged by bombs and Ernest, working as a volunteer fireman, is utterly overcome by the destruction he has witnessed.

Ethel & Ernest packs a lot of emotion, but in an understated, maybe English, kind of way. I was a bit surprised at how involved I became with the characters, something I didn’t expect from an animated film. Watching Ethel & Ernest age and their health decline and then pass away, well, it is moving.

So yes, check out Ethel & Ernest. You might also want to have a look at the graphic novel (published in 1998). It is every bit as lovely as the DVD.

— Penny D.

 

Fighting Cancer. Finding Courage.

“Courage is not always big and bright and loud; sometimes it’s as silent and small as true words, a smile when you’d rather weep, or getting up every day and living with quiet dignity while all around your life rages. You cannot truly love, live or exist without courage. Without it you are simply biding time until you die.”

In 2013 Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Approximately 10 per cent of these cancers will be caused by BRCA1 gene mutation. Those who carry the gene have a drastically increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age. After learning she carried this gene, Jolie made the decision to reduce her risk and removed both her breasts and later her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although the gene is hereditary, gene testing is the only way to know if you are a carrier. Jolie is an advocate for gene testing, believing that knowledge is power. She encourages women to learn their options.

wendy-mills-author-photoPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills begins with 16-year-old Erin heading to school on an ordinary Tuesday. She attends class, laughs with her best friend and studies for a physics test. But her ordinary day comes to a screeching halt when her mother announces she has breast cancer. Life is now split into two categories: before the cancer and after the diagnosis. To make the situation even worse, the cancer was caused by the BRCA gene. Erin has a 50 per cent chance of being a carrier of the gene. However, Erin cannot be tested until she is 18. Even then, the healthcare community recommends she wait until she’s 25 and see a genetic counselor before even thinking about being tested.

How is anyone not supposed to think about such a terrifying situation? Erin is consumed with thoughts of the unknown. Will she have to remove her breasts? She bought her very first bra just a few years before. She hasn’t even thought about having children. Now she’ll have to remove her ovaries? Suddenly the everyday dramas of teenage life seem small and trivial. No one her age can possibly imagine what it’s like to be faced with these decisions. Erin reads about a direct-to-consumer company that will conduct the gene test without having to go through a medical provider. Without telling anyone, she jumps at the chance to find out her status.

When her test comes back positive she reaches out to an online forum for young BRCA gene carriers. She meets a young lady named Ashley who helps her find her own inner strength.

There are some very emotional passages in Positively Beautiful. Both Erin and her mother are incredibly strong women. Although cancer is part of the plot, the main theme of the book isn’t illness, it is courage. Erin shows us that courage lives in all of us, we just need to know where to look.

— Lesley L.

Bala’s Bestseller Ignites Questions

What if you realized that the only thing you know for sure is that you don’t know anything for sure! The Boat People by Sharon Bala is certain to ignite some questions about the beliefs and prejudices the reader holds and may be a reminder to people to assess what governments say and do with more judicious reflection.

The Boat People is about the plight of, among others, a Tamil widower, Mahindan, and his six year old son, Sellian, who are smuggled into Canadian waters in 2009 on an illegal ship. The story flips between their present situation of being detained in a B.C. prison in admission limbo, and the travails of the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government during the early 2000’s that drove their desperate escape and search for safety.

The adjudicator for Mahindan’s case is Grace Nakamura, whose parents were affected by the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII. Grace’s mother, Kumi, is beginning to question the moral and legal rights of the government who robbed her family of their hope and dignity throughout that process. Watching her mother roil in her resentment and anger at the injustices suffered, Grace is forced to look at what lengths governments will go to in order to ‘keep the peace’.

In an age when terrorism is being played out with such frequency and ferocity, it is easy to point fingers and paint entire groups of people as ‘terrorists’. But what if we changed the script and really believed that 99 percent of the people labelled in such a way just want to live their lives in peace and harmony. Most Canadians have been spared the agony of living in a country embroiled in a civil war. Where you live in a war-torn country may be the determining factor to where your loyalties lie but is that true loyalty or loyalty born from fear of the repercussions of non-alliance? What would any of us do to protect our loved ones from the savagery of war?

The Boat People demonstrates the extreme lengths people will go to in order to protect their families. It also raises questions about the way the Canadian refugee/asylum system handles the complexities of war ravaged individuals who arrive on our shores, frantic to find safety and peace.

— Nancy C.

(Book Clubs note: The Boat People would be an excellent book club selection, generating dialogue and discussion)

 

This is your holiday read

I just read the best book. It’s called Roost and it’s written by Ali Bryan who is Canadian. It came out in 2013 and is her first novel. I can’t wait for her next which is called “The Figgs” and comes out May 2018.

Bryan’s novel is the first person story of single mother Claudia who lives in Halifax and works full-time. She shops at Canadian Tire and Joe Fresh, often thinking back to happier days when she didn’t buy her clothes in a grocery store. Claudia lives with her two toddlers, Wes and Joan who are hilarious and so well written they dance off the page. This entire book is so funny I laughed out loud during the whole thing and it’s also so, so smart. I had the treat to go to Toronto to visit my Aunt a week ago and started reading it on the early morning train and I was laughing before 7am in the No-Talk zone! Don’t tell!

Claudia is separated from her husband Glen but still relies on him heavily to help out with household maintenance like finally removing the ugly rooster border in her kitchen. She knows she needs to let go, but not yet. Every time he comes over to help or take the children for his weekend, she notices something new about him; a new car or pair of pants. He gets a new dog and a fancy apartment and takes up painting when Claudia barely has time most days for a shower. Even the kids behave better around him. These details take Glen further and further away from Claudia while she feels like she can barely keep her head above water.

Things get worse when her mother dies; no spoiler here, it’s how the book begins. She and her brother Dan and his wife must find time to grieve while caring for their father who is not doing well on his own. It’s just all too much. Dan’s life is perfect and completely opposite from Claudia’s, until he shows what a jerk he is when his wife begins to suffer from postpartum depression and he can’t understand or help her. There are so many poignant parts that are lovely and make your heart do that happy/sad heavy flippy thing (I know you know what I mean).

It is a story everyone can relate to; family squabbles, overtired children during the holidays, running around but never feeling you’re doing well enough. It’s about having a hard time when things have to change and you don’t want them to. It’s about those lovely and chaotic moments with you kids. It is a short book, just under 300 pages and I’d say perfect for reading over the holidays, one night when you can sneak away from the craziness and take a bath. It is a glimpse into the lives of this family. There are no surprises or lessons learned, just about good people doing their best.

-Sarah C.

In the words of women

While this would be a book that I would normally consider a ‘light’ read, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much!

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows centres around Nikki, the daughter of Sikh parents living in London, England. Having abandoned her father’s dream of her becoming a lawyer, she finds herself working in a bar while trying to figure out what she really wants to do in her life. Having embraced the life of a modern woman in her twenties, she regularly comes into conflict with her mother’s view of how and where she should be living. Nikki’s life becomes interesting when she impulsively and successfully applies to teach a ‘creative writing’ class in a local Sikh community centre. However, her students, who are a group of Punjabi widows, believe that they are coming to a class to learn basic English literacy. The intersection of their varying goals for this class gets very interesting.

There is an East Indian cultural narrative that is woven throughout the story which is very revealing and the reader is witness to the struggle that young people face when intertwining cultural tradition with modern ways. Additionally, we get a glimpse into the challenging life of an immigrant and the lengths to which they will go to create a sense of security and familiarity in their new country.

Layered on top of that is the repressed sexuality of the Punjabi widows who have gathered to share, in written form, their dreams, fantasies and amorous experiences. The women, who have had varied degrees of matrimonial experiences in the bedroom, are eager to break free from the cultural chains that left many of them to be merely housemaids, child bearers and receptacles for their husband’s desires. The stories they create are lush with sensuality and imagination and they bring comfort and a sense of unity to the widows. However, the need to keep their activities secret is intense within the confines of a community kept in cultural check by the Brotherhood, a gang of self-appointed militia, whose mission is to keep people true to the doctrines and strictures of the faith. Nikki’s relentless support of her ‘students’ places her in serious danger with the Brotherhood and others who see her as a threat to their cultural cohesion. As one would expect, word about the stories does eventually leak and many people within the community begin to benefit from the tales being spun in the ‘Learn to Write English’ class being held at the temple. A sensuous romp!

-Nancy C.