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.

Hum if you don’t know the words

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words is a wonderful book that gave me all the feels. It made me cry, laugh, feel angry, shocked and even hopeful. But what surprised me was that this is Bianca Marais’ debut novel. Marais uses imagery and beautiful, even poetic, language to describe South Africa’s multicultural and linguistic diversity as well as the complicated and blatantly bigoted dynamics between South Africans in the 1970’s.

I have always been an avid reader of books dealing with racism and civil rights and after reading (and loving) Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime a couple of months ago I have become more interested in books related to apartheid. With this book, Marais sheds light on the flagrant racism and abuse of power of apartheid and also addresses other issues including homophobia, loss, grief, abandonment, bravery and the deep need we have for family connections.

Marais humanizes apartheid by showing how the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976 affected her two main characters. The story is narrated by two very different points of view – Beauty, a highly educated Black Xhosa single mother and teacher from the Transkei region and Robin, a 10-year-old white girl from the Johannesburg suburbs. These two are brought together after the Uprising and show two contrasting views of the effects of apartheid and the prevalent, often flippant attitude of racism as the status quo.

Both Robin and Beauty are given equal page time and are well-rounded characters but I had a much stronger connection to Beauty.  She had such strength, tenacity, grace and conviction even after enduring unimaginable losses and hardship. Robin is precocious and deals with the loss of her family in her unique way but often she was used to bring humour to the story. While these lighter moments offset the more serious scenes, at times, it got to be a bit much.

I will caution readers that there were a few scenes, especially towards the end involving Robin, that will require readers to suspend belief. This is fiction, I get that, but I think that the story went a little too far past what I’d feel was plausible. That is the only part of the book that faltered for me. Otherwise, this is an outstanding read that will keep readers transfixed.

Hum If You Don’t Know The Words will hit readers in the heart, head and hopefully conscience about how we need to treat and respect others. A little compassion, respect and empathy can go a long, long way. This is a poignant and important story that shows the damaging and long-lasting effects of inequality and bigotry with heart, some humour and wonderfully vivid language.

-Laurie P.

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.

Alone in Berlin

Wartime resistance always makes for powerful reading or viewing. These stories stir up deep feelings in us, especially if they are true.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (book and DVD) is a hot item at the library these days. It tells of a zookeeper and said wife in Warsaw, Poland who save the lives of hundreds of Jewish people. A number of years back everyone was talking about Schindler’s List (again, book and DVD) The movie won the best picture Oscar and many other awards in 1993. It’s the story of a German businessman in Poland, who although initially not a sympathetic character, goes on to save 1,000 Jewish people.

So that brings me to another great DVD about wartime resistance: Alone in Berlin.

Based on a true story Alone in Berlin, tells of two working-class Berliners, Otto and Anna Quangel. When their only son is killed in the war they turn to resistance. Their method: they write post cards with anti-Nazi slogans and then leave them all over the city. Of course, the post cards come to the attention of the police and Gestapo who hunt for those responsible. The movie is taut and suspenseful as the Quangels continue their campaign, even as the authorities zero in on them. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but it does not end well for the Quangels.

Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson star. Thompson is excellent, as always. But I think Gleeson outshines her in his portrayal of stoic determination.

Watching the movie made me wonder a number of things. Leaving anti-Nazi post cards all over town seems rather futile to me. The Quangels surely didn’t believe they could challenge the Nazi regime by such means. So why did they do it? Why did they knowingly risk their lives? You also have to wonder how each one of us would act if we lived under a similar regime.

The movie is based on the book Every Man Dies Alone by the German writer Hans Fallada (1893-1947) and both are available at WPL.

-Penny D.

Best school year ever

I’ve stopped actually saying these words out loud, “this is going to be the best school year ever”, but I still secretly think them.  And every year I start planning for making it the best school year ever by looking at books from the library that will help me to better organize our home or cook the perfect meals and snacks that will  help to tamp down the chaos.  This year we will have two kids in high school so you would think that I have either pulled my act together by now or raised the white flag and given up.  I have not.  Every July I begin again with fresh enthusiasm and new books – I just don’t say the words aloud any longer as I have teens at home and they make fun of me.

Although I didn’t use this book for planning for the new school year it did turn out to be a real treat to have at home over the summer.  When the kids were just hanging around it was nice to have this one on the kitchen counter for them to flip through.  They never did grab a cutting board and try any of the more ambitious chicken recipes but the ones that involved ingredients we have in the pantry or fridge were popular, like DIY Hummus (so much less expensive and delicious than the one from the grocery store) and the variations on plain cheese quesadillas.  It also inspired  them to request a few trips to the store for meals that we hadn’t tried before which is what I always ache for – someone please suggest something new for dinner.  This kind of inspiration for a quick and easy meal can come in handy during the busy school season.  A book like this looks like it is made for kids but it can be a perfect choice for anyone.  Give it a try.  We loved it – maybe your kids will use it too.  Or just look at it for a few minutes and give you some moments of peace while you are cooking.

Some years I have become too caught up in making a system out of the back-to-school planning and that has been my downfall.  Well, one of the things that led to my downfall.  There are several problems in trying to make it the best school year ever and one is taking the fun out of it.   In times of trouble like this it is always a good idea to turn to Jenny Rosenstratch, blogger and author of three lovely books about food and life.  Her most recent book, How to celebrate everything, reminds us that there are little moments to treasure in the busy days of getting meals on the table, even on Thanksgiving.  She also gives great tips on how to cope with all of the regular events that come at you in a school year – bake sales, Halloween, sleepovers, birthday parties and making the perfect celebration cake.  Jenny’s book will give you the inspiration to cook beautifully when you can manage it, love your family, enjoy your home and sneak in a few treats once in a while.  And, she reminds everyone to give yourself a break during the school year so you can rest easy with less pangs about what might have been.  Good-bye guilt!  Oh, and if you are having trouble sleeping any night, just turn down the brightness on your device and spend some time with Jenny on her site right here – http://www.dinneralovestory.com

Speaking of great sites you might want to puruse here is a sensational Canadian one to love.  The Sweet Potato Chronicles authors (former magazine editors) have spectacular images and recipes on their site and came out with a cookbook in 2013 that just rocked my world.  I can’t keep track of the times I have checked out this cute cookbook with the image of a little plastic giraffe toy on the cover.  Well, just in time for the 2017-2018 school year they have given us their version of a best school year ever cheat sheet.  It is a little thin on the planning side of things but it more than makes up for it in valuable recipe suggestions broken into sections that work for most families – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats.  Within those sections they have been sensible enough to know that every family has challenges in a busy week so they include make-ahead meals.  Snacks are broken into two sections – one that can be enjoyed at school another for those that need to be enjoyed at home where food allergens are not a concern.  However, their Chocolate snack balls are incredible, look like Timbits but are filled with pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, oh my.  Not a nut in sight so eat them at home and at school.   It’s a colourful cookbook with practical suggestions that are relevant to the Canadian market.  I just love it.  They might be a little impractical in suggesting that we will all clean out our pantries and replace the containers with lovely matching jars but they are magazine editors so we can forgive them for thinking that we might ever find that possible.  I am trying to get through a school year here,  I don’t have time to find matching jars.

One simply gorgeous book I found when I was trying to streamline our planning for the ‘new year’ is this 2017 release from a former recipe tester from Saveur magazine.  Personally, I would like to be a taster at Saveur, but I don’t think that is a real job and I looked very carefully at their web site just to be sureIn any case she has put her skills to good use in One pan and done : hassle-free meals from the oven to your table and the title does not lie.  She provides some of the best instructions I have ever seen and, something I rarely see in cookbooks, she does this with a fantastic sense of humour.  The recipes are diverse, from cozy classics to things you would see in a hipster café, but she admits that some of the things she has included weren’t popular with her family at first or that she had to tweak them as she went to make them more family-friendly.  This sounds familiar.  We have made several of the meals in this book – including the cover recipe – and, they looked nothing like the pictures but were so popular at our house that I have actually written them onto recipe cards so that I can make them again.  Just imagine.  This doesn’t have the cachet of being a book marketed to families – there are no toys displayed on the cover – but it will make the cook in the family happy and save you time.  That makes everyone happier, I think. 

Okay, I’ve changed my mind.  I’ve read some fantastic books, I’ve made some good plans, sourced some new ingredients, tried many great recipes and I have the weight of hundreds more on the shelves to back me up.  I’m saying it – this is going to be the “best school year ever”.

-Penny M.

A quiet bravery

So Much Love is exactly what I have for this novel. I read it quickly in a few days, walking around the house with it; holding it in one head while I brushed my teeth and propping it up in the kitchen while I made dinner. I couldn’t put it down. It is about a horrible crime, but it is not a thriller, not in any way you would expect. It reminds you of Emma Donoghue’s Room for a chapter in the beginning and then it completely changes it’s course, for which I was glad. There is no mystery. This novel is about what happens after, to the victims and the people who love them. There is nothing sensational about the crime. This book is about simple lives and the small, everyday things that keep us connected to each other. Not the holidays or major events, but the tiny acts that make up our homes and our families.

The writing is gorgeous. Every chapter has a voice of another player in the story, which reminded me also of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitterage (read it also if you haven’t). We read about how the crimes affect so many people and how strong their love remains for the victims. It is about resilience and it is quiet and brave. It is the first novel written by Canadian Rebecca Rosenblum and I cannot wait to read her next one!

-Sarah C.

 

 

A life of loss

I always feel a little sad when I see a severely neglected and abandoned house. I wonder about the people who might have lived there, the joys and sorrows they might have experienced within its walls, and how they might feel to see their former home in such a state.

In Gail Godwin’s Grief Cottage, the main character becomes obsessed with the dilapidated cottage near his great-aunt’s house, especially after he sees the ghost of a missing boy. The cottage was dubbed “Grief Cottage” by the locals after a mother, father, and 14 year old boy disappeared from it when Hurricane Hazel hit. Their bodies were never found.

Marcus, the 11-year-old main character, has had to deal with a fair amount of grief of his own. In fact, the title could easily be a metaphor of his own life. He had already suffered losses before his mother is killed in a car accident. Marcus is sent to live with his only remaining relative, his great-aunt Charlotte, who is a talented but reclusive artist that lives on a small island in South Carolina.

Marcus reminds me of Disney’s Pollyanna, only without her eternal optimism. Godwin has written this character to be extremely sensitive to others and wiser than his years: the result produces a profound effect on those around him. In many ways, Marcus is as neglected and abandoned as Grief Cottage, and I found myself bracing for the hurricane that eventually releases inside him. Grief Cottage is a good read but not a happy read: even the positive twists near the end are tinged with loss.

Overall, I give Grief Cottage a 4 out of 5 stars.

-Sandy W.

 

Join us at a book club conversation

Please join us for a book club conversation at any of our meetings. No need to sign up – you can just drop in!  This month we are discussing the One Book One Community (OBOC) selection – Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady.  To learn more about OBOC and upcoming related events go to http://oboc.ca

Monday, August 14 at 7 p.m. – Main Library Auditorium

Thursday, August 17 at 1:30 p.m. – Main Library Boardroom

 Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

How far would a son go to escape his past? And how far will a father go to help him?

With his wicked grin and confident swagger, navy musician Jack Lewis evokes Frank Sinatra whenever he takes the stage. While stationed in Newfoundland during the Second World War, Jack meets Vivian Fanshawe, a local girl who has never stepped off the Rock. They marry against the wishes of Vivian’s family—hard to say what it is, but there’s something about Jack they just don’t like—and as the war ends, the couple travels to Windsor, Ontario, to meet Jack’s family.

But when Vivian encounters Jack’s mother and brother, everything she thought she knew about her husband—his motives, his honesty, even his race—is called into question. And as the truth about the Lewis family tree emerges, life for Vivian and Jack will never be the same.

Told from the perspective of three unforgettable characters—Vivian, the innocent newlywed; Jack, her beguiling and troubled husband; and William Henry, Jack’s stoic father—this extraordinary novel explores the cost of prejudice on generation after generation. Steeped in the jazz and big band music of the 1930s and 1940s, this is an arresting, heart-rending novel about fathers and sons, love and denial, and race relations in a world on the cusp of momentous change.

You can find more information about WPL Book Clubs here or contact Christine Brown at 519-886-1310 ext. 146.

 

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.