Once Upon A River

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield is a well-written, deeply atmospheric novel and, as its title suggests, has a strong sense of folklore. One might even call it more of a Gothic fairy tale. At the heart of the story is a mystery surrounding the identity of the young girl who is found in the Thames and pronounced dead … until she isn’t.

Within the first few pages I realized I was in for a treat. Readers will immediately be drawn to Setterfield’s wonderful writing, vivid descriptions of the setting and her diverse group of characters which drive the story much more than the mystery. Much like the Thames itself, the story meanders as the various tributary subplots and characters are introduced. If readers can wade through the slower points in the middle, they’ll realize that these aspects all have purpose and are given an incredible amount of depth.

This Gothic folktale stands out for its vivid characterizations, imaginative plot and hint of fantastical things with Setterfield’s enchanting storytelling abilities easily being the highlight of this book for me. Recommended for fans of Setterfield’s first book, The Thirteenth Tale.

— Laurie P.

One Day in December

A little bit comedy + a little bit drama, One Day in December by Josie Silver, will hit readers in their heart strings and funny bones in equal measure as they witness the sometimes tumultuous and complicated love life of Laurie James and her ‘bus boy’ – a man who catches her eye and her heart in one brief encounter on a December afternoon.

These two strangers experience love at first sight but are unable to meet in person at that precise moment. Their brief connection continues to haunt both of them until they suddenly find themselves thrown together but are unable to act on their feelings. The story has likable, believable characters and is a slow-burn kind of read since the story is told via different points of view over the course of a decade. The timeline and points of view are woven together well and I enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of the interconnected relationships of these friends and lovers.

I fully admit that I am not normally a big reader of romances (I often find them to have a strong ‘ode de fromage’ feel) but while One Day in December is a light-hearted romance, it also touches on some serious topics and complicated relationships making it more than a simple love story. This is a wonderful, escapist-type read that I read in just over a day. But don’t just take my word for it. This novel has caught the eye of Hollywood actress and avid reader Reese Witherspoon who recently selected it for her popular book club.

This romantic dramedy is a perfect pick for fans of When Harry Met Sally, Me Before You and Notting Hill.

While this a lighter romantic read, the addition of its deeper moments about friendship, love, loss, regret and missed opportunities make it a book that will appeal to many different readers. It’s romance with some deeper issues, topped with some laughs, hold the cheese.

— Laurie P.

Becoming

This book was a joy to read. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Obama for quite some time. I’ve always liked her strength, her passion to help others, her positive outlook and her strong devotion to her family and this book just made me appreciate her even more.

WPL has Becoming in three formats: hardcover, large print and recorded book (CD). I listened to the CD and found Michelle Obama to be an engaging narrator who allowed her warmth, humour, compassion and honesty shine through. She is the Michelle Obama you’ve seen in interviews and with Becoming, she brings readers into her personal triumphs, losses, insecurities and struggles from her early days as a young Black girl growing up in the south side area of Chicago, to her love of education and her years at Princeton, to meeting a fellow lawyer with a ‘weird name’ and her eventual role as First Lady of the United States. Readers are privy to the Obama’s early years as a couple, Barack’s increasing involvement in politics, parenting two daughters together, his run for the presidency of the USA and their eight years living in the fish bowl that is the White House.

Michelle Obama has always seemed like a regular kinda gal to me. She’s a mom, wife and daughter who just happens to be living an extraordinary life. As FLOTUS, she has lived under public scrutiny trying to balance family life with the daunting workload that she bore as First Lady. She wanted to give their children a reasonably normal childhood and use her role as First Lady to make positive changes in the country she so clearly loves. She gives readers a bird’s eye look at her life in the White House – the unique experiences made available to her as well as the limitations to her freedom and I appreciate that she doesn’t hold back on her opinions on some of the issues that have plagued and still plague the US.

Throughout the book Michelle Obama is well-spoken, genuine and she comes off as relatable and often inspirational as she shares personal anecdotes that show her fears, loves, struggles and accomplishments. Some of her anecdotes had me grinning, relating to her thoughts as a wife and mother, while several caused me to tear up as I listened to her speak about the devastation and loss her country has faced.

This is a moving, powerful and reflective book that readers, especially women and those who have ever felt unseen and ignored, will appreciate. You don’t have to be a Democrat (or even an American – says this proud Canadian) to enjoy this book. If you weren’t a fan of Michelle Obama’s before, you will be after reading Becoming.

— Laurie P.

The Girl They Left Behind

I’m an avid reader who reads many different genres but historical fiction is the one genre that I regularly gravitate towards. When you read a lot of one genre, you sometimes feel like you’ve read it all. The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos brings something new to this very popular genre with an engaging, informative and heart-felt story based on her mother’s early life during WWII and later during the Soviet occupation of Romania.

During the horrors of the 1941 Pogrom in Bucharest, Veletzos’ grandparents made the difficult choice to leave their three-year-old daughter, Natalia, on the steps of a building hoping to give her a chance to survive. Sent to an orphanage, she was quickly adopted by a wealthy couple who were devoted to her and gave her life of privilege.

Veletzos follows her mother’s early life and also provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest during WWII and afterwards when the Soviets took control, a time when life for many Romanians continued to be fraught with uncertainty and danger – especially those who didn’t support the Communist regime. She includes the lesser known history of Romania during these times and blends her personal family history into a riveting, fictional read. This is a captivating, sometimes heart-wrenching story about family bonds, resilience and hope.

I highly recommend The Girl They Left Behind to fans of historical fiction who enjoy getting a different perspective in the popular WWII historical fiction genre and especially for those of us who think they’ve ‘read it all’. Veletzos may just surprise you.

— Laurie P.

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.

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.

Favorite Books of 2016

Favourite Books of 2016 (according to Laurie P.)

Now that 2016 is coming to a close we start to think about what we’ve accomplished this year.  Some of us participate in reading challenges to encourage ourselves to try new books and read more.  As an avid reader I thought I’d share some of the books that stood out from the 127 (and counting) books that I’ve read this year.  From suspense and historical fiction to non-fiction, memoirs and more it’s been an exciting year in books.

Here are some of the books that I found compelling, emotional, intriguing and above all else captivating.

 

 

glory    a-house    scrappy    i-promised

HISTORICAL FICTION

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

This book is the follow up to Canadian author Kathleen Grissom’s best-seller The Kitchen House (but can be read as a stand-alone). It is a page-turner that follows the life of Jamie Pyke as he makes a new life in Philadelphia while trying to hide a secret that could destroy all that he has built. When someone to whom he owes a large debt comes for his help Jamie realizes he must return to the South and face a very uncertain future with potentially dire consequences. The story is told via multiple narrators and is a fast-paced read that focuses on race, slavery and the Underground Railroad as well as family ties and how one’s upbringing continues to influence us.

 

NON-FICTION

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This book was WPL’s One Book, One Community (OBOC) choice for 2016.  From Lindhout’s turbulent life in Alberta to backpacking across to globe to her 2008 abduction in Somalia where she and an Australian photographer were held captive for 15 months this book was hard to put down.  Even though I knew the outcome of her abduction I found this book riveting and, above all else, inspiring.

 

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

You may recognize Anna Kendrick from movies such as the Pitch Perfect series, Twilight and Into The Woods. What you may not realize is that she is Funny (with a capital F), sassy, charming and a self-proclaimed dork.  In this book she shares some of her life moments and whether she comes off as cool, funny or awkward you know that Anna will be candid. Her personal observations are served up with great self-deprecating humour but she is also inspiring and quite on the money with many of her observations involving relationships, friendships, work and generally not taking life too seriously. I listened to the audiobook and having her read the book to you is the icing on the cake.

 

I Promised Not To Tell: Raising A Transgender Child by Cheryl B Evans

This book shines a light on the emotional, social and personal implications of someone struggling to be their authentic gender.  This is Evans’ personal story as a mother of a transgender child and how her family helped her daughter Jordan transition from female to male within the Canadian health, educational and legal systems.  Her writing style is casual and has an easy-going conversational feel.  Yet she also provides a great resource for parents of transgender children as well as the general public to get a better idea about the struggles for those who are transgender.

 

CRIME, DRAMA AND SUSPENSE

darktown

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

This fictionalized story focuses on the first Black officers on the Atlanta police force in the late 1940’s. Mullen weaves a crime drama around these officers and this tumultuous time which was rife with racial tension and blatant bigotry.  With vivid and candid writing it is no wonder that Hollywood has noticed and has optioned this book as a TV drama with Jamie Foxx as executive producer.

 

 

findherFind Her by Lisa Gardner

This is a fast-paced and intense book that places the reader firmly in the minds of two of the characters – Boston PD, Detective D.D Warren and Flora, a young woman who had been abducted several years previously for 472 days and who, once again, disappears. Flora has lived through absolute horrors and she’s a survivor but is she someone who would take the law into her own hands to help other victims?  It is a gripping plot with several red herrings to keep you guessing but it is also about survivors and their fight to stay alive after much has been taken from them.

 

homeHome by Harlan Coben

I love the Myron Bolitar series.  It’s fast-paced and the characters will bring you back time and again – especially the friendship between Myron and Win. They are as close as brothers and have a wonderfully funny banter that gives the reader a sense of the depth of their long-term friendship. This lightheartedness is needed to balance some serious issues that are brought to light in this book, such as child abduction and prostitution. But make no mistake, while these two friends throw out some funny one-liners, they are smart, have each other’s backs and are quite dangerous if you get on their wrong side. This is a quick read with short chapters and has quite a few characters but Coben keeps everything clear for his readers. If Home is the first book of this series that you’ve picked up you’ll still enjoy the twists and turns but I think reading many (or all) of the previous books will help give you real sense of what these characters have been through together

 

coupleThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

This book is a fast-paced, twist-filled thriller that had me repeatedly questioning the identity of the culprit. Lapena includes the points of view of a few of her characters which gives readers brief glimpses into their personalities, fears and motivations. She then slowly unveils different aspects of these characters and the secrets they’ve been hiding that will cause readers to question if their earlier predictions were correct. What really happened? Who is lying? No one is as they seem and with twists sprinkled liberally throughout I was eager to find out the identity of the culprit. This is an impressive and well thought out psychological thriller that is a highly entertaining, ‘nothing-is-getting-done-until-I-know-whodunnit’ kind of read.

 

perfectThe Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

This book focuses on the lives of four women who live in Newport Cove, a highly sought after neighbourhood. But even within this bucolic neighbourhood secrets abound. Readers are pulled into each of the women’s stories and as a reader I felt like I got a bird’s eye view of their family squabbles, issues and uncertainties. While all of the issues were quite serious some had a more emotional tone. To balance out the drama, at the beginning of chapters she includes funny posts from neighbourhood residents on their online interactive newsletter. These sometimes banal yet funny responses to the ‘issues’ of living in their neighbourhood helped to bring some levity to this issue laden read. The book focuses on the struggles each of these women face and while the mystery aspect was secondary it added a nice pull throughout the book and a suspenseful scene towards the end. Fans of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies will enjoy this book.

 

fieldingShe’s Not There by Joy Fielding

This is a hard-to-put-down mystery with some surprising twists and a lot of emotion. Fielding uses two time frames (present and 15 years ago at the time of the abduction) to tell her story which had me suspecting many of the characters. It focuses on Caroline, the mother of the abducted toddler, and how she deals with the abduction. She’s emotionally bereft and comes home to find that she’s been vilified in the media which affects her life for years to come. It’s Caroline and her daughter Michelle’s tumultuous and often volatile relationship that gave the book its emotional depth as they both continue to hurt over the loss of Samantha. Many of their exchanges are raw, hurtful and sometimes hard to read due to the emotions behind it all but I always felt like the emotion was realistically portrayed. This is a story about a family in turmoil whose relationships are broken or, at best, strained and all of their issues stem from that fatal night of the abduction.

As you can see it’s been a been a good year in books and luckily WPL has all of these titles (and so many more) on our shelves.  Wishing you a 2017 filled with all the great books, DVDs , CDs and more that WPL has to offer!

– -Laurie P.

The Couple Next Door

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is a fast-paced, twist-filled thriller that had me repeatedly questioning the identity of the culprit.  Lapena includes the points of view of a few of her characters which gives readers brief glimpses into their personalities, insecurities, fears and motivations.  She then slowly unveils different aspects of these characters and the secrets they’ve been hiding that will cause readers to question if their earlier predictions were correct.  What really happened?  Who is lying? No one is as they seem and with twists sprinkled liberally throughout I was eager to find out the identity of the culprit.

couplenextdoorThe only criticisms that I’d have for this book is that some of the characters could have had more depth, some of their actions/responses were questionably believable and the ending felt a little expected (I think I was expecting one big, final twist).  But overall I quite enjoyed being along for this suspenseful ride.

The Couple Next Door is a very impressive and well thought out psychological thriller.  It is a highly entertaining, hard-to-put down, ‘nothing-is-getting-done-until-I-know-whodunnit’ kind of read. Highly recommended.

– Laurie P.

Glory Over Everything

I am a huge fan of historical fiction. Give me a great story set in long ago eras with captivating characters and I’m in heaven.

Some of the eras I’m especially drawn to are WWII and slavery – two very emotional, brutal and turbulent times where the worst of humanity is offset by the bravery and resilience of people struggling to survive.

63275410_hrFans of Historical Fiction set in the southern United States during the 19th century will be eager to get their hands on the upcoming, Glory Over Everything from Canadian-born author Kathleen Grissom. It is the sequel to her very popular historical fiction novel, The Kitchen House, which introduced readers to a host of memorable characters and due to its focus on slavery and indentured labour, touching and often emotional story lines. While you could read Glory Over Everything as a stand-alone I think readers will have a better understanding of where Jamie and some other characters are coming from if they read The Kitchen House first. Personally, I loved reconnecting with some of my favourite characters from the first book.

The Kitchen House – With Glory Over Everything hitting shelves on April 5, 2016 readers still have time to read the first book to get acquainted with Belle, Jamie, Mama Mae, Lavinia and the rest of the characters. For those who haven’t read The Kitchen House it’s a story told via two different points of view – Belle, a black slave and Lavinia, a young Irish indentured servant. Witnessing situations from these two very different viewpoints gives readers a better understanding of just how different life was back for white servants and black slaves.

The Kitchen House focuses more on Lavinia’s story as she tries to straddle two worlds – the white world and the world of the slaves in the kitchen house. Grissom doesn’t hold back as she describes sometimes brutal descriptions of what slaves endured at the hands of their masters and also deals with different kinds of oppression – the powerlessness of women of all colours and the differences between families who seem to have it all (money, power, freedom) and slave families who appear to have nothing except each other. Grissom’s writing is vivid in its description of what life was like back in the late 18th century and evoked many different emotions in me from – shock, sadness, unconditional love, anger and joy. This book had it all. Some scenes were so emotional that they were hard to read but the characters were varied and quite multidimensional and you quickly begin to care about them.

glory-over-everything-9781476748443_hrGlory Over Everything – I was recently given an advanced reading copy of Glory Over Everything and once again Grissom captivated me from beginning to end. This sequel is definitely a page-turner and has Grissom’s signature captivating writing style and includes several characters from The Kitchen House. It follows the life of Jamie Pyke as he tries to make a life in Philadelphia while hiding a secret that could destroy the life that he has built. When someone to whom he owes a debt comes for his help Jamie realizes he must return to the south and face a very uncertain future with potentially dire consequences. The story is told once again via multiple narrators and is a fast-paced read that not only focuses on race, slavery and the Underground Railroad but on family ties and how one’s upbringing can influence us throughout our lives. With complex characters, a gripping plot and emotional scenes have made Glory Over Everything one of my favourite books of 2016.

Both of these books are filled with human endurance, strength, love, violence, betrayal, family loyalty, courage, trust and the power of hope. That’s a whole lot of emotion all wrapped up into two books but Grissom is a master at writing gripping novels that leave her readers thinking of the characters long after the last page is turned.

– – Laurie P.