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.

It’s All About Pi(e)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Penny M.

Wonder is truly wonderful

With the newly released movie Wonder in the spotlight these days, I thought it was important to remind everyone that this heartwarming movie with its A-list cast is based on a very popular book series.

One of my all-time favourite books, to be exact.

Written in 2012 by R.J Palacio, Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a 5th grader who has severe craniofacial deformities who goes from being home schooled to attending public school. The story is told by Auggie and five other characters which sounds like it could be confusing but Palacio gives her characters clear voices which give readers insight into how Auggie influences those around him.

Auggie is an inspiring, funny and strong main character who will stay with readers for a long time. He’s a Star Wars loving boy with an extraordinary face who has a great support system at home. His parents and sister have instilled in him a strong sense of self and he uses humour to deal with other people’s issues with his face.

This book could very easily do a tailspin into a very woeful read about bullying but I found it uplifting and I loved its important message:

“Be kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

Simple, yet oh so important.

This is a must read for anyone from ages nine to ninety-nine. It’s about bullying, the true meaning of friendship and doing what is right, not necessarily what is the easiest. I adored this book and still think of Auggie five years after first reading it. Having yet to see the film, my hope is that Hollywood does this much loved book justice in its tone, intention and feeling that Palacio so eloquently imparted to her readers back in 2012.

Wonder is truly wonderful.

-Laurie P.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder if I can get my husband to join me!

— Susan B.

 

This Beautiful Fantastic

Warning! The film, This Beautiful Fantastic, contains NO violence, coarse language or sexuality. However, it does contain some lovely moments of whimsicality threaded throughout an age old story.

Bella Brown, who was abandoned at birth and raised in an orphanage, becomes enchanted with literature and longs to write a children’s book. As a young adult with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, she lands a job at the local library ruled by an overbearing librarian who is not a fan of Bella’s gentle and inquisitive demeanor. Her next door neighbour, a curmudgeon of a man, holds the same opinion of Bella and thus, it feels like the forces of darkness are conspiring against this sweet woman.

One of the regular library patrons is a man who describes himself as an inventor and his quirkiness and innocence touches Bella in a way she has had no experience with. This ray of sunshine is marred by events unfolding at home. Bella, who is terrified of the ‘great outdoors’, receives a visit from her landlord and discovers that she needs to do some serious work on the gardens on the property that she is occupying or risk eviction.

The grumpy fellow next door offers some advice to Bella on how to get the garden into a reasonable state and it is through these encounters that their relationship begins to grow and blossom like the very garden she is trying to create. We get a glimpse of the glorious parkland that the neighbour has developed over the years and the imagery of the flowers is stunning. While Bella’s horticultural efforts are being rewarded, her love life takes a turn which upsets the apple cart. With the support of her neighbour and his loyal employee, Bella begins the healing journey that will help her in her quest to write the children’s book she dreams of.

This is a simple story but beautifully filmed and terrifically heart-warming.

-Nancy C.

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.

New DVD Anticipation

I’m in a state of eager anticipation. I’m really excited about a couple of great new DVDs coming to the library soon.

Thing is, I am not good at waiting. I want those two DVDs, My Cousin Rachel and The Circle, here today—if not yesterday. So in the meantime, I’ve been reading the books the movies are based on.

I was a huge fan of English writer Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) when I was a teenager and scarfed back all of her classics, including My Cousin Rachel. So I was really pleased when a movie version (starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin) came out earlier this year.

WPL does not at present have the book version, but it is on order. However I have my own copy and am currently re-reading this classic novel of suspense.

My-Cousin-Rachel-2017-movie-posterMy Cousin Rachel (published in 1951) is about a young Englishman in Italy who meets and marries his distant cousin Rachel. The man falls mysteriously ill, believing he has been poisoned, and then dies. Rachel then goes back to his estate in Cornwall, England and meets his ward, who (a) finds himself falling in love with her and (b) also falling mysteriously ill. Has Rachel committed the crimes she is suspected of, or is she innocent?

I’m also waiting (none too patiently!) for the release of the DVD The Circle, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It has quite a holds list. So if you are interested, better place that hold now!

I just recently read the book (published in 2013) by Dave Eggers. It’s about a young woman Mae Holland who lands her dream job at The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. At first everything about the organization seems perfect. But slowly questions start to creep in. Questions involving surveillance, privacy, collection of data (who is doing it and for what purpose) and authoritarianism. The Circle is a good read with lots to think about.

— Penny D.

Swept away by La La Land

I am watching La La Land because I simply can’t stop myself.  This movie is just perfection.  It’s like the writer created something that was a magical blend of old movie splendor and modern fun.  I watched musicals whenever I had a chance when I was a kid and spent hours researching my favourite stars.  I knew more about dancers, singers and producers than I did about my schoolwork – why didn’t they want to know about Fred Astaire’s relationship with his choreographer and doppleganger Hermes Pan on any test I wrote?  I just don’t know what was wrong with my teachers…

Directed and written by Damien Chazelle (he also wrote and directed the multiple award-winning movie Whiplash from 2014), with outstanding lyrics by the Broadway darlings Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, La La Land features a romance that will capture your heart.  It begins with a marvelous 150-person dance routine that takes place during a traffic jam on a freeway in Los Angeles and their voices swell to music that includes notes made by car horns.  It’s so clever and the footwork, camera angles, and vibrant costumes work together to make that first number – “Another Day of Sun”- so compelling that I said, as we walked out of the theatre, that there would be no dancing on top of our car.  It’s that kind of movie – you feel swept away by the music and the emotion. Almost as if you might dance on top of your Honda here in Waterloo in the theatre parking lot.

Emma Stone plays the part of an aspiring actress, named Mia, working as a barista on the Warner Brothers backlot when she meets musician Ryan Gosling, playing the part of Sebastian, who is trying to pull together enough cash to open a very specific kind of jazz bar.  It’s boy-meets-girl-with-a-misunderstanding-thrown-in so that their eventual spark means even more.  Their next meeting is just the last word in meet cutes because it happens while poor Mia is in the middle of a horrible conversation with a man at a party and Sebastian is playing in an ’80s cover band.  They are a very well-turned-out cover band (maybe bands in L.A. always look that good?) and play songs that were splendid at that time and they certainly worked for Mia in 2016.  Their romance is charming and the chemistry between the two lead actors is a perfect match for all of the singing and dancing required for this movie, although I have never been sure when singing and dancing might not be required.

Awards and love have poured down on everyone involved with this film and I agree that the acclaim is well deserved.  I have always believed the idea that singing a song makes any activity more fun – Mary Poppins told us this with her spoonful of sugar theory and I never disagree with Mary Poppins.  I think that deciding whether or not La La Land ushers in a new generation of movie musicals deserves some time in your DVD player.  We also have the soundtrack here on the shelves at WPL and it really is going to make your life so much better – you could listen to it and relive your favourite scenes.  It will make everyday chores and driving around town go by much faster because you will be singing while you do it. Just remember that there can be no dancing on the top of cars.

-Penny M.

Harry & Snowman

There’s a quote I once saw in a horse magazine. “Every rider has that one special horse which changes everything about them.” For horseman Harry deLeyer, Snowman was that horse. Their story was recently captured in the documentary Harry & Snowman.

deLeyer was born in Holland in 1927 into a hardworking farm family. During WWII, young Harry and his family aided the Resistance, saving human lives but also the lives of hundreds of starving horses, left behind by the Nazis as they fled following defeat.

Newly married, deLeyer and his young bride, Johanna, immigrated to the USA where he worked on a tobacco farm whilst dreaming of a life with horses. Opportunity came in 1954 when deLeyer was offered a job teaching riding at a prestigious private girls’ school in New York State, a position he ended up holding for 22 years.

In 1956 deLeyer went to a horse auction, searching for a solid horse, suitable for the beginners at the school. Due to car trouble, he arrived as the auction was wrapping up. He took a quick look around at the “leftover” horses which, depressingly, were destined for the slaughter horse. A flea-bitten grey, ex-plow horse caught his eye. As deLeyer looked up at the horse behind the stock trailer’s sides, the horse looked down at him with large, soft eyes. And, like in a classic romance novel, their gazes locked and a lifelong connection was made.

deLeyer offered $80 for the grey, including delivery to his farm, and a deal was quickly struck. “Snowman” had entered deLeyer’s life and would change it forever.

As someone who has been involved in the horse industry for close to 40 years, it was a given that I would borrow this movie from the library. But you really don’t need to be a horseperson to appreciate the story of deLeyer and Snowman.

Hearing Snowman’s story in deLeyer’s own words, paired with interviews with show jumping legends George Morris and Rodney Jenkins, is a treat. Snowman was retired when I was just a toddler, but I do remember seeing deLeyer competing in Canada in the early 1980s as “The Galloping Grandfather”. And deLeyer is still riding and coaching today, even as he closes in on his 90th birthday.

I actually usually avoid watching “horsey” films as the vast majority are disappointing, cheesy, inaccurate or truly cringe-worthy. This documentary of deLeyer, Snowman, and deLeyer’s eight children, offers insight into show jumping (and life) in the 1950s. It is at times humourous, definitely heart-warming and inspiring.

If you’d like to learn more about deLeyer and Snowman, borrow the bestselling book by Elizabeth Letts, The Eighty-Dollar Champion.

— Sandi H.