Need To Know

Have you ever been watching a TV show or film when suddenly the scene depicted becomes so tense you feel like you just can’t bear to watch and want to hide until it’s over? I have but not while reading a book…until now.

In Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, Vivian Miller is a busy wife and mother of four children, one of which has special medical needs. She is also a CIA counterintelligence analyst. Vivian develops an algorithm to root out Russian agents hiding in the United States, but what she discovers will turn her whole world upside down. She is forced to choose what is more important, the security of her country, or the lives of her family.

Need to Know is a nail-biter from beginning to end. I found Vivian’s character very real and believable, and felt as if I were struggling right along with her, trying to decide what I would do. The twists and turns in plot keep the story moving at a fast pace, and I found that I was still thinking about the ending days after finishing the book.

I first heard about Need to Know from the author Louise Penny, who highly recommended it in her monthly newsletter. Other best-selling authors, such as John Grisham, Lee Child, and Patricia Cornwell all have high praise for this book as well.

The author, Karen Cleveland, was a former CIA analyst herself, so the subject matter is obviously very familiar to her. It is hard to believe that Need to Know is Cleveland’s first novel. I only hope, for the sake of everyone who enjoys reading it as much as I did, that it won’t be her last.

— Sandy Wilmering

What a Great Read!

What a great read! One wouldn’t think so given The Prisoner and the Chaplain by Michelle Berry is about a man who is down to his last twelve hours on earth before his execution for a heinous crime.  The chaplain who is to accompany the prisoner during this final stage of his life is a substitute for the regular chaplain who has been known to the prisoner, Larry, during his 10 years on death row. The chaplain, Jim, has tried to get up to speed about Larry’s life and crimes but knows that he is entering into a situation for which he is not prepared.

Being opposed to the death penalty, Jim struggles as he listens to Larry begin to unpack the story of his life, a childhood that was atypical in that his mother ran off with his older brother when he was just seven years old. Having been left with an older sister and an alcoholic, emotionally abusive father, Larry learns to navigate his way through his lonely life the best way he knows how. Without a mentor to keep him on the straight and narrow, Larry turns to petty crime and discovers that this is something at which he can and does excel.

Larry’s recounting of the story of his life triggers within Jim the anguish of his own personal failings brought on by challenges he faced as a child. Those same failings are what have directed him to the chaplaincy and he is torn by the conflicting emotions that Larry’s story has awakened within him.

The final hours creep by as both men are consumed in the devastation of their personal journeys and yet, in spite of the differences in their circumstances, they develop a mutual trust and bond that will endure, at least for Jim, well beyond the final act of cruelty.

To me, this story reinforces why the death penalty should not be the retribution of a civilized people.

— Nancy C.

Note: author Michelle Berry is the owner of an independent bookstore, Hunter Street Books, in Peterborough, Ontario


What I love about working at WPL

You know what I love about working here at the library? It’s the… People. I bet you thought that I was going to say books. I do love the books. Books have always been very good friends of mine but in an hour or so of working here at the desk I can have such great conversations on so many different things this comes from the people who visit the library. You know, it’s pretty quiet in here before we open the doors every day. On a recent afternoon I enjoyed chats about classic action movies, a great new mystery book with a suspect known for wearing a crooked hat, and a shared love for short stories. This is the kind of lively dialogue you just don’t get anywhere else.

On that afternoon I was speaking on the phone to a customer about the good old days of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  You know, when you search for films on the catalogue you can narrow it down by the name of the actor so it can be a treasure trove for the customer who is in the mood to take a walk down memory lane and watch movies from someone’s back catalogue. After he and I had placed holds on some of the classics, like Rocky and Die Hard (of course), we also moved ahead a decade or two and he decided he would dip a toe into the world of Iron Man. I gave him my wholehearted recommendation for these films although confessed that I found that Marvel films are like potato chips, once you watch one, you find yourself wanting to watch another…

I was also talking to a customer about a new mystery novel called The Man in the Crooked Hat because we were agreeing about how much escapist pleasure there is in reading murder mysteries. There are many new ones each week – how do you pick a good one? This particular title caught my eye because of the improbability of searching for a suspect wearing a crooked hat. Surely even the least bright of all criminals would know to remove his hat after he committed a murder and was spotted by a detective? Is he so attached to his chapeau that he can’t bear to part with it? This book has snappy dialogue, the main character is a former police officer turned private detective so the gritty details are spot on, and there are twists to the mystery that I just never see coming. And the man with the hat?  Well, he is simply terrifying to me and I’ve had to stop reading it in the dark which comes at 5:00 every day so it’s limiting my reading time to lunch hours in our comforting staff room. Will the man keep wearing his hat to the end of the book? I just don’t know but Harry Dolan is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

A discussion of a shared love of short stories began with talking about the movie You’ve Got Mail. This is one of the movies that I watch every year while I wrap presents and a library customer was agreeing that she felt it had a great holiday vibe and then we started talking about the book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, that Tom Hanks had recently written. It is getting a lot of attention right now but short story collections don’t get as much love as they should. They really are the unsung heroes of our shelves! You can pick up one of these gems and find yourself transported into another world in just minutes. Perfection – you have low commitment, low stress and so much opportunity for distraction. Try Alice Munro’s short stories or for additional CanCon I also recommend Alistair MacLeod’s wonderful writing. We have short stories in collections from different time periods, some which are organized by country, and can even provide you a 2017 story collection with a tale narrated by a talking lion in James McBride’s Five-Carat Soul.  You have got to get your hands on some of these.

So many conversations we have here at the library begin as one thing, like talking about the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’, and then turn into another, with two people sharing how much we both enjoy a the low commitment and high reward of a good short story.  The public library is vibrant and ever changing, like life, and that’s why I just love it.

-Penny M.

The Music Shop

For anyone who has a love of music, The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is a delightful read!! Set in 1988, the story is based in a vinyl record store owned by a music aficionado named Frank who has an uncanny ability to find the right piece of music for anyone who comes in need of musical solace or inspiration. Frank’s encyclopedic knowledge of music came at the knee of his unorthodox mother ‘Peg’ who taught him to heartfully and soulfully listen to music.

Frank’s store lacks the order of other record stores; boxes and cartons abound and it is only Frank that knows the order to the chaos. He would pair Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and the Beach Boys Pet Sounds together as he felt the  soul of the music was similar. For the reader who wants to enhance their appreciation of an eclectic range of music, Frank is a gift!

Frank is steadfast in his refusal to sell CD’s which is a testament to his love of the pure sound that can only be found on vinyl. In spite of the many obstacles that record companies put in his way, Frank remains adamant but soon discovers that bucking the music giants can and will backfire.

Frank and his motley crew of friends and fellow neighbourhood business owners have created a real sense of community in their run-down neighbourhood and in spite of many attempts to have them removed from the area, they support each other  and fend off interlopers.

Frank’s calm and carefree existence is shaken when a woman, Ilse Brauchmann, faints outside his store. This singular event turns Frank’s world upside down catapults him into an unending spiral of self-doubt and overwhelming agitation especially after the woman asks him to share his vast knowledge of music with her. And so begins a tumultuous journey of pain and healing for both Frank and Ilse as they both learn that they are more than their secrets. Unfortunately, neither is prepared for the complexity of the emotional journey on which they have embarked.

The writing is easy yet generous and you just can’t help but be drawn into the stories of these wonderful characters! A great read!!!

— Nancy C.


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.

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.

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.

Why I Love Short Books

When I was a kid, I yearned after long books. 500 pages was chump change. The longer the book, the better. There was a certain pride in picking the thickest, heaviest book from the school library bookshelves. I loved to pick the book that didn’t quite fit in my already overflowing backpack. There was nothing like having to walk home from school with a giant chapter book in my arms. I wanted everybody to know that I was a reader. The bigger the book, the smarter the kid. That’s what I used to think.

af907240-20a9-0132-7156-0add9426c766I’ve grown up (a little bit) since then, and I’ve come to realize that more pages does not equal more pleasure. Short narratives have something great to offer. My to-be-read pile is full of short novels and short stories. Those slender spines on the bookshelves have taken on a new appeal for me.

At first, I was drawn to the short books because they promised to be quick reads (and they fit nicely in my purse for on-the-go reading), but I soon realized that they have a merit of their own. Shorter novels tend to be tighter stories. Often there’s more dialogue and less exposition. More story-showing, and less story-telling. The sparse style of shorter books allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about theme and meaning within the story. Shorter novels have greater potential to engage the reader beyond the page.

What solidified my loyalty to short books was the last long book that I read. In the spring, I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Coming in at 771 pages and 32 hours on audiobook, it definitely classified as a “long book”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful book, but it was long. The story covers a lot of ground in the characters’ lives, but the ending dragged out a bit for me. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition in the final section of the book. I found myself wishing that the book was a hundred pages less and that Tartt would let her story stand on its own.

Although long books can have so much to offer and short books can be superciliously stylistic, I will always love the short book.

Here are some short books and books of short stories that you can borrow from the Waterloo Public Library:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (110 pages)

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (192 pages)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (180 pages)

All Saints by K.D. Miller (short stories)

Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl (short stories)

— Jenna H.


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.