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.

 

Creative Nonfiction is a term that often gets thrown around in literary discussions, but do any of us really know what it means? I sure didn’t. I often described it as nonfiction that was…creative, or if I was feeling really clever, as nonfiction that was experimental. Needless to say, those definitions would not satisfy any vocab teacher.

Luckily, the internet had the definition I was looking for. On the website for a literary journal called Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind describes creative nonfiction like this:

The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

As I learned more about creative nonfiction, I realized how great this genre is. It’s the perfect bridge for dedicated readers of fiction who find nonfiction boring. I’ve met lots of people who want to expand their reading habits, but find it difficult to slough through some of the heavier (both literally and figuratively) nonfiction titles. If you’re looking to venture to the nonfiction side of the library this summer, then some of the creative nonfiction listed below might be for you.

Whether you’re a lover of nonfiction, or someone who just wants to dip their toe in, I hope this list can serve as an introduction to a genre that has a lot to offer. Happy reading!

Five Creative Nonfiction Books that You Should Check Out at WPL:

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

“David Sedaris tells all in a book that is, literally, a lifetime in the making. For forty years, David Sedaris has kept a diary in which he records everything that captures his attention-overheard comments, salacious gossip, soap opera plot twists, secrets confided by total strangers. These observations are the source code for his finest work, and through them he has honed his cunning, surprising sentences. Now, Sedaris shares his private writings with the world.”

Hannus by Rachel Lebowitz

“Hannus is a creative biography of Ida Hannus, a Finnish-Canadian suffragist and socialist living in Vancouver and in the BC Finnish commune Sointula through the turn of the century to the Cold War. Approached from different angles, employing a collage of techniques, Hannus is a constantly shifting – and consistently engaging – narrative that raises questions about the reliability of history and biography.”

Getting out of town by book and bike by Kent Thompson

“Getting Out of Town by Book and Bike is a collection of popular essays which take an often comic look at how reading and bicycling both transport people to places unknown. Thompson introduces the reader to travel writing by the nineteenth-century bicycle adventurer Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg and Canadian rock star Neil Peart, explains why he visits small-town libraries in search of copies of Anna Karenina, and ponders the social significance of the Tim Hortons coffee shops which dot the Canadian landscape. Writing in the spirit of James E. Starrs’ The Literary Cyclist, Thompson also contemplates the role of the bicycle in works by writers from George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells to Elizabeth Bishop and Ernest Buckler. On the whole, it’s an offbeat and entertaining book of curiosity. George Elliott Clarke calls this book “a cool meditation on the Zen of cycling, a zesty memoir about growing up in the rural Maritimes, and an ‘off-duty’ scholar’s energetic studies of a host of writers.”

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

“This book has two extended excerpts from her never-before-seen notebooks–writings that offer an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of a legendary writer. Joan Didion has always kept notebooks: of overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, drafts of essays and articles–and here is one such draft that traces a road trip she took with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in June 1970, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. She interviews prominent local figures, describes motels, diners, a deserted reptile farm, a visit with Walker Percy, a ladies’ brunch at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention. She writes about the stifling heat, the almost viscous pace of life, the sulfurous light, and the preoccupation with race, class, and heritage she finds in the small towns they pass through. And from a different notebook: the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. Though Didion never wrote the piece, watching the trial and being in San Francisco triggered thoughts about the city, its social hierarchy, the Hearsts, and her own upbringing in Sacramento. Here, too, is the beginning of her thinking about the West, its landscape, the western women who were heroic for her, and her own lineage, all of which would appear later in her acclaimed 2003 book, Where I Was From.”

Small Beneath the Sky: A Prairie Memoir by Lorna Crozier

“A volume of poignant recollections by one of Canada’s most celebrated poets, Small Beneath the Sky is a tender, unsparing portrait of a family and a place. Lorna Crozier vividly depicts her hometown of Swift Current, with its one main street, two high schools, and three beer parlors–where her father spent most of his evenings. She writes unflinchingly about the grief and shame caused by poverty and alcoholism. At the heart of the book is Crozier’s fierce love for her mother, Peggy. The narratives of daily life–sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking–are interspersed with prose poems. Lorna Crozier approaches the past with a tactile sense of discovery, tracing her beginnings with a poet’s precision and an open heart.”

-Jenna H.

*All book synopses were taken from the Encore catalogue.

Revisiting a classic

Sometimes you want a new (or newish) book. And sometimes you want an old classic.

I’m doing the classic thing. I recently checked out Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind for a re-read. I expect I’ll be hanging out with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler et al for a good chunk of the summer as it’s 1037 pages long. Maybe I’ll have to skip a few of those pesky household chores…

I am so caught up in this magnificent piece of historical writing. The book, as most people know, is set in the American South just before the Civil War. It’s kind of bittersweet, maybe sad, to see Scarlett O’Hara’s comfortable, gracious world and know that it is about to disappear forever (though since the whole system was predicated on slavery you can hardly regret its disappearance).

Then comes the war (1861-65) and all its horrors and uncertainties. When it is over, the people of the South struggle to pick up the pieces of their life again. And through it all, our heroine schemes and manipulates time and time again to get what she wants. (But maybe the scheming and manipulation are really not so bad. Since Scarlett lived in a time and place where women had very little power, I’m not sure I blame her for using what means she could to exert some control over her life.)

So yes, GWTW is a wonderful story. It is also a first-rate piece of writing and has a large cast of well-drawn characters. It’s no wonder the book was a sensation when it was published in 1936 and is still widely read today, a classic in other words.

–Penny D.

Your summer reading list

My birthday comes at the best time of the year – the end of May when the rosewood tree in my backyard is in perfect bloom and the big books of summer are hitting the shelves.

Even though I work in the library there is nothing I like to own more than my books. I have a tiny library in my house with shelves double-stacked with books I’ve read and more books that I’ve yet to get to. I’ll get to them and as I walk past my shelves – at home and at work – I touch the spines of the ones I’ve loved and say hello to the others I can’t wait to read. 

So what am I excited about? I want to share with you my birthday book haul which has turned out to be the perfect list for summer and are all available at WPL.

Chemistry by Weike Wang – This is the book I grabbed first and devoured. It’s a tiny book, not- even 200 pages and it’s a perfect balance of happy and sad. The main character is at a crossroads, she doesn’t want to finish her PhD despite the possibility of losing her parents if she doesn’t and she isn’t as ready for marriage as her overly perfect fiance. This book could read as a quirky description of a young woman finding herself but it’s so much more. The story gets deeper and deeper as you read it, and it’s smart and very funny. It’s realistic and easy to carry around.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy – I have loved Maile (pronounced Miley) every since I read her Apothecary Trilogy years ago – a series about fantastic children with magical powers during the cold-war, written for middle grade readers. She writes amazing short stories and her newest novel is supposedly being hailed the book of the summer. It is about a family holiday gone terribly wrong, a thriller so smart that despite the title, I’ve heard you will definitely need to become alarmed. I can’t wait to read it!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – I’m reading this one now and it’s wonderful! I still give Towles first novel, “Rules for Civility” out at the library whenever someone asks me for the best thing to read. It will  forever grace my top ten reading list. This newest novel is the story of a man in the 1920s who is exiled from all of Russia except one grand hotel where he must live out his life, and he is only in his thirties when it begins. It is a story of friendships and the daily surprises that we tend to take for granted. My favourite description so far is of how he loves and notices the change of seasons without ever stepping outside:  “..the temperature had climbed four and a half degrees which culminates in hints of mint in cucumber soups, lavender blouses at elevator doors and midday deliveries of tiger lilies two feet tall.”

 Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan – A new author for me and I’ll admit I don’t know much about this book except that it is about sisters, one who is a nun, secrets and love. The cover is gorgeous and when I devour it, Sullivan has two other novels that are also supposedly just as wonderful.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron – This book is perhaps the most intriguing of them all. After her runaway success, “The Bear”, Canada’s Cameron has written has written a novel that shares the points of view of two protagonists – a modern day archaeologist and the last ever neanderthal, a teenage girl. If that’s not enough to get you reading along with me, I don’t know what else I have to do! 

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha – There are two of these gems and I have now been given both from my nine year old son. We love to cuddle together and read the tidbits of goodness this book has to offer. How great is the feeling of discovering there is one Smartie left in the box after all, or how perfect is it to go to bed with clean sheets. Like the Gentleman in Moscow, who doesn’t need to sit and appreciate the little and best things in our days?  My other son gave me a mug that says “Reading is Sexy” and I don’t doubt this for a moment.

Enjoy!

–Sarah C.

 

Drop in for a book chat

Please join us for a book club conversation at any of our meetings. No need to sign up – you can just drop in!

How to Bake Pi : An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng

Monday, June 12 – 7:00pm – Main Library Auditorium

What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi , math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen: we learn, for example, how the bechemel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number 5, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard.

Combined with her infectious enthusiasm for cooking and a true zest for life, Cheng’s perspective on math becomes this singular book: a funny, lively, and clear journey through a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before. How to Bake Pi offers a whole new way to think about a field all of us think we know; it will both dazzle the constant reader of popular mathematics and amuse and enlighten even the most hardened math-phobe. So, what is math? Let’s look for the answer in the kitchen.

Punishment by Linden MacIntyre

Thursday, June 15 – 1:30pm – Main Library Auditorium

In Punishment , his first novel since completing his Long Stretch trilogy, Scotiabank Giller-winner Linden MacIntyre brings us a powerful exploration of justice and vengeance, and the peril that ensues when passion replaces reason, in a small town shaken by a tragic death. Forced to retire early from his job as a corrections officer in Kingston Penitentiary, Tony Breau has limped back to the village where he grew up to lick his wounds, only to find that Dwayne Strickland, a young con he’d had dealings with in prison is back there too-and once again in trouble. Strickland has just been arrested following the suspicious death of a teenage girl, the granddaughter of Caddy Stewart, Tony’s first love. Tony is soon caught in a fierce emotional struggle between the outcast Strickland and the still alluring Caddy. And then another figure from Tony’s past, the forceful Neil Archie MacDonald-just retired in murky circumstances from the Boston police force-stokes the community’s anger and suspicion and an irresistible demand for punishment. As Tony struggles to resist the vortex of vigilante action, Punishment builds into a total page-turner that blindsides you with twists and betrayals.

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