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.

 

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

July 31st is Harry Potter’s birthday. It’s also J. K. Rowling’s birthday and I remember a time when being aware of that little nugget of information was a lesser-known treat shared among fans of the sensational new book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Now, 20 years later, it seems that the whole world is steeped in knowledge of the world of Harry Potter, his friends, their time at Hogwarts, and the genius of J. K. Rowling. Everyone is a fan of Harry Potter. According to Rowling’s British publisher there have been over 450 million Harry Potter books sold and when the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the deathly hallows, was published in 2007 there were 2.65 million copies sold in the first 24 hours.

It’s hard to think back to what life was like 20 years ago before the first Harry Potter book was published. We think that we remember what life was like back then but do we really? Jean Chretien was our soapstone sculpture-wielding Prime Minister, Bill Clinton was investigated and impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice and we were looking forward to the Nagano Winter Olympics. Does any of that sound familiar? What if you had a soundtrack of Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” from the Titanic? It was constantly on the radio, I think it was playing everywhere. If you are having a hard time thinking of how much life has changed in twenty years look at J. K. Rowling herself.

jkrowling

I remember exactly what it was like to read the first book in the series. I read it on the GO train as I went back and forth to work at my first job in a library in Toronto. In fact, I remember looking around at the people around me, who often dressed in conservative, dark suits and long coats, and felt like we looked as if we all might be heading off to Hogwarts.  Everything she wrote about Harry’s life seemed so real, maybe I was living it? And, I wasn’t the only adult traveling on the GO trains who read that first book or any that followed. It was not unusual to look up from the pages of one of those books and see someone else enjoying the same book. I loved the smiles that we shared as we looked over at other people who were wasting their time reading newspapers – newspapers! When they could have been getting to know Harry, Ron and Hermione? They were missing so much.

Remember how it took so long to wait for the next book to be published? I have often told my own kids that they have no idea of how lucky they are that the entire canon of Harry Potter’s life just existed on our shelves for them to read when they wanted. They didn’t have to wait like all of the ‘older’ people did. Well, the books weren’t just sitting there for them to read at first, I read the books aloud to them the first time and made some of the chapters a little less ‘scary’. I said that Harry and Voldemort were just fighting ‘a bit’ and I might have left out some of the more horrible moments entirely. I was never able to read the final moment in Dobby’s life at Shell Cottage without crying.  However, like so many people who come into WPL and talk about their love of Harry Potter we have endless happy memories that come from that wizarding world. We have inside jokes that come from the books, we have seen the movies together, we have celebrated Harry Potter birthday parties complete with wands, robes and chocolate frogs and made the pilgrimage to the theme park so that we could all have the fun of seeing the ‘wand choose the wizard’ and bring home a Pygmy Puff.

The Harry Potter books have never stopped being popular here at WPL. We often purchase new copies as the books keep wearing out from use! It’s rare that a week goes by without someone coming in to say that they just felt like a Harry Potter movie marathon. Whether it is the original seven books, the supporting material (we have such a great wizarding craft book, for example) or the films, every customer comes in with a conversation about how much the stories have meant to them. It always comes with an instant smile and a feeling of recognition, as if we are all part of the same little nation of people who share the same language and jokes. I remember an afternoon at the McCormick branch where an elegantly dressed woman came in and asked for the first book in the series and, as we walked back to the front desk, she confessed that she made a habit of re-reading the books every summer. Other customers have said that they read them for comfort when they have a cold, or have taken to reading the chapters about Harry’s Christmas holidays as a part of their family tradition each year. We have families who enjoy the audiobooks on long trips to the cottage or to visit grandparents in Nova Scotia every summer. The tale of a lonely boy who finds acceptance, friendship and love means something to so many people and, 20 years after the first book was published, it continues to be so important to all of us.

I’m not saying we should all go out and bake a chocolate cake as Hagrid did when he helped Harry to celebrate his birthday (oh, those horrid Dursleys had previously ignored the day or given him absurd things like a coat hanger as a gift) but it might be a good way to celebrate the boy who lived and the woman who gave us pages and pages of a world to escape to whenever we need it.

-Penny M.

A young Italian hero

“Life is change, constant change, and unless we are lucky enough to find comedy in it, change is nearly always a drama, if not a tragedy.  But after everything, and even when the skies turn scarlet and threatening, I still believe that if we are lucky enough to be alive, we must give thanks for the miracle of every moment of every day, no matter how flawed” spoken by Pino Lella in Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

Writing Beneath a Scarlet Sky literally saved the author’s life. In the preface, Mark Sullivan writes openly about a time in his life when he was so low he considered crashing his car. He decided instead to go to a dinner party, where he heard an old story about a young hero that completely changed his life.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is based on the true story of Pino Lella, who, at 17, wants nothing more than to meet a girl and fall in love. However, it is 1943 and not only is Nazi Germany in Milan where Pino lives, but the Allies start dropping bombs on the city every night.  I am a huge fan of WWII fiction but, until this book, I had never read anything from the Italian point of view. I feel Beneath a Scarlet Sky does a good job describing the struggles within Italy between the Nazis, Fascists, Partisans, and later, the Allies.

The reader will be drawn to Pino’s idealism and passion for his homeland and all those who are suffering. This young man clearly sees the cruelty and injustice around him and acts upon it, while many of the adults seem too full of hatred or too afraid.  Each task that Pino takes on is more dangerous than the last, and he witnesses and endures more heartbreak than anyone at any age should.  It is sad to wonder if he keeps going on because of the resiliency of his youth, or because he lived in a time when there was no other choice.

There was only one part of the book I found slow, but I think the detail was necessary to truly appreciate the peril that follows. Similar to Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See I found myself thinking about the characters and the story days after I finished reading it, giving thanks for the miracle of a young man named Pino Lella.

-Sandy W.

 

Our best Spring picks

Our Spring 2017 Featured Titles are here! These picks are some of the best and brightest of recent publications that we think you should know about.

The fiction selection highlights novels that dig deep into cultural history, untold family stories, wars (past and present), migration and self-discovery.  Like us, you may fall in love with a reluctant criminal named Samuel Hawley and his lovely daughter Loo.

The non-fiction line up is a gorgeous selection of must have titles for the curious reader: new recipes, an investigation into the complexity of  modern relationships and loneliness, immigration and assimilation, physics for the layperson, work and weekend culture, and the rags to riches story of Vij and his suitcases of spices.

Have you read some of these picks? Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

 

Come join the conversation

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

The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

Monday, May 8th 2017 – 7:00pm – Main Library Auditorium

The only thing Sripathi Rao has been proud of is his daughter, Maya, but he cut off ties with her when she married a fellow student at her American university. When Maya and her husband are killed in a car crash, Sripathi is left with his regrets and Maya’s seven-year-old daughter, Nandana.  It’s a second shot at a life that’s been disappointing so far, but to succeed he must become a better parent than he was to his own daughter, and support his young charge as she struggles to adjust to life in a small town in India.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Thursday, May 18th 2017 – 1:30pm – Main Library Boardroom

Travel to Kenya in the 1920s, where the beautiful young horse trainer, adventurer and aviator Beryl Markham tells the story of her life among the glamorous and decadent circle of British expats living in colonial East Africa – and the complicated love triangle she shared with the white hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya as a small child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised both by her father – a racehorse trainer – and the native Kipsigis tribe on her father’s land. Her unconventional upbringing transforms her into a daring young woman, with a love of all things wild, but everything she knows and trusts dissolves when her father’s farm goes bankrupt. Reeling from the scandal and heartbreak, Beryl is catapulted into a disastrous marriage at the age of 16. Finally she makes the courageous decision to break free, forging her own path as a horse trainer and shocking high society in the process. The British colony has never seen a woman as determined and fiery as Beryl. Before long, she catches the eye of the fascinating and bohemian Happy Valley set, including writer Karen Blixen and her lover Denys Finch Hatton, who will later be immortalized in Blixen’s memoir, Out of Africa. The three become embroiled in a complex triangle that changes the course of Beryl’s life, setting tragedy in motion while awakening her to her truest self and her fate: to fly.

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

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is the latest book by author Lisa See. It’s focus is on family, the mother-daughter bond and different cultures set within the tea industry.

The story focuses on the Akha, one of the fifty-five cultural minorities from deep in the heart of the tea growing region of China. Their reclusive, rural way of life are vividly described, as are their beliefs which combine a focus on nature, superstition and strict, and sometimes harsh, rules.

The book has two story lines with the main story focusing on Li-yan, a young woman who was raised within a small Akha village. When she becomes pregnant outside of marriage, a strict taboo in her culture, she makes the heartbreaking decision to keep her pregnancy a secret and give her baby girl up for adoption to give both a better life. Li-yan’s life is peppered with struggle and success as she makes her way from living with the Akha to having success in the lucrative tea business and living a much more modern life than she could have ever dreamed. While she is a flawed character, you see a strength in Li-yan and you quickly became invested into her struggle, joy, sorrow and determination.

downloadThe secondary story follows the life of Haley, the baby Li-yan had given up, who was adopted by a California couple as a baby. Via letters and emails from Haley and Constance, Haley’s adoptive mother, See addresses issues some Chinese adoptees and adoptive parents face, namely their struggle to be seen as a family unit despite their physical differences, rude comments made by strangers etc. I liked that See focused on these issues and I found the discussion between Chinese adoptive kids quite interesting and eye-opening as they talk about their conflicting feelings about being given up for adoption — going from unwanted to highly treasured.

This is a well-written, absorbing read that is rich in culture but the true focus, the life of one woman’s strength, desire for redemption and determination to find her daughter, is what made this book for me. See illustrates the undeniable bond between mothers and daughters, both birth and adoptive, and would make an excellent book club pick.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is available at WPL as a book, audiobook on CD, eAudiobook and eBook.

I’d recommend it for readers who enjoyed Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s The Secret Daughter.

— Laurie P.

Fun, Foodie Mysteries

Mystery novels. Are you a fan of them? I am, to a point.  This is not my #1 favourite genre but there definitely are some mystery series that I absolutely love.  The series which I do read faithfully are by British authors and the tone is generally between a cozy mystery and a thriller.

A colleague of mine who loved gory police procedurals used to comment on the fact that both she and I read mysteries but mine were the ones with the “bloodless” murders.  And really, that’s true. I have no interest in reading a book that will give me nightmares and I’m definitely more about the solving of the crime(s) through deduction rather than guns ablazing and shootouts in the menacing back alleys of big cities.

Sometimes though I need a change from the small village, multiple murder novels from the UK and switch to something lighthearted. These two American authors fit the bill.

Diane Mott Davidson was probably one of the earlier foodie mystery writers, starting her Goldy Schulz mystery series over 25 years ago with Catering to Nobody.  Goldy is a single mother who is trying to raise her son while make a living in Colorado as a caterer. In the course of building her client list and catering at various locations, public and private, evil doings start to occur and Goldy can’t help but become involved. Catering to Nobody was nominated for an Agatha Award for in the “Best First Novel” category but was beaten out by Katherine Hall Page for The Body in the Belfry.  All of Davidson’s novels include recipes of dishes mentioned in the story and in fact, in 2015, Davidson released a combination cookbook-memoir titled Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook : cooking, writing, family, life.

The other is G.A. McKevett.  McKevett (a pseudonym for Sonja Massie) is the author of 50 books which include the 22 (so far!) which feature ex-cop turned private detective Savannah Reid. The titles always make me smile (“Fat Free and Fatal”, “Corpse Suzette”, “Cooked Goose” … you get the idea) and so do the stories themselves. A transplanted Georgia peach and lover of fine dining and Southern homestyle delights, Savannah sets up the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency and soon is trying to clean up the streets of LA…or at least, her area of Southern California.

In a side note about culinary mysteries, back in the 90s British culinary writer, Janet Laurence, wrote a mystery series featuring (surprise, surprise) a culinary writer named Darina Lisle. They were light reads but the sleuthing was well thought out. If you can get your hands on them, they’re worth a read.

Enjoy this recipe from Diane Mott Davidson’s “Catering to Nobody”, a favourite with my family. And if you’re looking for a light mystery, give these authors a try.

— Sandi H.

Dungeon Bars (a.k.a. Oatmeal Raisin Bars)

1 c. unsalted butter, softened

½ c brown sugar

½ c white sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

1 c. all-purpose flour

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

1 c. oatmeal

1 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream butter and sugars.  Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add in flour, salt and soda. Stir in oats and raisins.

Spread mixture in a lightly greased 9 x 13” pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into bars.

Not New, But New to Me

We all love a shiny, new book, but sometimes a slightly scuffed cover, sitting on a book cart, returned to the library and awaiting reshelving, catches our eye.  These books can be gems, too, even if they no longer have the privilege of being displayed front and centre on the new book shelves.

The word “ingredients” jumped out at me since I am a keen amateur chef and am always on the lookout for a new (or new to me) foodie read.  I soon had “The School of Essential Ingredients” by Erica Bauermeister tucked away in my book bag.

In Bauermeister’s novel, Lillian, a restaurant owner and self-taught chef, had learned at an early age that the only way to reach her distant Mother was through food.

Lillian’s Father had walked out when she was a toddler, and her Mother found solace in books, escaping into the chapters of favourite novels any second she had. Lillian was lost and alone when her Mother disappeared behind the covers of her cherished tomes.

By the age of 8, she had taken over the cooking completely in their household of two and, with the help of friends’ sympathetic mothers, had developed decent skills. Realizing how people react to spices, to textures, to smells, she hatched her great plan.

“I’m going to cook her out.” Lillian proclaimed, determined that her food would entice her Mother to step out from behind her books and back into her daughter’s life.

Many years later, with a successful restaurant bearing her name, Lillian decided to start a small cooking school to share not only the art behind her tantalizing dishes, but to also show how food, and recipes shared, can transform friendships and even, in some cases, lives.

I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 8 students who meet each month at Lillian’s restaurant. We get to peek into their lives; their loves, their joys and their sorrows too. It was interesting to see how their lives intertwine and change through a chance meeting over the common interest of learning to cook.

And as for the descriptions of the food and its preparation, they made my mouth water and my fingers itch to get cooking, too.

To learn more about Erica Bauermeister and to check out her favourite recipes, visit her website.

— Sandi H.

Extra note: I recently read the sequel to “The School of Essential Ingredients” which is called “The Lost Art of Mixing” and, while it ties up some of the relationship loose ends from the first book, I felt it lacked a bit of the charm of “The School”. Was it worth reading? Yes, but only if you really enjoyed the first and wondered about the future of the characters.

As usual, I am happy to share a recipe along with my review. I’ve selected a recipe that is suitable for all levels of cooks. The recipe is easy, looks wonderful for presentation and is moist and flavourful each and every time.

FN_Ina Garten Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken.tifLemon Roast Chicken

1 onion, sliced thickly
Carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices lengthwise
1 – 5 to 6 lb. roasting chicken, fresh or thawed
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved or quartered (depending on size of chicken)
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425F.

Put onions and carrots in roasting pan.

Rinse chicken inside and out. Pat dry with paper towel.  Set chicken on top of vegetables.

Liberally salt and pepper inside the cavity, then stuff with the thyme, lemon and garlic.  Tie legs together with kitchen string and tuck wings up under the body.  Brush outside of chicken with melted butter; salt and pepper.

Roast for 90 minutes or until juices run clear when you pierce the flesh between leg and thigh.

Serve hot with roasted carrots and onion, and mashed potatoes.