Powerful Women. Powerful Books.

I wish that my reading goal for 2018 had been to read books about outstanding women because I would have fulfilled it several times over.  I know, it’s like I’m retconning my reading list goals but I read some really fantastic memoirs last year from authors like Elizabeth Hay and Terese Marie Mailhot. B.C. writer Lindsay Wong gave us the terrifically-named memoir The Woo-Woo : how I survived ice hockey, drug raids, demons and my crazy Chinese family while Michelle Obama beat U.S. publishing records this year with her warm autobiography Becoming.

Being welcomed into the lives of these outstanding women felt like a break from the everyday grind. It seemed like they were becoming new friends with each page I finished whether they were telling stories of caring for parents, children or relaying their own coming-of-age journey.  There was something to be learned from every one of these books and I think it’s possible that I might return to them again in the future, something that I love to do with books that become such good companions.

At first glance you might not consider the women in my non-fiction favourites of 2018 to be among your first choice for a companion as they include characters who use deception and, when the situation required, incredible violence to succeed.  But when I looked back at the list of novels that I adored this year I found that I had read quite a few featuring women who used their strength, determination, and wit to make their way in difficult situations – these really are perfect choices for a new friend even if they come in book form.

heresyHistorical fiction often focuses on women who need to be rescued and so many contemporary novels have a tendency to make women into victims or heroic figures – women who can ‘do it all’ and wear a snappy business suit at the same time.  The author of Heresy, Melissa Lenhardt, recently pointed out that it is no longer enough for novels to portray women as superheroes. They must also be permitted to demonstrate their need for revenge, greed, and bloodlust – just as male characters have been doing for decades.

I thought her latest novel, Heresy, about a group of female outlaws living in the American West in the 1870s seemed to spring to life the minute I began reading it.  I could almost hear the piano soundtrack while I read the first pages.  This was one of those rare books that had a story that wins me over even though I didn’t really like the concept.  She tells the story of a group of women from multiple perspectives, different time periods, and even includes a transcript of a podcast from a 2018 but this didn’t spoil the thrill of learning about the lives of Hattie La Cour and Margaret “Garet” Parker.  I loved these two women and their loyalty to each other as soon as I met them.

Hattie and Garet are the driving force behind the Parker Gang who begin robbing banks and stagecoaches after their ranch is stolen from them by their dishonest neighbour (who also tries to force Garet to marry him).  The story of either of these women would be enough to fill any epic Western but combine their crime spree with shootouts, a few bar fights, the possibility of being caught by Pinkerton detectives (one eventually joins their gang) and this is a book that would satisfy any reader.  It certainly prevented me from getting any meaningful work done while I had the book at home.  I haven’t stopped talking about it or thinking about the way that these women controlled their destiny at a time when this was not an easy choice.

a1-tqf9zzvlIn The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco the main character, Almas Rosales, is another kind of outlaw and, coincidentally, also a Pinkerton detective.  Or, was she a Pinkerton detective?  I don’t want to spoil things by revealing too much about the role Alma is meant to play in this novel but at one point it is suggested that she has been discharged from the agency for ‘bad behaviour’.  This poor behaviour serves her well because in the world of 1880s opium smuggling the skills needed to succeed include being able to use weapons, fight in dingy warehouses, wear any number of disguises and out-think criminals.

Alma Rosales is one of the most compelling characters that I have read in years and, although this novel is written as an adventure with high stakes, it was also absolutely fascinating to learn about the Washington port town.  I cheered for Alma in every gunfight, during every horrifying walk down a dark alley, and each time she made the decision to scrap with a despicable thug.  She is trying to solve a mystery– to discover the leak in the opium smuggling ring – but is also slowly being caught up in a romance with the powerful woman who heads the local operation and cleverly use this attraction to her advantage.  Alma’s choices make this a thrilling story that is worthy of a stay-up-until midnight read.  You will not regret it.

I read some other fabulous books featuring first-rate female characters this year including Madeline Miller’s Circe (you can read my review) and the amazing YA sensation by Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone.  Sarah Bird chose the first woman to serve with the Buffalo Soldiers as the main character in her novel Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen and Imogen Hermes The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was a voyage into 1870s London through the eyes of a beautiful courtesan named Angelica Neal.  She wasn’t the only person in that novel to think that creature would make her fortune but the story will capture your heart – I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

Looking ahead to the rest of this reading year I think I will continue on this streak of enjoying books featuring female characters in all their complexities – not just being rescued or becoming victims of crime.  I’ve just placed a hold on a debut novel by Lauren Wilkinson called American Spy.  It’s the story of an FBI operative who had been caught in the dull bureaucracy of 1987 until she is chosen to be part of a CIA covert operation.  The summary of this novel is fascinating but my favourite line was about how she and her sister dreamed of being secret agents when they grew up – that sounds like my kind of book.  I can’t wait to read about more mayhem, deceit, and a few fights in dingy warehouses, with women making the choices about who will be throwing the punches.  2019 is going to be an exciting year.

— Penny M.

Happy 30th Die Hard

It’s so hard to believe that Die Hard is 30 years old this year. Bruce Willis has been saving his estranged wife and her coworkers from Hans Gruber and his ruthless henchmen for decades now and it’s still one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time. It was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1998, the ones you would expect, like Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects, but that doesn’t take into consideration that the writing was top-notch and Bruce Willis takes you on an emotional journey unlike any other in that genre. All two hours and twelve minutes of that film are filled with action and set the standard for movies in that genre that come to follow.

When the movie first came out I saw it with high school friends and we joined the rest of the audience in cheering each time John McClane made it through another terrifying moment against the despicable criminals – they were so calculated in their lawbreaking. As time has passed and I’ve seen the movie again and again (and with the help of my two daughters’ critical eyes) I can see that they carefully set everything up to make the whole film an endless barrage of moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. McClane removes his shirt (and shoes and socks, after his seatmate in the airplane suggests that it will help him to relax after his stressful airplane flight) to clean up after his flight to see his wife Holly and without this ‘armour’ he is even more vulnerable when the first shots are heard. The very fact that he has flown to Los Angeles from New York to try and mend some of the damage in their marriage makes the audience care for him even more. And when he just doesn’t stop, despite grueling injuries and the terrifying thought that his wife could be in danger, well, we are there with him every step of the way. We are watching through our fingers as he continues to battle, despite everything horrible that comes his way, we are on McClane’s side until the last bullet and flash of a bomb.

Of course, throughout all of those horrible moments comes what Bruce Willis was known for at the time, his perfect comic delivery. He made “Die Hard” while he was filming the TV show “Moonlighting” and the dialogue seems as if it were written specifically for him, even though in the years since the film was released we have learned that he wasn’t the first actor they considered for this role. I’ve read that Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone were possible leads. Even Frank Sinatra was considered. I can’t imagine anyone else saying some of the things McClane said as he crawled through those air ducts or as he wrapped his battered feet on the floor of the barren office tower.

Some of those things are filled with language that isn’t appropriate for this post but he was under such strain at the time so we need to forgive him. When he called for help from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, they didn’t believe him and told him that the phone line was for emergency calls only. Just imagine… that 911 operator had it coming to her when he said he wasn’t calling to order a pizza (or something very like that, I’m leaving out a few words). Each time it seemed like things were going his way the cup is dashed from his lips. It’s maddening and exciting at the same time and so, so watchable.

Attention must also be paid to the dialogue that they wrote for McClane’s worthy adversary, Hans Gruber, because he was equally enjoyable to watch. Alan Rickman was so incredible in this part that you feel as if the writers were giving one snappy line to McClane and then one to Gruber like they were shelling out for Hallowe’en. His character is never at a loss, always a step ahead, and terrifying. When he and McClane cross paths he is able to quickly switch to an American accent and convince McClane that he is a victim – as if he were one of his own hostages! I almost always feel like shouting at the screen when this happens. He is ruthless, cool under the extreme pressure of their heist and is oh, so clever. When he is trying to convince Mr. Takagi to give him the code he says “I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.” in a voice that makes you believe that perhaps he might be willing to talk but he also might be willing to kill at any moment. It’s eerie.

The impact of McClane and Gruber’s fight to the finish might not have resulted in multiple Oscars but it does cause people to discuss whether or not this film should be considered a “Christmas Movie” every few years. I am firmly on the side of watching it during the holiday season – McClane is going home for the holidays, Holly and her co-workers are taken hostage during their Christmas party and the soundtrack includes classics like “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it snow” and Run-D.M.C.‘s “Christmas in Hollis”. It’s an absolutely fun watch and it has a happy ending – that all says Christmas movie to me. The movie has been listed in many ‘Best Of’ lists, it spawned a franchise for Bruce Willis, and his sweaty undershirt and police badge are now in the Smithsonian. (see image below)

If you search the Internet you will find t-shirts, Christmas sweaters and gifts with all of the best Die Hard quotes printed in various fonts. You can purchase a box set of the DVDs in a Nakatomi Plaza-shaped commemorative box (I’ve seriously considered it) and we recently added a graphic novel to the collection called A Million Ways to Die Hard by a group of authors and illustrators who have worked for Marvel and D.C. You can read it and find out what these artists imagine McClane’s life is like now that he is in retirement, or could have been like if he wasn’t dragged back into the world of policing to face a psychotic serial killer.

Die Hard and John McClane will be with us for years to come and I am thrilled. This movie goes out regularly throughout the year at all library locations and every holiday season we have requests for it to go home with someone for a special festive viewing. I know that I’m looking forward to watching it again, probably not exactly for the 30th time but I’ll take a minute to contemplate how much I’ve enjoyed it through the years and perhaps I’ll walk barefoot on the carpet for a while, just making fists with my toes, like someone I know.

— Penny M.

GettyImages-74935248

Books About Snow

I feel like most children’s books about snow owe a debt of gratitude to Peter and his walk through the fresh snow in a bright red snowsuit. In The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats created a simple but beautiful story of a little boy experiencing the joys of winter as he looks back at his footprints, makes a snow angel, tries to keep a snowball and crunches through the city while the snowflakes fall around him. Although it was written in the early 1960s the images come back to me each time I crack open a new book that celebrates this wonderful time of year.

Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek are teaming up again to observe the change in the season with their new book Winter is Here. The language is perfect for a read aloud and the images invite you to come back and read it more than once. I was especially fond of the pages where they show that winter can appear to be two different things – grey in the morning and then blue in the night – by using the same landscape at different times of day (with a lovely little bunny tucked into the corner). They also provide a visual example of a child experiencing the slowly colder temperatures adding more snow and layers of clothing while he plays. On the next pages they share examples of how the warmer weather will arrive as the snow melts away and the first shoots of spring arrive. It’s a book that will become a favourite in any household and seeing the animals and children enjoy the season makes it almost impossible to want to stay indoors.

The animals on the cover of Daniel Salmieri’s book about the coldest season are quite different from the ones in Henkes and Dronzek’s series. In Bear and Wolf we are a part of the story of how wild animals experience different elements of the weather – from the smell of the wet bark on the trees and the small sounds that the snowflakes make on their fur. Although Bear and Wolf are wild animals who are hibernating and following the scent of caribou, it’s still possible to get a sense of their friendship in this picture book about winter. The author-illustrator has created images that almost feel like they could have been lifted from a Wes Anderson film because you feel so much emotion as you turn each page. On one both animals have their faces turned upwards as they notice a beautiful white owl and then on the next page they are tiny spots in a great white clearing, surrounded by trees that are entirely bare of leaves. It’s a chance to be a part of a trip through the forest with two animals who enjoy the season so much and become friends while they explore.

And, it’s very important to read that animals aren’t the only creatures who enjoy snow. Teagan White has illustrated an absolutely perfect book written by Kerri Kokias and it is called Snow Sisters! with two girls enjoying a cold day in exactly the way they choose. They approach the first flakes of snow in very different fashions and it’s a pleasure to read. One sister is so excited to wake up to see the snow from their bedroom window that she steps outside in her nightgown and socks while the second sister looks out at the snowy landscape with a touch of trepidation. The first sister bundles herself up to go out and play while the other stays indoors with cocoa, books and a blanket. While she moves on to making cookies, her stuffed bunny watches the cold-loving sister throw snowballs in the company of a brown squirrel with a very bushy tail. As the day progresses their places swap and they wave at each other when the first sister comes inside to enjoy a cozy house and the second heads outside for some fun in the snow. This marvelous book ends with the two girls snuggled up together inside in a blanket fort making paper snowflakes – the perfect way to celebrate the end of a snowy day. It’s a book that celebrates all of the different ways you can enjoy a winter day and is sure to encourage indoor and outdoor activities with the merry illustrations and encouraging text.

Great picture books are so much more than just the illustrations married with text. A book like Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day has had decades of staying power just as many books from this year’s selection will in the years to come. I love seeing the way that the blustery winds and frosty temperatures have inspired these artists to share their own version of winter with us – perhaps you will enjoy them in your own cozy blanket fort someday soon.

— Penny M.

Ho-Ho-Holiday Magazines Are Here

There used to be a TV commercial featuring a mother celebrating the back-to-school season with the Andy Williams classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in the background and that really bugged me. I understood why that mother felt so pleased about the return of her quiet time but I felt that advertising choice was a poor one. I prefer the regular routine of things – it’s comforting when things are in their correct place.

Holiday music should play in December (although Christmas CDs go out on the shelves a little earlier here at WPL so that customers can enjoy them) and should never be played in September to commemorate the sale of notebooks and pens. The malls and grocery stores stock up on gifts and wrapping paper and then, just as the holiday season starts to hit full steam, our collection of new Christmas magazines hit the shelves and this is beyond thrilling for me.

It’s the sheer diversity of the collection that makes me happy. We have baking magazines, ways to make your holiday more splendid with a crochet needle (also several magazines featuring knitting), we can encourage you to make something out of beads or you can just relax and look at Victorian homes decorated for the holidays. It’s all so beautiful and festive and each year I believe that I might actually do some of the things that the magazine editors suggest I do.

We keep a collection of these magazines in the library throughout the year so that customers can be inspired at any time but we purchase new ones every November so that customers can stay current on the trends in the holiday world – it’s exciting to see the latest news in cooking and gifting. I love it! It’s also handy to have these magazines available throughout the year as crafters certainly need a head start (especially on those beaded ornaments, oh my goodness, where does the patience come from?) if they are going to get things done on time and, if you plan to send anything by mail, then you need to add even more time to your planning.

Many magazine publishers like Canadian Living create special issues for the season so you can also have a look at the magazines on our regular shelves for inspiration as well. Don’t miss Martha Stewart living, Good Housekeeping or Marie Claire idées for show-stopping creativity (both Martha Stewart living and Good housekeeping are available through WPL’s RBdigital subscription too). You can start on your holiday baking, crafting and decorating from the comfort of your home using your device and your WPL card.

One customer favourite is from celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée and the December 2018 issue features everything from deserts that are easy to take along if you have to travel over the holidays, to gift ideas for someone who enjoys food and cooking, and suggestions for ways to relax by embracing ‘imperfection’ in your holiday meal. The sweetest part of this issue is the article that features his daughter, Clémence, making her first holiday meal for the family. Her article is filled with bright young touches (and her Montreal apartment is a treat to see) and the recipes that she includes are a nice mix of old and new. Absolutely everything in this magazine looks delicious in each issue but the holiday mood and nostalgia from this article added to the appeal. I’ll be trying Clémence’s holiday dumplings (because they look delicious and fairly easy to make) and I probably won’t wait until the festive season begins to get started on those.

Come on into the library and peruse this glamorous selection of Christmas-themed magazines (we also have books and an endless supply of movies and CDs you can enjoy) and you too can believe that you might possibly try a recipe or craft that these clever editors suggest. Relish in some holiday fun through these glossy pages – consider it a gift that you give to yourself.

— Penny M.

The Library Book

Susan Orleans The Library Book is not always an easy read. The chapters where she details the 1986 Los Angeles Central Public Library fire feel so real you almost have to take a break from reading them for an hour or two. When she shares the experiences of the library staff who worked there at that time of the fire and tells of how they experienced something very like PTSD from seeing their workplace burn, it seems as if you were right there with them while they stand on the street and watch it happen.

gettyimages-50689565One of my favourite moments in The Library Book is when she interviews a senior librarian (he started working there in 1979 and still works there today), Glen Creason, about the moment when the books are finally delivered back into the building after the rebuilding and he says “when the library reopened, we were so happy to see our books again!” It seems like those books are his coworkers as much as the people he walks in with every morning or eats lunch beside in the gorgeous gardens surrounding the library. It took over seven years for their library to be refurbished and more than 400,000 books were destroyed and 700,000 were damaged. The cost of the fire was astronomical but, to the people who worked there, Orleans found that the emotional cost stays with them. Many can walk through the stacks and point to books that ‘survived’ the fire.

Everything I had read about this book told me that it was exactly the kind of book I would love – part love letter to libraries (I also love libraries), part mystery, a whole lot of history and a little bit of a personal story of the author – but it was also about a library fire so I was hesitant about reading it. A library fire? Maybe I would have to skip this one. It seemed a little too close to home for me. I took one look at the stunning cover that author Susan Orlean helped to design (the publishers did not choose to include a dust jacket) with a bright red background, beautiful gold lettering and a single flame in the centre with a terrific design on the spine and wonderful end papers. This is a woman who knows her books, I was thinking as I first picked up my hold on the book, so I bravely jumped in.

I was rewarded for my courage. In researching the terrifying fire the author weaves a powerful story of how the community worked together to rebuild their library and she tries to unravel what really happened. Each chapter begins with three or four citations for books that relate to the topic she is going to cover in that chapter and then she dives right in. Some of those chapters were so fascinating I feel like I couldn’t tease out a single fact to quote here because everything was worth remembering or mentioning. I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I began reading it. The research that she must have done into individual things like fire suppression, the psychology of arsonists or the investigation into the fire was extensive which isn’t surprising from a staff writer at The New Yorker. I’d say that I’d love to meet her but I don’t want her to waste her time talking to me – she should be busy researching and writing.

Some chapters are dedicated to the history of the Los Angeles Public Library system but others are about libraries and the world of librarianship. Susan Orlean wanted to write this book because she was thinking about her own relationship with libraries and how her mother let her roam about their local library when she was young. She tells the story that her mother would take her there weekly and then let her travel to the library alone when she was old enough. She felt that her library visits were “dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived because in the library I could have anything I wanted.” This author is a superfan of the library and she interviews many others who are equally passionate throughout her book. She spends time with members of the library’s staff – sometimes an entire day – and I can’t say that those were my favourite chapters because I thought the whole book was an absolute delight, but when she joins the reference staff for a morning and writes about the variety of questions they receive I did feel a shiver of familiarity. I was actually laughing on the couch as I read about the call from a person who was writing a script (the book is set in Los Angeles) and called in to ask how someone would say “the necktie is in the bathtub” in Swedish. I’ve never had exactly the same question during any of my shifts on the desk but I have experienced something very similar. This is part of what makes library work so much fun – the endless variety.

Variety is the right word to describe the history of that particular library in downtown Los Angeles. I was astonished to read about the incredible people who were hired to be the chief librarians of the Los Angeles Public Library from 1873 on. I mean, Lin-Manuel Miranda could find enough in here to create his next musical, it’s really that much fun. One of the chief librarians, a man named Charles Fletcher Lummis, hired a blacksmith to create a branding iron so that he could mark books that he thought were inappropriate because they included content that featured ‘pseudoscience’. Imagine how that would go over in 2018 and the world of social media. It’s worth reading this book just to learn more about Charles Fletcher Lummis but he isn’t the only fascinating character in the library’s history. There was also a period in their history known as ‘The Great Library War’ when their board of directors decided to fire a beloved, qualified librarian – Mary Jones – in favour of a male candidate saying that she didn’t need the job because she wasn’t required to support a family. Can you believe it? The debate became quite heated and there were protests by library patrons as well as staff with support from Susan B Anthony! You can read more about it on their library’s blog. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Susan Orlean doesn’t confine herself to the history of the library in this book. She delves into every possible nook and cranny of the current library world by interviewing their front-line staff, fundraisers, their CEO, staff from smaller branches, even the staff who pack the endless number of books that are transferred from their central branch to the outlying locations (there are seventy-two) and their professional security guards. By the time she reaches the end of her book Susan Orlean has done more than told the story of a catastrophic library fire, she has made a contribution to the long list of ‘must-read’ books that bibliophiles will be talking about for years. I never miss books about libraries or bookstores and this one was outstanding from beginning to end – and, on the final page, there is an image of a date due slip with Ray Bradbury’s name, the author’s mother’s name, her own name and her son’s name – so the book is almost perfect, really. Her final chapter summarizes her feelings about writing the book and her relationship with libraries as she shares that she wanted to write the book “to tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine, and how that feels marvelous and exceptional.” You really have to read this book. The Library Book.

— Penny M.

The Book of Books

Did you watch the PBS series The Great American Read? It was wonderful. It was a booklover’s delight from beginning to end. The network began promoting it about 6 months before it aired so there was lots of time to get excited about it.

I know that library customers and staff enjoyed the series because I have been a part of some spirited conversations about it. Some of the people I follow online were so passionate about the books that they wished were included that their posts got quite heated. We watched some of it ‘live’ at our house and watched some if it taped but the good news is that all of the episodes are available online and the series’ creators have published a fabulous illustrated book as a companion that we have been flipping through with happiness at our house.

The Book of Books has a page or two dedicated to each of the novels that were featured in the PBS series. Within the entry for each book they include a summary of the book, some text dedicated to the author and interesting tidbits about the publishing history or how the book might have influenced other writing. It’s a meaty little coffee table book with great bonuses like a section of read-alikes and summaries of trends in the reading world. This is a book written for fans of books and authors with each page including something fascinating. On one page they included a photograph of a letter opener that was specially made for Charles Dickens (his book, Great Expectations, was #29 on the final list) out of the paw of his favourite cat “Bob”.

dogThey kicked off the series in May 2018 with a 2-hour special that began in the Library of Congress with host Meredith Vieira encouraging everyone to vote and share their feelings about their favourite books online, perhaps start a book club, maybe even read all 100 books (although she eventually admitted to Diana Gabaldon that she hadn’t read her fabulous series until she started working on this PBS show). I had a lot of fun following the voting and competition online throughout the summer. I loved seeing the shameless things bibliophiles would do to get people to vote for their book. The image above is a plea from someone to request that everyone vote for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (this book was recently defended by a last-minute stand-in at Waterloo Reads : the battle of the books, coincidentally).

The process for The Great American Read began with a national survey of about seven thousand people that narrowed the book choices down to the 100 that PBS used as their final list. The kick-off special featured people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chelsea Clinton, John Green, and Venus Williams sharing their own favourite books and encouraging people to read their book (or any book really) on the list. George R. R. Martin’s pitch for The Great Gatsby almost made me cry. I think that the next time we have a student in the library who isn’t pleased to have been assigned that F. Scott Fitzgerald classic I’ll call up this video and have them watch Martin speak about how the language in the novel has always moved him.

askfmlThis contest and the show they produced put libraries and literacy front and centre and it really felt wonderful to hear people – young and old – say that libraries meant so much to them. I remember loving my little library branch in Hamilton so much and still think that it was the best thing ever that I was never reprimanded for checking out a favourite book more than once. The freedom of the library shelves is such a perfect thing. The Freeport Memorial Library in Freeport, NY created the coolest social media campaign that I’ve seen in a long time with one of their library staffers taking photographs of coworkers, library visitors, and authors in poses that were inspired by their favourite books, adding quotes from the book, and then manipulating them. You really have to check out these inspirational moments on their twitter feed at @ASKFML They are amazing – this is one that they did for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Although the program was called The Great American Read, the final list of 100 books had only fifty-one books set in the U.S.A. and only sixty-four of the authors were American. Flipping through the gorgeous book that they created is a lovely trip through literature – for kids, adults and teens. You will start thinking about other books you might have wanted to include, you might consider re-reading favourites or picking one up that you haven’t read yet. I think that you will end up with a list – keep your pencil and paper handy.

The team at PBS did not limit their choices to literary classics. They included popular authors like Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook was voted #51), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code made it to #33), and Stephenie Meyer’s Twlight series came in at respectable #73 beating out James Patterson who only made it to #81 for the Alex Cross series (although I’m quite sure he isn’t worried about his popularity). They have details about the original voting process and how the 100 books were determined on the website but we talked about the final list at our house often and I think they did a pretty good job of including a diverse section of books, authors and genres. I was disappointed to note that Madeleine L’Engle was not included in their choices but I think everyone has a pet author that likely didn’t make the cut and, in her introduction, the author notes that some of her favourites were missing from the final list as well. Culling a list to one hundred must have been painful for that team.

The final episode of the show had Meredith Viera and nominated authors, librarians, celebrities and readers on stage talking about the five semi-finalists and counting down from 100 the list of books that had been featured in the previous shows with a little bit of extra time spent on the ‘big five’. I cheered aloud when I learned that there is a convention for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, was thrilled to hear that actor Wil Wheaton feels his wife fills the role of Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings in his life and felt that inviting a Harry Potter superfan onto the stage to talk about the series was spot on – fans have always been loyal to J.K. Rowling and the voting showed this.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird received special attention as they were able to invite the cast and playwright for the Broadway adaptation to discuss the themes of the book and how they are using them to inform their performances. The final book in the top five was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which had an accompanying video filled with people holding copies of the novel, some dressed in period costume, and one enthusiastic fan wearing a shirt that read “I ❤ Mr. Darcy”.  I’m going to look into getting one for myself, to wear here at the library, on casual day.

So, which book took away the big prize? I don’t mind typing it here in this post (spoiler alert!) because it was on so many websites the next day that it was impossible to miss – you can go to their website for the final reveal, if you like – but I’m pretty sure that many of you will have a strong guess of which of those top five would make it to number one. The book with the most votes was Harper Lee’s classic novel from 1960. It led the voting from the first day they opened the polls and never dropped below first place. It was a clear winner in the eyes of people who were participating in the PBS contest and is always a favourite book here at WPL.

I don’t know if I could choose. I always find it very difficult to choose one favourite book. We receive boxes and boxes of new ones here at the library each week and I find something wonderful in those shipments almost every week. I have several that I return to almost every year – some by John Irving (his interview in the PBS series was fabulous!). I have re-read The Stand (#24) more times than I can count and Charlotte’s Web (#7) never fails to cheer me, especially when I hear the recorded book in E.B. White’s own voice.

I think the most enjoyable part of this series was learning how books and libraries impacted individual people. Hearing Margaret Atwood read aloud from Anne of Green Gables (#11) and knowing that she was having difficulty with the emotion behind the words that she was saying as she quoted Marilla felt so special. Only a television show about books could bring this kind of magic alive. I encourage you to pick up this wonderful book, go online and click on a few inspiring snippets of video from PBS, and start a conversation about a book that meant something to you – if you need someone to talk to about that book we’ll be here, at the library.

— Penny M.

Hold It!

If WPL customers were going to pick one book that they most want to read right now (let’s assume that the book with the highest number of holds is that book) then The President is Missing  written by a former U.S. president and the world’s best-selling author is a good choice.

It’s a safe bet that many readers would be able to find something interesting about a thriller that has espionage, a killer computer virus, gripping suspense and the guarantee that it will have behind-the-scene information that we have not seen before.  Truly excellent details.

When Bill Clinton is the co-writer on a novel and the character is sneaking away from his Secret Service minders you think he has either successfully done this before or knows exactly how it could be done when necessary.  All of the elements have come together in this book for a great beach read – it’s like they manufactured this book to satisfy as many people as possible and waited until the right time to get it on the shelves.  Clever.  Their publishers must be happy with the success of this book as it has outsold much of the competition in the busy summer season and reports say that they have sold the TV rights for their book. TV shows set in the White House do tend to be popular and with the added weight of Bill Clinton behind it – whoa.  I know that I’ll be watching.

So, what should you read once you have finished the Clinton-Patterson team up?  It’s a quick read because you can’t wait to find out how it ends so you will need to have a second book at the ready.  James Patterson is a successful author because he knows how to craft a plot and deliver a surprise at the end – teaming up with Bill Clinton did not change that pattern in the least – this book will go by quickly.  Despite them coming up with 513 pages of White House-related suspense I would suggest that you take a second book with you to the cottage or download something else because you will finish this one and be ready for another faster than you think.  Here are a few suggestions of what you could read next.

If presidential stories have caught your fancy and you are willing to try something new you really should try this one from Quirk Book’s Andrew Shaffer.  He has set Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the roles of Holmes and Watson in what I really hope will be a successful series.  The story of Hope Never Dies begins with our lonely hero Amtrak Joe learning that one of his favourite train conductors has been killed in a train accident.  In fact, Barack comes to tell him the news and Joe is relieved to see him again.  Joe has been feeling a bit left out lately.  After years of spending time together he has watched and wondered about where their friendship is going post-White House and too many nights looking at Barack’s photos online with famous actors and politicians have left him a bit melancholy.  As Joe digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding his conductor friend’s death some of the details look fishy so he turns to Barack for assistance and their bromance heats up again.  This fabulous story allows them to put on their shades, get back in the saddle, and drive a car for themselves instead of having the Secret Service do it for them.  This isn’t a hard-boiled crime novel at all so if that is what you are hoping for you should probably take a pass on Joe and Barack but there is a solid mystery to be solved and a chance to laugh a bit as you wonder if this version of their personalities is at all like the one we imagine them to have.  It’s not all sharing ice cream cones and going to basketball games you know, there are car chases, they wear disguises and Barack carries a weapon when they storm into a warehouse.  It sounds pretty good, right?

Joe and Barack were once powerful men with the full force of the White House behind them when they are trying to solve their mystery but Michael Tanner is just an average guy on the way home from a business trip when he makes the mistake of picking up the wrong briefcase and stepping into a mess that is almost too terrifying to contemplate.  I love the idea of mixed up briefcases.  It sounds like something that might happen in a Disney movie but in this book it all turns dark so very quickly. In The Switch he picks up a case belonging to a U.S. senator who has top secret information on her laptop.  Once she knows he has, there is a target on his back and the clock is ticking to get the contents back from Michael.  He strongly believes they want him dead to hide the evidence which just adds to the feeling of desperation.  The narrative goes back and forth between Michael’s story and that of the Senator’s Chief of Staff who will do anything to solve this problem for his boss.  It’s a gripping tale and has the added bonus of being written by a journalist who specializes in covering espionage and international affairs for the New York Times and The Washington Post.  The terrifying authenticity in books like this will make you think twice when you pick up your personal items from the security line at any airport.

Really, any of these thriller/suspense/murder-mystery type stories can be so much fun to read but you don’t want them to happen to anyone in the real world.  A mystery about the President of the United States is safely set far from your own experience but when you read something like The Switch it is much more personal.  This is exactly the case with the novels of Clare Mackintosh.  Her debut novel, I Let You Go, about a hit and run accident involving a 5-year old boy caught readers by the throat, partially for her beautiful writing, and partially because it seemed like something that could happen to any one of us.

With Let Me Lie the main character is a young mother coping with the double suicide of her mother and father when she receives a note that causes her to rethink the circumstances of their deaths.  She convinces a local retired detective to help her in her investigation and then starts receiving threats on her life and that of her child.  There are plot twists that will cause you to gasp out loud while you read this book, you might even say things to the characters – questioning their decisions – but it’s a book that keeps you turning pages long into the afternoon or evening.  There are no spies and not a single member of the Secret Service but this is a truly satisfying thriller.  If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy her two previous novels, oh, so much good reading is ahead for you.

Thrillers are the perfect choice for late summer reading, whether they are written by a man who Forbes once said is second only to J. K. Rowling in total earnings or one who is known for writing a guide to surviving a sharknado – there really is so much time for a great book.

— Penny M.

 

Is the RomCom Alive & Well?

One of our daughters told me that she read an article online that the RomCom is dead and the author was blaming Tom Hanks. I was so horrified that I couldn’t even look it up. I mean, really? Did this person even watch You’ve Got Mail? How about Sleepless in Seattle? Romance galore. Then our daughter wondered if she was mistaken and it might have been Hugh Grant and I gasped out loud. Not the floppy haired star of Notting Hill? What about his wonderful role in Four Weddings and a Funeral? Hugh Grant? A killer of romantic movies? Never. I loved those movies. How could Hugh or Tom be to blame for the end of one of the most delightful genres of film ever? The absolute pinnacle of meet cute occurs in Notting Hill because Anna Scott casually enters Will Thacker’s travel bookshop and then meets him later – collides with him – and he invites her to his house with “the blue door” to clean up. Oh my. Can this glorious style of film truly be finished?

And then I thought about it and realized that I’ve never really been able to convince myself that showing these movies to my own daughters is a fabulous idea. They are very sweet movies and I love them nostalgically but they don’t show a version of romance or life that I want them to aspire to. We need more than a meet cute. Falling in love because you both like school supplies and bagels is not enough even if you do have the on-screen chemistry of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The great news is that these cheerful films are still being made but in a more thoughtful way. Kumail Nanjani and Zoe Kazan wrote a semi-autobiographical film about their relationship that was so funny that I think we could call it a ComRom and I was just 100% swept away by their romance. It was beautiful, despite the fact that much of it was spent in a hospital, with Zoe’s character in a coma. We watched The Big Sick and loved it so wholeheartedly that we had to sit through all of the extra features because we didn’t want the magic to end. Okay, I was the driving force on that but it was a splendid film.

Fabulous news for fans of romantic comedies is that Kevin Kwan’s wonderful novel Crazy Rich Asians has been made into a film and will be in theatres to charm us all. It should meet the needs of both romantic and comedy perfectly but will be an updated take on this genre of film.

Main character Rachel Chu is an accomplished Economics professor who has been dating history professor Nicholas Young for a substantial amount of time when he asks her to go with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding (there is no meet cute in the book because they are set up by a mutual friend but in the book they are eating at Tea & Sympathy in an early scene so that is a lovely, romantic touch – maybe their delicious scones will feature in the movie?) and they pack their bags and fly together like a calm, normal couple. It’s the last average thing that they do together because Rachel is absolutely astounded to find that when she visits his grandmother for the first time she is living in a palatial home surrounded by what looks like acres of forest in the middle of a busy city. This where the comedy and the romance start to mix together in the most enjoyable way with fantastic pacing throughout the novel. I laughed and laughed and hope to do the same in the theatre.

Kwan wrote an outlandish but charming fish-out-of-water story with Rachel meeting the in-laws, going to Singapore for the first time, learning that Nick is from one of the wealthiest families in the country and participating in an almost daily battle with women who want to marry this most sought after bachelor and facing the knowledge that Nick’s own mother doesn’t approve of her. Honestly, if she weren’t perfectly sure that Nick was the first person she had ever considered spending her life with, I think she might have made a hopped on the next flight back to New York. See? New York, the home of the RomCom. Her awareness that she is the one making the decisions here, that Nick isn’t her only option for happiness, is what puts Kwan’s novel squarely in this decade and will make the screenplay a different animal from Romantic films of the past.

The first book in this trilogy (it is followed by China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems) was so instantly likable that Kwan was approached to sell the film rights before it was even published. It has been reported that he turned down one of the first offers because they requested that he change Rachel Chu’s character to a non-Asian woman so that they could more easily cast the role. By taking on the role of executive producer on this film he was able to play a part in guiding the choices made in the casting of the parts and they are absolute perfection.

Constance Wu – of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat – has the part of Rachel and she will be a force to reckon with, exactly what is required to carry this film. She will play opposite a new actor, Henry Golding, as Nick. The director of the film, John M. Chu, wanted to be sure that the film had an outstanding all-Asian cast to match this incredible book so after they announced that they had signed Constance Wu for the main role he posted a video with an international open casting call. Who could resist this guy?

They received thousands of two minute videos with the hashtag #CrazyRichAsiansCasting and combed through them to find exactly the right actors to fill their cast. The social media accounts of author Kevin Kwan, the director, the principal actors and many of the creative leads were filled with colourful tidbits of news during the months leading up to the filming and once they were on set it was thrilling to see them post photographs of the actors together on location and in their glorious couture costumes. It’s really been a treat to watch everything come together. Check out this photo from one of their cast parties – so glamorous.

crazy rich

True to Kevin Kwan’s vision, the sets, flowers, food, cars, and dresses were opulent and vibrant. According to everything I have been reading even the soundtrack and orchestration will match his vision for the story – everything is absolutely over the top. Give yourself the treat of watching the trailer. Have you already seen it? Watch it again. Watch it for Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Gemma Chan and Michelle Yeoh – and that’s just in a two and a half minute trailer. That is just a fraction of what you will see in the theatre. Can you believe it? It’s stellar.

So, are Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant to blame for the death of the romantic comedy? I really don’t know because I was too much of an ostrich to look it up. I know that I wouldn’t read it even if I found the article. I do know that I look forward to seeing this film succeed and hearing all about how Constance Wu saved the romantic comedy. Long live the meet cute!

– – Penny M.

We Promise You…It’s Great!

Really, everyone likes to read a crime story, preferably one that is completely solved at the end with the killer safely locked away. A classic thriller that lets you feel like all of the loose ends are tied up when you turn the last page and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t live in that town. This is the kind of reading pleasure that comes from the 2018 One Book, One Community (OBOC) title, Broken Promise.

Customers are responding to the enjoyment of getting to know new characters, rooting for a small police department under strain as they sort through the clues and then rushing to the end of the book as the author, Linwood Barclay, throws in some surprising plot twists. Some of our customers have enjoyed Broken Promise as their book club choice, some have picked it up so that they can keep up with personal OBOC reading and others have been inspired to try it out because of the posters that they see in the library.

Every season of OBOC brings us fresh book chat from customers. It’s great to hear which character is a favourite after they have finished reading the book, even one that features a grisly murder. This year we’ve heard approval for the main character, David Harwood, who moves back to his hometown in an attempt to get his life back on track for himself and his son. Maybe he is getting the sympathy vote – living with his parents, an unemployed widower, ferrying casseroles around his old home town. We’ve also seen a strong showing of support for Detective Barry Duckworth who is charged with solving the murder at the centre of the novel and several peculiar crimes that pop up as the story moves along.

Did you know that Linwood Barclay published a standalone title related to this series in October of last year? It’s called Parting Shot and gives us all a chance to return to the beleaguered town of Promise Falls. Local vigilantes are taking things into their own hands by running a website to promote the punishment of alleged criminals who have escaped the law. Oh, poor, overworked Detective Duckworth. Maybe he should just give in and eat one of those doughnuts that he is trying so hard to avoid?

Customers have also been enjoying a hearty discussion of the characters that they ‘love to hate’ in this novel. Former investigative reporter David finds himself piecing together the bits and pieces of this case at the request of his well-meaning mother. She is keen for David to get to the bottom of this as his cousin, Marla, is one of the police department’s strongest suspects, and he quickly finds out that there are many targets for his investigation. It is almost impossible to not want to reach into the book and shake some of the people you find involved in the horror surrounding this crime. They seem like they are straight out of a really good 80’s soap opera. Maybe we could start creating a dream cast? Jessica Lange would be fantastic as Marla’s mother, the busy hospital administrator, so obsessed by details. And the psychiatrist, Dr. Sturgess? We should choose someone with a face that makes you wonder if you should fear or trust him. A horrible man.

When you reach the last pages of the book your loathing for the killer will reach new heights. All of the loose ends are tied up, at least as far as the suspicion around David’s cousin Marla is concerned, and you could find yourself setting this book aside and moving on to another if it weren’t for Detective Duckworth and all of the little things that are nagging at him. This is very bad news for town residents but great news for readers and OBOC fans because there are two more books for us to read after this because the crimes continue.

Far From True begins with the murder of four Promise Falls residents at a local drive-in and soon the police link that crime back to those of the previous novel which proves their nasty serial killer theory. The twenty-three has the whole town at risk of being poisoned on May 23rd (Memorial Day weekend) if Duckworth doesn’t get to the bottom of the killer’s latest plot. So much good reading in there. In both of these novels Linwood Barclay continues with his style of multiple storylines and a gallows humour in the dialogue between his law enforcement officers. Something has to balance all of that darkness.

This story of a cozy town that seems safe but is hiding multiple secrets has been resonating with customers. All of these readers will have a chance to come together in September for free author events across the Region.

The event in Waterloo will take place on September 26 at 7:00pm at Knox Church across from the Main Library.

Broken Promise is a fast-paced thriller with more than one character you can cheer for and several you will despise – a safe bet for any customer who wants a good summer read.

— Penny M.

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.