One Day in December

A little bit comedy + a little bit drama, One Day in December by Josie Silver, will hit readers in their heart strings and funny bones in equal measure as they witness the sometimes tumultuous and complicated love life of Laurie James and her ‘bus boy’ – a man who catches her eye and her heart in one brief encounter on a December afternoon.

These two strangers experience love at first sight but are unable to meet in person at that precise moment. Their brief connection continues to haunt both of them until they suddenly find themselves thrown together but are unable to act on their feelings. The story has likable, believable characters and is a slow-burn kind of read since the story is told via different points of view over the course of a decade. The timeline and points of view are woven together well and I enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of the interconnected relationships of these friends and lovers.

I fully admit that I am not normally a big reader of romances (I often find them to have a strong ‘ode de fromage’ feel) but while One Day in December is a light-hearted romance, it also touches on some serious topics and complicated relationships making it more than a simple love story. This is a wonderful, escapist-type read that I read in just over a day. But don’t just take my word for it. This novel has caught the eye of Hollywood actress and avid reader Reese Witherspoon who recently selected it for her popular book club.

This romantic dramedy is a perfect pick for fans of When Harry Met Sally, Me Before You and Notting Hill.

While this a lighter romantic read, the addition of its deeper moments about friendship, love, loss, regret and missed opportunities make it a book that will appeal to many different readers. It’s romance with some deeper issues, topped with some laughs, hold the cheese.

— Laurie P.

Juliet, Naked

Ooh I love the English writer Nick Hornby. He writes about human frailties and vulnerabilities in a way that is always smart, funny and so spot-on.

I recently read his book Juliet, Naked (from 2009) and also saw the movie during its recent run at the Princess Cinema.

Juliet, Naked is a great read! What’s with the title, you might be wondering. It sounds a little, er, provocative. But there is no clothing-less woman named Juliet parading through the book. Juliet, Naked is, in fact, a music album. Perhaps that will come as a disappointment to some.

Anyway, Annie and Duncan live in the north of England and have been together for 15 years, wasted years as far as Annie is concerned. Then she starts an email correspondence with Tucker Crowe, who also knows a thing or two about wasted time. Tucker used to be a famous singer-songwriter, who Duncan just happens to be obsessed with, and which will throw a few curveballs into the story line. It has been 20-odd years since Tucker’s last album and his life has been pretty aimless since then.

Tucker comes to England to deal with some complicated family stuff and arranges to meet up with Annie. They have built up quite a connection through their correspondence. The burning question (no real surprise here): are they willing to give relationships a second shot?

The movie Juliet, Naked stars Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd. All of them are excellent. I have to say I preferred the book over the movie (mostly because I love Nick Hornby’s writing so much) but a fellow WPL staffer told me that she preferred the movie. So there you go, two different people, two completely different opinions–and that’s great.

The DVD is not yet available at WPL, but is on order.  Here’s the link to the trailer in case you want a sneak peek. There are quite a number of holds on it already so if you are interested you might want to place your own hold soon. Like, now.

— Penny D.

The Royal We

Guilty pleasures – we all have them. We all need them. A harmless indulgence to turn to when the evening’s pile of dishes is too high or it seems like you simply cannot fill the day’s school and work lunch bags one more time.

WPL has been helping to feed mine for years with the subscriptions to the simply magical Royalty-watching magazines Majesty and Hello! Canada. Occasionally I augment my magazine reading with something from the non-fiction shelves by Penny Junor or Sally Bedell Smith. And, in the early spring of 2015, I was thrilled to read that two fashion bloggers were writing a fictionalized tell-all based on the romance of Will and Kate. After being captivated by this splendid romance I regularly turn to the website from authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan often as they publish a weekly “Royals Round Up” with a collection of royalty news from around the world and share sweet little nuggets of silliness about the families they cover. I highly recommend it. They make me smile every weekend with their comments about sweet Royal babies, tiaras and glamorous dresses and have added a tagline to their website that says “Will the Prince marry an American? We wrote the book on that.” because they did and it is spot on.

The idea behind the novel The Royal We is that they have used the facts of Will and Kate’s love story and written a novel entirely about them, just slightly adjusting their names, and adding in some fun details where they couldn’t dig up the facts. Their Kate is ‘Bex’ and Will is ‘Nick’ and his brother is a rakish red-haired ‘Freddie’ but the timelines match and you can perfectly imagine every step that they are taking if you have seen the photographs of Will and Kate on the campus of St. Andrews. Conveniently for these two bloggers they added a twist that their future queen is actually an American who comes to England to spend a year studying and meets her future husband/prince. She didn’t even come with the idea of romance in mind – she just wanted to sketch and paint. It’s always that way in the best romance novels, isn’t it?

In their swoon-worthy story Nick/Will is prime royalty so there are glitzy parties and museum openings with paparazzi chases but the real connection begins with a friendship built over binge watching American vampire TV shows in their dorm rooms. His brother Freddie is everything you would want him to be – charming, hilarious, a new girl on his arm every night – adding a light touch to balance the tension of Bex getting to know Nick’s very formal extended family. Poor Bex faces British tabloids, critical society snobs and personal demons in the years before Nick proposes (it’s based on their life story, you know how it ends, so I am not spoiling anything for anyone here) and I enjoyed reading it the first time and have recently re-read in my excitement over Harry’s (or Freddie’s?) wedding. The supporting cast of minor royals and friends who attend university with Nick and Bex do a wonderful job of hanging about and it ends perfectly but with enough suspense that it keeps you turning the pages. It’s just delightful reading for anyone wrapped up in the excitement of watching Harry and Meghan’s wedding unfold.

I know that any book written by two American fashion bloggers will be more of a vacation read – perfect for the beach or the airplane – for many and, because it is written with the young royal family as the main focus there is more of an emphasis on the fun side of things than the historical beauty of St. George’s Chapel, but it ends with Bex/Kate trying on endless wedding dresses and isn’t that what we look forward to in a romance novel? This is a book you read for diversion or entertainment – not so that you can bring it up at the next party you attend, unless it is a party to celebrate the Royal Wedding. And, did you know you can even download it from Overdrive and read it on your eReader so your family doesn’t have to know that you are enjoying it a second time? Perfection!

If you want to relive the formal thrills of Kate and Will’s April 2011 wedding or look forward to the casual beauty of Harry and Meghan’s May 2018 wedding you really cannot go wrong with The Royal We. You should brew a whole pot of tea for this one.

— Penny M.

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.

Let’s Hear It For Tartan!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1990 you have probably heard of Diana Gabaldon’s hugely popular “Outlander” series of time-travelling books featuring strong-willed, ex-Army nurse Clare Randall and Highland warrior, Jamie Fraser.  If somehow those 8 large novels (and the series isn’t wrapped up yet!) escaped your attention, maybe the current “Outlander” TV show has caught your eye.

Between the incredible historical detail (thanks to Gabaldon’s exhaustive amount of research), a cast of intriguing characters and the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, these books have gripped the imaginations of millions of men and women around the world.

Confession time.  I have never read these books. Over the years, many WPL customers have raved about them to me, encouraging me to give the series a try. Colleagues too have recommended them as the “perfect book for you”.  Yes, with my Irish family plus Scottish and English roots, my reading tastes are decidedly slanted to contemporary British authors and books set in the UK and Ireland. So, I have tried on 3 separate occasions to read “Outlander” and each time didn’t make it past the first couple of chapters. I don’t know why but the books don’t hold my attention.

They did catch Canadian author KC Dyer’s attention, though, and she has written a very cute, funny, charming book called “Finding Fraser”.  This book I read over a weekend.  Actually, I read most of it sitting in the sun on the deck of my favourite coffee shop in Stratford, Balzac’s, but I digress.

“Finding Fraser” is the story of 29-year old Emma Sheridan, a HUGE fan of Diana Gabaldon’s books and great admirer of the fictional character, Jamie Fraser. Emma’s life in Chicago isn’t going so well.  The only job she has done well at and managed to hold onto is coffee shop waitress. Her love life, well, it (like Jamie Fraser) doesn’t exist.

Frustrated and perhaps a bit desperate, Emma decides to sell all of her worldly possession, which are few, quit her job and travel to Scotland. Perhaps in Scotland life will make more sense, will come together, and maybe she’ll even find a real-life Jamie Fraser of her own. In an attempt to make the trip seem more focused than frivolous, she decides to blog about her highland adventure.

“Finding Fraser” is a light, fun, fast read which actually made me quite literally LOL in a few places. Emma’s adventures in Scotland are fairly comedic and I felt in turn sorry for her and, yes, even a little envious at moments.  Fans of the “Outlander” series will enjoy it (and the book does have Gabaldon’s blessing) but, as I have proven, it’s not a prerequisite.

Now, deciding what recipe to share this time round was easy.  It must be shortbread!  I usually make a very traditional shortbread with white sugar, butter and flour. However, one of my favourite shortbread recipes is one shared by a former WPL colleague and is a little different. Warning. It is soooo delicious (especially warm from the oven) and you will not be able to stop at eating just one piece.

Brown Sugar Shortbread

½ lb. butter, softened
½ c. brown sugar, packed
2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
White sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 300F.

Lightly grease a cookie sheet and set aside.  Lightly flour a baking board and rolling pin. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add half the flour. Combine. Add the remaining flour. Stir to combine. Using your hands, gather the dough into a bowl.  Transfer dough to floured baking board.

Knead gently for 3 minutes or until the dough forms a smooth ball.  Pat down, then roll out til the dough is in a rectangular shape measuring 11” x 8” (approx. 1/3” thick).

Using a sharp knife, slice into fingers, approximately 1” x 3”.  Place on baking sheet.  Prick each shortbread finger 3 times with a fork.  Sprinkle each cookie with a tiny amount of white (granulated) sugar.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on the power of your oven. The bottom of the cookies should be slightly golden.

Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to cooling racks. Store in an air tight container.