Are You Up For The Challenge?

“Read More!” was one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. Was it one of yours? I feel like there are so many good books on my TBR (to be read) list but never enough time to make a dent in it!

Goodreads.com offers an annual reading challenge to encourage and support people who want to follow through on their resolution to read more. In case you are not familiar with Goodreads, it is the world’s largest website for sharing and following what you and others are reading. Once you are a member (it’s free!), you will also receive book recommendations geared to your personal reading tastes.

According to Goodreads, almost 1.4 million people have already signed up for the 2019 Reading Challenge. These people have pledged to read an average of 46 books from the beginning of January until December 31st. If everyone makes their pledge more than 65,000,000 books will have been read!

Goodreads also provides lots of good advice on how to keep your challenge, or resolution, on track. One tip is to push yourself but to also make your reading target achievable. They recommend using the calendar as a guideline. If you think you can read one book per month that would mean pledging 12 books, reading one book a week would be 52 books, and so on. They also encourage you to re-read old favourites to count against your pledge and to try other formats like listening to an audiobook while you’re puttering around the house. Goodreads has thousands of different reading groups you can join to help keep you interested and accountable. I especially like their tip to use your local library so you will always have your next book ready to read!

To help keep track of what you want to read next, you can either use Goodreads’ virtual “Want to Read” shelf or create your own TBR lists right on your WPL account. How do you do this? Anytime you see a book in our catalogue that you want to read, simply click on the basket icon displayed under “Additional Actions.” The book will be added to your “Cart”. When you view your cart, one of the options will be to “Save to List.” When you select “Save to List”, you will be asked if you want to save the item to an existing list or create a new one. You decide if you want to have a single TBR list or multiple lists divided by genres or other criteria.

Do you need inspiration to keep your reading resolution on track? As I mentioned earlier, Goodreads provides recommendations based on your previous reading history. The WPL catalogue is also a great source for finding your next read. Try searching for one of your favourite titles. When you open the record for that particular book, scroll down to discover NoveList’s Read-alikes list of similar stories. You can also browse and investigate NoveList further on our website under the Digital Library‘s “Read” section. On NoveList you can view Recommended Read lists, browse by genres or search for favourite titles or authors to discover new read-alikes to try.

And of course don’t forget that WPL staff are always happy to help you achieve your resolution to read more by answering questions, providing reading advisory assistance, or helping you navigate our catalogue or website. It isn’t too late to start! Happy New Year and happy reading!

— Sandy W.

Boil, Boil, Toil, and Trouble

Preserving the Harvest Without all the Hassle

I grew up on a farm and by this time of year the shelves in our cellar were filled with colourful rows of canning jars while bushel baskets brimmed with apples, pears, potatoes, turnip and squash. Upstairs, our freezer was filled with family-sized bags of beans, peas, carrots and corn from the garden. My parents (and kids once we were old enough) worked together to make our harvest last longer. I loved hearing the “pop” of mason jars as they came out of the canning kettles and cooled on the counter, and watching cucumbers change into the pickles seemed like magic. However, preserving all these fruits and vegetables also seemed like a lot of work! Thankfully, WPL has a large selection of books that make canning, preserving, freezing, fermenting, and storing fruits and vegetables manageable and foolproof.

The canning books at WPL explain everything involved in food preservation, such as pectin, acidity levels, the equipment you need, and the steps to follow to prevent bacteria from ruining your efforts. Each of these books have different tips and recipes. Here are my favourites:

  • Ball is a huge brand name in canning supplies. Their book Ball Canning: back to basics: a foolproof guide to canning jams, jellies, pickles & more explains the whole canning process in simple terms. The book also includes chapters on fruit, fruit butters and sauces, and tomatoes. Each chapter begins with a list of what you will need, tips, and the steps to follow. There is also a “problem solver” and a chart for metric equivalents.
  • Preserving: the canning and freezing guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker is a beautiful book containing over 500 pages of recipes and information. I especially like that this book is divided by season. You might think the season for many fruits and vegetables is over but there are more than 200 pages for fall and winter produce!
  • The Canning Kitchen: 101 simple small batch recipes by Amy Bronee has a colourful picture for every recipe. I really liked how the author explains the whole canning process in the first few introductory chapters.
  • Foolproof Preserving: a guide to small batch jams, jellies, pickles, condiments & more by America’s Test Kitchen is full of colourful pictures showing you exactly how the food should look at different points throughout the process.
  • Canning & Preserving: 80+ simple, small-batch recipes by Good Housekeeping also includes some recipes to use with their preserved items, such as “Sour Cream-Vanilla Pound Cake with Rhubarb Compote” or “Reuben Macaroni and Cheese.”
  • For those who prefer to watch someone else does canning before trying it themselves, check out the DVD Homestead Blessing: the art of canning. The West Ladies teach the basics of canning equipment and storage, offering advice, tips and tricks.

Freezing is another way to preserve your harvest. The Best Freezer Cookbook by Jan Main provides general tips for freezing, as well as what types of packaging to use, how long items keep, and how to better organize your freezer. It also teaches you how to freeze fresh fruits and specific types of vegetables. This book includes a chart for a whole month of meals, and all the recipes are included.

Fermented vegetables are not only another great way to preserve food but they are full of probiotics and nutrients, help digestion, and support our immune system. Fermented Vegetables: creative recipes for fermenting 64 vegetables & herbs in  krauts, kimchis, brined pickles, chutneys, relishes & pastes by Christopher and Kirsten K. Shockey teaches the science behind fermentation and the tools needed. The Shockeys also wrote Fiery Ferments: 70 stimulating recipes for hot sauces, spicy chutneys, kimchis with kick, and other blazing fermented condiments.

Karen Solomon’s Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It : and other kitchen projects goes beyond preserving just fruits and vegetables. Solomon’s chapter entitled “Spoon It” includes recipes for cornflakes and puffed rice. The “Stock It” chapter has recipes for vanilla extract and Worcestershire sauce.  And another chapter, called “Bake It”, has recipes for bagels, pizza dough, and cakes in a jar with “Stalk It” chapter shows you how to make corn tortillas and chips.

WPL also has books for keeping your harvest in cold storage. Root Cellaring: natural cold storage of fruits & vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel explains what types of fruits and vegetables keep well and at what temperature and humidity levels. The authors describe the different types of storage that are possible, how to plan your own root cellar, and how to prepare the items to help prevent spoilage. Recipes at the back of the book will help you use the inventory you’ve stored. The Everything Root Cellaring Book: learn to store, cook, and preserve fresh produce all year round by Catherine Abbott covers the same topics as Root Cellaring and also has lots of recipes. However, this book also includes information on how to dry foods and herbs, as well as chapters on canning, preserving, and freezing.

If you didn’t have time or space for an edible garden this year, don’t despair!  St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market always has plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables plus visiting the market is a great way to support our local farmers. I encourage you to take your favourites from the garden, market or store, and browse our collection to find the preservation recipes you will enjoy in the cold months to come.

— Sandy W.

 

The Map of Salt & Stars

According to the United Nations’ website, every single minute 20 people have to leave everything behind to escape war, persecution, or terror. The United Nations Refugee Agency approximates that at least 65.6 million people have been “forcibly displaced” from their homes worldwide. In 2001, the UN established June 20th as World Refugee Day, to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees”.

Syria currently remains the world’s largest source of refugees (United Nations). The United Nations Refugee Agency states that there are approximately 13 million people in Syria that are in need, another 6 million internally displaced, and an additional 3 million in hard-to-reach and besieged areas. Over 5.6 million Syrians have found asylum in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt and are registered as refugees.

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar follows the plight of Nour, a young Syrian girl and her family.  Nour’s family was living in New York City but after the death of her father (Baba), Nour’s Mama decides to move the family back to Syria. The family isn’t back in Syria long before they are touched by war. Nour tries to take comfort in the stories her Baba told her of Rawiya, a legendary girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to travel with a mapmaker charting the Mediterranean for the first time.  Nour’s mother also makes maps, and, as her family flees Syria for Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Ceuta, they end up mirroring the journey of Rawiya.

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked the parallels the author drew not only between maps of the past and present, but also the maps we contain within ourselves, as we journey through our lives. There are many instances where you get a real sense of the danger, suffering, and loss that refugees must feel as they try to find food, safety, and someone who will give them a new “home.”

Nour has synesthesia, a condition that allows her to see colours and shapes for smells, sounds and letters. For example, Nour sees her mother’s angry voice as red, almost white; her sister’s laugh as pink-and-purple; and, when oil and fat sizzle in a pan, it pops like yellow and black bursts in her ears. The fact that Nour experiences multiple senses in colours and shapes also reminds me of the colours and shapes on a map.

I also like that there were strong female characters in this book: all of them had to make hard choices and sacrifices. I continue to be amazed about civilization’s ability to be humane and inhumane in times of crises.

However, I found the transitions between the Nour and Rawiya’s stories very confusing. Three asterisks were all that separated one timeline from another within the chapters, and sometimes there was extra spacing between paragraphs making me think the storyline was switching when it wasn’t. I also had to flip back through the book at times to remember where one girl’s story had ended off before it went to the other girl’s story. I feel the poor transitioning prevented me from truly engaging with either storyline, and turned what could have been a great book into just a good book.

— Sandy W.

Need To Know

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

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

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

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

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

— Sandy Wilmering

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.