Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marine One by James W. Huston

Today’s recommendation, is for the guys, or anyone who enjoys fiction without romance, or mushy scenes – just the facts in a plot driven novel.

The president of the United States is killed when Marine One (the president’s helicopter) crashes during a bad thunderstorm. Marine Corps reserve pilot and trial attorney Mike Nolan is hired by the helicopter manufacturer to find out what happened. Americans want to blame the manufacturer of the helicopter for the accident. After all, it wasn’t even an American product: it was made in France!

Questions abound, such as: why was the president so determined to fly from Washington to Camp David that night? Why can’t the investigation team find the tip weights from the rotor blades? Why was Mike’s super private investigator murdered?

Those are just a few of the questions that Mike Nolan needs answered as the many twists and turns of this crime story are unraveled.

Home by Marilyn Robinson

This is a great book to ‘live in’ for a while. The setting and characters were first seen in the companion and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ‘Gilead’.
The book asks the question, “What does it mean to come home?”

Both Glory and Jack come back to their father’s house after 20 or more years away. Glory comes home first to care for her dying father. Soon after, her brother, Jack, the family’s prodigal son, comes home looking for refuge and peace from his troubled past. After so many years apart, they slowly try to reconnect.

The story is told by their father, an aging minister, who patiently tries to understand and communicate with his son. This is the story of a wayward son coming home to his Gilead, the town where he grew up, and to his father and sister, as he tries to reconcile his past and future.

The story line is simpIe but there is a wonderful complexity in the characters and great beauty in the author’s language. I liked this book because the author talks of things that matter; mercy, grace, truth and wisdom.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Christmas Scrapbook by Phillip Gulley

Pastor Sam Gardener is determined that this year Christmas will be different. After years of less than stellar Christmas gifts for his wife he has an idea for a gift that his wife will never forget. In order to achieve this remarkable feat Sam enrolls in a scrapbooking class. It’s all down hill from there. Not only is Sam somewhat challenged when it comes to scrapbooking, he is also terribly inept at deception. Hiding the true reason for his Wednesday night absences from his wife leads to consequences that never ever occurred to Sam.

Author Philip Gulley, in his usual quiet, subtle manner, leads us down the path to a Christmas that will make us laugh loudly while at the same time opens our eyes to the true meaning of Christmas.

Cookies by Taste of Home

When it comes to Christmas baking, all of us have favourites to make, and eat. I know I have been using the same recipes for many years, but this year, I’m going to experiment with some of the offerings in a new recipe book from Taste of home, simply called Cookies.

As is the case with most Taste of Home cookbooks, this one is as much fun to page through as it is to try the recipes. There is a large picture next to every recipe which never leaves you guessing about what it is supposed to look like when it’s done. The cover states that the book contains 623 irresistible delights so imagine the variety, from easy drop cookies, bars, slice and bake, and many Christmas classics.

If this cookbook is currently not on the shelf, don’t worry, there’s plenty more in every branch to tempt you. You could try The ultimate cookie collection by Janet Briggs, or 500 best cookies, bars & squares by Esther Brody.

The library is a great place to check out some new recipes for Christmas. And if you end up having too many cookies, you can always drop some off at your favourite library.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Vinyl Cafe unplugged by Stuart McLean

One of our staff enjoys reading and listening to the Christmas stories told by Stuart Mclean. One of her favourites is the story “Christmas Presents” in The Vinyl Café unplugged. In this story, Dave, his wife Morley, and their children Stephanie and Sam decide to draw names and make a present for that person. Each person tackles the project with varying degrees of enthusiasm. As is often the case at the Vinyl Café, good intentions go south, but there is always an uplifting and heartwarming message in the end.

The library has a number of Vinyl Café books, and audio books. Many fans might recognize “Dave Cooks the Turkey” which is found in the Home from the Vinyl Café collection.

The stories are by turns sweet and silly, funny and touching. McLean has a gift for bringing characters to life and finding both the humourous and touching in everyday events.

They are a great treat for a cold December night.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Canada's Diabetes Meals for Good Health by Karen Graham

November is National Diabetes Month. Diabetes is a condition that seems to be becoming much more prevalent in our community, especially among those over 60. I’m sure many listeners have agonized over what to serve to dinner guests who are diabetic. Well the library can help.

Each branch carries a number of diabetic cookbooks, and I’ve chosen to highlight a new one entitled Canada’s Diabetes Meals for Good Health, by Karen Graham. It has been published in cooperation with the Canadian Diabetes Association. This book includes complete meal plans and over 100 recipes. There are full paged beautiful colour photographs of every meal, variations for large and small meals, substitutes, and an exact breakdown of nutritional information.

These meals look so delicious they could easily be served to a diabetic or non-diabetic at any dinner party.

Fatal Journey: the final expedition of Henry Hudson by Peter Mancall

In school, I think it was about Grade 5, we first learned about the search for the Northwest Passage and the fate of Henry Hudson.

But what we learned then was really just the tip of the iceberg. Of course they were looking for a route to the east, but what made men set out year after year to brave the unimaginable conditions found in the Canadian arctic.

Peter Mancall explores this question in Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson. What drew these men to the east is not that different than today’s search for energy or new drugs. The spices found in the east were believed to have extraordinary medicinal qualities and whoever found a way to get them would enjoy enourmous wealth. Investors were willing to pour huge amounts of money into the search for the North West Passage. As we know now, this search was Hudson’s undoing, and the common perceptions of the mutiny are also examined in this book.

Take some Canadian history off the shelf and you’ll discover that it’s incredibly fascinating.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Canadian Children's Book Week

Nov. 14 – 21 is Canadian Children’s Book Week. We celebrate the abundance of Canadian literature for children. Morden Winkler and Altona will be hosting Lori Weber, a young adult author, on Tues. Nov. 17, so check the website, or with your local branch about the time.

The theme of this year’s Canadian Children’s Book Week is “Gold Medal Reading”, and the focus is on children’s books with a sports theme. I pulled one of my all time favourites off the shelf, "The Hockey Sweater" by Roch Carrier. The classic story of a young boy in Quebec who is forced the wear a Toronto Maple Leaf sweater is beautifully written and illustrated. It’s a great story and introduces young readers to a little bit of our cultural history.

Something new on the sports theme is "Clancy with the puck" by Chris Mizzoni. This is a Canadian retelling of the classic Casey at the Bat. As a bonus, it includes a DVD with an animated short, narrated by Bob Cole.

During Canadian Children’s Book Week I hope everyone indulges in an old favourite, and discovers a new one as well.

The Book of Negoes by Lawrence Hill

This book has been recommended by a number of readers who have enjoyed it.

In this book, Animata tells the story of her life. She is born and raised in a small village in Africa. The midwifery skills she learns from her mother are useful throughout life. Animata survives the brutality and cruelty of the slave traders and owners. It is clear that she has derived great strength and wisdom from her parents even in the few years she had with them.

Eventually she escapes and in New York registers her name in the ‘Book of Negroes’, a historic British military ledger allowing 3,000 former slaves to sail from Manhattan to Nova Scotia. The British fail to keep their promises of freedom and land and years later, Animata joins a group of 1,200 former slaves traveling to Sierra Leone to establish a place called Freetown. Aminata sees it as a chance to finally return home.

This book makes history come alive and is well worth reading.

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Remembrance Day is an excellent time to look at Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road.

The novel is set in the early1900s, as the British Empire sends a call to Canada to fill the ranks of its military. The story centers on Niska and her nephew, Xavier Bird. Niska escaped from a residential school as a young girl to live as her elders once had. She takes young Xavier from that same school and teaches him everything he needs to know to become a great hunter. Xavier and his friend Elijah, spend summers with Niska, learning the old ways. Too soon, these young hunters travel to Toronto where they enlist in the army and are sent to the front.

Alternating chapters tell Xavier’s and Niska’s stories. It is a heart-wrenching graphic story of the Great War, and the sad, powerful story of an aunt trying to reclaim the broken life of her only nephew when he returns from that war. This is a personal glimpse into two of the great tragedies of our Canadian history.

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

The story is set in present day Rwanda. Angel Tungaraza and her husband Pius live in a multinational complex in the capital city of Kigali along with people of many different nationalities and career paths. Angel and her husband have tragically lost both of their children and are now raising their five grandchildren. Angel bakes cakes to help with the family finances. She is an excellent compassionate listener and we learn the stories of many of her customers. The conversations often carry a disturbing note of the tragedy of Africa – genocide, AIDS and poverty.
In the end it is ultimately a story of hope and recovery and the unfailing spirit of human beings to be able to rebuild their lives in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pre-school Storytime

All of us are returning to familiar fall routines, and so is the library. Registration is now under way at all 4 branches for the fall pre-school storytime. These storytime sessions run approximately 45 minutes for 6 weeks. Stories, songs, fingerplays and crafts fill the 45 minutes. Children who are 3 ½ - 5 years and not yet in kindergarten are welcome. Sessions begin at 10 am and run on Tuesday mornings in our Miami branch beginning Sept. 29, and on Wed mornings in Morden Winkler and Altona branches, beginning Sept. 30. Please call your local branch or check the website for details.

And since I always like to talk about at least 1 book, I’ll just mention one of my favourites that I often use in the Altona Storytimes: Kady MacDonald Denton’s “A Child’s Treasury of Nursery Rhymes”. This book was awarded the 1998 Governor General’s award for children’s literature, and numerous other awards. The lyrical nature of nursery rhymes makes them great for reading aloud, and the illustrations in this book are works of art.

It’s an oldie but a goodie.

School Lunches

I’m sure that there are many moms at this very minute looking in their fridge and dreading the prospect of another year of fixing school lunches.

10 months of preparing school lunches can sorely tax the most creative parent’s culinary imagination, so if you’re looking for a little help, drop in to the library.

Bobby Kalman has 2 excellent offerings from her Kid Power series: “Lunch Munch” and “Super Snacks”. The recipes in these books are nutritious and easy enough for kids to prepare.

The “Kids’ healthy lunchbox” by Cara Hobday contains 50 delicious and nutritious recipes. These lunches certainly are a creative alternative to the plain old sandwich.

“Eat it Up!: Lipsmaking recipes for kids” by Elisabeth de Mariaffi is much more than just lunches and will not doubt have your kids wanting to make their own.

Each branch has a large section of cookbooks and staff are always ready to point you in the right direction.

The Kennedys

The closest thing to royalty that the United States has is the Kennedy family. The recent death of Ted Kennedy has once again brought this family into the spotlight. Though TV news networks will cover the event and offer up much family history, a trip to the library could be worthwhile for anyone delving deeper into this family’s story. Three books published since 2003 come to mind.

The Kennedy Men 1901 – 1963 by Laurence Leamer chronicles Joe Kennedy’s and his family’s rise to power and influence up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“The Kennedy curse: Why America’s first family has been haunted by tragedy for 150 years” by Edward Klein is another possibility.

The book that some reviewers claim offers a new not-before-seen perspective is Thomas Maier’s “The Kennedys: Americas Emerald Kings: A five-generation History of the ultimate Irish-Catholic family”. This book offers an insight into the relationship between the Kennedy family and the Catholic church.

Books on the Kennedy family and American politics are located in all branches of the South Central Regional Library.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The 39 Clues series

What would happen if we took an idea for a series and then had some of the best kids fiction writers each write a volume in the series.

This is the idea behind the 39 clues series. The first book, written by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame is called “The Maze of Bones” and introduces the main characters and the plot for the series. Orphans, Dan and Amy Cahill have given up a 2 million dollar inheritance to take part in a treasure hunt that hopefully will lead them to even greater treasure. Unfortunately for them a number of other family members have also undertaken the same challenge, and let’s just say, these are not nice people.

Book 2 "One False Note" written by Gordon Korman is the next book in the series, followed by “The Sword Thief” by Peter Lerangis. Each book in the series will have Dan and Amy travelling to a different part of the world, finding the 39 clues that lead to the treasure. A contemporary series that combines history and travel is a hit with me, and if the first book is an indication of what’s in store, it’s sure to be a hit with young readers.

I enjoyed the 1st book, but then I’m a Riordan fan, so I spoke to several young readers who were reading the series and they also give it a thumbs up.

Back to the Garden by Pete Fornatale

Recently we remembered that it was 40 years ago that men first walked on the moon. It seems to be an important year for anniversaries.

Another 40th anniversary being acknowledged this month is Woodstock. In his book “Back to the Garden”, Pete Fornatele has published a number of interviews with Woodstock organizers, performers, and audience members. It is a look at the rock and roll phenomenon that shaped popular music for the next several decades. Woodstock launched the careers of many folk and rock superstars. We often hear about the rain and the mud, but what’s interesting about this book are the details of what it was like to actually perform on that stage and look out at ½ million fans. What was surprising to me was the number of bands that were not well known before Woodstock, but rocketed to instant stardom because of this single performance.

The library holds a number of autobiographies of the musicians who performed at Woodstock. But this book pulls their stories together into a single volume and is both history and nostalgia.

NoveList: reading suggestions for what to read when what you want isn't in.

Today I’m not going to talk about a specific book, but rather, what to do when the book you want isn’t in.

For example, right now, one book with a long waiting list is Jodi Picoult’s "My Sister’s Keeper". But what to read while waiting for it is a question that we are often asked.

Much as we’d like to, library staff cannot read everything on our shelves, so we look to Novelist for help. This database, available on our website, offers Read-alikes for many favourite authors, including Jodi Picoult.

Chris Bohjalian who has a similar writing style, and is from a similar background as Jodi Picoult is one possibility. Jacquelyn Mitchard’s "The Deep End of the Ocean", or Theory of Relativity are 2 books that Picoult readers enjoy. Luanne Rice’s strong characters and examinations of family and personal relationships might also be a good fit. Sue Miller is another possibility and some of her books are considered modern classics.

If the library doesn’t have your title, be sure to ask for it. And while you’re waiting, have a look at Novelist - staff will be happy to help you. You may discover a new favourite.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Well Preserved" by Eugenia Bone

The arrival of the new book “Well preserved” by Eugenia Bone reminded me that it’s a good time to talk about recipe books for putting up all the delicious garden produce. Each branch of the library has books on preserving foods and it’s a good time to check one out.

When I think of preserving food, freezing, water bath canning, and pickling are the processes that come to mind. In her book, “Well preserved”, Eugenia Bone includes instructions for these, but also others that we don’t usually think of. Pressure canning, preserving in oil, curing and smoking are included in this book as well. Bone includes recipes for using the preserves she makes.

Some of Bone’s recipes probably will not have a huge audience, but there are some really interesting ones to try in this book.

Stop by the library for a cookbook before picking those vegetables, or on your way home from the farmer’s market. It may result in a new family favourite, when - come winter, the flavor will remind you of sunshine and warm your day.

New picture books

Summer is a time for families to enjoy books and reading together. All branches of the library have new children’s picture books and I decided to highlight a couple of them today.

Sheree Fitch’s Sleeping Dragons All Around has been re-released in a 20th anniversary edition. Fitch’s prose is wonderfully lyrical, and this makes it such fun to read aloud. As with others of Fitch’s books this book becomes more enjoyable with each reading. The illustrations by Michele Nidenoff are bright and interesting pieces of art in their own right. The prose and illustrations complement each other beautifully. I’d encourage anyone to read other Sheree Fitch books as well, including one of my all time favourites, There’s a mouse in our house.

The picture of the dog on the front cover of Kenneth Oppel’s The King’s Taster, is priceless. The dog’s name is Max, and he eats like a king, because- he’s the King’s taster. He gets to try everything before it’s served to the king. When a new king (let’s just say he’s a bit spoiled) takes the throne, the cook is at wits end trying to find something he likes to eat. He travels the world looking for new foods, and Max enjoys every tasty new dish. The illustrations in this book are a beautiful and interesting hybrid of artistic styles that defy description.

Great children’s picture books can be found in all 4 branches of the South Central Regional Library, and summer is a great time to read with children and grandchildren.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie by Alan Bradley

I am drawn to books with off the wall titles, and that’s the reason I chose Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie as my favourite book of the summer. This book has spent several months on the Maclean’s bestseller list, and its easy to understand why. This is a book that friends will recommend to each other and its popularity will continue to grow.

10 year old Flavia De Luce lives in a household with an aloof father, 2 annoying older sisters, an inept housekeeper and a loyal handyman. Flavia is a chemistry whiz and has an acute understanding of poisons. When mysterious events begin to happen: Like a dead bird appearing on the doorstep with a postage stamp in its beak, and a mysterious late-night visitor argues with her father before turning up dead in the cucumber patch, Flavia turns to chemistry - and her curiosity and charm- to investigate.

Everything about this novel is perfect. The characters, setting, narrative, and plot work together to make this novel truly enjoyable.

If you pick up this book, you’ll want to get a cool drink, and settle down in your favourite lawn chair, because you won’t want to put it down until it’s done.

Antiques Roadshow Collectables

There is an old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. This is obvious to any fans of the Antiques Roadshow. How often do we hear stories of items that were thrown away by someone, rescued by another, and turned out to be extremely valuable.

A new book in the library is the Antiques Roadshow Collectables: The Insider’s Guide to What’s Hot and What’s Not. This book offers useful information for the novice, and the serious collector. The text and photographs pertaining to each area of collecting include an introductory text and a note regarding its desirability. “What to look out for”, and “what’s not hot” are listed. “Key facts” describe the most important periods in the development of the subject. The Core collectibles section offers those items around which a collection may be built. Ask the expert boxes provide answers to frequently asked questions. An estimation of the value of each subject is also offered.

This is garage sale season and who knows, armed with the knowledge in this book, you may find an honest to goodness treasure, or, perhaps this book will keep you from throwing one out.

This water goes north by Dennis Weidemann

Al, a few weeks ago you interviewed Dennis Weidemann who wrote a book “This Water goes North”, and Dennis did a presentation in the Altona Library.


In 1979 Dennis and 3 friends canoed down the Red River from Iowa, across Lake Winnipeg, and into the Hayes River, all the way to York Factory on Hudson Bay. The 4 young men set out with borrowed canoes, poor equipment, little experience and little knowledge of what to expect. At that point we did not yet have a copy of the book, but after reading it, I can truly say I really enjoyed it, and savoured every page.


Throughout much of the book , one thought kept popping into my mind … What were they thinking… But that is what makes up much of the charm of this book. Weidemann does a great job of telling the reader what was is in the head and the heart of a young adventurer. One particularly poignant statement comes as they enter Canada.


Upon leaving Norway House, Weidemann writes about how unexpectedly difficult it was to leave the small communities where they had made friendships.


I recently came across a quote by the great adventurer, Sir Edmund Hilary, and although he was writing about his home, New Zealand, the same can be said of Canada “In my journeying through the wild and lovely places of the earth, I sometimes forget how lovely my own land is.”


Wiedemann reminds us all of how beautiful and interesting our country is, and that adventure comes to those who welcome it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Irish Tweed by Andrew Greeley

‘Tis a fine tale indeed, it is. Nuala Anne McGrail is at it again.

In the newest novel from Andrew Greeley the irresistible problem-solver from Connemara warns her loyal, loving husband, Dermot Michael Coyne, that someone is out to do the Coyne family harm. You see, Nuala Anne is a wee bit fey (an Irish term for clairvoyant). She can sense something happening before it does. Nuala Anne and her large Chicago Irish family have had many adventures that always involve searching historical records.

In this tale, bullies have taken over her children’s school yard. Someone attempts to murder the nice young man from Ireland who is courting the Coyne’s nanny.

Old country feuds and new world politics are involved with the mystery. The mystery, of course, is all sorted out but the sorting out makes for an excellent read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Should I Recycle Garbage? and Why Shouldn't I drop Litter? by M. J. Knight

This week I decided to contribute to the green file.

Several new books have arrived in the library recently that help children find ways to be more green.

M. J. Knight has written 2 books, entitled Why Should I Recycle Garbage?, and Why Shouldn't I Drop Litter?

Both of these books are colourful, fun to read, and full of relevant, timely information. Of course there are statistics to help us understand the breadth of the problem in North America. Such as:

In Canada, households throw away about 14 million tons of garbage per year, that works out to 2/5ths of a ton per person. Plastic grocery bags take 400 - 1,000 years to decompose. A piece of gum costs 9 cents to buy and $1.50 - $3.00 to clean up. One thing that surprised me was the amount of damage that is being done to the environment by thrown away cell phones.

These books offer suggestions for things anyone can do to reduce the garbage in our landfills. The book looks at ways to use the 3 Rs, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and offers practical suggestions for kids, like, bringing lunch in a reuseable plastic box, bringing beverages in refillable plastic bottles, when shopping, use reusable cloth grocery bags, and by recycling paper, metal, glass, plastic, batteries, computers and cell phones. Each section has an “I can Make a Difference” note with practical tips.

These books are a great starting point for all of us to become more active in doing our part to reduce the 2/5ths of a ton of garbage that we each produce.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

I have waited to read Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road ever since it was first published in 2005. The reviews intrigued me, but I never took the opportunity until now to finally read this incredible first novel.

It is set in the early 1900s, just when the British Empire sent a call to Canada and its other colonies to send young able-bodied men to sacrifice themselves in a terrible war. The story centers on Niska and her nephew, Xavier Bird. Niska is a wise bush Indian who escaped from the residential school as a young girl to live as her elders once did. She takes Xavier from that same school as a young boy and teaches him everything he needs to know to become a great hunter. Xavier and his talkative friend Elijah, spend summers together with Niska, learning the old ways. Too soon, these young hunters travel to Toronto where they enlist in the army and are sent to the front.

Throughout the book, the story is told by Xavier while he is fighting the enemy and by Niska surviving the in the wilderness. It is a heart-wrenching, graphic story of how terrible the “Great War” must have been. It is a sad but powerful story of an auntie trying to reclaim the broken life of her only nephew when he returns from that war. The chapters alternate between Xaviers’ telling of the war and of his friend Elijah, and of Niska's story of her life in the north.

The story-telling is amazing and has given me a personal glimpse into two of the great tragedies of our Canadian history. Three Day Road is a must-read!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Little Book by Selden Edwards

Imagine for a moment being taken back in time to 1897 and finding yourself in Vienna Austria. You don’t know why you are there, or how you got there, but you know the city intimately. You discover that many of the people you meet are those that will influence you directly, and those that will change the course of human history. Imagine as a time traveller meeting a young doctor named Sigmund Freud, or a young composer named Gustav Mahler. Imagine coming face to face with a nine year old victim of child abuse named Adolf Hitler. You have landed in the city during its intellectual and cultural height, but you also encounter the early days of state endorsed anti-semitism. You know where all of this is leading, but as you interact with people you know you must not meddle. You participate in political debate with your new friends in the Viennese coffeehouses, but you must be careful not to reveal too much.

In Selden Edwards’ debut novel The Little Book, that is the situation the hero finds himself in. Despite a few oddities in the plotline, this is a finely crafted novel. It is meticulously researched, and gives the reader an insight into a city at its height, just before the calamitous events of the 20th century.

The author spent 30 years writing this book, and I hope he doesn’t wait that long to write the next one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Last Concubine by Lesley Downer

Imagine you are 11 years old and growing up in a tiny village in rural Japan. Your pale skin has always set you apart from the other residents of the village but you are loved by your parents so you don’t really care. One day an Imperial princess passes through your village and takes you off to the women’s palace in the big city of Edo.

These are the circumstances that cause life to change drastically for Sachi. She has been chosen as a concubine for the young shogun. The next few years of her life are all about training – in every aspect of her life. She has no choice or say about anything.

Meanwhile, outside the palace walls, Japan is changing. Black ships from the west have arrived bringing foreigners who want to add Japan to their colonial empire and civil war erupts.
Sachi flees for her life and is rescued by a rebel warrior who awakens feelings in her that she never knew she had. However, in Japan, there are very clear lines as to who associates with whom and Sachi must unravel the mystery of her own origin before the possibility of a life with her samurai.

Although fiction, The Last Concubine gives a fascinating peek into the world of the people of Japan in the late 19th century.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Triumph (editied by Colleen Sell)

The book I’d like to review today is called: A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Triumph edited by Colleen Sell

This book was brought to my attention because it includes the story of someone I know and you may know too. Her name is Sally Unrau and she is a fellow Breast Cancer Survivor who I met a number of years ago at a Breast Cancer Support Group at Boundary Trails Hospital. I was struck by her courage and inspiring personality then, and was excited when I heard her article was chosen for this book.

Each year thousands of women across North America are touched with Breast Cancer. It may be a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter…………….and in 2001, it was me. What I wanted to read at that time was a book like this. This book includes 46 stories from women across North America who tell their stories of facing Breast Cancer and surviving. It’s a book that will give hope and courage to women who are facing their own battle with Breast Cancer and will give a window into the experience for those who walk along side.

Everyone’s story is different but everyone tells their first hand experience with Cancer. They are about doctors and nurses, relatives and friends, fellow sufferers who supported and encouraged them; about honesty, courage, strength, humor, hope, grace, and dignity that they didn’t know they had.

I would encourage you to read this book and to pass it on to anyone who has or has had Breast Cancer. It’s called, A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors; and it’s in your local library. If you would like to purchase it, it’s good to know that 50 cents of every copy sold will be contributed to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

This is a remarkable memoir about the author’s experience of growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family. Much of her story comes as quite a shock since I grew up with parents who always took care of my needs. Jeannette’s family was anything but ordinary. The Glass Castle is the saga of the restless, eccentric Walls family, parented by a brilliant alcoholic father and a frustrated artistic mother.

Time and time again, the children were told in the middle of the night that it was time to ‘skedaddle”. In a few minutes they had to get into the car, sometimes being allowed to only take one possession, and leaving another small Southwest U.S. desert town behind. The sudden exit in the night often came after a stay of only a few months and was necessary in order to escape the debts her father had accumulated. Her mother’s paintings were tied on the roof and off they went, not knowing where they would end up.

Jeanette tells her story in a realistic and appealing style. She recounts many colorful conversations and details. She remembers the poverty, hunger, jokes, and bullying she and her sisters and brother endured in almost every community they moved to. At home with their parents, the children were left largely to their own devices and their mom told them they would learn from hardships and suffering. Their mother’s attitude toward keeping a house was that it just wasn’t worth her time. She could make a meal but it would be gone in a few minutes. But if she painted a picture, it would last forever. She was a free spirit and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family. So the children had to fend for themselves and often went hungry or took food out of garbage cans at school when no one was looking. They learned to feed, clothe, and protect each other.

Rex Walls, her troubled, brilliant father, had the ability to turn their downward-spiraling circumstances into adventures. His nickname for Jeannette was ‘Mountain Goat’, an appropriate name when you consider the rugged terrain of childhood that she had to climb. When he was sober, they were fed on the dreams of their father who taught them physics, geology and astronomy. As they grew older, they realized that his plans to build them a home he called the Glass Castle and to find gold that would make them rich, would never happen. It should be noted that there is some bad language when the father is quoted and there are also some unpleasant scenes.

In spite of this horrendous and difficult childhood, Jeannette tells her story candidly and with surprising affection. She and two of her siblings escape to New York when they are old enough and make a good life for themselves. What is most amazing is the resilience of the children and their success in overcoming huge odds. It’s a story well worth reading.

Jeannette Walls has survived poverty, fires, and near starvation to triumph. She has written this amazing tale with honesty and love.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thing-Thing by Carey Fagan

In November, the three branches of the South Central Regional Library were lucky enough to have Canadian author, Cary Fagan visit us. Each branch invited classes of children to hear Cary talk about writing his books. In Morden, he read one of his latest children’s books called Thing-Thing. The Grade 2 children were mesmerized as he read aloud the story of a spoiled little boy who throws a new toy out his hotel window. As poor Thing-Thing falls past each window, he sees people inside who have their own stories to tell. They all see him as he flies past their windows and wonder what he is. As Thing-Thing gets closer and closer to the ground he thinks about how all he ever wanted was to be cuddled and loved by a little child.

The pictures in the book are wonderful and Cary told us how he imagined Thing-Thing to look different than the artist drew him. Now he can’t imagine him looking any other way! It was a wonderful experience to hear the author read his own story. I read Thing-Thing before we had our author visit and enjoyed it very much. Check out a copy of this book from your library and share Thing-Thing by Cary Fagan with your family.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reading with dad by Richard Jorgensen

Recently all branches of the library celebrated Family Literacy Day at which time we recognized the importance of reading with and to children. That, and the fact that February is I LOVE TO READ MONTH, inspired me to talk about a children’s book today.

I, like many librarians love reading children’s books and find something deeply satisfying about reading a children’s book that pulls at the heartstrings. Let’s face it, often - it is when reading children’s picture books that we allow ourselves to unabashedly show our emotions. How many us still cry when reading Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever.

I recently read Richard Jorgensen’s Reading With Dad and it elicited the same response that I have when I read Love You Forever. In this book a father and child share a lifetime love of reading. But while the book plays on our emotions it also has a wonderful message about the joy of reading together, of sharing our stories, and the importance of a father’s role in the life of his child.

The lyrical, rhyming prose is easy to read, and a little reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. The simple drawings give the book a wonderful poignancy.

I heartily recommend this book for readers of any age.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plumb, my favorite bounty hunter, is on the trail of Martin Munch, boy genius who received his doctorate degree in quantum physics at the age of 22. Munch is on Stephanie’s radar because he has failed to appear in court for stealing a monster cesium vapor magnetometer, after busting his boss’s nose with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup. To complicate matters Stephanie wakes up one morning to find Carl the monkey tied to her apartment door. There’s a note tied to the money asking Stephanie to look after Carl until his owner gets back into town.

As the investigation continues Stephanie learns that Martin has teamed up with Wulf Grimoire, an opportunist who can kill without remorse, disappear like smoke, and wants world domination. Helping Stephanie is a weird guy named Diesel. Diesel is also a bounty hunter but he has special skills when it comes to tracking men. While on the hunt, Diesel and Stephanie end up in the Pine Barrens, where they run into strange characters like the retired Easter Bunny and a man who really looks like a Sasquatch.

All of this may seem really strange to you but to Stephanie it’s pretty much an ordinary day on the job. If you want to know how she “gets her man”, read the book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dewey: A small-town Library Cat who Touched the World

I love cats! I have five of them myself. When I saw the book Dewey: A Small-town Library Cat who Touched the World by Vicki Myron come into our library I knew I had to read it a) because it was about a cat, and (b) the cat on the cover was so cute! Okay, not the best reason to choose a book but that is how we do it sometimes, don’t we?

In the winter of 1988 in Spencer Iowa, the library staff discovered that someone had dropped a small kitten into the library drop-box during one of the coldest nights of the year. After thawing out the frozen little guy and seeing that he was going to survive, they sought permission to keep him as the library cat. A contest was held to name him & he officially became known as Dewey Readmore Books. (In the library world, "Dewey" is the filing system, invented by Melville Dewey, we use to put the books in order on the shelf) It was very appropriate to name this cat Dewey and he soon became an ambassador for the Spencer Public Library. His arrival there was during the time when one of the worse economic crisis of the 1980s hit America. The farming community was devastated by low crop prices and factory closures. As people began to come to the library to use the job bank, Dewey would be there to meet them. He greeted everyone who came through the door & would often be found on a warm lap, helping to read the paper or sitting with the children’s group as they listened to stories.

Dewey continued to be the library cat for 19 years and became famous far and wide. People traveled out of their way on their holidays to meet Dewey and have their pictures taken with him. Even people who are not cat lovers, like some of us, will enjoy this story. It is one of hope and good will during difficult times. It is the story of Dewey- a library cat - who touched the world, starting with one small library in one small town.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Girl of his Dreams by Donna Leon

I’m of two minds about the title of this book by Donna Leon. The title, The Girl of his Dreams, suggests that the book is a romance, but this book falls into the mystery genre. It is however, a great title for this book. “The girl of his dreams” is a young gypsy girl who has fallen into a canal in Venice, and her image haunts Commissario Guido Brunetti’s dreams.

The girl is gypsy, or Rom, as they are now called by the commissario’s politically correct superiors. The Rom in Italy live on the fringes of society, and survive by working where they can, or stealing. Often the children are sent to do the stealing because they cannot be charged with theft.

In the book the child has slipped into the canal, drowned, and stolen goods are found on her during the autopsy. But did she slip, or was she pushed. That is what Brunetti wants to find out. But while his superiors attend conferences on dealing with the ostracized, and write memos about cultural sensitivity, they are quick to throw up their hands and dismiss this case. With single-minded determination Brunetti fits together the pieces of this puzzle, and all the while the reader suspects he may be committing professional suicide.

This book is more than just a murder mystery. Particularly enjoyable are the glimpses we get of everyday life in Venice. The Venitians set their own pace centering on family, food, and friendships. This was the first Donna Leon mystery I’ve read, and I will definitely try others.