I am such a big fan of September and the back-to-school season in general. It feels more like the real New Year to me – time for resolutions and fresh starts – and all the bright & clean feelings that go with it. In the first library that I worked at after graduation I had the good fortune of working with a woman who still bought new school supplies (every year her pencil cases were fabulous!) for herself even though she was 15 years beyond her school career just for the pleasure of participating in the annual ritual. This memory pops into my head each year as I do the shopping with my kids and I love it. It’s not just the shopping that I enjoy; I relish in the return to routine and the chance to bring something new to that pattern and this is exactly where the library’s resources comes in handy. Every August I turn to the WPL catalogue for inspiration and it never fails me.
One favourite thing I love to do in late August – especially just before we hit the stores for new clothing, pencils and binders – is a whole bedroom and desk overhaul. This is never an easy process for anyone at our house and it helps to have expert advice for getting it right. I have found that many books on organizing or purging your house have either too much information or plans that are too ambitious and this can be overwhelming. I don’t want to redecorate the house while I am reorganizing before back-to-school and I don’t want to sort our photographs into magical scrapbooks that will last a lifetime, I just want things to be tidy so I know what we need to buy and who needs new shoes for gym class. Here are two of the best books I have used lately on this topic. Both provide practical tips on donating gently used items, throwing away things that can’t be re-used, and being ruthless about what not to keep. Jamie Novak was gloriously cold-hearted in limiting how many individual things any family should have but she offset that by providing great tips on things like stocking your bathroom and pantry for safety and first aid while you purge.
Another thing I try to organize a little better each August is meal planning and lunch packing. Like every adult I would like to have healthier meals and a better plan for packing lunches. I would like less wasted food and get it all done a little quicker in the morning. Hooray! So, back to the WPL catalogue for a little bit of finesse and flair? Or at least a little spark that will give me a spring in my step as I walk to the pantry and fridge.
An easy thing to zero in on is lunches. Our two kids have less and less time to eat at school with the activities they do during their break time so I really need to zero in on things that are quick to eat and nutrient dense. I brought home a couple of books I loved and my kids found more that one thing in there that they liked, that didn’t include ingredients that I have to drive all over town to find, and that don’t involve me buying specialized equipment to create. Also, neither of these two books involves me making anything complicated like using chives to make faces on a hard-boiled egg. That type of book is beautiful and I admire the parents that make that kind of lunch but my kids cram so much into their knapsacks every day that it looks like they are heading off to Everest and those pretty lunches would not survive. So, here are two of my favourites from the lunch box books at WPL for you to try.
I try to get my kids involved in the lunch planning because every expert (including the ones who wrote all of these books) suggest this will help kids enjoy meals more and inform them about shopping, meal preparation and nutrition. It has helped a little bit and while we talked about lunch foods it naturally led to talking about improving our dinner menus and the things they might possibly eat for that meal. For support I turned to the WPL catalogue. Why buy expensive cookbooks when I can enjoy the variety we have on the shelves here in the library? I am not heroic in the kitchen and tend to stick with books that are created to help someone who needs encouragement in cooking for a family. These two experienced cookbook authors and bloggers are suggesting ways that you can plan ahead to make nutritious meals that kids will eat and use up leftovers in lunches or quick evenings where everyone has to be in a different place by 6:00. They also suggest that you balance your life and still prepare spectacular meals on nights when you feel inspired (maybe on a long weekend or day off) with nights when you are in a hurry using the skills/recipes they suggest in their books. It’s nice to read that published experts feel overwhelmed by cooking and that they also have a child who just last week said that they loved tilapia and this week can’t stand the sight of it on a plate. How is this possible? These two books are immensely helpful and a joy to read as well.
Menu planning, cleaning out bedrooms and desks, changing routines, going to new new schools, finding out if any of the sports equipment fits, learning if music lessons and other events sort back into the complex puzzle of the week? Phew, it’s all part of the back-to-school routine that I love to return to every year. Really, it’s easy to love when you have all of these gorgeous books for inspiration, and a spiffy new pencil case.
– – Penny M.
I’m not one to read biographies, but this memoir was worth it. Samantha Verant’s Seven Letters from Paris is part romance, personal journey, travelogue and one whirlwind tale! Verant’s self-reflection during the rediscovery of seven letters she received after one fantasy-like day with a French man twenty years prior, gives one pause that truth is stranger than fiction. Love indeed never fades. This book provides a warm fuzzy read and a look at life and what one can do to achieve what one really wants given the courage and opportunity. I highly recommend this book for those wanting to reaffirm that princes and princesses do exist even if you weren’t born with that title.
– – Teresa N-P
I love my vegetable garden.
I’ve been growing my own vegetables since I was a teenager (possibly a strange interest for a teenager!). Since then I’ve grown veggies at a community garden plot and at the three homes I’ve lived in. I like having a direct connection with at least some of the food I eat, the bonus being all that wonderful, fresh produce. I particularly like to grow tomatoes, greens and way, way too many zucchinis.
This book is very cool. It shows you how to maximize your garden by eliminating empty spaces, so that each plant just meets up with the next. It also contains lots of helpful advice, such as how to create really fertile soil, companion planting etc.
A few years ago I saw one of these postage stamp gardens, and I was absolutely amazed that such a small garden space—maybe a couple of feet square—could grow such a large quantity of vegetables.
This is a new idea to me, as I’ve always grown my vegetables the traditional way, in rows with plenty of spaces between the rows. I must say that reading this book has opened up new possibilities to me. I can’t wait to incorporate them into my garden.
– – Penny D.
Is The Girl on the Train really the “next Gone Girl“? Everyone seems to think so. The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, Oprah and the New York Times have all made connections between the two novels in their reviews of Paula Hawkins’ new book. But, is it really the “next Gone Girl“? I don’t want to spoil anything for you but… okay, I will tell you that there is a girl in it – three, in fact – and it is chilling and fast-paced, much like Gone Girl. I couldn’t stop turning the pages and, just as I did with Gillian Flynn’s book, I kept saying things out loud while I read – stunned by the actions of the characters. So. Will you find The Girl on the Train fills the hole left behind after you finished reading all about Amy and Nick? I’m not sure. But, if you are waiting for your chance on the Holds list for The Girl on the Train I have a few to suggest you might read in the meantime.
For sheer creepiness I’ll suggest Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson. We read this one a few years back in my book club and we all agreed that it was hard to get that woman’s story out of our heads. Poor Christine is faced with forgetting everything about her life each morning when she wakes up and finds it hard to trust anyone – her husband, her therapist or even herself. There are moments in the book where you wonder how she can continue to wake up each day while being constantly plagued by doubt and fear. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel uneasy. You might not want to read it before you go to sleep. Maybe in a bright room in the middle of the afternoon.
If you want a lighter side for your thriller reading (but still including a nice, satisfying murder) then try Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. She is a fantastic storyteller and this one kept me guessing through the whole thing. I knew that someone had to be the killer – the evidence was clear that the victim couldn’t have taken their own life – but I was never sure who to blame. Husbands, friends, teachers were all in the mix as the possible killer. The story is set in a group of parents who are getting ready for the elementary school fundraising event and although you could guess that tempers might flare in that situation, would you guess it would lead to murder? It’s filled with surprises and even a little bit funny.
A well-named novel from the spring of 2014 would also be a great choice if you are looking for something that will keep you on the edge of your seat. In You Should Have Known Grace is a successful therapist with a thriving private practice who writes a book in which she criticizes women for not following their instincts – suggesting that they ‘should have known’ better as the title of her book reminds them – when her own life goes completely off the rails. Her perfect husband goes missing, there is a terrible murder that he might be involved with, and she finds that their fabulous marriage has been made of lies. Grace is not easy to like (who can possibly like a woman who would name her self-help book something so unpleasant) but there were moments when I couldn’t help but feel for her and maybe, a tiny bit, start hoping things would take a turn for the better. Watching her life disintegrate was mesmerizing and horrifying at the same time and, like The Girl on the Train, there was no way this book could be put aside. It was possible for me to ignore laundry and cooking but not the story of this woman’s life.
Many comparisons have been drawn between Girl on the Train and Hitchcock’s Rear Window. It was gripping to see the main character watch something unfold and step so close to the danger that they might become a victim themselves. She didn’t look like Grace Kelly in my imagination but I felt that same sense of worry for the character in the book as I did when I watched that perfect movie. That eerie feeling of seeing someone watching and then becoming involved in a murder reminded me of Laura Lippman’s 2011 novel The Girl in the Green Raincoat (another title with a girl in it!) where her busy private investigator, Tess Monaghan, is forced to spend the last months of her pregnancy on bed rest and tries to get to the bottom of a mystery centering around a missing dog walker she has been watching through her sunroom window. Her investigation puts her at risk and each chapter had me wishing she’d solve the case but also wishing she would just stop investigating and be safe.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you think the girl on the train is as captivating as the girl who is gone. In the meantime there are lots of other female characters to read about (and worry about) on the shelves here at WPL. They are all fairly suspenseful so I’d suggest you read any of these books in the daylight, but not by a window, or while you are on the train.
– – Penny M.
I love finding a book that I can get lost in – it also doesn’t hurt if I can learn a thing or two about a historical era in the process. As luck would have it one of my favourite historical fiction authors, Michelle Moran, has just released her latest book, The Rebel Queen. I devoured it in 3 days.
Moran is skilled at writing character driven historical fiction books based on famous women. From Nefertiti and Madame Tussaud to Napoleon’s second wife Marie-Louise and Cleopatra, Moran brings her readers into the tumultuous lives of her characters. She also has a knack for giving her readers historical facts but not so much that it bogs down the pace of the book.
The Rebel Queen is set in India in the mid 1800’s and follows the life of Sita, a young woman from a small village who has lived in purdah (seclusion from men outside her family) her entire life. In order to change her fate of marrying at a young age she trains and applies to be one of Durga Dal, an elite group of female guards trained to protect Rani (Queen) Lakshmi of Dhansi. The story then follows Sita to Dhansi where her life in the palace is far from the small town she grew up in but the dangers are far worse. With the invasion of the British the Rani’s kingdom is in jeopardy. She is a strong monarch and does everything she can, including raising a male and female army, to defend her country from the British.
This is the kind of book where you find yourself sneaking off to read ‘just one more page’ which really turns into 5 or 10 pages which means you might as well just finish the chapter. If you’re looking for a great book to get lost in I’d definitely suggest picking up anything from Michelle Moran. She writes about strong female historical characters and engages her audience from the beginning and doesn’t let up until the final page has been turned.
Check out her other books here at WPL where we offer some of her books in print, e-book or e-audio formats …
– – Laurie P.
The cozy mystery is a popular genre that is relatively new, starting in the late 20th century, and typically involves amateur sleuths solving murders in quaint settings. The sleuths are relatable to the reader and often have a unique business or hobby such as a bookstore or coffee shop. These books tend to lack gory details but have a sense of humour and a variety of colourful characters. Oftentimes these sleuths have connections to the police department where they can get added help in solving the crime but usually solve the case before the police. Personally I’m a sucker for a Cozy Mystery that has the mystery set in a bookshop or coffee shop (two of my favourite haunts). Here are some Cozies that you can cozy up with as the weather gets cooler.
Cupcake Bakery mystery series by Jenn McKinlay
Cupcakes, mystery and recipes … oh MY! This series follows the spunky trio of Mel, Ang and Tate who own a cupcake shop. These three have great, believable chemistry with each other and enough nosiness to keep the mystery going at a good pace. With tempting recipes at the back of the book, this series will have your tummy rumbling and keep you up well into the night to finish it.
Start with #1 Sprinkle with Murder
Haunted Bookshop series by Alice Kimberly
Penelope is a manager at a Rhode Island bookshop that locals believe to be haunted. After an author suddenly dies during a book signing who is the first person who offers help? The bookstore’s ghost – a Private Investigator who was murdered in the store over 50 years ago.
Start with #1 – The Ghost and Mrs. McClure
Novel Idea series by Lucy Arlington
Set within a literary agency in a small town this series has a cast of quirky secondary characters, a nosy, yet likeable protagonist and enough ‘red herrings’ to keep readers guessing. Lila is a good main character with her own family issues to deal with – including living with her quirky mother and dealing with her teenage son who has a penchant for getting into trouble.
Start with #1 Buried in a Book
Here are some other options for Cozy mystery series –
Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Start with #1 Maisie Dobbs
Death on Demand series by Carolyn Hart. Start with #1 Death on Demand
Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews. Start with #1 Murder, With Peacocks
Faith Fairchild series by Katherine Hall Page. Start with#1 The Body in the Belfry
Bubbles Yablonsky series by Sarah Strohmeyer. Start with #1 Bubbles Unbound
– – Laurie P.
Working in a library it is only natural to have a love of reading and, when asked, to share that love of reading with others. People often come into the library asking for a recommendation for a great book to read. Often people have an idea about the type of book they are looking for i.e. a good mystery, latest book by James Patterson, etc. But not always. Just as often a customer will have no requirement for the book other than it be “good”. I know. I know. “Good” can mean so many different things to different people. But, over time, I’ve developed a list of some reliable titles to suggest for just these requests. Some new. Some old(er). All good!
The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurin
The president of France accidentally leaves his hat in a restaurant. The gentlemean who picks up the hat proudly wears the hat and it somehow transforms him. He, in turn, loses the hat. When it is discovered by someone else her life also takes on new meaning. Until, inevitably it blows into someone else’s life. Sometimes a hat (or a new pair of shoes or anything else) is just a hat. But sometimes, it is something much more.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A.J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight–an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
A classic screwball romance about a handsome but awkward genetics professor and the woman who is totally wrong for him A first-date dud, socially awkward and overly fond of quick-dry clothes, genetics professor Don Tillman has given up on love, until a chance encounter gives him an idea. He will design a questionnaire–a sixteen-page, scientifically researched questionnaire–to uncover the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker or a late-arriver. Rosie is all these things. She is also fiery and intelligent, strangely beguiling, and looking for her biological father a search that a DNA expert might just be able to help her with.
Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State–and she would do it alone.
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends–and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society–born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island–boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
About the Author by John Colapinto
Just how did Cal Cunningham — a twenty-five-year-old bookstore stockboy who is new to Manhattan and who has never written anything — publish a bestselling novel that sells to the movies for a million dollars? A mysterious roommate, a timely bike accident, and the rapacious literary agent Blackie Yaeger all play a role in Cal’s success. Deception, blackmail, and murder all play a role in his desperate bid to hold on to it.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Set in a World War II Leningrad, the persistent Nazi siege is slowly starving the inhabitants. Lev, a seventeen-year-old Jew living in Leningrad, gets arrested for looting, a crime punishable by death. He shares a cell with Kolya, a strong and handsome deserter. All seems lost until they are summoned by a respected Soviet colonel for an odd request. Their task: find two dozen eggs for the colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake. The quest for the eggs leads them all over the city and eventually behind German lines.
The Book Thief by M. Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist-books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life by Trevor Cole
Toronto stage actor Norman Bray has renounced all responsibility in the name of his “art.” Now, middle-aged, teetering on the edge of financial ruin, and clinging to the faded light of his career, Norman must answer to the bank, to the adult children of his recently deceased common-law wife, and, most of all, to his own illusions about himself. Making matters worse, Amy, his stepdaughter-of-a-sort, discovers her late mother’s journals and the unhappiness they contain. Meanwhile, Norman finds himself embroiled in the affairs of an attractive neighbour, with unexpected consequences.
– – Christine B.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.
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Okay, so imagine the apocalypse is upon us. You have five minutes pack a few things together and escape to safety. What books do you grab?