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Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Rooms

The Secret Rooms:  A True Gothic Mystery by Catherine Bailey.

This is a first person narrative by a 20th century historian, writer, producer and director who began researching for a book about Belvoir Castle and its environs during the First World War but in the end it turned into something completely different. 
During her research, Catherine Bailey stumbles on a mystery centered on the 9th Duke of Rutland who died of pneumonia in a small room that held historical documents.  After his death, the room he died in and other rooms connected to it were sealed off for over 60 years. 
The Duke was an obsessive Archivist and amateur Archaeologist and kept meticulous records of the history of his family going back hundreds of years. However during the author’s perusing of the Duke’s personal correspondence she notices that some of the letters he wrote were missing as were corresponding letters from other family members. His diary pages during this period of time are blank as well.  Why would someone so interested in chronicling history deliberately excise almost a year’s worth of correspondence? 
As the author continues her research she discovers that the Duke was using a code to correspond with his uncle.  The mystery only deepens as the research continues.  It seems that the castle was scheduled to be used as a military barracks but that someone pressured the government into using it as an archive for top secret material – thousands of boxes worth of material.  But why? 
This is a finely crafted tale that you won’t want to put down until you know the secret of the rooms.
Review by Annette from Mission Branch

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was written by Jeanette Winterson when she was just 24 “during the winter of 1983 and the spring of 1984.” It was her first book and went through more than a few publishers' hands before newly created Pandora’s Press took a chance with Winterson’s self-described “experimental novel” about a gay teenage girl brought up in a fanatically religious family. Pandora was rewarded for their risk when Oranges… went on to win the Whitbread Award for best first novel after enormous sales thanks to rampant word-of-mouth but very little publicity.

In the Vintage Books edition of Oranges… Winterson gives the reader a stark review of her own novel. “Oranges is a threatening novel,” she tells us. Her purpose is to expose the “psychoses” of the church and the “sham” of the family unit. She claims these two institutions profess love as their foundation, but instead thwart love along with happiness, freedom, and individuality. Specifically, the love that is thwarted by family and church in this novel is the homosexual love between the teenage protagonist, Jeanette, and a friend that she has successfully converted to her Fundamentalist church. The reaction of Jeanette’s fanatically religious mother is extreme to say the least and involves everything from hours of interrogation by members of the church to days of incarceration and starvation.

Winterson’s novel is best described as a fictionalized autobiography. She is herself gay and had a similar upbringing – she even gives the protagonist her own name. The isolated childhood she endures in the midst of a dysfunctional family (and that is to put it mildly) and an extreme fundamentally evangelical church could be a very sad story – but isn’t.  Winterson is very funny and her style, though “experimental” as she says, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before, is absolutely delightful and makes for an easy and quick read. You will be hooked from the first few sentences…

Review by Kendra Runnalls, Community Librarian for the Revelstoke Branch

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Light of the World - a Struggle Between Good and Evil

The Light of the World (2013) is another novel almost impossible to put down. It is a riveting mystery by James Lee Burke, a master storyteller hailed by critics as possibly the best American novelist writing today in any genre. This volume is the twentieth in the author’s acclaimed Dave Robicheaux series, a book a cataloguer at the Library of Congress aptly assigned the subject heading of “Good and Evil”. 

 The struggle between good and evil lies at the heart of the Robicheaux series. Light of the World is no exception—it is a powerful, insightful study of the nature of evil. The novel opens with Robicheaux, a Louisiana sheriff’s detective, on vacation in Montona with family and friends. There they find themselves hounded and haunted by a psychopathic serial killer, Asa Surrette, a man believed to have been killed in a horrific prison van crash.

 This spells big trouble for Dave, his old buddy Clete Purcel, Gretchen Horowitz, a contract killer last seen executing her father in Creole Belle (2012) and Alafair, Dave’s daughter and the ultimate target of Surrette’s pitiless wrath.   
Review by Peter Critchley of  the Vernon Branch

Monday, February 17, 2014

Black History Month: Book Review of Emancipation Day

February is Black History Month in Canada!

Two books I have read recently come to mind, each based on the author's previously “unknown-to-them” family history. One is Linda Spalding's The Purchase (2012) which I may review another time. The other is Emancipation Day (2013) by Wayne Grady.

This novel features a main character, Jack, who lives his life passing as white, rejecting his own race. The author was in a library 20 years earlier researching his ancestral roots, curious about which Irish county his great-grandfather immigrated from before settling in Windsor, Ont. There he discovered in an 1890 Census that this man was not Irish at all, not even white, but instead a black African-American. His father, who had always claimed to be of Irish descent, was in fact black, but with a complexion light enough that he could “pass” for white. Grady had never been told.

Previously a prolific author of non-fiction, Grady has written his first novel based on this discovery. The novel starts during WWII when a young white girl from Newfoundland, Vivian, falls in love with a young sailor, Jack, from Windsor. The story is told in alternating chapters from Jack's & Vivian's points of view.

I will not divulge the plot, but suffice it to say that Jack keeps his racial heritage a secret from Vivian for quite some time. This may seem far-fetched, except that it really happened in Grady's family, in Canada. Set in the big-band era, this novel explores many themes: race, racial politics, shame, denial, self-discovery, love & family dynamics. Long-listed for the 2013 Giller Prize, this novel is “A haunting, memorable, believable portrait of a man so desperate to deny his heritage that he imperils his very soul.” (Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes).

Diana Inselberg is a retired librarian and resident of Enderby.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

Sometimes you stumble across a treasure when you're looking for something else entirely.
Susan Wiggs started writing at the young age of 8. Her first book was published in the 1987 and since then she has been published by Avon, Tor, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Warner and Mira Books.  Unable to completely abandon her beloved teaching profession, Susan is a frequent workshop leader and speaker at writers' conferences, including the literary institution Fields End and the legendary Maui Writers Conference. She has won three RITA awards; a few RWA Favorite book of the year awards as well as appearing regularly on numerous ‘best of’ lists.

I picked up my first Wiggs novel many many years ago and quickly became a fan, devouring each novel I read. Most recently my mother declared she couldn’t get enough of Susan Wiggs. I have never known my mother to indulge in the “romance fiction” genre written like Wiggs but was pleasantly surprised at her enthusiasm.  It prompted me to revisit Wiggs’ book list to see if any of her current novels fit into my “reading for pleasure” criteria.

Sure enough, “The Apple Orchard” is her latest in a new series called Bella Vista Chronicles. I started it over my lunch hour one day at work and proceeded to finish the book in its entirety that same evening. I can’t recall the last time I read for 4 hours straight, unable to tear myself away, devouring every word.

“The Apple Orchard”, which is the first part of a three part series, has some unique and captivating qualities. At the beginning of each chapter Wiggs provides a scrumptious recipe, none of which I tried but am tempted to borrow the book again just to try a few of them for a taste test. It appeals to different genres readers as it has elements of mystery and suspense, sprinkled with a dash of romance. The story with the many twists and turns of the plot wasn’t so much a romance story as a family story. Parts of the book are set in the past, in war-torn Denmark. This was very believable and gave the book a more exotic and serious atmosphere. It was interesting to see how this part of the story connected up with the modern time.

If you want to curl up with a cup of tea and get lost in a book for a few hours, Wiggs tells a layered, powerful story of love, loss, hope and redemption that you will most likely become captivated by.
Also available as an eBook
Review by Naomi Vancaillee, community librarian at the Peachland Branch

Friday, February 7, 2014

Shakespeare's Rebel - Power, Politics, Conspiracy and Rebellion

Shakespeare’s Rebel (2013) by talented Canadian author C.C. Humphreys is a terribly gripping historical thriller set in London 1599, a city on the brink of revolution. John Hawley, the protagonist of the story, is the best swordsman in England. He is also a player, or actor, an alcoholic with a great affinity for Ireland’s “finest aqua vitae” and is still deeply in love with Tess, the estranged woman he loves and the mother of their son.
There is more to John Hawley, a veteran of several major battle campaigns, than the reader might appear in the opening chapter. He is desperate to win back Tess, be the kind of father his son can respect and choreograph the fight scenes for the splendid new theatre, the Globe. John also wants to remain free to help his oldest friend Will Shakespeare complete the play that threatens to destroy him: The Tragedy of Hamlet.

The only problem is the Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth’s last, and perhaps, greatest love. The earl, a champion jouster and dashing general, is a man John ardently wishes to avoid. He knows the other side of the earl, an impetuous melancholic, and he has had to risk his life for him in battle several times before. All John wants is to remain free to realize his dreams But he soon finds himself enmeshed in the intrigues of court and forced to play a deadly game of power, politics, conspiracy and rebellion.

Review by Peter Critchley of the Vernon Branch

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Career Cruising at the ORL!

The Okanagan Regional Library is happy to offer Career Cruising to its library patrons.

Career Cruising is an online, interactive career guidance tool, where you can explore hundreds of career profiles and take interest and skill assessments that will help you decide what your career interests may be. 

Career Cruising also features the My Plan portfolio, this online portfolio is where you can save your interest and skills assessment results, information about careers and schools of interest, or work. Just a quick registration is needed with the site in order to save your assessments and use the My Plan portfolio.

Every patron at the ORL can use Career Cruising for free, either at home or in your library branch.
Try out Career Cruising! From the ORL homepage,, click on the “View All Digital Resources” button. Then, click on the Career Cruising link and enter your library card barcode number (if prompted).

Career Cruising is pretty fun and interesting, you can easily plan the steps you need to take on the path toward your dream job!


 Each month, the ORL features one of its eResources. Library membership gives ORL patrons access to a wide range of eResources that can be accessed from home and in the library. These eResources can be used for reading and enjoyment, to help you with your research needs, or to learn new things.

 Bring the library to your home today!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: Aztec - a Brilliant, Hypnotic Adventure

During the winter it is easy to imagine sailing on a warm emerald sea or lolling in the surf of a tropical island paradise. Many of us cannot escape the cold of a northern winter. But it is still possible to journey to exotic temperate lands. All it takes is a decent book—the only fare you need to travel to the ends of the earth or even back in time.

 Aztec (1980) by Gary Jennings is a brilliant, hypnotic adventure that works on more than one level, like all great works of art. The compelling story steams with intrigue, gore and sex and at the same time serves as a remarkable tribute to the Aztec civilization, destroyed by Cortez in the 16th century.

 The work is narrated by Dark Cloud, the son of a quarry foreman and in his “sheaves of years” he will be a student, scribe, warrior, diplomat, merchant and finally the prisoner of an inane Spanish bishop occupied with beating the natives into slaves. During the course of nearly six decades Dark Cloud’s occupations and explorations take him from the Athens-style schools of the Reverend Speaker of Texcoco to dark, foreboding jungles and parched wastelands inhabited by people both ferocious and peaceful.

 Dark Cloud’s fate is to “see things near and plain… and remember”. But serving as a witness, and the involuntary chronicler of his people’s past for the invading Spaniards, carries a terrible price. During the course of his adventurous life he will lose everyone dear to him, including his sister Tzitzi, first wife Zanya and young daughter Nochip.
Review by Peter Critchley of the Vernon Branch