Category Archives: humour

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

Standard

In the follow-up to her bestselling novels, Me before You and After You, author Jojo Moyes has published  an  eclectic  collection of nine short stories each from a woman’s perspective and dealing with  a variety of themes from troubled relationships to near magical shoes. The longest story in the set is “Paris for One” and centres on Nell who by her own admission is “not the adventurous type”, but has given up a planned trip to Brighton to have a romantic trip to Paris with her boyfriend, Peter.  At the outset it is clear that Peter has no intention of joining her, and instead of following her routine inclinations and cancelling, she embarks for Paris on her own.  The weekend does not start promisingly when Nell finds her hotel has double booked her and she spends the first night sharing with a stranger.  Preserving she soon discovers the delights of the city and the company of an attractive Frenchman named Fabien.

My favourite tale is “Between the Tweets”  and follows a formerly popular TV personality with a squeaky clean image and sinking ratings.  Mr. Travis is being trolled on the internet by a woman who claims to have had a spicy relationship with him.  The story is a delight about a PR nightmare with an unusual twist.

Each tale in this collection is intriguingly written, and  the characters are well drawn (if not necessary all entirely likeable) using dialogue for the most part mixed with subtle narration . Moyes experience as a journalist as well as a fiction writer is evident in the succinct  use of description that give the barest of details and leaves much to the reader’s imagination.

This would be a great and quick read for Moyes fans and anyone would relishes the joys of an interesting short story.

 

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

Standard

This elegantly written book shows just how connected we all are.  Here in Thunder Bay, it’s common to discover you have something or someone in common to almost everyone you meet.  The “one degree of separation” phenomenon is understandable in a city the size of ours, but could it work in the metropolis of New York?  This book proves it can, and one incredible dress is the touchstone that unites a group of nine diverse women.  It’s appropriate that the dress at the centre of this book is an iconic little black dress.  The dress takes on a mantle of magic as it fills a specific need for each woman that wears it.   The dress is created by a pattern maker at the end of his career, so it’s special as soon as it’s made.  A fresh off the bus model has the privilege to wear it first, and is an instant star.  After that the dress becomes the main character of the story.  Rosen gives the nine women their own chapter and voice, as their lives intersect with the dress. The dress works its magic in the lives of a Bloomingdales sales girl, a private detective, and a personal assistant, among others.  Rosen’s writing is a delight to read, and helps keep all the stories straight.  Readers discussing this book online have shared their own stories of life-changing moments, revealing that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

 

Midnight Riot (Rivers of London series) by Ben Aaronovitch

Standard

At first glance Midnight Riot is a murder mystery or perhaps a police procedural, however by page five Nicholas Wallpenny (ghost) is introduced and shortly thereafter the police are seeking traces of magic.  Our protagonist, probationary Constable Peter Grant, is unusual in the realm of supernatural mysteries; he’s working within the policing establishment.  While many police departments in the genre may employ wizards, witches, and the like as consultants, in this first of the Rivers of London series a lone Detective Chief Inspector leads a specialist unit all his own.  That is until he meets Constable Grant and sees in him the potential for an apprentice.midnightriot

So why with so much to choose from in this genre should you give your time to this book (and series)?  For starters, Peter Grant is a thoroughly likeable while imperfect character.  Easily distracted he does not fit the criteria to become a detective as he desires, but his interest in everything around him is exactly what draws the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale.  Peter’s colleague Leslie May sums it up best saying that Peter doesn’t “see the world the way a copper needs to see the world – it’s like [he’s] seeing stuff that isn’t there.”  It turns out that noticing the stuff that isn’t there is exactly what is needed in supernatural policing.  Nightingale is fascinating in his own right and we are slowly given insight into his character over the course of the series.  These two very different men each bring different skills to the table (only of the two really understands technology) to solve cases the Metropolitan Police couldn’t dream of solving on their own.

If you’re looking for an entertaining read over the holiday season with a good dose of humour I cannot recommend this highly enough.

The Books of Mo Willems

Standard

pigeonbusElephant and Piggie. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Knuffle Bunny. These perennial story-time favourites were all created by one author, the endlessly original Mo Willems. In addition to his series titles, Willems also writes popular standalone books. Most child readers (and those who read to children) will be familiar with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs and Tyrone the Terrible. This year, he has brought one series to a close and opened a new chapter.

 

After twenty-five stories, two gold medals from the Theodor S Geisel committee and five Geisel Honors, Willems has ended the adventures of Elephant and Piggie with The Thank You Book. These boisterous friends have had many adventures; including There is a Bird on Your Head! and We are in a Book! Told through humorous dialogue and simple, sparse illustrations, these books are a great pick for early readers and new installments will be missed.

knuffle

 

However, rather than saying a final farewell to these popular characters, Willems is using themmo-willems as a vehicle to bring attention to other exciting and worthwhile children’s authors in a new series called Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! In these books, Elephant and Piggie act as a framing device, introducing the story to readers and commenting on it in the final pages while another author writes and illustrates the central story itself.

 

I fully recommend checking out both of these new books. The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat uses a goofy cast of characters to introduce sharing and fractions to readers in a scenario all kids will recognize: four friends, but only three cookies. We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller explores individuality and self confidence amongst a group of silly grasses. Both books contain the humour and endearing characters found in Mo Willems’ own work and should satisfy any disappointed Elephant and Piggie super-fans.

 

 

The Pub across the Pond by Mary Carter

Standard

pubpondHaving returned recently from a wonderful trip to Ireland, I really wanted to love this book. The plot is centered about an American woman from Ohio that wins a pub in Ireland. The pub is being raffled off to pay a gambling debt of Ronan, the son the the deceased former owner. The woman, Carlene Rivers, decides this is her chance at a new life and not surprisingly falls passionately in love with Ronan. Both Carlene and Ronan have secrets and baggage, which slows the inevitable coming together of the two.

Parts of the book were enjoyable especially the descriptions of the setting, the antics of the pub regulars and developing relationship between Carlene and Ronan. Carlene was a difficult character to identify with, for though she was good-natured and well meaning; she was frequently prone to the type of supposedly humourous antics that would be more at home in a 1950’s sitcom. There were a number of plot threads that were introduced including Carlene’s former Irish boxer husband and the mysterious woman who looked like a famine victim and seemed to be stalking Carlene that were either left unresolved or wrapped up neatly within a page or so.

If you are looking for an undemanding and light read with a mix of romance, travelog and humour, this might be the book for you. Just a word about the language, for a conventional or unconventional romance there is a lot of swearing, (which is very true to the Irish character) but it might offend some audiences. For a GoodReads review, I’d probably award the book a 3 out of 5.

 

Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music by Tim Falconer

Standard

Everyone knows him – the child in the grade school choir who is asked to mime along when the class is singing. Or perhaps you are him and you know that you really are a good singer deep down but for some reason others seem not to agree. The author of Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music is author and journalist Tim Falconer, and is both of these. He loves music but has to admit to being a “bad singer” and so he embarked on a journey through the worlds of music and medical science to first get a confirmation that he truly was bad, and then to find out if there was hope to get re-trained and improve. Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of the 2.5 percent of the population that has amusia – he is scientifically tone-deaf. Fortunately for us, he is a great writer and investigator and he is able to take the reader through his personal odyssey to learn what that means, and what there is to know about this phenomena.

It turns out that there is much more to tone-deafness than simply not being able to hit the exact pitch. There is rhythm, timbre, tone, the arch of the melody and other intangibles that he tries to identify through the scientists and music experts he sees. Musicality is not just a function of the voice, or the throat or the ear – it is truly experienced and translated in the brain and it is the brain at fault for the author and others’ inability to reproduce sounds in pitch or to hear when there is a difference.

It is a fascinating book and one comes to really root for Falconer who is so determined to understand his weakness and to become a more proficient singer and ultimately, to sing on stage for an audience.  I won’t ruin the ending for you but I will highly recommend this informative and highly entertaining book which can lead one to a better understanding of why some can sing arias on the stage and others can sing their hearts out (but perhaps only should when they are in the shower.)

To find out if you might have amusia, look for the web-based sites he lists for self-testing.

badsinger

 

Angela Meady
Thunder Bay Public Library

Interview with Emma Hooper

Standard

Picture of Emma HooperRaised in Alberta, Emma Hooper brought her love of music and literature to the U.K., where she received a doctorate in musico-literary studies at the University of East Anglia and currently lectures at Bath Spa University.  She comes home to Canada to cross-country ski whenever she can. You can find her online at emmahooper.ca.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James?

Emma Hooper: The characters of Otto and Etta are inspired by, and loosely based on, my maternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother taught in a small prairie schoolhouse, like Etta, and my maternal grandfather came from a farm family of fifteen kids, like Otto. His hair all did turn white when he was over in Europe for the war. It’s a family trait, actually. I’ve got a natural white streak, and my brother does too… .

Etta’s journey has a very Forrest Gump-like feel once other folks start to follow her and bring her supplies.  Was this intentional?

Ha! No, I can’t say any Forrest Gump relation was intentional, but I’m certainly not the first, or last, one to use this type of ‘inspirational journey’ plot… it’s a good one!  I think it’s pretty much inevitable that people will find another book/movie/story like yours, no matter what you’ve written. There are only so many basic plots and basic character demographics, so I don’t mind so much. The content, the details, the style and the tone of the writing are the distinctive features, I believe.

Thinking of the details, why does Etta decide to go east to the Atlantic ocean?

Two quick answers for that: 1) Personal history (retracing Otto’s steps) and 2) The Rocky Mountains…

Oh yes, the Rocky Mountains would be a rather big obstacle when travelling on foot! While Etta is off on her adventure, Otto bakes through her recipe book.  Are these recipes from a family cookbook?

Yes they are. They are my grandmother’s, and, like the ones in the book, the originals were full of little coded shortcuts and amendments that made it difficult for anyone but my grandmother to really get them right! Like Otto, I’ve tried the cinnamon buns so many times…though I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded! Matrimonial cake/squares I’m better at. I’ve never tried the flax flower paste though…

You’ll have to give the paste a try!  Along with writing books, you’re the solo musician Waitress for the Bees and a member of the string quartet The Stringbeans.  Has music had any influence on your writing?

I think my musical background makes me overly sensitive to things like rhythm and pacing in my own writing. I can spend ages labouring over one sentence that’s perfectly okay in terms of grammar and content, but doesn’t have quite the rhythm, quite the right tempo. It pushes prose a bit more in the direction of poetry, I think (although I also think there’s no definite line there, no black and white. I like the idea of prose that reaches into poetry sometimes and vice versa).

So what are you working on now?

Putting the finishing touches on book two! It’s got mermaids…

That sounds exciting – I can’t wait! To finish up I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

One of the first ‘big kid’ books I remember reading was called My Daniel; it had something to do with dinosaur bones and the loss of a brother. I remember crying and crying as I read it and LOVING it. With that came the realisation that writing, books, could have this hugely potent impact that readers could let themselves go into.

Nowadays, I admire writers who play with magic and reality, and who embrace joy as well as suffering in their books. Examples are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Not exactly, no, I think everyone is allowed to have different tastes and things that will speak to them more or less. However, I do think that everyone should READ something! So, I guess my answer to the question is: Anything and everything!

That’s totally fair.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

A nonfiction book, actually, which is fairly rare for me, called Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James cover