Thursday 24 March 2016

Undermajordomo Minor

by Patrick deWitt

Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor is a strange book. But wait, don’t put it away- it’s the good kind of strange, the type that makes you marvel at deWitt’s imagination while attempting to make sense of the world into which he’s dropped you. The titular undermajordomo (the assistant to the assistant) is Lucy Minor, a lonely young man who leaves his disinterested family to take a job in the mysteriously derelict Castle Von Aux. Lucy is a pathological liar, a coward and not well liked in his small town- we meet him when he’s sickly and half-dead, yet his parents don’t care.

deWitt’s language is reminiscent of surreal fairy tales and his characters surprise you at almost every turn- none of the characters behave exactly as you’d expect. They are based on clear stereotypes: young hero, elderly assistant, aloof baron, gruff cook, etc., but deWitt throws enough curveballs for even the most blasé reader. Though the novel’s basic plot is an adventurous coming of age story, it creeps toward that genre’s conventions only to twist away at the last second; the book is full of both a certain sweet wistfulness and a despairing darkness.  Paragraphs are short, and often break off into side stories of minor characters. It wasn’t clear or obvious where the story would eventually end up. Both dialogue and description are fast-paced and witty, giving the novel a snappy quality that never undersells its intelligence. The elderly majordomo, Mr. Olderglough, is brilliantly portrayed and his weirdly warm conversations with Lucy give the novel much of its charm. 

The novel offers no easy ending, no clear resolution, and maintains a tension throughout even its funniest moments. I’ll definitely be checking out deWitt’s prior novels, especially the critically acclaimed The Sister Brothers (I’ve already put it on hold), and I suspect I have a new writer to add to my list of favourites. If you like fairy tale humour or just general eccentricity, this is an excellent choice for you.

Thursday 17 March 2016

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove by Fredril Backman
I've been reading way too many sad and woeful books lately, and I wanted to read something funny and light for a change. So I picked up A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, mainly because the back cover promised a “funny, moving, heartwarming tale of love and community that will leave you with a spring in your step”. It was all that and much, much more.

Ove is a grumpy man of 59, which to me isn't old, but he certainly read like a much older man. He is someone who believes that there is a right and a wrong way to do things, and he can’t understand why anyone would not take the time to do things right. He never misses a chance to point this out to people.  

Forced into early retirement, Ove feels lost with having his days suddenly and unexpectedly empty from his work routine. Ove is a man of routines: he wakes up at the same time every day, has the same breakfast, and goes through the same inspection tour around the neighbourhood. 

Then one day everything changes.

During his routine inspection, Ove meets a cat with half a tail and only one ear. They instantly dislike each other.  That same day, a family moves in next door and they manage to back up a trailer against Ove’s house. The cat and the family soon become constant features in Ove’s life much against his protests. Everywhere he turns, there they are. They pop up in his lawn, his kitchen, and even his beloved blue Saab.

By all accounts, Ove shouldn't be a likeable character. He is an inflexible, bitter and angry man who is skeptical about everything and everyone, but he is also hilarious, unexpectedly sweet, and extremely noble. Behind his cranky exterior there is a story of love, sadness and loss. Backman slowly peels away the layers of what makes Ove who he is in such a way that it is impossible not to be utterly charmed by this most uncharming character.

I closed A Man Called Ove with the profound sadness of a reader who knows there might never be another book quite as marvellous as this one.  I recommend this book to people who enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Monday 14 March 2016

1001 Recipes You've Always Wanted to Cook

1001 Recipes You've Always Wanted to Cook
1001 Recipes You've Always Wanted to Cook

Collins & Brown; Edited by Heather Brown 

When I have the time, I love to cook and although I already have hundreds of cookbooks on my shelf at home (no, seriously!) I continue to be attracted to new cookbooks and new recipes to try.  Most recently, I had the delicious pleasure of borrowing 1001 Recipes You've Always Wanted to Cook, edited by Heather Brown. This book actually contained 1001 recipes I’ve always wanted to cook!

A feature I like when I am using a new recipe is having a photo of the finished product. I like to know what the dish is supposed to look like, mainly so I can tell as I go along, whether things are going well or not! This book has great colour photos of many of the dishes, which add to their mouth-watering goodness. Another attractive feature of the recipes is their multi-unit measurements. Each recipe offers you measurements in imperial (pounds, ounces, cups, pints), and metric (grams, millilitres).

This cookbook is a UK publication, but has been “Americanized” in that although the recipes in it are some good old home cooking favourites I grew up with in the UK, there’s not a lot of the UK language in the ingredients, and when it is used, a definition is offered. For example, “minced beef” is clarified as “ground beef” and “courgettes” as “zucchini.”

I jumped right into this easy to use book and had such success with the recipes (broccoli and goat cheese soup, green beans and almonds, chicken enchiladas….) that I bought the book!

This book is enhanced by its versatility and thriftiness. You won’t need to spend a fortune to try these creations. The ingredients are not too out of the ordinary and chances are you have most of them in your pantry, ready to be turned into a great new dish to impress your family and friends!

For other popular reading suggestions check out Richmond Public Library's Web site at

Thursday 10 March 2016

Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight
  By Alexandra Fuller

Written by a British expatriate, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is a memoir of growing up in Africa.  Set in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique and Malawi, this book follows Alexandra Fuller from the age of three as her family builds a life in an unforgiving and remote land.

The Fullers believe in colonial rule.  Although they are immigrants to Africa, they consider black Africans an inferior race.  Africans are employed as cooks, nannies, houseboys, labourers and trackers, but it’s the Fullers who run the farms on which they live.  And initially, it is also the British who govern.

Over time, Africans begin to rebel against their European rulers.  “Terrorism”, in the form of attacks on white settlers, is a constant concern for the Fullers.  Corruption in Africa is rife, war is rampant, and lawlessness is the rule.  Although the family lives with the uncertainty of government takeovers and later, spies, they never seem particularly bothered.  They contend with police road checks (which usually involve a bribe) and violence, not to mention disease, scorpions and polluted water with relative ease.  In a sense they are true Africans as all of these third world hardships are simply a fact of life for them.

Clearly there is nothing glamourous about farm life in Africa.  Alexandra, known as Bobo, is a true farm girl.  She revels in the horses, dogs, dirt and rhythm of life on the farm.  Having moved to Africa at the age of three, she also clearly adores the continent; Fuller’s writing brings to life the smells, the sweltering heat, and the stunning beauty.

On a more intimate note, Fuller describes the family’s loss of several children. The pain of these losses is felt most acutely by her mother, who struggles with alcoholism and her mental health as time wears on.  Her mother’s behaviour has a profound effect on the family of course.  Yet the Fullers soldier stoically on, throughout the growing familial madness.  The book ends on a positive note as both living daughters embark on their own lives. 

Alexandra Fuller provides an enlightening glimpse into the hearts and minds of colonial settlers.  And despite its dysfunctionality, I felt a deep affection for her family.  A fantastic read!

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Leonard, my fifty-year friendship with a remarkable man


As a child I used to watch old re-runs of Star Trek and wish for the time when there was such a crew of great men and women that would keep peace all over the universe. My two favourite characters have to be the stoic and calm Mr. Spock and the brave and handsome Captain Kirk. Upon Leonard Nimoy’s passing I found I was quite upset, it is strange how a television character can become like a friend, someone that you grow up with. Leonard, My Fifty-YearFriendship With A Remarkable Man is William Shatner telling stories and anecdotes of half a century of television, movies, directing, conventions and great experiences. From their first encounter on the television show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to decades of Trek stardom. Shatner has done a beautiful job of bringing together heartfelt stories and biographical information about Nemoy and their friendship.

For the Trekker or Trekkie (whichever you prefer) in all of us may this wonderful book ensure that the man behind the iconic character of Mr. Spock will “Live Long and Prosper” for generations to come.

Friday 4 March 2016

Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black
By Piper Kerman

Usually I like to read the book before I watch the show but in this case I went a little backwards. Orange is the New Black, the Netflix show, is one of my favourites, I had not even thought that it was a book first so when I saw it on our library shelves I snatched it up right away.
My favourite part of the book is that I get more details about Pipers past and readers get a deeper understanding into Piper's thought process. The reality of the situation that Piper found herself in is written out in dreadfully fine points.
For those who have not seen the show Orange is the New Black is the true story of a young woman who's past has caught up with her. When she was in her 20's Piper Kerman was looking for a little adventure after she graduated from college. She found this in a girlfriend who introduced her to international travel, fine dining and the world of drug smuggling. Piper escapes the world of drugs and makes a very different life for herself with a career, boyfriend, and comfortable home until, one day, a knock come to her door. Piper is arrested for a crime that happened a decade prior. This is the story of Piper Kerman and how she deals with life behind bars, the other woman that she meets and the reaction of her family and friends on the outside.
Richmond Public Library also has this book available in many forms, not just hard cover but also; audio book on Hoopla, audio book from Overdrive, Large type, and e-book.