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LET'S TALK LIBRARIES

A blog from the Southern Ontario Library Service

Off-the-beaten-track: Books on Overdrive

There are lots of big books this season. The girl on the train; All the light you cannot see; Orphan train; At the water’s edge. All of these have hundreds of holds!

So, while you wait for your chance to read one of the bestsellers, here are some quirky, wonderful, off-the-beaten-track reads that you might enjoy.

Secrets Men Keep Poster

The Secrets Men Keep, by Mark Sampson

The Secrets Men Keep is about the secrets men keep, and the comic possibilities that arise from our shifting sense of what it means to be a man. Taking an off-kilter approach to revealing the intricacies of modern relationships—relationships that can be at times funny, sensual, or tense—it’s about the lies that men tell themselves and others to keep their dreams and identities afloat.

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Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, by William Kuhn

After decades of service and years of watching her family’s troubles splashed across the tabloids, Britain’s Queen is beginning to feel her age. She needs some proper cheering up. An unexpected opportunity offers her relief: an impromptu visit to a place that holds happy memories–the former royal yacht, Britannia, now moored near Edinburgh. Hidden beneath a skull-emblazoned hoodie, the limber Elizabeth (thank goodness for yoga) walks out of Buckingham Palace into the freedom of a rainy London day and heads for King’s Cross to catch a train to Scotland. But a characterful cast of royal attendants has discovered her missing. In uneasy alliance a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the stables, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that supplies Her Majesty’s cheese set out to find her and bring her back before her absence becomes a national scandal.

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The End of the Alphabet, by CS Richardson

Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi (“Zipper”) have achieved a happy and balanced life together. She is the yin to his yang. He is the only man she has loved without adjustment. The two live co ntentedly in a narrow London terrace full of books.

That contentment is thrown into turmoil on or about Ambrose’s fiftieth birthday, when they receive the news that he has contracted a mysterious illness that will most certainly lead to his death within the month. In panicked delirium, from beneath their bed Ambrose withdraws an oxblood suitcase containing the ephemera of his long-suppressed life’s ambition: to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar.

Scuttling the responsibilities of their respectably successful careers, the two set off on an urgent voyage through real and imagined geographies of place, of history, of art, and of love.

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The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart

The Tower of London’s the center of this hilarious love story about Beefeater Balthazar, his wife, their tortoise and their eccentric friends. As Balthazar struggles to save his marriage, the rest of the cast carries on in a charming tangle, and when Balthazar is put in charge of a Tower zoo, hilarity breaks out. Sprinkled with fascinating Tower lore, the book will steal your heart.

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The Bird Sisters, Rebecca Rasmussen

When a bird flies into a window in Spring Green, Wisconsin, sisters Milly and Twiss get a visit. Twiss listens to the birds’ heartbeats, assessing what she can fix and what she can’t, while Milly listens to the heartaches of the people who’ve brought them. These spinster sisters have spent their lives nursing people and birds back to health.

But back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father got into an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted their hardscrabble lives wouldn’t change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn’t exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly’s eye. And, most unforgettably, it was the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.

Rebecca Rasmussen’s masterfully written debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, and offers wonderful surprises at every turn.

Longbourn Poster

Longbourn, by Jo Baker

A brilliantly imagined, irresistible below-stairs answer to Pride and Prejudice: a story of the romance, intrigue and drama among the servants of the Bennet household, a triumphant tale of defying society’s expectations, and an illuminating glimpse of working-class lives in Regency England.

The servants at Longbourn estate–only glancingly mentioned in Jane Austen’s classic–take centre stage in Jo Baker’s lively, cunning new novel. Here are the Bennets as we have never known them: seen through the eyes of those scrubbing the floors, cooking the meals, emptying the chamber pots. Our heroine is Sarah, an orphaned housemaid beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When the militia marches into town, a new footman arrives under mysterious circumstances, and Sarah finds herself the object of the attentions of an ambitious young former slave working at neighboring Netherfield Hall, the carefully choreographed world downstairs at Longbourn threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, up-ended. From the stern but soft-hearted housekeeper to the starry-eyed kitchen maid, these new characters come vividly to life in this already beloved world. Jo Baker shows us what Jane Austen wouldn’t in a captivating, wonderfully evocative, moving work of fiction.