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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #781

Fri, 06/04/2021 - 8:41am by muffy

phone_boothThe Phone Booth at the Edge of the World,* *  Laura Imai Messina’s English-language debut (translated from the Italian by Lucy Rand) is an international bestseller (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook). It is inspired by the author’s visit to a wind phone (風の電話, kaze no denwa) in Otsuchi, (Iwate Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan), a rural town decimated by the 2011 tsunami.

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that reached miles inland, killing an estimated 15,897 people, among them Yui’s mother and 3-year-old daughter. Relocated to Tokyo, she makes the arduous journey every month to the garden created by artist Itaru Sasaki where visitors could hold one-way conversations with deceased loved ones in an old disused telephone booth. But once there, radio host Yui finds that she cannot bring herself to speak into the receiver. 

Instead she finds Tokyo surgeon Takeshi, a bereaved husband whose own daughter has stopped talking in the wake of her mother’s death. Over time, they form a deep connection to the place, to each other, and others who make use of the phone. 

“This wonderful, gentle, hopeful story leads the reader through the beginning of Yui and Takeshi’s 30 years together. Through their sorrow and grief, they learn how to let happiness, hope, joy, and laughter reside side by side with their memories of loss. It is a beautifully written book. Messina,  an Italian who has lived in Tokyo for 15 years, writes in a way that’s evocative of Kazuo Ishiguro but in an opposite way: While Ishiguro leads with comfort and hints at the sadness to come, Messina offers grief and sadness first but offers the reader a trail of breadcrumbs toward future happiness. A must-read. “ (Kirkus Reviews) 

Since it has been opened to the public, the wind phone has received over 30,000 visitors. A number of replicas (including one in Aspen Mountain, Colorado to commemorate persons who died in the COVID-19 pandemic) have been constructed around the world. It is the inspiration for several novels and films, including The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden, a 2019 picture book by Canadian writer Heather Smith

 * *  = 2 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #780

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 8:19am by muffy

“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. May you stay forever young.” ~ Bob Dylan 

raft_of_starsSet in the Wisconsin's Northwoods where the author grew up, Raft of Stars * (also available in eBook and audiobook) by Andrew Graff is the adventures of 10-year-olds Fischer "Fish" Branson and Dale "Bread" Breadwin the summer of 1994.  Fearing that he had killed Bread’s abusive father with his own gun, Fish and Bread fled into the woods around Claypot, WI. With limited supplies and great ingenuity, the pair crafted a raft to carry them down the river. Their destination - the armory where Fish’s father was a decorated soldier. 

Cal, the new sheriff in town, and Fish’s grandfather Teddy, with whom he spent his summers took off after them on horseback, trying to intercept them before the deadly rapids, while Fish's mother Miranda, and Tiffany, a purple-haired gas station attendant who found a rare connection with Cal, were making their way in a canoe to reach the boys. 

“By the time these six converge at a perilous waterfall, each has come to know more about themselves and each other. Though the resolution yields few surprises, Graff depicts the harsh Northwoods setting and his misfit characters' inner lives with equal skill. The dynamic quest narrative offers plenty of rich moments.” (Publishers Weekly)  

“Reminiscent of stories like Stand By Me and Have You Seen Luis Velez?, Graff's debut novel will enchant fans of Chris Cleave and Melissa Bank. Graff's narrative voice is lyrical, with a Southern Gothic edge that fits surprisingly well with the Wisconsin Northwoods setting. Exploring the necessity of the stories we tell ourselves to survive, Raft of Stars is a clever, compelling coming-of-age tale.“ (Booklist)

music_of_beesIn The Music of Bees * (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Eileen Garvin, each of the 26 chapters opens with an observation from L. L. Langstroth, American apiarist, considered to be the father of American beekeeping. It tells the story of how three lonely strangers in a rural Oregon town save the local honeybee population.

44 year-old widow Alice Holtzman, a hobbyist beekeeper in Hood River, Ore.  is driving home at twilight with a truck-load of new beehives when distracted, nearly runs over 18 year-old Jake Stevenson in his wheelchair. Left paraplegic from an accident at a graduation party, and with his music scholarship gone, Jake rides his chair all over town to escape his abusive father.  Charmed by Jake’s sincere interest in her bees, Alice invites Jake to stay at her farm. 

To extend her hive operation, Alice hires Harry Stokes, a 25 year-old with little option and no family for some carpentry work, and ends up offering him the use of the bunkhouse, and soon the trio find themselves friends as well as family. As Alice toils at her underappreciated job at the county planning department, Jake increasingly takes on the beekeeping responsibilities, and is the first to notice that something is killing the bees. They soon identify the threat - the pesticide conglomerate SupraGro, openly courting the local orchards with free products.

“Both buoyant and bittersweet, Garvin's impressive first novel, a luscious paean to the bonds of friendship and limitations of family, is the kind of comforting yet thought-provoking tale that will appeal to fans of Anne Tyler and Sue Miller.(Booklist)

 * = Starred review

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AADL Plans For Full Reopening July 12

Tue, 05/25/2021 - 10:00am by richretyi

The Ann Arbor District Library plans for a full reopening of all five locations on Monday, July 12 at noon. The Library's plans are intended to fully reopen the system with as few restrictions as possible, while also minimizing the chance of future re-closures. Library staff are already working to transition library spaces back to a browsing configuration, and preparing collections, services and software for the July reopening.

The Library's hours will remain noon to 8pm seven days a week with a plan to return to regular hours by September. Leading up to the reopening, all Library locations will be closed from Friday, July 9 through Sunday, July 11 to remove contactless lobby pickup shelves and infrastructure. 

When the Library reopens:

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #779

Fri, 05/21/2021 - 12:12am by muffy

dictionary_of_lost_words

Australian memoirist (One Italian Summer, 2017) Pip Williams, based her debut novel The Dictionary of Lost Words *  (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) on her original research in the Oxford English Dictionary archives. In her Author’s Notes, Williams laments that she was only able to identify mostly the male scholars who compiled the first edition of the OED, thus making it a rather “flawed and gendered text”. This novel is her attempt to acknowledge the contributions of the largely unnamed women lexicographers. 

Work began on the Dictionary in the 1850s. By the 1880s, James A. H. Murray, a Scottish schoolmaster was its editor, working out of the “Scriptorium,” a garden shed in Oxford with a group of lexicographers, among them, widower Harry Nicholl whose young daughter, Esme was allowed to spend her days under the sorting table, listening and observing the team at work.

One day a slip of paper containing the word “bondmaid” landed in Esme’s lap. Believing it to be discarded, she hid it in a wooden chest.  Over time, with the help of Lizzie, the Murrays’ maid and women at the local market, Esme collected words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences, deemed unworthy and too objectionable by the OED gatekeepers, words she hoped to publish in her own dictionary - the Dictionary of Lost Words.

The narratives parallel the women’s suffrage movement in England as Esme gradually became a trusted member of the OED team while she continued to collect words in her wooden chest.  “The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth.” (Kirkus Reviews)  

“Enchanting, sorrowful, and wonderfully written, the book is a one-of-a-kind celebration of language and its importance in our lives.” (Library Journal) 

“A lexicographer's dream of a novel, this is a lovely book to get lost in, an imaginative love letter to dictionaries.” (Booklist)  

* = Starred review

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Bird Box

Wed, 05/19/2021 - 3:17pm by mrajraspn08

Bird BoxI didn't see Bird Box for a long time, until I saw the book was in the horror section, and I realized it was completely different than I had thought. I checked out the book and finished it in twenty-four hours--I was so spooked, I couldn't just set it down! Since seeing the movie, I've recommended this book to several people who said they weren't impressed with it, and if that's you, or if you did like the movie, read the book! Malernan is excellent at pacing, with a slow build that has you on the edge of your seat, and his specialty is a horror you can't see--literally. Bird Box features a horror that will drive you to insanity with even the quickest glance, and his other novels are similar. This only increases the terror, because how do you fight a monster you can't even look at? 

I was so fascinated and terrified (and I'm hard to scare!) by Bird Box that I proceeded to read all of Malernan's work--in a week and loved all of them. If you haven't read it yet, clear your weekend and check it out. 

 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #778

Fri, 05/14/2021 - 9:27pm by muffy

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev * * *  (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Dawnie Walton (Iowa Writers’ Workshop).  

This memorable debut is structured as an oral history project, documenting Opal & Nev - an avant-garde rock duo who found a certain cult following in the 1970s, in anticipation of their reunion tour after an absence of decades.  

Sunny Shelton, the first African American woman editor of a music magazine, researches and interviews not only the principal characters, but also family, friends, managers, and critics of the pair.  Her passion is fueled by a personal agenda - her father, Jimmy, was a drummer for the duo and was having an affair with Opal when he was killed at a showcase concert that was supposed to rock them to stardom. 

Opal Jewel, a fiercely independent young woman from Detroit, caught the eye of Nev(ille) Charles, an aspiring British singer/songwriter at a NYC open mic. Bald, black, outrageously stylish, and radical in her politics, her voice and energy impressed. Leaving behind family and the 9-5 job at Michigan Bell, she took up Nev’s offer to make rock music together. 

As the reunion tour approaches, Sunny discovers conflicting versions of what actually happened on that fateful night. A well-published photo captured Opal blanketed in a Confederate flag as Nev carried her away, while presumably, Jimmy was left to face a riotous crowd. 

“The novel is book-ended by an equally violent reunion that confirms a shocking secret, and Opal proves herself the champion of the "marginalized, bullied, discriminated against." Walton pumps up the volume with a fresh angle on systemic racism and freedom of expression. This is a firecracker.” (Publishers Weekly) 

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is itself anything but "regular." A deep dive into the recent past, it also simultaneously manages to be a rumination on up-to-the-minute themes like cultural appropriation in music, and the limits of white allyship. It's the kind of overwhelming novel that, like a polyphonic double album back in the day, readers might want to experience more than once to let all the notes sink in.” ~ Maureen Corrigan, NPR

* * *  = 3 starred reviews

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GRIS—Exploring Grief Through Game Design

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 3:52pm by ivanamalia

GRIS cover art depicting the main character, a  close up of a young girl with short, blue hair, eyes closed, and a tear trailing down her right cheek.GRIS is a single-player adventure game created by Spanish developer, Nomada Studios. Widely regarded as one of the best independent games released in 2018, GRIS' story and artistic impact have become increasingly relevant in light of some hardships of the last year.

GRIS follows the journey of a girl navigating loss in a cold and lonely achromatic world. Colors, sound, and mobility are stripped away from the first second in the game, and the player is, quite literally, thrown into the world with little to no instruction. It immediately evokes a feeling of confusion as you try to understand how to control your character and what exactly your purpose is in order to progress through the game. 

As you explore, you are met with a range of puzzles, obstacles, antagonists, and friends as you slowly bring color and life back into your world. Visual, auditory, and gameplay elements are introduced and stripped away again, representing grief as a process of ebb and flow, of progress and relapse.

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Win at All Costs: Inside Nike Running and Its Culture of Deception

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 2:38pm by marianaroo

win at all costs: inside nike running and its culture of deception If names like Eliud Kipchoge, Kara Goucher, Paula Radcliffe and Ryan Hall are familiar to you, this might be the book for you. As a former long distance runner myself, I’ve followed famous marathoners for years. But if this is not your thing and you enjoy a great detective story this might also be the book for you. Win at All Costs presents a look behind the scenes at the Nike Oregon Project and its head coach, Alberto Salazar, who is accused of trafficking and administering banned performance-enhancing substances to his athletes. Here you have one of the most powerful companies in the world of sports, a famous coach, olympians in search of excellence, FBI, whistleblowers, medical team, all of these characters have a role to play in this thrilling and well researched book by sports journalist Matt Hart. An unexpected excellent read.

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Between two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

Fri, 05/07/2021 - 7:18pm by marianaroo

 

between two kingdoms
I first encountered Suleika Jaouad years ago looking for information on cancer. She wrote a blog from her hospital bed on her experience about being a young adult with cancer, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at 22 years old and was receiving chemotherapy and later a bone marrow transplant. I remember eagerly awaiting for her blog, published every week on the Well section of the New York Times. This beautifully written memoir is the result of that journey. It is an honest recount of her life, her experiences and thoughts in the kingdom of sickness and in the kingdom of wellness. The title of this memoir comes from Susan Sontag's book Illness as Metaphor: "Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place,". I devoured Jaouad's book in two days, gripping read all the way to the end. It challenges us to self-reflect.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #777

Fri, 05/07/2021 - 12:41pm by muffy

who_is_maud_dixonVoted one of the most addictive books of 2021 (Kirkus Reviews) , Who is Maud Dixon? * * * (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook), Alexandra Andrews’s devilishly plotted debut” (Publishers’ Weekly) is a stylish psychological thriller - twisty, cinematic and compulsively readable, already optioned for film.

Florence Darrow, an aspiring writer, is fired from her low-level publishing job. Having turned her back on her single mother and the hardscrabble Florida upbringing, she is too glad to accept a job as a live-in assistant to the enigmatic and publicity-shy novelist known as Maud Dixon. Helen Wilcox - the real Maud Dixon, whose debut rocketed to the top of the chart, turns out to be only a few years older than Florence. Though secretive and prickly at times, Helen seems to trust Florence, and turns over management of her personal and professional accounts. Then rather out of the blue, proposes a research trip to Morocco where her next novel is set.

Things become complicated when Florence wakes up in a hospital after a car accident. Being addressed as Madame Wilcox, and there is no sign of Helen (dead or alive), leaves Florence to wonder if she could get the publishing career (after all, SHE has been typing up Helen's drafts) and the life she wants ($3 million in the bank and the glorious house in the Catskills) by simply becoming Maud Dixon. 

“At every diabolical twist and turn, Andrews' impish sense of humor peeks around the corner to jack up the fun….Terrific characters, vivid settings, and a deliciously dastardly, cunningly constructed plot.” (Kirkus Reviews) 

Inevitably, Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, comes to mind. It will also appeal to fans of  Liv Constantine’s The Last Mrs. Parrish and Emily Gray Tedrowe’s The Talented Miss Farwell.

* * *  = 3 starred reviews

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Hello Earth!

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 1:34am by copelands

HelloEarthSimply put, Hello Earth!: Poems to Our Planet is just a wonderful read. Author Joyce Sidman writes her love letter to our planet through poems that observe and meditate on all of the Earth’s splendor. The poems are a perfect combination with illustrator Miren Asiain Lora’s organic and compelling work. Throughout, they reflect on the abundant features and encourage us to celebrate our own corner of the world. Sidman writes of Earth as a person, using personification to imagine how it would respond to her words. She celebrates its beauty, questions our conservation as humans, and reflects on how it has sustained us over time through its resources. Starlight, jungles, snow, and rainstorms. Mountains, deserts, forests, and seas. There’s a poem for many of these wonders. Additionally, fun facts for each of the poems are listed where kids can learn about the Earth’s age, size, history and more. Did you know our bodies are made up of 60% water? Or, that we as humans live at the surface of the Earth inside the crust: a thin, cool layer? Readers can also learn how to preserve the Earth through recycling and reducing waste. After reading this book, it’s almost impossible not to have a greater appreciation for our magnificent planet. Hello Earth! is a great combination of poetry and education that will inspire and motivate everyone to celebrate the wonder of nature and science.

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House of Leaves

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 10:00pm by LawsonB

 

a page from House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is an edited book of journaling about what could be considered a dissertation about a documentary about a house that's larger on the inside than it is on the outside. It's colorful, and I mean that literally, it's printed as a full-color version; the word house is always blue, for example.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #776, “We all like chicken.” ~ Malcolm X

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 5:46pm by muffy

brood

Brood * (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Jackie Polzin (Brown, Iowa Writers' Workshop) is “a wonderfully written first novel, full of nuance and humor and strangeness, whose unnamed narrator lives in the Camden neighborhood of Minneapolis and is married to an economist,” wrote Elizabeth McCracker in her New York Times Book Review,  “Brood” is a perfectly titled book, a word that can be thing or an action, can refer to people or single chickens or multiple chickens or children. The reader turns the title over and over, to see all the meanings it accrues.”

The novel opens with the chickens - Gam Gam, Miss Hennepin County, Gloria and Darkness — nesting in a repurposed dollhouse coop in the backyard of our unnamed narrator, who heroically tries to keep her small brood alive despite the seemingly endless challenges. Now with Percy, the narrator’s economist husband, up for professorship at a prestigious university on the West Coast, she needs to find them a home.  As Percy is preoccupied with their future, our narrator turns her gaze on their past - her job cleaning houses; her friend Helen, a real estate agent and new mother; her recent miscarriage - likely their last hope of a family; and how the chickens have become "an endless source of entertainment and worry.”

“Calling to mind the cerebral works of Olivia Laing and Jenny Offill, Polzin’s story has a quiet intensity that churns throughout. It’s in the tension she builds within her narrator’s isolated world, navigating the paradox of domestic intimacy, the comfort and terror it sows, and the unexpected shapes motherhood can take. There are no heart-quickening plot twists or climactic endings here, and that’s the beauty of Polzin’s writing. It doesn’t need either to move you. In Polzin's deft hands, the mundane is an endless source of wonder. A moving meditation on loss, solitude, and the hope that can rise from both.” (Kirkus Reviews) 

chicken_sisters

Now, a change of pace…

The Chicken Sisters * (eBook and also available in downloadable audiobook) by K. J. Dell’Antonia where two chicken shacks and a food war will throw three generations of the citizens of Merinac, Kansas into chaos.  Oh, did I forget to mention that $100,000 is at stake? 

For a century, Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s both claim to serve the best fried chicken in the state. Founded by the namesake sisters, the legendary feud continues to pit the Moores against the Pogociellos. 35 year-old widowed Amanda Moore grew up working for her mom at Mimi’s before scandalously marrying Frank Pogociello and now manages the front-of-house at Frannie’s. Hoping to bring new business to their small town, Amanda applies to Food Wars, the reality TV restaurant competition that promises $100,000 to the winner… as long as she could bring Mimi’s (and her estranged mother Barbara and the dishy new cook, Andy) on board. 

What Amanda could not predict is the arrival of Mae, her older sister - a Marie Kondo–eqsue professional organizer with a television show called Sparkling, and a secret agenda. 

“Dell’Antonia writes convincingly and sympathetically about complicated family relationships, giving Mae and Amanda each relatable flaws. The Food Wars scenes are a fun peek behind the curtain of the reality TV world, and the small-town warmth of Merinac is comfortingly quirky.  A charming and satisfying story about family bonds that will make meat eaters everywhere crave fried chicken.” (Kirkus Reviews) 

 * = Starred review

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Consent

Sat, 04/24/2021 - 5:19pm by marianaroo

ConsentConsent is a memoir by Vanessa Springora, a French editor, publisher, and filmmaker. She is a survivor of sexual assault and her story is testament to the traumatic experiences she had with the famous French writer, Gabriel Matzneff.  

This beautifully written memoir is not for the faint of heart. Although tastefully written, the novel can be difficult to read at  times. It is a chilling account of a vulnerable young girl and the extent to which a predator will go in his grooming process. Le Consentement was a bestseller in France and caused an uproar, so much so, that the government changed the age of consent to 15. It is unbelieve to learn that up to this year France did not have a fixed age of consent.

This book gives a voice to the victim who was silent for decades. Her predator by being a famous writer was well known in literary circles and even published books detailing his affairs. The triumph of this book is to understand the ambivalence, denial, hope and finally acceptance of being a victim and in doing so, and writing about it, opening a dialog to create a spectacular fall down of her perpetrator. In the era of  #MeToo movement. This novel is a must. Bravo!

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A Fine Mess

Fri, 04/23/2021 - 10:50am by mrajraspn08

A Fine MessWith recent talks about the federal deficit and now increasing taxes, I thought I would do what I do and conduct some research. I'll start this by saying I am not a numbers person and expected to go through about 5 minutes of boring tax and deficit information, but instead I lucked out. A Fine Mess presents the US tax laws in a way that acknowledges just how crazy and difficult to understand they are. In fact, that's what the whole book is about. It compares us tax law with that of other countries, pointing out where we do it wrong and where we do it right. It promises no solutions, but makes informed suggestions. The only downside to this book is when you sit with the information and realize how widespread the issues mentioned are (Japan's taxes take a few minutes and are done by their version of the IRS, and a few simple tax adjustments that are unpopular on the surface would actually save money for you and the country). Whether you enjoy this kind of topic or not, this is still very much worth a read.

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Children's Series For All Ages

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 10:16pm by LawsonB

There are few series of children's books that can be enjoyed by any age group, but nonetheless the do exist. These three series are ones that I still enjoy now that I'm an adult, and they'll fill anyone with similar nostalgia they give me.

The Penderwicks in Spring

  • The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall are about the adventures of the Penderwick sisters, each book highlighting a different aspect of growing up and clinging to childhood. The series also delves into other issues such as loss and finding self confidence.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #775, Talk Radio

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 3:12pm by muffy

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In this Modern Love meets This American Life, The Ex Talk * * * (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) is YA author Rachel Lynn Solomon’s “exceptional adult debut” (Publishers Weekly), “a sizzling rivals-to-lovers rom-com.” (Booklist) 

29 years-old Shay Goldstein, a producer at Pacific Public Radio in Seattle for 10 years, loves her job but lately, she seems to be at loggerheads with their new hire, Dominic Yun. With a freshly minted master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism (which he never fails to mention in all conversations), Dominic immediately impresses the bosses with a big scoop on a City Hall scandal. With ratings down and the station struggling, in order to save their jobs, Shay pitches a concept - a weekly talk show where exes give relationship advice, live. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other, never mind they have never dated.  

“As the show skyrockets in popularity, the fake exes become real friends, but a growing attraction might spell disaster. Shay and Dominic are brought to life with multilayered backstories...Witty dialogue meets steamy slow-burn tension while fun romance tropes (fake dating! there’s only one bed!) take a refreshing turn by making Dominic the less sexually experienced, and more emotionally open, of the two. A vibrant supporting cast of family, friends, and co-workers helps round out the plot. Delightfully romantic and emotionally uplifting.”  (Kirkus Reviews)

honey_girl

Honey Girl * (also in eBook and audiobook) by Morgan Rogers is “especially notable for its celebration of friendship, especially in queer communities, and for exploring the many ways relationships can be meaningful and intimate beyond romance... A strong romantic fiction debut that will appeal to readers looking for a story of true love via self-discovery.” (Kirkus Reviews)

28 year-old Grace Porter heads to Las Vegas with her girlfriends and roommates to celebrate her PhD in astronomy. After a night of revelry, she awakes to an empty bed, a ring on her finger, a business card and a key on her pillow. Back in Portland, Oregon, her finds it hard to explain to her ex-military father how being a mixed-race lesbian, she doesn't seem to "be the right fit" for most companies in her field, made abundantly clear in her failed job interview set up by her mentor. 

Feeling listless, Grace flees to New York to track down her Vegas wife Yuki Yamamoto, a late night radio talk show host. Even though they develop a deep connection, depression claims Grace and once again, she leaves, this time to a Florida orange grove to reconnect with her mostly absent mother.

“With a cast of diverse and underrepresented characters, Rogers’s debut is a beautiful story of learning to love in so many ways: untraditionally, through deep hurt, through mental illness, and through struggles with which readers can relate. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

* = Starred review

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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 1:54pm by marianaroo

Klara and the SunOne of the most anticipated books of 2021 is the novel Klara and the Sun by the British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. Like many others, I discovered Ishiguro in 2005 through his masterpiece, Never Let Me Go. In 2015, I had the pleasure to attend a reading of his book The Buried Giant in Ann Arbor, sponsored by the University of Michigan English Department. 

Klara and the Sun is the first book he has published since that lecture and since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. 

To my delight Klara and the Sun continues the dystopian theme seen in Ishiguro’s previous work. Klara, our narrator, is a robot with human appearance that was created as an Artificial Friend (AF) to accompany children in the distant future. The first sentence of the book is also Klara's first thought:

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Not Picture Books

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 11:49am by mrajraspn08

As we get older, our books have less and less pictures in them, which is too bad because sometimes, the illustrations add so much more to the story, like in these two series. 

Black and white ink drawing of two men, one with a wizard's hat and long beard and the other in a fur coat and hat, flying in a wooden boat with a robotic figurehead and swirling propellers on topI frequently recommend The Guardians of Childhood series, and part of that is for the art. The illustrations are many, and they are truly beautiful. William Joyce drawings sweeps you away and transports you into a fantastical world. I’m always a little breathless at some scenes, both from the perfect depictions of his words brought to life and because the style lends itself so well to the tone of the novels. 

Similar but different, illustrations—done in the style of engravings—in The Last Apprentice series add a spooky air to the stories. The books are haunting enough on their own, but the author’s aesthetic is perfectly translated throughout the course of the book due to its creepy imagery. Often, I would pause and just look at the illustrations, because it was even better than what I envisioned, and just as often, I would look away after just a quick glance, feeling chilled. 

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A is for Awesome by Eva Chen and Derek Desierto

Mon, 04/05/2021 - 9:46pm by copelands

A is for AwesomeMarch is Women’s History Month, a time when we honor the contributions of women to American history, society and culture. While there are many youth books that honor pioneering women, below is a recommendation for a board book that young readers will enjoy.

A is for Amelia Earhart, B is for Beyoncé, C is for Coco Chanel. Looking for a fun way to learn your ABC’s while learning about some pretty powerful women too? Look no further than A is for Awesome! This fun and educational board book teaches kids about female visionaries throughout history who contributed to the world we enjoy today. There’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who fought for gender equality and women’s rights. Malala Yousafzai advocated for female education and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Flo Jo, the late track and field athlete, is the fastest woman of all time. And there’s Oprah, the legendary television host and philanthropist who’s been referred to as the Queen of all Media and the most influential woman in the world. Whew, that’s a lot of powerful women! From fashion to music, government and human rights, A is for Awesome will introduce kids to a list of female role models from all walks of life.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #774, Choosing Kindness

Fri, 04/02/2021 - 4:57pm by muffy

kindest_lieIn The Kindest Lie *  by Nancy Johnson, “(g)enerational secrets, class divides, motherhood, and American life on the edge of political and economic change are all examined...” (Booklist)

As the Obamas are about to take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Chicago’s Black communities are experiencing a new sense of optimism. Xavier, a mid-level manager is eager to start a family but his wife Ruth, an Ivy-league educated engineer is reluctant. Lately she has been crippled by guilt over what happened the summer before leaving for Yale on a scholarship. Abandoned by a mother addicted to drugs, she and her brother Eli were raised by kind and god-fearing grandparents who sacrificed everything to help her realize her potential. Unable to face Xavier with the truth, Ruth returns to the Indiana factory town she once called home, now plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair.

To move forward, Ruth knows she must first make peace with the past, most immediate is to track down the baby she abandoned.  But everywhere she turns, she encounters tightly held secrets and lies. Then she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. 

 “The Kindest Lie is a tale of how lies and omissions can shape and warp us. It is a story about reconciliation, set against a backdrop of racism and resentments. But more than anything, it is a meditation on family and forgiveness.” (Los Angeles Times)

Nancy Johnson, a native of Chicago’s South Side, is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning television journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she calls Chicago home. The Kindest Lie is her debut novel. 

* = Starred review

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Gravity Falls

Fri, 04/02/2021 - 11:41am by mrajraspn08

Gravity FallsWhen I first heard about Gravity Falls, I wasn’t interested. It looked like a dumb show with dumb animation. Then I listened to a podcast episode about it, and I had to watch it. I’m so glad I did. While it does have a heavy dose of humor, that humor can vary from low-brow to very clever jokes. As a whole, the story line is incredibly compelling and well thought-out, touching on friendship, feelings of isolation, and growing pains as Dipper and Mabel explore the secrets of their small town. 

But don’t stop at just watching the show. If you only watch the special features to one DVD, watch these! The cast and creators put so much love into the show, and it’s truly touching and amazing to hear. The creator put multiple Easter eggs into each episode (the whispering in the credits? They actually mean something), and did you know he created a worldwide scavenger hunt to celebrate the end of the series? 

Everything about the show is charming and interesting, and everything beyond it even more so. I rewatch it regularly (yes, special features, too), and each time, I get even more enjoyment from it. 

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Ayurveda Research

Mon, 03/29/2021 - 11:26am by whiteb

Ann Arbor seems to hold a small cult following for holistic medicine. I recently joined the ranks and began diving into research on the topic. There are quite a few different sects to holistic medicine such as Ayurveda, naturopathy, acupuncture, etc, that of course there are endless books about each subject.

I was perusing the non-fiction section of the library and stumbled upon books about Ayurveda without actually seeking out the topic. This little coincidence felt like a nudge toward an important topic within the holistic medicine world, so I checked out a couple books. 

The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook by Sarah Kucera is a simple little book about Ayurvedic medicine that gets straight to the point. It’s an attractive modern guide on how to incorporate the rituals of Ayurveda into your life with ease. It doesn’t include heavy jargon or any deep diving on the facts and studies about the practice, which makes it a great book for someone just interested in it’s basic application to everyday life.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #773, Jane Austen Inspired

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 10:45am by muffy

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Ladies of the House : A Novel * (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Lauren Edmondson is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

When Sen. Gregory Richardson is found dead in the arms of his young mistress, it falls to Daisy Richardson to keep her family together. Forced to take a leave as chief of staff for a progressive senator from Maryland, Daisy must convince her mother Cricket to sell the family home in Georgetown they can no longer afford, nevermind that it has been in the family for generations. Then news breaks that the Senator has been under investigation for financial misconduct.  Whatever resources they manage to salvage would now be garnered as restitution. 

Wallis, Daisy’s younger sister seems determined to move on but falls hopelessly for the most inconvenient person - the son of the late Senator’s arch rival, and one with political ambitions of his own. The only bright spot for Daisy is her life-long friendship with journalist Atlas Braidy-Lowes, just returned from his London assignment and newly engaged. His next project - to write an exposé on the one subject Daisy is desperate to avoid: her father. 

“As Atlas uncovers the widening scope of the senator's crimes, the novel finds Austen's themes alive and well in contemporary society, where women must choose between nice or powerful men and are left without options if a man behaves badly while they try to balance their hearts, careers, and reputations in search of happiness. This retelling is a witty success.” (Publishers Weekly)

A great choice for book groups (a reader's guide is provided).” (Booklist)

all_stirred_upAll Stirred Up is inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Brianne Moore “brings foodies and rom-com lovers together in this tasty delight of a debut.“ (Booklist) 

When bad management forces the family to close all of their restaurants, Susan Napier returns to  Edinburgh, intent to save Elliot’s, her grandfather’s beloved flagship. She is not amused when she realizes Chris Baker, her grandfather’s former protége AND her ex-boyfriend, is also back in town to open his own restaurant down the street. 

A celebrity chef and the judge of a popular TV cooking competition, Chris is wary and still deeply hurt by their rocky breakup, but the competitive food scene and staffing snafus force them to re-engage. When they are tricked into competing against one another in a cooking showdown during the city's food festival, all bets are off.

“This chaste love story, peppered with just the right amount of family drama, foodie descriptions, and rom-com hijinks, is a treat.” (Publishers Weekly)

 

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Written in the Stars * *  by  Alexandria Bellefleur (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook), is “(a)n enchanting debut romance featuring Pride and Prejudice character archetypes, banter, and sexual tension shaken together to create a perfectly delicious contemporary romance.“(Library Journal)

In this charming queer rom-com debut, a free-spirited social media astrologer agrees to fake a relationship with an uptight actuary.  After a disastrous blind date, Darcy Lowell is desperate to stop her well-meaning brother from playing matchmaker ever again. So she fibs and says her latest blind date was a success. Elle Jones, an astrologer, dreams of finding her soulmate. But she knows it is most assuredly not Darcy. 

When Darcy begs Elle to play along, they agree to help each other navigate the difficult holiday dinners with families. The last thing they expect is to develop real feelings during a fake relationship.

* * = 2 starred reviews

* = Starred review

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The Every Body Book (It Really is for Everybody)

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 10:33am by mrajraspn08

Every Body BookPuberty is hard for most of us, but when you’re transgender, it can be even more complicated. You have no idea what’s going on, and trying to figure it out just makes everything all the worse, because you’re repeatedly called by a gender you don’t identify with.

The Every Body Book fills a real need for transgender youth. Never assuming gender, it creates a safe place to discuss all aspects of growing up. Children and teenagers can comfortably read about various sexualities, gender options, and changing bodies with gender-inclusive language used throughout. Illustrations include youth of various abilities, race, and genders, so literally “Every Body” can feel like it belongs. An excellent book to have on hand if you work with or care for children who might have questions and need someone, or some book, for answers. 

 

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All-Season Bike Riding!

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 8:13am by aadlloren

Spring is here, but this is Michigan---we aren't quite through with cold weather yet! AADL has teamed up with local bicycle nonprofit Common Cycle to make a two-part video series about riding bikes in cold and inclement weather. The first video focuses on bike maintenance, and the second video concerns bike rider comfort and safety. Both offer valuable tips for bicyclists any time of year!

If you're dusting off your bicycle after a winter of hibernation or just need a quick refresher, remember to review safe riding habits. The League of Michigan Bicyclists and The League of American Cyclists both offer important information to help prepare you. You can watch this video to learn tips on how to share the road with cars. 

AADL and Common Cycle have also teamed up to add a Bicycle Pump and Tool Kit to the AADL Tools collection! Find more information and reserve it at https://aadl.org/cckit.

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The Office (US)

Mon, 03/22/2021 - 12:10pm by whiteb

The Office (US) is a sitcom mockumentary that showcases a monotonous office life turned charming, awkward and hilarious with the workers' inability to get anything done. The character profiles and their developments are unlike anything television has seen before, with the workers transforming from friction and chaos to wholesome with only a touch of chaos. 

This TV series dives into the lives of manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) who is seriously underqualified to run a business, as he’s unintentionally offensive, creating trouble at every turn and trying so hard to please the people he works with; Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), another major character, juxtaposes Michael Scott’s character so well with dedication to his work and his relentlessness to get things done; and, Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), the office pranksters who create emotional buildup with their unfolding relationship that will have you sobbing and devoted to seeing them until the very end.

 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #772

Thu, 03/18/2021 - 10:00pm by muffy

lost_apothecaryThe Lost Apothecary (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Sarah Penner, one of the most anticipated debuts of 2021, will appeal to fans of parallel historical/contemporary narratives about women's lives. 

After discovering her husband James’ infidelity, American Caroline Parcewell travels to London alone, for what was supposed to be a much-anticipated anniversary trip. On the banks of the Thames, she joins a mudlarking tour and finds an old apothecary vial that appeals to the historian in her. With the help of a librarian at the British Museum, she unearths links to the unsolved “apothecary murders” more than two centuries ago, and to Nella Clavinger.

A second generation apothecary and once a respected healer, Nella’s shop was hidden down a dark London alley, dispensing well-disguised poisons to women to use on men who wronged them in various ways.  On a cold February evening in 1791, Nella found her newest customer to be the precocious 12-year old servant girl Eliza Fanning. A friendship developed between the two that would eventually prove devastating, and would threaten to expose the many women whose names were recorded in her register.  And as Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate, we will find that history often repeats itself.

“Penner finds clever parallels between Nella and Caroline, and avoids the pitfall of one storyline outshining the other—all three women have compelling tales, and while Nella’s business may not be on the up-and-up, her motives are understandable. Readers who enjoy Katherine Howe and Susanna Kearsley will be drawn to this promising, fast-paced debut.” (Booklist) 

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Digital Monsters

Wed, 03/17/2021 - 12:38pm by mrajraspn08

We all know about Pokemon. But there was a whole genre of monster-collecting genre, and I’m here to talk about my favorite: Digimon. 

DigimonThe first season sees a group of kids transported from summer camp to a digital world, where they meet their own “digital monster” best friend and save both the human and digital worlds. The second season continues with our heroes older and training a new group. In Kizuna, truly a love letter to the fans, the kids are older and becoming adults, struggling like the now grown fans with leaving their childhood behind. 

The third season takes place in our world, about a small group of new Digimon Tamers who have to keep their city safe while also learning how to bond with their partners. This season has a stunningly deep portrayal of depression and some remarkable character growth for a nineties kids’ show. 

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Pure: Book One of the Pure Trilogy

Mon, 03/15/2021 - 10:33am by LiaReads

Pure sets the start of a futuristic, dystopian trilogy where people are divided between those that were able to escape into an artificial protective dome before disaster hit and those who were left on the outside. Many who could not access the safe haven did not survive but for those who did, they all had a strange thing in common: they were fused to the nearest object, animal, or even person they had been in physical contact with at the time of the detonations.

One of our protagonists, a sixteen year old girl with a doll's head fused to her hand, takes us through life on the outside of the dome and the ways she and others are surviving in what often looks like a hopeless circumstance. On the inside of the dome, we meet a boy who learns that there is much more to the truth than the adults in his life have ever revealed. Despite their two different lives, there is a surprising connection between the two teens that is discovered while they both attempt to do the right thing.

Pure is horrifying in the best possible way. It draws you in and leaves you thinking about it way after the last chapter is done.