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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #785, Women's Fiction Debuts

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 8:55pm by muffy

treausre_of_amy_ashtonThe Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton by Eleanor Ray (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook)

Once an aspiring artist, Amy Ashton now rescues and collects beautiful objects, online and from charity shops, ever since her boyfriend Tim and her best friend Chantel left her on the same day more than 10 years ago. These days, Amy is hardly able to move around under piles of trinkets and treasures, risking safety violation and eviction as she desperately try to keep the world at the door. But with the arrival of a young family next door, Amy’s carefully managed and guarded routine starts to unravel.

She finds herself charmed by the two young boys, one with a treasured collection of toy bulldozers (Amy could relate to THAT!) and their helpful sort-of single father. Then she discovers a ring hidden in a flower pot (the one Tim was going to propose with) and a sodden letter, thus throwing her into the role of amateur detective. 

“Heartwarming and tender… an ideal read for anyone looking for a good-humored and uplifting story, but especially for those who enjoyed Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things.(BookPage)

“Mystery lovers and fans of Liane Moriarty will also enjoy the quick-paced plot and perfectly timed reveals.” (Booklist) 

lizzie_&_danteLizzie & Dante * * (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Mary Bly is a “poignant, character-driven novel about living, loving, and looking mortality in the eye...Fans of emotional tearjerkers, of romance, or of authors Kristin Hannah and Elin Hilderbrand will not be able to put this down.” (Library Journal) 

Shakespeare scholar Lizzie Delford is spending what would likely be her last summer, on the Island of Elba, at a luxurious seaside resort as a guest of her life-long friend Grey and his boyfriend, movie-star Rohan Das. Between catching sun and lavish parties, Lizzie is to help Rohan develop an unconventional script for Romeo and Juliet, his first movie as a director. 

At the public beach, Lizzie is befriended by a bedraggled dog named Lulu, and her cantankerous owner Dante, a celebrated chef and a single father to precocious 12 year-old Etta.

“Bly, known best for the best-selling historical romances she writes as Eloisa James, deftly pivots to contemporary fiction with an emotional roller coaster of a novel that candidly explores such complicated subjects as sex and desire, love and loss, and family and friendship. Whether toothsomely describing Italian dishes, celebrating the natural beauty of Elba, or performing some literary dissection of Romeo and Juliet, Bly writes with a Prosecco-fizzy wit that is simply irresistible, but what will equally resonate with readers is her richly nuanced characters and their embrace of life in all its glorious messiness.”  (Booklist)

* * = 2 starred reviews

* = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #784, New York, New York

Fri, 07/09/2021 - 4:15pm by muffy

angel_&_hannahAngel & Hannah: A Novel in Verse by Ishle Yi Park (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook, performed by the author, first woman named poet laureate of Queens) reimagines Romeo and Juliet as an interracial couple in 1990s New York City. 

Hannah, the daughter of Korean immigrants in Queens, meets Angel, a Puerto Rican boy in Brooklyn,  at a quinceañera in the spring of 1993 and their “forbidden love instantly and wildly blooms along the Jackie Robinson Expressway.”

Told in seasons as opposed to Acts, in hip-hop sonnets and poems, we follow the blossoming of their young love to its gradual withering under the realities of poverty, racism, addiction, and the impacts of the AIDS epidemic.  

“Park's intermingling of slang with fragments of Spanish and Korean electrify the free-verse lyrics that dance and slide across the pages. With an energy and attitude closer to Lin Manuel Miranda's In the Heights than West Side Story, the spoken-word style of Park's wildly creative rendition will entrance readers.” (Booklist) 

 

dead_dead_girlsDead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia is the first in a new historical mystery series set during the Harlem Renaissance.  

A 15 year-old Louise Lovie Lloyd was abducted on her way home. A new fountain pen and ingenuity allowed her to escape and saved three other girls held in captivity. Immediately, she  was hailed as Harlem's Hero by the press. Now a decade older, Louise waits tables at Maggie’s Cafe during the day and spends her nights drinking and dancing at the Zodiac, Harlem's hottest speakeasy, trying to put her notoriety and her preacher father’s disapproval behind her. 

Then dead girls, elaborately groomed and posed begin turning up outside Maggie’s in the early hours. After an altercation with the police, Detective Theodore Gilbert makes her an offer: help solve the case or go to jail. 

“Even as she has little choice, she doesn't know how dangerous a deal she has made until subsequent deaths bring the killer close. In this atmospheric debut mystery, with a sequel already planned, Afia ably tracks how Louise goes from reluctant hero to detective, infusing the transition with the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.” (Booklist) 

 

chosen_and_the_beautifulThe Chosen and the Beautiful * *  by Nghi Vo is “a fantastical reimagining of the world of The Great Gatsby.” (also in eBook and audiobook) from the point of view of Jordan Baker, the supposedly jaded and hollow golf pro on the sidelines of Fitzgerald's original novel. This is the author’s first full-length novel after 2 well-received novellas

In Vo’s version, Jordan Baker, a Vietnamese adoptee brought up in the rarefied Louisville society, stays close friends with Daisy Buchanan. Though a constant fixture at some of the most exclusive parties in 1920s New York, she remains an accepted outsider, being queer and Asian.  When Daisy sets Jordan up with her cousin, Nick Carraway, Jordan takes little notice of him until Jay Gatsby sets his eyes on Nick as well. 

“Between magic-filled parties at Gatsby’s house and whispers of dark bargains, Jordan watches the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby unravel over the course of the summer, at the same time struggling with her own relationship to Daisy and eventually coming to question her place in their society. Vo has crafted a retelling that, in many ways, surpasses the original, adding logic and depth to characters’ motivations while still—uncannily—unspooling the familiar story. Astonishingly crafted, with luscious prose and appeal for both fans of the original and those who always felt The Great Gatsby missed the mark.” (Kirkus Reviews) 

Readers might also want to look out for Nick by Michael F. Smithwhich provides Nick Carraway with a fascinating backstory before his move to West Egg and into Gatsby’s periphery. 

* * = 2 starred reviews 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #783

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 5:59pm by muffy

one_hundred_years_of_lenni_and_margotThe One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) is “a joyous celebration of friendship, love, and life.” (Publishers Weekly) 

17 year-old Lenni Pettersson is a patient in the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. Though terminally ill, she is not ready to give up living, or asking questions. Curiosity leads her to the hospital’s almost-always empty chapel and she befriends the chaplain Father Arthur, but it is the 83-year-old purple-wearing, fruitcake-eating, dumpster-diving rebel Margot McCrea whom she meets at the hospital’s art class that sparks the recognition of a kindred spirit.

As they exchange stories, Lenni realizes that together, they have been alive for 100 yeas, and comes up with the idea of creating 100 paintings, a painting for every year of their lives. Moving back and forth in time, the narrative beautifully renders Margot's much-longer life of a lost baby, a missing husband, a complicated lifelong friendship with a woman and second chance at love with an astronomer while we learn about Lenni’s childhood in Sweden, and her mother’s mental illness. 

“Holding all the pieces together are Lenni's exquisite honesty, humor, and curiosity at the life she won't live. Readers will know by page two that sharp-tongued, funny, brave Lenni will break their heart, and that they'll be all in for the ride. Rich for its cast of characters unique in their messiness, humanity, and kindness, debut author Cronin's masterpiece won't let go, long after the last page.” (Library Journal, reviewed by Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

Already optioned for film adaptation. 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #782, Thrillers Out of Africa

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 4:53pm by muffy

in_the_company_of_killersIn the Company of Killers, * * * * is “an exceptional adventure thriller” (Publishers Weekly) by Bryan Christy (Law, UMich, and National Geographic's founder of Special Investigations) where elephants and humans alike are pawns in a global game of espionage.

In Samburu County, Kenya, American journalist Tom Klay’s latest counter-poaching assignment went terribly wrong. In an ambush, he was wounded while his trusted friend and guide Bernard Lolosoli was killed, and they had failed to document local crime kingpin Ras Botha killing a world-famous elephant for its massive tusks. Back at his DC office of The Sovereign, Tom finds that the magazine has been sold to Perseus Group, the largest supplier of paramilitary forces in the world, and that his CIA handler/mentor is retiring, unraveling his carefully constructed double life. 

To settle the score and to take down Botha's smuggling empire, the CIA offers to send Tom to Johannesburg to team up with his one-time lover - South African prosecutor Hungry Khoza. But Tom soon discovers that he and Hungry are part of a larger, more lethal game, one that involves a ruthless mercenary and a global superpower. And everything he thought he knew about his work and his friends might have been a lie. 

“Fans of both espionage and global crime thrillers will find a gem here: Klay is an introspective, flawed survivor who bends operative stereotypes, and the intersection of corporate greed, media, technology, and crime is chillingly current.” (Booklist) 

“A riveting plot, complex characters, deep backstory, and an engrossing setting enhance this finely written novel about justice, personal responsibility, and saving the environment.” (Publishers Weekly) 

lightseekersLightseekers *  by Femi Kayode

Nigerian investigative psychologist Dr. Philip Taiwo, recently returned from the US to his hometown of Lagos, is called on by a prominent banker, whose son was one of three undergraduates "beaten, broken, and burnt alive" by an angry mob in the university town of Okriki, to investigate. The case known as the Okriki Three is highly controversial. Footage of the crime is widely shared on social media, and a number of people are arrested and tried, but no reasonable motive emerges. 

With the help of his of loyal and streetwise driver, Chika,” Taiwo slowly, and cleverly, pulls the veil back on violent, secret societies of college-age men. “With alluring characters, including a chillingly psychotic villain; an original, many-faceted plot; and blazing psychological and social insights, Kayode's commanding and thought-provoking first crime novel launches a profoundly promising series.” (Booklist) 

 

* * * * = 4 starred reviews

* = Starred review

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June Almeida, Virus Detective!

Mon, 06/14/2021 - 5:09pm by samanthar

 

Book cover One of the latest children's books from Sleeping Bear Press is June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus. The clean illustrations and flowing biography of June, a timely yet little-known female virologist, make this a fascinating read.

June loved photography, especially taking photos of nature. She also loved reading - science fiction books were her favorite. When she was older, June found a job that combined two of her favorite things, science and photography, by working with electron microscopes. Through this work, June was able to photograph antibodies and viruses on a microscopic level, which helped scientists find and identify viruses. In 1964, scientists around the world found a new and unique virus that no one had seen before. It was through June’s photographs that a clear picture emerged of the dots surrounding the virus, which looked like a crown - or corona in Latin! They decided to name it coronavirus

Excerpt from book

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Life Spectrum Doulas

Mon, 06/07/2021 - 10:52am by mrajraspn08

The best thing I did while pregnant was hire a doula. She was a huge help during and after my birth and helped with a difficult time. I was thrilled when I found out that there are doulas for other major life events!

There are doulas for birth, but what about when a pregnancy ends another way, through miscarriage, adoption, or abortion? The Doulas! points out how challenging this can be, and how little support there is for those going through such events. With personal narratives and medical experience, The Doulas offers a starting place for an expansion of doula care, with an added bonus of being gender-inclusive.

Caring for the Dying addresses doula work from the other end of life. It provides guidance for the dying and their loved ones from reminiscing on the life lived, creating ritual around the final days, and working with loved ones to process the death that has occurred. If hiring a doula isn’t possible, reading through this book for suggestions and counsel may help to make a trying time just a little bit easier.

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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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Gender Inclusive Pregnancy

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 10:55am by mrajraspn08

When I was pregnant, there was little to no books for me. I could read books about pregnancy, but it was always “mom” this, “mom” that. This is great for most people, but for those who don’t identify as a mom, they’re left out of the conversation during an important time in their life. This prompted me to write a fictional account of my own experience as trans person trying to start a family, navigating everything from the foster care system to pregnancy, just to have something out there for people like me.

But last year brought us Why Did No One Tell Me This?, a gender inclusive pregnancy book. Doulas and reproductive specialists answer pregnancy questions in a funny and relatable way that anyone would appreciate, but the use of terms like “parent” and “chestfeeding” makes it a veritable lifesaver for those outside or on the other end of the binary. Besides providing information for the entire pregnancy journey, it’s also just incredibly affirming, however you view your body and identity. It’s exciting not just to have a book for trans and queer people’s pregnancies, but to have one like this!

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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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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