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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #778

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

final_revival_of_opal_&_nev

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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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)

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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