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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #671

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 5:23pm by muffy


YA author Katie Williams sets her first novel for adults, Tell the Machine Goodnight * in near-future (2035) San Francisco. As a skilled technician for the Apricity Corporation, Pearl provides customers with personalized recommendations generated by the Apricity Happiness Machine simply with a swab of one’s DNA. However, she doesn’t seem to be able to manage it in her own life. A single mother to an anorexic son named Rhett who finds great satisfaction in denying himself food; and ex-husband Elliott, a narcissistic performance artist who left them for a much younger woman. When Rhett refuses to submit to the happiness machine analysis, Pearl takes matters into her own hand but the results are bewildering and devastating.

Then one of Rhett’s friends asks him to help solve a mystery; Pearl becomes the target of industrial espionage; and the demands of her new high-profile client test not only her loyalty to the company, but her humanity as well.

“In this imaginative, engaging, emotionally resonant story, (Williams) reveals how the devices we depend on can both deprive us of our humanity and deliver us back to it. With its clever, compelling vision of the future, deeply human characters, and delightfully unpredictable story, this novel is itself a recipe for contentment.” (Kirkus Reviews)

* = Starred review

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The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror - by Mallory Ortberg -

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 11:28am by -alex-

book cover.  Mermaid with sharp teeth and two tailsYour favorite fairy tales get a fresh retelling in The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror. Drawing equally from the Brothers Grimm and everyday life, Mallory Ortberg infuses these dark, delightfully wicked fantasies with modern twists like gender identity and bureaucratic intransigence.  Ortberg's sly wit, humor and sense of existential horror will hook you in the first few pages. 


For more, check out these reviews from NPR and PopMatters.

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You Go First

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 4:23pm by Lucy S

Scrabble Tiles

Ben and Charlotte have never met in person. Occasionally they chat on the phone, but where they really connect is through their games of online scrabble. This pair of middle-school students in Erin Entrada Kelly’s new book You Go First, are struggling to find their way among the sea of pre-teens they  each daily encounter. Ben’s and Charlotte’s differences make them an unlikely duo. Charlotte leans towards sciences and geology and Ben loves presidential history and Harry Potter. But they are both lonely, experiencing shifts in friendships, difficulties at home. Their turns at scrabble are more than just a game. They provide solace and security. When Ben plays a word Charlotte feels that “at least there was something she could still count on.”

Through Charlotte and Ben, Kelly shows readers that sometimes all it takes to act bravely is knowing one person is there for you, waiting for you to take your turn.

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I, Too, Am America - by Langston Hughes -

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 4:51pm by -alex-

Book cover.  Young man in front of the flag of the United States.Langston Hughes' much loved poem "I, Too, Am America" is given a dramatic new form by four-time Caldicot award winning illustrator Bryan Collier

Originally written in 1926, "I, Too, Am America" retains its relevance in the present day, and its words are inscribed on the walls of the National Museum of African American History in Washington DC.  You'll find this excellent picture book in our youth section, and the original poem via this link to the Poetry Foundation's website.

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What I Leave Behind, by Alison McGhee

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:24am by manz

ddThe new teen novel What I Leave Behind caught me by surprise, and I was absolutely delighted that it did. I was interested in the unique format of the book, as it has 100 chapters, all with 100 words each. The significance of 100 and the flow of the prose move the story in ways that full chapters would not. 

The story follows sixteen year old Will. He has a lot going on in his life, and he prefers to sort through it all by walking. He likes to walk. Everywhere. All the time. His best friend went through a traumatic experience at a party. His father is dead. And he now struggles with his last encounter with his father -- I don't think I'll ever look at cornbread the same again. It's a quick read, and Will is a fascinating character to follow along as he walks through it all. 

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Mon, 06/04/2018 - 4:47pm by Lucy S

CirceIn her new novel, Circe, Madeline Miller gives voice to this Greek goddess usually featured peripherally in the myths of men.  In the span of hundreds of years Circe’s path crosses that of many mortals and gods; Daedalus, Jason and Medea, Hermes, Odysseus, and armies of men who chance upon her shores and seek to take advantage of her. Circe is famous for turning men into swine on the island Aeaea, where she has been exiled for using witchcraft. Miller fleshes out the back story of why Circe started doing this, using "pharmaka" and herbs to right great wrongs done against her. “Men make bad swine,” she muses.

It is through Circe’s turn at motherhood that Miller shows the most human side of a women overwhelmed by a baby that won’t stop crying and reflecting on the love she bears her son. “I did not go easy into motherhood,” Circe conveys before the arrival of her Telegonus, the child fathered by Odysseus. But she quickly becomes fiercely protective of him in a way at once surprisingly familiar and yet underscored by her godly strength. “...I used to make lists of all the things I would do to keep him safe. It was not much of a game, because the answer was always the same. Anything.”

Extremely engrossing, Miller’s renditions of the Greek myths are thrilling and impassioned, creating a delightful read.

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Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 12:17pm by manz

long way downLong Way Down is a new teen fiction book by Jason Reynolds, and it's so good that it won a Printz Honor award this year. It's beautifully written in prose by our young narrator, but it's no easy read due to the weight of the content -- but don't let that scare you. This author is doing amazing things! 

There are three rules in the neighborhood: Don't cry ; Don't snitch ; Get revenge. 

15-year-old Will's brother was recently killed, and he's prepared to follow the rules... until he hops in the elevator. Will is caught by surprise when, over the span of just one minute, other people from his life mysteriously join him, offering him insight on the mission he's so intent on completing. It's the longest 60 seconds of Will's life... and it will change his life forever. 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #670

Mon, 05/28/2018 - 5:11pm by muffy

high_seasonOn Memorial weekend, the population of Orient, a small hamlet at the easternmost tip of Long Island’s North Fork braces for the onslaught of the summer people. Many homeowners like Ruthie Beamish vacate their homes for their wealthy Manhattan renters so they could afford to stay in their homes the rest of the year.

This particular summer, Ruthie’s beloved home is not the only thing she would lose - her assistant is scheming for her job as the director of a small regional museum; her Board support is evaporating under machinations of a coterie of rich women from the city; her ex-husband (and good friend) Mike, has fallen for their renter Adeline Clay, who happens to be the widow of Peter Clay, the celebrated artist Ruthie once worked for; and their teenaged daughter Jem, is involved in dangerous relationships. Out of desperation, Ruthie pushes back, in ways that would even astonish herself.

The High Season * * is National Book Award for Young People’s Literature winner Judy Blundell’s first adult title ."Luscious but not too sweet, astute but not too serious, Blundell's novel is a treat you don't have to feel guilty about and a sign of good things to come." (Kirkus Reviews) 

For fans of Mary Kay Andrews, Elin Hilderbrand,  Mary Alice Monroe, Nancy Thayer;  and other summer reads.

* * = 2 starred reviews


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Fathers and Sons - by Ivan Turgenev -

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 3:46pm by -alex-

Book cover.  Two young men in suits stare moodily into the distance.Set in an era dominated by anxiety, political turmoil, industrial revolution, and rapid social change, Fathers and Sons tells the story of two young political radicals, two old conservatives, and a fateful vacation in the countryside.  Nihilism, infatuation, the generation gap, and the ties that bind all mix in this startingly tender, slim little novel.  

Fathers and Sons feels amazingly modern in spite of its age.  You'll find some of the very first cultural references to nihilism here, and Turgenev sets the template for the edgy brand of nihilistic youth culture has since emerged time and time again in modern art and media. 

Listen to this podcast episode of NPR's Radiolab for more on the relationship between nihilist philosophy, youth, and popular culture (skip to 9:54 for a quote from the book), or check out  this review from NPR.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #669

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 12:20pm by muffy

youmeeverythingYou Me Everything is British author Catherine Isaac’s first US debut. At the urging of her mother, Jess made the 825-mile drive from Manchester to Dordogne, to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, a restored hotel run by her ex-boyfriend, Adam. Ever since Adam missed the birth of their son William, 10 years ago, Jess had kept him at arms-length. But now, there is an urgent reason to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

Adam, ever handsome, charming, and unreliable, quickly bonds with William, while Jess wonders at her own jealousy toward Adam’s beautiful 22 year-old buxom receptionist/girlfriend. As they are joined by their old gang of uni friends, the summer becomes one of pool parties, soccer games, excursions, glorious French food and free-flowing wine. When news from home worries Jess, she must decide if she could share her secret with Adam, and whether she could follow her mother’s example - choose to live, with the time she has, and the people she loves.

“With the background of Huntington's disease, this novel draws comparisons to Lisa Genova's  Inside the O'Briens. Both heart-wrenching and romantic, this is a solid choice for book groups that appreciate stories of everyday people with ordinary failings who overcome adversity.” (Library Journal)   Suggested read-alike: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes.