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Smoke Alarms Save Lives!

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 3:55pm by Beth Manuel

The American Red Cross Michigan Region is conducting free smoke alarm installations & inspections. If you have alarms that are over 10 years old, don't work, or need an alarm on every floor of your home, contact the Red Cross for a 20 minute home visit! The Red Cross can provide up to 3 new smoke alarms at no cost. Washtenaw, Lenawee & Monroe residents call (734) 971-5300 ext. 229. Wayne, Oakland, Macomb & St. Clair residents call (313) 576-4112. You can also sign up on line right here.

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Out in the Open

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:14pm by Nholtzman

Jesús Carrasco's debut novel Out in the Open, offers a fresh take on primal survival.

Carrasco's novel opens with an unnamed boy hiding in a hole. If the boy is found, the hole could become his grave. We follow the boy as he runs from malignant forces. At first, the reader is not sure who the boy is running from, or why.

The boy travels through a desolate and unforgiving expanse; he struggles to find food and water. Eventually the boy meets a goat herder who helps him. The characters develop a relationship, and a ray of hope sprouts from Carrasco's somber story. The connection between the goat herder and the boy is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the novel. However, it is memorizing to follow the characters on their daily struggle to survive; it certainly makes our lives seem effortless in comparison.

Jesús Carrasco is from Spain. Out in the Open was originally written in Spanish. Margaret Jull Costa translated the text into English. Carrasco's novel has now been published in more than twenty countries and has received many accolades. Out in the Open won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2016, as well as an English PEN award.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #660

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 2:51pm by muffy

Reviewers are calling The Last Mrs. Parrish * * * by Liv Constantine (pen name of sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine) a "devilishly ingenious debut thriller." (Publishers Weekly)

Amber Patterson deserves more, definitely more than her impoverished upbringing, her dead-end jobs and the constant worry about money. She set her sights on Daphne and Jackson Parrish, a wealthy “golden couple” from Connecticut who is living the privileged life she wants.

Meticulously clever and ruthlessly manipulative, Amber moves to Bishops Harbor, and plots to insinuate herself into Daphne's life, and through her, to Jackson, the handsome, powerful real estate mogul. Before long, Amber is traveling to Europe with the Parrish family; and when she finds out Daphne’s failure to give Jackson a male heir is the main source of tension in the marriage, she knows what she needs to do to become the next Mrs. Parrish, that is as long as the skeleton in her closet does not lay waste to all that scheming.

Halfway through, the narrative is picked up by Daphne, and the readers will get a surprisingly different take on the story. Well, let's just say some women get everything and some women get everything they deserve.

"With a plot equally as twisty, spellbinding, and addictive as Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train, this is sure to be a hit with suspense fans."(Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #659

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 9:23pm by muffy

Seven Days of Us * * by Francesca Hornak, is a sharply observed and ultimately satisfying holiday story.

For the first time in years the entire Birch family will be spending Christmas together under one roof, no thanks to elder daughter, 32-year old Olivia, a disaster-relief physician who just spent 6 weeks in Liberia fighting an Ebola-like Haag epidemic. The family decides to ride out the one-week quarantine at Weyfield Hall, their dilapidated country estate.

Thrown together with little to occupy themselves, and cut off from the outside world (even their Wi-Fi is spotty at best), all their disagreements, resentments, and secrets, both old and new, come bubbling up.

Father Andrew, a restaurant critic secretly hates food, and longs for the glory days as a globe-trotting war correspondent. Mother Emma is trying to shield her family from the cancer diagnosis so they could enjoy their time together. Olivia's secret relationship with a fellow doctor could potentially be dire for the whole household. Younger, and unabashedly frivolous, Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding while secretly having second thoughts about her fiance George. None of them are prepared for the charming stranger who turns up at the door - Andrew's son from a one-night stand while on assignment in the Middle East.

"Hornak writes with a sense of irony and an eye on today's social issues... Fans of contemporary English stories such as those by Jane Green or Jenny Colgan will enjoy this novel about the shaky recovery of family bonds." (Library Journal)

* * = 2 starred reviews

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An unusual debut

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 12:38pm by Lucy S

In a literary world full of “5 under 35 lists” and authors publishing first novels in their 20s, Leah Weiss is something of an anomaly. Her debut novel, If The Creek Don’t Rise was written after her retirement from a 24 year career as the executive assistant to the headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. In it she introduces us to the harsh and difficult life in a small town in Appalachia in the 1970s. This can be a dangerous place, a world of violence and cruelty, especially for women. Weiss presents this community through a profuse range of voices, voices with their own dialect, particular to these mountain ranges.

The chapters in Weiss’ book, each narrated by a different individual, read like a collection of connected stories, offering a unique and varied glimpse of Baines Creek, a remote haven in an unspecified state. As a newcomer to Baines Creek, teacher Kate Shaw, one of Weiss’ strongest characters, describes it as “barely a crossroad, a dot on a map. It’s remote, embraced by natural beauty, and riddled with hardships,” with “poverty the likes of which I’ve never imagined except in the books of Dickens and Brontë sisters.”

The cast of players in this secluded town represents all facets of personality and morality, and an internal view of even the most vile characters unveils some vulnerability. We are able to see why Prudence Perkins, the reverend’s spiteful, spinster sister, is so mean spirited, and to learn from where intense cruelty is born in the heart of an abusive bully, Roy Tupkin.

If there is a main character in If The Creek Don’t Rise, she is Sadie Blue, the wife of Roy. Her voice provides bookends, she starts the first and last chapters with the same sentence, within which she demonstrates one woman’s path to a better place in a town that so often resists change. Ultimately this is Sadie Blue’s story, provided to us by a chorus of voices from those who know her, but we get to experience so many other memorable folks from Baines Creek along the way.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #658 “There’s no such thing as ruining your life. Life’s a pretty resilient thing, it turns out.” ~ Sophie Kinsella

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 11:25pm by muffy

The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose is an unputdownable literary puzzler set in contemporary Philadelphia. Its title - an obvious homage to Marcel Duchamp's famous creations that rocked the art world a century ago.

After years of shoplifting and dealing drugs at her high school, 17 year-old Lee Cuddy finally got sent to juvie taking a fall for a friend in a drug bust. A lucky escape means living rough, until she finds refuge in the Crystal Castle - a derelict building where homeless kids squat, under the control of a mysterious figure known as the Station Master. Not one to follow rules, Lee wonders around the restricted area of the Castle, and quickly discovers why homeless kids are disappearing from the streets in suspicious numbers. She manages to steal a strange object from the Station Master that turns out to be a work of art (With Hidden Noise, 1916) by Marcel Duchamp, recently stolen from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one that holds special significance to members of a twisted reincarnation of the Société Anonyme.

With a young artist/hacker Tomi as ally, Lee tries to elude her pursuers who believe Duchamp left clues in his art that reveal the key to immortality, and that Lee holds the key to it all.

"The novel is complex on many intellectual levels, drawing heavily on theories of art history and physics, and the mystery is deep and satisfying in both its unpredictability and its culmination." (Kirkus Reviews)

"With dynamic characters and unforgettable scenes, including after-hours museum sex, mysterious pursuers, and wondrous evasions, Rose’s captivating, art-anchored pager-turner reads like a mashup of Home Alone and The Da Vinci Code." (Booklist)

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Sometimes Amazing Things Happen

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 4:50pm by Lucy S

“And when an incarcerated person with a mental illness is too ill to be cared for at Rikers they go, the men that is, to the "prison ward" on the 19th floor of New York's storied Bellevue Hospital, where they remain in custody while doctors, nurses, social workers and counselors treat them, under the watchful eyes of correctional officers, until they are well enough to return to jail.”
From Psychology Today

In her author’s note, Elizabeth Ford tells us that she measures her “success as a doctor not by how well I treat mental illness but how well I respect and honor my patients’ humanity, no matter where they are or what they have done.” Her book, Sometimes amazing things happen : heartbreak and hope on the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric prison ward, chronicles the ways in which she does exactly that, sometimes with a personal struggle, though most often intuitively. Dr. Ford begins her story at the outset of her career at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in the country, houses, on its top floors, “one of the most famous psychiatric wards in the world,” including the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward. The patients here are inmates of the New York City jail system, headquartered on Rikers Island. This is where Dr. Ford works for most of this memoir, and these inmates people her stories from that time. Dr. Ford details her interactions with her patients, providing them with humanity and respect. She is skilled at turning even her most extreme outrage to empathy, aided by her capacity to listen well. “If you listen to the story long enough, you can figure out why these patients behave so badly. Then you can try to fix it.”

Ford has two young children, and like many parents, she struggles with a work-life balance, and at times finds herself unable to leave her patients’ suffering behind. Her own unraveling during her second pregnancy causes her to scale back on her work and leave Bellevue for a period of time. When she returns in 2009, it is to become the first female Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Service at Bellevue. She is continually challenged by the caring of her patients, by episodes of violence, by her frustration with the criminal justice system, but she faces these crises with boundless compassion and determination. Today, Dr. Ford is the Chief of Psychiatry for Correctional Health Services for New York City’s Health and Hospitals.

Similar medical memoirs include, No apparent distress : a doctor's coming-of-age on the front lines of American medicine by Rachel Pearson, and Admissions: life as a brain surgeon by Henry Marsh.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #657

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 8:38pm by muffy

Gone to Dust * is playwright and Emmy Award-winning television (Seinfeld, Ellen, The New Adventures of Old Christine) writer Matt Goldman's mystery debut.

18" of snow fell overnight. Minneapolis PI Nils “Shap” Shapiro was planning to take the day-off when former colleague Anders Ellegaard at the Edina Police Dept. called for assistance at a crime scene. Divorcee Maggie Somerville was found murdered in her bedroom, her body covered with the dust from hundreds of emptied vacuum cleaner bags, rendering all potential DNA evidence unusable.

After checking the alibis and possible motives of the usual suspects (hippy organic sheep-farmer ex-husband, billionaire ex-boyfriend), Shap focuses on a mysterious young woman with no past history; a cache of anonymous love letters to Maggie; and a shadowy figure known only as Slim. Out of nowhere, the FBI demands that they drop the case, forcing Shap and Ellegaard to take their investigation underground, where the case grows increasingly bizarre and twisted.

"(Goldman's) tough yet vulnerable PI, evocative Minneapolis setting, and clever plot, which features a distinctive crime scene and multiple red herrings, will engage and intrigue." (Library Journal)

"With his wry, observant eye and quick wit, plus a pressing need to follow the truth into dark, uncharted places, Shap is a more optimistic version of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer." (Publishers Weekly)

The second of the Nils Shapiro mystery Broken Ice will be released in 2018.

* = Starred review

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2017 Man Booker Prize Winner is also a worthy listen

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 5:11am by Lucy S

Narrated by George Saunders, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and various others
7 Hours and 30 Minutes

Lincoln in the Bardo has just been awarded the 2017 Man Booker Prize. George Saunders is the second US author to receive this honor, and his first novel garnered much publicity and praise upon publication. But have you considered listening to the audio version? Even if you aren’t normally drawn to books on CD, this one is more theatrical production than novel. Read by a cast of some 166 people, many famous voices among them, George Saunders’ story brings to mind Our Town, A Christmas Carol, and As I Lay Dying. The cast does a stellar job in delivering a beautifully read, moving, intelligent, and highly entertaining performance.

Two main plot lines run through Lincoln in the Bardo. Both are suffused with sadness, though there is much humor in the narrations of certain characters from beyond the grave. Many of the voices in this book are residents of The Oak Hill Cemetery, where President Lincoln has interred his son, Willie. They reside in a kind of limbo, “the bardo,” with unfinished business on earth, unaware that they are dead. The chapters alternate between the “action” in the bardo, and the story of the what is happening on the night of Willie Lincoln’s death, as told by Hans Vollman (Nick Offerman), Roger Bevins III (David Sedaris), and the Reverend Everly Thomas (George Saunders). Interspersed with their escapades are chapters focused on the raw grief of a father and his newly departed son. This most poignant story of a man struggling to say goodbye, and his son’s difficulty in letting go of the earth, is particularly moving. Listeners get an inside point of view from Abraham Lincoln himself, burdened with his country’s present agony as well as his own personal bereavement, as "narrated by hans vollman in the body of a. lincoln...
He is just one.
And the weight of it is about to kill me.
Have exported this grief. Some three thousand times. So far. To date. A mountain. Of boys. Someone’s boys. Must keep on with it. May not have the heart for it. One thing to pull the lever when blind to the result. But here lies one dear example of what I accomplish by the orders I …
What to do. Call a halt? Toss down the loss-hole those three thousand? Sue for peace? Become great course-reversing fool, king of indecision, laughing-stock for ages, waffling hick, slim Mr. Turnabout?
...What am I doing.
What am I doing here.
Lord, what is this? All of this walking about, trying, smiling, bowing, joking? This sitting-down-at-table, pressing-of-shirts, tying-of-ties, shining-of-shoes, planning-of-trips, singing-of-songs-in-the-bath?
When he is to be left out here?
Is a person to nod, dance, reason, walk, discuss?
As before?...
Was he dear or not?
Then let me be happy no more."

There are stand-out performances by many, most notably, David Sedaris, Nick Offerman, Julianne Moore as Jane Ellis, Kirby Heyborne as Willie Lincoln, Bill Hader as Eddie Baron and Megan Mullally as Betsy Baron
See more at: Penguin Random House Audio.

After two full run throughs, I had to return Lincoln in the Bardo for the next listener’s wonderment, but I miss the voices of Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins III, the Reverend Thomas Everly, and 163 others.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #656, Women's Fiction Debuts

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 10:23pm by muffy

Something Like Happy is UK novelist Eva Wood's North American debut.

Annie Hebden could really use a break. Thirty-five, divorced, flat-sharing with a messy roommate who parties all night, feeling isolated at a boring desk job and now, she is dealing with her mother Maureen's early-onset dementia. Then, she meets Polly Leonard.

Witnessing Annie's meltdown with the bureaucratic hospital administrator over her mother's care, the bubbly, outlandishly-dressed Polly is determined to take Annie in hand, never mind she has precious little time left with terminal brain cancer. At first reluctant, Annie allows Polly to talk her into joining her mission - instead of counting the days, they will make the next 100 days count.

"Delightful page-turning awaits readers, even with Polly’s inevitable finale. Polly is a wonderful character with a positively infectious attitude—memorable and magnetic, with a healthy dose of gallows humor... Jojo Moyes meets Emily Giffin in this poignant, uplifting tale of the power of friendship and the importance of making the most of each day." (Publishers Weekly)

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by former scriptwriter Veronica Henry is set in the fictional village of Peasebrook, nestled in the Cotswolds.

Emilia Nightingale had no idea what she was in for when she promised her father Julius at his deathbed that she would keep Nightingale Books open. A beloved fixture of the community, Julius was no businessman and it appeared that Nightingale Books has been operating in the red for quite some time. Selling to the eager property developers might be Emilia's only option.

As she struggles with financial woes and tries to find new ways to revitalize the business, Emilia also sees how integral the bookshop is in facilitating relationships throughout the town. Six different love stories emerge - Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor uses the book shop as an escape and to meet her secret lover; shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section; a single-father is trying to connect with his son through reading; and Emilia finds herself attracted to the unavailable Marlowe as she takes her father's place in the town’s string quartet.

"A light romantic comedy well-suited for bibliophiles and Anglophiles alike... (that) explores deeper questions of personal choice and the different forms in which love manifests. " (Kirkus Reviews)

For fans of Katie Fforde; Marian Keyes; and Jill Mansell.