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An unusual debut

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 12:38pm

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

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

“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

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

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

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.

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Michigan Libraries for Life!

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 2:48pm

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On Monday, October 16, Michigan Libraries for Life! will be onsite at the Downtown AADL 10:00am to 2:00pm.

Since 2010, libraries across Michigan have participated in this simple and effective campaign to educate patrons about organ, tissue, and eye donation and to encourage them to join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry. This effort was originally spearheaded by the University of Michigan’s Taubman Health Sciences Library but has expanded to include public, academic, special, and hospital libraries across the state. This collaborative effort has inspired nearly 3,500 people to sign up as donors!

More than 95% of Americans support organ, tissue and eye donation. In Michigan, only 59% of adults have joined the state’s donor registry. That discrepancy is largely due to state residents not knowing how to join the donor registry, or having unanswered questions about donation. Michigan Libraries for Life helps to address that informational need.

We are excited to bring this life-saving event back in 2017! If you have questions, please contact us at MichLib4Life@umich.edu to receive more information. You can also find Michigan Libraries for Life on Facebook! www.facebook.com/ML4Life

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Grasping for that Grassy Green Cover...

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 4:25pm

But then, lo and behold, there was ANOTHER time at the library...with that book you saw on a shelf, with a GREEN cover, that drew you in - but, of course, you had to pass it by in that moment for some unbeknownst reason. Now, if you should find yourself green with envy for that grassy-colored cover, I may have the book for you! I've recently created a list of books that have, or have had, green covers - whether or not their most recent editions have that gorgeous emerald hue, they did at some point! Plus, this list is welcome to all kinds of green covered books...

Whether it be a marshy green of the novel The Marsh King's Daughter, a gawky bright green like The Awkward Age, or perhaps the olive green of Behind the Mask, all green covers are welcome on this compilation list. But this list isn't just for the adults! There's also a wide age range available for the younger reader greedy for the green...

Whether it's from the teen section like Fablehaven, maybe Gary Paulsen's The River, or even Insurgent from Veronica Roth's best-selling Divergent series, this list has a generous collection of green covered pages that you might have left on the shelf. Even the youth may have glazed over a glorious green book resting on it's display, such as The Secret Garden or Evermore Dragon. This list also gives a gateway to the many genres that glisten with glittering green covers at the library...

Maybe you were gleefully grasping through science fiction and found The Best of Ian McDonald or David Hutchinson's Acadie? Could you have gone gallivanting through the Express Shelf and seen My Absolute Darling or found The Essex Serpent? What about the non-fiction readers, who may have glanced through the graceful stacks, gazing at gripping covers glorifying goodly grub for the growing kids or great grammatical rhymes?

This list has ALL THE THINGS (or would like to have) and is growing each day! Please feel free to take a gander, and graciously grumble or gab about other green-covered books you think others may be searching for, so the list gets gargantuan. Just think: someone out there could be looking for a leafy-green book jacket that you've read before - maybe you've got the answer they've been grieving for as they search the grand volumes we have here at AADL. Or perhaps you yourself have getting grumpy in the search, and the book is in this list already!!! Only one way to find out...

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We were eight years in power : an American tragedy

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 4:13pm

Released earlier this week is a new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as they regard African-Americans. Since his first published book in 2008, Mr. Coates is now considered one of the most influential black intellectuals of his generation. Many will be familiar with his bestseller, Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Awards' top prize for nonfiction in 2015.

His most recent book is a memoir based within a collection of eight essays written during the time of the Obama administration. Mr. Coates weaves a personal history touching on the influence of hip-hop, books he read, and the blog he maintained. Interspersed within the collection of articles are autobiographical essays reflecting on his approach at the time of writing and the optimism felt when Obama began his presidency. New introductions lend insight to his process of writing and further reviewing those ideas once shared with the rest of the world.

The selections include "The Case for Reparations" and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” an article which further established Coates as a leading writer on the topic of race in America. While the essays draw from a certain period of time, Coates has broadened these ideas with added reflection and insight. Hindsight lends an introspection to where his ideas were coming from and have since grown.

Audio versions of his work are available. Between the World and Me is especially enjoyable as read by the author. His new book is read by Bennett Beresford, narrator of many audiobooks of varied genres, actor of the stage and screen, and is also an award-winning screenwriter.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #655

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 9:02pm

One of Entertainment Weekly's 20 Must-Read Books of the Fall and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, The World of Tomorrow * * * * by Brendan Mathews will not disappoint.

Set against the backdrop of the World's Fair, conceived to lift the spirit of city (and the country) out of the gloom of the Depression and promised a peaceful, prosperous "World of Tomorrow," is a sweeping, intricate, and ambitious debut about family, honor, love and betrayal, over the course of one whirlwind week in 1939.

Posing as a Scottish laird, escaped Dublin convict Francis Dempsey and his shell-shocked brother, Michael, are bound for New York on the RMS Britannic, having stolen a small fortune from the IRA. Francis's title and aristocratic bearing impresses his fellow passengers enough that they eagerly welcome him into their rarefied circle once they've reached Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Tom Cronin, a retired assassin living a quiet family life in a farm upstate, is pressed into service one last time - to track the Dempsey brothers down. During the week that follows, the lives of these characters collide spectacularly with big-band jazz musicians, a talented but fragile heiress, a Jewish street photographer facing a return to Nazi-occupied Prague, a vengeful mob boss, and the ghosts of their own family's revolutionary past.

"From the smoky jazz joints of Harlem to the opulent Plaza Hotel, from the garrets of vagabonds and artists in the Bowery to the backroom warrens and shadowy warehouses of mobsters in Hell's Kitchen, Brendan Mathews brings the prewar metropolis to vivid, pulsing life." (Library Journal)

"With the wit of a ’30s screwball comedy and the depth of a thoroughly researched historical novel, this one grabs the reader from the beginning to its suspenseful climax." (Publishers' Weekly)

Fans of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; Rules of Civility by Amor Towles; and Netherland by Joseph O'Neill would not want to miss this.

* * * * = 4 starred reviews