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Contemporary Fiction by African Authors

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 5:52pm

With the continuous popularity of books such as Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, fiction about modern Africa is becoming ever more prominent. These novels are a great learning tool to connect readers with stories and experiences they may not necessarily be familiar with. Although these authors may seem hard to come across, the library has you covered with some great recommendations. Be sure to check out this list for more modern novels written by African authors! Here are 2 intriguing titles to get you started.

Named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post is Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. Jende, a struggling Cameroonian immigrant lives in Harlem with his wife and son. When he finds an opportunity working for the Lehman Brothers in New York, he is certain his luck has improved but soon learns that everything is not what it seems. With the 2008 financial crisis serving as a backdrop, read and find out how Jende learns what it takes to make it in America, all while keeping his family together. The novel is currently being featured as apart of Oprah's book club.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta tells a unique story about Africa. Amid a perilous interstate civil war, a young Nigerian girl is sent to a neighboring village for safety. During her stay, she meets a refugee girl of a different ethnic background and quickly falls in love. Due to cultural norms, she faces negative stigmas placed on her and her new found love leaving her to make an important decision. Does she make the choice to dishonor her host family or to fall in love? This novel was featured on NPR's Best Books of 2015 list.

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we are never meeting in real life: essays

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 10:57am

Blogger, Samantha Irby, has written a compelling, and wickedly funny book of essays, we are never meeting in real life.

Irby's essays chronicle her life in a contemporary writing style that pays attention to form, but skirts scholarly essay convention, (fine by me, let's read essays that mean something and say it in an interesting way).

She writes about her childhood, her college years, and the years she spends working at a veterinarian office.

Irby has experienced hardships that are often difficult to write about without sounding morose. However, Irby's talent as a comedian and writer is apparent in her candid and hilarious accounts of events like adapting a cat that she, and everyone else, hates.

we are never meeting in real life: essays, has been lauded by authors like Roxane Gay and Lindy West, and has been reviewed by organizations like Kirkus.

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The Alphabet with Funk and Glam

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 9:47am

[img_assist|nid=365111|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=75]Here are two new amazing small books to help adults learn the alphabet in style! [b:1513034|Bowie A to Z] and [b:1513161|Prince A to Z] each offer short bits of info about each musician, paired with whimsical illustrations. Written by Steve Wilde, [b:1513161|The Life of an Icon From Alphabet Street to Jay Z] and the [b:1513034|The Life of an Icon from Aladdin Sane to Ziggy Stardust] are both entertaining, quick reads with great illustrations.

As a fan of both artists I was delighted when I happened upon the Bowie title, and I squealed when I found out there was a Prince title as well. They would make great gifts or coffee table books.

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Refuge: A Novel

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 4:24pm

[cover_image]|1512938[/cover_image]

At the beginning of [a:Nayeri, Dina|Dina Nayeri’s] expressive, well-crafted, second novel, [b:1512938|Refuge], Dr. Bahman Hamidi sits outside a courtroom and watches the proceedings of the twelve divorce cases that proceed his. During this time, he reflects back on how he arrived at this point, the verge of ending his third marriage. He thinks of his first wife, and his son and daughter, who fled from Iran in 1987 to escape religious persecution after his wife converted to Christianity. Bahman is still plagued, in 2009, by the question of whether he did the right thing in letting them go, and in not joining them. He has only seen his family four times since they left. His daughter Niloo lives in Amsterdam with her husband, and it is her voice that narrates the alternating chapters of this book. We begin to understand her perspective on leaving Iran and her relationship to her father, on her vague memories of her early refugee years that instilled in her a “forever refugee feeling.” As the novel progresses, the story continues to jump back and forth between these decades and the points of view of Bahman and Niloo.

[b:1512938|Refuge], rooted in the Arab Spring uprisings and the European migrant crisis, emphasises the ways in which being a refugee has marked Niloo for life. For example, when her debit card is declined while shopping for groceries in Amsterdam, due to bank error, she is shamed by the memory of her mother’s card being declined, of watching her mother put back all her food until she had only what she could pay for. “What Niloo feels is animal panic, the sensation of a world spitting her into another tier, one she has occupied before and that awaits her, that has missed her and knows she will be back.” This notion of having a foot in two worlds is a central theme in [a:Nayeri, Dina|Nayeri’s] book. One way Niloo manages this push and pull is to set up and live by a strict set of rules, going so far as to compose a list of written guidelines for marriage that she shares with her husband. Through this order, she strives to define and know herself, her exploration underscoring a merging of identities and cultures that may be crucial for many exiles. She meets a group Persian activists and asylum seekers, and finds herself beginning to investigate some of the choices she has made about her tightly structured life. Niloo is able to re-frame the complicated way in which she has seen her father, to realize that he has had his own struggles. The chapters that focus on Bahman provide us with a picture of a man whose life is complicated by his opium addiction, his politics, his ex-wives and his desire to see his grown children. Like Niloo, he is attempting to reconcile these disparate aspects of his reality.

The idea that one must look past the flaws of family members to seek some harmony lies at the heart of this father/daughter story. [b:1512938|Refuge] speaks to reinvention, finding new roots after being so uprooted, and to finding, perhaps embracing, the exiled parts of oneself.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #650, The Innocents Abroad

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 8:47pm

[cover_image]|b1512978[/cover_image]

[a:Bassingthwaighte, Ian|Ian Bassingthwaighte] (UM, MFA, [http://lsa.umich.edu/writers/alumni-friends/alumni-books.html|Helen Zell Writers' Program]) won the [https://lsa.umich.edu/hopwood|Hopwood Novel Award] in 2015 for [b:1512978|Live from Cairo * *]. This debut novel, set during the turbulent days after the January 25, 2011 uprising in Egypt, commonly referred to as [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring|The Arab Spring], is supported by [https://us.fulbrightonline.org/|Fulbright Program] grant.

Cairo, 2011. President Mubarak is ousted from power, but for many people, Cairo is still a volatile, dangerous place. Dalia, an Iraqi refugee finds herself trapped in Egypt when her petition to join her husband Omran in the U.S. is denied. Hana, an Iraqi-American working at the U.N. Refugee Resettlement Office is assigned her case, and is desperate to help her. Neither one is unaware that Dalia's impulsive American attorney Charlie, is in love with his client, and is about to forge a not entirely legal plan to get her out. Meanwhile, Aos, Charlie’s translator and only friend, spends his days trying to help people through the system and his nights in Tahrir Square protesting against it.

As these well-meaning but ill-equipped individuals come together to help Dalia, laws are broken, friendships and marriages are tested, and lives are risked.

"The author paints a deep and empathetic picture of the inner struggles of his courageous, flawed characters, who in the midst of mortal danger and insurmountable odds, grapple with the most fundamental questions of right and wrong. The answers follow neither rules nor laws, making the climax to this novel breathtaking and heartrending." (Publishers Weekly)

[a:Fallon, Siobhan|Siobhan Fallon] follows up her [b:1373416|prizewinning short story collection] with a debut novel - [b:1512958|The Confusion of Languages *]. While her stories focused on military spouses stateside, this novel is from the perspective of two wives of U.S. Embassy staff in Jordan as the Arab Spring unfolds.

After two years in Amman, Cassie Hugo considers herself a worthy mentor to Margaret Brickshaw, a new arrival to the Middle East. But the sight of Margaret sends Cassie into a fit of jealousy, especially her toddler Mather, having tried for years to start a family. Desperate for a friend among the expat families, Cassie shows Margaret around town, and tries to impart upon her the wisdom and safeguards of embassy rules. However, Margaret yearns for adventure, to learn Arabic, and to connect with the locals.

With their husbands deployed, Cassie is asked to mind Mather while Margaret insists on venturing out alone to settle a fender-bender incident. When Margaret fails to return, Cassie panics and looks through Margaret's journal for clues. What she finds among her friend's many secrets is her own possible role in Margaret's disappearance.

"For all that these women appear designed for a morality play, they are honest and well-formed characters, and Fallon strenuously avoids pat answers to the central question of how a woman should behave in a foreign land."(Kirkus Reviews)

* * = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

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The Dark Tower

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 6:31pm

The Dark Tower series (one of author Stephen King's crowning achievements) tells the story of gunslinger Roland Deschain and his quest to find and protect the fabled Dark Tower, said to be the link between all universes. Roland's world is a post-apocalyptic desolate wasteland where time no longer moves chronologically and reality is fraying. The eight book series combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror and classic Western into a brand new epic story. The movie adaptation of the Dark Tower series opened on August 4th to mixed reviews (to put it lightly). Even if fans were not quite satisfied with the adaptation, they have devoured the Dark Tower series since the beginning of its publication in the early 1980's. Now is the perfect time to catch up on this epic series!

The series consists of The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower. These novels also have Book on CD (BOCD) counterparts, available here. King's collection of short stories entitled Everything's Eventual also includes Dark Tower related stories, specifically "The Little Sisters of Eluria" and "Everything's Eventual".

Drawing on the popularity of the novels, a series of prequel graphic novels was published after the novels were completed. The prequels begin with The Gunslinger Born and continue with The Long Road Home (available through MeLCat), Treachery (also only available through MeLCat), The Fall of Gilead and Battle of Jericho Hill.

The first two novels themselves have also been adapted into graphic novels, all available through MeLCat. The Gunslinger series consists of The Gunslinger: The Journey Begins,
The Battle of Tull, The Way Station, The Man in Black, and Last Shots. The Little Sisters of Eluria was also adapted into comic book form. The comics continue with The Drawing of the Three series, consisting of The Prisoner, House of Cards, Lady of Shadows, Bitter Medicine, and The Sailor.

There have been several nonfiction works detailing the intricacies of the Dark Tower universe. Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance, Revised and Updated is an encyclopedia of Dark Tower-related information, originally written by Robin Furth for Stephen King's exclusive personal use while he was still writing the series in order to prevent continuity errors. It was later published once King realized how valuable it would be to his "Constant Readers". There's also The Dark Tower Companion: A Guide to Stephen King's Epic Fantasy.

Additionally, there are many other Stephen King works that reference or are related to the Dark Tower series. A partial list includes Salem's Lot, Eyes of the Dragon, Bag of Bones, Black House, Insomnia, Desperation and its companion novel The Regulators, From a Buick 8, Cell, Rose Madder, Hearts in Atlantis, and The Stand.

The novel It also has ties to the Dark Tower series and has a widely anticipated movie adaptation coming out on September 8th. The trailer is available to watch here (if you dare!) and an interactive VR experience was released yesterday for the bravest of heart. You can also catch up with the 1990 made-for-TV movie, available here.

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"Bonnie and Clyde" Turns 50

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 4:18pm

This week marks the 50th anniversary of “Bonnie and Clyde,” a film that introduced a new generation's sensibility to Hollywood and influenced generations of filmmakers to come. “Bonnie and Clyde,” based on a real life couple, follows waitress Bonnie and ex-con Clyde as they road trip across America robbing banks. The film’s success, including a nomination for Best Picture, helped pivot Hollywood from musicals and more family friendly fare, to increasingly experimental and French New Wave inspired filmmaking that captured the tension of the time period.

You can check out Bonnie and Clyde on DVD, or Blu-Ray.

If you want to learn about the making of the film and how it changed American cinema you can read Mark Harris’ ”Pictures at a revolution : five movies and the birth of the new Hollywood.”

Or if you want to know more about the real life Bonnie and Clyde you can check out “Go down together : the true, untold story of Bonnie and Clyde,” “Bonnie and Clyde : the lives behind the legend,” or “The strange history of Bonnie and Clyde.”

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #649

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 10:41pm

[cover_image]|b1512870[/cover_image]

With the melancholic lyrics of one of Japan's top [http://www.natsumelo.com/2011/10/ayumi-ishida-blue-light-yokohama-1968/|singles] [b:1512870|Blue Light Yokohama * *] threading through the narrative, debut novelist [a:Obregón, Nicolás, 1984-|Nicolás Obregón] introduces Inspector Iwata in an atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful series opener. The story was inspired in part, by an actual [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setagaya_family_murder|unsolved crime] in 2000.

Kosuke Iwata, newly reinstated to the Homicide Division of the Tokyo Police was immediately assigned to a multiple murder case when the lead detective committed suicide. His new partner, the sharp-tongued, brash dynamo Noriko Sakai was less than enthusiastic - weary of the gossips surround Iwata's troubled past, suspicious of his American background (UCLA), and frustrated with superiors who clearly want them to fail.

On February 14, four members of the Kaneshiro family were brutally butchered in their home. While the Tokyo brass were ready to pin the murders on a crippled thug, Iwata and Sakai puzzled over the ritualistic details at the crime scene - missing body part, a distinctive incense smell, and symbol of a [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sun_(occult_symbol)|black sun] scrolled on the ceiling. Almost immediately, the "Black Sun Killer" claimed another victim - the widow of a prominent judge.

Fighting his personal demons and insomnia, Iwata relentlessly follows up on every lead, explores every angle, trying to connect these murders while finding others as far away as Hong Kong, and instinctively knowing that the killer is not done.

"Obregón (a LA-based travel writer who fell in love with Japan while on assignment for a magazine) maintains a high level of suspense throughout his superior fiction debut, an intricately constructed whodunit that doesn’t sacrifice depth of characterization for plot." (Publishers Weekly)

Fans of police procedurals set in contemporary Japan might also enjoy [b:1457862|Malice] (the first in the Kyochiro Kaga mystery series) and [b:/1502107|Under the Midnight Sun] (a Detective Sasagaki novel), both by [http://theedgars.com/|Edgar-nominated] [a:Higashino, Keigo, 1958-|Keigo Higashino].

The tormented Iwata brings to mind [b:1199475|Insomnia] (2002), an American psychological thriller that is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian [b:1455440|noir] classic.

* * = 2 starred reviews

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Saints for All Occasions: the best of the best in Irish-Catholic family sagas

Sat, 08/05/2017 - 10:09am

J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine, Commencement and The Engagements, again returns to Boston (where at least a portion of all of her books take place) in her latest family saga, Saints for All Occasions. A master of depicting tight-knight Irish-American families full of secrets, Sullivan possesses the rare ability to tell stories that span decades without losing the reader in time. Saints for All Occasions technically begins twice: first in 2009 when Nora Rafferty’s oldest son Patrick dies in a car crash and again in 1957 when Nora and her sister Theresa make the voyage from Ireland to America to join Nora’s fiancé, Charlie, in Boston.

What transpires between 1957 and 2009 seems at first simple: Theresa gets pregnant out of wedlock—at the time a particularly terrible fate for a young Irish Catholic girl—and goes reluctantly to a nunnery for the duration of her pregnancy and to have the baby. She doesn’t want to give her child up, but is forced to by the nuns. Nora—recently married to Charlie—agrees to take the boy in and raise him as her own. The effects of this choice drive the rest of the story, which introduces us to Nora’s other three children and to the path that Theresa followed after her pregnancy. Anyone who is familiar with Boston, with Irish-Catholic families, or with both will connect immediately to the portrait of the Raffertys that Sullivan paints in Saints for All Occasions. Her characters and their choices are believable and well-formed, and she travels between time periods deftly, revealing the secrets of the story to readers at the exact right moments.

Saints for All Occasions is a wonderful read to sneak in on your summer reading list.

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Dying: A Memoir

Sat, 08/05/2017 - 9:47am

[cover_image]|1513059[/cover_image]

At the age of 50, [a:Taylor, Cory|Cory Taylor] was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. She wrote [b:1513059|Dying: a Memoir] 10 years later, in an energetic rush of creativity, right before her death, when the melanoma had spread to her brain. This perceptive output, at such a time, is astounding, and as readers we are its lucky recipients.

“Despite the ubiquity of death, it seems strange that there are so few opportunities to discuss dying,” says Taylor as she works to establish a conversation around death. “Death is a taboo subject, absurdly so. It is tidied away in hospitals, out of public view, the secret purview of health professionals who are generally unwilling to talk about what really goes on at the bedsides of a nation.” Taylor strives to change this, in part by taking control of the dialogue around her own death, and by taking control of her death itself. She begins the book by telling us that she has just purchased her own euthanasia drugs. She doesn’t know that she’ll use them, but it comforts her to know that she can dictate her end. She doesn’t try to convince us that dying isn’t hard, or sad, but nor does she shy away from the fact that it is unavoidable. “No, there is nothing good about dying. It is sad beyond belief. But it is part of life, and there is no escaping it. Once you grasp that fact, good things can result.” When addressing the fear that she admits to feeling, she adds, “I haven't died before, so I sometimes get a bad case of beginner’s nerves, but they soon pass.”

Taylor moves away from the topic of death for one section of this slim volume to highlight some memories from her interesting childhood spent in Australia and Fiji. This exploration highlights an understanding of her parents, their relationship to each other, and to her, that perhaps she was recognizing in an end-of-life reflection. But even in looking back at her life experiences, Taylor does not fall prey to sentimentality, nor is she mired with regret. “I don't have a bucket list because it comforts me to remember the things I have done, rather than hanker after the things I haven't done. Whatever they are, I figure they weren't for me, and that gives me a sense of contentment, a sort of ballast as I set out on my very last trip.”

Taylor writes beautifully, and it is sad to think we won’t get more from her, but we are fortunate to have this.

Add this to the ranks of [b:1485873|When Breath Becomes Air], [b:1458885|Being Mortal], and [b:1512049|The Bright Hour], the books we read to try to gain insight on and understanding of the inevitable end we all face. Cory Taylor eloquently bestows both to us.

“And that is what I’m doing now, in this, my final book: I am making a shape for my death, so that I, and others, can see it clearly.”