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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #644

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 8:38pm

Michigan author Karen Dionne's hardcover debut The Marsh King's Daughter * transports her readers to the wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula where a woman must risk everything she has and use every skill she learned to hunt down the dangerous criminal who taught her everything she knew - her father.

When Helena Pelletier heard on the news that the notorious murderer/kidnapper known as "The Marsh King" has killed two guards and escaped from Marquette maximum security prison, she knew she could no longer outrun her past.

Born in a primitive cabin to a 14 year-old kidnapped victim, Helena grew up without modern conveniences or human contact except for her aloof mother and Jacob, who held them captive. Despite his brutal behavior, Helene loved him, loved their life together, governed only by the seasons - farming, fishing, tracking, and hunting. But it was also a 13 year-old Helena who facilitated their rescue and put Jacob behind bars.

Twenty years later, married with two young daughters and a thriving business, Helena faces the daunting task of explaining to her husband why their family is at risk; why the police considers her a person of interest; and even more incredulous, why she is the only one with survivalist skills to track her father in the wild.

"Echoing Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same title, Dionne's latest is a well-crafted, eerie, and unnerving psychological thriller." (Library Journal)

For fans of Still Missing by Chevy Stevens; Room by Emma Donoghue; and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller.

* = starred review

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Nature Close at Hand

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 2:00pm

“If we come to love nature not only when it is rare and beautiful, but also when it is commonplace and even annoying, I believe it will heal the great wound of our species; our self-imposed isolation from the rest of life, our loneliness for nature.”

You might be aware that squirrels eat acorns, but did you know that they usually only eat the top half, or why? Have you ever noticed how many pigeons have injured or malformed feet? Do you find yourself crossing the street to avoid the pungent odor release by some ginkgo trees? These are just a few of the questions Grist senior writer Nathanael Johnson was trying to answer as he roamed the streets of San Francisco with his young daughter. Johnson grew tired of answering her “that?” questions with basic answers so he decided to look more closely at the natural world that exists in every city. He shares what he found with humor and wisdom in Unseen city: the majesty of pigeons, the discreet charm of snails & other wonders of the urban wilderness.

Johnson divides the book into the subjects of his discovery; pigeon, weeds, squirrel, bird language, ginkgo, turkey vulture, ant, crow, and snail. In each of these areas, he shares his observations, the impetus for his particular investigations, and what he learned through reading and in conversation with experts.

Johnson brings a sense of wonder to his encounters and shares with us what it feels like to slow down and to really investigate the natural world outside the door. Through this close lens, he is able to satisfy his curiosity about pigeons’ misshapen feet, to forage for edible plants, to learn why only the top halves of acorns are eaten, to better understand the language of birds, to know why it is that ginkgo trees smell so rotten, to revile less the turkey vulture, to be amazed at the organization of an ant, to wonder at the intelligence and wit of a crow, and to decelerate to a snail’s pace. Johnson reminds us that because these creatures have adapted so well to living in human environments, we might not notice them. We “tend to think of nature and civilization as being irreconcilably opposed: Civilization’s gain is nature’s loss. But in fact, cities have become a prime habitat for speciation, hybridization, and, in short, rebirth.”

“We honor least the nature that is closest to us,” Johnson rightly observes. Reading this book is a good first step towards changing that.

Read alikes include The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, The Soul of An Octopus: a surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness by Sy Montgomery, and Superdove : how the pigeon took Manhattan-- and the world by Courtney Humphries.

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Endangered Species

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 9:48am

An endangered species is an animal, plant, or other species that is at risk of becoming extinct in the near future. Current scientific evidence indicates that the rate of species extinctions is increasing.

How to Save a Species by Marilyn Baillie, Jonathan Baillie, and Ellen Butcher features endangered species from around the world and the scientists who are trying to save them. It includes species on the brink of extinction, as well as those who have recovered after almost becoming extinct. To find the most current information on the endangered species highlighted in this book, see the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. To learn more about how scientists are trying to save some of the most endangered species on Earth, see the EDGE of Existence website. How to Save a Species is written for kids, but many adults will also find this information interesting.

Here are a few more books about endangered species that both kids and adults may enjoy:

Endangered Animals by Ben Hoare is part of the Eyewitness series. This book also discusses endangered species and the ways humanity can help them survive.

Save the Planet: Helping Endangered Animals by Rebecca E. Hirsch is part of the Cherry Lake Publishing collection. This informative ebook can be downloaded as a PDF when you log in to your AADL web account.

Draw 50 Endangered Animals by Lee J. Ames gives step-by-step illustrations for drawing endangered animals. There are no written instructions in this book, just drawings. This book is part of the Draw 50 series.

The following books about endangered species are geared towards younger kids:

Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals by Steve Jenkins is filled with great illustrations and includes facts about fascinating endangered animals from around the world.

Endangered! by Barbara L. Webb is an informative, easy to read book with lots of photographs. This book is part of the Green Earth Discovery Library series.

Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans is a Caldecott Honor Book. This is a unique picture book that also includes information that may be of interest to older readers.

It Stinks to Be Extinct! by Susan Blackaby is written in an easy to read format and includes nice photographs and valuable information about endangered animals.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #643 Spotlight on Speculative Fiction

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 9:17pm

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Published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death on July 18, [b:1510782|The Jane Austen Project *] by [a:Flynn, Kathleen, 1966-|Kathleen Flynn] asks: "Given the chance, what would one give up so that Jane could live?"

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, 2 time-travelers from the future arrive in 1815 London with specific goals - to find Austen's rumored unfinished novel The Watsons; and to determine the cause of her death in 1817, without altering the course of history.

Rachel Katzman, a disaster-relief physician and Liam Finucane, an actor-turned-scholar pose as Dr. William Ravenswood and his sister Mary, wealthy plantation owners just arrived from the West Indies and successfully insinuate themselves into the lives of the Austen clan by charming Henry, Jane's favorite brother.

As Rachel's friendship with Jane deepens over the course of the year and the unpublished manuscript is within reach, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact, exactly as they found it. With the portal to return to the future about to close, Rachel must make difficult choices - including whether she would allow Jane's fatal illness to remain undiagnozed.

(Debut novelist and New York Times editor) "Flynn skillfully delves into the later years of Austen's life in a way that is sure to please admirers of the 19th-century novelist, as well as providing a fascinating dollop of plot invention and a heartbreaking romance between the two protagonists." (Library Journal)

Fans of time-travel and romance would enjoy the series by [a: McElwain, Julie.|Julie McElwain] that opens with [b:1491696|A Murder in Time]; and [b:1504594|All Our Wrong Todays] by [a:Mastai, Elan.|Elan Mastai].

Fans of [a:Mandel, Emily St. John, 1979-|Emily St. John Mandel’s] [b:1455622|Station Eleven] (2014) and [a:Heller, Peter, 1959-|Peter Heller’s] [b:1412191|The Dog Stars] (2012) would find much to like in [b:1509872|The Space Between the Stars], [a:Corlett, Anne|Anne Corlett's] debut.

Veterinarian researcher Jamie Allenby survives a virus that nearly wiped out humanity throughout the galaxy to find herself alone in a distant planet called Soltaire. Jamie soon meets up with other survivors, and together this ragtag group is rescued by a passing ship, heading back to Earth, and to Daniel, her estranged boyfriend whom Jamie believes, might have survived the virus as well.

However, once back on Earth, some of the fellow survivors reveal themselves to be not as they seem. Secret agendas and deadly intents if unconstrained, will have serious repercussions for the future of mankind. Jamie must take matters into her own hand.

"Corlett offers a thoughtful examination of how individuals find meaning and fulfillment in the face of an apocalyptic event then wraps up with a thrilleresque ending." (Boolist)

* = starred review

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How to Be a Muslim: An American Story - Memoir by Haroon Moghul

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 1:11pm

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Memoir is a “tricky genre to review”, asserted Roxane Gay during an author event for her most recent title [b:1491528| Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body] at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium this past Friday.

Agreed.

Usually...

However, Haroon Moghul so creatively crafts his story that there were no tricks for me in this writing. Moghul’s memoir [t:How to be a Muslim: An American Story] artfully weaves insightful personal reflection on faith, leadership, and bipolar disorder with dry hilarity and punny chapter titles that are often nods to the musical magic of Green Day, Cat Stevens, and Jay-Z. The book makes for an emotional rollercoaster of a read as Moghul deftly describes his struggle with his two selves: the outer, public figure Haroon who was “thrust into the spotlight” as an NYU campus leader post-9/11, and the inner, personally and spiritually tormented Haroon vacillating between“amateur atheism” and God-consciousness.

Moghul addresses themes such as hypocrisy, the spectrum of mental health, bigamy, and monogamy in wildly entertaining and thought-provoking ways. Free of tired, apologetic “Intro-to-Islam” tropes, Moghul instead relies on the religious/spiritual and philosophical framework of poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, who wrestled with Islam and the West as well as the “self” and society prior to the decisiveness of the 9/11 moment. Indeed the amorphous unit that is popularly perceived of as the “Muslim World” experienced dissonance, along with richness and cosmopolitanism prior to that moment.

Any child of the 90’s will appreciate Moghul’s apropos references to the decade’s sartorial sensibilities (JNCO jeans, anyone?) and the memorable music of Mariah Carey. Besides suggesting to read Moghul’s reference [t:A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness] by Nasser Ghaemi, I cannot provide a reader advisory, “If you like ‘x’, you’ll also like ‘y’” because this book occupies a place of its own. Read it.

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What is the Reggio Emila Approach?

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:14pm

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy based on the image of the child, and of human beings, as possessing strong potentials for development and as a subject of rights who learns and grows in the relationships with others.

This global educational project, which is carried forth in the Municipal Infant-toddler Centers and Preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and has inspired other schools all over the world, is based on a number of distinctive characteristics: the participation of families, the collegial work of all the personnel, the importance of the educational environment, the presence of the atelier and the figure of the atelierista, the in-school kitchen, and the pedagogical coordinating team.

Join us as Suzanne Price of Sunshine Special Children's Studio and Early Childhood Educator Heidi Harris share key components of the Reggio Emilia philosophy in this interactive session.

This program is in partnership with the Wonder of Learning: 100 Languages of Children Exhibit (at the U-M Stamps School of Art and Design & the James and Anne Duderstadt Center on North Campus) and the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance.

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New from Arundhati Roy

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 8:02am

Twenty years ago, the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things hit the shelves and has remained in demand ever since. In the years since then, Arundhati Roy has published dozens of essays and non-fiction work, made documentaries, protested against government corruption, Hindu nationalism, environmental degradation and inequality, campaigned for Kashmiri independence, Maoist rebels and indigenous land rights, and was featured on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. To her political fans, she is the radical left voice of principled resistance; to her critics, the worst sort of adolescent idealist: unrealistic and self-indulgent. She has faced criminal charges of contempt and sedition, been imprisoned, and fled India briefly last year in fear for her life. She has not, until now, published another word of fiction.

Available this summer is a new novel from author Arundhati Roy titled The ministry of utmost happiness. This new work of literary fiction is highly anticipated. While noted as a challenging read, Roy's prosaic style is highly praised for embracing in a way that sweeps you through the story.

The complexity of Roy's writing allows for more than one thread in the story which begins with Anjum, born intersex and raised as a male. Later, she moves from her childhood home in Delhi to the nearby House of Dreams, choosing to live among a group of Hijras, transgendered women with a long, marginalized history in India. Finally, when this home fails her, she builds a home for herself in a city graveyard, where the tale begins.

The other major narrative thread concerns an unorthodox South Indian woman named Tilo. “She gave the impression that she had somehow slipped off her leash,” observes a friend. “As though she was taking herself for a walk while the rest of us were being walked — like pets.” Tilo studies architecture in Delhi in the 1980s and through a beloved college classmate, Musa, is caught up in the long, violent struggle for independence in the disputed northern territory of Kashmir.

"Shifting fluidly between moods and time frames, Roy juxtaposes first-person and omniscient narration with "found" documents to weave her characters' stories with India's social and political tensions, particularly the violent retaliations to Kashmir's long fight for self-rule. Sweeping, intricate, and sometimes densely topical, the novel can be a challenging read. Yet its complexity feels essential to Roy's vision of a bewilderingly beautiful, contradictory, and broken world." - Publisher's Weekly Review

“Roy’s novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, Ministry is well worth the wait.” –Sarah Begley, TIME

Reader's may enjoy this interview with John Cusak from November 2015, about her popular non-fiction book, Things that can and cannot be said while you await your copy!

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #642, Spotlight on Women's Fiction

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 11:01pm

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[b:1511171|The Garden of Small Beginnings *] by [a:Waxman, Abbi|Abbi Waxman] is a story of loss but also the joy of second chances.

It has been three year since Lilian watched her husband died in a car accident 50 feet from her front door. After a breakdown and hospitalization, she is back at her job as a textbook illustrator in a small LA publishing house, and making a life with her two young daughters, Annabel and Clare.

With the industry downturn, she could save the company by branching out to illustrate a new series on vegetable gardening. Having agreed to take a 6-weeks Saturday morning gardening class with the author, Edward Bloem, "(m)any life lessons are learned in the garden, and not just by Lilian."

"The plot is straightforward, but it is Waxman’s skill at characterization that lifts this novel far above being just another "widow finds love” story. Clearly an observer, Waxman has mastered the fine art of dialogue as well. Characters ring true right down to Lilian’s two daughters, who often steal the show." (Kirkus Review)

For readers who are charmed by such titles as [b:1223515|Good Grief], [b:1379946|Heat Wave]; [b:1442832|Lost Lake], and recent debuts like [b:1490633|Happy People Read & Drink Coffee] and [b:1391537|Angelina's Bachelors].

[a:Honeyman, Gail|Gail Honeyman's] debut [b:1508224|Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine *] is a "smart, warm, uplifting" story about a young woman's journey toward wholeness.

Scarred inside and out, 29 year-old Eleanor aspires to be unremarkable and normal all her adult life. An accounting clerk at a small Glasgow graphic design firm, her lack of social skills makes her the butt of office jokes. She finds comfort in strict routines, solitude, copious amount of vodka on the weekends, and will insist to all who care to inquire that she is "completely fine".

Almost simultaneously Eleanor falls for a gorgeous, out-of-her-league bar singer and begins an almost frenzied (and hilarious) self-improvement program, while striking up a tentative friendship with Raymond, the slovenly IT guy after they saved Sammy, an elderly retired postal clerk on the street. The three become the kind of friends who rescue each other from the lives of isolation, and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

"Walking in Eleanor’s practical black Velcro shoes is delightfully amusing, her prudish observations leavened with a privately puckish humor. But readers will also be drawn in by her tragic backstory, which slowly reveals how she came to be so entirely Eleanor. Witty, charming, and heartwarming." (Booklist)

For readers of [a:Moyes, Jojo, 1969-|Jojo Moyes] and [a:Simonson, Helen.|Helen Simonson].

* = Starred review

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The Bright Hour

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 3:31pm

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[a:Riggs, Nina|Nina Riggs’] stunning memoir, [b:1512049|The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying], was written in the last two years of her life. At the age of 37, with two young boys and a dying mother to care for, Riggs was diagnosed with breast cancer, “just a spot,” that accelerated rapidly to become terminal. This astonishingly moving, never maudlin book, is not filled with the sadness that one might expect to find in these circumstances, but instead is made up of episodes, small and large, presented to us in Riggs’ forthright and humored tone. Riggs, once a poet, writes of hours and days simply and eloquently, reminding us that these moments are the ones making up her life, no matter their content. This book is infused with anecdotes from the front lines of motherhood and marriage, which just happened to be peppered with “dispatches” from the world of a fast-moving cancer and its treatments. Riggs is no stranger to the disease. Her mother has been living with and dying from cancer for the past 8 years. As her mother passes her last days in hospice she relays her regrets for Riggs, that she (Riggs) had been nicer and seen a dentist more often. This pairing of the profound with the trifling details of everyday runs throughout Riggs’ memoir and lends itself to the poetry of Riggs’ words. “I’m terrified. I’m fine. The world is changed and exactly as before. There are crows in my hair. I have no hair.”

Riggs is brave to face cancer with as much acceptance and wit as she does. One wonders if some of her bravery stems from the precept passed down through generations by her great-great-great grandfather, [a:Emerson, Ralph Waldo|Ralph Waldo Emerson], “always do what you are afraid to do.” Riggs looks to, and sites, Emerson often, as well as the French philospher [a:Montaigne, Michel de|Michel de Montaigne], and finds comfort in their viewpoints toward the natural world, life, and death. There are moments though, when Riggs finds it difficult to summon courage and understanding, and they are heartbreaking, as when she thinks of leaving her children. “Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right within all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.”

Also heartbreaking is that we will never get more writing from Riggs. This book reads as if she is in conversation with her reader, often in the present tense, imbued with humor and fine points, so that when it’s over we are left mourning the book’s conclusion as well as the life of its writer.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #641

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 8:55am

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Leah Greenblatt of [http://ew.com/books/|Entertainment Weekly] called [b:1508219|Chemistry *] - "that thing that is so precise in science and so mysterious and mutable in love - becomes the rich slippery subject of one of the year's most winningly original debuts." (Just named EW [http://ew.com/books/2017-best-books-so-far/the-10-best-books-of-the-year-so-far|Ten Best Books of the Year So Far]).

First-time novelist [a:Wang, Weike|Weike Wang's] (Harvard, BS Chemistry; PhD Public Health) unnamed narrator, a third-year doctorate student in Chemistry at a prestigious Boston university is tormented by her failed research while watching her peers (and her kind and generous boyfriend Eric) move on to real jobs. The only child of extremely demanding Chinese immigrant parents, who expect nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life, she had always depended on the quiet, focused and precise nature of science, shutting out emotions.

After a dramatic meltdown at the lab, she was asked to take a sabbatical. Over the next two years, she, living alone and supporting herself through tutoring, begins to learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry—one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart.

"Though essentially unhinged, the narrator is thoughtful and funny, her scramble understandable. It is her voice—distinctive and appealing—that makes this novel at once moving and amusing, never predictable." (Kirkus Reviews)

“A novel about an intelligent woman trying to find her place in the world...The moody but endearing narrative voice is reminiscent of [a:Offill, Jenny, 1968-|Jenny Offill’s] [b:1446076|Dept. of Speculation] and [a:Lacey, Catherine, 1985-|Catherine Lacey’s] [b:1460080|Nobody is Ever Missing]." (Read the complete [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/books/chemistry-weike-wang.html?_r=0|The New York Times Book Review])

* = starred review