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The Making of Jane Austen

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 9:05am

At the time of Jane Austen’s death in 1817, no one but close family and friends knew that she was a published author. Fast forward to 1995: a wet-shirted Colin Firth, starring in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries, seemingly launches Austen into pop culture superstardom and initiates an Austen craze that has continued ever since.

We are now used to Jane Austen cosplay conventions, spin-off novels, and countless Austen-themed tchotchkes. But it’s worth asking the question: How did Austen go from complete anonymity to a cultural institution?

The answer to that question, Devoney Looser argues, starts long before Colin Firth. And, she continues, it often has less to do with Jane Austen herself than with how Austen has been interpreted—and invented—by readers, illustrators, playwrights, screenwriters, actors, activists, and teachers.

In her new book, The Making of Jane Austen, Looser sets out uncover the little-known parts of Austen’s legacy in British and American culture. She focuses on five areas: how Austen has been illustrated, adapted for the stage, adapted for the screen, politicized, and taught in schools.

Looser turns away from literary histories of Austen and instead focuses on equally important but long-neglected appearances of Austen in popular culture. What makes her book so enjoyable is that she strolls down the byways of history, tracking down obscure figures like the young women (yes, women) who played Mr. Darcy in early stage adaptations of Pride and Prejudice or the author of the first Jane Austen dissertation, who was supposedly channeled by a spirit medium after his untimely death. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks!)

If The Making of Jane Austen piques your interest, be sure to mark your calendar for Anne-Charlotte Mecklenburg’s talk, “Lights, Camera, Austen: the screen adaptations of Jane Austen” at Westgate Branch from 7-8:30pm on Wednesday, December 13th. And stay tuned for info about all our upcoming Jane Austen events this winter in partnership with the University of Michigan—Austen Trivia! Embroidery! English Country Dancing! Everything to satisfy the Austenian heart.

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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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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #652

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 3:28pm

Conversations with Friends * * * by Sally Rooney (Trinity College, Dublin) is drawn largely from conversations with the author's own friends.

Frances, a poet and aspiring writer performs at spoken-word poetry events around the college with her best friend and former lover Bobbi. At one of these events, Melissa, a well-known photojournalist proposes to do a piece on them. Invited to her Monkstown home, Bobbi falls under Melissa's spell while Frances is more impressed with the trappings of wealth and success, and instantly drawn to Melissa's gorgeous and standoffdish husband, Nick, an actor.

Mild flirtation and furtive conversations between the two turn into a clandestine affair, but it is Frances' literary ambition and secrets kept that ultimately attenuate the bonds among them all.

"With painful missteps and wise triumphs, Frances probes her beliefs in most everything—sexuality, relationships, politics, and her family—and learns to distinguish between what she’s told and what she thinks. Less a coming-of-age story and more a coming-of-now tale, Rooney’s first novel is a smart, sexy, realistic portrayal of a woman finding herself in and out of a well-depicted friendship." (Booklist)

"Readers who enjoyed Belinda McKeon's Tender and Caitriona Lally's Eggshells will enjoy this exceptional debut." (Library Journal)

* * * = 3 starred reviews

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

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


[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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Lectures & Panel Discussions

Lights, Camera, Austen: the screen adaptations of Jane Austen

Wednesday December 13, 2017: 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Westgate Branch: West Side Room

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #630

Sat, 03/04/2017 - 2:02pm


[b:1504663|The Woman Next Door], the U.S. debut of [a:Omotoso, Yewande|Yewande Omotoso] is "an intimate, frequently hilarious look at the lives of two extraordinary women set in post-apartheid South Africa." (Booklist)

Nicknamed each other "Hortensia the Horrible" and "Marion the Vulture", these prickly octogenarians have been next-door neighbors for over 2 decades in Cape Town's upscale Katterijn community. Seeing beyond the obvious (one is black and one is white), they have a lot in common. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Opinionated, widowed and living alone, they both take a keen interest in community affairs, often the source of their friction.

When an unexpected event impacts both of their well-being, Hortensia and Marion are forced to take tiny steps toward civility. With conversations over time, each reflecting upon choices made, dreams deferred, and lost chances at connection, these proud, feisty women must decide whether to expend waning energy on their feud or call a truce.

Born in Barbados and grew up in Nigeria, Omotoso won the [|South African Literary Award] in 2011 for her debut novel, Bom Boy. In 2013 she was a finalist for the inaugural, pan-African [|Etisalat Fiction Prize]. She lives in Johannesburg, where she has her own architectural practice. Listen to the NPR [|podcast] with the author.

"Like [a:Simonson, Helen.|Helen Simonson's] [b:1349146|Major Pettigrew's Last Stand], which also depicts the wisdom found in aging, this novel will have universal appeal." (Library Journal)

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #629

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 9:00pm


Beijing journalist [a:Zhang, Lijia, 1964-|Lijia Zhang's] debut novel [b:1503072|Lotus] is inspired by her grandmother's deathbed revelation that she was sold into prostitution at an early age.

Set in contemporary [|Shenzhen], China’s “City of Sins”, Lotus is one of the "ji" (Chinese word for chicken, a derogatory name for prostitutes) working at the Moonflower Massage Parlor. Originally from a impoverished village in northern China, she allows her family to think she waitresses in an upscale restaurant, sending her earnings home to support her family and to send her younger brother to university.

Knowing the shelf life of someone in her situation is finite, Lotus casts her eye among her regulars - Funny Eye, Family Treasure, hoping for a more permanent arrangement. In the meantime, she befriends Hu Binbing, a quiet and reclusive photojournalist who is hoping his documentary project on the lives of the "ji" will bring him the deserved recognition. But once his photographs of Lotus are published in a national magazine, his standing in the Communist party as well as their relationship is threatened.

"'A Newborn Calf Isn't Afraid of Tigers' is a typical chapter title in Lotus... Readers will find the entire text rich in Chinese proverbs, as well as folk wisdom of a more prosaic variety. Characters employ sage sayings in spoken form, as a kind of parlor game, and the author scatters aphorisms liberally throughout the narrative, with an effect that is both charming and thought-provoking....Some first novels, especially those birthed in creative writing classes, go heavy on self-consciously poetic language ...The images Zhang gives us, in contrast, are uncomplicated, concise and touching" (NPR)

"[b:1267057|Pretty Woman] but without all the glitz" (Library Journal).

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #621 Spotlight on Women's Fiction Debuts

Sat, 11/19/2016 - 5:24pm


[b:1496520|Nine Women, One Dress] by [a:Rosen, Jane L|Jane L. Rosen]. This [|LBD], darling of the season (picked no less by [|WWD]) is 90-year-old Morris Siegel's swan song, capping a long career as the celebrated pattern-maker for the Max Hammer line. But before he can truly retire, his LBD will touch 9 women's lives in unexpected ways.

From a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl dumped for a socialite to a secretary secretly in love with her widowed boss. From a young model fresh from rural Alabama to the jaded private detective who might have a chance to restore her faith in true love. From an unemployed Brown grad faking a fabulous life on social media to a mean girl who would die for the dress. Their encounter with the dress will transform them in ways beyond their imagination.

"Rosen’s debut novel is rich in relationships, written with clarity and humor and surprise twists that bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion." (Kirkus Reviews). Charming and irresistible, Chick lit at its best.

[b:1490645|Not Working] is what Claire Flannery does, and not all that well. [a:Owens, Lisa, 1985-|Lisa Owens'] 20-something protagonist quits her job to find her passion, without a clear idea what that might be. While she navigates, observes, and comments on the emotions and minutiae of day to day life as only someone without the distractions of a regular routine can, she's trying the patience of everyone around her - from her brain-surgeon boyfriend Luke, to her mother who is no longer speaking to her (all Claire's fault).

As Claire begins an inevitable downward spiral, drowning her sorrows in gallons of wine, self-pity, and bad decisions, "Owens deploys a deft sense of humor to help us laugh at the incongruities of contemporary upper-middle-class crisis." (Kirkus Reviews)

Kat Lind, an American expatriate living in London is feeling particularly vulnerable, having just lost her mother, sent her young son Will to visit her in-laws; and missing her jet-set entrepreneur husband, Jonathan. When she notices the announcement of an exhibition by British artist Daniel Blake at a prestigious gallery, images of their time in Paris as students come flooding back. At the show, Kat is stunned to find paintings of a young Kat, including one entitled [b:1497462|The Blue Bath] that holds particular significance for both of them.

As their attraction rekindles and the portraits catch the attention of the public, threatening to reveal not only her identity but also some devastating turn of events, Kat must face life-altering decisions.

"Set in London and Paris, [a:Waters-Sayer, Mary|Mary Waters-Sayer's] romantic debut novel is filled with lush settings, sensuous details, and poignant events. Readers will be wholly involved with Kat’s heartbreaking dilemma." (Booklist)

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Blog Post

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #615

Sun, 09/18/2016 - 2:31am


Referred to as [b:1496781|The Dollhouse *] by the Manhattanites, the Barbizon Hotel for Women is where aspiring models and secretaries who often come from small towns, try to make it on their own in the 1950s.

Darby McLaughlin arrived from Ohio to take up secretarial studies at the [|Katherine Gibbs School] . Compared to the glamorous Eileen Ford housemates, she was plain, self-conscious, and homesick. Befriended by Esme, a Barbizon maid, she was introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs.

Over half-a-century later, journalist Rose Lewin is evicted from one of the Barbizon condos when her divorced boyfriend decides to reunite with his family. Rose is forced to take refuge with her reclusive downstairs neighbor Darby, one of the original tenants. As Rose's life implodes around her, she is consumed with the story behind the rumors that Darby was involved in the grisly death of Esme. Yet as Rose's obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.

"Darby and Rose, in alternating chapters, weave intricate threads into twists and turns that ultimately bring them together; the result is good old-fashioned suspense," (Publishers Weekly) by debut novelist [a:Davis, Fiona, 1966-|Fiona Davis].

[a:Plath, Sylvia.|Sylvia Plath's] [b:1053991|The Bell Jar] was based upon her time working at [|Mademoiselle] and living at the Barbizon (called The Amazon in the novel). This historical landmark, built in 1927 is now upscale condos under the name [|Barbzon 63].

Readalike: [b:1464502|Searching for Grace Kelly] by [a:Callahan, Michael, 1963|Michael Callahan] (another [|FFF]) and [a:Rindell, Suzanne.|Suzanne Rindell's] [b:1487795|Three-Martini Lunch] will captivate readers with a strong sense of time and place as the authors bring a legendary New York building to life and populates it with memorable characters who find themselves in unusual situations.

* = starred review

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Eleven Hours

Sun, 09/04/2016 - 3:49pm


[a:Erens, Pamela|Pamela Erens’] new novel, [|Eleven Hours], is the story of two pregnant women whose lives cross paths for a brief time, less than a day. This short book (165 pages) begins with Lore, in the last month of her pregnancy, taking herself to the hospital as she feel the stirrings of labor, a very detailed birth plan in hand. She arrives alone and is attended to by a nurse, Franckline, who is also pregnant, and has seen her fair share of birth plans. In the ensuing eleven hours, [a:Erens, Pamela|Pamela Erens] takes us through the moments of a woman’s labor, from start to finish, with precision. Fiction has rarely provided readers such a true account of childbirth.

In these eleven hours, we are exposed to both the exciting and the dull stretches of labor, the ups and downs. Just as one’s mind might wander during any eleven hour period, especially one so full of ebbs and flows as the process of labor, so wander the minds of Franckline, recalling her family in Haiti, her new, second pregnancy; and of Lore, thinking of the failed relationship that has ended in her pregnancy and her being here, alone. Erens’ dexterous writing takes us down different, winding paths to reveal some of each woman’s story. While the lines of their accounts run parallel within the framework of Erens’ novel, these two women, who go through this incredibly intense experience together, never really know each other. Erens combines their narratives beautifully, yet maintains their separateness. They are each important to the other in some way and travel together on this one journey, on this one day, but at the same time, they are alone, with their thoughts, their worries, their histories.

Lore thinks, “how again and again she was caught up short by the discovery that other people had stories they didn’t tell, or told stories that weren’t entirely true. How mostly you got odd chunks torn from the whole, impossible truly to understand in their damaged form.”

Erens does not shy away from the mess and panic that childbirth can elicit and so this book is not for the feint of heart, nor, probably, for expectant parents. But Erens is unfailingly honest in giving us a candid picture of this one woman’s experience of childbirth. Despite the fact that certain passages evoke the visceral pain of childbirth, the novel is so well written, the flow of Franckline’s and Lore’s tandem eleven hours so well described, that the book is hard to put down, a striking and gratifying read.