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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #782, Thrillers Out of Africa

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 4:53pm by muffy

in_the_company_of_killersIn the Company of Killers, * * * * is “an exceptional adventure thriller” (Publishers Weekly) by Bryan Christy (Law, UMich, and National Geographic's founder of Special Investigations) where elephants and humans alike are pawns in a global game of espionage.

In Samburu County, Kenya, American journalist Tom Klay’s latest counter-poaching assignment went terribly wrong. In an ambush, he was wounded while his trusted friend and guide Bernard Lolosoli was killed, and they had failed to document local crime kingpin Ras Botha killing a world-famous elephant for its massive tusks. Back at his DC office of The Sovereign, Tom finds that the magazine has been sold to Perseus Group, the largest supplier of paramilitary forces in the world, and that his CIA handler/mentor is retiring, unraveling his carefully constructed double life. 

To settle the score and to take down Botha's smuggling empire, the CIA offers to send Tom to Johannesburg to team up with his one-time lover - South African prosecutor Hungry Khoza. But Tom soon discovers that he and Hungry are part of a larger, more lethal game, one that involves a ruthless mercenary and a global superpower. And everything he thought he knew about his work and his friends might have been a lie. 

“Fans of both espionage and global crime thrillers will find a gem here: Klay is an introspective, flawed survivor who bends operative stereotypes, and the intersection of corporate greed, media, technology, and crime is chillingly current.” (Booklist) 

“A riveting plot, complex characters, deep backstory, and an engrossing setting enhance this finely written novel about justice, personal responsibility, and saving the environment.” (Publishers Weekly) 

lightseekersLightseekers *  by Femi Kayode

Nigerian investigative psychologist Dr. Philip Taiwo, recently returned from the US to his hometown of Lagos, is called on by a prominent banker, whose son was one of three undergraduates "beaten, broken, and burnt alive" by an angry mob in the university town of Okriki, to investigate. The case known as the Okriki Three is highly controversial. Footage of the crime is widely shared on social media, and a number of people are arrested and tried, but no reasonable motive emerges. 

With the help of his of loyal and streetwise driver, Chika,” Taiwo slowly, and cleverly, pulls the veil back on violent, secret societies of college-age men. “With alluring characters, including a chillingly psychotic villain; an original, many-faceted plot; and blazing psychological and social insights, Kayode's commanding and thought-provoking first crime novel launches a profoundly promising series.” (Booklist) 

 

* * * * = 4 starred reviews

* = Starred review

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June Almeida, Virus Detective!

Mon, 06/14/2021 - 5:09pm by samanthar

 

Book cover One of the latest children's books from Sleeping Bear Press is June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus. The clean illustrations and flowing biography of June, a timely yet little-known female virologist, make this a fascinating read.

June loved photography, especially taking photos of nature. She also loved reading - science fiction books were her favorite. When she was older, June found a job that combined two of her favorite things, science and photography, by working with electron microscopes. Through this work, June was able to photograph antibodies and viruses on a microscopic level, which helped scientists find and identify viruses. In 1964, scientists around the world found a new and unique virus that no one had seen before. It was through June’s photographs that a clear picture emerged of the dots surrounding the virus, which looked like a crown - or corona in Latin! They decided to name it coronavirus

Excerpt from book

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Life Spectrum Doulas

Mon, 06/07/2021 - 10:52am by mrajraspn08

The best thing I did while pregnant was hire a doula. She was a huge help during and after my birth and helped with a difficult time. I was thrilled when I found out that there are doulas for other major life events!

There are doulas for birth, but what about when a pregnancy ends another way, through miscarriage, adoption, or abortion? The Doulas! points out how challenging this can be, and how little support there is for those going through such events. With personal narratives and medical experience, The Doulas offers a starting place for an expansion of doula care, with an added bonus of being gender-inclusive.

Caring for the Dying addresses doula work from the other end of life. It provides guidance for the dying and their loved ones from reminiscing on the life lived, creating ritual around the final days, and working with loved ones to process the death that has occurred. If hiring a doula isn’t possible, reading through this book for suggestions and counsel may help to make a trying time just a little bit easier.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #781

Fri, 06/04/2021 - 8:41am by muffy

phone_boothThe Phone Booth at the Edge of the World,* *  Laura Imai Messina’s English-language debut (translated from the Italian by Lucy Rand) is an international bestseller (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook). It is inspired by the author’s visit to a wind phone (風の電話, kaze no denwa) in Otsuchi, (Iwate Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan), a rural town decimated by the 2011 tsunami.

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that reached miles inland, killing an estimated 15,897 people, among them Yui’s mother and 3-year-old daughter. Relocated to Tokyo, she makes the arduous journey every month to the garden created by artist Itaru Sasaki where visitors could hold one-way conversations with deceased loved ones in an old disused telephone booth. But once there, radio host Yui finds that she cannot bring herself to speak into the receiver. 

Instead she finds Tokyo surgeon Takeshi, a bereaved husband whose own daughter has stopped talking in the wake of her mother’s death. Over time, they form a deep connection to the place, to each other, and others who make use of the phone. 

“This wonderful, gentle, hopeful story leads the reader through the beginning of Yui and Takeshi’s 30 years together. Through their sorrow and grief, they learn how to let happiness, hope, joy, and laughter reside side by side with their memories of loss. It is a beautifully written book. Messina,  an Italian who has lived in Tokyo for 15 years, writes in a way that’s evocative of Kazuo Ishiguro but in an opposite way: While Ishiguro leads with comfort and hints at the sadness to come, Messina offers grief and sadness first but offers the reader a trail of breadcrumbs toward future happiness. A must-read. “ (Kirkus Reviews) 

Since it has been opened to the public, the wind phone has received over 30,000 visitors. A number of replicas (including one in Aspen Mountain, Colorado to commemorate persons who died in the COVID-19 pandemic) have been constructed around the world. It is the inspiration for several novels and films, including The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden, a 2019 picture book by Canadian writer Heather Smith

 * *  = 2 starred reviews

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Gender Inclusive Pregnancy

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 10:55am by mrajraspn08

When I was pregnant, there was little to no books for me. I could read books about pregnancy, but it was always “mom” this, “mom” that. This is great for most people, but for those who don’t identify as a mom, they’re left out of the conversation during an important time in their life. This prompted me to write a fictional account of my own experience as trans person trying to start a family, navigating everything from the foster care system to pregnancy, just to have something out there for people like me.

But last year brought us Why Did No One Tell Me This?, a gender inclusive pregnancy book. Doulas and reproductive specialists answer pregnancy questions in a funny and relatable way that anyone would appreciate, but the use of terms like “parent” and “chestfeeding” makes it a veritable lifesaver for those outside or on the other end of the binary. Besides providing information for the entire pregnancy journey, it’s also just incredibly affirming, however you view your body and identity. It’s exciting not just to have a book for trans and queer people’s pregnancies, but to have one like this!

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #780

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 8:19am by muffy

“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. May you stay forever young.” ~ Bob Dylan 

raft_of_starsSet in the Wisconsin's Northwoods where the author grew up, Raft of Stars * (also available in eBook and audiobook) by Andrew Graff is the adventures of 10-year-olds Fischer "Fish" Branson and Dale "Bread" Breadwin the summer of 1994.  Fearing that he had killed Bread’s abusive father with his own gun, Fish and Bread fled into the woods around Claypot, WI. With limited supplies and great ingenuity, the pair crafted a raft to carry them down the river. Their destination - the armory where Fish’s father was a decorated soldier. 

Cal, the new sheriff in town, and Fish’s grandfather Teddy, with whom he spent his summers took off after them on horseback, trying to intercept them before the deadly rapids, while Fish's mother Miranda, and Tiffany, a purple-haired gas station attendant who found a rare connection with Cal, were making their way in a canoe to reach the boys. 

“By the time these six converge at a perilous waterfall, each has come to know more about themselves and each other. Though the resolution yields few surprises, Graff depicts the harsh Northwoods setting and his misfit characters' inner lives with equal skill. The dynamic quest narrative offers plenty of rich moments.” (Publishers Weekly)  

“Reminiscent of stories like Stand By Me and Have You Seen Luis Velez?, Graff's debut novel will enchant fans of Chris Cleave and Melissa Bank. Graff's narrative voice is lyrical, with a Southern Gothic edge that fits surprisingly well with the Wisconsin Northwoods setting. Exploring the necessity of the stories we tell ourselves to survive, Raft of Stars is a clever, compelling coming-of-age tale.“ (Booklist)

music_of_beesIn The Music of Bees * (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Eileen Garvin, each of the 26 chapters opens with an observation from L. L. Langstroth, American apiarist, considered to be the father of American beekeeping. It tells the story of how three lonely strangers in a rural Oregon town save the local honeybee population.

44 year-old widow Alice Holtzman, a hobbyist beekeeper in Hood River, Ore.  is driving home at twilight with a truck-load of new beehives when distracted, nearly runs over 18 year-old Jake Stevenson in his wheelchair. Left paraplegic from an accident at a graduation party, and with his music scholarship gone, Jake rides his chair all over town to escape his abusive father.  Charmed by Jake’s sincere interest in her bees, Alice invites Jake to stay at her farm. 

To extend her hive operation, Alice hires Harry Stokes, a 25 year-old with little option and no family for some carpentry work, and ends up offering him the use of the bunkhouse, and soon the trio find themselves friends as well as family. As Alice toils at her underappreciated job at the county planning department, Jake increasingly takes on the beekeeping responsibilities, and is the first to notice that something is killing the bees. They soon identify the threat - the pesticide conglomerate SupraGro, openly courting the local orchards with free products.

“Both buoyant and bittersweet, Garvin's impressive first novel, a luscious paean to the bonds of friendship and limitations of family, is the kind of comforting yet thought-provoking tale that will appeal to fans of Anne Tyler and Sue Miller.(Booklist)

 * = Starred review

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #779

Fri, 05/21/2021 - 12:12am by muffy

dictionary_of_lost_words

Australian memoirist (One Italian Summer, 2017) Pip Williams, based her debut novel The Dictionary of Lost Words *  (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) on her original research in the Oxford English Dictionary archives. In her Author’s Notes, Williams laments that she was only able to identify mostly the male scholars who compiled the first edition of the OED, thus making it a rather “flawed and gendered text”. This novel is her attempt to acknowledge the contributions of the largely unnamed women lexicographers. 

Work began on the Dictionary in the 1850s. By the 1880s, James A. H. Murray, a Scottish schoolmaster was its editor, working out of the “Scriptorium,” a garden shed in Oxford with a group of lexicographers, among them, widower Harry Nicholl whose young daughter, Esme was allowed to spend her days under the sorting table, listening and observing the team at work.

One day a slip of paper containing the word “bondmaid” landed in Esme’s lap. Believing it to be discarded, she hid it in a wooden chest.  Over time, with the help of Lizzie, the Murrays’ maid and women at the local market, Esme collected words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences, deemed unworthy and too objectionable by the OED gatekeepers, words she hoped to publish in her own dictionary - the Dictionary of Lost Words.

The narratives parallel the women’s suffrage movement in England as Esme gradually became a trusted member of the OED team while she continued to collect words in her wooden chest.  “The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth.” (Kirkus Reviews)  

“Enchanting, sorrowful, and wonderfully written, the book is a one-of-a-kind celebration of language and its importance in our lives.” (Library Journal) 

“A lexicographer's dream of a novel, this is a lovely book to get lost in, an imaginative love letter to dictionaries.” (Booklist)  

* = Starred review

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Bird Box

Wed, 05/19/2021 - 3:17pm by mrajraspn08

Bird BoxI didn't see Bird Box for a long time, until I saw the book was in the horror section, and I realized it was completely different than I had thought. I checked out the book and finished it in twenty-four hours--I was so spooked, I couldn't just set it down! Since seeing the movie, I've recommended this book to several people who said they weren't impressed with it, and if that's you, or if you did like the movie, read the book! Malernan is excellent at pacing, with a slow build that has you on the edge of your seat, and his specialty is a horror you can't see--literally. Bird Box features a horror that will drive you to insanity with even the quickest glance, and his other novels are similar. This only increases the terror, because how do you fight a monster you can't even look at? 

I was so fascinated and terrified (and I'm hard to scare!) by Bird Box that I proceeded to read all of Malernan's work--in a week and loved all of them. If you haven't read it yet, clear your weekend and check it out. 

 

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #778

Fri, 05/14/2021 - 9:27pm by muffy

final_revival_of_opal_&_nev

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev * * *  (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Dawnie Walton (Iowa Writers’ Workshop).  

This memorable debut is structured as an oral history project, documenting Opal & Nev - an avant-garde rock duo who found a certain cult following in the 1970s, in anticipation of their reunion tour after an absence of decades.  

Sunny Shelton, the first African American woman editor of a music magazine, researches and interviews not only the principal characters, but also family, friends, managers, and critics of the pair.  Her passion is fueled by a personal agenda - her father, Jimmy, was a drummer for the duo and was having an affair with Opal when he was killed at a showcase concert that was supposed to rock them to stardom. 

Opal Jewel, a fiercely independent young woman from Detroit, caught the eye of Nev(ille) Charles, an aspiring British singer/songwriter at a NYC open mic. Bald, black, outrageously stylish, and radical in her politics, her voice and energy impressed. Leaving behind family and the 9-5 job at Michigan Bell, she took up Nev’s offer to make rock music together. 

As the reunion tour approaches, Sunny discovers conflicting versions of what actually happened on that fateful night. A well-published photo captured Opal blanketed in a Confederate flag as Nev carried her away, while presumably, Jimmy was left to face a riotous crowd. 

“The novel is book-ended by an equally violent reunion that confirms a shocking secret, and Opal proves herself the champion of the "marginalized, bullied, discriminated against." Walton pumps up the volume with a fresh angle on systemic racism and freedom of expression. This is a firecracker.” (Publishers Weekly) 

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is itself anything but "regular." A deep dive into the recent past, it also simultaneously manages to be a rumination on up-to-the-minute themes like cultural appropriation in music, and the limits of white allyship. It's the kind of overwhelming novel that, like a polyphonic double album back in the day, readers might want to experience more than once to let all the notes sink in.” ~ Maureen Corrigan, NPR

* * *  = 3 starred reviews

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GRIS—Exploring Grief Through Game Design

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 3:52pm by ivanamalia

GRIS cover art depicting the main character, a  close up of a young girl with short, blue hair, eyes closed, and a tear trailing down her right cheek.GRIS is a single-player adventure game created by Spanish developer, Nomada Studios. Widely regarded as one of the best independent games released in 2018, GRIS' story and artistic impact have become increasingly relevant in light of some hardships of the last year.

GRIS follows the journey of a girl navigating loss in a cold and lonely achromatic world. Colors, sound, and mobility are stripped away from the first second in the game, and the player is, quite literally, thrown into the world with little to no instruction. It immediately evokes a feeling of confusion as you try to understand how to control your character and what exactly your purpose is in order to progress through the game. 

As you explore, you are met with a range of puzzles, obstacles, antagonists, and friends as you slowly bring color and life back into your world. Visual, auditory, and gameplay elements are introduced and stripped away again, representing grief as a process of ebb and flow, of progress and relapse.