Dept. of Speculation is a work of art!

When Jenny Offill’s newest novel Dept. of Speculation appeared on the hold shelf for me, I was surprised by the slim volume with the simple cover. “Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all,” opens the book jacket description, and this immediately intrigued me. I started the book right away and finished it in one sitting. Offill writes with an amazing blend of poetry and prose and evokes imagery and emotions unlike most other authors I have read. Although Dept. of Speculation lacks some of the typical details given to readers—we never learn the narrator’s name, for example—I felt that this dispensation of traditional information allowed me to better appreciate the true intention of the book. “There are enough bracing emotional insights in these pages to fill a much longer novel” says the jacket, and I couldn’t agree more. Time is another detail that is left to interpretation; the narrator describes incidents that take place over several decades—past, present, and future—while still managing to move the novel ultimately forward in time. Dept. of Speculation is truly a work of art, and a perfect read for these cold, hide-inside February days.

Offill has also written Last Things and several books for children, including While You Were Napping and 17 Things I Am Not Allowed To Do Anymore.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #512 -“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds." ~ Nicholas Sparks

Sonali Dev won the 2015 Reading List Awards for Romance with A Bollywood Affair, her first novel.

The first thing you will notice is that this romance is set in the unlikely locale of Ypsilanti, Michigan. Then this "charming contemporary Indian fairytale…(v)ibrant and exuberantly romantic" (NPR) will take over and never let go.

Mili Rathod, bound by marriage since she was four years old to a man she has not seen in 20 years, has nevertheless dutifully cared for his family in their village. Preparing herself to be the perfect Indian wife, she attends college (for sparklingly witty and intelligent conversations) while she waits for her husband Virat to come and claim her. In the meantime, she accepts the one-year scholarship in America, unaware that Virat, now married to Rima, plans to annul the marriage before the arrival of their first child.

Tasked with tracking down Mili to sign the annulment papers is Virat's playboy brother Samir, a big-time Bollywood director/filmmaker. Arriving on the Eastern Michigan University campus in a bright yellow convertible, their first meet is anything but "cute" - it is downright disastrous. Mistaken identity, conditioned expectations, personal history and family loyalty complicate matters as they fight their mutual attraction.

"Dev's heartfelt debut novel is rich in scenes and images illuminating Indian culture, leaving readers with a greater understanding and appreciation of Indian traditions while beautifully capturing the struggle between familial duty and self-discovery."

Check out these readalikes/watchalikes selected for this title by the Reading List Council:

Bride and Prejudice (2004)
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger (2012)
The Malhotra Bride by Sundari Venkatraman (2009), in kindle format

Newbery, Caldecott, Printz & ALL the Youth and Teen Book, Audio and Video Awards Announced!

On Monday, February 2 in a snowed in Chicago The American Library Association (ALA) today announced the top books, video and audio books for children and young adults – including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards – at its Midwinter Meeting. A hotly anticipated day for librarians, publishers, and lovers of youth and teen literature the awards the announcements culminate a year's worth of reading, listening and watching by a wide variety of librarians and educators all over the country. Over the years the variety of awards given out has grown to cover

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature:

The Crossover,” written by Kwame Alexander, is the 2015 Newbery Medal winner.

Two Newbery Honor Books also were named:
El Deafo” by Cece Bell
Brown Girl Dreaming,” by Jacqueline Woodson

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” illustrated by Dan Santat, is the 2015 Caldecott Medal winner.

Six Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

Nana in the City,” illustrated and written by Lauren Castillo
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art,” illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole,” illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
Viva Frida,” illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jennifer Bryant
This One Summer,” illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:

Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson, is the King Author Book winner.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

In Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse, a very curious mouse wakes up one day, only to discover that all of the other mice have disappeared. The reason? The invention of the mechanical mouse trap! Our little mouse friend knows he must reach his friends and family in America, but with hungry cats guarding the ships at the harbor and owls following him each night, the little mouse knows his journey will not be easy. Late one night, the little mouse spies bats flying in the distance, and (in a stroke of pure mousy genius) realizes that he must fly to America. The mouse will build his own little wings for the long journey overseas. Although difficult at first, our furry protagonist constructs his very own pair of wings, and sets off across the Atlantic.

This story hinges on it's beautiful and breathtaking illustrations, and readers will connect easily to the mouse at the center of this inspiring story. The mechanical aspects of this book greatly reminded me of the illustrations and overall feel of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Other great mouse stories with similar themes include Mousenet, Young Fredle, and Ratatouille.

Cozy Books for Winter

Are you feeling done with winter even though winter isn’t done with you? I can relate! Luckily, we’ve got some great kids books to make the winter more cozy and fun. My favorite new addition to this group is Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen. This book is a true gem. Each page combines poems about life during the winter, gorgeous illustrations, and a sidebar explaining the facts behind the poem. For a lovely mix of art and science, you can’t get much better than this book!

If you’re going stir crazy and need some fun activities, check out Fun and Festive Winter Crafts, which will teach you how to make a number of seasonal crafts and offers information on the science of winter. Creating Winter Crafts will also help drive away boredom.

Finally, if you want a hilarious and sweet winter classic, try the great picture book Tacky the Penguin, by Helen Lester. And for older readers, check out my personal winter favorite, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic The Long Winter. I guarantee you that this book will make you feel better about our winters!

Grab some hot chocolate and cozy up with one of these books! Spring will be here before we know it. Hopefully.

PreK Bits - "U" is for Underneath

UNDER is the word of the day in Ms. Rachel's Storytime.

TOPS And BOTTOMS is a folktale about Rabbit and Bear's new partnership enterprise. All profit gets split 50/50.
Ms. Sara sang "Inch By Inch" aka "The Garden Song", one version can be found on the folk song CD PICKIN' And GRINNIN'.
INCH By INCH is the lyrics in picture book format by David Mallet.
"Ten In The Bed" was sung with props, as done on SING IT! SAY IT! STAMP IT! SWAY IT vol. 3, a CD recording by Peter T. Allard... And the one underneath did yell and shout "Please remember to tie a knot in your pajamas!"
WE'RE GOING On A BEAR HUNT repeats "Over" and "Under" action in the story.

For more fun stories of "Under" things, try the following titles:
TEN In The BED by Judy Cabrera.
UNDER MY HOOD I HAVE A HAT by Karla Kuskin.
UNDER The GROUND by Anna Milbourne.
MUSHROOM IN The RAIN by Mirra Ginsburg.
DIG. WAIT. LISTEN. A DESERT TOAD'S TALE by April Pulley Sayre.

The World of PostSecret

The wildly popular community mail art project PostSecret, in which individuals decorate and mail a postcard with a secret on it to creator Frank Warren, was first established in 2005. Since then, the secrets that Frank has received have been displayed around the world in museums and galleries, and are posted on the PostSecret website, as well as published in PostSecret books. It had been a few years since a PostSecret book was published, but now fans can be excited about The World of PostSecret, the sixth book displaying some of the thousands of postcards that Frank receives. The book also features images and secrets from the short-lived PostSecret app. The range of emotions that one experiences while reading a PostSecret book is vast. The secrets will make you cringe, laugh, cry, and shake your head in disbelief and appreciation. I especially enjoyed The World of PostSecret because it contains follow-up stories to some of the secrets that readers might be most curious about.

Other PostSecret books in the AADL collection include The Secret Lives of Men and Woman, My Secret, Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, and A Lifetime of Secrets.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #511 - “Nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion.” ~ Oscar Wilde

A Small Indiscretion, a debut novel by O. Henry Award-winner Jan Ellison is a gripping and ultimately redemptive novel of love and its dangers, marriage and its secrets, youth and its treacherous mistakes, earning praises from fellow writers with: "engrossing, believable, gracefully written family drama that reveals our past's bare-knuckle grip on our present" (Emma Donoghue); and "... Absorbing, chilling, and moving..." (Robin Black).

The novel opens with a nineteen-year old Annie Black arriving in London and landing a temporary secretarial job working for structural engineer Malcolm Church. While Malcolm is besotted with her, it is Malcolm's wife's much younger lover, a charismatic photographer named Patrick that Annie falls for. During the Christmas holidays, the foursome travel to Paris where a small indiscretion will eventually come back years later to destroy two families an ocean apart.

Moving back and forth across time between that distant winter in Paris and Annie's life two decades later as a lighting designer in San Francisco with a picture-perfect family, the author teases out interlocking facet's of Annie's story that will pull the reader forward, until a photograph arrives in Annie's mailbox, igniting an old longing and setting off a chain of events that rock the foundations of her marriage and endanger her business as well as her family.

"Part romance novel, part coming-of-age story, and part family drama, this somber book about a perpetually flawed woman is a challenging and thought-provoking read." For readers of Amy Bloom, Meg Wolitzer, and Lorrie Moore.

Is Your Teacher A Monster?

Peter Brown, author and illustrator of the popular and fabulous picture book Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, brings us a new bit of fun in My Teacher is a Monster. In this picture book Bobby has a big problem at school. Her name was Ms. Kirby. She was the meanest teacher who stomped and roared and did not allow paper airplanes in class. She was a monster. But then one day something happens and Bobby sees her in a whole new light.

The book is delighfully illustrated in true Brown fashion, and would be a fun read whether your teacher roars or not.

Waiting (not so) patiently for The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins?

Everyone’s going nuts for The Girl on the Train - they’re calling it the next Gone Girl, and a major studio has already snapped up the movie rights.

The Girl on the Train is Rachel, who is at rock bottom after her divorce, she’s lost her job and is rapidly boozing her way through her savings account. Each day she takes the train into the city and passes her former home - where her ex-husband lives with his new family. She blocks this out by daydreaming about a couple whose house is also visible from the train, imagining their perfect life and solid marriage. It’s a pleasant distraction from her unhappy reality, until the woman from her dream couple goes missing and Rachel finds herself embroiled in the fallout. It’s a great read, a psychological thriller in which the narrator is so unreliable, even she doesn’t know what she’s seen or done.

Here are a few titles that should help tide you over, for even more, check out this list.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson - An amnesiac tries to piece together her identity and her past, while determining who she can and can’t trust.

Defending Jacob by William Landay - This story of a family whose high school age son is accused of murdering a classmate heavily features the theme of the how well one can know another person - even a family member.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emme Healey - An elderly woman struggling with dementia is convinced that her friend Elizabeth is missing and in need of help, but in her search for Elizabeth, she begins to discover clues of her own sister’s disappearance many years earlier.

The Killer Next Door or Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood - In Alex Marwood’s thrillers, everyone has something to hide and things are not what they seem, but everyone in these seedy settings would rather mind their own business than look to closely at their neighbors, until mounting violence leaves them no other choice.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson - This dark thriller stirs together infidelity, a devious woman with a dangerous past and a swapped murder, ala Strangers on a Train.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight - A mother attempts to reconcile the truth behind her over-achieving daughter’s apparent suicide at her tony private school.

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