The New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2014

The New York Times released its list of 100 Notable Books for 2014, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

A few of my favorites on this list are:

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson - The complexity of the story told in this debut novel is just awe-inspiring - from the caught-in-the-crosshairs social worker to the twitchy madman in the woods, and the threads that connect them. Henderson's striking portrait of life in rural Montana reminded me of, Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, a stark look at desperate lives in Appalachia that will stick with the reader the same way Fourth of July Creek does.

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart - Shteyngart manages to make the story of his sickly childhood, traumatic emigration and resettlement, and complicated, painful relationship with his parents not just often humorous, but also somehow, even relatable. I marveled at the author's honesty and strong sense of self to be able to look at himself and his life and give such a thorough and intelligent account of it.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan - I have a weakness for the Booker Prize, their winners and shortlists have led me to many excellent books and introduced me to many excellent authors. This title, the 2014 Booker Prize winner, is epic in its scope, love story, and the trials and tribulations of the main character.

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Mac­intyre - It's not easy to tell the story of a life, let alone the life of a spy, let alone a spy who concealed his twisted loyalties decade after decade, promotion after promotion, but Macintyre does an admirable job. Kim Philby is one of the most famous double agents in history and this carefully constructed book lays out as much of the story as we may ever know. If you enjoy a good spy novel, John Le Carre, Alan Furst, Charles Cumming, etc., you can't go wrong with a Ben Macintyre book. I was utterly absorbed by Operation Mincemeat and Double Cross as well.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #498 - "Sometimes, one wants to have the illusion that one is making ones own life, out of ones own resources.” ~ Zadie Smith

Poet and short story writer Greer Macallister's debut novel The Magician's Lie * has been described as Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus.

1905. On a warm summer evening in Waterloo (IA), The Amazing Arden, "the most famed female illusionist in the world" vowed to do the impossible as she "weave (her trademark) web of beautiful illusions to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world". The only deviation from her routine - she would use an axe in her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage.

When Arden's husband was found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, young police officer Virgil Holt who was part of the audience happened upon the fleeing illusionist and took her into custody. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free... and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors as Arden recounted a life and a career "more moving and spectacular than any of her stage acts".

"(W)ell-paced, evocative, and adventurous... a top-notch novel."

* = starred review

PreK Bits - Famous Mice

Boing! Boing! Squeak! There's a mouse around the house!
Ms. Rachel brought famous characters from her mouse house to tell their stories in Storytime.

THERE'S A MOUSE In The HOUSE is a Reader by Wendy Lewison
IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE is one famous mouse from the classic sequential-story books by Laura Numeroff
MOTHER MOTHER I WANT ANOTHER is a mouse mother's tale of putting young mouse to bed.

Here are more famous mice (and their authors) in young children's literature.
Ellen Stoll Walsh's mice introduce toddler concepts such as The ALPHABET.
Monique Felix's mice also present toddler concepts such as MOUSE PAINT
or find ... preschool concept-building such as SEQUENCING and PATTERNS ... in the STORIES to GO kits.

Rosemary Wells' mice play-out and resolve preschool emotions such as TIME OUT FOR SOPHIE
Lucy Cousins' mouse Maisy has many adventures such as MAISY, CHARLIE And The WOBBLY TOOTH
Kevin Henkes' mice play-out and resolve early school emotions such as CHRYSANTHEMUM and CHESTER'S WAY.
MOUSE WAS MAD by Linda Urban has a famous temper tantrum.
Katherine Holabird's mice play-out ballerina fantasies beginning with introduction of ANGELINA BALLERINA
And then there is LIBRARY MOUSE and more by Kirk Daniel
Boing! Boing! Squeak! Run. Catch 'em!!

Here are the books President Obama bought with his daughters on Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday, which occurred this past Saturday, November 29, is a day created in celebration of small, local businesses and to mitigate the large amount of shopping that takes place at large corporations on Black Friday. People are encouraged to patronize small businesses in their area, and President Obama and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, did just that. At the independent bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., Obama and his two teenagers purchased 17 books spanning all age ranges and genres.

On the list were the Man Booker Prize-winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan, National Book Award-winner Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos, and the classic Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.

The Obamas also purchased three books from the Redwall series, several Junie B. Jones books, Nuts to You, by Lynne Rae Perkins, and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell.

You can see the full list of the books the first family purchased here.

Michigan Author Jerry Dennis: A Daybreak Handbook

Monday January 26, 2015: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event will be recorded

Author Jerry Dennis, best known as an award-winning nature writer, has branched out in two new directions: poetry and publishing. Jerry's first book of poems, A Daybreak Handbook, was published in 2014. Also in 2014, Jerry, his wife Gail, and illustrator Glenn Wolff established Big Maple Press, a small press dedicated to producing special editions exclusively available for sale through independent booksellers.

Dennis will discuss these new avenues in his career as well as his ongoing work with the Great Lakes. Dennis' book The Living Great Lakes was the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads selection in 2010. A selection of Dennis' books will be available for sale and signing at the event.

Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin

We all know that eating fermented foods is good for the health of our gut microbiome. It is really surprising just how many foods and drinks assist those good bacteria to thrive in our guts, like the obvious ones: yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar, kombucha and creme fraiche. But add to that list sausage, sourdough bread, fruit chutneys, corned beef, gravlax, olives, chocolate, cheese, wine & beer. We have a long and richly varied association with fermentation throughout history, assisted by the world of bacteria, which turns our crops and animal-source products into very tasty, healthy and able-to-be preserved foods. The health, flavor and digestibility of almost any food can be enhanced by the working of good bacteria and Mary Karling can show you how.

Mastering Fermentation is an excellent resource to help you explore how to do this in your own kitchen, with very little fuss and at very little expense. You mostly need some salt, and sometimes some whey, a few crocks or Ball jars, basic kitchen equipment and a little patience (it takes time for the magic to work). Karlin covers all the basics and then walks you through fermenting vegetables, dairy, grains, meat and beverages. There is something here for all tastes and eating styles. Some recipes are more challenging than others (Hop Stoopid Ale, feta cheese or wood-smoked pastrami anyone?), but the majority are familiar and no-reason-not-to-start-today easy.

Besides being useful and full of intriguing experiments, Mastering Fermentation is also a handsome, well-organized, picture-laden book which is a delight to read. She includes a very comprehensive list of resources and websites for supplies and support, as well as a bibliography for further reading, if the fermentation bug strikes you!

Colorful Behind-the-Scenes Peek at Illustrating Children’s Books

Lois Ehlert, the well-known children’s book author and illustrator, has recently released The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life, an illustrated autobiography giving us a sneak peek into her creative process. Ehlert, whose picture books include Growing Vegetable Soup, Eating the Alphabet, and Planting a Rainbow, is known for her collage style, which mixes colored paper with everyday objects like leaves, plastic lids and even vegetables! Fans of Ehlert’s books will enjoy not only learning the stories behind some of her well-known illustrations but also hearing stories of Ehlert’s childhood and her encouraging words to future artists.

Looking for more fantastic picture-book biographies? Also check out these titles:

Balloons Over Broadway chronicles the life of Tony Sarg, the man who created the first balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

What to do about Alice? offers an energetic and insightful story about Teddy Roosevelt's oldest daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

The Tree Lady tells the story of Kate Sessions, a turn-of-the-century schoolteacher who started a movement to plant trees throughout San Diego.

Renowned author P.D. James, died at 94


P.D. James was well-known for her Adam Dalgleish mysteries, but film buffs will also recognize her work from the 2006 film Children of Men, which was adapted from her novel of the same name. She passed away yesterday at age 94, and in her obituary she is hailed as a "grande dame of mystery" and as a successor to Agatha Christie's title of "Queen of Crime." Her good friend and fellow crime author Val McDermid has published a short remembrance of James.

James' detective Adam Dalgleish is a great example of a "gentleman detective" and his quiet, unassuming persona resonates with readers. Fans of Louise Penny's Armand Gamache may enjoy Dalgleish, who is similiarly thoughtful and artistically-inclined. The Dalgleish mysteries have also all been adapted into television series, and fans of Inspector Morse may find some of his appeal in the portrayal of Dalgleish.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #497 - “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

For those interested in the history of books and printing, you simply cannot pass up Gutenberg's Apprentice * * * by Alix Christie - "(a)n enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany - a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal, rich in atmosphere and historical detail, told through the lives of the three men who made it possible."

Caught at the center of the Gutenberg/Fust saga is Peter Schoeffer. At 25, an up-and-coming scribe at the Sorbonne, he is summoned home to Mainz by his father Johann Fust who adopted the orphaned Peter and spared no expense in his education. It turns out that Fust, a wealthy merchant and bookseller has met & financed the workshop of the "most amazing man", and to whom he intends to apprentice Peter.

Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary machine he calls a printing press. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in what the Catholic Church condemns as "the darkest art".

As his skill grows, so, too, does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: copies of the Holy Bible, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures: the generous Fust, and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery. "Despite obstacles posed by the Church, guilds, family, and friends, Fust, Gutenberg, and Schoeffer's tenuous collaboration culminates in the Gutenberg Bible."

"An inspiring tale of ambition, camaraderie, betrayal, and cultural transformation based on actual events and people, this wonderful novel fully inhabits its age." Readers who enjoyed The Justification of Johann Gutenberg by Blake Morrison might very well get the rest of the story here.

A note about the author... Native Californian Alix Christie dedicates this book to a long line of master printers, including the two master letterpress printers she apprenticed with. A published journalist who turned to fiction in the 1990s, she now lives in London.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Free Holiday Classic Film Series at The Michigan Theater!

The Michigan Theater is topping off the holiday season with a series of FREE holiday movies shown on Sundays at 1:30pm. The State Street Area Association Holiday Classic Film Series presented by Sesi Lincoln and Old National Bank. The films start showing this Sunday!

This year’s classic holiday films shown will be: Home Alone on 11/30, Miracle on 34th Street on 12/7, Elf on 12/14, and It’s a Wonderful Life on 12/21. How fun! It’s a great way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the season and sit down for a free movie in a beautiful theater! Want to just stay home? The library has you covered with the DVDs of the films.

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