Herman and Rosie

The new book Herman and Rosie brought tears to my eyes when I opened it earlier this week. At once a celebration of individuality and a story of finding someone who truly understands you, this uniquely illustrated book is a story for all ages. It is obvious to readers from the beginning that Herman, an oboe-playing crocodile and Rosie, a jazz-singing doe, are meant to be together. Living in New York City, both enjoy the hustle and bustle of their busy lives, but sometimes find themselves lonely amidst the crowds. Ultimately, their lives must go through many twists and turns before their paths finally cross.

Author Gus Gordon does an amazing job of making this children’s book applicable to the young people it is geared towards but also engaging and adorable for older readers. I loved Herman and Rosie so much that I immediately bought a copy… and it’s not too late for you to add this to your holiday wish list, too!

Animalium

If you have not yet seen this giant beauty resting on the new youth nonfiction shelf, please allow me to draw your attention to it. I know I will forever be indebted to the person who first showed Animalium to me. It is one of those rare books that is both captivating to look at and to read. Maybe I should make myself clear here, it is captivating if you enjoy learning about animals and reading facts about them. If you are expecting a great fictional story, then perhaps it would be best if you check this out for the sole purpose of enjoying the pictures. Furthermore, please don't dismiss this book because it is intended for youth, I choose to believe "youth" really just stands for "youthful" and there really is no age restriction when it comes to appreciating beautiful illustrations of wildlife.

The large colorful illustrations are wonderfully detailed and the shadowing and chosen colors give the pictures great depth. Being an amphibian girl myself, I was particularly drawn to the page including the the Darwin's Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii) which has "an oversize vocal sac in which it rears its young." Little tadpoles in a frog's throat never looked so pretty.

Be warned though, when I say "giant beauty" I mean bring a sturdy bag because this is no pocket book.

You may also want to check out Welcome to Mamoko or Maps, both published by Big Picture Press and with equally fascinating pictures and intriguing concepts. Or maybe this has piqued your interest about animals and now you want to learn more. Great! Here is a list of other Awesome Animal books that may help you with your research.

Small Gems (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #500)

It's that time again. As we approach winter solstice, the days are getting shorter and we are getting into high gear for the holidays, don't despair. Here are some suggestions for SHORT titles that you could curl up with.

46 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read In A Day, great reads under 200 pages. Mostly.

From GoodRead: Popular Under 200 Pages Books - wonderful time to catch up on some classics and new award winners. The Huffington Post also jumps on the bandwagon with their thoughtful and inspired reading list. Here is a list for nonfiction readers.

My personal find this year?

Our Lady of the Nile (in French) by Scholastique Mukasonga, winner of the 2012 Renaudot Prize and the Ahamadou Kourouma Prize - a moving and nuanced portrait of violence and survival; a debut novel of "rugged beauty and unbearable suspense".

The conflict between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority is expressed through the microcosm of Our Lady of the Nile, a Catholic boarding school for wealthy and influential young ladies in Rwanda. Virginia and Veronica are two Tutsi girls in the lycee because of quotas, and they are keenly aware of the dangers they face as ethnic minority. When Gloriosa, the daughter of a Hutu politician, starts telling lies about being attacked by Tutsis, the retaliatory violence costs Veronica her life and Virginia her education.

Born in Rwanda in 1956, the author experienced from childhood the violence and humiliation of ethnic conflicts. In 1973, she was forced to flee to Burundi and settled in France in 1992. Two year later, she lost 27 members of her family to the genocide of the Tutsi.

Slightly longer but spectacular in every way is Lily King's Euphoria * * *, a thinly-veiled account of the love affair between Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, her third husband while she was married to Reo Fortune as they were conducting anthropological research in the remote territories of New Guinea. (Readers curious as to the accuracy of the storyline might want to check out this article called "Mead's Folly").

"A taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace—a love triangle in extremis… The steam the book emits is as much intellectual as erotic…King is brilliant.”

Little wonder that it has been named winner of this year's Kirkus Prize for Fiction and the New England Book Award. New York Times, as well as Time Magazine, and NPR named it one of the 10 Best Fiction of 2014. I promise you that it is well worth the wait.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Waiting (not so) patiently for The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters?

British author Sarah Waters is beloved for skillfully incorporating suspense, illicit attractions, and even supernatural elements, into her atmospheric historical fiction novels. The Paying Guests takes place in the upper class home of the Wrays, a mother and daughter who have fallen on hard times after WWI and make ends meet by taking in “paying guests.” The addition of a working class couple to the family dynamic initiates a series of changes, not least of which is daughter Frances’ attraction to her new boarder.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt - Byatt’s historical fiction/family saga explores privileged, artistic families in pre-WWI Britain, and the darkness and social struggles that lie beneath the surface.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton long-simmering secrets come to light when a filmmaker comes to fact-check details of a 1924 event with a now-elderly maidservant, who recounts the loves, rivalries, and secrets of the family she served.

The Lodger by Louise Treger - Against the background of the British suffragette movement, Dorothy Richardson’s life takes a turn for the unconventional when she begins an affair with a friend’s husband, only to have her attractions shift when a new woman moves into her boarding house.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters - The story follows four Londoners during and after WWII who are recovering their senses, trying to restart their lives, and guarding their secrets now that the blackouts are over and the fighting is done.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones - Enjoying Downton Abbey-style luxury while teetering on the edge of debt, a Torrington-Jones family gathering at their estate unexpectedly becomes a sanctuary for survivors of a nearby railway accident, but the circumstances become murkier as constructs of class and society fall away.

Waiting (not so) patiently for The Rosie Effect

Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Effect will be released on December 30, and fans of Simsion’s hilariously charming first novel The Rosie Project, cannot wait.

In The Rosie Project, genetics professor and master of regimented routines and social missteps, Don Tillman, strikes out in search of a romantic partner, and instead gets entangled in determined grad student/bartender Rosie’s scheme to identify the father she never knew through genetic testing. Hijinks ensue, and the bumpy road of life and love continues straight through The Rosie Effect.

To tide you over while you wait for The Rosie Effect to be released, here are a few titles that share some elements with Simsion’s quirky but lovable stories.

- How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer - alternate reality scientific endeavors and comedy come together in this love story of two scientists who were secretly groomed by their astrologist mothers to be soulmates.

- The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls - light-hearted love story with quirks galore, about falling for someone who doesn’t exactly add up to your ideal partner.

- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - British author Moyes brings great humor and humanity to the story of an angry quadriplegic and the big-hearted, well-meaning, accident-prone, insecure woman who becomes his caretaker.

- The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart - Stuart's historical fiction/mystery/romance is populated with a cast of eccentrics including an Indian princess, a cycling-obsessed doctor, and a maid with unusually large feet, centered around Queen Victoria's haunted Hampton Court, where impoverished aristocrats go to live out their last complaint-filled years. The plot is sprawling, the characters are ridiculous, and the conclusion packs a heartfelt wallop.

- Something Missing by Matthew Dicks - Martin, an OCD thief with an eye for order and a penchant for routine, makes his living stealing minor things from his “clients” and will go to great lengths to keep their lives - and his invisible role in them - unchanged.

Two New, Amazingly Illustrated Picture Books for All Ages!

Two beautifully illustrated picture books have just been added to the library collection.

Before After, by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui is a wordless book that depicts amazing, related images on each of its pages. On one of the first pages is a drawing of a flower bud and on the opposite page, the beautiful daisy is in bloom. Later in the book, you see a coffee plant, and turn the page to see a steaming cup of coffee itself. I particularly enjoy the humor that subtly permeates this book. For example, on one page there is the image of an egg and on the opposite, the image of a chicken. When readers turn the page, they first see the image of the chicken, and on the opposite page the image of the egg. This is a stunning book and truly worth a perusal by readers of all types.

Telephone, by Mac Barnett and Jen Corace is a hilarious and wonderfully illustrated book about birds sitting on a telephone wire…playing Telephone. When mother mourning dove tells cardinal to “Tell Peter: fly home for dinner,” things get immediately jumbled when baseball-playing cardinal tells goose, “Tell Peter: hit pop flies and homers.” Things only get more confusing from there. I loved the individual personalities of the birds in this book, conveyed so well through Corace’s drawings. This is definitely a fun read!

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.

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.

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.

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