Ages 18+.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #496

Classical violinist Louisa Treger (biography) depicts the life and loves of Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957), one of the most important writers of the 20th century in a fictional biography The Lodger, - "(a) compelling story of one woman tormented by unconventional desires."

The novel opens in 1906 with Dorothy Richardson being invited to spend a weekend in the country with her old school friend Amy Catherine (called Jane now) and her new husband Bertie (H.G.) Wells, a writer hovering on the brink of fame. The sumptuous meals and idyllic seaside setting stand in sharp contrast to Dorothy's attic room in a seedy Bloomsbury boarding house, and her £1/week wage as an assistant to a Harley Street dentist.

But what draws Dorothy most (though he first appears unremarkable) are Well's grey-blue eyes and "his intellect and impish nature". Despite her good intention not to betray her friend, Dorothy free-falls into an affair with Bertie.

When a new boarder arrives at the boarding house, the beautiful Veronica Leslie-Jones, Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. Amidst the personal dramas and wreckage of a militant suffragette march, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer.

"The early 1900s weren't exactly a friendly time for single women in London, and the book does a wonderful job of showing Dorothy's desire for independence as well as her fear of being alone... Treger's writing flows easily and the book is impeccably researched (including Richardson's twelve-volume autobiographical novel-sequence Pilgrimage), making this an enjoyable read."

"Dorothy Richardson may not be a household name, but Treger's novel does a fine job of showing just how compelling her life was in this novel full of passion, history and literature." For readers who enjoy Virginia Woolf (who btw, considered Richardson a literary rival) and Edith Wharton.

Stunning Debut Fiction: Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper, is described as “a gorgeous literary debut about an elderly woman’s last great adventure walking across Canada. A beautiful novel of pilgrimage, of fulfilling lifelong promises, of a talking coyote called James, of unlikely heroes and hundreds of papier-mâché animals….”

Elderly Otto wakes up one morning to find his eighty-two-year-old wife gone from their bed. Upon walking into the kitchen of their home, he finds a carefully penned note from her saying that she has set off on a walk to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing the ocean, and that she’ll try to remember to come back home. The only problem: the ocean is 2008 miles away from the couple’s home in Saskatchewan.

Otto surprisingly doesn’t pursue his beloved wife, but instead keeps himself busy and his worries at bay by carefully crafting hundreds of papier-mâché animals and writing Etta long letters that he does not know where to send. Otto’s close friend Russell, who has loved Etta from afar for decades, insists on finding Etta, however. He leaves his farm for the first time in his life determined to pursue her and bring her home safely.

Etta, meanwhile, steadfastly continues her journey to the ocean accompanied by a friendly coyote named James, and as her trip goes on the lines between memory, illusion and reality become increasingly blurry. The book itself is a mixture of memory and reality, too; it’s not told in chronological order, but rather blends emotions and experiences in the present with those from the past.

The stunning descriptions of Canada are a wonderful backdrop to this novel that “reminds us that it’s never too late to see the things you’ve longed to see, or say the things you’ve longed to say.”

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #495 - “It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think." ~ Patrick Rothfuss

The Question of the Missing Head: An Asperger's mystery by E.J. Coopperman (as Jeff Cohen when he writes nonfiction) introduces a new series featuring Samuel Hoenig, a man with Asperger's Syndrome - "an increasingly popular diagnosis given to people displaying a constellation of behaviors often associated with autism—inflexible thinking, reduced ability to read social cues, constricted range of interest." But Samuel's observational skills and heightened cognitive and linguistic functioning make him an ideal owner (and sole employee) of his New Jersey-based business called Questions Answered.

When Marshall Ackerman, chief administrator of the Garden State Cryonics Institute insists on him solving the mystery of a missing preserved head in their high-tech laboratory, Samuel, being a non-driver, conscripts his current client, a Miss Washburn to accompany him to the scene of the crime. Upon arrival, the urgency of finding the missing head is overshadowed when Dr. Rebecca Springer, one of the facility's scientists, is found murdered, in a locked room.

"In this well-crafted story, the Asperger's element, rather than becoming a distraction, provides a unique point of view on crime-solving, as well as offering a sensitive look at a too-often-misunderstood condition. "

"(A) delightful and clever mystery".

Readalikes for Serial Fans


Millions of people are hooked on the new Serial podcast, in which journalist Sarah Koenig attempts to unravel the 1999 murder of Baltimore-area high schooler Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed for the crime. New episodes are released each Thursday, and binge-listeners of the show are eager to listen, re-listen, and debate the findings and their suspicions.

Here are a few nonfiction titles that might help pass the time between episode releases - each title features a crime, compelling characters, and an attempt to piece together the clues to make sense of the whole picture.

Blood Will Out - Walter Kirn's examination of a con artist who posed for years as "Clark Rockefeller," an ambiguously wealthy member of the upper crust, heavily features Kirn's own multi-year friendship with the man who turned out to be not just duplicitous, but dangerous as well.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt's story of Savannah is unique in that the crime around which the book is centered almost gets lost amid the outsized personalities of his cast of characters, which includes a flamboyant antiques dealer, a voodoo priestess, and the unforgettable scene-stealer Lady Chablis.

The Monster of Florence - author Douglas Preston becomes spectacularly entangled in this investigation of a violent serial killer stalking couples in the Italian countryside. The extreme ineptitude of the police force on this case is as appalling as the dedication of journalists like co-author Mario Spezi is admirable.

People Who Eat Darkness - award-winning journalist Richard Lloyd Parry traces the disappearance of a young woman in Japan through the search and investigation phases which lead finally to her murder trial, even at the risk of his own safety.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale dissects Britain's infamous Road Hill House murder case which featured a locked room scenario, mishandled evidence, and in an unusual addition for 1860 - a detective, one of the first eight members of the newly-formed Scotland Yard.

What addictive stories have been satisfying your Serial cravings? Share them in the comments! Also - Adnan: guilty or no?

New Adult Nonfiction: A Deadly Wandering

In the brand new book A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Pulitzer Prize winning author Matt Richtel, humans’ relationship with technology is explored through the lens of a deadly car accident. Utah college student Reggie Shaw killed two scientists while weaving in and out of his lane on the highway, texting a friend. Richtel describes the accident and follows Shaw through the aftermath, including the investigation, Shaw’s prosecution and his ultimate redemption. This tragedy offers a unique backdrop for the larger issues that Richtel explores in this fascinating book. He uses recent scientific findings on human attention, evolution, and the impact of technology on our brains to explain how it embeds itself into “all aspects of our lives, plays to our deepest social instincts, and preys on parts of the brain that crave stimulation, creating loops of compulsion and even addiction” (from book jacket). Richtel also uses all this information as a jumping-off point for actionable solutions to help manage our personal and societal distractions.

Matt Richtel is a reporter for the New York Times who focuses on the impact of technology on our lives. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for a series of articles that exposed the risks of distracted driving and its root causes. His work has prompted widespread reform in promoting awareness of and creating policies against distracted driving. He is also the author of Hooked: A Thriller About Love and Other Addictions, and Devil’s Plaything: a Mystery for Idle Minds.

Vanessa and Her Sister: new fiction on the life of Virginia Woolf

Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar, is a brand new book that offers a look at a fascinating time and place in world history. The year is 1905 and pre-war London is bustling with young artists and intellectuals. The four orphaned Stephens siblings—Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby and Adrian—decide to take a house together in fashionable Bloomsbury. All young, gifted and unmarried, they bring together a glittering circle of talented and outrageous friends that will eventually become known as the Bloomsbury Group. At the center of the circle are the sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. When the book opens, Vanessa, the painter, has never sold a piece of her work and Virginia, the writer, has just had her book review turned down. But as time passes, the sisters and the others in the circle begin to meet with success. When Vanessa falls in love, her complicated and possessive sister feels dangerously abandoned and begins a tailspin of self-destruction. With the threat of tragedy looming over the family, Vanessa must decide how to save herself and her loved ones while also protecting her own happiness.

This book is has been recommended for fans of Loving Frank, The Chaperone, and The Paris Wife and offers a fascinating and intimate viewpoint of the life of Virginia Woolf and her struggles with mental illness.

The ABC's of Washtenaw Literacy

A great way to boost your resume AND help to increase the self-esteem of community members is to volunteer for Washtenaw Literacy.
When adults improve their literacy skills they become more productive employees, more engaged parents, and more responsible health care consumers. It is a tool that leads to lowered dependence on supportive social services. The opportunity to teach adults who are ready to learn is one we can't afford to miss!

Here are some dates to learn more about volunteering for Washtenaw Literacy. You must register by emailing info@washtenawliteracy.org or by clicking here.

Monday, November 17th 6:00-7:00 PM
Ypsilanti District Library - Whittaker Road Branch
5577 Whittaker Road
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Friday, December 5th 1:30-2:30 PM
Ann Arbor District Library - Malletts Creek Branch
3090 East Eisenhower Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Thursday, December 11th 7:00-8:00 PM
Ann Arbor District Library - Traverwood Branch
3333 Traverwood Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Kate Atkinson Fans Rejoice!


Kate Atkinson, whose epic Life After Life tore up time and space and heartstrings, has announced that her next book will return to the same world, this time focused on Teddy, the beloved youngest child in the Todd family. Her new book, "A God In Ruins" will be released in May 2015.

The article in The Guardian describes that the plot "will explore how Teddy – "would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father" – navigates "the perils and progress of the twentieth century."

After the multiple realities explored by Life After Life, I'm very interested to discover in what reality "A God In Ruins" occurs, and if the story moves in a linear fashion, or if Teddy has some second chances of his own.

If you haven't read Kate Atkinson before, Life After Life is a great place to start. When it was published in 2013, it enjoyed great success, winning many awards and much critical praise. I also highly recommend her ingeniously plotted Case Histories, which kicks off her excellent Jackson Brodie mystery series.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #494 - “Magic: it was what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.” ~ Lev Grossman

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg is "an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight (readers) of all ages."

19 year-old Ceony Twill, graduated (at the top of her class) from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Despite her dreams of being a smelter, she has been assigned as a "Folder," (paper magic) - the lowest in the hierarchy in the pantheon of magicians.

Things get off to a rocky start when she is greeted at the door by a paper skeleton, but under the tutelage of the amiable Emery Thane, Ceony learns to bring the most amazing paper creatures to life. That is until Emery's past comes back to haunt him. To save her teacher's life, Ceony must face an Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic and embark on an unbelievable adventure.

Just released is The Glass Magician, the sequel.

If you have been floundering for something magical to read since The Night Circus, your wait is over. Fans of Karen Russell and Lev Grossman might want to check these out too.

Surviving Hitler: A love story

Directed by John Keith Wasson, Surviving Hitler: A love story is an inspiring account of war, resistance, and survival in Nazi Germany. Jutta is a teenager in a country that is on the threshold of war when she discovers that she is Jewish. Struck by this discovery, and faced with the atrocities of war, she joins the German resistance and meets a wounded soldier named Helmuth. The two quickly form a romantic attachment and join the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler. Though there are tragic elements to the story (inevitable when it is set in Nazi Germany), there is a happy ending.

This film is a combination of interviews with Jutta and original 8mm footage shot by Helmuth. According to GQ magazine, these “home movies, which miraculously survived the war in Helmuth’s mother’s apartment, are reason enough to watch Surviving Hitler, providing a rare and intimate glimpse of relatively ordinary life carrying on in Berlin despite the encroaching horror.” (read the whole review here)

Surviving Hitler premiered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and has won 3 awards including the Full Frame Inspiration Award, Ojai Festival Theme Award, and the Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film.

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