Ages 18+.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #565 - Spotlight on Debut Mysteries

Winner of the 2013 Colorado Gold Contest for unpublished writers and a runner-up in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc * by Jennifer Kincheloe.

1907 Los Angeles. Heiress to a banking fortune Anna Blanc bristles under her domineering father and watchful chaperon. Using an alias, she takes a job as a police matron with the LAPD. An eager reader of crime novels, she could match wits with Sherlock Holmes. So when the city is plagued by a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate, she takes on the investigation herself.

For fans of Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy; Kerry Greenwood's Miss Phryne Fisher; and Ashley Weaver's Amory Ames series.

The White Shepherd by Annie Dalton. In this first of the Oxford Dogwalkers' series (and YA author Dalton's first adult thriller), a fragile young woman becomes an unlikely sleuth.

Anna Hopkins is walking Bonnie, her white German Shepherd, through Oxford's picturesque Port Meadow when they stumble upon the battered body of her friend, Naomi, a researcher. Before the police arrives, two women, Tansy and Isadora, appear on the scene and the women team up to support each other and take matters into their own hands when the Police concludes that Naomi was the latest victim of the Oxford Ripper.

Anna's distrust of the Police stems from a childhood trauma when she found her entire family brutally slaughtered, and the killer was never found. One of the first responder on the scene then is now the lead investigator of Naomi's murder.

"An inventive plot, charismatic characters, and even some black humor combine to make this a good choice for suspense junkies... its canine element will delight Susan Conant and Laurien Berenson fans."

* = starred review

Comic artist spotlight: Marguerite Debaie

Marguerite Debaie is a Palestinian-American artist who has been writing comics about the Palestinian-American experience and they are great. Her first book, in two volumes, The Hookah Girl and other Stories are humorously poignant observations from someone who has grown up as a Christian Palestinian in the US. These two volumes manage to capture what it was like for Marguerite growing up. The art is beautiful and at times it manages to capture in time a moment of great importance for us to share with the artist. So check out Volume 1 and Volume 2

Her second book A Voyage to Panjikant is a beautiful piece of historical fiction that follows a family from 7th Century Sogdiana (now known as Uzbekistan) who are in the midst of the silk road. This first volume is short, but you can see the time and care that went into making it. The coloring is by far some of the most beautiful work I’ve seen in some time, Debaie really captures the vibrancy of the culture. If you are interested in historical-fiction comics then you need to read A Voyage to Panjikant.

Double Up Food Bucks Program Extended!

If you receive Public Food Assistance, you can receive Double Up Food Bucks and buy twice the amount of goods at area Farmer's Markets. This program allows recipients to spend any amount up to $20.00 per day using your Bridge Card to purchase Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB). Double that $20 to $40 by spending it on healthy, delicious Farmers Market foods like locally-grown fruits & vegetables. What a fantastic way to stretch your food budget and how cool is it that this program was extended into Spring of 2016!

Summerlong: a book for any season

I had an unusual experience when I first picked up the new novel Summerlong, by Dean Bakopoulos. When I picked it up and read the inscription, it was dedicated to someone I knew years ago when I attended a tiny college in the middle of Iowa. What! I quickly flipped to the back jacket to read about the author and found out that he is the writer-in-residence at Grinnell College—the little school I went to! The book itself is actually set in Grinnell, during one of Iowa’s classic sweltering summers, and I enjoyed reading about all the places that I remembered from my time there. Even those who haven’t been to Grinnell—which, realistically, is almost everyone else—will enjoy this unique setting for the story. The tensions between the characters and the buildup to climactic scenes are enhanced by the essentially expressionless setting of the story. The heat, the flatness and the lack of activity in Grinnell seem to make the tumult in the characters’ lives all the more dramatic.

The story focuses on four different residents of the town whose lives are intertwined in ways both known and unknown by the quartet. Claire and Don Lowry are a married couple whose marriage and financial status are both on the rocks. The enigmatic “ABC” has moved back to Grinnell to mourn the loss of the love of her life, and finds herself one night stoned in a hammock with the sleeping Don Lowry curled next to her, having just met him a few hours before. Enter, Charlie, who has also recently returned to Grinnell, on the pretense of cleaning out his family home and caring for his ailing father, but really to escape the “artist’s” life he had tried and failed to create for himself in Seattle. On the same night that Don is asleep in the hammock, Claire finds herself skinny-dipping in Charlie’s father’s pool. As the summer progresses, these four characters’ fates become increasingly intertwined, with some delicious twists along the way. Despite the title, Summerlong is a book for any season… and a particularly good read to remind yourself of the heat of summer as the cold winter months creep in.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #564

Gold Fame Citrus * * *, the debut novel by UM Assistant Professor Claire Vaye Watkins is truly worth the wait. (No doubt, my eager anticipation is due in part, to the New York Times book review by Emily St. John Mandel).

Set in the near future, when extreme drought and water shortage laid waste to much of the western states, Los Angeles is not longer the land of gold, fame and citrus. With mass exodus to lusher regions, only a few hardy souls remain. Luz, a 25-year old former model and her boyfriend Ray, whose survival skills are keeping them alive, are holed up in the abandoned mansion of a Hollywood starlet. But when they take in a very strange little girl, they realize that it's time to seek a safer place.

Danger lurks as they head east - sinkholes, patrolling authorities, bandits and the brutal sun. Seeking refuge in a rumored desert commune, Luz comes under the sway of the charismatic leader of an outpost in the desert, threatening the bond of their make-shift family.

"Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own."

Readers might want to check out Claire Vaye Watkins’s multiple-awards winning story collection, Battleborn, among them, the National Book Foundation “5 Under 35”, and the Story Prize.

This debut novel would likely remind readers of Swamplandia! by Karen Russell; Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

$2.00 a day

In $2.00 a day: living on almost nothing in America, Kathryn J. Edin and University of Michigan professor H. Luke Shaefer, illuminate a population of America that endeavors to survive, out of necessity, on little to no cash, $2.00 per day per person, or less, “what many of us spend on a cup of coffee each day.” Alex Kotlowitz, There are no children here : the story of two boys growing up in the other America.
This alarming narrative weaves together personal stories and recent economic history to show how these Americans got to this point, and who, exactly is suffering. Edin and Shaefer narrow their focus on four areas of America; one that represents the "typical" American city, one a rural locale that has been deeply poor for more than half a century, the third, a place where deep poverty is a newer phenomenon, and finally, a place that had been very poor in recent decades but is experiencing economic recovery. Their book takes us to Chicago, Cleveland, Johnson City, Tennessee in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and several small, rural hamlets in the Mississippi Delta, to get at the heart of what daily life is like for individuals struggling with deep poverty, and the means they go through to survive. The first hand accounts of children going without food for weeks at a time and parents who sell whatever they can (rides in their cars, plasma, social security numbers) to alleviate this hunger are unforgettable. This is an eye opening and important read.

“Affluent Americans often cherish the belief that poverty in America is far more comfortable than poverty in the rest of the world. Edin and Shaefer’s devastating account...blows that myth out of the water.” Barbara Ehrenreich author of Nickel and dimed : on (not) getting by in America

Shark Detective

This new picture book is a winner! Shark Detective! tells the story of a shark who lives in a hotel, watches detective shows on TV and eats potato chips. But he was ever so lonely. At night he would dream he was a detective solving mysteries! Then one day he saw a poster for a missing kitty. Oh no! What could do? He had a great idea -- Shark Detective to the rescue!

The book has charming illustrations, is hilarious, and tells a sweet story about how friends are made. This book is recommended if you're a fan of the silly style of Dragons Love Tacos or Weasels.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #563

Early reviewers have called (Dublin-born and London-based) Gavin McCrea's Mrs. Engels * * *, "(r)ichly imagined. . . beautifully realized", and "the best kind of historical fiction." Here is a link to Helen Dunmore's review in The Guardian.

"No one understands men better than the women they don't marry..." observed Lizzie Burns, while very little is actually known about Lizzie herself. History remembers her as the illiterate Irishwoman and mill worker who was the longtime lover of Friedrich Engels, but in McCrea's first novel, the unsung Lizzie is finally given a voice - "earthy, affectionate, and street-smart but also sly, unabashedly mercenary, and sometimes-scheming", and utterly unforgettable.

The novel opens in 1870 with Lizzie and Friedrich moving from Manchester to London, to be closer to Karl Marx and his family, coauthor of the The Communist Manifesto. Newly installed in a grand townhouse, we watch as Lizzie learns to run a household (with servants), navigate the complex landscapes of Victorian society, and the peculiarities of the Marxes, treating readers to a backstage look at the domestic lives of the most public 19th-century revolutionaries and their families.

In her more private moments, Lizzie is haunted by her first love, burdened by a sense of duty to right past mistakes, and torn between a desire for independence and practical financial security.

"But the heart of the novel is the beautifully realized romance between Lizzie and Friedrich: a mismatch of values and temperaments, yet also a tender and complex bond."

For readers who enjoy stories of strong women like Nora Webster, Frances Wray in Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests; and those who often lived in the shadow of their significant others - The Paris Wife, The Aviators Wife and Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

NaNoWriMo Is Now in Full Swing!

National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, has officially started! Have you always wanted to write a novel but never got around to it? You can start RIGHT NOW! All you need to do is keep writing throughout the month of November to work toward your own goal or the national 50,000 words!

Want to socialize with other new and seasoned writers this month? Come check out AADL's NaNoWriMo events, including the Free Write on November 15 and the I Wrote a Novel, Now What event on December 6 featuring Ann Arbor author Karen Simpson!

No matter how or what you write, everyone is welcome to join in the NaNoWriMo fun! For more information on getting started, check out the NaNoWriMo website. Feel free to take home some AADL materials on writing too!

The final installment in Jane Smiley's Last Hundred Years trilogy is here!

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley has gifted readers with numerous stories of the American heartland over the years. Her most recent endeavor has been the Last Hundred Years trilogy: three volumes following the same family over the course of a century. Beginning with Some Luck and continuing with Early Warning, the series concludes with the recently published Golden Age.

The deftness with which Smiley has managed to tell the stories of the family members is truly amazing. Some Luck begins in 1920 and each chapter represents one year, continuing through 1952. Early Warning picks up in 1953 and continues through the late 1980s, while Golden Age will carry us through 2019. The cast of characters is ever-expanding, but Smiley manages to keep the story coherent and detailed through all of the novels. One would think that it would be difficult to develop characters when the story is moving so quickly and the cast is so large, but Smiley shares the exact right amount of emotions and events so that readers feel truly immersed in the story and in the lives of the family members. The trilogy is more than just the story of a family, however. It's really a portrait of America over the course of the past century: the successes, the failures, the memorable events, the changing landscape, the cultural revolution, the technological invasion. Smiley uses her characters to comment on historical events and to offer unique perspectives and representations.

I'm still on the waitlist for Golden Age, but can't wait to see how the series concludes, and to read Smiley's interpretation of the past few decades, which contain events that I will personally remember. If you haven't read any of this trilogy yet, get started with Some Luck--and get on the hold list for Golden Age!

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