Ages 18+.

Notable New Memoir: Sally Mann's Hold Still

Renowned photographer Sally Mann’s new memoir, Hold Still, is a breath of fresh, Southern air. Stories of her family—past and present—as well as anecdotes about her deep love of the southern United States and her photography sojourns are interspersed with her beautiful photographs.

Mann generated controversy in the 1990s for her photo collection “Immediate Family,” which featured many pictures of her children, some in the nude. No matter how you feel about these photographs, its undeniable that they are striking, and the work of someone deeply talented. Her other work is equally breathtaking, particularly her haunting landscapes, many of which are taken at and near the farm where she was raised and continues to live, in Virginia.

Hold Still is written at an almost soothing pace. Mann spins out stories of generations of family troubles, and analyzes deeply who she is today. Excerpts from years of letters and diary entries compliment her stories, and add unique details and perspectives to situations whose outcomes have been altered by the passing of time. She writes at length about her beloved South and the deep-seated sense of place that she has found during her lifetime there. I loved becoming more familiar with Mann’s work while also reading this fascinating account of a memorable life.

For more of Mann’s photography, check out Deep South and What Remains.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #539

Exquisite Corpse *, marks the first US release for Paris-born bestselling graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu. This is the English translation of her Cadavre Exquis, originally published in French, and a prize-winner at the 2010 Angoulême International Comics Festival, the second largest comics festival in Europe.

Down-trodden twenty-something Zoe is a "booth babe", hawking luxury goods at trade shows by day and dreading the evenings with the unemployed Neanderthal of a boyfriend at home. On a lunch break, she meets Thomas Rocher, a recluse who happens to be a world-famous author, and soon becomes his girlfriend/muse. Everything is fabulous until Thomas' wife shows up, and that's just the first secrets that put into play an expected yet satisfying ending.

"(An) absorbing, fast-paced erotic literary drama... (this) funny and fresh exploration of authorship and a writer's relationship to fame is utterly charming."

An immensely fun and quick read.

* = starred review

Love at first byte: Image Comics Alex + Ada

The idea of human and robot relationships, and robotic sentience are nothing new. Some might say they are the oldest stories in the sci-fi book. Alex + Ada manages to capture the idea of robotic sentience and robotic relationships in a very different way.

The story follows Alex who is given a very expensive robot as a gift, but is uncomfortable with the pure obedience that Ada shows him. It brings up questions of free will and what it is to be alive.

This graphic novel is a more modern take on the robotics genre and anyone who enjoys a good tech story should enjoy the issues that this graphic novel brings up. If you've never read a robot story but like a nice romance then Alex + Ada fits that bill as well.

There is always the concern that robotic romances will be tacky rather than insightful but the creators of this graphic novel managed to make the story meaningful rather than cheesy.

Gorgeous New Country-Rock: Traveller

Chris Stapleton’s first solo album, Traveller, has earned critical acclaim, particularly from NPR Music. Featured on NPR earlier this month, Traveller has now been ranked in the top 25 albums of 2015 so far by the organization. I think this honor is more than well-deserved! Stapleton’s story is a fascinating one. Born and raised in Kentucky, Stapleton dropped out of college and was driving an ice truck and playing music locally in the evenings. After encouragement from friends and fellow musicians passing through, Stapleton finally bit the bullet and moved to Nashville, where he began working as a songwriter for artists like Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker. One of the first songs that he wrote, “Nobody’s Fool,” was ultimately recorded by Miranda Lambert. Stapleton also lent his voice as backing vocals to many songs, but couldn’t seem to break out on his own as a solo act. He even recorded an entire album a few years ago, but his label declined to release it.

Traveller is the result of his final chance in the studio—or rather, what likely would have been his final chance if Traveller had proved a lesser album. Morgan Hayes, Stapleton’s wife, who sings harmony on the album, says that she can tell that Traveller came from a “deeper place” inside of Stapleton. The songs focus on common country themes: heartbreak, homesickness and hangovers, but the lyrics are well-crafted and, to borrow a line from one of the cover tracks, “as smooth as Tennessee whiskey.” Traveller is truly a beautiful album, and worth a listen even for those who don't usually enjoy country music.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #538 -“Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate? Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others." ~ Oprah Winfrey

Dietland * *, Sarai Walker's debut - is "part Fight Club, part feminist manifesto, an offbeat and genre-bending novel that aims high, and delivers."

Alicia "Plum" Kettle, tipping the scale at 300 lbs. is counting the days when she will become her true, thin self... "she won't be alone all the time... she'll dress in pretty clothes, she'll travel, she'll have a job that she likes", instead of being the closeted advice columnist for a glamor teen magazine, working out of the corner café. After every diet plan imaginable has failed her, Plum is contemplating bariatric surgery. While used to humiliated stares and taunts, she is uneasy when she finds herself being stalked by a odd-looking young woman who leaves her strange little "gifts" that ultimately leads her to a secret society of women responsible for a series of gruesome kidnappings and killings worldwide.

"Hilarious, surreal, and bracingly original, Walker's ambitious debut avoids moralistic traps to achieve something rarer: a genuinely subversive novel that's also serious fun." If I have failed to convince you that this is one debut not to be missed, here is what two of my favorite authors have to say...

"Dietland is a book I have been waiting for someone to write all my life, and it hit me hard right where I live, right where so many of us have wasted too much time living. It's courageous, compassionate, intelligent, pissed off and much more fun than it has any right to be." ~ Pam Houston

"Sarai Walker is an immensely talented writer and her debut novel, Dietland—filled with wit, wisdom and wonder—is a pleasure." ~ Jill McCorkle

For readers who enjoyed The Middlesteins; Where'd You Go, Bernadette; and The Next Best Thing. Ideal for book groups seeking something more socially aware and gender-conscious in their women's fiction.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Surrealism At Its Most Hilarious!

OH MAN. You guys have to read this book! It’s so weird and beautiful and hilarious. I first discovered the author, Lisa Hanawalt, through her Maximum Fun podcast with comedian Emily Heller, Baby Geniuses. Since I started listening to the podcast, I’ve been trying to convince everyone else I know to listen to it too, and I am so thrilled to do the same with Hanawalt’s book!

My Dirty Dumb Eyes, by Lisa Hanawalt, is an adult graphic novel with a series of comics on strange subjects. Topics range from “What do Dogs Want??” (one answer: a tennis-ball bride) to “The Secret Lives of Chefs” (“Christina Tosi employs a child think tank to come up with recipes for Milk Bar”) to “North American Wildlife and Hats,” which features images such as an elk in a “New Jersey turnpike hat”, and a desert hare sporting a “lazy susan hat with hotdog and pancake condiments.”

The drawings in this book are just as surreal and gorgeous as you could hope for. The book is full of bright, bold colors and meticulous details. It contains very mature themes and drawings, so it is not for young folks. But all you grown ups out there, check out My Dirty Dumb Eyes now!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #537 - “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Our Endless Numbered Days * * by Claire Fuller is a dark and captivating debut that you are not likely to forget for a very long time, and one that you would be tempted to re-read, immediately.

Concert pianist Ute Bischoff scandalized the music world when she married James Hillcoat, a handsome and cocky teenager eight years her junior, who stood in one night as the page-turner of her music score. They settled into a comfortable family life until their daughter Peggy was eight years old. While Ute was away on a concert tour, James, an increasingly obsessed survivalist, took her to a remote hut in the woods, telling her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. For the next nine year, they lived rough in the wilderness, marking their days by the sun and the seasons, and making a life for themselves. Then Peggy saw an unfamiliar pair of boots in the forest and began to search for their owner...

"Fuller alternates Peggy's time in the forest with chapters that take place in 1985 after she reunites with her mother, building an ever-present sense of foreboding and allowing readers to piece together well-placed clues... (her) careful pacing gradually reveals the mystery of a life that is as sympathetic as it is haunting."

A fabulous crossover for mature teens, especially those who enjoyed The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (a 2008 Printz Award Winner); Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson; Room by Emma Donoghue; and Stolen by Lucy Christopher, (a 2011 Printz Award Honor Book).

* * = 2 starred reviews

Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari is one of this generation’s most beloved comedic voices and his new book, Modern Romance, combines his irreverent humor with in-depth social science to offer readers a funny, relevant and informative tour of the modern dating world.

Dating has definitely gotten more complicated in the past decade or two, with the invention of social media, countless new modes of communication, unusual new venues to meet people, and, perhaps the most complex (and some would argue, the most useful!) of all, emojis. Ansari himself felt overwhelmed at times trying to navigate the complexity of the present-day romantic world, as have many of the rest of us. He shares stories of his own experiences in Modern Romance, but what’s particularly interesting is the fact that he teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg to design and execute a massive research project conducted throughout the world with the aid of many other leading social scientists. The study includes focus groups, interviews, online message forums, and more, and the results of it are detailed in Ansari’s book.

The combination of Ansari’s own experiences and those of his friends, and the unique research results presented by him and Klinenberg make Modern Romance a truly unique—and important—read.

You can also try the audiobook version, read by Ansari himself.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #536

One of the most anticipated debut this season is The Sunlit Night * by Rebecca Dinerstein, and it does not disappoint. In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, two New Yorkers unexpectedly find love and courage to take destiny into their own hands.

A year in Japan after college graduation is no longer an option for Frances when her boyfriend calls it quits and unceremoniously drops her off at a bus stop. At the postage-sized Manhattan apartment she shares with her parents and sister Sarah, there is more bad news. The painting apprenticeship at a Norwegian artist colony which she turns down earlier now seems like a godsend, never mind that there is only one artist living there - Nils, enigmatic and middle-aged, who paints only with the color yellow.

17 year-old Yasha, raised in the Russian enclave of Brighton Beach, sees his mother for the first time in a decade outside the family bakery's window, only to recognize a selfish and unreliable parent. The real heartache is losing his beloved father to heart failure on a home-coming trip to Moscow, but he is determined to carry out his father's last wish to be buried "at the top of the world".

And so Frances and Yasha meet at the Viking Museum in Lofoten, a string of islands ninety-five miles above the Arctic Circle. Their unlikely connection and growing romance fortifies them, and teaches them that to be alone is not always to be lonely, and that love and independence are not mutually exclusive.

"Funny, dark, warm, and as knowing of place as any travel book or memoir." ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

"...(a) luminous story about love, family, and the bewilderment of being young. Enchanting in every way." ~ Maggie Shipstead

* = starred review

Graphic novels that are great for young and old.

Crossover books are great, they offer something for the young, old and everyone in between and in graphic novels there seems to be a lot of these texts. I'm going to highlight just a couple of wonderful crossover graphic novels.

For teens and adults Neil Gaiman's Sandman is a great crossover graphic novel. Sandman follows a being named Morpheus or Dream who is one of the seven endless, entities who fulfill certain roles in reality. The 10 volume series (and subsequent prequels) deals with lots of great issues and the reader is invited to question preconceptions about the world within the graphic novel.

For children, teens and adults My Little Pony Friendship is Magic has really captured the imagination of people of all ages, the subculture that has grown up around it encompasses all genders, ages and nationalities. It follows a group of six ponies who are best friends and the adventures that they have. One of the reasons that it has become so wildly popular is because of how it deals with everyday life issues, plus it helps that they throw in lots of references to other pop-culture icons (such as Dr. Who or should I say Dr. Hooves).

The third crossover graphic novel(s) is great for teens and adults alike. Scott Chantler creates a fantasy world that is both fast and interesting in theThree Thieves series. If you are a fan of the fantasy graphic novel genre these books are worth reading!

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