Ages 18+.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #454 - “those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers...” ~ Anna Quindlen

Leaving home for the first time armed with a prestigious scholarship (Art History) at Columbia, 23 yr.-old Brit Esme Garland is dazzled by Manhattan and smitten with the attention of Mitchell van Leuven, a gorgeous, wealthy, blue-blooded New Yorker with an appetite for all things erotic. He abruptly ends their short fling before Esme could tell him she is pregnant.

Determined to get through this on her own, Esme takes a job in a secondhand bookstore on Broadway, a gathering place for the eccentric, who watch over her through her pregnancy - from the laconic owner to the taciturn, guitar-playing night manager. Together they must struggle for the survival of the store in the challenging retail slum.

The Bookstore * by first time novelist Deborah Meyler is a "sharply observed and evocative tale of learning to face reality without giv­ing up on your dreams... sheer enchantment from start to finish."

"Above all, it's about the love of books. A deeply satisfying novel you will keep close to your heart, written in a style by turns witty and poetic."

Award-winning author Gabrielle Zevin gives us "(a) likable literary love story about selling books and finding love" in The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry * (More in a recent NPR interview).

A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books on Alice Island (think Martha's Vineyard) off the coast of MA, is going through a tough spot: he lost his wife in a car accident, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and his prized possession--a rare edition of Poe poems--has been stolen. Over time, he has given up on people, and even the books in his store, until an unlocked door brings the most astonishing gift, and a young publisher's rep. offers him the chance to make his life over.

The Storied Life is about "a life of books, redemption, and second chances. Funny, tender, and moving.” It also tops the April LibraryReads list of the Top Ten Books that Librarians Across the Country Love.

Sarah Jio's Goodnight, June imagines the inspiration behind Goodnight Moon, a beloved classic among generations of young readers.

June Anderson, a successful NY financier is lonely and unhappy in her personal life. She is unexpectedly called home to Seattle, to settle her great-aunt Ruby's estate and to dispose of Bluebird Books - the children's bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store's papers, June stumbles upon letters between Ruby and the late Margaret Wise Brown, and that Brown not only visited the bookstore, but Ruby had in fact, inspired Goodnight Moon.

When June receives notice the shop is within days of foreclosure, she has a change of heart. In her rally to save the bookstore, June learns an important lesson about acceptance and forgiveness.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #453 - "Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies" ~ Jane Austen

The Zodiac Deception * by award-winning reporter for the New York Times Gary Kriss is a fast-paced WWII espionage thriller. "Crisp prose and a well-structured storyline" also makes it entertaining.

June 1942, Princeton professor David Walker didn't exactly volunteer, but OSS chief Wild Bill Donovan convinced him posing as German astrologer Peter Kepler was the only option other than prison, considering his checkered past. Walker's mission: rely on his skills learned as a protégé of both Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, to use illusion, sleight of hand and deception to gain Heinrich Himmler's trust and persuade him to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

From Berlin to Paris to Cairo; from Hitler's Eagle Nest to Himmler's occult Wewelsburg Castle, Walker walked a tightrope of deceit, navigating impossible challenges. To further complicate the mission, he fell in love with a maker of Nazi propaganda films and must rescue her from Paris' labyrinth underground sewers.

"Gary Kriss's The Zodiac Deception is a memorable debut, an unforgettable thrill ride through the dark heart of World War II Germany." A sequel is in the works. Stay tuned.

David Downing, author of the John Russell espionage series set in WWII Berlin, begins a new series with Jack of Spies, set on the eve of the First World War.

It is 1913, Jack McColl, a globe-trotting Scottish car salesman with an uncanny ear for languages, travels from city to great city trying to sell his company's luxury car, the Maia, while collecting intelligence for His Majesty's Navy. As the world tumbles towards war, his spy duties intensify along with danger quotient.

Meanwhile, a sharp, vivacious American suffragette journalist has wiled her way deep into his affections whose family may be involved in a plot against the British, putting him in the impossible position to choose between love and country.

"(F)ull of rich historical and cultural details", both of these FFFs would appeal to fans of Alan Furst, Philip Kerr; and Kate Mosse's latest Citadel (2014), where a group of WWII French Resistance women fighters risk everything to protect astonishing secrets buried in a village nestled deep in the Pyrenees.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #452

Delicious! * is absolutely irresistible if you are a Ruth Reichl fan. The former New York Times restaurant critic, Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief, and bestselling author of culinary memoirs is turning to fiction (some would say rather semi-autobiographical?) for the first time, and the result is "a magical novel... that draws brilliantly on her wisdom and humor about life, her perceptiveness about family, her understanding of character, her belief in romance, and ... her description of food, so vivid you can taste every bite".

My advice: Do not attempt on an empty stomach!

College drop-out Billie Breslin lands the dream job at Delicious!, New York's most iconic food magazine. She has no culinary skills to recommend her but a "superhuman palate" (she can taste any dish and list its ingredients and suggest the flavors it needs) which endears her to the colorful staff at the magazine, as well as customers at the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends.

When Delicious! is abruptly shut down, Billie stays on in the empty office to maintaining the hotline for reader complaints, one of which leads her to a cache of letters hidden in the magazine's library, written during WWII by a Lulu Swan to the legendary chef James Beard.

This discovery leads to more clues (in the card catalog!!), a road trip, a forged connection, a glamor-makeover; and gives her the courage to face her fears, and be open to romantic possibilities.

"Reichl's... insider's look at life at a food magazine is fascinating. Her satisfying coming-of-age novel of love and loss vividly demonstrates the power of food to connect people across cultures and generations."

Also included are: A Conversation Between Ann Patchett and Ruth Reichl, and Billie's Gingerbread recipe.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #451

Retirement is pretty fabulous and I highly recommend it. However, there are certainly aspects of my work that I truly missed, blogging about books is one of them. So, Muffy is back, and just in time to bring you this wonderful first novel, published to coincide with the celebration of Will's 450th birthday this month.

Dark Aemilia * * is based on the life and loves of Aemilia Bassano Lanyer - the first woman poet to be published (in English), whom historians have called a "proto-feminist", choosing to dedicate many of her poems to a host of distinguished women.

British novelist Sally O'Reilly begins her U.S. debut with a young Aemilia, one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites at court, and mistress to Henry Carey, first Lord Hunsdon, the Queen's lord chamberlain. Learned and intelligent, she captivates the brash, young playwright Will and their clandestine affair proves to be her undoing. As the estrangement between them grows with each misunderstanding and misfortune, their love persists - painfully and without hope.

"With elegant style, masterly wordplay, and an eye for historical detail, O'Reilly beautifully relates a passionate and tragic love story, worthy of two such well-known figures". She also casts Aemilia in the shadowy role of the "Dark Lady" - the object of Shakespeare's late sonnets, and further fuels the debate as to the authorship of his plays.

"O'Reilly brings her star-crossed lovers together and drives them apart through plot twists that are, for once, credible outgrowths of the characters' personalities and beliefs, finally giving them a tender, heartbreaking parting. First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging." For fans of Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Birding by Ear and Beyond

The Environmental Interpretive Center is partnering with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to "Celebrate Urban Birds." On the morning of May 17, at 10am, they will be meeting at Gallup Park Canoe Livery in Ann Arbor. The day will be filled with birding along the shore of the Huron River and for an extra opportunity to hear waterfowl they will be canoeing on the river. Lunch will be provided in the park while celebrating urban birds through art and song until 2pm. This free event is sponsored by the Center's "Birding by Ear and Beyond" program, which offers an auditory experience for blind and visually impaired individuals. All are welcome to join. For further information contact Donna Posont at (313) 220-8140 or dposont@umich.edu.

A Story Reminiscent of Mad Men

The Lost Chapters is the true story of a Madison Avenue advertising man who experienced the glamour and success of the industry's heyday while ultimately being destroyed by it. Author Lisa Anderson's (she goes by Lise, locally) attempt to unravel her father's story comes from the manuscript he left behind before his mysterious death in Tokyo decades ago. Join us as we hear readings from her book on Wednesday, April 23rd from 7:00-8:30 in the Multi-Purpose Room downtown. Anna Byberg, Program Coordinator of Dawn Farm, will speak about the alcohol addiction that ultimately took Dick Anderson's life and will answer questions. AADL has a robust collection of books on the subject of alcoholism and addiction. Read more about the author's fascinating quest on her website. Her book will be on sale & Lise will be available to sign them.

The Circle

Dave Eggers delights again with his newest novel, The Circle. His prose engulfs readers in an eerily familiar world of social and political advancement, somewhat reminiscent of the classic 1984. Readers will wonder what it truly means to be anonymous, and deliberate whether it is a concept more archaic than essential. At the heart of the novel is The Circle's omniscience and its proclamation that "secrets are lies."

Mae Holland, a young college graduate, is stuck in a dead-end career with no hope of leaving her provincial town, when former roommate and business legend Annie offers her a job at The Circle, a company known for its technological advancement and innovation. Although Mae impresses many with her work ethic, her lack of social media presence causes concern in her superiors. The main goal of The Circle, after all, is to connect people of the world in order to achieve infinite knowledge, and ultimately, enlightenment for humankind.

Eggers is best known for his biography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He has received multiple awards including Time Best Book of the Year. Eggers also has local acclaim as he is a founder of 826 National, related to Ann Arbor's 826 Michigan.

Nickolas Butler's new novel Shotgun Lovesongs is a Midwestern must-read

I was eagerly anticipating the publication of Shotgun Lovesongs, the brand new novel by Nickolas Butler. In fact, I was a little nervous that it couldn’t possibly be as good as I hoped it would be. Boy, was I wrong! “This is a novel about home, and home is how the book feels,” writes reviewer Josh Weil. At its core, Shotgun Lovesongs is a book about the American Dream, and all the many ways that people go about seeking it. The book is also a vivid description of and ode to a place, that place being a small town in northern Wisconsin. Any Midwesterner will connect immediately with Butler’s beautiful narrative of changing seasons and the changing moods that go with them, and anyone who has spent time in a small town will understand perfectly the atmosphere of the place that he describes so well in the pages of the novel.

The story focuses on four men who grew up in the town of Little Wing, Wisconsin. All of them left at some point but all four have returned, unable to truly leave the place that they call home. In the voice of one of the characters, Butler writes: “Here, life unfurls with the seasons. Here, time unspools itself slowly, moments divvied out like some truly decadent dessert that we savor—weddings, births, graduations, grand openings, funerals. Mostly, things stay the same…. This is my home. This is the place that first believed in me. That still believes in me.”

Fans of other Midwestern authors like Jim Harrison, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Jonathan Franzen will love Shotgun Lovesongs. You can read more about the book in the New York Times review of it here.

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything

I became a fan of Barbara Ehrenreich after reading her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America. Her latest book, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything is currently at the top of my to-read list, based on a review I just read in the April issue of the monthly journal BookPage. Ehrenreich, a scientist who has described herself as a "fourth-generation atheist," is a leading thinker and fabulous writer. Her book, a blend of memoir and metaphysical reflection, is reviewed under the headline "An atheist reconsiders the human 'situation.'" In the book, Ehrenreich writes about her childhood quest to find answers to universal questions such as "Why are we here?" As a middle-aged woman, she revisits her childhood mission and tells BookPage that yes, she believes that she has risen to the challenge made by her 1958 self, "What have you learned since you wrote this?" You can pick up a free copy of BookPage at any library location. You can place a hold on Living with a Wild God here. There currently are 24 requests on 5 copies.

Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell, a documentary directed by the accomplished Sarah Polley, showcases the idea of storytelling as an art form. Intrigued by the life of her deceased mother, she interviews members of her family and others linked to Diane Polley to uncover the truth. Sarah was born to older parents, and her family often joked that she looked nothing like her father. While researching Diane's past as an actress in Montreal, she finds more than she bargained for... and opens the door to a new reality.

The film takes viewers on an emotional ride that gradually reveals the relationship of each storyteller to Polley, who layers their raw emotion with staged footage and family photos. Each person has their own version of the story that weaves into the others for a nearly complete tapestry. As said in the film, many of the best stories come from within one's own life rather than outside of it.

"Stories We Tell" first debuted at the Venice Film Festival, and has since played at the Toronto Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival. It was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2013. Sarah Polley directed Away from Her and Take This Waltz, and is known for her acting work in Splice, The Secret Life of Words, and My Life Without Me.

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