Ages 18+.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #570

The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland, an award-winning journalist (The Guardian) set his debut thriller (written under his real name) in the not-so-distant future, in return for forgiving trillions in debt, the People's Republic of China, now the world's dominant global superpower, has established a permanent military presence on US soil. An economically weakened U.S. has also given China direct access to custom duties as part of the arrangement for repayments.

Los Angeles Times reporter Madison Webb will do anything to get to the heart of a story; to expose lies and corruption. When her younger sister is murdered and the Police seems too eager to write it up as an isolated incident, Maddy's investigation determines that the murder is one of a series; might be tied to a conspiracy that threatens some very powerful people; and that the Chinese military makes for a terrifying enemy.

For fans of international intrigue, try also I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes; The Heist by Daniel Silva; The Expats by Chris Pavone; and novels by Jonathan Freedland written under the name of Sam Bourne.

Underrated Music of 2015

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the never-ending cascade of ‘Best of’ lists being released this time of year? Do you need new tunes to tide you over until Adele’s latest makes it way down the hold list? If you answered yes to either question, then check out these albums in our catalog, which you may have missed in 2015!

Hop Along – Painted Shut
Philadelphia based rock quartet Hop Along released their second album, Painted Shut, among a chorus of squealing guitars and thudding drum beats. The band’s focal point, however, is the unforgettable voice of lead singer Frances Quinlan, who both howls and whispers her way through this powerful album. If you like bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Brand New, or even Nirvana, be sure to check these guys out.

Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Check out this soul/gospel record from Fort Worth, TX crooner Leon Bridges and be transported back to the 1960s. Stand-out tracks like "Lisa Sawyer" and "Smooth Sailin'" highlight Bridges' bluesy, retro feel. Coming Home is an absolute must listen for fans of Sam Cooke or Otis Redding (or fans of music in general).

Shamir – Ratchet
I defy you to keep your toes from tapping along to the debut album from baby-faced singer Shamir. By overlaying an infectious mix of disco, dance-hall, and R&B with a voice that CMJ called “unclassifiable”, this wunderkind from Vegas has crafted an eminently danceable hit, that is weird in the best possible way.

Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass
While on its face a break-up album, the tracks on this self-titled CD from singer-songwriter Natalie Prass sound more triumphant than self-defeating. The blazing horns and heart-tugging strings courtesy of backing band Spacebomb augment Prass’ lilting, pleading vocals, and give her devastating lyrics a bit of added grandeur. For fans of Dusty Springfield or the more contemporary Sharon Van Etten, this album will hit all the right notes.

Be sure to keep an eye on the AADL's lists for New CDs and Hot CDs, and happy listening!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #569

The Drifter * by Nicholas Petrie (a Hopwood Awards winner while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan) introduces to Jack Reacher fans a new cult hero.

Lt. Peter Ash, a highly decorated former Marine (Iraq and Afghanistan), suffers debilitating claustrophobia, a form of PTSD that drives him outdoors, living rough for over a year. Only the death of his former sergeant/best friend Jimmy Johnson could force him to return to the dilapidated Milwaukee neighborhood.

While making repairs on the crumbling porch on the Johnson's house, Peter finds more than he bargained for: the largest, ugliest, meanest dog and a Samsonite suitcase stuffed with cash and explosives. As Peter begins to track down the owner of the suitcase, he finds himself at the center of a conspiracy plot that is far larger, more sinister and deadlier than he could have imagined.

"A powerful, empathetic, and entertaining tale about the plight many combat veterans face when they come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Top-notch storytelling."

“A tangled tale of intrigue, action, and adventure with a battle-scarred hero who definitely rises to the challenge. The clever plot is firmly conceived and crisp writing makes this a terrific story." ~ Steve Berry.

* = starred review

Listen to this book!

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl

Length 7 hrs and 4 mins

Author: Carrie Brownstein

Narrator:Carrie Brownstein

Carrie Brownstein, musician (Sleater-Kinney), actress (Portlandia, Transparent) and author, does an excellent job of narrating her new book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. What could be read as flat on the page, in Brownstein’s singular voice becomes anecdotic and reflective. Though her telling, we get a sense of Brownstein’s self-deprecating humor and sharp wit. I found myself laughing at stories of her early performances for family and friends. Her nuanced narrative voice well conveys the angst and misdirection she felt in her early 20s starting out on the music scene in Olympia, Washington and the Pacific Northwest. She provides an unflinchingly honest look at herself both as a child and an adult. Brownstein speaks with candor about her mother’s eating disorder and hospitalization for such and her father’s coming out as a gay man. In later chapters she doesn’t shy away from the not-so-glamorous facets of life on the road as part of her band, Sleater-Kinney. She speaks of the intensity of her relationship with bandmate Corin Tucker, the pain of their break-up, of being publicly outed in a magazine article, and of the difficulty of navigating a break-up while remaining in a band with her ex. Her accomplished writing is filled with anecdotes that run the full gamut of her emotional landscape, yet she stays away from sentimentality.

Her focus on music and her role in it are the meat of most of this book. This means that we get a dissection of many of Sleater-Kinney’s songs and albums, from their creation to performance. For Sleater-Kinney fans, this book is a must. A review in The Guardian says of Brownstein’s book that “...it delivers its goods in what I can only describe as a compellingly depressive register, which sounds like an insult but isn’t. By keeping her affect flat, Brownstein is able to avoid melodrama, a good thing because there are elements of her life story she could have frothed up into soap...Brownstein’s way of telling those stories is from a rather intellectualized, even aestheticized, distance.” I agree, as listening to a recording of this book, as read by Brownstein, furnished me with an entirely different experience than reading it on the page. I highly recommend checking out the audio version of this book.

President Obama and the First Lady share their favorite books of 2015

In a recent interview with People magazine, President Obama and First Lady Michelle shared their favorite books of 2015. The President chose Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, as his favorite book of the year. Spanning twenty-four years, the acclaimed novel is a fascinating portrait of a marriage, told first from the husband’s perspective and, in the second half, from the wife’s perspective. With elements of Greek Tragedy, Fates and Furies throws fitting themes at the reader; betrayal, passion, forgiveness, and vengeance all interweave themselves throughout the story of Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship, from their courtship, into the glamorous early years of their marriage, through their journey into middle age. Groff’s brilliant idea to paint one picture for readers in the first half of the novel, and then upend it in the second half by switching narrators is a deafening reminder that there are two sides to every story. The book is a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award.

First Lady Michelle Obama also chose a portrait of a marriage for her favorite book of the year: Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World, which details the sudden death of her husband and her ensuing feelings, reactions and experiences. Some of her emotions surprise her: she feels an intense gratitude for the years that she and her husband were able to share together and a renewed devotion to her two young sons. She details her quest for meaning, understanding and acceptance of the tragedy that has befallen her in beautiful prose, seamlessly switching from her typical medium of poetry. “This beautifully written book is for anyone who has loved and lost,” reads the jacket. “It’s about being strong when you want to collapse, about being grateful when someone has been stolen from you—it’s discovering the truth in your life’s journey: the good, the bad and the ugly.”

The Obamas also shared their favorite TV shows and songs from 2015. The First Lady’s favorite song of the year was “Uptown Funk.”

Lila: Raw and Beautiful

After repeated suggestions to read Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer prize winning novel, I gave in and picked up the book's prequel, Lila, a 2014 National Book Award Finalist itself, as a starting point. I picked it up and, in a sense, I don’t think I will ever put it down. It did what an excellent book should do: it twisted my heart and in so doing challenged my way of thinking, and my compassion.

"Lila" follows the inward and outward journey of a wandering street girl to whom hardship is just a way of life. She has endured childhood abuse, the shame of a whore house, and the hunger pains and hardness of a life on the run. This background has become more than an experience but an identity. Though Lila's particular tragedies are hers alone, her questions and struggles strike a universal cord and make her achingly relatable. Which of us has not felt alone in a room of friends, or tried to earn the gifts of love and acceptance even when freely given? Which of us do not doubt our place in the world, or try to self-purge shame and fear? When Lila unexpectedly finds herself in the kind, small town of Gilead with the new comforts of a house, family, and community, she now wrestles with receiving this grace of the present. It seems unfitting to the tainted Lila she sees herself to be.

Lila slowly transforms as she works through an unlikely romance with an aging pastor who does not view her colored by her past, and offers her Hosea-like love. Far from stereotypical, rather than sermonizing the reader and wrapping up answers to age-old questions with a bow, this pastor is raw and human with his own pains and his own searchings. Together with us this pair considers troublesome questions that remain unsatisfied with trite answers. Questions such as what do we make of a world of suffering? What would it look like to be made new? How do we love flawed people who can display towards us both good and evil? And how do we live in light of loss? Together they learn to receive grace for themselves, and allow grace to transform their scars into compassion for others.

Marilynne Robinson has given us a book that is raw, humble, honest, and beautiful. Through her I am learning compassion for those I relate to least. Her wisdom challenges me to resist simplifying knotted questions, and in the not knowings to live in light of the gifts of grace.

If you have already enjoyed "Lila" as I have, you may also enjoy these finds:

Someone (2013) by Alice McDermott

The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

Benediction by Kent Haruf

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #568

The Improbability of Love * * * is film director and documentarian Hannah Rothschild's debut novel, spinning "a dazzling tale--both irreverent and entertaining--of a many-layered, devious world where, in the end, love triumphs."

The novel opens on a blistering July day when all of London (and the world) turn out at the auction of THE painting - "the first time that a painting has been marketed with a world tour, a biography, an app, its own website, a motion picture and a documentary film", a painting rescued from a junk shop only 6 months before, after languishing behind a rubber plant for 50 years. 300-years ago, an unheralded Antoine Watteau created an homage to his unrequited love, entitled The Improbability of Love. Along the way, it passed through the hands of emperors, popes, and kings before finding its way to Nazi Germany.

Annie McDee, recovering from a long-term relationship, relocates to London and works as a chef for owners of Winkleman Fine Art. On impulse she buys a lovely little painting as a gift for a new and unsuitable boyfriend, and innocently sets off an art-world and geopolitical cataclysm.

"An opulently detailed, suspensefully plotted, shrewdly witty novel of decadence, crimes ordinary and genocidal... the book is at its best when delving into the lives of the many people affected by the Watteau."

"Rothschild packs the narrative with vivid details, especially about art and food (she is a Trustee of the Tate, and in 2015 became the first woman to chair the National Gallery, London). For readers who particularly enjoy the blend of art, mystery and intrigue, as in Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch; Nicole Kruass' The History of Love ; and B.A. Shapiro's The Art Forger.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

The Best of 2015

It's that time of the year. Avid readers are eager to see how their favorites in the past 12 months stack up against other great reads. Many will depend on them for gift-giving inspirations. Or simply use the lists to jump start on the titles you have been meaning to get around to.

If you are flummoxed by the massive New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2015, you are not alone. I suggest you take a look at some of the more focused Best of the Best lists. Let's start with their 10 Best Books of 2015.

Goodreads Choice Awards is the only major book awards decided by readers. Very democratic and organized in 20 categories: Fiction, Mystery & Thriller, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance... etc. as well as Nonfiction, Memoir & Autobiography, Science & Technology, and Humor.

The site that gives us top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love, just released LibraryReads Favorite of Favorites 2015. Not many surprises there but what a strong list! (and three of them debut novels).

I also like Publishers Weekly's Best Books 2015; BuzzFeed's The 24 Best Fiction Books Of 2015; The Washington Post's The 10 Best Books of 2015 (if you scroll down this last list, you will see a list for the Best Audiobooks as well as Best Graphic Novels).

Happy Reading.

It Ended Badly: a fun winter read

New to the AADL collection is It Ended Badly, a fun book by Jennifer Wright detailing thirteen of the worst breakups in history. The book spans centuries: from medieval Rome to the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor saga of 1950s-60s Hollywood, the breakups in the book are carefully chosen for their drama, their absurdity, and, of course, for the heartbreak they caused. This book is no downer though, despite its technically sad subject matter. Wright describes the characters vividly and throws in amusing anecdotes to keep the overall tone light. “If he was unhappy,” she writes about Timothy Dexter, who told everyone his wife was a ghost while she was still alive, “it seems it would have been easier to divorce than to pretend your wife does not exist, especially when she was still living in your home and throwing things at you.”

The introduction suggests that this book is intended for those who have just undergone a rough breakup (“If you are lying in bed right now, a pint of ice cream in one hand, a bottle of Scotch in the other, and this book clenched between your teeth, with tears streaming down your face over how much you loved, loved, loved your ex, let me commend you on how well you are coping. You could be doing so much worse.”), but I think it’s a fascinating read for anyone. Readers will learn a great deal about the individuals that Wright focuses on in the book, and about the time periods that they lived in, AND feel entirely equipped to answer trivia questions with obscure historical romance themes/have something at least moderately interesting to talk about with anyone at upcoming holiday parties. It Ended Badly is a great book to burrow under a blanket with on a chilly December evening, accompanied by a warm winter beverage.

There's nothing more Exquisite than a good graphic novel.

French graphic novels translated into English are beginnning to become more popular with titles such as Blacksad taking the comic world by storm. It's not surprising then that Exquisite Corpse has found its way across the Atlantic.

The story follows Zoe, a promotional model for motor shows and other such industry events, as she expresses disinterest in her life and the direction that it's going. One day, on her lunch break, she notices a man looking out at the world from his apartment, and needing to use the bathroom, she barges into his life. The man turns out to be a famous author Thomas Rochard who supposedly died several years earlier. Zoe must navigate living with a "dead" man, as well as his former wife and current editor Agathe.

The artwork is exquisite, if you'll excuse my use of the word to describe this book, and lush with meaning. Whilst reading it you can almost forget that this was originally French, the translation is that good, and you might find yourself shocked when a city scene that is so obviously French appears.

This book is a fascinating read, from the subject matter to the almost meta nature of a book about an author, and it's well worth adding to your "to read" list.

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