Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Sunday, January 26 1-3pm DTN

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid program this Sunday will surely be hours of family fun. Although the event description says it's for grades 4-7, everyone is welcome!

Express your inner-cartoonist by writing silly "Zoo-Wee-Mama!" jokes, decorate a sugar cookie to look like Greg Heffley's face, and play a fun game of bean bag Cheese Touch Toss!

There may even be a special surprise for the parents (hint: it involves music)!

We hope to see you there!

Before Bridgegate, Before SNL, Gilda Radner Was an Ann Arbor Star

Before becoming a founding member of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner was making her name as a performer with the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. Radner was a student at the University of Michigan and already showing her gift for broad comedy.

This week Radner, who died in 1989, was back in the news, in the guise of her most famous comic alter ego Roseanne Roseannadanna. On SNL's Weekend Update, Roseanne would respond to the complaints of a Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, N.J. This week the New York Times writer Matt Flegenheimer wondered what Richard Leder would think about the controversy over the closing of the George Washington Bridge that connects Fort Lee with Manhattan. The closings have ensnared New Jersey governor and presidential hopeful Chris Christie in a scandal.

Mr. Feder is a real person, the brother-in-law of an SNL staff writer. He never wrote letters to Roseanne, but mock complaining letters in his name and Roseanne's withering replies became famous. In one skit quoted in the Times Mr. Feder complained about his attempts to stop smoking, "I gained weight, my face broke out. I'm nauseous, I'm constipated, my feet swell, my sinuses are clogged, I got heartburn, I'm cranky and I have gas. What should I do."

"Mr. Feder, you sound like a real attractive guy," Ms. Roseannadanna said. "You belong in New Jersey."

As it happens, Mr. Feder was caught in the massive traffic jam around the bridge. Radner's brilliance at creating wild and yet endearing characters first came to life here in Ann Arbor.

Fun Comedy/Detective Hybrid from Carl Hiaasen

"Bad Monkey," by Carl Hiaasen, is nothing short of morbidly hilarious. An ex-detective named Yancy is determined to win his job back on the Monroe County police force by proving he can solve one of the most gruesome and puzzling murder cases the beach town has ever seen. Yancy suspects foul play and will do anything to see that the truth comes to light.

Hiaasen's private eye style mirrors the darkness of "The Big Sleep" while incorporating ridiculous characters more reflective of "The Big Lebowski," with many characters that offer a slightly offensive vocabulary. Readers will laugh to tears over their uproariously selfish acts, such as when an enormous spec home diminishes natural wildlife and blocks the beautiful Florida sunsets and Yancy subjects the builder to constant pranks to destroy his business prospects. The novel also features an incredibly detailed setting complete with side stories that only augment the main plot line.

In addition to being the author of numerous novels, Hiaasen is also a regular columnist for The Miami Herald and the author of the children's book "Hoot."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #445 - Dead man scheming

You really ought to start with Dead Anyway * * * (2012), the first in the Arthur Cathcart series by Chris Knopf. The BOCD was perfect for a recent family road trip. Don't let that scary-looking cover fool you.

A hit man shows up at the Cathcarts' Stamford, Conn. home and shoot them both in the head after he forces Florencia, owner of an insurance-brokerage firm to sign a piece of paper. His wife is dead but Arthur Cathcart survives, barely. With the help of his physician sister, he is declared dead. A crackerjack market researcher skilled with electronics, Arthur is able to create a series of new identities to stay out of sight while he plots and schemes to track down the "who" and the "why".

"Knopf's tale is suspenseful from the get-go, with an intellectual, yet visceral, vigilantism coursing through the pages,... (he) never misses an angle and manages to weave a bit of humor into a storyline that could have been purely dark. "

"(R)eminiscent of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker novels with a dose of Grosse Pointe Blank", the Arthur Cathcart caper continues with Cries of the Lost * * (2013).

Readers who enjoy their mystery mixed with comedy would want to check out the author's "reflective, quietly loopy" Hamptons-based series featuring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski.

* * * = 3 starred reviews
* * = 2 starred reviews

In A World… on DVD & Blu-ray

In a world... where you can check out DVDs at the library... comes an original film that will make you laugh. In In A World... A struggling vocal coach looks to make it big in the world of male dominated movie trailer voiceovers. She uses her talent and takes on her father, who is the reigning top voiceover performer, and his competitive protégé.

The film is hilarious and Lake Bell’s performance is endearing. Critically acclaimed, it won Best Screenplay at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and is one of the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Independent Films of 2013. I got a huge kick out of listening to the voiceovers from the various characters and I was surprised that I enjoyed the film so much.

For the Child Learning to Write: Little Red Writing

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is a fun, witty picture book about Little Red, a brave little red pencil who sets out to write a story using what she knows about grammar and writing. First, however, she must face the hungry pencil sharpener, the Wolf 3000. Here is a sample of the cleverness of this book: ". . . she found herself writing a sentence that would not end but just kept going and going and running on and on although it had no purpose yet it would not get out of her story or say anything important . . . " School Library Journal named this one of the Best Picture Books of 2013.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #439

A recast of the First Wives Club meets An Ex to Grind, Saginaw debut novelist Robin Devereaux-Nelson's In Violet's Wake * is an unexpected delight.

This Fabri Literary Prize winner is a buddy road trip story. When Violet leaves her sixth husband Marshall VanDahmm high and dry, he is sure her second husband Costa is to blame. A heated brawl turns into an unlikely friendship and one by one, Marshall and Costa seek out Violet's other ex-husbands (minus #1, the sainted Winston), to help themselves understand what they loved about Violet and why she abandoned them all. When they learn Violet plans to track down Jake, her old high school love and “the one who got away,” the men set off on a road trip to find Jake to warn him.

"A charming anti-romance. Devereaux-Nelson's group of guys learns a touching lesson from the girls: Sometimes, all you need is to talk it over with friends."

Readers might also enjoy The Ninth Wife by Amy Stoll - when Bess Gray learned that the man she is about to marry has eight ex-wives, she sets out on a cross-country journey to meet them; and Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You - " a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind--whether we like it or not."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #434

Conceived as an homage to his favorite author P.G. Wodehouse, Sebastian Faulks' Jeeves and the Wedding Bells * * * is the first new novel in nearly forty years to bring a welcomed return of Bertie Wooster and his unflappable valet Jeeves.

For almost 60 years, P.G. Wodehouse documented the lives of the inimitable Jeeves and Wooster, and built himself a devoted following. In the new episode, Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgiana Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to “help” his old friend Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. Almost immediately, things go awry and the simple plan quickly becomes complicated. Thanks to Bertie, the situation could only get more hilarious and convoluted.

"(This) P. G. poseur gets the plot right, but what about the all-important patter, the Bertie-isms and the priceless Bertie-Jeeves dialogue duets? But Faulksie nails it again, evoking rather than imitating, but doing so in perfect pitch." It proves that the Wodehouse estate chose well in authorizing Faulk to pen the first new Jeeves and Wooster novel since 1974.

A good excuse to revisit the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of the original series, and to introduce a whole new generation to some of the finest British television comedies.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #431 - "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind..." ~ William Shakespeare

When the tough reviewers at Kirkus give a debut rom-com a starred review, you take notice. When every other major professional journal follows suit, you just have to dive in. And what a lark! Can't tell you how much I enjoyed Australian Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project * * * * which won the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

A Genetics prof. at a Melbourne university, Don Tillman, socially awkward and emotionally challenged (all signs point to Asperger's, but you did not hear it from me) is looking for the perfect wife. He places his faith in the scientific instrument, a 16-page questionnaire he designs to weed out the unsuitable choices - the smokers, vegetarians, and the tardys. Barmaid Rosie Jarman is all these things but she is also beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. While Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, he is more than willing to risk it all for a wildly impossible project of her own.

"Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, The Rosie Project will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges." One reviewer suggests that it will appeal to fans of the The Big Bang Theory, and fellow Aussie Toni Jordan's Addition (2009), with its math-obsessed, quirky heroine.

In Ramsey Hootman's engaging debut Courting Greta * Samuel, a shy and withdrawn former dot.com exec. is now teaching at Healdsburg High School. Between navigating ancient equipment, lesson plans, student culture and his physical handicap, he falls hard for the school's middle-aged tomboy gym teacher Greta Cassamajor (think Sue Sylvester), and discovers that change can come from unexpected places.

"In this poignant, witty debut, Ramsey Hootman upends traditional romance tropes to weave a charming tale of perseverance, trust, and slightly conditional love." For fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and Matthew Quirk's Silver Linings Playbook.

* * * * = 4 starred reviews
* = starred review

Teen Stuff: Eleanor & Park

A realistic young adult love story, Eleanor & Park is set during one school year in 1986. Riding the bus in high school can be perilous. With the anxiety of “assigned” seats and bullies yelling comments, it’s a terrible way to start the day and the school year. Eleanor & Park meet on the school bus, and eventually their hearts burst open for each other as they pour over comics and mixed tapes. They are a pair of misfits who end up matching perfectly. The book is touching and funny, and reminds us what it is like to be young and in love, and to stop at nothing to try to be together, even with family situations that make loving and living all too hard.

The book is written in the voice of both Eleanor & Park, with alternating chapters, so it’s nice to get a sense of what’s behind both teen’s thoughts. Author Rainbow Rowell’s new book Fangirl is also getting a lot of buzz.

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