Living Life with the Gift of Do-Overs

What if there were second chances? Or third chances? How many tries would it take for you to get your life right? Kate Atkinson, author of Case Histories, weaves a tale of life and death in Life After Life that pulls the reader into the story of a woman who possesses an extraordinary gift: multiple chances at a single life.

It’s a snowy night in England in 1910. Ursula Todd is born. Ursula Todd dies before drawing her first breath. On the same snowy night in 1910 England, Ursula Todd is born again, and this time lives to tell the tale. Her life will follow this cycle of reincarnation throughout her childhood, adolescence and adulthood, taking her through countless catastrophic deaths, wars, family tragedies, and world-altering events. Each one of her deaths brings about a new lease on life, and a chance for Ursula to avoid the paths that lead to her untimely demises.

Atkinson weaves a lovely tale of life, death, rebirth and strength. It's a tale that takes readers on a journey with Ursula, a woman who experiences the turbulent times of the 20th century with wit, charm and compassion.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #388

In Aria Beth Sloss's Autobiography of Us, the ending is never in doubt, being spelled out right in the first sentence. And it draws you in, hook, line, and sinker - into a story of friendship, loss and love, between two women.

In the patrician neighborhood of Pasadena, California during the 1960s, Rebecca Madden and her beautiful, reckless friend Alex dream of lives beyond their mothers' narrow expectations. Since that day when Alex Carrington first walked into the classroom and picked quiet Rebecca as her friend, they have been everything to each other - that is until one sweltering evening the summer before their last year of college, when a single act of betrayal changed everything. Decades later, Rebecca's haunting meditation on the past reveals the truth about that night, the years that followed, and the friendship that shaped her.

"Autobiography of Us is an achingly beautiful portrait of a decades-long bond. A rare and powerful glimpse into the lives of two women caught between repression and revolution, it casts new light on the sacrifices, struggles, victories and defeats of a generation".

Aria Beth Sloss is a graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Iowa Arts Foundation. This is her debut novel.

Readers might also enjoy the forthcoming by Meg Wolitzer - The Interestings (2013), "a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #386

Just about this time each year, with the first hint of spring, I've found myself humming April in Paris, and thoughts tend to drift to the City of Light. Now debut novelist Hilary Reyl will take us there, through the painterly eyes of a young American artist, in Lessons in French.

1989, a time of social and political upheaval. Her fluent French got new Yale grad Kate hired by famous American photojournalist Lydia Schell as her assistant. Kate is thrilled with the chance to pursue her dreams as a painter, but also to return to France where, as a child she was sent to live with cousins while her father was dying.

Immediately she is dazzled by the Schell's fashionable Sixth Arrondissement home, frequented by their famous friends, and falls into the orbit of a band of independently wealthy young men with royal lineage. Impressionable and wanting badly to fit in, Kate deliberately engages in a forbidden romance, becoming deeply enmeshed in the drama of this volatile household, and the ever-more questionable requests they make of her. In the meantime, Kate struggles with her own art.

"In compelling and sympathetic prose, Hilary Reyl perfectly captures this portrait of a precocious, ambitious young woman struggling to define herself in a vibrant world that spirals out of her control. Lessons in French is at once a love letter to Paris and the story of a young woman finding herself, her moral compass, and, finally, her true family".

French literature scholar (Ph.D. NYU) Reyl's first novel is rich and magnetic. Will appeal to readers who enjoy novels of Americans in Paris and other coming-of-age stories.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #385

Professional cellist Edward Kelsey Moore, whose short story "Grandma and the Elusive Fifth Crucifix" was selected as an audience favorite on NPR's Stories on Stage series just published his first novel. He lives in Chicago (website).

I sincerely hope you are not expecting The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat * being Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross, - the sensation from Detroit's Brewster-Douglass public housing project that helped put Motown Records on the map in the 1960s. But seriously, you won't be too disappointed once you've met Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean.

Dubbed "The Supremes" since their high school days, these Plainsview (IN) mavens have weathered life's storms together arm-in-arm. Dutiful, proud, and talented Clarice must struggle to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband's infidelities. Beautiful, fragile Barbara Jean must try to live with a youthful mistake that continues to haunt her. Fearless Odette engages in the most terrifying battle of her life while entertaining visitations from her (dead) pot-smoking mother and an inebriated Eleanor Roosevelt. For four decades, what sustain these strong, funny women through marriages, children, happiness, and disappointments, is their Sunday table at Earl's Diner, the first black-own business in this racially divided town, where they can count on good food, gossip, occasional tears, uproarious banter and each other.

"With wit and love, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together four intertwined love stories, three devoted allies, and two sprightly earthbound spirits in a big-hearted debut novel that embraces the lives of people you will never forget."

Poised to give Waiting to Exhale, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Steel Magnolias a run for their money. Readers might also enjoy works by Pearl Cleage, and April Sinclair, or other novels on women's friendship.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #380

In Dana Bate's The Girls' Guide to Love and Supper Clubs *, 26 yr.-old Hannah Sugarman (Cornell, Economics) could hardly keep up as a research assistant in a DC think tank while secretly dreaming of opening up an underground supper club, a recent phenomenon in the foodie world.

When yet another ill-fated dinner with the patrician Prescotts (her live-in boyfriend Adam's parents) goes hopelessly sour, she is unceremoniously dumped and evicted. With mounting pressure from her academically distinguished parents to jump start her lackluster career, and eager to move on, she seizes the chance to do what she loves, and lands at the doorstep of Blake Fischer, a bachelor landlord with a basement apartment for rent.

"Journalist and debut novelist Bate deftly conjures up a witty, resilient heroine, surrounds her with delightful friends and frenemies, and sends them all on a rollicking quest for love and delicious food".

Cheeky, smart, and up-beat (with an implausibly happy ending), it is like sunshine and birdsong on a frigid February day - sure to bring a spring in your step and smile to your face.

Readalikes: Cupid and Diana (finding Mr. Right in DC); The Lost Art of Mixing - a sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (where 8 lives mingle and intertwine at a cooking school); and Brian O'Reilly's Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food (young Philadelphia widow feeds the neighborhood loners and builds a village); Girl Cook by Hannah McCouch (delicious modern Cinderella story of love, sex, chefs, and the city).

* = Starred review

Happy Birthday, Mr. Darcy!

It was 200 years ago this month that Jane Austen published her second, and perhaps most beloved, novel: "Pride & Prejudice." The official publication date was January 28, 1813.

Austen wrote it between October 1796 and August 1797, but publishers at first declined to look at it. After she went back and revised her manuscript, originally titled "First Impressions," nearly fifteen years later between 1811 and 1812, it was finally accepted for publication. Although she never married, Jane Austen loved her books like they were her family and was so excited when "Pride & Prejudice" arrived, she wrote to her sister Cassandra, "I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London."

The first edition sold out quickly and has been popular the world over ever since. It has been translated into dozens of languages and adapted for both television and the big screen. It's been given modern twists in Hollywood movies and Bollywood, too. It even has its own popular web series and been adapted into graphic novels and zombie apocalypse stories.

And of course, there are the books. From the original to all the adaptations and continuations, it's clear something about that story of misunderstandings and seemingly impossible happy endings still has a grip on us. It's easy to wonder what Miss Austen would have thought of the stages her "child" has gone through and how the world still holds such love for its characters even now, 200 years later.

Looking for more ways to celebrate Jane Austen? The library has a large collection of her other books or other movie adaptations of her work!

The Reading List 2013 (ALA RUSA)

Established in 2007 by the CODES section of Reference and User Services Association (RUSA, a division of the American Library Association), The Reading List seeks to highlight outstanding genre fiction that merit special attention by general adult readers and the librarians who work with them.

The 2013 List in 8 categories. What sets this list apart from all the other awards is the short listed honor titles, and the thoughtful readalikes.

Adrenaline
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
It’s her fifth wedding anniversary: where’s Amy? Assumptions are dangerous in this chilling psychological thriller. The dark and twisty plot, unbearable levels of tension, and merciless pacing will rivet readers.

Fantasy
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
When Myfanwy wakes up with no memory, surrounded by corpses, she must immediately impersonate herself in order to unravel the conspiracy at the heart of a secret supernatural intelligence agency. This offbeat debut combines the fast pacing and suspense of a thriller with the gritty, detailed world-building of urban fantasy.

Historical Fiction
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Ambitious royal advisor Thomas Cromwell is at the pinnacle of his power and uses it to subtly engineer the downfall of his enemies, including the Queen, Anne Boleyn, and her inner circle. This intricately plotted character study presents a fresh perspective on the ever popular Tudor Court.

Horror
The Ritual by Adam Nevill
In the remote forests of Sweden, the friendship between four men disintegrates when they wander off the hiking trail and find themselves stalked by an unseen and increasingly violent menace. “Blair Witch” meets black metal in this dark and suspenseful horror novel.

Mystery
The Gods of Gotham
by Lyndsay Faye
The discovery of a mass grave of child prostitutes spurs “copper star” Timothy Wilde to hunt a killer through the seamy underbelly of 1840s New York City. Colorful period slang enlivens this carefully researched story about the dawn of modern policing.

Romance
Firelight by Kristen Callihan
Bartered as a bride to the masked nobleman Benjamin Archer, Miranda Ellis – a woman with a supernatural secret – becomes his only defender when he is accused of a series of murders. This is a dark and smoldering Victorian paranormal where love redeems two complex and damaged characters.

Science Fiction
Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey
One wants control; one wants vindication; one wants his daughter back; and one wants revenge (and maybe a new suit). The shifting points of view of these four distinctive characters, an electrifying pace, and the threat of an evolving alien protomolecule propel readers through this grand space adventure.

Women’s Fiction
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway
Galilee Garner’s carefully managed routine of teaching, rose breeding, and kidney dialysis is disrupted when her teenage niece moves in. Readers will root for the growth of this prickly character as she discovers the importance of cultivating human connections.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #379

If you loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers then you are likely to be pleased with Y: a novel by Marjorie Celona..

Here is the fabulous opener... "Y. That perfect letter. The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass. The question we ask over and over. Why? . . . My life begins at the Y." As a new-born, Shannon was abandoned on the doorstep of the Vancouver Island YMCA, wrapped in a dirty gray sweatshirt, with a Swiss Army knife tucked between her feet. Abuse and neglect were routine in a series of foster homes that followed until Miranda, a no-nonsense single mother with a free-spirited daughter of her own, where Shannon found a sense of stability. However, the stubborn question of why her mother would abandon her was never far from her mind.

Interwoven with Shannon's story is that of her mother, Yula's. As past and present converge,Y tells an unforgettable story of identity, inheritance, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

"...(this) ravishingly beautiful novel offers a deeply affecting look at the choices we make and what it means to be a family". Enlivened by Shannon's self-deprecating humor, readers will embrace this " moving coming-of-age story full of fresh starts.. and of hope."

Debut novelist Majorie Celona (website) is a graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Colgate University, and was recently writer-in-residence at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, she now lives in Cincinnati.

Readalikes: Kaye Gibbon's Ellen Foster; White Oleander by Janet Fitch; and Night Road by Kristin Hannah.

Vote for your favorite Michigan author

Nominate your favorite Michigan Author so the Michigan Library Association can reward them! Any author who lives in Michigan or writes about Michigan can win, regardless of the genre they write, as long as they have published at least 3 titles. See the list of authors who have won over the years and access the nomination form here. This year's winner was Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River and several other Michigan based books.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #357

Brooklyn bookseller and author of a short-story collection (Other People We Married, 2011) Emma Straub gives us an enchanting story of a Midwestern girl who escapes a family tragedy and is remade as a movie star during Hollywood's golden age in Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures * *, her debut novel.

At 17, Elsa Emerson, born to an amateur theatrical family in Door County, Wisconsin hops gamely on the bus that carries her and her young actor husband to Hollywood after a family tragedy. Two quick successive babies and a dissolving marriage later, she is discovered by one of the most powerful studio executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Along with all the glamor and extravagance of stardom, Laura finds herself trying to balance career, family, friendship, personal happiness, while remaining true to herself.

"Straub offers a charming tale spanning 50 years. Her strength is an ability to foster originality by turning her back on the stereotyped assumptions of the lives of movie stars whose backstories feed the magic."

"Written in a removed prose, Straub brings Elsa to life with the detached analysis of an actor examining a character, exemplifying Elsa's own remote relationship to her identity. Through marriages, births, deaths, and career upheavals, Elsa and Laura coexist, sometimes uneasily—until Elsa learns to reconcile her two selves. An engaging epic of a life that captures the bittersweetness of growing up, leaving home, and finding it again."

For novels about the entertainment industry and lives and loves of the glitterati, you might enjoy Third Girl From the Left by Martha Southgate (2005); Tilly Bagshawe's Adored (2005); Glen David Gold's Sunnyside (2009) about Charlie Chaplin; and The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (2012).

* *= Starred reviews

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