Check Out "The Lady in the Van" by the Delightful Alan Bennett

Maggie Smith's latest starring role is decidedly opposite the imperious Dowager Countess she portrays on Downton Abbey. In The Lady in the Van, Smith stars as Mary Shepherd, an elderly and eccentric woman who lives in her van, which she kept parked in playwright Alan Bennett's driveway for 15 years. Bennett, an author and playwright, developed something of a friendship with her, discovering that, like all of us, she had a past and a family, and wasn't entirely what she seemed. Smith was interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition this week about her role in the film, and her take on Bennett's relationship with Shepherd.

Bennett, whose play The History Boys was also made into a movie, wrote the story of his interactions with his driveway occupant, Miss Shepherd, which is collected in The Lady in the Van : and other stories. He also adapted the story into a West End play and a BBC 4 radio performance. Both, like the movie, starred Maggie Smith in the title role, because once you've cast the perfect person, why try again?

For anyone new to the wonderful wit of Alan Bennett, my favorite book of his is The Uncommon Reader, in which Queen Elizabeth II enters a bookmobile parked outside of Buckingham Palace out of curiosity, borrows a book to allay the awkwardness of the exchange, and becomes a voracious reader, changing her conception of her people and her role, and the future of the monarchy forever. It's a delight.

The Reading List 2016

At the ALA Midwinter in Boston, a committee of 8 librarians announced this past year's best of the best in genre fiction - the Reading List. The winner in each of the 8 categories are:

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Three sisters are driven apart in the aftermath of one’s disappearance. When a violent crime occurs new fears arise and relationships shift again. Long term effects of family grief are exploited by the compulsions of a psychopath. Brutal and disturbing, this is ultimately a story of love and empowerment.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
In this enchanted old-world fable, villagers threatened by a blighted magical wood allow the resident wizard to take one daughter into servitude for ten years. When he chooses klutzy Agnieszka, she faces an unexpected future and confronts the dangers of a wider political world and the roots of magical corruption.

Historical Fiction
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Raised by his eccentric ex-suffragette godmother to be a free-thinker, young Noel is thrown into chaos when the London Blitz forces him into the home of a scam artist loyal only to her layabout son. Thrust together, the two oddballs are forced to find a way through the wartime landscape.

The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Flamboyant antiques dealer Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang made his fortune by accidentally killing a vampire with a horde of treasure. To protect the only person he loves, his niece, he’s forced to return to old Europe to assemble an eccentric team of vampire hunters in this gory, witty caper.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
Cold cases cast a twenty-five year shadow of grief and guilt on the lives of two survivors of traumatic teenage crimes. New leads and new cases bring them back to Oklahoma City as past and present intersect in this poignant and compelling story of lives forever changed by random violence.

Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl
Sassy relationship advice columnist Veronica overcomes her commitment anxiety and gains confidence with the help of mountain-climbing librarian Gabe. Steamy romance evolves into a strong relationship as they scale a mountain of family conflicts and share secrets against a majestic Jackson Hole backdrop.

Science Fiction
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Insurgent Darrow inveigled his way into high Gold society in 2014’s Red Rising. In this dramatic, high octane follow-up, conflicting loyalties and his own ambitions lure Darrow into an untenable web of deceptions. Bolstered by new alliances, Darrow battles to overthrow corrupt lunar leadership and bring freedom to Mars.

Women’s Fiction
Re Jane by Patricia Park
Anxious to escape the strict upbringing of her uncle’s Flushing grocery, Korean-American Jane accepts an au pair position in the pretentious household of two Brooklyn academics and their adopted Chinese daughter. Park has created a bright comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living on one’s own terms.

Check out the complete list for a shortlist of honor titles in each category.

Time for Some Hack and Slash! It's Chanbara Manga!

The first question you may ask after reading the title of this post is "What is Chanbara?" Simply put, chanbara refers to samurai films in Japan and must include three things: samurai, sword fighting, and a historical setting. Samurai are differentiated from other warriors by their code of honor, and they must be skilled fighters to qualify. The historical setting is typically the Sengoku Era (1478-1603), the Tokugawa Era (1603-1868), or the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Obviously this post is about manga, not films, but the categorization of chanbara applies to lots of things outside the cinema!

So if you're wanting some action, drama, and samurai, check out these series!

Rurouni Kenshin: Set in the Meiji Period, Kenshin Himura was the famed battosai assassin and helped bring about the fall of the Japanese government. Now, in a time when samurai are no longer needed, Kenshin seeks a path of redemption and peace after all the lives he took. But that isn't easy when every powerful warrior in Japan is set on fighting and killing him.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Set in the Tokugawa Era, Ogami Ittō held the role of executioner for the shogun. Disgraced after false accusations and forced to flee, he takes on the role of assassin and seeks revenge, all while caring for his 3 year old son.

Lady Snowblood: Lady Snowblood Oyuki (a Japanese play on the name of Snow White) becomes an assassin, using her feminine looks to lure in her targets. Set to the task by her imprisoned mother, Oyuki seeks vengeance on the men that killed her family and imprisoned her mother.

If you're not in the mood for reading manga though, here are some anime titles that the library has that are classified as chanbara!

Sword of the Stranger: A young boy and his dog are fleeing from a mercenary group on mainland China and come across a ronin (former samurai) who has a mysterious past and refuses to draw his sword.
Samurai Seven (the anime series based on the famous film The Seven Samurai): A group of seven samurai are brought together to help defend a poor village from bandits, but this leads them on a journey to overthrow the corrupt and power-hungry Emperor who has risen to power.
Sengoku Basara: Super over-the-top fighting action and totally worth the watch. Based on a series of video games by the same name.
Afro Samurai: Afro is a master samurai, seeking to obtain the legendary Number 1 headband from the man who killed his father, thereby giving him revenge and the power of a god that comes with the headband.
Shigurui: Competing in a tournament hosted by the daimyo, this story follows two unique individuals-The one-armed swordsman Gennosuke and the blind warrior Seigen.

Wayne State University Press E-books Are Here!

WSU PressWSU Press

We are extremely pleased to offer e-books from Wayne State University Press.

Library patrons can download these e-books (they are in PDF format) after logging in to our website. Enjoy titles such as Coney Detroit and, find out how Detroit became the coney hotdog capital of the world! Interested in Detroit music history, check out MC5: Sonically Speaking, A Revolution of Rock'n'Roll or Techno Rebels : The Renegades of Electronic Funk Or how about some Michigan history, specifically young women, try Great Girls in Michigan History or the automotive variety, Reuther Brothers : Walter, Roy, and Victor. Or how about a study on a tv show, like Doctor Who, Deadwood, or the Sopranos, to name a few.

There are more titles to choose from so check out the list here and start downloading today!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #575

The Blue Line, the first novel by Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian French politician/activist who made headline news when she was kidnapped by the FARC, a brutal terrorist guerrilla organization and rescued six years later. Her memoir Even Silence Has An End : my six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle (2010) was well-received.

Set against the backdrop of Argentina's Dirty War in 1970s and '80s, and infused with magical realism, Betancourt draws on history and personal experience in this story of love, loyalty, and sacrifice.

Julia was 5 years old when she first experienced the "gift", inherited from her grandmother. She was able to see future disasters unfold through the eyes of others and therefore, to intervene. At fifteen, Julia falls in love with Theo, a handsome revolutionary but they were drawn into the political chaos with the return of Juan Peron to Argentina. As Montoneros sympathizers and radical idealists, they were arrested and imprisoned and, brutally tortured. While many of their family members (and innocent citizens) were killed or simply disappeared, they somehow managed to escape but were separated.

The narrative opens some 30 years later, in Connecticut where Julia is working as a translator. The story of how Julia and Theo were reunited gradually comes together.

Read-alikes: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende; and the 2014 International Impac Dublin Literary Award winner The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez where a young man in Bogota reflects on the many ways in which his own life and that of others in his circle, have been shaped by his country's recent violent past.

Coretta Scott King 2016 Awards Announced!

The news is out! At its Midwinter Conference, the American Library Association named several recipients of the Coretta Scott King Awards! These awards are given annually to African American authors, illustrators, and community workers who "demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values" in honor of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. Read on to find out who won this year!

Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author Award this year for her newest title, Gone Crazy in Alabama. This award-winning novel continues the series that started with One Crazy Summer, featuring the Gaither sisters. When they visit family in rural Alabama for the summer and are met with catastrophe, the Gaithers have to forget their family feuds and work together.

Bryan Collier won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Trombone Shorty, an inspiring autobiography of jazz musician Troy Andrews. School Library Journal adds that, "Collier's beautiful watercolor, pen-and-ink, and collage artwork picks up the rhythm and pace of Andrew's storytelling, creating an accompaniment full of motion and color. Each spread offers a visual panoply of texture, perspective, and angles, highlighting the people and the instruments."

Ronald L. Smith received the John Steptoe New Talent Author Award for his first novel, Hoodoo. This is the suspense-filled, supernatural story of Hoodoo, a boy named for his family's practice of folk magic. Although he can't perform one spell, a creepy man is asking around town for him. The mysterious man seems to have a connection with Hoodoo's deceased father and will only leave him alone if lent a hand.

Ekua Holmes was awarded the John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. The vibrant and varied illustrations highlight the work and perseverance of Fannie Lou Hamer, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement. Booklist supports that "...the illustrations are filled with light, texture, movement, and darkness. They are both abstract and realistic, brilliantly juxtaposing gentle floral motifs with protest placards and Fannie Lou Hamer's face in bold relief."

Last, but certainly not least, Jerry Pinkney received the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement! Pinkney is well-known for his Caldecott Award-winning title, The Lion & the Mouse. According to ALA's press release, "Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations detail a world that resonates with readers long after the pages of a book have been turned. His five decades of work offer compelling artistic insights into the legacy of African American storytelling and experience."

For even more winning titles, authors, and illustrators, check out AADL's list of all Award Winners!

Printz Award Winners Announced!

Yesterday many awards were given for excellence in books, video and audio books for children and young adults at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. One the biggies given annualy is the Michael L. Printz Award, which is given for excellence in literature written for young adults. This year there was one Printz Award Winner and two Printz Honors named, so if you’re looking for some new teen fiction, here are a few worth a glance.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – Eighteen year old Finn, an outsider in his quiet Midwestern town, is the only witness to the abduction of town favorite Roza, but his inability to distinguish between faces makes it difficult for him to help with the investigation, and subjects him to even more ridicule and bullying.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez – Loosely based on a school explosion that took place in New London, Texas in 1937, this is the story of two teenagers: Naomi, who is Mexican, and Wash, who is black, and their dealings with race, segregation, love, and the forces that destroy people.

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick – Four linked stories of discovery and survival begin with a Paleolithic-era girl who makes the first written signs, continue with Anna, who people call a witch, then a mad twentieth-century poet who watches the ocean knowing the horrors it hides, and concluding with an astronaut on the first spaceship from Earth sent to colonize another world.

Looking for more Printz winners? Here’s a list of the winners and the honors that have been awarded since 2000.

Bowie Lives On

What can one say about such an influential icon as David Bowie that has not been said already? He was never one to be pigeon holed into one look or one style of music. From the '60s hippie days of Space Oddity with the hit “Major Tom” to the glam rock 70s of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was forever changing and adding new personas. Following Ziggy were such blockbusters as Aladdin Sane (“Panic In Detroit” was on this one), Diamond Dogs with its soul/funk beats and the break out hit, “Rebel, Rebel”, then Young Americans with the popular song, “Fame”, co-written with John Lennon which became his first number one hit in the U.S.

In the late '70s he changed his persona again into the elegant Thin White Duke with the album Station to Station and another memorable tune, “Golden Years”. Ahead of his time in so many ways, he experimented with electronic, ambient, and world music alongside Brian Eno to create the experimental Berlin Trilogy of albums: Low, Heroes, and Lodger. Artists, like Philip Glass would be highly influenced by his work during this time.

With the '80s came the album Scary Monsters which some consider to be his last great album with hits such as “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion”. But then came the hit album, Let’s Dance, with Chic guitarist, Nile Rodgers, producing and the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn on lead guitar. On this one album Bowie had several memorable songs including “China Girl” and “Modern Love”, and once again he led the way but this time in music videos especially for the title track. Next was Tonight with the hit, “Blue Jean” which garnered him a Grammy for best music video. Lesser albums like Never Let Me Down rounded out his '80s releases. He then had a short-lived rock quartet called Tin Machine at the start of the '90s. After they disbanded, he returned to solo work starting with Black Tie, White Noise but none of them quite lived up to the commercial success of previous albums. However his last album, Blackstar was just released, and has earned rave reviews. See music videos for the album here. If you are looking for a best of album check out Best of Bowie which includes the single “Under Pressure”.

Bowie was also a noted actor on stage as the Elephant Man and in some unique movie roles such as a vampire in the Hunger, an alien in the Man Who Fell To Earth, a prisoner of war in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, king of the goblins in Jim Henson’s the Labyrinth, and portraying Andy Warhol in Basquiat. He produced albums as well like those for his good friend Iggy Pop (the Idiot), and was a well-respected post-modernist painter. This of course was a brief overview of his most notable works and to read more thoroughly about him there are plenty of websites and books to fill the gaps.

If you want to remember him on twitter type #bowieliveson or post a comment below. For me, the song "Blue Jean" still gets me dancing. You can watch the video to it here. He definitely has the cheekbones to pull off that makeup!
RIP Bowie

Alex Award Winners

The American Library Association announced award winners for the best in books, video and audio books for children and young adults at the annual Youth Media Awards. Among the long list of awards is the Alex Award which is given to the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. As an avid reader of young adult fiction, I love the crossover of teens reading adult fiction. This years picks were mix of fiction, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and graphic novels. Here’s a quick list in the catalog of this year's winners, as well as a long list of all Alex winners since 2002.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – The author writes to his 15-year-old son about the inborn hazards of being black in America and his own intellectual, political and emotional confrontation with the need to live fully, even in the face of racialist culture.

Futuristic violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong – Zoey never had much ambition beyond being a barista, but when her father leaves her in control of the lawless city of Tabla Ra$a, she goes from steaming milk to slaying supervillains.

Girl at War by Sara Nović – Ana's early life was ravaged by the 1991 Balkan wars. Now a college student, Ana relives her war and its consequences as she unravels the mystery of herself and the meaning of home.

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie – A bloodthirsty girl and a reluctant warrior are recruited by a cunning minister for a mission that will either save or doom their kingdom.

All Involved by Ryan Gattis – Historical fiction set in 1992 during the LA riots that vividly recreates this turbulent and terrifying time through the stories of six interconnected lives caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Bones & All By Camille DeAngelis – 16 year old Maren literally eats the ones who love her, bones and all. When her mother abandons her, Maren sets out to find the father she has never met, hoping he can help her understand why she is a monster.

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen – A high school basketball star lives under the thumb of her grandmother, a fierce believer in Y2K as the apocalypse. The year 1999 alters Mercy’s life in a small Texas refinery town and gives her a future beyond it.

Humans of New York, Stories by Brandon Stanton – In pictures and interviews that captivate, puzzle and reveal, photojournalist collects an immeasurable range of human emotions and perspectives.

Undocumented: A Dominican Boy's Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League by Dan-el Padilla Peralta – Overstaying his visa in the U.S. before he was in kindergarten, Padilla Peralta joined other young DREAM Act scholars to erase his illegal status. His humor, wisdom, success and very American boyhood smash anti-immigration stereotypes.

Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia – Adults have disappeared, and Ben Schiller is trying to keep things together until their return in this unsettling graphic novel.

Caldecott and Newbery Youth Book Awards Announced!

Every year librarians, book lovers, publishers and book sellers look forward to the youth and teen book awards announced at the annual American Library Association conference. This year the awards were announced from Boston in a room filled with hundreds of insanely excited librarians - who gasp, groan and scream throughout the entire ceremony. The two oldest awards, and the most widely known are the Newbery and Caldecott awards.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. Awarded annually since 1938 by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The 2016 Caldecott winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, written by Lindsay Mattick. Finding Winnie is an incredible account of the friendship and love shared between a soldier and the real bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. Blackall beautifully interprets this multi-dimensional family story through her distinctive Chinese ink and watercolor art, capturing intimate and historical details perfect for a child’s eye.

Four books were chosen as Caldecott Honor titles:

Waiting, illustrated and written by Kevin Henkes. Waiting delivers an intimate story of five figurines, each anticipating the wonder of everyday moments. Using rich brown lines and a soft pastel palette, Henkes invites young readers to slow down and explore a range of emotions in a world on a windowsill.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. In this biography in verse, Ekua Holmes’ illustrations provide children with an intensely visual encounter with Civil Rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer. The repetition of colors and motifs within the richly layered collage create complex images that capture Hamer’s power and bravery.

Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson and written by Matt de la Peña. Readers are transported, along with a young boy and his grandmother, on a journey through the city. Robinson’s illustrations, a colorful mix of acrylic paint and collage, feel both vintage and fresh. The diversity, vibrancy, and beauty of the urban setting are celebrated as CJ and Nana share meaningful moments together.

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

The 2016 Newbery Medal Winner is Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. CJ’s journey with his Nana is not just a simple bus ride; it is a multi-sensory experience through which he discovers that beautiful music, nature and people surround him. CJ’s questions are familiar, and Nana answers him with gentle wisdom. Right up until their arrival at the last stop on Market Street, Nana guides CJ to become “a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

Three books were chosen as Newbery Honor titles:

The War that Saved my Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Bradley’s powerful plot, remarkably drawn characters and sparse language are outstanding components of this novel about courage, community and conviction.

Roller Girl, written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson. Astrid falls in love with roller derby and learns how to be tougher, stronger and fearless. Jamieson perfectly captures the highs and lows of growing up in this dynamic graphic novel.

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This original fairytale intertwines with historical fiction to explore music and its power to save, heal and set free.

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