Tumbledown by Robert Boswell

"Tumbledown," the most recent work by Robert Boswell, showcases not only the author's technical writing skill, but also his powerful storytelling. The novel begins with the story of James Candler, a counselor to people with mental disabilities. He embodies the American dream: he's a strong candidate for a promotion, he owns a large house and expensive car, and is engaged to a stunning woman. However, as Candler narrates his life story, it becomes clear that his ideal of happiness may not be so superficial.

Other powerful characters, whose development throughout the novel will have readers on the edge of their seats, include a cynical teenager, a man who struggles with personal identity, a woman hiding a dark past, and a lovable goon who can't seem to make progress in life. Hence, the title refers to more than just Candler; it reflects the lives of the entire cast of characters as well as the plot's disjointed sequence of events.

"Tumbledown" is a rare find; the text is worth re-reading for its rich literary quality. Boswell has published seven novels as well as numerous short stories, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.

Call the Midwife Season 1 & 2

The winds are blowing colder, so as you're tucking in for winter and looking for new entertainment, take a look at the spectacular and riveting BBC/PBS production, Call the Widwife. The series, set in east London in the 1950s, is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth. Catch up with Seasons 1 & 2 this winter and you will be prepared for Season 3 when it airs on PBS in spring 2014.

The story follows new midwife Jenny Lee and the work of the midwives and the Sisters of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent that is part of an Anglican religious order. The women deal with the medical problems in the impoverished Poplar district of East London. Each episode includes the fascinating, sad, tragic, shocking, gritty and heartwarming stories of the pregnancies, births and challenges of the new mothers and their caretakers. As the series progresses, the friendships and relationships that develop between the midwives and the nuns pulls the viewer in as much as the complex stories of their patients. From Jenny’s culture shock upon arrival to London’s East End to shy, insecure Chummy and the glamorous Trixie, the midwives develop a closeness with the complex Sisters of Nonnatus House.

Mysterious and Magical Tale from Neil Gaiman

The highly-accomplished writer Neil Gaiman has again thrilled audiences with his newest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Originally intended as a short story, the work quickly became a full-fledged novel fueled by Gaiman's creation of the Hempstock family. The story begins with a seven-year-old boy who, through grim circumstances, befriends a slightly older girl from down the street. Lettie Hempstock brings the boy hope in a time when everything seems to be changing for the worse. With Lettie, he even has an escape from his new, creepily omniscient, babysitter--or so the youngster thinks.

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is a winding tale of magic, mystery, fear, and friendship, where psychological monsters lurk around every corner. The magic in the story is otherworldly but not far-fetched; it embraces the idea that children have a sense of perception that is lacking in adults. Abrupt entrances of spectral beings and conscious shadows seem completely natural in the world that Gaiman has created.

Neil Gaiman has written several award-winning books, including the Sandman series, Coraline, American Gods, and The Graveyard Book.

The Boy Who Could Fly

In 1986, the film The Boy Who Could Fly came out to decent reviews, although it didn’t make much of a splash. But over the years, it has become one of those movies that people remember and want to see again.

Milly and her family move next door to Eric after the recent, tragic suicide of her father. She quickly notices something unusual next door, from something flying by her window to Eric spending lots of time on the roof. Milly becomes intrigued and eventually befriends Eric, who is autistic and lives with his alcoholic uncle. Eric’s parents died in a plane crash, and Eric as been obsessed with flying since the tragedy.

The actors who play Milly and Eric give nuanced and effecting performances. Fred Savage is delightful as a kid whose strategy for coping with his father's death is both grim and comically engaging. The adults in The Boy Who Could Fly add breadth and depth to the story: Bonnie Bedelia as the frazzled mother; Colleen Dewhurst as the understanding Mrs. Sherman; and Fred Gwynne as Uncle Hugo, a loving guardian who is battling his own demons.

Whether Eric can really fly is open to discussion, but this heartwarming and delightful film tells a great story.

Introducing a Charming New Youth Heroine

Anna Branford has created a wonderful heroine in seven-year-old Violet Mackerel. This clever little girl is quieter than another popular youth protagonist, Junie B. Jones, but every bit as fun and engaging.

As Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot begins, we learn that "Violet Mackerel is quite a small girl, but she has a theory . . . Her theory is that when you are having a very important and brilliant idea, what generally happens is that you find something small and special on the ground." Who can resist this out-of-the-box thinker?

Violet's skills are challenged on a weekly trip to the market with her mother, sister, and brother, where her mother displays knitted wares. Violet is strongly drawn to a blue china bird figurine that she would love to own but doesn't have money to buy. The story that unfolds is gentle, thoughtful, and entirely entertaining.

Branford wrote this book for children in grades 1-3. A good choice for independent readers, It also would work well read aloud. To learn more, check out the author's website.

Giddy Read-aloud Picture Book: 'Dozens of Cousins'

This is my favorite book yet by Shutta Crum, the librarian, author, poet, and speaker who lives in Ann Arbor and has delighted so many readers with her writing. Dozens of Cousins, Shutta's latest picture book, is rhythmic, lyrical, warm, and hilarious.

As the annual family reunion approaches, the cozy chaos of cousins begins. "We are wild and fierce. We do not wait for invitations. We run through front doors, arms extended, slap dirty feet on cool linoleum, grab from plates thrust out at us -- and holler for more." Some wiggle their fannies toward distracted adults, in the cutest possible way. Splashy, rip-roaring illustrations are by David Catrow, editorial cartoonist and illustrator of more than 70 books for children.

Initial reviews are glowing, including one in The New York Times. Looks like another hit for the author, a former AADL youth librarian and storyteller. Check out Shutta's books and accomplishments on her website.

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

David Sedaris, a comedic author of several bestselling books, recently published Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls. This satirical work of subtle humor makes the reader giggle and occasionally laugh out loud. Much like his previous publications, this book is a compilation of essays about Sedaris' personal life. But the all-new, hilarious stories and ridiculously funny descriptions make it worth your time.

Although the tales of David Sedaris cannot be considered 100% factual, his actual experiences show through the exaggerations with biting realism. In two essays he writes from the perspective of a murderous man followed by a female Tea Party activist -- vehicles he has chosen to convey his political leanings. In his more realistic essays, he describes his frequent visits to the dentist, a lack of support from his father, and his experience abroad when President Obama was elected. In total, these stories give the reader a glimpse into Sedaris' comedic perspective on life and leave one curious about his daily ruminations. Similar works by Sedaris include: Me Talk Pretty One Day, Barrel Fever, Naked, and Holidays on Ice.

Paul Thomas Anderson's 'The Master'

Featuring an all-star cast of Academy Award-winning and -nominated actors Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Laura Dern, The Master is another fascinating film from Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson’s previous films Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will be Blood have all been well received.

The Master is a striking portrait of drifters and seekers in post-World War II America. It unfolds with the journey of a naval veteran who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future, until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader. Believed by many to be based on the life of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, Anderson has said parts of the story were lifted from early drafts of the script for There Will Be Blood, as well as Navy stories that Jason Robards told him.

If you're drawn to The Master, you may want to check out the bestselling book by Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. The book features many interviews, including the infamous one with Paul Haggis featured in the February, 2011, New Yorker article THE APOSTATE Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology.

Wise and Witty Mo LoBeau, 11-Year-Old Mystery Solver

Middle grade readers who are looking for a good book for the summer, check out Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage. This was a Newbery Honor book for 2013 and it is an excellent mystery story for readers in about fourth through seventh grades. It's also available as a book on CD, so if you have a car trip planned, take this one on the road.

The story stars 11-year-old Mo LoBeau, a wise and witty “rising sixth grader” who lives in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. Mo was discovered as an infant washed ashore during a hurricane and has grown up with the Colonel, a restaurant owner with a mysterious past, and Miss Lana, hostess at the restaurant. When a murder occurs in her quiet town, Mo and her pals are on the case. While touching on a few serious issues such as family abuse and alcoholism, the novel is mostly light and highly entertaining. There are plenty of plot twists and turns to keep you reading. Mo has a wonderful quirky sense of humor, and when she talks about the people in her town, readers won’t be able to stop laughing. A sequel is planned.

"Women Who Make America" Details Struggle for Equality

Makers: Women Who Make America is a three-part PBS documentary narrated by Meryl Streep. The film delves into the story of the birth of the modern women’s movement and covers five decades of women’s struggle for equality at home, work and life. I expected to have this documentary on in the background as I worked on other things, but found the film so engrossing, I watched all of it in one sitting.

The story of activism, feminism and what became known as women’s liberation is told through old film footage and interviews with women who did more than stand by and watch; they brought about change one move at a time. The women come from social, economical, and political backgrounds that are as varied as their personalities. They are flight attendants, coal miners, mothers, politicians, secretaries, writers, actresses, telephone operators and executives.

With retro music and advertisements, "Makers" quickly pulls the viewer into the stories and lives of women such as Judy Blume, Sandra Day O’Connor, Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, Marlo Thomas, Nora Ephron, Geraldine Ferraro, and Hillary Clinton.

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