Elly Griffiths' "The Chalk Pit" continues one mystery's best current series


Elly Griffiths, The Chalk Pit

Deep inside The Chalk Pit is a strong female lead who is written so well that she feels real.

Secret societies, cannibalism, and ritual killings? Bones found in an old chalk-mining pit? Labyrinths and tunnels and a forensic specialist who keeps finding herself embroiled in murders?

Where do we find all of this?

Deep inside The Chalk Pit, the ninth book in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths.

The novel finds our intrepid forensic archeologist far beneath the streets of Norwich, England. The seed for the setting of this book was planted when Griffiths gave a talk at an independent bookstore in Norwich.

“The manager happened to mention that there was a tunnel under the store and asked if I wanted to see it,” Griffiths says. “(The chalk tunnel) was low-ceilinged and damp and led off into darkness. (My research) found that you can walk the length of Norwich underground because there are so many old chalk-mining tunnels, crypts, and undercrofts.”

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Red Scare: Glenn Frankel's "High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic"

Glenn Frankel, High Noon

Glenn Frankel's book recounts the Red Scare surrounding High Noon.

Each year we hear about how political the Oscars are, but this may have never been truer than in 1953 when High Noon scored big with critics and moviegoers the year before (and earned seven nominations), but also found itself in the crosshairs of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

“There was a campaign to make sure (High Noon screenwriter Carl Foreman) didn’t win, because that would be too embarrassing,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel, who just published High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.

Frankel will talk about his latest book at the Westgate branch of the Ann Arbor District Library on Friday, June 23 from 7-8:30 pm.

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Hunger for Life: Roxane Gay at Hill Auditorium


Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay shows strength via her ability to be vulnerable in her writing. Post-It crammed book photo by Sherlonya Turner.

Roxane Gay is an endurance performer.

She is a professor, essayist, fiction writer, and cultural critic. Any pair of these things could fill or even overwhelm a professional life, but she does not stop there. As a person who at times fetishizes achievement, I am awed by the sheer quantity of pages that she has loosed into the world. And that is before we consider her Twitter presence or the volume of reading that she does, evidenced by the book giveaways that appear on her Tumblr from time-to-time.

I know that Gay’s smarts help fuel her accomplishments as do her talents, but when I think about her -- like, big picture her -- I just think, "Damn, she works hard. She hustles."

At Gay’s reading for her new book, Hunger, on June 16, I took a seat toward the back of Hill Auditorium and watched the audience file in. I've never been someone who needs an excuse to gawk at and examine other women’s bodies, and I was wondering who would join me to hear excerpts from Hunger, which tells the story of Roxane Gay’s body.

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Fabulous Fiction Firsts #640 & #641



Fabulous Fiction Firsts #640

Winner of the prestigious Prix Renaudot in 1988 and available for the first time in English (translated from the French by Kaiama L. Glover), Hadriana in All My Dreams * * * by Rene Depestre, combines magic, fantasy, eroticism, and delirious humor to explore universal questions of race and sexuality.

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Unicorning: Samantha Irby & Scaachi Koul at Literati


Samantha Irby, Scaachi Koul

Samantha Irby and Scaachi Koul induced some unicorns at Literati on Tuesday.

Unicorn should be a verb. As a verb, this would be what you do when you project all sorts of magical qualities onto somebody else.

But I recently read an essay called “Samantha Irby Needs to Talk About Some Sh*t” and I was hooked. We’re talking immediate Google stalking. That’s how I knew that I could -- despite the title of her new release, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life -- meet her in real life.

On Tuesday, June 13, Irby and Buzzfeed culture writer/essayist Scaachi Koul appeared at Literati where they read selections from their books and answered questions to a full house.

I really, really tried not to unicorn them.

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Clutch of Grit: Keith Lesmeister reads from "We Could Have Been Happy Here" at Literati

Keith

In We Could Have Been Happy Here, Keith Lesmeister puts characters in impossible situations to see how they react.

Keith Lesmeister's debut collection, We Could Have Been Happy Here, features a "gritty, emotionally sensitive clutch” of short stories, according to Kirkus Reviews.

That description that can be applied to a lot of Midwestern writers and Lesmeister fits the bill. He grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and currently lives in Decorah, which he describes as “much smaller -- a rural community located in the far northeast corner of the state.” The author's life experiences hum in the background of this collection, but the stories aren't autobiographical. What he learned from diving deeply into Iowa, he said, is how to better connect with people whose experiences are immensely different than his: “I spent a lot of time with characters whose lives are unlike mine in many ways -- I’ve never driven around with my suicidal grandmother; I’ve never experienced a deployed parent; I’ve never felt betrayed by a twin brother; and so on and so forth.”

On June 16, Lesmeister reads from We Could Have Been Happy Here at Literati. We chatted with him about Iowa, what makes a good short story, and more. Spoiler: Lesmeister’s so excited to read in Ann Arbor that he might even bake a cake.

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Cozy Up: Meg Macy’s "Bearly Departed" at Nicola's


Meg Macy, Bearly Departed

Meg Macy’s Bearly Departed is in the classic "cozy" tradition of English mysteries.

Most everyone had a favorite teddy bear growing up; some of us maybe had 10 or 12 or 15 of them. And how many of us imagined what it would be like to work in a teddy bear factory?

Silver Hollow resident Sasha Silverman, the main character in Meg Macy’s Bearly Departed, actually does work in a teddy bear factory, but it's not all fuzzy snuggles on the assembly line. She also must solve the mystery of who killed the villainous sales rep and left his body in her factory.

Local readers will note that Sasha’s teddy bear factory has some similarities to the one formerly located in nearby Chelsea. “I got my first bear (a Paddington) from Harrods, shortly before my daughter was born. That started my collection," Macy said. "I have all kinds of stuffed bears, Beanie baby bears, figurines, plaques, embroidered bear pictures, and a silky Chelsea bear.”

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Back to the Future: Kevin Smokler, "Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies"

Kevin Smokler, Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies

Kevin Smokler, Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies

The 2010 Academy Awards telecast devoted a nearly seven-minute chunk of airtime to commemorating the life and work of John Hughes, a director/writer/producer who never received an Oscar nod in his life.

Kevin Smokler's recent book, Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to '80s Teen Movies, explains why those Hughes films stand the test of time. But his interests run much wider than just Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Throughout his enjoyable survey of the decade, Smokler persuasively argues that, during this time, setting began to matter more to teen films than ever before.

Smokler will return to his original hometown of Ann Arbor on Monday, June 12, at 7 pm for an appearance at Literati. I spoke with the author about Reagan-era high-points as varied as Risky Business, The Lost Boys, and Back to the Future, as well as the Hughes canon.

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Still Grinning: Terri Tate defeats cancer with "A Crooked Smile"


Lori Rader-Day

Terri Tate's debut book, A Crooked Smile, helps cancer survivors laugh "through the hard times."

Some believe that there are two ways of looking at the world: as if everything is a miracle, or as if nothing is. Author Terri Tate prefers the former, and this belief guides her attitude and her memoir.

The Grosse Pointe native and former Ann Arbor resident will be reading from her debut book, A Crooked Smile, on Sunday, June 11, at 1 pm at Nicola’s Books. That Tate is here to share her journey with us is somewhat miraculous.

In 1991, Tate’s doctors diagnosed her with oral cancer and gave her a two percent chance of survival; however, “the book is not fundamentally a cancer memoir,” Tate shares. “It is mostly about the journey involved.”

Prior to becoming a writer, Tate worked as a nurse, a hypnotherapist (the first one in the Ann Arbor phone book!), and public speaker. And then came the oral cancer diagnosis.

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Space, Race: Carey F. Whitepigeon launches "Daughter of Dawn & Darkness" at Nicola's Books


Carey F. Whitepigeon, Daughter of Dawn & Darkness: Book 1: Spark Aflight

Outta this world: Carey F. Whitepigeon ceelebrates her debut novel, Daughter of Dawn & Darkness: Book 1: Spark Aflight, at Nicola's Books on June 4.

Carey F. Whitepigeon's debut novel, Daughter of Dawn and Darkness: Book 1, Spark Aflight, tells the tale of a 17-year-old woman straddling two familial cultures. In this case, her parents not only come from different cultures but from entirely different planets!

"(The protagonist) Vivian grew up amongst her father’s people and knows nothing about her mother’s planet and people," said Whitepigeon, who grew up in Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and three children. "After receiving a letter from her maternal uncle, she becomes obsessed with getting to know more about that side of her family.”

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