Fabulous Fiction Firsts #606: Capitol Crimes


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #606: Capitol Crimes

The Second Girl** by former D.C. police detective David Swinson is "an auspicious, and gleefully amoral, series debut" (Kirkus Reviews), featuring retired DC cop Frank Marr - damaged, damned, and an unrepentant drug addict who works sporadically as a private investigator for defense attorney (and occasional bed-mate) Leslie Costello.

When Frank breaks into a drug den to replenish his personal stash, he discovers a teenage girl doped up and chained to the bathroom. Rather than calling the authority and trying to explain his involvement, he hands her off to Leslie, but not before he manages to draw out all the details of her kidnapping. As the news of Amanda Meyer's return to her family, another suburban family with a missing girl hires him to find her, and Frank is not above administering his own brand of justice to get the job done.

"Swinson delivers an excellent addition to the noir genre as he unveils layer after layer of his gritty protagonist. Readers of Dennis Lehane and Richard Price as well as fans of The Wire will appreciate the bleak description of inner-city Washington, DC." (Library Journal)

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #606: Capitol Crimes

The Dead Don't Bleed* by David Krugler is a mystery/police procedural/spy thriller set in Washington, D.C at the waning days of WWII.

With victory in sight, the suspicion of communist spies in the capitol is palpable, spies who seem to stop at nothing to get their hands on the atomic bomb project. When Naval Intelligence officer Logan Skerrill is found dead in a back alley of the Navy Yard, Lt. Ellis Voigt is called in to investigate.

With clues of the murder pointing to Skerrill's connection to a news-clipping service suspected of Communist affiliations, Voigt goes undercover. Pursuing crosses and double-crosses, he discovers a defecting German physicist, a top secret lab in Los Alamos, and Uranium-235 which suggest something far larger than the usual spy v. spy shenanigans.

"Voigt is an engaging character.... (history professor) Krugler’s portrait of wartime Washington, particularly the rivalries within ONI and the enmity between the FBI and ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence), is thoroughly absorbing." (Booklist)

For fans of David Downing and Philip Kerr.

** = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #605


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #605

A best-seller in Europe, the first foreign-language romance novel to be translated and published in the U.S, All In* by Swedish author Simona Ahrnstedt is "sexy, smart, and completely unputdownable." (Tessa Dare)

David Hammer, the upstart, infamous venture capitalist and corporate raider, known for his brutal take-overs is poised to pull off the biggest deal in the history of Swedish finance, make it world-wide finance. His sight is set on Investum - one of Sweden's biggest and oldest financial institutions, owned and controlled by the De la Grip Family. After years of planning, all the players are in place; he needs just one member of the owning family on his side—Natalia De la Grip. He invites her to lunch.

(Countess) Natalia is everything David despises - upper-class, traditional, as close to royalty as you could get without actually being royal and yet he finds her brilliant, driven to succeed in a man’s world, and enchanting. Natalia is intrigued by this way-too handsome man who is rich, dangerous, and in the business circles - utterly unethical. However, the powerful chemistry between them leaves both of them exhilarated and vulnerable.

As the deal goes through, it turns out that it is not all about business. Past history, family secrets and revenge will force David and Natalia to confront their innermost fears and desires as they make deeply difficult choices.

“The author’s ability to skillfully fuse a luxurious lifestyle, a refreshingly different Swedish setting, a plot riddled with revenge and financial intrigue, and plenty of steamy romance means All In will be the must-have leisure read everywhere this summer.” (Booklist).

For fans of the glitz-and-glam novels of Judith Krantz, Beatriz Williams, and perhaps Sylvia Day.

* = starred review

Midwestern Gothic Seeking Entries for the 2016 Lake Prize


Midwestern Gothic

Midwestern Gothic

The literary journal Midwestern Gothic is accepting submissions for the 2016 Lake Prize. It's an annual literary prize for fiction and poetry that best represents the Midwest. The goal of the prize is to further the Midwestern Gothic mission of showcasing Midwestern writers and their work.

Submissions will be open from July 1 to August 31, 2016. There is a $5 flat rate entry fee - one entry per person (one short story or a group of up to 3 poems.) One winner will be selected for each category, and they will receive $300 and publication in Midwestern Gothic's Winter 2017 issue. One runner-up will be selected for both categories, and they will each receive $100 as well as publication in the Winter 2017 issue. Writers and their respective submissions should demonstrate a strong connection to the Midwest.

Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.

More details about the Lake Prize can be found at the Midwestern Gothic website.

Review: Kate DiCamillo packs the Downtown Library on Sunday


Kate DiCamillo brought some tales of despereaux-tion to the Downtown Library on Sunday.

Kate DiCamillo brought some tales of despereaux-tion to the Downtown Library on Sunday.

Bestselling, award-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux) drew a few hundred excited fans – clutching books as if they were treasures – to the Ann Arbor District Library's Downtown Library on Sunday afternoon; and she not only read from her new novel Raymie Nightingale, but self-deprecatingly shared the reason for her “late start” as a writer.

“When I was in college, I had a professor who said to me, in my senior year, … ‘You have a certain facility with words. You should consider graduate school,’” said DiCamillo, dressed in sneakers, black jeans, and a black V-neck T-shirt, with a pink long sleeved shirt wrapped around her waist. “That’s exactly what he said, but I was 20 years old, and so, I heard something entirely different. I thought he was speaking to me in code, and that he was saying, ‘Wow. You are super-talented. I think that you’re probably the next Flannery O’Connor.’ So I thought, ‘Why should I bother with graduate school if I’m really talented? I’m just going to go be a writer.’ So what I did was, I used my mother’s JC Penney credit card and I got a black turtleneck, and then I was set to go. I just sat around, wearing the black turtleneck, looking bored and disdainful and having people go, ‘Oh, that’s Kate. She writes.’ I did that for 10 years. … You can dream all you want and have great story ideas in your head, but eventually, you’re going to have to sit down and figure out a way to do the work. And I didn’t figure that out until I was 30.”

DiCamillo’s now established her regimen, obviously, having published about 20 books over the course of 20 years. The author spoke about how a novel now generally takes a year and a half – working through 7-8 complete drafts – for her to write, and she advised aspiring writers to read as much as they can. But the suggestions didn’t end there.

“Another thing you have to do is find out a way to make a deal with yourself about how you’re going to do the work of writing. For me, it’s two pages a day. I’m not offering that as a directive, but saying that’s what I have found works for me. So I make myself write two pages a day, whether I feel like it or not. And guess what? I never feel like it. So what I do is, I do it first thing in the morning. I come downstairs, I pour the coffee, I go right in there and write the two pages before I can talk myself out of it. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve got a voice in my head that goes, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t write a book. This is never going to work.’ I have found that that voice sleeps in ’til about 9 o’clock. So I get up at 5:30, 6 o’clock, … and when that voice shows up to say, ‘You fraud, you don’t know what you’re doing,’ I’ve already done the important work.”

With an easy, approachable charm, DiCamillo – her hair a gently messy, white-blond cloud – answered kids’ and adults’ questions for nearly an hour on Sunday, addressing her characters’ often-odd names (“The only explanation I have is, I am a strange person, and I grew up in the South”); how she doesn’t write from an outline (“It’s a terrifying way to write, but I find that if I know what’s going to happen, I have no interest in writing the story”); how she struggled to write following the huge success of her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie (“I knew I was going to have to go in a completely different direction, and so, enter the mouse with extremely large ears [Despereaux”); why authors and illustrators usually have no communication with each other until after a book’s publication (“It was long my suspicion that authors are crazy, and artists are even crazier, so why should we have them talking to each other? I ran that by the publisher, and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s it’”); and how the experience of her father’s abandonment when she was 6 shaped her and made Raymie Nightingale – in which a girl enters a pageant in hopes that a win would convince her father to come home – one of her most personal books (“(Raymie’s) the kind of kid that I was: worried and hopeful and watching all the time and flexing my toes. … That’s as close as I’ve ever come to putting myself in a book”).

One of the scores of kids seated on the floor asked what drove DiCamillo to write stories.

“Part of it is being a reader and living for books,” DiCamillo said. “And you get told those stories, and you feel like you want to tell a story back. And part of it is, as hard as writing is for me, when I’m writing a story, I’m connecting to the world and to myself, and it helps me understand things. It makes the world make more sense if I’m writing.”

Indeed, one of the most sad and funny moments of DiCamillo’s talk arose when a fan asked where Flora & Ulysses’ surreal plot – focusing on a squirrel that’s sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and gains super powers and writes poetry – came from.

“My mother passed away in 2009,” DiCamillo said. “She had a tank Electrolux vacuum cleaner that she loved. And in the last year of her life, she said to me many times, ‘What’s going to happen to the vacuum cleaner after I’m gone?’ I kept on saying, ‘I’ll take the vacuum cleaner. Don’t worry about the vacuum cleaner.’ … She passed away, and I did what I promised. I took the vacuum cleaner, but I had to put it in my garage, though, because I’m allergic to cats, and my mother had the world’s most evil cat named Mildew. … So I put the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and every time I pulled into the garage, it would make me feel really sad, and make me miss my mother. So that’s one place where the story started. And the second thing that happened is, the spring after my mother died, a squirrel was on my front steps, draped in this very dramatic fashion and clearly unwell.”

DiCamillo called a close friend who said she’d come over and “whack him over the head.”

“I’m on the cell phone, right next to the squirrel, as she’s saying this, so I start to back away, because I don’t want him to hear it,” DiCamillo continued. “So I go in the side door, and I look out the front door, and guess what? He did hear it. He was gone. He clearly thought, ‘There’s better ways to die. I’m going elsewhere.’ So it made me feel sad, and it made me remember a wonderful essay that E. B. White wrote called ‘The Death of a Pig.’ … Before Charlotte’s Web came out, he was thinking about how to save a pig’s life, so I started thinking about how to save a squirrel’s life … And I combined the squirrel with the vacuum cleaner in the garage, and that’s where the story came from.”

Finally, an adult in the crowd asked about DiCamillo’s recent reference (in an interview) to a White quote that goes: “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” The fan asked DiCamillo to talk about the quote further in light of recent, tragic events.

“I think that we need stories more than we ever have needed stories, and we need to collect around stories and read stories out loud together,” said DiCamillo. “Stories teach empathy. You learn to think about what the other person is feeling, and it is so necessary to imagine yourself into somebody else’s shoes. And I think we need that so much right now.”

Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #604


Calling all bloggers!

"It washed over me for the first time in my life how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment..." -Sue Monk Kidd

With references to William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Suzanne Feldman's debut (and a winner of the Missouri Review Editors' Prize) Absalom's Daughters* is a tale of sisterly adventure through the 1950s Jim Crow South.

Young Cassie helps run the family laundry with her mother and grandmother in the black part of Heron-Neck, Mississippi. She has no idea that Judith who is white, is her half-sister, though she knows that it is her grandmother's plan to orchestrate the births in her family so that her descendants can, one day, pass for white.

When their father Bill Forrest runs off leaving the family destitute, Judith finds a letter from a mysterious sender in Virginia explaining they are heirs to a rumored family fortune, surely enough money for her to run off to New York City to be a singer. Sensing that her grandmother's design on the jazz-playing Albino boy from New York City visiting one of the white families on the hill, Cassie realizes this may be her only opportunity to escape. The girls steal a car, and with a ham, a gun, and a map so old that state lines are blurred, they head north. While getting their first taste of freedom, courting danger at every turn, they are also reminded of the tyranny of skin color, and the heavy responsibility of being the master of your own fate.

"Feldman’s prose blisters and pops with sparks...In this novel, most things are not as they seem, and Feldman doesn’t hew too close to reality. The sisters encounter mules who were once men, discover towns that appear in one place on the map and another on the road, and Cassie even spends a few days as a white girl. Eventually she decides to return to the skin she was born with; as a mysterious woman tells her near the end: 'What’s important is the past.'" (Kirkus Reviews)

* = starred review

Arts Writers! UMS Seeking Candidates for a New Fellowship

Calling all bloggers!

Calling all bloggers!

The University Musical Society (UMS) is seeking applicants for their Wallace Blogging Fellowships. This recently-announced opportunity aims to promote cultural events taking place throughout southeast Michigan, and includes a stipend and special access to UMS events and guests.

So, know anyone in the area who is over 21 and loves the arts? Send the application their way! The deadline to apply is July 15, so get those writing samples ready!

Arts & Culture Events for Your Fourth of July

Fourth of July on Independence Blvd, 1959

Don’t miss the 26th annual Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July parade. Featuring musical groups, floats, and a bicycle-decorating contest, the parade starts at William and State St. at 10 am.

Cobblestone Farm is also celebrating Independence Day - 19th century style - with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic songs, kids games and farm activities, from noon - 4 pm at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Rd.

Veterans and active duty military members can enjoy a free screening of the classic World War II film The Dirty Dozen at the Michigan Theater at 1:30 pm. All others pay admission.

Capitol Steps, America’s premier satire group performing political parodies since 1981, is back in town this evening for two concerts at the Power Center, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20 for students, $35, $40, $45.

And if you need an extra dose of patriotism, your local public library has a couple special Independence Day-related collections: First, a Star-Spangled Bannercast, featuring U-M Professor Mark Clague talking about the musical heritage and cultural history of our national anthem; and second, our OldNews local history site has a feature of past Tree Town 4th of July celebrations with photographs and articles from the Ann Arbor News.

Happy Fourth, Ann Arbor!

Review: Zilka Joseph Poetry at Ann Arbor Book Festival


Zilka Joseph reading her poetry at the Arena.

Zilka Joseph reading her poetry at the Arena during Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Poetry is a democratic form of art; perhaps one of the most accessible genres of writing as it’s meant not only to be read, but heard and performed. The echoes of poetic language are all around us from the piece of a song you catch as you walk by an open cafe door to the movement of a conversation between strangers. Despite poetry’s underlying prevalence in our lives, one of the least expected venues for poetry may just be a sports bar.

Still, on Saturday, June 18th, The Arena in downtown Ann Arbor opened its doors to the Ann Arbor Book Festival Book Crawl and three local writers, including poet Zilka Joseph. A long-time Ann Arbor resident, Zilka has been nominated twice for a Pushcart prize and her poems have appeared in many publications from Poetry (forthcoming–look for it later this year) to the Kenyon Review Online. Her work was honored through several awards including a Hopwood, the Elsie Choy Lee Scholarship from the Center for Education of Women, and a Zell Fellowship from the University of Michigan. Against the backdrop of Michigan football memorabilia and muted ESPN highlight reels, Zilka read from her recent collection, Sharp Blue Search of Flame.

Zilka Joseph (left) and her book Sharp Blue Search of Flame (right).

Zilka Joseph (left) and her book Sharp Blue Search of Flame (right).

This collection is remarkable with its breadth and enchanting language, encapsulating the boundaries--artificial and real--of life in India and the United States. All the while, Zilka’s poems search for something larger, something beyond us and all around us. This may be spiritual or it may be the commonality of human experience. From guiding the reader/listener on an internal journey to mapping identity in a complex world, Zilka brings the cyclical nature of life and self-discovery to the forefront of her work.

This sentiment of self-reformation resonates in poems like Birds in a Blizzard where Zilka writes “your ancestors are wanderers,” or in Child of Churning Water where she asks “Who shall I be now? Where can I perch?” Zilka’s interest in rebirth extends outward to broader stories of mythology, cycles, and origin. With Apples and Oranges, the Adam and Eve story is reframed to challenge the common narrative of this tale.

In between her poems, Zilka offered insight into her creative process and the emotional source of her writing. “I feel as though I’ve lived many lives,” she told the audience. “We always find ways to reinvent ourselves even from our darkest moments.” The multitudes of Zilka’s lives seem to lend themselves to the deep introspection present on the page.

As she went on to read What Burns (Who Will Remember), a poem about the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a young woman in India whose death sparked international protest, the tone of the room changed to one of solace. A police officer in the audience was moved by this piece and pledged to read more about the story so as to better serve the community he works in, demonstrating the social value of reading poetry in public.

Art is ultimately a celebration of the unexpected, observed moments that are truly human and full of life. Hearing such beautiful poems read in an unexpected setting reminded me of the boundaries we often create in our own environments, and the importance of seeking uncommon moments of beauty.

Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.

Visit Zilka Joseph's website for more info on her and her work. The Ann Arbor Book Festival is an annual event. Check their website for next year's dates and additional events.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #603


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #603

“Women of Manhattan, magnificent as they were, they forgot sometimes they weren’t immortal...” -Marisha Pessl

If you loved Jennifer Close's Girls in White Dresses (2011), you would not be disappointed with these two debuts just now hitting the shelves.

A Dangerous Age by former model and the editor of Elle Accessories Kelly Killoren Bensimon catches up with four friends over the course of a sweltering Manhattan summer.

These fortysomething best friends have been meeting every Tuesday night for twenty years. Once the toast of the town, they are secretly falling apart at the seams. As Lucy, once a supermodel, now a freelance writer, watches her marriage to a renowned artist slowly falling apart, she becomes reckless when she starts receiving mysterious text messages from another man. Billy, an unemployed food and wine expert, quietly struggles to make rent each month, is exploring supper-club subscriptions. Lotta, a successful art dealer, dependent on cocktails and recreational drugs, is courting a total breakdown; while Sarah, a well-heeled socialite chasing after reality-show fame is paying the price with her reputation.

As these women of a very dangerous age navigate their ways around a city that worships only the young, it is anyone's guess how they will emerge at the end of a very bumpy summer.

"The dialogue is funny, and a plotline involving a mysterious blogger who’s terrorizing all of New York is intriguing and twisty."-Kirkus Reviews. A breezy beach read for fans of Sex and the City.
Fabulous Fiction Firsts #603

Bestselling author Emma Straub praised Rich and Pretty as "smart, sharp, and beautifully made," Rumaan Alam's portrait of two childhood best friends transitioning into their adult lives is vividly rendered, set against a tantalizing background of moneyed New York City that is impossible to resist.”

Sarah is rich—the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite. Lauren is pretty, and smart enough to snag a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan where they met. They have been inseparable through high school and college, first jobs and first loves, and the uncertainties of their twenties. Now in their thirties, Sarah works at a charity thrift store and is planning her wedding to her doctor fiance. Lauren, steadyly making a good name for herself in publishing is care-free and single. As a way to reconnect, Sarah asks Lauren to be her maid of honor and help plan the wedding. But the closeness Sarah was hoping to reignite looks like a thing of the past when Lauren misbehaves on a bachelorette trip.

"With astute descriptions of how values, tastes, desires, and ambitions change over two decades, Alam’s tale of a divergent friendship smartly reflects the trial and error nature of finding a mate and deciding how to grow up." -Publishers Weekly. Try this if you enjoyed Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #602


Fabulous Fiction Firsts #602

Inspired by Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, debut novelist Weina Dai Randel sets out to write stories of Chinese women who succeeded in mapping their own destinies and tries to redress the often misrepresented and misunderstood Empress Wu with The Moon in the Palace .

When a monk foretells that 5 year-old Mei will one day be both the mother of emperors and an emperor in her own right, her father takes this to heart and sees that she is schooled in poetry, history, mathematics, calligraphy, and even Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

At 13, the orphaned Mei enters the palace to serve in the royal household where she will need to draw on all she had learned from her father to survive the intrigue and duplicity of the Imperial Court and to earn favor with the emperor. Her only ally is a boy named Pheasant but their involvement might put both of them in danger.

Mei's story continues in The Empress of Bright Moon as she ascends to rule as China's only female emperor in more than four millennia.

For historical fiction readers who enjoyed Empress Orchid and The Last Empress by Anchee Min.